My work experience with the Wiltshire Building Record

Hi, my name is Maddie and I have just completed year 10 at Abbeyfield School in Chippenham. I was very lucky due to family connections in July, to find a work experience placement with the Wiltshire Buildings Record (WBR) based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

I started off my work experience by having a detailed tour of the History Centre. Ruth, the education officer kindly showed me and some year 12 students around all the different departments, also pointing out safety precautions we needed to keep in mind. After the tour, I was taken by the WBR to Malmesbury to see a couple of buildings which they had either recorded or were in the process of recording. It was an exciting opportunity for me to see the WBR in action when surveying a building. They showed me around a very old terrace house in the High Street which they were recording at the time. The owner was so kind to allow me to join the surveying team in her home.

High Street, Malmesbury

It was very impressive to see how the WBR team could estimate the age of parts of the house, from measurements, appearance and artistic style. I liked how everyone in the team had their own roles looking at different aspects of the house, with some looking at the structure of the building and others researching the history of the house. I had the chance to look in the roof space of the building, whilst Dorothy, who was in charge explained the different aspects of the roof to me. I never realised how much could be learnt about the age of the house from its roof.

Next after lunch, we headed for Abbey House Manor, next to Malmesbury Abbey. We met Lesley at The Old Bell Hotel first who had kindly agreed to give us a guided tour. It was an amazing house, huge with a lovely garden.

Abbey House Manor, Malmesbury

The building is being renovated at the moment but due to the WBR surveying it previously we were allowed to see it again by its new owners. It was so exciting to go down into the cellars. It was explained to me that we were in an undercroft, the oldest part of the building dating from the 13th century. It had been part of Malmesbury Abbey in the past. After the tour we returned to the hotel where we were treated to a cool drink. It was a very hot day. The décor in the hotel was out of this world!

For the rest of the week I spent my time in the History Centre. I was introduced to the main archive, a huge collection of historical documents and maps. The History Centre was calm and well laid out and almost like a library and in some parts it was. The WBR had its own office and archive and so part of the day I worked in there. I assisted with the research into the history of a manor house in Corsham. It was interesting to see the variations between different aged maps and to see how Corsham became more built up over the years. I was asked to look at different editions of Kelly’s trade directories in the Local Studies Library to discover who lived in the manor house from Victorian times into the 20th century.

Due to my study of crime and punishment at school, I looked at plans of Devizes Prison as well. The prison was built in 1808 but no longer exists. The shape of the new prison, a regular polygon was fascinating to me and the fact that the prison governor’s house was at its centre. Most of the plans had lots of detail, to explain the arrangement of cells and other facilities, it helped us to understand what really went on in each section of the prison over time. What we did discover in the plans was a drawing of a treadmill, a form of punishment for prisoners. It was added to the prison in the 1820s. Tom an archivist kindly removed the plastic cover so we could get a better photograph.

Ground floor plan of Devizes Prison in 1808

Elevation showing the treadmill in use dating from the 1820s

One afternoon, Ruth arranged for me to visit the conservation laboratories at the History Centre to see conservation actually happening. I was surprised by the amount of scientific equipment and the complex techniques being used.

Finally, I was asked to record details from second hand books donated for the book stall at the WBR Annual Study Day in October, to assist with pricing them. Most of them were focused on architecture, which is to be expected. I am pleased to say I got through about five boxes.

Overall, I had a very interesting week and would like to thank everyone at the Wiltshire Building Record and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for making me feel so welcome and giving me such an opportunity.



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