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Using the National Monuments Record of Wales: local history from your armchair

With our daily lives disrupted this is a difficult time for many of us.  However, it also provides a unique opportunity for some people to carry out historical research, whether it is the history of their house, family or local area.  Unfortunately, like most archives, the National Monuments Record (the archive of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales) is currently closed to visitors.  However, that needn’t be a barrier to research; there are still plenty of resources available. 

This is the first in a series of blogs, each focusing on a different historical topic and how they can still be explored using our online resources.  
This week: local history.

Local history

Do you live in a historic house?  Maybe you’ve always wanted to find out more about the cairn on a nearby hill?  Or perhaps you’ve always been curious about the chapel in your village?

For those able to use this time to take a renewed interest in their local area, the Royal Commission is ideally placed to help with  research.  One of the things that makes our archive exceptional is that every record we hold is geo-referenced.  This means that every photograph, letter, report etc. in the archive is linked to a physical place in Wales, be that a castle, coal-mine, pub or any other site type.  This makes it ideal for researching places in your local area.


Discovering this information is simple on Coflein, our online archive catalogue, which lists our archive holdings and showcases our digital material.  It is also our database of historic sites with descriptions and details of over 120,000 sites in Wales.  One of the best ways to find and explore the photographs and information we have on these sites is by going to the ‘Sites’ section of Coflein and searching by site type or location. 

Top tip: If you get a pop-up error message when using this page that says ‘An AJAX HTTP request terminated abnormally’ simply delete https://www. from the URL in your browser search bar and repeat your search.

For those who prefer a more visual approach, Coflein also has a map feature which allows you to highlight an area of interest anywhere in Wales and will then display all the sites within that area for you to click on and explore in more detail.

Coflein - map
Coflein – map

Similarly, Historic Wales is another map-based website; however this combines the data from the NMRW with the Historic Environment Records and Cadw’s databases of listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments.      

Historic Wales
Historic Wales

For those of you interested in learning more about Wales’s many interesting and quirky place names our Historic Place Names of Wales website is a mine of information.  It contains an index of hundreds of thousands of names, historic and current, of towns, villages, fields, rivers, farms and more!  It’s a vast and ever-growing resource, so have a look at the names in your local area and see how they’ve changed over the years.

Top tip:  Ever wondered what the name of your village means?  The website has a great Glossary which may give you a clue…

Historic Place Names of Wales
Historic Place Names of Wales

Get involved:  If you know of any old names of buildings, fields etc. that we don’t have recorded, get in touch – a lot of these names only exist colloquially in people’s memories and local history so it’s important we have a record of them.

Enquiry Service

If you have any queries about our resources or need advice on where to take your research next contact us.  Our enquiry team is made up of highly experienced information professionals, archivists and historians.  Like all staff at the Royal Commission the enquiries team are currently working from home, however they are still responding to new enquiries submitted via email, phone or our website.  We might not have access to the physical archive at the moment, but we are happy to draw on a wealth of digitised material, online resources, and the diverse experience and expertise of Royal Commission staff to answer your queries and help guide you in your research. 

Everyone is welcome to send us enquiries and there is no fee; we only charge for copying archive material, licences and datasets, which we are happy to discuss before you place an order.     

Further Information on online resources: Discovering the Welsh Past Online: https://rcahmw.gov.uk/discovering-the-welsh-past-online/

By Rhodri Lewis, Enquiries & Library Assistant


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