I hadn’t intended to write another blog about the Carmarthenshire Archives situation for a while, but I’ve been overtaken by ‘events, dear boy, events’…
First, the good news: apparently Carmarthenshire county council intends to provide a page about the archives problem on its website, finally acknowledging the facts that [a] it actually holds such things as ‘documents’ that might be of interest to people called ‘historians’, and [b] there really is a problem with those documents. Of course, it will be a complete coincidence that this has only happened after the launch of an online campaign, and proof of the strength of popular feeling provided, for example, by the 1,000+ followers of the ‘Save Carmarthenshire Archives‘ Facebook page, with the many strongly-worded comments on it… I’ve assured the council that I’ll happily link to and publicise such a page once it exists, in the expectation that it will provide ‘clear, detailed and regularly updated information’ on the situation. Secondly, more good news: I’ve had confirmation from several sources that there are serious discussions about possible sites for a new county record office. This has pre-empted my intention to produce a list of helpful suggestions. After all, I’m pretty certain that all of the following would have better environmental conditions than the former county record office in Carmarthen: Hogwarts, the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi, the vast warehouse that appears at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (after all, surely Indiana Jones was one of the Joneses of Brynamman?), the Millennium Stadium (roof shut, obviously), the Ministry of Truth from Orwell’s 1984, my local pub, and Llaregyb Welfare Hall. I ruled out the National Assembly building in Cardiff, as that has severe problems with hot air.
Seriously, though, several sources have backed up the rumour that I reported in an earlier post, namely that the possibility of moving the archives to the Swansea University campus is a very strong runner. This makes sense on a number of levels: conditions there would be light years removed from the veritable squalor of the old county record office, while the pooling of the Carmarthenshire archives with those from the university (such as the Richard Burton papers) and from West Glamorgan would create a repository of national significance – and perhaps even provide the embryo of a ‘National Archives of Wales’ in due course. But as I’ve pointed out before, a move to Swansea would be a disaster from the point of view of those living in the west and north of the county, particularly those who have to rely on public transport. For those who don’t know the local geography, Swansea University’s main campus at Singleton is actually quite a way outside the city centre, and Swansea itself is about fifty miles away from the extremities of Carmarthenshire. Swansea is also in a different county, which would make Carmarthenshire, to the best of my knowledge, the only local authority in Britain outside of London not to have its archives housed within its borders (with the debatable exception of, umm, Rutland).
However, it seems that a second strong candidate for the new location is the former Royal Naval Stores Depot at Llangennech. At least some of the buildings there ought to have environmental controls that meet all required standards: as I pointed out in Britannia’s Dragon, this site housed pretty well all the twentieth century personnel records of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force between 1991 and 2008, and one assumes – perhaps naively – that the Ministry of Defence, at least, knew what it was doing in such matters. But questions have been raised about the current ownership of the Llangennech site, and it, too, presents serious geographical issues, being in the extreme south-eastern corner of the county and difficult to access by public transport. On the other hand, access by car from many parts of Carmarthenshire would be excellent, as the site is literally just off the M4; parking would be much easier than at Swansea University; and there would be no issues with the dreaded Swansea rush hour. But all in all, this and other potential ‘out of town’ sites present real problems of access by environmentally-friendly and age-friendly means, and hardly fit well with the council’s stated desire to be ‘a leader in the field of sustainability…conserving the earth’s resources and protecting the environment’ (Carmarthenshire County Council, Annual Report 2014-15 and Improvement Plan for 2015-16).
Finally, two reports on the outbreak of mould in the Carmarthenshire archives have been released under previous Freedom of Information requests, and are in the public domain; these are dated 10 December 2013 and July 2014. Taken together, they make absolutely damning reading, making it perfectly clear that the county council continued for years to house the archives in a completely unsuitable building and displayed a cavalier disregard for the environmental conditions required to store archives properly, no doubt because of penny pinching over heating costs and building maintenance. I hope to be able to provide further information when I receive responses to the FoI requests I’ve lodged with the council.
(My thanks to Jacqui Thompson of the ‘Carmarthenshire Planning Problems‘ blog for originally linking to these reports, and to the anonymous filer of the FoI requests.)