Unlocking the Asylum Project Update

October 18, 2019

We are delighted to announce the completion of our Unlocking the Asylum project. Over the past two years project staff have been hard at work on the Wellcome funded project. The main of the project was to make the North Wales Hospital collection more accessible for research.

The following goals have been achieved:

  • There is now itemised catalogue of all the records in the collection, these have been catalogued to current archival standards. Prior to the project only a small number of records from the North Wales Hospital collection had been catalogued, and this catalogue was only available in paper format in the archives searchroom. The majority of the collection was uncatalogued and not accessible to the public for research.
  • The series of approximately 30,000 post 1948 patient case files have been indexed and repackaged. The index lists where available patient number, patient name, date of birth, admission and discharge or death date. The diagnosis (if given) is also listed, along with any additional details such as treatment given, outpatient information, psychiatric social work notes, number of admissions, referral information, artwork or notes made by the patient and psychiatric reports for court proceedings.
Patient Files Before and After

The patient files before and after repackaging.

  • The collection has been assessed for conservation needs and following the advice of our Project Conservator preventive preservation measures have been highlighted and put in place. The records have been repackaged into archival standard packaging, protecting them from deterioration.
Flintshire Box Making, Jul 2019

The Project Support Officer building bespoke boxes to house volumes from the collection, Jul 2019.

  • The collection has been assessed for potential future digitisation projects and digital resources.

Staff have promoted the project and the collection at various events including a project launch event, and events for Open Doors. These events featured talks and small exhibitions of records from the collection. The collection was also promoted at external events including the conference of the Society of the Social History of Medicine, the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health conference and the Celebrating Flintshire Women Past and Present event held at Flintshire Record Office.

SSHM Image

Staff promoting the project and collection at the Society of the Social History of Medicine Conference, July 2018.

We will soon be launching our new online resource which will include the updated collection catalogue, guidance on how to use the collection, and information on how to access the records.

We are hosting an evening event on Thursday 28th November to celebrate the end of the project. This event will feature talks from staff about the Unlocking the Asylum project, and a representative of Denbighshire County Council who will talk about the future of the former hospital site. The evening will also include a second chance to view the exhibition of original hospital documents from this year’s Open Doors event. Booking is essential for this event, to book: please email- archives@denbighshire.gov.uk providing your name, number of spaces required and telephone number.

It has been wonderful to see so much interest in the project and the collection. The Unlocking the Asylum project team would like to thank everyone who has supported the project over the past two years.

Lindsey Sutton

Project Archivist (Unlocking the Asylum)

Denbighshire and Flintshire Joint Archive Project

September 20, 2019

This Public Briefing has been created to provide you with an update on the Denbighshire and Flintshire Joint Archive Project.

Denbighshire and Flintshire Archive Services are looking to merge in order to create a more sustainable, efficient and improved archive service for the region.  The vision statement for the joint service is:

 “Harnessing the power of our shared documentary heritage to promote education, well-being and identity for the people and communities of North-East Wales.”

The merger is being undertaken for many reasons. Both services face several challenges that can be addressed by creating a joint service for the two counties and moving into a new purpose-built building.

Storage represents a significant issue for both services. Denbighshire County Council is expected to run out of space in 2-3 years’ time at their office at Ruthin Gaol.  Denbighshire will require the use of costly commercial environmentally controlled storage from that point. Flintshire Record Office has already run out of space at their office in Hawarden and are already having to use commercial environmentally controlled storage.

The Grade 2 listed Ruthin Gaol provides a picturesque and unique base for Denbighshire Archive Service. However, the Gaol does present many challenges.  The building incurs significant running costs and poses many operational challenges. The building also offers little scope for expansion on site.

Flintshire Record Office is housed at the Old Rectory in Hawarden, also grade-two listed. The Rectory was designed for residential use which makes for operational challenges. Having been built to 18th and 19th-century standards, it now incurs significant running and maintenance costs. The building provides no opportunities for bringing the somewhat primitive public facilities up to standard, so although there is space which could be upgraded for archive storage, it would not offer a sustainable solution.

New Purpose-Built Archive Building

The project seeks to solve our accommodation issues by creating a new purpose built home for the joint service. A new building will provide a sustainable archive repository for the region for the foreseeable future from the perspective of storage space, building maintenance and building management.

A significant amount of work has gone into identifying a suitable site and the best design.  The construction of an approximate 3000 square metre archive building to Passivhaus standard at the site adjacent to Theatr Clwyd in Mold is our preferred option (see possible design below).

Architect's Sketch of new building, Mold

Architect’s Sketch of new building, Mold

Proposed new site, Mold

Proposed new site, Mold

Being adjacent to the theatre, will help to create a cultural hub and allow us to work together and to deliver joint activities.

The Passivhaus design provides a simplified solution to the delivery of an archive building with strict environmental condition standards. Passivhaus reduces reliance on heating and cooling systems and equipment, reducing maintenance costs and energy use by 80%.

The approximate cost of the new building and activity plan is £16.6 million. A bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) for 70% of the costs is being developed and an Expression of Interest will be submitted during October 2019.  Following the EOI we will need to submit a full grant application and should we progress through the various submission rounds, we should know the final outcome of our funding application by Christmas 2020.

Should this all happen, we hope to start construction during 2022 and move into our new home during 2023/24. The activity plan would run for 3 years- 2022-2024.

Although the new archive centre will represent a key part of the joint service, it only represents an element of the transformation, with a major shift to focusing on community engagement through local hubs, 3rd sector and other partners. This will be supported via an increase in digital offerings and working with volunteers.

Flintshire Record Office and Ruthin Gaol

With the aspiration of having a new building for the joint service, we have to consider what to do with our existing homes – The Old Rectory, Hawarden and Ruthin Gaol. A feasibility study is being arranged on the Old Rectory site in Hawarden to determine the most appropriate use should it become vacant. Options are currently being considered on alternative uses of Ruthin Gaol. Whatever the outcome, Ruthin Gaol will not close as a visitor attraction because of our project.

Merging Teams

The merger provides opportunities to increase what the archive service is able to do as the two teams will be brought together thereby creating extra capacity and combining skills sets. Combining archive services provides opportunities to commit more resources to key areas such as: digitisation, conservation, outreach and community development. We expect a joint service to be operating by April 2020 initially across the 2 sites – Ruthin and Hawarden.

Unify Collections

The merger of the two services also presents opportunities to unify collections. Both services have several collections that were previously separated when Clwyd County Council was disbanded. Combining the two services allows us nullify the anomalies resulting from boundary changes bringing together these previously split collections and providing a more comprehensive collections base for visitors.


Depositors can be assured that this project will not negatively impact upon the items that they have entrusted with either archive service. The merger and subsequent move to a purpose-built facility will enable the joint service to provide better care to the collections being stored with access to improved environmental conditions, conservation expertise, a greater number of archivists to care for the collections, improved security measures and a wider audience with which to share the rich content of the collections with.

The joint archive service will adhere to the terms and conditions that were agreed to when the items were originally deposited.


Both Flintshire and Denbighshire Archive Services are supported by a large number of volunteers that give up their own time to help the service. It’s really important to us that the merger does not negatively impact on our volunteers, as the joint service will be reliant on volunteers going forward.

It’s envisaged that the joint service will offer the same opportunities for volunteers. For those volunteers that would like to get involved in something a little different, we anticipate being able to offer new and exciting opportunities in support of key areas such as digitisation and conservation.

Should we be successful in acquiring the funds to build the new archive centre in Mold, then this would become the new base for the joint service from 2023/24. The extra travelling to Mold may put some of our volunteers off but we hope that the fantastic facilities that will be available at the new centre will entice many of our existing volunteers to travel those extra few miles. Equally it is proposed that there will be permanent archive access points to our digital records at libraries across Flintshire and Denbighshire which could offer volunteering opportunities much closer to our existing and new volunteers’ homes.   It’s also worth noting that the joint service will be offering opportunities for virtual volunteering, which will enable volunteers to support us from the comfort of their own home.

Further information

I hope you found this briefing useful. We will aim to keep you updated on developments. In the meantime, should you want to know anything else about the joint service, please speak to either Craig Berry or Claire Harrington on the contact details below:

Craig Berry (Business Information Team Manager, Denbighshire County Council) – craig.berry@denbighshire.gov.uk; 01824 708023

Claire Harrington (Principal Archivist, Flintshire County Council) – Claire.Harrington@flintshire.gov.uk; 01244 532414


We would like to hear your opinion on our new project to help us to shape the services and activities at the new archive centre. You can do this by completing our online questionnaire or completing a hard copy questionnaire in the office.