Carmarthenshire Archives: the Perils of the ‘P’ Word

This week, I’m delighted to welcome Susan Beckley with a guest blog about the Carmarthenshire Archives situation, essentially a response and sequel to last week’s post on this site. Susan worked as an archivist in Carmarthenshire from 1974 to 1986, and wrote the book Carmarthenshire Record Office: A Survey of Archival Holdings (1980). She was the County Archivist for West Glamorgan from 1992 to 2004, and is thus uniquely placed to comment both on the current situation and on a potential ‘partnership’ arrangement which could see the Carmarthenshire archives relocate to Swansea.

Next week will see a return to the usual subject matter of this blog, when I’ll have some very exciting news on the book front!

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As one of the county archivists involved in setting up one of the much vaunted successful  joint archive services in urban south Wales following Local Government Reorganization in 1996, I thought I should comment on the background to this.

  • Section 60 of the Local Government [Wales] Act, 1994 required each of the 22 new Principal Councils in Wales to set out a Scheme for Archives detailing their plans for delivering an archive service.
  • In Glamorgan and Gwent, the urban south Wales counties, the four post- 1974 County Councils of Mid, South, and West Glamorgan and Gwent, were to be replaced by twelve unitary authorities. The counties, by 1996, had three Record Offices: the Gwent Record Office at Cwmbran, the Glamorgan Record Office at Cardiff, jointly serving Mid and South Glamorgan, and the West Glamorgan Archive Service in Swansea.
  • Clearly it would have been impracticable and non-cost effective to dismember the three Record Offices between twelve successor authorities, and so Joint Archives Committees were established to oversee and monitor the services continued from the three existing Record Offices as follows:
    • Gwent Record Office serving the Councils of Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent, Newport, and Caerphilly [part]
    • Glamorgan Record Office serving the Councils of Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and Caerphilly [part]
    • West Glamorgan Archive Service serving the Councils of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot

In this way, the ancient County boundaries, which have so much significance for the shape and content of the collections, were respected, and, as far as I am aware, no collections were withdrawn, as essentially the same services continued, albeit with more complicated governance arrangements.

Since that time new archive premises have been opened in Gwent (at Ebbw Vale) and in Cardiff. While external grant funding can be obtained by some archive services, this is not always the case, and, at the very least match funding is normally required from the recipients. Carmarthenshire should be aware that should it transfer custody of its collections to Swansea, it will have to contribute towards the construction of a new facility on Fabian Way, and also to the exorbitant  costs of operating such premises nowadays, especially in an area where security concerns would be significant.

The proposal to make the treated documents available while they are being held in Cardiff in the short term, is effectively to render them inaccessible. I well remember when I was in Swansea, how members of the public from Swansea would complain about travelling to Cardiff to view local archives before the facility in West Glamorgan was established, and Swansea is only 40 miles from Cardiff, whereas Carmarthen must be 70 miles away.

If Carmarthenshire presses ahead with the idea of transferring custody of its collections to Swansea (following appropriate consultation with its depositors), it would be well advised to talk directly to Neath Port Talbot residents about exactly what they get out of their joint arrangement other than some outreach to schools. When I left West Glamorgan in 2004, there was equitable public access provision to the Archive Service in each of the three main towns, Swansea, Neath, and Port Talbot, and a part time service in Pontardawe (also within Neath Port Talbot).

Since then, presumably as the result of successive rounds of budget cuts, of which the service within Neath Port Talbot appears to have repeatedly borne the brunt, the public service in Port Talbot has been virtually abandoned by the Archive Service, the Pontardawe service has been discontinued, and efforts have been made to withdraw from the service in Neath, though this is being resisted by the Neath Antiquarian Society, the current ‘partners’ of the West Glamorgan Archive Service. The whole focus of the service is centred on Swansea, rather than on serving the wider West Glamorgan community.

 

2 Comments

  1. That would be a counsel of perfection unfortunately Marolyn – you cannot link the physical items, and digitisation, which might make universal access more possible, is so labour-intensive and time-consuming that no council is gong to spend money doing it without a massive grant from somewhere (and Somewhere seems to be disappearing into the distance).

    Meanwhile – JD Davies / Susan Beckley, I have just been made aware of this, which may be of interest: http://www.ifla.org/node/9754

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  2. Marolyn Way says:

    You talk about accessibility of the archives I find Carmarthen hard to reach you must remember that ancestors moved from. Carmarthen into south Wales and tracing them through the parish records from Carmarthen is difficult for people in RCT and elsewhere in South Wales a base for the whole of Welsh archives is the ideal situation or an interlink between all county archives

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