My Route into the Archive Profession

October 31, 2018

By Guest Blogger, Aron Roberts

I started volunteering with Denbighshire Archives at the beginning of July, looking to gain some valuable work experience before undertaking a Masters in Archive Administration at Aberystwyth University this September. During my time here, I have been improving the catalogue for the Building Control Plans for Colwyn Bay by adding more detail to each item level description. Dating from 1890 to 1966, I have also assessed the condition of each plan so that adequate access conditions are in place to aid their preservation.
AronIt was back in 2015 that the idea of becoming an Archivist first took root when, as a volunteer researcher for a project looking into the experiences of people with a learning disability at the North Wales Hospital, I was introduced to my local Archives here in Denbighshire. The thrill of handling historical documents convinced me that a career in preserving, managing and facilitating access to the evidence contained within them was one I would find worthwhile.

Back then, however, the mere thought of returning to University to complete the accredited course (having only recently completed my Masters in Literary Studies) was enough to make me break out into a cold sweat, not to mention the fact that bills kept refusing to pay for themselves, and so life took me down a different path where I eventually found myself in the Countryside, working as a Trainee Ranger for the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Based in Llangollen, I would spend over a year and a half with a fantastic team spread over the County, dedicated to protecting and promoting the picturesque landscape Denbighshire has to offer. Leaving the role in June was one of life’s hard choices, but the time had come to make a decision about my future, such decisions, as I’m sure is true for us all, being heavily influenced by the past.

Aron2

That, for me, is what makes working in an Archive so exciting, because, despite all appearances, Archives are places brimming with urgency, of truths waiting to be uncovered by people whose own futures can be shaped by what they find. This importance has only been stressed further upon me during my time volunteering, observing the members of staff here in the Denbighshire Archives serve as a gateway to the power that the past can hold in the present, latent until someone walks through the door and asks for it.

Thank you very much for having me,
Aron Roberts

During his time with us Aron made a very positive impression on us all and we wish him well with his studies and his future career as an Archivist

Unlocking the Asylum: One Year Update

October 9, 2018

In 2017 Denbighshire Archives received a £130,000 grant from Wellcome, to fund our two year ‘Unlocking the Asylum’ project. The aim of the project is to catalogue all the records of the North Wales Hospital, list and repackage the later patient case files, and assess the collection for conservation needs.

We are now one year into the project, and are making excellent progress towards its completion in October 2019. In February of this year we announced the launch of a temporary catalogue for the first part of the collection, this is available online via the Denbighshire Archives website and replaces the former paper catalogue. Our Project Conservator Joanna who was with us for three months, undertook conservation survey to identify the condition of the uncatalogued collection and has made recommendations on its conservation and preservation requirements.

Our Project Support Officer Rhian, is continuing to work hard to index the later series of patient files, of which 13,000 out of an estimated 23,000 have already been completed. Work is continuing to catalogue and repackage the remainder of the collection. So far some of the records uncovered amongst the uncatalogued material has included administrative records such as committee reports and minutes, patient records including admission and discharge registers, staff records including staff index cards and job applications, and records relating to the social side of hospital life including recreational games, activity timetables, event programmes and music sheets.

Item 368

A weekly activity timetable from the hospital dating from 1966, showing the range of social and recreational events available for patients and staff.

Over the past twelve months we have hosted two events at Denbighshire Archives. In November 2017 we held our project launch event for Explore Your Archives, and in September 2018 we held an event for Open Doors, both of which featured talks on the hospital, and small exhibitions of records from the collection. We have also attended a number of external events to promote the project and the collection, including the conference of the Society of the Social History of Medicine, the Archives Council Wales Forum, and the ‘Celebrating Flintshire Women Past and Present’ event at Flintshire Record Office.

SSHM Image

The Project Archivist talking to delegates at the Society of the Social of History of Medicine conference in Liverpool.

We have written a number of blog posts on various topics including patient case books, maps and plans, the Lunacy Commission register’s, epilepsy, general paralysis, ECT, and the hospital under the NHS. Please keep checking our blog and Facebook page for new posts and news of upcoming events.

Please note that due to NHS regulations records of patients and staff which contain sensitive personal information are closed for between 75 to 100 years,

Lindsey Sutton

Project Archivist (Unlocking the Asylum)