Cynefin and the school collections at Carmarthenshire Archives

Archives Hub feature for April 2024

Work has begun on re-cataloguing the school and education records held by Carmarthenshire Archives.  The collection consists of the records of over 120 elementary schools, as well as school plans, photographs and minutes of various education authorities. Progress has been steady, and we aim to have the catalogues available on Archives Hub by the end of the year.

The work on re-cataloguing the collections also ties in with the planned development of an archive service for schools and colleges in the Carmarthenshire area.  The new Curriculum for Wales was introduced in 2022 and core to the humanities programme is a sense of “cynefin”.

“Cynefin” as defined by the new Curriculum for Wales is “the place where we feel we belong, where the people and landscape around us are familiar, and the sights and sounds are reassuringly recognisable.  Though often translated as ‘habitat’, cynefin is not just a place in a physical or geographical sense: it is the historic, cultural and social place which has shaped and continues to shape the community which inhabits it”.

The new curriculum allows learners of all ages to experience a range of stimuli that enthuse and inspire them to imagine and be curious, and to explore, discover and question through a range of opportunities.  This includes visits to libraries, archives and museums; engaging with structured enquiry and cooperative learning; to use artefacts and texts of historic and religious significance; and to work with individuals, experts, groups and organisations that have particular potential to provide stimulating contexts for learning.

The result has been an increase in schools requesting workshops linked to their locality and a good place to start is always with the school records, particularly the logbooks and admission registers.

Dating back to the 1870s in most instances, the school log books in our collections can help tell the story of a local community and illustrate the way an area responds to national events such as the two world wars as well as local events such as bad weather, harvests, and epidemics.

Image showing extract from handwritten Llwynhendy School logbook, dated 4 September 1939.
Extract from Llwynhendy School logbook, 4 September 1939. Item reference GB 211 OF/E 11/1/4.

Some examples I have recently come across include the staff of Llwynhendy School preparing to receive evacuees at the out break of the Second World War in September 1939. The admission register for the same school confirms that evacuees arrived at Llwynhendy from London, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Meanwhile in Bynea School in 1941, during an air raid warning the children were dressed and equipped with their gas masks ready for a speedy escape.  Instead, the children all stretched themselves out under the desks until the alert passed.

Image showing extract from handwritten Clawddowen School logbook, dated 5 May 1899.
Extract from Clawddowen School logbook, 5 May 1899. Item reference GB 211 OF/C 8/1/1.

In 1899, the school mistress at Clawddowen School was struggling with poor attendance. The very wet weather appears to have been putting most children off attending school. Although, even when “the weather is beautifully fine for good attendance…the children are kept home to assist in gardening and harrowing”. It was a battle the school mistress was never going to win.

At Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School in 1868, the master was having a different problem.  His opening entries in the logbook record that “the children are not progressing satisfactorily owing to their ignorance of the English Language” and “the same difficulty is expressed still with the children in the want of English”. Another entry also records that “formerly they were accustomed to be taught in Welsh and the transition from Welsh to English is accompanied with many difficulties”. Today, nearly two thirds of Carmarthenshire primary schools are Welsh medium, and there are four bilingual secondary schools and one Welsh medium school in the county.

Image showing extract from handwritten Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School logbook, dated 14 January 1868.
Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School logbook, 14 January 1868. Item reference GB 211 OF/G 3/1/1.

As work continues on the collections, I am certain to find more examples that will help tell the stories of our local communities.

Katie Millien
Carmarthenshire Archives


Descriptions of other archives held by Archifau Sir Gaerfyrddin / Carmarthenshire Archives can be found on Archives Hub here:

All images copyright Archifau Sir Gaerfyrddin / Carmarthenshire Archives. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Meet Maria Dawson, first graduate of the University of Wales

Archives Hub feature for January 2022

Our institutional archives, 144 metres of which are now catalogued on Archives Hub, hold the key to countless stories of student achievements, past and present. One of our most noteworthy alumni is botanist Maria Dawson, the recipient of the University of Wales’ first awarded degree, a Bachelor of Science, in 1896.

Dawson also jointly holds the title of the first Doctor of Science of the University of Wales. She was granted a prestigious scientific scholarship which funded her pioneering research into agricultural fertilisers.

Maria Dawson

Degree-awarding powers in Wales

In October 1892, Dawson was admitted to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (the predecessor to Cardiff University) to study mathematics, chemistry, zoology and botany.

At that time, the College did not have degree-awarding powers, and students were prepared for University of London examinations. However, in 1893, whilst Dawson was a student, the history of Welsh education was altered irrevocably with the establishment of the University of Wales. The University Colleges in Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth were its constituent institutions.

Academic excellence

Dawson was a high achiever from the outset: she won an exhibition (a bursary) at the College’s entrance examinations, which covered her matriculation and lecture fees, and another at the end of her first year.

She excelled in her scientific studies, winning prizes for her performance in all four of her subjects following her second year.

Chemistry Lab

From Botany modules to researching root nodules

After graduating with her B.Sc., Dawson was awarded a £150 research scholarship by Her Majesty’s Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. Her pioneering research, undertaken at the Cambridge Botanical Laboratories, investigated how the addition of nitrogen and nitrates to soil, a new practice at that time, affected crop yields.

In her research paper, ‘“Nitragin” and the nodules of leguminous plants’ published by Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, she concludes that adding nitrogen “to soils rich in nitrates” is inadvisable. Adding “a supply of it to soil poor in nitrates results in an increased yield”, however the best results are obtained when “nitrates [are] added to the soil”.

Aberdare Hall

Dawson may not have enrolled at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire at all if it were not for the dedicated all-female hall of residence the College offered. Her family lived in London, too far to return home each day, and it was not considered respectable for a young, unmarried woman to live in lodgings unchaperoned.

Aberdare Hall, a Grade II-listed Gothic revival residence founded in 1885, was one of the first higher education halls for women to be founded in the UK, and remains an all-female residence and community to this day.

Aberdare Hall

Doff thy caps: the first degree ceremony of the University of Wales

The first degree ceremony of the University of Wales took place in Cardiff at Park Hall, a large concert hall, on 22 October 1897.

The magazine of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, a student publication, reported on this auspicious occasion:

“The first to be presented was Miss Maria Dawson, for the degree of B.Sc., and her appearance was the signal for a great outburst of enthusiasm among the audience. The Deputy-Chancellor… gave her the diploma…, and with a… bow, she retired amid deafening cheers.”

College Magazine

Having our collections listed on Archives Hub makes them visible to a worldwide audience via Google. Since migrating our catalogues, we’ve received enquiries from as far afield as Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Our collections hold a multitude of stories as inspirational as Maria Dawson’s, and thanks to the reach of Archives Hub, they can be discovered, remembered, and celebrated. We’re proud of our long history of supporting women’s research in science, technology, and medicine – you can find more stories of women innovating today here: Women in STEM at Cardiff University.

Alison Harvey, Archivist
Special Collections and Archives
Cardiff University / Prifysgol Caerdydd


Records of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire and University College Cardiff, 1882-1988

Maria Dawson, first graduate of the University of Wales, 1897-1905 (description of photograph, part of the Cardiff University Photographic Archive collection, 1883-2001)

Browse all Cardiff University Archives / Prifysgol Caerdydd collections on the Archives Hub

All images copyright Cardiff University Archives / Prifysgol Caerdydd. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Researching LGBTQ+ History at North East Wales Archives

Have you ever wondered what LGBTQ+ archives might be held at North East Wales Archives (NEWA)? 

North East Wales Archives images.
North East Wales Archives images.

Today, we would like to shine the spotlight on some of the initiatives which are helping Wales to uncover the LGBTQ+ heritage held within our archives.   It can be quite a challenge to find records of this type of history since, because of its historically subversive nature, it was often hidden, destroyed or even put into code to avoid discovery.  Searching for records of LGBTQ+ history can prove difficult, because the terms that were used historically are different to those used in today’s language. Glamorgan Archives have put together an extremely helpful guide (PDF) called ‘Queering Glamorgan’, which also has an essential glossary of words and terms to help researchers find articles and stories in historic newspapers.

Image of archival storage, provided by North East Wales Archives/Adobe Spark.
Colourised image of archival storage units #LGBTQ (NEWA/Adobe Spark).

Societies like #Draig Enfys or #Rainbow Dragon are working tirelessly to find and share the stories and lives of people in Wales throughout the ages and to help us to explore the archives for ourselves. Draig Enfys is a research group set up by Norena Shopland, who specialises in researching, recording and promoting LGBT+, women’s and Welsh histories; Mark Etheridge, National Museum Wales; and Susan Edwards, Glamorgan Archives. They wanted to create a forum for researchers to network, help each other out and prevent people working on duplicate subjects.  They saw the benefit of people joining forces and collaborating together in this often lonely field of research.

There is also a hive of creative activity in this field, with original research being undertaken in Wales.  Projects like Living Histories Cymru, run by Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler, bring historic Welsh LGBTQ+ individuals to life through lively, costumed talks and plays. Other researchers and groups of young people are currently working with National Museum Wales to host various exhibitions and publish books on LGBTQ+ history.

James Henry Lynch: The Rt. Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler & Miss Ponsonby 'The Ladies of Llangollen'. A portrait from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales. Image in the public domain.
James Henry Lynch: The Rt. Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler & Miss Ponsonby ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’. A portrait from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

At the Denbighshire branch of NEWA, we hold Minutes of the weekly medical officers meetings which contain details of patient cases, including discussions on the benefits and problems associated with ECT treatment, and brief details on the treatment of a homosexual patient in March 1968.  We also hold records relating to the celebrated ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, ‘romantic friends’ in the 18th century, who ran away together to escape the constraints of patriarchal society to live together in isolation. Newspapers and court records at both branches are also rich sources of LGBTQ+ stories and pathways to further research.

Photographs of North East Wales Archives.
Photographs of the Hawarden (Archifdy Sir y Fflint / Flintshire Record Office) and Ruthin (Archifau Sir Ddinbych / Denbighshire Archives) branches.

If you are interested in LGBTQ+ history, why not try using the terms in Glamorgan Archives’ glossary to search for stories in online newspapers? You can also visit our website to uncover more sources of historical stories from your local area!

Teresa Davies
Archive Assistant
North East Wales Archives/NEWA (Hawarden)


Explore more LGBTQ archives on the Archives Hub

Browse all Archifau Sir Ddinbych / Denbighshire Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Browse all Archifdy Sir y Fflint / Flintshire Record Office collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous feature

Unlocking the Asylum: Cataloguing the North Wales Hospital Archive

All images copyright. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Unlocking the Asylum: Cataloguing the North Wales Hospital Archive

Archives Hub feature for August 2019

The North Wales Hospital collection is one of the most popular at Denbighshire Archives. It attracts a variety of different service users including family historians, history students, and academics. The collection is one of the top search terms, and in the top ten performing web pages on the services website.

HD/1/452: The architect’s impression of the hospital, dated 1845.
HD/1/452: The architect’s impression of the hospital, dated 1845.

The North Wales Hospital was originally known as the North Wales Counties Lunatic Asylum, it opened in October 1848 in response to the growing concern of the treatment of the mentally ill in North Wales. As there was no public institution in North Wales, the mentally ill were often inadequately cared for by families, sent to a union workhouse, or sent to an English asylum. In response a group of landed gentry, clergyman, and businessmen met at Denbigh General Infirmary, to call attention to the need for a hospital for the mentally ill. From the outset the group were keen to distance themselves from the typical image of a Victorian Asylum, where patients were locked away or where mechanical restraints were used. They believed that these should be replaced by kind management and moral discipline, provided to patients in their own language, an ethos which stayed with the hospital throughout its life.

HD/1/81: The minute book of the founders of the hospital, discussing the principles of kind treatment and moral management, dated 1842-1848.
HD/1/81: The minute book of the founders of the hospital, discussing the principles of kind treatment and moral management, dated 1842-1848.

After nearly 150 years the hospital closed in 1995, during this time thousands of patients had passed through its doors. The hospital existed at a time of important developments in the treatment of mental health, and was often at the forefront of new experimental treatments, including Electro Convulsive Therapy, Leucotomy procedures, insulin shock therapy, and pharmaceutical advancements designed to treat neurological diseases such as schizophrenia.

The collection is extensive, it includes management records such as minutes and annual reports, building records including some relating to the initial foundation of the hospital, financial records including annual accounts, and staff records including wage books. As well as records reflecting the administrative side of the hospital, the records also reflect the more social and recreational side of hospital life and include records of patient and staff social clubs, sports teams, music, and cinema showings.

HD/1/443: An exercise class for female patients in the recreation hall, c1950s.
HD/1/443: An exercise class for female patients in the recreation hall, c1950s.

There are numerous patient records including case files dating from the opening of the hospital in 1848, admission, and discharge registers, ward reports, registers of deaths, and a large number of patient reception orders. One of the most exciting features of the collection is the series of 30,000 patient files which date from after the formation of the National Health Service in 1948 and run up until the hospitals closure. They are regarded as being uniquely important, in that, they are a complete collection of mental health records that cover the same geographical area of a fairly static population over a long period of time, making them ideal for comparative study.

Whilst records containing sensitive or personal information are closed to the public for 100 years, they will be available for academic research to those belonging to an academic institution. The records are a vital resource for academics and medical professionals, not only do they track the development of institutional psychiatric care and treatment during an exceptional period of innovation in mental health treatments, they also provide intimate details about the lives of the patients and the world they lived in. The records provide a great deal of detail about the patients, with background information provided by the relatives. This social context produces a rare insight into the lives of those not usually given a voice in the historical record.

Previous work carried out on the collection had been met with an enthusiastic response from service users. It was felt that further projects were needed to completely catalogue the collection to make it more accessible, and to build on the keen interest shown. A scoping survey carried out in 2015 confirmed that if the collection was accessible it would be one of the best and richest research resources for medical humanities in North Wales.

In 2017 Denbighshire Archives received a grant from the Wellcome Research Resources Award to finance the Unlocking the Asylum project. During the two year project the collection has been fully catalogued, repackaged, and assessed for conservation needs. Additionally the series of 30,000 post 1948 patient case files have been fully indexed and repackaged, making them more accessible for academic research than ever before. The patient file index has extracted key details from each file including date of birth, address, admission and discharge dates, dates of death, diagnosis, details of treatments, number of admissions, and details of any supporting documents such as outpatient notes, social work notes, letters, poetry or artwork produced by patients, and reports of court proceedings.

An example of one of 30,000 patient files before and after repackaging.
An example of one of 30,000 patient files before and after repackaging.

The completed collection catalogue will be available via the Denbighshire Archives website and the Archives Hub at the end of the project. Further details on how to access and use the collection will be available on the Denbighshire Archives website at the end of the project in October 2019.

Lindsey Sutton
Project Archivist (Unlocking the Asylum)
Denbighshire Archives


North Wales Hospital, records of (1848-1995)

Browse all Denbighshire Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Denbighshire Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Carter Vincent archives and the Kneeshaw family papers

Archives Hub feature for May 2019

Carter Vincent archives

Carter Vincent was a prominent and family run firm of solicitors at Bangor, North Wales. The early family members were clerics but the solicitor profession soon took over. The Carter Vincent Archives held at Bangor University Archives and Special Collections span over 350 years and comprise the papers which the firm generated as part of its own business, as well as the records that they held by or on behalf of clients. The papers (currently numbering in excess of 5000 items) consist of draft and copy leases, conveyances, mortgages, abstracts of title, property deeds and other documents relating to properties and families in the old Welsh counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Denbigh, Flint, Merioneth and Montgomery, as well as the English counties of Hereford, Lancashire, Somerset and Devon. They also include personalia, including financial papers, letters from clients, notices and various other documents. The firm’s clients included prominent figures in the locality and it acted for the Penrhyn Estate and the Diocese of Bangor. The firm is still trading in Bangor in 2019, under the name Carter Vincent LLP.

Cataloguing the papers began in the 1950s when the firm deposited over 3000 items. A further set of papers followed in 1969 and then a third in the 1990s – all of which have been catalogued and are available to research in paper format in the Archives. However, we are aware of the need and demand to make these catalogues available online and work has already begun to input the data onto our online catalogue. As a research resource their potential is immense; providing rich evidence for analysing issues such as estate management, land use and tenure, ownership patterns, building history, changes in local topography and community structures. The Archives are fully committed to ensuring that the incredible research, teaching and outreach potential of the collection is fully unlocked.

Additional documents have been received since and are currently being sorted and catalogued by one of our volunteers, Lionel, a local solicitor himself. Our submission to Archives Hub this month focusses on a letter and patent specification discovered by Lionel in a bundle of papers relating to the Kneeshaws, a prominent family in North Wales and a significant client of Carter Vincent.

Kneeshaw family papers

Wilfred Shafto Kneeshaw was the only son of Henry Kneeshaw of Penmaenmawr (JP, Deputy Lieutenant, Sheriff of Caernarvonshire). He began his military career as a Private with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (later Lieutenant) and later became a Captain in the 66th Training Reserve of the Welsh Regiment.

He was badly wounded in August 1915 and, whilst recovering, spent his time researching and inventing a rifle stand, an idea which possibly came from his direct experience of warfare in the trenches.

Letter from W.S. Kneeshaw to ‘Trevor’ [Mr Trevor of Carter Vincent, Solicitors, Bangor] regarding an invention he intends to patent
Letter from W.S. Kneeshaw to ‘Trevor’ [Mr Trevor of Carter Vincent, Solicitors, Bangor] regarding an invention he intends to patent. Included is a photograph of a prototype and the specification (below).

Photograph of a prototype of the invention by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Photograph of a prototype of the invention by W.S. Kneeshaw.

Page one of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page one of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.

Page two of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page two of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.

He took out a Patent for his invention in March 1916 – whether this design made it to the trenches or not is unknown:

“Patent: 101,441. Machine rests for.-Consists of a rifle stand for use when firing a rifle grenade. The stand comprises a front support 11 having at the top a pivoted fork 13 for the forepart of the rifle, and an inclined trough or guideway 15 for the butt of the rifle. The butt rests on a padded shoe 19 adapted to be adjusted along the trough 15, which may be graduated, by a handle 26. The shoe can be clamped in position by a screw and nut 22, 24”

Cited from: European Patent Office, GB101441 (A) – Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade, Application number: GB19160004302 19160323, [Accessed April 2019].

Patent for Kneeshaw's 'Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade', Bibliographic data: GB101441 (A) ? 1916-09-21. European Patent Office.
Patent for Kneeshaw’s ‘Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade’, Bibliographic data: GB101441 (A) ? 1916-09-21. European Patent Office (European Patent Office website screenshot, April 2019).

Lynette Hunter
Bangor University


Carter Vincent Manuscripts, 1597-1943

Carter, Vincent & Co., Additional Papers, 1570-1857

Browse all Bangor University Archives descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

Previous features on the Bangor University Archives collections:

The Welsh in Patagonia

Sentimental Journey: a focus on travel in the archives

All images copyright Bangor University Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Raymond Williams papers at the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Archives Hub feature for October 2017

Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language”– Raymond Williams, ‘Keywords’ (1983).

Photograph of Raymond Williams. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.
Photograph of Raymond Williams. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

A collection level description of the Raymond Williams Collection has been available on the Archives Hub for several years but in recent weeks the entire catalogue has been exported from our CALM database and made live. This is one of the outcomes of Archives Wales Catalogues Online, a collaborative project between the Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) and the Archives Hub to increase the discoverability of Welsh archives. This project was supported by the Welsh Government through its Museums Archives and Libraries Division, with a grant to Swansea University, a member of ARCW and a long-standing contributor to the Hub.

The papers of the renowned cultural critic and writer Raymond Williams (1921-1988) were catalogued courtesy of funding from the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, the College of Arts and Humanities and Information Services and Systems at Swansea University. The collection has been extensively used by researchers from the UK, Japan and America since it was catalogued, it is hoped that the inclusion of item level descriptions on the Archives Hub will promote its potential use further and wider.

Photograph of notes about the theory of culture. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.
Photograph of notes about the theory of culture. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

Raymond Williams is probably best known for his notion that culture is ordinary. Through published works such as ‘Culture and Society’ (1958), he was one of the leading academic figures undertaking research and publishing works that explored and redefined ‘culture’. Other seminal works written by Raymond Williams included ‘The Long Revolution’ (1961), ‘The Country and the City’, ‘Keywords’ (1976), ‘Towards 2000’ (1983). As a major intellectual figure of the twentieth-century, Williams is recognized worldwide as one of the founding figures of Cultural Studies.

As well as his productive academic career, which included becoming the first professor of drama at Cambridge University (1974-1983) and the ten works published, Raymond Williams also published seven fictional works. The first was ‘Border Country’, which was set in the landscape of his childhood, in the rural area between England and Wales. Originally published in 1960, it was re-issued in 2005 by Parthian as part of the Library of Wales series, with Dai Smith, his biographer, claiming it to be ‘the Greatest Welsh Novel’.  Other fictional works include the two volumes of ‘People of the Black Mountains’ which were prepared for publication by his wife, Joy Williams, following his death.

The prodigious writing ability of Raymond Williams went beyond academic works and novels. He wrote weekly book reviews for ‘The Guardian’, reviews for other publications, as well as a regular column in ‘The Listener’ which revealed his keen interest in television and film. Raymond Williams also wrote newspaper type publications to explore and convey ideas, such as ‘The Cambridge University Journal’ when he was at university, and ‘TwentyOne’, the weekly newspaper of the 21st Anti-Tank Regiment that he edited and contributed to during his active service during World War Two, under the name of Michael Pope and other aliases.

Photograph of timetable of studies. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.
Photograph of timetable of studies. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

The collection held in the Archives shows the full range of Raymond Williams’ creativity:

  • manuscripts and typescripts of draft and final versions of novels, dramatic works, poetry and academic writings
  • newspaper articles and reviews
  • professional correspondence
  • personal and family papers (including his diaries)
  • talks, lectures and debates

This comprehensive collection is illustrative of how he could explore and express ideas in many formats and on many subjects; culture, drama and literature, politics, communications and media, sociology, language, technology, history, war and ‘The Bomb’, class, education, region and geography.

The breadth and depth of ideas within the archives mean that the Raymond Williams collection can be used in a multitude of ways. For example, groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students have used items within the collection as part of their courses studying World War One, the General Strike, World War Two, the Cold War and nuclear disarmament, as well as culture, literature, education and social policy. It is a ‘go to’ collection for material to display for VIPs and other visitors.

Photograph of student group in the reading room.
Photograph of student group in the reading room.

This collection has been the catalyst for fascinating conversations in the Reading Room about Raymond Williams as a writer, researcher, teacher, as well as discussions about some of the questions posed by the archive: challenging handwriting, apparently random notes and half-finished texts, who wrote what – was it Raymond or was it his wife, Joy?

We look forward to receiving more enquiries about the collection and seeing this valuable archival material being used for to its full potential.

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing” ― Raymond Williams, ‘Resources of Hope’ (published posthumously in 1989).

Dr Katrina Legg
Assistant Archivist
Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University


Explore the Raymond Williams Collection on the Archives Hub.

Browse Swansea University Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Swansea University / family of Raymond Williams and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.


Archives Wales Catalogues Online: Working with the Archives Hub

Stacy Capner reflects on her first six months as Project Officer for the Archives Wales Catalogues Online project, a collaboration between the Archives and Records Council Wales and the Archives Hub to increase the discoverability of Welsh archives.

For a few years now there has been a strategic goal to get Wales’ archive collections more prominently ‘out there’ using the Archives Wales website. Collection level descriptions have been made available previously through the ‘Archives Network Wales’ project, but the aim now is to create a single portal to search and access multi-level descriptions from across services. The Archives Hub has an established, standards based way of doing this, so instead of re-inventing the wheel, Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) saw an opportunity to work with them to achieve these aims.

The work to take data from Welsh Archives into the Archives Hub started some time ago, but it became clear that getting exports from different systems and working with different cataloguing practices required more dedicated 1-2-1 liaison. I am the project officer on a defined project which began in April to provide dedicated support to archive services across Wales and to establish requirements for uploading their catalogue data to the Archives Hub (and subsequently to Archives Wales).

This project is supported by the Welsh Government through its Museums Archives and Libraries Division, with a grant to Swansea University, a member of ARCW and a long-standing contributor to the Hub. I’m on secondment from the University to the project, which means I’ve found myself back in my northern neck of the woods working alongside the Archives Hub team. This project has come at a time when the Archives Hub have been putting a lot of thought into their processes for uploading data straight from systems, which means that the requirements for Welsh services have started to define an approach which could be applied to archive services across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Here are my reflections on the project so far:

  1. Wales has fantastic collections, holding internationally significant material. They deserve to be promoted, accessible and searchable to as wide an audience as possible. Some examples-

National Library of Wales, The Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell & Tretower (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, 2016)

Swansea University, South Wales Coalfield Collection

West Glamorgan, Neath Abbey Ironworks collection (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register, 2014)

Bangor University, Penrhyn Estate papers (including material relating to the sugar plantations in Jamaica)

Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900.
Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900. From the South Wales Coalfield Collection. Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University (Ref: SWCC/PHO/COL/11)

  1. Don’t be scared of EAD ! I was. My knowledge of EAD (Encoded Archival Description) hadn’t been refreshed in 10 years, since Jane Stevenson got us to create brownie recipes using EAD tags on the archives course. So, whilst I started the task with confidence in cataloguing and cataloguing systems, my first month or so was spent learning about the Archives Hub EAD requirements. For contributors, one of the benefits of the Archives Hub is that they’ve created guidance, tools and processes so that archivists don’t have to become experts at creating or understanding EAD (though it is useful and interesting, if you get the chance!).
  1. The Archives Hub team are great! Their contributor numbers are growing (over 300 now) and their new website and editor are only going to make it easier for archive services to contribute and for researchers to search. What has struck me is that the team are all hot on data, standards and consistency, but it’s combined with a willingness to find solutions/processes which won’t put too much extra pressure on archive services wishing to contribute. It’s a balance that seems to work well and will be crucial for this project.
  1. The information gathering stage was interesting. And tiring. I visited every ARCW member archive service in Wales to introduce them to the project, find out what cataloguing systems they were using, and to review existing electronic catalogues. Most services in Wales are using Calm, though other systems currently being used include internally created databases, AtoM, Archivists Toolkit and Modes. It was really helpful to see how fields were being used, how services had adapted systems to suit them, and how all of this fitted in to Archives Hub requirements for interoperability.

    Photo of icecream
    Perks of working visits to beautiful parts of Wales.
  1. The support stage is set to be more interesting. And probably more tiring! The next 6 months will be spent providing practical support to services to help enable their catalogues to meet Archives Hub requirements. I’ll be able to address most of the smaller, service specific, tasks on site visits. The Hub team and I have identified a number of trickier ‘issues’ which we’ll hash out with further meetings and feedback from services. I can foresee further blog posts on these so briefly they are:
  • Multilingualism- most services catalogue Welsh items/collections in Welsh, English items/collections in English and multi-language item/collections bilingually. However, the method of doing this across services (and within services) isn’t consistent. We’re going to look at what can be done to ensure that descriptions in multiple languages are both human and machine readable.
  • Ref no/Alt ref- due to legacy issues with non-hierarchical catalogues, or just services personal preference, there are variations in the use of these fields. Some services use the ref no as the reference, others use the alt ref no as the reference. This isn’t a problem (as long as it’s consistent). Some services use ref no as the reference but not at series level, others use the alt ref no as the reference but not at series level. This will prove a little trickier for the Archives Hub to handle but hopefully workarounds for individual services will be found.
  • Extent fields missing- this is a mandatory field at collection level for the Archives Hub. It’s important to give researchers an idea of the size of the collection/series (it’s also an ISAD(G) required field). However, many services have hundreds of collection level descriptions which are missing extent. It’s not something I’ll practically be able to address on my support visits so the possibility of further work/funding will be looked into.
  • Indexing- this is understandably very important to the Archives Hub (they explain why here). For several archive services in Wales it seems to have been a step too far in the cataloguing process, mainly due to a lack of resource/time/training. Most have used imported terms from an old database or nothing at all. Although this will not prevent services from contributing catalogues to the Archives Hub, it does open up opportunities to think about partnership projects which might address this in the future (including looking at Welsh language index terms).

The project has made me think about how I’ve catalogued in the past. It’s made me much more aware that catalogues shouldn’t just be an inward-facing, local or an intellectual control based task; we should be constantly aware of making our descriptions more discoverable to researchers. And it’s shown me the importance of standards and consistency in achieving this (I feel like I’ve referenced consistency a lot in this one blog post; consistency is important!).  I hope that the project is also prompting Welsh archive services to reflect on the accessibility of their own cataloguing- something which might not have been looked at in many years.

There’s a lot of work to be done, both in this foundation work and further funding/projects which might come of the back of it. But hopefully in the next few years you’ll be discovering much more of Wales’ archive collections online.

Stacy Capner
Project Officer
Archives Wales Catalogues Online


Archives Hub EAD Editor –

Archives Hub contributors – list and map