Even in an increasingly digital age where smartphones keep many of our photographs tightly locked in pixels, there is something emotional and awe-inspiring about looking at old photographs.
The edges may be a bit tatty and the colour faded and browned, but the eyes of the subjects in them still shine. The photos of buildings long torn down still tell a story. And iconic structures we can still visit today looked just as impressive back then. Vintage photography is becoming increasingly popular, and with new digital archiving tools, preserving history through old photographs is helping to capture the spirit of a particular place.
For centuries, Wiltshire has played a key role in the history of Britain. When you consider the mysterious Stonehenge, the Roman settlement at Old Sarum, the origins of Wessex and England, and the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire is the very definition of history.
Each year, thousands of people come to the county looking for relaxation, natural beauty, and to enjoy its wealth of history. For generations, those enjoying the perfect cottage holiday in Wiltshire have snapped picture after picture of the buildings, the nature, and the people of the county. And after all these years, there is a treasure trove of visual history to enjoy.
We have gathered some ways you can enjoy this photographic history in person or from the comfort of your own computer or tablet. Either way, they are great ways to enjoy Wiltshire’s photographic past.
Maintaining Wiltshire’s Visual Past
In an effort to protect the county’s history, Wiltshire’s Council maintains its own historic photograph and print collection. With more than 60,000 items and including all the important changes over time, it is truly a record of Wiltshire’s history. The council’s collection is held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. There is also an online catalogue that can be searched and there is a selection of images that can be accessed as well.
The Wiltshire Studies search room facility at the History Centre is open for all to visit. The museum asks that they are notified in advance of your trip if you would like to visit. Photographs and materials can be viewed in their original form – or in microfilm form for parish registers and newspapers.
In such a historically-rich area, Wiltshire Council is committed to protecting its history. There are a great number of council resources to help history buffs get a bit more information when they are visiting Wiltshire as well.
Looking back at Swindon
Running through to mid-July in Swindon, a new artistic exposition is currently offering visitors a look into the city’s past. The Swindon in 175 Images exhibition shares the history of Swindon during the last 150 years. The exhibition is being held at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
Located in the northern part of the county, Swindon has a uniquely urban and rural past. The name of the exhibition comes from the number of photographs on display. Organisers have brought together local art, photographs and postcard collections – many of them original.
The event is part of the Swindon 175 series being celebrated throughout the city, which is an event to commemorate the town’s 175 years of achievement and heritage. The Great Western Railway, the production of the Spitfire and the Mini Cooper have all played a role in Swindon’s industrial past.
Keeping contact with the past
The BBC has brought together a large online collection of the county’s history. In this firmly digital age, read and explore Wiltshire’s history in this unique collection of stories and photographs. From a look at alien encounters in Chippenham and an account of a visit from The Rolling Stones in 1964, to a farmer’s uprising in 1830, Wiltshire’s history comes alive on the site.
Wiltshire also has a multitude of museums for visitors to enjoy the county’s past. The Wiltshire Museum is in Devizes; there is the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon; and the Salisbury Museum maintains the city’s rich past.
And, of course, there are the English Heritage sites that make Wiltshire famous across the globe. The network of museums connected to Stonehenge and Old Sarum are incredibly interesting and are experiences anyone visiting Wiltshire should find the time to have.