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Archival talk

Our first meeting at our new venue we welcomed some new faces – we hope you enjoyed your evening and will come again!

What is an archive?

An archive is a collection of primary sources which people can refer to, be it documents, photographs or digital legacy. They are unique documents, unlike books, usually only one copy exists, hence the importance of preserving them! Archives are managed by archivists and we were lucky enough to hear from Emily Naish, archivist at Salisbury Cathedral. Learn about Emily on Her Salisbury Story! 

Salisbury Cathedral archive is very old, going back to the early days of the cathedral, with many medieval documents. The original archive room was the Muniment room, the name of which derives from the latin muniere = fortify. The room was built to be secure with shuttered windows and complex locks on the hefty doors – a reflection of the importance attached to the archive. This room is now the practise area for visiting choirs and the archive is stored in a separate building in the Close. Here the temperature and humidity can be monitored and regulated to prevent mould growing and best preserve these precious documents.

Some of the original storage facilities remain in the cathedral. These range from old chests, to wooden cabinets. One very large chest had seven separate locks, each with a unique key, so could only be opened when all seven keyholders were present. Another chest is still securely attached to the stone wall by a huge chain. A surviving wooden cabinet has the contents listed on the inner doors.

Emily selected some documents to illustrate the few recorded participation of women in the life of the cathedral. One of the earliest detailed the donation by Alice Brewer of marble, from her Dorset quarry, for the construction.

Ela, Countess of Salisbury, was one of the few people to lay a foundation stone. A small document, signed by Ela with a cross, records her vow of allegiance to the then Bishop Robert of Salisbury, when she was abbess of Lacock Abbey.

A letter from Elizabeth I, dated 1599, asks the Bishop to donate Sherborne Castle to the crown, so that it could be leased to Sir Walter Raleigh, who had taken a fancy to it. It is said that it was in that castle that a servant doused Sir Walter with water mistaking his pipe, thinking his beard was on fire!

There are few mentions of women: a pauper from Cornwall being given relief before being returned home, a widow who fell sick after helping douse a fire was give small compensation and a widow allowed to enter the Matron’s College asking for help to place her eleven year old son somewhere safe.

An old photo showed Mrs Quilter and eccentric who lived in the Close. Another photo showed a line of ATS women on top of the cathedral tower on fire watch duties during WWII. It is part of the archive recording social history and includes an interview with one of the ATS women, recorded before she died. She recalled being billeted with nine other women and ten clergy in a house in the Close. It seemed that it was a little cramped and bathroom facilities were stretched!

Club Business

The remainder of the evening was taken up with Club business. Jenny outlined some of the potential new projects which had been suggested at the last meeting. Since no one wanted to take the lead on any of these, Jenny will email those who said they were interested to see if a meeting could be held to start the ball rolling.

Requests for help:

  • Quiz night – register your team ( and volunteer to help on the night. Please source any raffle prizes you can.
  • Orange the World market stall 26th November
  • Schools Forum 29th November – can you help?
  • Film Night 29th November – book your ticket 
  • OTW displays around town – let Carrie know if you have any shoe boxes to donate
  • November meeting (23rd) we will be gathering gifts for the children at Salisbury Women’s Refuge to give to their mothers – unwrapped items please (no candles, no alcohol)
  • November meeting – please wear something orange!