Libraries Week: Ten Types of Books we use in Answering your Enquiries
Every day, our Library and Enquiries team answers a wide range of questions about the history, buildings, and archaeology of Wales. Whether you are a local historian, a genealogist, a professional surveyor, or just curious about the history of your house, we undertake research and provide information and advice relevant to your research. The answers we provide are based on the wealth of records in the National Monuments Record of Wales, both in the online database, Coflein, and in the physical archive, but we also draw on our own expertise and that of others to help us understand the context and nature of your questions. We are often helped by the books and journals in our specialist library, which can be browsed by the public in our Search Room in Aberystwyth. To help you with your own research, here is a list of ten of our ‘go-to’ books in answering questions about the historic built environment of Wales.
1. The Buildings of Wales (Pevsners)
This hugely important series of guides will be familiar to anyone interested in architecture or historic buildings. Organised geographically with useful indexes, the books contain historical and architectural details of noteworthy buildings nationwide. Not only does our library contain a complete set relating to Wales (Clwyd, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, Glamorgan, Gwent/Monmouthshire, Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire, and Powys, but we hold a collection of notes in our archive related to the Glamorgan and Gwent publications.
2. Inventories of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire
We were established in 1908, ‘to make an inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions connected with or illustrative of the contemporary culture, civilisation and conditions of life of the people in Wales and Monmouthshire from the earliest times, and to specify to those which seem most worthy of preservation’. To do this, we spent much of the twentieth century publishing Inventories of notable historic and prehistoric sites on a county-by-county basis: for Montgomeryshire (1911), Flintshire (1912), Radnorshire (1913), Denbighshire (1914), Carmarthenshire (1917), Merionethshire (1921), Pembrokeshire (1925), Anglesey (1937), Caernarvonshire (1956–1964), Glamorgan (1976–1988), and Breconshire (1986–1997). Some of these were written over a century ago, so some of the information may have been superseded by our current records, but in many cases the entries in these books are fuller than the current descriptions on Coflein, containing information or references not in the modern entries. Also, as much of our archive was originally collected as a working archive by researchers compiling these volumes, they are an invaluable guide to understanding and contextualising our collections. In addition to the copies in our library, eBooks of all these inventories are available from our online shop, many of them for free!
3. Thomas Lloyd’s The Lost Houses of Wales: A Survey of Country Houses in Wales Demolished since 1900, 1986
With the decline of many landed families and estates in the twentieth century, many of Wales’s historic manors, country houses and plasau, suffered from accident or neglect, fell into disrepair or dereliction, and were demolished. Lloyd’s inventory of these once grand houses and their histories collects invaluable information about lost places, in some cases the fullest easily accessible description of them and their history. Tom Lloyd also happens to be one of our recent former commissioners and a contributor to our archives as well as our library shelves!
4. A Corpus of Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales by Mark Redknap and J. M. Lewis (Vol. I) and Nancy Edward et. al. (Vols II and III), 2007
This massive corpus details the locations, history, and contents of many of Wales’s medieval inscribed stones — from monoliths, to sepulchral monuments, to ecclesiastical remains — complete with transcriptions and translations, in south-east Wales and the borders, south-west Wales , and north Wales . In some cases, this corpus contains monuments without dedicated entries on Coflein and it is a wonderful supplement to our own records, especially as we hold the publication archive among our collections. It is also amazing to have Nancy Edwards as our current Chair, where her expertise is always welcome!
5. Francis Jones’s Historic Homes of Carmarthenshire (1987), Pembrokeshire (1996), and Cardiganshire (2000) and their Families
Francis Jones was a noted historian and expert on heraldry and genealogy, the first person to be appointed to the revived office of Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary in 1963. His works on the historic houses and families of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Cardiganshire, the last two of which were published posthumously, contain entries for hundreds of houses and estates, many of them relatively minor or now lost, throughout Dyfed.
6. County Histories
The Royal Commission is not alone in regarding the thirteen historic counties of Wales as a useful unit for historical investigation. Since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, antiquarians and historians have explored the history, antiquities, and traditions of Welsh parishes and counties. We hold copies of several of these important early county histories, such as Theophilus Jones’s History of the County of Brecknock (org. pub. 1805) and Samuel Rush Meyrick’s History and Antiquities of the County of Cardigan (1810), as well as Joseph Alfred Bradney’s multi-volume History of Monmouthshire from the Coming of the Normans into Wales down to the Present Time (1904–1994). As important and useful as these early works are, more recently county history societies have published important multi-volume histories of several counties from prehistory to the present day for counties such as Glamorgan, Gwent, Pembrokeshire, and Cardiganshire.
7. Historic Tours of Wales
Following similar cultural interests as the local or county history, from the late-eighteenth century, the fashion for published tours and travelogues combined with the polite antiquarian interest. Works like Thomas Pennant’s Tour in Wales (1778), William Coxe’s Historical Tour of Monmouthshire (1801), and Richard Fenton’s Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (1811) contain early records and references for Welsh antiquities, some of them now lost or obscure. These sources provided information for the researchers of our twentieth-century Inventories and still hold useful information for us today. Our edition of Pennant’s tour was even edited by our first Chair, Sir John Rhŷs. Many of these works have become even more accessible by projects like the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies’ Curious Travellers website and Michael Freeman’s online database of early tourists in Wales.
In addition to books, our library holds a very wide range of periodicals related to history, archaeology, antiquarianism, industry, heritage, and much more. These range from popular magazines, such as our extensive run of the Railway Magazine, to county historical journals, to staples of Welsh historical and archaeological research like Cylchgrawn Hanes Cymru/Welsh History Review and Archaeologia Cambrensis, to unexpected titles like the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club Annual Journal. The collection of periodicals in our Library and Search Room complement those in the National Library’s reading room next door, and are a valuable resource for researchers.
9. Our Own Publications
Throughout our history we’ve published more than just Inventories, so when we need to understand a wider subject related to the built heritage, archaeology, or architectural history of Wales, we often reach for our own publications. Whether we need to know about the architecture of the Arts and Crafts architect, Herbert Luck North, explore the archaeology of the Welsh uplands, shine a light on the lighthouses of Wales, look inside Welsh homes, or discover the historic houses of Snowdonia, our library shelves hold the answers. Some of these books, including our two most recent publications on Wales and the sea and Wallpaintings and rood-screens in Welsh churches, are available for purchase or download from our shop, but our Library and Search Room is the best place to browse and enjoy the full set. These books are also important for understanding our archive, as most share a reciprocal relationship with our archival collections, both benefiting from them and contributing images and notes to our holdings.
10. Everything Else!
This late category may seem a bit broad, to put it mildly, but the wide range of enquiries we receive means that our library needs to include specialist works on a similarly wide range of topics, time periods, and types of sites. Whether we peruse G. R. Orrin’s Medieval Churches in the Vale of Glamorgan (1988) when asked about churches, Beth Thomas’s Fleapits and Picture Palaces (1997) when researching cinemas, Angela Gaffney’s Aftermath: Remembering the Great War in Wales (1998) when reviewing war memorials, Edward Doylerush’s No Landing Place (1985) when searching for aircraft crash sites, or Charles Hadfield’s Canals of South Wales and the Border (1960) when tracing the history of infrastructure, our library can do it all. We won’t say there’s necessarily a book for every topic (at least not yet!) but with our diverse collections and ongoing acquisitions, we — and now you — have a range of tools to research any enquiry (so long as it’s related to the built environment of Wales, of course).
Our Library and Search Room is open every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for anyone who wants to use the library, view archival material, get guidance on researching with our records, or all of the above. We also offer private quiet sessions for those who may need them, which can be arranged by contacting our Library and Enquiry Team (email: email@example.com or phone 01970 621 200 ). We hope to see you soon!