A History of the World

A Salisbury giant, a bacon cooker and a Chinese Emperor's robe, some of the objects that tell a history of Wiltshire and its place in the world.

BBC Wiltshire and museums across the county have today (Monday 18 January) revealed the list of 10 objects they have chosen to tell a history of Wiltshire and its place in the world. The list of 10 objects can be seen on the BBC Local site for Wiltshire, www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire and all the objects are on display at the relevant museums.

The list of 10 objects for Wiltshire is part of the wider A History of the World project formed out of a unique partnership between the BBC, the British Museum and 350 museums and institutions across the country.

Director of Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum Adrian Green said: "It was a real challenge trying to come up with only ten objects that tell the story of Wiltshire and its place in the world. With outstanding archaeology from iconic sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge, and modern objects relating to agriculture and the military we had a long shortlist, however we hope that viewers and listeners will like the ten items from Wiltshire’s Museums and be inspired to think about objects that they have that help to tell the story of Wiltshire’s past."

Listeners and viewers will be asked to suggest further objects and can actively participate by uploading photographs of their own objects that have a local or global appeal. At the end of February 2010 it is hoped that each BBC Local website will have an additional “People’s 10 Objects” telling the history of their region and its global connections.

BBC Project manager for the Nations and English Regions, Seamus Boyd, said: “A truly fascinating range of objects has been chosen for each list across English regions. Some of them may have great monetary value, others little or none, but they're priceless in how they bring to life moments from history. This initial collection is just the blueprint to which we hope viewers and listeners will add their own objects and help to create a truly unique and vibrant tapestry of the past.”

At Salisbury Museum people will be able to bring along their objects during the week beginning 15th February to be uploaded onto the BBC local website and be considered for the ‘People’s 10 Objects’.

Also as part of A History of the World, tonight’s BBC Inside Out West (Monday 18 January, BBC One, 7.30pm) tells the fascinating story behind some of the unusual museum objects that help to show how the West Country changed the world.

BBC Wiltshire Managing Editor Rose Aston said: "Wiltshire's contribution to this great BBC project demonstrates how diverse, quirky and productive our county can be at it's best. I think you'll be surprised to discover some of the ways in which Wiltshire has changed the history of the world."

Wiltshire’s list of 10 objects can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire and is as follows:

1) Windmill Hill (Neolithic) pot, Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury
Windmill Hill is about 1 mile north west of Avebury in Wiltshire. Archaeological excavations at the site in the 1920s revealed some of the earliest pots found in the British Isles. Pottery was first used in Britain at about the same time that farming was introduced from the continent. They represent a dramatic change to the way that food was prepared - for example people were able to heat liquids in a heat proof container over an open fire for the first time. This type of pottery was named after Windmill Hill because it was one of the first sites where it was recognised.

2) Bush Barrow Gold Lozenge, Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes
Bush Barrow was excavated in 1808 by William Cunnington, a wool merchant who excavated with a small team. Cunnington reported to Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the owner of Stourhead and a member of a wealthy banking family. He financed the excavations, and published the results in his book, ‘Ancient Wiltshire’.

In July 1808, Cunnington was ‘foiled on Stukely’s Bush Barrow’, but in September Cunnington reported – ‘I have now the pleasure to inform you that our discoveries are truly important. We found the skeleton of a stout and tall man. "On approaching the breast of the skeleton we found immediately on the breast bone a fine plate of gold. This article in form of a lozenge was fixed to a thin piece of wood, over the edges of which the gold was wrapped, it is simply ornamented by lines forming lozenges... it has a grand appearance."

3) Walrus Ivory Chess Piece, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
This chessman was found in the drainage channels – the old open sewers that ran through the streets of Salisbury. These were found to be a major health hazard and were filled in during the 19th century. The result was that this and many other amazing medieval objects were found. The chessman is a king on horseback made out of walrus ivory. It was probably made in Germany or Scandinavia and is one of the finest chessmen of medieval date found in England. The loss of such a king, even in a game, would have been a cause for regret. Salisbury Museum was founded in 1860 to provide a home for the hundreds of medieval finds from the drainage channels.

4) The Salisbury Giant, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
The Salisbury Giant, still standing over 12ft tall, is an unusual survival from the medieval period. He was originally used by the Salisbury Guild of Tailors for their annual celebration on the eve of the feast of St John (midsummers day). As a symbol of the guild he was ideal for exhibiting the clothing that the tailors produced. The tailors flourished in medieval Salisbury because the town's prosperity was based on the wool trade - cloth manufactured in Salisbury and exported to other parts of Europe through Southampton. Later the Giant was brought out by the town on occasions of public celebration – for example coronations or jubilees. He was sold to the Museum in 1873 by the last two surviving members of the Tailors Guild for the sum of thirty shillings (£1.50). He was still used for public celebrations until the Museum moved to the Kings House in 1979 and since then has been the centrepiece of our Salisbury gallery.

5) A handwritten copy of Thomas Hilliker’s last letter, Trowbridge Museum
In the early 19th century Trowbridge was the centre of wool production for the whole country but many shearmen perceived the mechanization of the shearing process as a threat to their livelihoods. Trowbridge shearmen were an organized group who violently opposed the introduction of spinning and carding mechinery. On the 22nd July 1802 Littleton Mill, near Semington, was burned down after shearing frames were installed at the mill. A 19 year old apprentice shearman called Thomas Hilliker was arrested. He admitted to being a member of the Shearman’s Club but protested his innocence to the crime of arson. It was reported that Hilliker was guilty because his voice was allegedly recognized as having been one of a group involved in the crime. As a consequence Hilliker was imprisoned in Wilton jail until his trial. On the 22nd March 1803 Hilliker was found guilty and hanged in front of Fisherton jail. The last letter he wrote is a moving farewell to his family. His burial was attended by a large crowd of mourners and Trowbridge shearmen carried his body across Salisbury Plain to Trowbridge where he was buried in the churchyard of St James Church.

6) Isambard Kingdom Brunel's walking stick, STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway, Swindon
This walking stick belonged to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Engineer of the Great Western Railway. It is an unusual object that folds out to become a track gauge. More importantly it was a gauge for the pioneering broad gauge of 7ft. The GWR was unique in using this size gauge and the whole of the network in the 1830s/40s was built using broad gauge. Brunel changed the face of Wiltshire and the South West and was at the cutting edge of engineering and design. Brunel controlled the whole design process and construction of the GWR and it is most likely that he took the walking stick with him when inspecting the newly built lines. The GWR fought hard to keep the broad gauge, but uniformity prevailed and the gauge was eventually changed to the standard gauge of 4ft 8 1/2 inches in 1892.

7) A Chinese Emperor’s Robe, The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury
Embroidered silk robe and sleeves which once belonged to the Emperor of China. It was taken from the Imperial Palace by Captain Henry Ely of the 99th Regiment - an antecedent regiment of the Wiltshire Regiment. In 1860 the 99th Regiment was part of an expedition to China and participated in the sacking of Peking. A Pekinese dog belonging to the Chinese Empress was found and christened "Lootie". It was the first Pekinese to appear in England and was presented to Queen Victoria.

8) Fanny Williams' Football Boots, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery
Fanny Williams played for Swindon Town Ladies Football team in the 1920s. Fanny was born in 1894 and lived in the St Margaret's Road area of the town. Little is known about her life and interest in football. The boots were donated to Swindon Museum by a family member in 1980, they are size five and are made from brown leather with leather studs.

Ladies football developed during the First World War. Employees of munitions factories formed teams to play against each other. Many of these teams disbanded at the end of the war when women were discharged from employment, however in some areas ladies football developed firmer roots and continued into the 1920s. Despite opposition and the Football Association banning ladies football on their grounds, the English Ladies Football Association was formed in 1921. The Ladies Association set up a national Challenge Cup competition in 1922 which was won by Stoke Ladies FC.

9) Bolt mechanism from Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury
Bergen-Belsen was used by the German army as a prisoner of war camp from 1939 – 1945, however part of the camp was turned into a concentration camp by the SS in 1943. At first it was used to hold Jewish hostages who were to be exchanged with Germans held abroad. Later it served as a camp for prisoners who were no longer able to work, and as an exchange camp for people destined to go elsewhere. More than 50,000 prisoners, including Jews, Czechs, Poles and Gypsies died in Bergen-Belsen due to insufficient food and medical care, and the inhuman treatment they received at the hands of the SS.

The Wiltshire Regiment, was one of the first to liberate the camp in April 1945, as part of the allied advance into Germany at the end the Second World War. Many of the prisoners were malnourished and sick from typhus, the army set up a base camp there to assist with relocating the prisoners and clearing and cleaning the camp. This door locking bolt and spring came from the crematorium at the camp. The Rifles Museum has several artefacts related to this, all reminders of the terrible crimes perpetrated by Nazi regime.

10) Bacon cooker, used for making ‘Bath chaps’ at the Royal Wiltshire Bacon Company, Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre
North Wiltshire has been synonymous with pig farming and the bacon industry since Saxon times, (Swindon or ‘Swine down’ is named from the herds of pigs which grazed there) and Wiltshire ham is still famous across the world. Bacon was an important food for travellers; heavy salting preserved the meat from ‘going off’, so it could be used for long sea voyages. Harris’ of Calne developed the Wiltshire cure, but several other local bacon factories existed, notably the Royal Wiltshire Bacon Company in Chippenham.

Wiltshire tradition has it that ‘all but the squeak’, of a pig can be used and Bath chaps come from the meat of either a pig's cheek or jaw, formed into a shape like a cone cut vertically in half. The meat is salt cured or pickled in brine, smoked, then boiled, and coated with breadcrumbs. It is served as cold meat, tasting much like cooked ham.