Hard working volunteers faced a mammoth task when they moved Westbury’s heritage collection to its new home at the town library recently.
Crates containing everything from historic clothing through to commemorative china, books, documents, photographs and rolls of cloth from the town’s woollen mills, were carried up to the storeroom on the third floor.
Some artefacts needed extra special help. The weighty statue of Hercules that has featured on the Repair Shop television programme, was strapped to a trolley and wheeled across with the help of the team.
The new heritage centre will be on the first floor of the historic library building, but the planned opening has been delayed due to the restrictions of coronavirus.
Sally Hendry from Westbury Heritage Society has chosen some of the interesting possessions and tells their story.
One of the many historic photographs in the heritage collection is of the Lopes Arms in the town Market Place.
It pictures a handsome carriage complete with a pair of dock tailed greys. In the background you can clearly see the old entrance to the livery stables.
Currently empty, this substantial listed building is believed to stand on the site of a sixteenth century inn called St George and the Dragon. In its heyday, it was the town’s leading hostelry and the venue for many important events from political dinners to auctions of everything from land and property to vintage ports, sherries, champagne and brandy.
In 1887 it was being advertised as offering first rate hotel accommodation for private parties or commercial gentlemen. It hired out closed and open carriages, saddle horses or dog carts by the day or week, and a horse-drawn omnibus met every train. It even promised cigars of the finest brands and a billiard table.
But the hotel was sometimes the scene of more tragic events. It was often used for inquests when coroner, jury and even the public would view bodies and hear evidence.
The heritage society was contacted recently by the National Army Museum asking for our help in identifying a photograph from the second world war when troops were housed in Westbury before shipping out to North Africa.
Its collection featured images of troops on parade in the Market Place, marching from a service at All Saints and even queuing for the Vista cinema. It also featured a rare shot of Fontainville, the mansion which was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for the building of the High Street and car parks.
The house, built in 1816, was once a girls’ school and then the home of the Jefferies family who were glove manufacturers. It had stone gateposts, a surrounding high wall and a semi-circular entrance drive leading up to the imposing four pillared entrance porch. Behind the wall were extensive gardens, with espalier fruit trees, a well-stocked kitchen garden and lawns.
An advertisement in 1878 offered it to let, describing the six bedroomed house as a “miniature mansion with imposing facade” with four acres of orchards and rich water meadow land, stabling and coach house. It was evidently used for apiary too, for an advertisement of 1922 has the Jefferies family advertising the sale of bee hives, frames and honey bottles.
A sale of furniture and effects was held in October 1938 and by 1939, the building was requisitioned for the military. Nissen huts were built in the grounds to house American soldiers. After the war, evacuees and local people were housed in the huts. The house fell into disrepair, as can be seen by our second photograph, and permission was granted for its demolition along with the huts.
Construction of the High Street started in 1962, with the first shop opening the following year.
Find out more about Westbury’s heritage on the website or visit our Facebook page at Old Westbury, Wiltshire.
The National Army Museum collection can be seen at www.collection.nam.ac.uk