In Focus: North East Wales Archives

For this month’s ‘In Focus’ blog, Sarah Roberts from North East Wales Archives joins us to highlight their Women Rediscovered project.

Explore Your Archive was always going to be different in 2020 and once our staff at North East Wales Archives realised that there would be no “usual” events to plan we started to think about what else we could do whilst working from home with limited access to the collections.

Actress, Lowri Jones, portraying the story of two mothers’ experiences of post-natal psychosis

In Wales, archive services have access to Archives Wales marketing support grants which are funded by Welsh Government. Every year, in time for Explore we have the opportunity to apply for a grant to help us to deliver events and projects linked to the national campaign. In September last year we decided to apply for money to cover the costs of a creative project to take stories from our collections to people at home by dramatising accounts of real people from our collections.

We couldn’t deliver this project alone so we set up a meeting with a creative engagement associate at a local regional arts centre and producing theatre, Theatr Clwyd, to discuss a possible partnership. During the initial discussions, it was decided that monologue style films would be the most suitable format, not least because the style of filming really lends itself to social distancing. Theatr Clwyd were excited about the project and the writer, Emyr John, was enthusiastic to get started.

Actress, Caitlin Drake, portraying the famous Marged ferch Ifan aka Peggy Evans, Queen of the Lake

We chose the stories by first looking at the type of collections we wanted to highlight and it soon became apparent that the stories were leaning more towards a female inspired project. We had chosen the story of a teacher, a mother, a widow and a woman of many talents including being a renowned wrestler, boat-maker, hunter and shooter! And so it was born, Women Rediscovered, a project covering stories of strong and inspirational women spanning three centuries with sub-themes such as mental illness and LGBT+.

Luckily, our grant application was accepted to cover all of our chosen stories and we went on to commission the theatre to write the scripts and deliver our project, which they did. The director, Eleri B. Jones, said working with the archives made her feel like “a kid in a sweet shop” and “A lot of history is recorded by men and also by the upper classes who had the time and the ability to write their stories down, I feel there is a huge gap in working class everyday people who were just as extraordinary in their own way.”

The films and the collections and stories they are based upon can be seen on our blog posts, as follows;

A headmistress who devoted herself to education;
A widow of miner killed in the Gresford colliery disaster;
A mother reflecting on postnatal psychosis;
The famous Marged ferch Ifan, “an extraordinary female who was the greatest hunter, shooter, and fisher, of her time” as written about by Thomas Pennant.

Actress, Kerry Peers, portraying a teacher, Miss Harris Jones

The filming took place during Explore Your Archive week and the films were launched weekly throughout January 2021 as part of a #MonologueMonday series. So far, we have had great feedback and comments on the films;

“Phenomenal acting … Absolutely loved the raw, gritty performance”

“Wow this is powerful and thought provoking, really took me out of my comfort zone!! Lowri [the actress] is amazing and gives a real insight to the whole story and history of North Wales Hospital which is difficult to watch (I had to have a break) because it’s real”

“Delivered like this means we can learn from the past and hopefully treat people especially women better in the future! Hopefully this work can also go into our schools in some format to learn and debate our history!”

“I have just watched your You Tube film on Gwyneth / Ann, based on the admission of Ann Owen to the lunatic asylum in 1875. What a fantastic piece of theatre – bringing to life, so well, the story of Ann Owen. Fantastic work, and very inspiring in so many ways, not least in terms of giving a voice to this person from 1875. Loved it!”

Actress, Courtney George, portraying a widow of a miner killed in the Gresford Colliery Disaster in 1934

We are hoping the project will mark the start of a great working relationship with our local theatre and we will go on to work on more projects with them in the future. For me, personally, it has been exciting to work on something so different and creative, especially when our normal working life has been so disrupted over the last 12 months.

You can follow North East Wales Archives on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Sarah Roberts, North East Wales Archives

All images copyright of Dafydd Owen @Ffotonant, freelance photographer and filmmaker working on the Women Rediscovered project.

Sir Charles Lyell Collection

The Explore Your Archive campaign theme for February is nature. For our first blog post related to the monthly themes of the 2021 Explore Your Archive campaign, Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist of the Sir Charles Lyell Collection at the University of Edinburgh discusses the importance of his work on the study of climate change.

The natural world has been a touchstone for me as I have explored more of the parks and woodlands near my home in Edinburgh, and as I work with the University of Edinburgh’s outstanding collection of notebooks and papers from eminent geologist Sir Charles Lyell.

Engraving of Charles Lyell by J. Maguire, Coll-1518/1/2/1-6 © University of Edinburgh]

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was a Victorian geologist, and a central figure in the advancement of the science. He found natural explanations for geologic activity and introduced methods based on observational evidence. This collection is predominantly a science archive, as Lyell’s accounts of geographical phenomena provide data on the geological and climatological state of regions 200 years ago and inform historical climate change research.

Notebooks of Sir Charles Lyell, Coll-203 © University of Edinburgh

Lyell is an archivist’s geologist. He theorised that the Earth was a record for geological phenomena, (contrary to some who looked to the Bible or to other ancient texts). In the opening paragraphs of his seminal book, The Principles of Geology (1830), Lyell wrote, “As the present condition of nations is the result of many antecedent changes, some extremely remote and others recent, some gradual, others sudden and violent, so the state of the natural world is the result of a long succession of events, and if we would enlarge our experience of the present economy of nature, we must investigate the effects of her operations in former epochs.”

Lyell travelled widely and frequently, and as I look at his notebooks, I wonder what he would have thought of the current locked down state of the world. His travels were largely inspired by the many scientific journals he received, which described geological phenomena and inspired Lyell to go and see for himself. In a letter to his colleague Roderick Murchison in 1829, Lyell wrote, “We must preach up travelling … as the first, second, and third requisites for a modern geologist, in the present adolescent state of the science.”1

Some 294 notebooks were kept by Lyell over his eminent 40+ year scientific career. They offer unrivalled insights into his reading, field observations, thoughts, and relationships. He meticulously maintained table of contents in each and created nearly 30 reference notebooks of indexes by subject. Lyell had a mind for referencing and cataloguing which makes metadata creation a dream!

Notebook No. 15, Coll-203/A1/15 © University of Edinburgh

This collection gives valuable context to a revered geologist and the natural world. It is also interwoven with many great contemporary debates including those around slavery in America, human evolution, the overlooked involvement and leadership of women in science, and much more. Lyell interacted with the great scientists, polymaths, artists, and writers of his day such as William Buckland, Asa Grey, Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, Gideon Mantell Mary Anning, Charles Darwin, as well as lay-scientists and local guides. As we plumb the depths of this collection, we uncover not only the geologist at the centre, but also his vast network. Through digitisation and transcription, we aim to unlock the valuable data within this collection for access around the world.

Follow our work with this collection at

Elise Ramsay, University of Edinburgh

1 Lyell, C., & Lyell, M. (1881). Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. Edited by His Sister-In-Law, Mrs. Lyell (pp. 233, 234). London: J. Murray.

Introducing the new EYA team

In December Explore Your Archive put out a call for volunteers to help expand their campaign and build on previous successes. We had a great response from people with a wide range of experience and interests in the sector. These volunteers will be joining the ARA Board Member who runs and oversees the campaign. As our January theme is ‘new,’ we thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce you to those who are working behind the scenes in the new Explore Your Archive team.

Our new Campaign Officer, Rosie is responsible for keeping the rest of the team on the same page, and representing EYA to others. Rosie did her training in York, but now lives in Amsterdam, where she works as a government archive inspector. While she enjoys getting to visit lots of different archives, Rosie’s real passion is archival outreach, especially to those outside the sector (mostly because she’s sick of answering the question “so what does an archivist actually do?”). As such, she has joined the EYA team to indulge this passion, and to hopefully spread the word that archival material is not only varied and interesting, but can also be quite fun!

The two Blog Coordinators, Katie and Alice, are responsible for curating and uploading the blog posts created by our contributors. They are the first point of contact for those wishing to post to the website. Katie has mainly worked on Archives Revealed projects after completing her MA in Archives and Records Management at UCD. She is looking forward to this opportunity to be more involved in outreach and explore the fascinating projects, records, and stories that repositories throughout the UK and Ireland hold. She is also keen to promote archives and repositories that may be small or have a niche remit to a wider audience. When not busy with the blog coordination team, Alice is a PhD student working on ‘Archive and Narrative in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum’, a collaborative doctoral project between the University of Stirling and the National Library of Scotland. She has an MSc in Information Management and Preservation from the University of Glasgow, and before returning to studying worked at Lothian Health Services Archive at the University of Edinburgh. Alice is particularly interested in rapid response collecting, the impact of the digital on collecting practices, and how heritage bodies can use the internet to reach new audiences.

Randeep and Chloe are Social Media Officer’s and are taking over the campaign’s twitter page. In normal life Randeep works as an insurance claims handler and was drawn to this opportunity whilst looking for things to do during downtime from work. She enjoyed being involved in outreach whilst at university and is looking forward to highlighting the works of different archives and learning more about their projects and collections. Chloe is hoping to develop her knowledge of archives and the heritage sector, which will be useful to help contextualise her future studies, as well as improving her social media skills. She is really looking forward to helping to promote collections across the UK and Ireland – and discovering something new every day!

Our Facebook page will be getting a revamp from our Facebook Social Media Officers. Rachel is currently a masters student at the University of Glasgow studying Information Management and Preservation. She looks forward to generating some exciting online discourse within the sector. Stefania graduated in 2018 with a degree in Italian and History from Edinburgh University. She hopes to get a lot out of this volunteering opportunity, as she is interested in building up her experience in the heritage field, most specifically in increasing engagement with  archives, libraries and heritage sites. This role will be really valuable experience for her and she is really excited about becoming more familiarised with the huge number of archives throughout the UK and hopefully becoming more skilled in outreach and  social media marketing.

The EYA campaign has recently established an Instagram page @exploreyourarchive. Our Instagram Social Media Officers Jo and Karen have done a great job in setting it up and we hope that everyone will take a look and give us a follow. Jo currently works as an Archive Assistant in a County Record Office. She hopes to be able to give back to a campaign which she has used a lot in her day job over the last few years! Karen is a Library Marketing Assistant for St Helens Library Service and manages their social media platforms. She put her name forward for the Social Media Officer role – Instagram specific – given that Explore Your Archive didn’t yet have an Instagram account she thought it would be exciting and challenging setting up this account from scratch.  She was excited for this role as it gives her an opportunity to put her digital marketing skills to use in a different field as well as gaining more knowledge about archives, collections, repositories projects that are happening across the country that she can pass on to her colleagues at St Helens Library Service and use in her full-time employment role.

A new role, web development, was created due to the number of responses to the call out. They will be redeveloping the website and adding new material to help promote the work of EYA and providing resources. Janet works at Durham Cathedral Library and Collections. She has been working in the cultural heritage sector for seven years, after completing a doctorate in medieval studies. In her current role she works primarily on digitisation, collections care and outreach. Her areas of special interest include archives and museums, and digital humanities. Steph is a trainee archivist, volunteering at Carlisle Cathedral and Sedbergh School. She is an Associate Researcher at Newcastle University and holds a PhD in early modern music book history. With previous roles in heritage education and arts administration, Steph is really interested in public engagement with archives and is excited to be part of the EYA web development team to give an online platform for all sorts of repositories. Stacey is currently a postgraduate student on the ‘Information Management and Preservation’ course at the University of Glasgow. In working with Explore Your Archive web team, Stacey is looking forward to bringing exciting new content to the website featuring various different archives with smaller platforms! She is looking forward to working with archives to be able to show off their collections remotely!

The whole team is looking forward to getting stuck into this year’s campaign and all your responses. We hope to build on the great work that has been done in previous years and to add new resources. Please keep an eye on our social media and website for themes and blog posts.