The Pewsey Heritage Centre collections highlight the social, agricultural and industrial aspects of rural England over the past 150 years or so, a period which includes the rise, fall and rise again of the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the Railway with its rapid links to both east and west.
The mechanisation of agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries changed the face of Pewsey Vale forever. Farm owners no longer needed so many labourers and people were forced off the land. Tools and equipment found on farms in the early years of mechanisation can be found in the collection.
With the coming of mechanisation and the movement of people into Pewsey, engineers and engineering premises were established in villages that became the focal point of social life people moved from the land and the outlying hamlets to set up in business or to work for companies supplying services to the expanding communities. The collection includes historical engineering equipment as well as items illustrating the way people lived.
The Pewsey Heritage Centre collection is housed in the former foundry building of Whatley and Hosier, a water and agricultural engineering firm who moved from Wootton Rivers to Pewsey in about 1870. The firm was well located to access coal, steel stock and cast iron brought along the canal to Pewsey Wharf, latterly raw materials would have come in by rail.
After patenting several pump and valve designs, the company flourished and expanded into agricultural engineering with the advent of mechanisation on the farms of the fertile Pewsey Vale in the nineteenth century. The firm, now known as Whatley and Co, built and repaired this equipment as well as manufacturing replacement components.
Whatley's built a new foundry in 1873 to accommodate their casting and machining work; this is the building in which the Pewsey Heritage Centre is now located. The managing director, Uriah Whatley, made use of cheaply available limestone blocks left over from works associated with the canal and the railway.
The building is a veritable Victorian temple of industry: there are stone semi-circular arches over all doors and windows and a fan shaping of the top glazing panes in the windows. Originally there were huge doors in the west and south walls, capable of allowing a traction engine inside. Despite a fire destroying the original roof in 1919, the remainder of the building is as constructed. The floor of the foundry was originally of sand, to facilitate the casting process. This was concreted over as the use of the building changed. The building was also fitted with a hand operated overhead 5 ton travelling crane, which is still in place.
By the 1970s the business had become unsustainable in the face of competition from firms with more up-to-date technology. Whatley's focussed on motor repair work in new buildings to the rear of the foundry. With no institution forthcoming to take on the historic equipment in the foundry, it seems this might be scrapped. Pewsey Local History Society reached agreement with Whatley's that in exchange for part of the building being used as a museum, the machinery would be preserved in situ.
The Pewsey Heritage Centre aims to gather together artefacts relating to the social, economic, agricultural and of course industrial aspects of life in the Vale of Pewsey from the last 150 years. The Pewsey Heritage Centre is a place where senior citizens can scoff 'I don't know why this is in here - we use ours every day', and the youngsters can say 'What did they use these old things for?'. Archive material is also available to researchers
The Pewsey Heritage Centre now holds more material than it can display at one time. Many exhibits are rotated though some stay on permanent exhibition, either because of general interest, for example wartime memorabilia, or because they are too heavy to move. The Centre has a large collection of local photographs with originals stored. Copies are available for exhibition.
£2 per Adult, Free for 16 year olds and under