It's been really hard choosing this week's H because there are quite a few good ones to choose from as far as Chippenham's concerned. In the end I plumped for the History Centre because I went there for the first time whilst researching D for Donkey Field.
As you can see the centre is for the whole of Wiltshire and is one of the latest (and largest) public buildings to be built in the town. It's built on part of the old cattle market (which closed in 2004) close to the railway station and opened to the public in October 2007. The move of the various records held at Trowbridge (our county town) and Salisbury to Chippenham was quite controversial at the time because whilst Chippenham has relatively good transport links, it's neither in the centre of Wiltshire, nor is it the largest (which is Swindon) or the county town.
The History Centre is the focal point for all heritage services relating to Wiltshire and Swindon which includes the collections of the county's local studies library, museums service, archaeology service, Wiltshire buildings record and the conservation service. It has purpose built archive storage and research facilities and covers an area of about 5 football pitches (4,000 square metres) in size. All kinds of items are stored there: documents, film, microfiche, newspapers, video, CDs etc. etc. Some of the more unusual items can be found on the Records Office blog.
About 10,000 people use the archives each year, many of whom are researching their family history and have found links to Wiltshire. My visit was slightly different as I was trying to find out some of the history of a local name and area of land.
Like all visitors I had to register on arrival (unless they've done so already) and store my coat and bag in one of the lockers provided. No food or drink is allowed inside the archive area in order to help preserve the materials and I was only allowed to carry a notebook and pencil. I then asked one of the staff on duty about my query who then scurried off to find the right set of indexes for us to look through.
As my query was about land belonging to the previous Chippenham Borough Council, I was told at the outset that it was highly likely that the information I wanted would be at the Town Hall in the middle of town as the town council have decided to store those records there instead of making them available at county level.
However, there was just one likely looking reference in the index which I then ordered up from the archive storage area. I was then shown into the 'inner sanctum', the silent study area where a few people were seated at tables making notes from various books. After about 10 minutes my document arrived tied up with white ribbon and I was able to find just what I needed for my letter D :)
I'm hoping they'll have behind the scene tours for the national Heritage Open Days in September as this is the most fascinating of places.
This is for ABC Wednesday and is the eighth in my themed round of posts about Chippenham.