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others. Indeed there is scarcely any district of England whose local history has been, till very lately, so much neglected, or where so much, even now, remains to be accomplished.
And yet how rich it is in matters of commanding interest to the historian, and the antiquary! In the uncertainty which rests on the early annals of the island, through the want of written records, or the fabulous contradictions of such as we possess, history turns for information to the monuments of antiquity which its primitive inhabitants have left upon its surface. And where are to be found remains of this class in any degree comparable to the wonderful Celtic temples, and tumuli, and earthworks, with which our county abounds? Stonehenge and Avebury are to Britain what the Pyramids are to Egypt—the colossal and mysterious relics of an otherwise unrecorded age, and people! Passing on to a period, the darkness of which is penetrated by some faint gleams of historical light—that of the Roman occupation of the island—we find the vestiges of these military propagators of civilization and art—their roads, camps, stations, villas, thickly strewn over the soil of our county, and attesting their lengthened residence here. In a still later age, Wiltshire is known to have been one of the chief theatres of the sanguinary and protracted warfare waged by the invading Danes and Saxons with the aboriginal Britons, and with one another. Within its limits the heroic Arthur, and still more illustrious Alfred, contended at different periods for the liberties of their country, and won their most celebrated victories. Again, when the Normans had in turn conquered the isle, and imposed their feudal system on the self-governed Saxons, this district was the chief battlefield in that memorable contest, between rival sovereigns and their mailed Barons; the issue of which determined not only the ruling dynasty, but also the constitutional character of the realm. And the dwarfed remains of the Baronial strongholds of Sarum, of Ludgershall, of Devizes, Malmesbury, and Marlborough, are invested with a halo of interest from their connection with the fierce and desolating struggles of that stormy period. At a much later epoch of civil warfare, that of the Great Rebellion, and again in the Revolution of 1688, this county was likewise the scene of important events, deeply interesting to the Constitutional historian.
It may, therefore, be safely asserted that the history of no part of the kingdom is more deserving of close examination and study: while it is too certain that few counties have profited less from the labours of the local historian. It is true that considerable attention has been paid to the ancient and mysterious monuments of our Downs; and some rather startling theories have been broached in explanation of them; though I am far from intending to depreciate such speculations, for which there is ample ground in the singular character of these remains. The work on Ancient Wiltshire of Sir Richard Hoare is, indeed, a splendid contribution to the early history of the county; whose inhabitants can never be too grateful for the munificence exhibited in its publication, and the persevering labours which it records-labours in which a near relative of our valued honorary Secretary, Mr. W. Cunnington, bore a prominent part. Still, after all that has been effected by their spirited efforts, there is ample room remaining for further research and discovery in the direction of our ante-Norman history.
It is true, again, that to the liberality of the same generous individual, Sir Richard Hoare, and the industry and ability of his able coadjutors, the South of the county is indebted for descriptive histories of its several Hundreds inferior to few, if to any, topographical publications. In this respect it stands proudly distinguished and exempt from the reproach which rests upon the Northern section. And hence, together with the honoured memory of Sir Richard Hoare, will always be associated in the regard of every cultivated Wiltshireman, the names of Offer, Matcham, Bowles, Cunnington, Wansey, Harris, Black, Nichols, Benson, and Hatcher.
Indeed, even in the North, the Abbey of Lacock and some single manors have been examined and described. But these monographs are merely exceptions proving the rule, and it is still a sad truth that the history of more than one-half of the county remains inadequately investigated, and unwritten. Of its twenty-nine hundreds, fifteen have been described in the handsome (but rather costly) folios published under the title of Sir Richard Hoare's “Modern Wiltshire.” But they are, speaking gencrally, neither the most extensive, nor the most important. The undescribed fourteen hundreds comprehend by far the largest moiety of the shire, and contain some of the most interesting subjects.
The magnificent and early Monastery of Malmesbury, second only to Glastonbury in the whole West of England; those of Edyngton, Bradenstoke, Kington St. Michael, Bradfield, and Monkton Farleigh; the important town in which we are now assembled, with its castle of the 12th century; Marlborough, which also figured largely in the baronial wars of that period; Corsham, the palatial residence of our Saxon kings; Chippenham, still retaining its pure Saxon name, the station of Alfred's court and army for years, both before and after his decisive victory over the Danes in the neighbourhood; Calne, Cricklade, Highworth, Wootton Basset, Ludgershall, towns whose early possession of the elective franchise attests their ancient importance; Trowbridge, Bradford, and Melksham, for centuries past the flourishing seats of the staple manufacture of the county, and the cradles of some of our wealthiest proprietary families; the venerable and handsome churches which abound in the north of the county, as, to mention only a few examples, Bishop's Cannings, Great Bedwyn, Steeple Ashton, Seend, Sherston, Lydiard, Purton, and Kington;—all this, and much more, remains, as yet, undescribed, or nearly so, and its history a blank. The same must be said of many of the seats of the ancient nobility and gentry of the county—Tottenham, with its quasi-Royal Forest, so long the residence of the Seymours and the Bruces; Littlecot, one of the most interesting and best preserved manorial houses of the kingdom; Charlton, the northern rival of Longleat; Corsham, sometime the residence of the Hungerfords; Bowood, the favourite retreat of more than one generation of great statesmen, the hospitable resort of wit, poetry, and philosophy, literature and high art; Draycot, for centuries the chosen seat of the elder stock of the Longs; Rood Ashton, that of another branch of the same ancient and well-regarded family; Bromham the seat of the Bayntuns, Dauntsey of the Danverses, Alderton of the Gores, Swindon of the Goddards, Burderop of the Calleys, Lydiard of the St. Johns, with many others of which the entire catalogue would exhaust your patience all remain, not unknown, of course, but as yet undescribed in a manner worthy of the interest which justly attaches to them. No doubt some useful topographical notices of North Wilts have been published by our worthy and venerable friend, John Britton—to whom, for this and other of his life-long labours in the cause of topography, the county stands, in the estimation, I am sure, of us all, deeply indebted. But he himself would I know, be the first to admit that his volumes contain only very cursory, and inadequate, sketches of their subjects. And the proof of this is that, no one has been more active and zealous in his endeavours to obtain the coöperation of the friends of topographical research throughout the county, in the task of collecting materials for, and ultimately publishing, some satisfactory history of this northern portion, in which he was born, and which appears to be the object of his affectionate regard. (Cheers.)
One evil consequence of the neglect with which so large a portion of the county has been hitherto treated is, that every year's delay adds to the difficulty of gathering the information necessary for compiling its history. Decay is everywhere at work on our ancient records of every class. Manuscripts are lost or destroyed: buildings and monuments, such as churches, priories, chapels, manor-houses, crosses, tombs, are pulled down or suffered to fall: libraries and collections of drawings are dispersed: sculptures, paintings, stained glass,monumental stones or brasses, and other relics, are removed or destroyed. Much, no doubt, that might have been preserved, or at least imperishably recorded by full descriptions, measurements, and drawings, only half a century back, is now irrecoverably gone. Much that we may now save by fitting exertion in the present day will, otherwise, in another half century-nay, in another ten or twenty years perhaps—such is the rapidity of modern improvements, by which old lumber of this kind (as some consider it) is swept away—be irretrievable. Who is not grateful to the antiquaries of former times, the Hearnes, the Lelands, the Camdens, the Dugdales, and the Groses, for the information they have preserved to us, however imperfect, on matters of local interest, which, without their labours, would have been now beyond our reach? Who does not regret that more was not done in those days when so much remained within reach, which time, accident, or the march of improvement, have since annihilated? Towards the close of the seventeenth century, some of the gentlemen of the north of this county, who felt an interest in its history, seem to have entertained an intention of combining to undertake the task; John Aubrey, Thomas Gore, and Bishop Tanner, men fully competent to the work, were the originators of the design, and made some progress in the collection of the necessary materials. The chief of Aubrey's MSS. happily remain in some of our public libraries. Those of Gore and Tanner have disappeared. But who does not regret that this project fell to the ground unaccomplished? How much would have been then preserved which is hopelessly lost at present?
But, at least, it is in our own power to prevent further losses of this deplorable character. We may rescue from oblivion, and perpetuate, for the gratification and instruction of our successors, much for which they cannot be but grateful to us. Buildings and monuments of great interest still remain to be described, correct admeasurements and drawings taken of them, and their history explored and committed to writing. Some it may be possible to preserve from further decay or destruction by the joint exertions of such societies as this. Collections of MSS. no doubt exist in the private archives of many a noble or ancient family, or among the title-deeds of the landed proprietors of the county, from which a large amount of local history of great interest might be extracted, were access allowed to them for trustworthy and experienced persons. If we can only excite a general spirit of inquiry into our local history and antiquities, much cannot fail to be discovered, which has been hitherto concealed or supposed to be lost. Individual searchers, each working within his own limited sphere, will be able to do what no one or two individuals can do for the county at large. Surely we may hope that a society supported (as this promises to be from the meeting of to-day) by such influential patronage, and composed of so numerous and respectable a body of members, by encouraging such researches, and giving publicity to their results, may be expected both to throw a new light on the history of those parts of the county which have been already described, and to retrieve the annals of its neglected portions from the obscurity that at present envelopes them. We may then hope, many of us at least, to live to see a complete County History of Wiltshire, worthy of the titleworthy of this most important part of England-in which so many interesting historical events have occurred—with which so many remarkable historical characters have been connected. (Cheers.)
In the meantime, the printing and circulation of papers on the history of separate localities or antiquarian remains, will make this task the easier, by preparing some of the requisite materials.
That work will likewise be further aided by another of the intended objects of our Society, to which already your attention has been called, namely, the formation of a Central County Museum of Antiquities and Specimens of Natural History.
This, indeed, is as important an element as any, in the proposals submitted to-day to your consideration.
How many valuable objects are almost daily lost or dispersed, from want of some such means of preservation. Looking to antiquities alone, there is perhaps scarcely a parish in the county in which some coins, ornaments, sculptured or inscribed stones, vessels, and similar relics, are not from time to time found, and after a very brief interval again lost; or, if not lost, so treated, at least, that their local interest, and with it their historical value, is destroyed! How many such cases must have occurred within the knowledge of every one of us. These articles, or the greater proportion of them, if a Central County Museum had existed, would in all probability have found their way there, accompanied by explanatory statements from which students of the County History could not fail to gather much valuable information. Even entire collections of local antiquities formed by the zeal of individuals, are not unfrequently, after their decease, dispersed or rendered unavailable for any useful purpose, which the owners would willingly have bequeathed or presented to a County Museum, had any such been in existence. And all that I have here said applies with equal force to specimens illustrative of Natural History.
I have been rejoiced to hear it announced to-day that the nucleus of such a treasury has been already formed, and placed at the disposal of the Association, by a committee of gentlemen who subscribed recently for the purchase of the Wiltshire Collections of Mr. Britton. These consist chiefly of models, drawings, and works relating to the Celtic monuments of the County, of which they form, unquestionably, the most complete collection extant. To these will, we may hope, be added before long, contributions from many of our members, who will perhaps feel to how much better a purpose they may thus apply objects of the kind, which they may possess, or may come into possession of, than by allowing them to gather dust on their chimney-pieces, or within rarely opened drawers or cabinets. Already several such contributions have been sent in, at least for temporary inspection during the present meeting, and it is not improbable that on the condition of their being returned in case the County Museum is ever broken up, many of those which possess a local interest may be permitted permanently to occupy our shelves.
It was one of the most useful results of the despotic sway of the Emperor Napoleon, that he established such local museums in the chief town of every department of France, under the superintendence