Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

Today a trip to the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office couldn't be easier for Swindonians on the trail of their family history.

Gone is the long trek down to Trowbridge where for over 35 years Wiltshire's historic records were housed in a former mattress factory. Opened in October 2007, the state of the art Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is now a short drive away in Chippenham - and just 13 minutes by train.

Wiltshire's much-needed new archival repository has been a long time in the coming. When an inspection in 1998 declared that the Trowbridge building had failed to meet the British Standard 5454, falling below standard on fire and flood defences, action was urgently required. If fire and water didn't attack, the Public Record Office might, removing Wiltshire's heritage to the National Archives building at Kew, so the rumour circulated.

Fortunately Wiltshire County Council and Swindon Borough Council rose to the challenge and an agreement to develop a new record office was made in January 2000.

Opinions were divided as to the siting of the proposed building. Those in the south of the county wished it to remain in Trowbridge while Swindonians hoped it would be closer to home. Eventually a compromise was arrived at and plans for the new History Centre were drawn up on the site of the old livestock market in Cocklebury Road, Chippenham.

By the end of 2006 construction work was finished, the building, to be named the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, had been completed by contractors Cowlin Construction Ltd., on time and within the £11.6 million budget.

The Trowbridge office closed at the end of April 2007 and the mammoth task of moving 800 years of historical documents was accomplished with barely a hitch. Midway through the expedition archivist Steve Hobbs FSA wrote in the Wiltshire Family History Society journal: "To date only a single file of papers has been found under the shelving - evidence of careful housekeeping by the staff over the years."

For history enthusiasts, both family and local, academic and amateur, the new establishment gathers beneath its roof not only the Record Office but also four other heritage services - the Local Studies Library, the archaeology service, Wiltshire Buildings Record and the Conservation Service.

A handy tip - try visiting Access to Archives, on a database containing the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives catalogue. A keyword search for document reference numbers at home can help make best use of time spent at the History Centre.

The centre is open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30-5.30. You will be asked to register for a reader's ticket so take some form of identification. For more information see or ring 01249 705500.

For those tracing ancestors who worked on the railway check out the GWR Pension Fund Register, an index of over 56,000 uniformed traffic staff employed between 1880-1956.

New online catalogue of 105,000 Wiltshire Wills dating from 1540-1858. - for more details check

Microform copies of Wiltshire parish records and census returns are available for consultation - phone 01249 705500 to book a reader.

An archivist from the History Centre visits Swindon Central Library every month. Phone 463238 for more information.

Frances Bevan

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