From its foundation in 1908, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales began to survey and record appropriate sites, and publish its findings by various means. Such work inevitably accrued a considerable volume of records, including survey notes, photographs and drawings, and whilst these were originally preserved in sets of working files, there was initially no dedicated record or information service within the Royal Commission.
However, in 1963 the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) was formally instituted as the Royal Commission’s records arm with the transfer, in principal, of the Welsh sections of the former National Buildings Record (NBR). Despite this theoretical official establishment, it was not until the late 1970s that the National Monuments Record of Wales employed specialist records staff and took possession of the bulk of the Welsh National Buildings Record records. During the early 1980s, Royal Commission also took over the duties of the Archaeological Branch of the Ordnance Survey, adding further significant records. The National Monuments Record of Wales continued to accumulate material produced by the Royal Commission’s professional investigators, through both publication work and the emergency recording of threatened sites, and began to actively seek relevant collections from various external sources, including professional and commercial bodies, academic institutions and private individuals.
As collections have grown, the National Monuments Record of Wales has improved the organisation and archival storage of its holdings and their public access facilities, and is now firmly established as the primary national collection of architectural and archaeological records for Wales. The archive currently occupies over 300m2 of floor space in stores, and it is estimated, consists of over 3 million pages of text, more than 1¼ million photographs, approximately 67,000 drawings, 17,000 maps, and almost 11,000 digital records. The National Monuments Record of Wales is recognised as an official place of deposit for public records by the National Archives (TNA), and has specialist archive stores with full environmental control. These extensive holdings are accessed by a wide range of users, including professional archaeologists and historians, or those involved in development control, planning and heritage protection, students, from primary school to university, and interested members of the public.
Broadly, the archive holdings are organised either as “General Collections”, which are growing collections made up of individually acquired items, or “Special Collections”, which are complete archives, received and organised as discrete entities. Collections may stem from many sources, including both amateur and professional individuals, commercial bodies, such as architectural practices, Royal Commission projects and publications, academic institutions, and all types of archaeological investigation, from full excavation to basic development control work. In addition, the National Monuments Record of Wales holds extensive collections of aerial photographs of various origins, and many maps, both standard published sets and unique archival collections.
Following are examples of some of the most significant collections that make up the National Monuments Record of Wales.
The National Buildings Record
The National Buildings Record was founded in 1941, at the height of the Blitz, by a dedicated group of people determined to make a record of Britain’s architecture, before the bombs of the Luftwaffe destroyed the nation’s finest buildings. The record was initially compiled by identifying and assembling existing photographic and graphic collections, and this nucleus was supplemented by an extensive programme of rapid photographic survey, which recorded important structures before their potential destruction through enemy action. Considerable contributions were made to the nascent NBR by existing organisations, not least the Courtauld Institute, whose Conway Library formed the core of the original collection, and the Council for the Care of Churches, who also made their own records available.
Between 1941 and 1963, the NBR increasingly co-operated with the three Royal Commissions, particularly in England, and the organisations’ shared interest in recording threatened buildings eventually lead to an agreement to assimilate the relevant sections into the respective Royal Commissions in 1963, a decision which, as mentioned, was instrumental in founding the National Monuments Record of Wales. The Welsh NBR material consists mainly of high quality photographic records, and includes some very early waxed paper negatives and salt paper prints from the 1850s. The photographs form the backbone of the National Monuments Record of Wales’s principal general collection, the National Monuments Record of Wales Site Files.
The Drawings Collection
The Drawings Collection constitutes another of the most important National Monuments Record of Wales general collections, and comprises single or small groups of drawings which do not form part of a larger special collection. The drawings accrue from a number of origins, and are either produced by the Royal Commission through the course of recording work, or are donated by external sources. They range from copied architects plans or field survey plots, to original, high quality, full reconstruction drawings produced by Royal Commission graphics section for publication purposes. This growing collection currently numbers almost 11,000 single items, all of which have been catalogued on our computerised system.
The Aerial Photographic Collections
Some of the most extensively accessed of the National Monuments Record of Wales’s records are the aerial photographs, of which there are three main collections. The Royal Air Force photographs number over 14,000, mainly vertical, black and white shots dating from the late 1940s to 1960s. There are also approximately 84,000 monochrome vertical prints, which were produced by the Ordnance Survey in the course of mapping survey work during the 1970s to 1980s. Both collections provide excellent geographical coverage of Wales, and are heavily used by researchers. In addition to holding donated aerial photographic material, the National Monuments Record of Wales also incorporates photography produced through Royal Commission’s own active aerial survey programme. This collection currently numbers over 35,000 black and white and colour oblique shots, dating from the 1980s to the present day, and it continues to grow. These high quality, often visually stunning images are widely used for both research and publication purposes.
The Herbert L. North Collection
A notably attractive example of records from an architectural practice, the Herbert L. North Collection is comprised of drawings, with some photographs, from the North and Padmore partnership. Based in North Wales from c.1900-1939, the partnership was founded by Herbert L. North, a well known and respected architect working in the Arts and Crafts style. The collection includes some very fine drawings, and many of the buildings can be seen today, particularly in the vicinity of Llanfairfechan where the architect was based. The records number over 160 individual items, all of which are catalogued.
The Welsh School of Architecture Collection
A prime instance of a collection donated by an academic institution, the Welsh School of Architecture Collection consists of drawn student course work, with some supporting photographs, produced by trainee architects at the School from the early 1960s until the late 1980s. Numbering approximately 5,000 individual items, the collection embraces detailed architectural surveys of all types of building, from civic and domestic structures, to religious or industrial sites. About three quarters of the buildings depicted are in Wales, though some are elsewhere in the UK, and several are overseas, from Norway to Malaysia, reflecting the international composition of the student body and the worldwide significance of this Welsh institution. Almost all the records have now been catalogued on our computerised system.
The Cadw Guardianship Monument Drawings
As stated, the National Monuments Record of Wales is recognised as an official place of deposit for public records, and consequently works closely with The National Archives to provide a home for records from public bodies, which are relevant to our remit to maintain an archive of Welsh archaeology and architecture. One of the chief collections acquired through this process comprises drawings and plans collected and produced by Cadw through their role as the custodian of several major Welsh monuments. The records date from the turn of the last century to the 1970s, and many originate from Cadw’s antecedents the Ministry of Works, and later the Department of the Environment. The collection encompasses everything from rough field plots or ground plans, to fully worked up surveys and finished architectural drawings. It presently numbers over 3,300 fully catalogued items, but will grow as further drawings currently retained by Cadw reach 30 years old, and are transferred in line with the Public Records Act.
The R.E. Kay Collection
When considering privately donated records, created by non-professionals in the fields of archaeology or architecture, it would be difficult to cite a more impressive and striking collection than that produced by R.E. Kay over six decades from the 1930s until 1990. Comprising 39 notebooks and two indices, the collection records a series of walks or drives in Wales and the borders, and occasionally elsewhere in the UK, undertaken by Richard E. Kay during his spare time, from boyhood until old age. The books meticulously document a wealth of archaeological, architectural and antiquarian detail encountered during each tour, and are beautifully illustrated by R.E. Kay, who was a talented draughtsman. In addition to forming an attractive and unusual set of records, the notebooks include a good deal of important information about features which may have since vanished or are not noted elsewhere.