The National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) holds the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales from the earliest times to the present day.
The Library and Reader Services section of the Royal Commission can help enquirers find out more about archaeological features and historic buildings and monuments throughout Wales.
Here we try to show how the resources of the Royal Commission can be used to answer some typical research enquiries.
What is the strange mound in the field next to my house? I’ve heard that it’s a medieval site.
The first place to look for any information would be on Coflein, the Royal Commission’s online database. If you do not know the name of the site, use the mapping search to find your area and locate the site. If a record for the site does exist you’ll get basic information about the mound, including its suggested date and monument type. You’ll also be able to see if we have any further information in our archives. It may be that a survey of the monument has been undertaken by the Royal Commission and we may have a plan, together with any associated research and photographs. Coflein will also provide information concerning the protected status of the mound: for example, it may be a Scheduled Ancient Monument and, if this is the case, it will be possible to obtain the scheduling information relating to it by contacting our enquiry service.
You can also look at Royal Commission publications, in particular the inventories, which provide details of monuments of specific periods in most of the counties of Wales. If at this point the mound turns out to be a relatively well documented monument such as a medieval motte, you should be able to find further information on it in other publications. The Royal Commission has a reference library, containing key publications and journals covering the archaeology of Wales, which is available for public consultation.
Historic maps will also provide valuable information. If both the First (published between 1843 and 1893) and Second (published between 1891 and 1912) Edition Ordnance Survey maps illustrate the mound, it is likely to be of some antiquity and the Royal Commission may have information relating to the site from the Ordnance Survey record cards. Alternatively, if the mound does not appear on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map, but does on the second, it may be that the mound was recognised as an antiquity during the second revision or is a modern feature created between the two editions and therefore dateable to sometime between the two survey dates.
The Royal Commission’s collection of aerial photographs, which date from the 1940s to the present day, will also provide information on any recent changes to the mound: for example, it may have been ploughed or partially quarried away in recent times and there may be photographs which illustrate it prior to any destruction. Aerial photographs may also identify additional archaeological features not easily visible from the ground.
My Grandfather’s family lived in a house in this town/village and I would like to know more about where they lived.
Consulting the Commission’s collection of First and Second Edition 25-inch Ordnance Survey maps is a good starting place when trying to find information about a particular town or village. If you already know the name of the house or street you are interested in, you will have an advantage. It is possible to use the Census returns to establish the house name or number of your ancestors’ address. Your local Record Office or the National Library of Wales will be able to help you search the Census records, which began in 1841.
Historic Ordnance Survey maps can be very detailed and often identify street, house and farm names. The routes, and often the names, of footpaths, roadways, railways, tramways, bridges and rivers are usually recorded. Some information about the landscape is shown: field boundaries, areas of woodland, parklands, commons, heath and marshland. Acreages are also recorded.
A wealth of information concerning the buildings in any town or village is recorded on the maps. You will be able to locate and find the names of the local churches, chapels, schools, hospitals, workhouse, police stations, public houses and hotels. Many industrial buildings are recorded: mills, slaughterhouses, gas and electricity works, quarries, sawmills and the like are often identified, and larger industrial complexes and their component parts are recorded in detail. Townscape features such as municipal gardens, allotments and other facilities are shown and often named, together with sites of archaeological interest.
By comparing subsequent editions of the Ordnance Survey maps it is possible to identify changes in the topography of an area. The earlier ’footprint’ of buildings and archaeological features which have been demolished, damaged or significantly altered can often be identified, and redundant buildings or features associated with obsolete domestic, industrial, commercial or farming practices can be explained.
Comparing historic maps with aerial photographs can be more illuminating still. Aerial photographs are often more useful than maps at identifying landscape features: for example, the course of a medieval town wall may suddenly be much more obvious when the shape of the town or village is seen from the air. The routes of the main thoroughfares and the shape of the areas of housing between them can give us clues to the age and origins of the town.
If the property you are interested in is particularly old, architecturally significant or is substantially unaltered from its original, you may find that there is a record for the building in the National Monuments Record Database. You can establish this by searching the Commission’s online public database Coflein by clicking on the link on this page.
Coflein may provide you with information about the site and tell you whether there is any further material about the site held in the archive. There may be photographs, as the Royal Commission holds collections of photographs dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, architects drawings or Commission investigators’ drawings and plans of the building. If you cannot find the information you need, please contact Library and Enquiries Service, who will be happy to carry out searches on your behalf.