Saturday 20 June 2015

The Archives and the Mould - an update

Update 7th July; Please also see this excellent blog post on the Carmarthenshire archives from historian and author, J D Davies;
Carmarthenshire Archives - Farce or Greek Tragedy? 

Update 25th June; The Welsh Government has released two reports under FoI (not my request) detailing the problems found in the Parc Myrddin strongrooms here (2013 - with photographs) and here (2014).

The concerns raised by the staff at the archives seemed to have been ignored by those that control the purse strings and it is quite unbelievable that the building, and its precious contents had been left to get into such a state.


Back in April 2014 I mentioned that the County Archives had a problem with mould which led to the closure of the strongrooms at the council run facility at Parc Myrddin. Over twelve months later, they are still closed. The archives form the written memory of the county.

The National Archive Inspectorate first flagged up problems with the premises back in 2011 and they are now deemed unsuitable for purpose.

Fortunately the council removed the damaged documents and artefacts are these are undergoing professional cleaning and restoration, much of the remaining material is being stored somewhere in Cardiff.

The Friends of the Carmarthenshire Archives have become so concerned about safeguarding the future of Carmarthenshire's historic records, one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in Wales, that they wrote to each of the 74 Carmarthenshire County councillors last month to appeal for support and highlight the issue.
They have yet to receive a reply.

Whilst the council has made some interim arrangements with local libraries, it remains the case that, for the first time in 55 years;
'direct local access to the County’s heritage of irreplaceable unique original documents dating from the medieval period to the present, is not available to researchers, students, visitors to the area, and crucially, to schools within Carmarthenshire'.

To remain as an Nationally Accredited Repository and preserve its collections, the County Archive Service must occupy a premises which conforms to a recognised standard. In fact the council have a statutory duty to preserve and manage, and make available, it's own historical records dating back to 1889, many of which remain legally admissible today.
"The Archive Service is effectively the custodian of the corporate memory of the authority"

The archive service is of course only one council service amongst many and competing for an ever diminishing budget, although in recent years Gwent and Pembrokeshire have opened new archival premises.

The future management of the whole council leisure department is uncertain and the posts of County Archivist and Records Management Officer have now gone. Perhaps its future would have been more certain had it remained within the education directorate, who knows. Neither does it attract the same glamour, marketing, nor investment it seems as Llanelly House, the Botanic Gardens, bowling alleys or rugby clubs, etc

However, it is vital that these records are returned to Carmarthenshire and stored safely, and properly for generations to come.

The Friends listed just a small selection of the archived records in their letter to councillors;

Carmarthenshire Court of Quarter Sessions dating from 1748;

Hospital archives, for example those of Carmarthen Infirmary dating from 1846;

Shipping records for the ports of Llanelli and Carmarthen:

Ecclesiastical records from parishes within that part of St David’s Diocese which lies within Carmarthenshire,

The earliest surviving parish registers in south Wales, namely those of St Ishmaels Church, Ferryside, dating from 1560.

Privately deposited records including estate and family papers from the Cawdor Estates in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, the Dynevor Estates in Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan,
the Stradey and Stepney estates in Llanelli as well as many others.

Individual items of national importance are contained within these collections such as the three-volume Golden Grove Book, an eighteenth century collection of early Welsh pedigrees;

Original pedigree rolls by Thomas Jones of Tregaron [alias Twm Sion Cati]. .

Contemporary documents relating to the French Invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797;

French invasion 1797

They concluded their letter with an appeal to councillors for any support they could offer towards "safeguarding the future of Carmarthenshire’s unique archival heritage, and its continued preservation and accessibility within the historic County to which it relates for the benefit of future generations."

Perhaps they should be encouraged by the first sentence of a statement issued last week by the new leader of the council, Emlyn Dole defending the county in the face of proposed reorganisation, and send him a gentle reminder;

"We have in Carmarthenshire a distinctiveness in culture, language and heritage – these are precious, and ours to retain and nurture..."


Anonymous said...

This is indicative of the utter contempt they hold for the people of Carmarthenshire, their culture, heritage and history.

Anonymous said...

If the CCC can dip into reserve for the funding of a (maybe) unnecessary road why not sort out our Archive's problems with funds from same? This is our history put together from the generous contributions of documents from Carmarthenshire people why are none of our representatives shouting about this?

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

You might be interested that Discover Carmarthenshire are promoting Carmarthenshire County Archive for tourists.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 14:55
Thank you. Yes, clearly the article on Discover Carmarthenshire needs an update! The Archives have been closed for eighteen months and Mr John E Davies, the County Archivist retired in March 2014.

Anonymous said...

I may be right or I may be wrong but the Carmarthenshire people may have or may in the future donate documents to the Archive that reflect badly on the actions of this Local Authority. Could the way the CCC look after (or don't) these documents be a deliberate act to actually destroy the Archive by "MOULD" and close it permanently? Has the toxicity of this Local Authority spread that deep? And there was me thinking of donating (in my will) all of the documents I keep harping on about to the ARCHIVE for anyone interested to scrutinise! Well that idea seems to have gone out the window. Anyway no doubt the evidential documents would get secreted away in a dark cobwebby corner and accidentally incinerated, lost or found to have never existed in the first place! No I must be mad to even think this way as WHAT KIND OF PUBLIC BODY OR PUBLIC SERVANT PUTS THEIR OWN REPUTATION & INTEREST BEFORE THE PUBLIC INTEREST? "Those who pay the piper calls the tune" we pay for our public bodies out of our public purse so lets make more effort in "calling the tune" please! First thing is to take an interest and support open, honest & independent reporting! Our public servants who do work in our interest (and most start off that way) need to become confident enough to speak up when actions are taken by their organisations that go against our interest (change from within) the only way! If enough whistleblew & others refused to be coerced into victimisation or in cover up, our public bodies might start acting in our (public) interest. I need help now to get down off my soapbox; OH! my poor creaky old knees! All the Best!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

Carmarthenshire's Archives have been closed permanently, as they're being moved to Swansea, there are details about a merged service on the Swansea City Council WEB site.

Bit ironic that this is happening on Plaid's watch, bearing in mind they're always banging on about the Welsh identity. So what do they do, send 800 years of the county's heritage to Glamorgan.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 18:12 Thank you for the info. I've just found reference to it on Swansea council's website. They are in discussion with Carms CC about a shared service located in Swansea.

There's not one mention of this on Carmarthenshire Council's website.

Anonymous said...

Is that correct that there has not been one response from the councillors? I thought they were duty bound to respond to any correspondence, a block no reply suggests that they have been instructed not to respond. What are we paying them for?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Carmarthenshire's councillors received the email? Why not ask some if (a) they were aware and (b) if not aware, would they have approved of the end of the historically essential archive service for this ancient county?

Could it be that spam filters are catching mail of importance? If so, it is unwise to rely solely on email communications.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 14:11
I believe the letters were sent by post, though I'm not 100%.

caebrwyn said...

I can now confirm that the letters were sent by post to all 74 councillors at their home addresses, as listed on the council website.

Anonymous said...

If 74 councillors had letters and not one of them replied that's scandalous and very suspicious

caebrwyn said...

One of my readers has now contacted Cllr Alum Lenny about the matter. Mr Lenny has promised to look into the whole matter and report back with any developments or news.

Anonymous said...

As Alun Lenny didn't answer the letter either, perhaps we can expect a reason why from him!

Anonymous said...

Any news from Alun Lenny yet - has he had to ask MJ why he can't reply?

Dr John Davies said...

Here is my response to the article in the last weeks Carmarthen Journal regarding the archive service:

The County Council’s response to just criticism of their treatment of the county archives is particularly shoddy. Since at least the 1980s, councillors have trotted out the same trite response when asked about the archives...that the service is not in danger of being closed down. Maybe is after all a statutory service. But the archives in its care – unique historical documents dating back several centuries – are in danger of being destroyed, by a patent lack of interest in preserving them. Apart from a paltry £39,000 spent to move the service from county hall in 1999, there has been no investment in the archive service for decades. Even after reports from The National Archives and CyMAL regarding the poor state of the environmental controls in the strong rooms, the council chose to do nothing. The three strong rooms at Parc Myrddin have domestic dehumidifiers installed – the sort that work in one’s kitchen. They are useless as a means to regulate the environment in archival strongrooms. Paper and parchment need carefully, scientifically proved, temperature and humidity ranges, outside of which mould can (and now has) grow. The present out-break was discovered in November 2013, not as stated ‘last year’. Without the correct environment it is only surprising that mould wasn’t discovered years earlier.
Council leader Dole states that the mould infested documents have been cleaned and are in the ‘Vale of Glamorgan’...I assume this is a bit of poor journalism and that the cleaned documents are perhaps in Glamorgan Record Office. If so, are they available for researchers? And which archives have been moved there?
As to Council leader’s ‘phase two’...what is that exactly apart from an opportunity to do nothing for a long time.
With regard to the cultural services manager’s comments re moving the family history service to the libraries. Firstly, the family history service has never been the biggest part of the archive service. Family history is an archival sideline. Archivists’ main responsibility is to the preservation of the documents in their care for future generations. After securing material the archivist seeks to make those documents available for researchers. Most family history sources are available in electronic format, so transferring them to the library service can hardly be seen as a great leap. Though it could be seen as a form of asset-stripping of the archives service. And the real professionals with regard to family history are the three remaining staff members at the archives. (Incidentally, but importantly, CyMAL has stated on numerous occasions in the past that the Carmarthenshire Archive Service was barely viable as a service with five staff it has three).
However, what the County Council do not answer is Dr David Davies’s question, which I as well as others would like answered: when are original archival documents going to be made available again for researchers?

Dr John Davies (retired county archivist)

Anonymous said...

A very interesting piece from Dr John Davies. Should the CEO of the CCC decide to come over all threatening regarding his comments Dr John Davies can rest assured that he will be protected by the Whistleblowers Policy (PIDA)! But I would advise he makes sure he has a good employment lawyer close to hand. Ex employees are protected under PIDA for speaking out (whistleblowing)!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)