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Friday, 29 November 2013

Royal Commission Welcomes New Secretary

The Royal Commission’s Secretary, Dr Peter Wakelin, is to leave after eight years to take up the position of Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.

Previously an Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings with Cadw and then Head of the Regeneration Unit in the Welsh Government’s Communities Directorate, Peter has made a notable contribution to the work of the Royal Commission. Much of his time over the past two years has been taken up with discussions regarding possible merger with Cadw, on which we expect a decision from our sponsoring minister, John Griffiths AM, very early in the New Year. Peter has led a strategic review and restructuring of the organisation and ensured that it emerged through two major external reviews of its work with flying colours. He also enhanced considerably the public profile of the organisation through popular and successful publications and its participation in three English-language television series and one in Welsh.

Hilary Malaws
We are pleased to announce that Hilary Malaws, the Royal Commission’s Director of Services, has been appointed Acting Secretary for an initial six months, by which time there will be more clarity about the future.

Hilary is a long-standing member of staff with extensive experience in the library, archives and information management fields and is well-known to many of our partner organisations. She has led the Royal Commission’s involvement as one of the three partners in the People’s Collection Wales project as well as our innovative SWISH partnership with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, which underpins the on-line delivery of our archival resources and knowledge through Coflein and other platforms.

Hilary will start in her new role as Acting Secretary on 1 December 2013. Speaking about her appointment, Hilary said:

“I am honoured to have been appointed as Acting Secretary and I am looking forward to working with our Commissioners, staff and partners to achieve a smooth transition at this very challenging time. The Royal Commission’s dedicated staff are our greatest asset and I am committed to ensuring that their expertise, combined with our core functions, continue to provide an excellent service to the sector and the public.”

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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Picturing Powys: Iain Wright’s Royal Commission Photography for the Pevsner Architectural Guide

The Chancel of Brecon Cathredral
   NPRN: 96574

The Pevsner Architectural Guide to Powys is the last in a series of county guides to the architecture of Wales. It updates and extends its predecessor, published in 1979, as the first of the series. These Buildings of Wales volumes followed hard on the heels of a Buildings of England series, begun in the 1940s by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, and published between 1951 and 1974. Regarded as indispensable for the architectural traveller, the books set out to capture the architectural character of a county through a gazetteer of significant buildings accompanied by an introductory essay.

This is a big ambition for Powys, which covers a quarter of Wales and comprises three historical counties each with a distinctive identity of its own. The book makes a generous selection of buildings in a narrative sweep that  not only assigns a place to the architectural set-pieces and fine buildings, but also to the regional architectural traditions that perhaps more than anything else capture the character of the county. Together with the introductory essay, the photographs must convey this narrative, binding together architectural themes that might otherwise be lost in the detail of gazetteer.

The photographs in the book therefore form a single sequence arranged chronologically rather than geographically. They are intended to draw attention to buildings that have their own place in the story of architecture in the county, but which are also representative of broader themes.  They trace the development of building traditions from the earliest times, and highlight the work not only of architects, but also of the many un-named craftsmen whose skill enriches all our landscapes and townscapes.

Romanesque Tympanum at St Padarn’s Church,Llanbadarn Fawr, Radnorshire
   NPRN: 236

In the selection for this exhibition, for example, we see the inventiveness of twelfth-century stone carvers and sixteenth-century carpenters, of late seventeenth-century plasterers and twentieth-century stained-glass makers.  We see religious faith manifest in the tiny rural churches of Rhulen and Capel-y-ffin that seem to belong only to their immediate community, and in the simple interior of Maesyronnen chapel. By contrast, in Brecon’s soaring thirteenth-century priory church, in the gothick of Trefecca College, and the gothic revival church at Llangasty Tal-y-llyn, architecture reflects connections to much wider communities. The unique theatre of Craig-y-nos also reaches out to a world beyond the county: in plan it is a miniature Bayreuth.  We see architectural experimenters – from the unknown builder of Glanclydach cottages, to Henry Hanbury-Tracy trying out concrete at Gregynog, to rammed earth used stylishly in the WISE building at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

All this is a considerable challenge for the photographer. Iain had to translate the chronological list of sites into something that made logistical sense on the ground, creating vast maps plotting sites from north to south, west to east. He trawled maps and aerial photographs for additional information that would help him plan ahead – on orientation and sight-lines, for example. He had to track down contact details for every property, or cold-call and hope for a welcome. Iain has worked out some short-cuts – undertakers, for example, usually know who to talk to in churches and chapels. He was given this assignment in one of the wettest summers of recent years – he saved the interiors for rainy days. Not just the weather, but also the time of day is critical for exterior work. Iain always arrives on site early to give maximum time to catch the best light, or simply to set up the shots, but inevitably there are compromises – where conditions limit the choice of viewpoint for example.

Most of the interiors needed to be lit, and it can take up to five hours for a single shot such as a complicated (and dark) church interior.  Even a font takes an hour and a half, and Iain spent two days in Brecon cathedral for just eight shots. Power is not always available for lighting – the ornate interior at Llangasty Tal-y-llyn had to be done from a single socket on the pulpit. Cables and lighting units have to be positioned so that they can easily be removed from the shot in the post-production process if necessary – forward planning is essential.
All the work is tripod mounted, which makes it possible to produce composite images by layering in Photoshop: windows and interiors were usually done as separate frames. Using software to balance interior and exterior lighting can take several hours of patient work.  All told, Iain covered 120 sites in 20 days, by which time he had driven about 3,000 miles. This was followed by three weeks of post-production work. He uses a Canon IDS Mk III, with 12,000 watts of lighting, including two mains operated units and five transportable units. The tripod has 4-inch metal spikes for grass, with rubber feet to protect carpets and floors.

This work was done on behalf of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. The images here, all those in the book, and others taken during the course of this exercise are all in the National Monuments Record, and available to view through coflein

Iain has worked for RCAHMW for 35 years. He is a fellow of the British Institute for Professional Photography.

“Picturing Powys”: an exhibition of Iain Wright’s Royal Commission photography for the Pevsner Architectural Guide will be on display from 30 November until mid-February 2014, in the Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop, Heol Pen’ralt, Machynlleth.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Digital Past 2014

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales invites you to attend:

Digital Past 2014
New technologies in heritage, interpretation and outreach.

12th and 13th February 2014
St George’s Hotel, Llandudno

Digital Past is a two-day conference showcasing innovative digital technologies for data capture, interpretation and dissemination of heritage sites and artefacts. Running for the sixth year, Digital Past 2014 will be set in the seaside town of Llandudno, and offers a combination of papers, seminars and handson workshops and demonstrations to investigate the latest technical survey and interpretation techniques and their practical application in heritage interpretation, education and conservation.

The conference will be of value to anyone working in or studying the archaeological, heritage, education and museums sectors, and is designed to allow informal networking and exchange of ideas within a friendly and diverse audience made up of individuals from commercial, public and third-sector organisations. Open House sessions will also give the opportunity for display and demonstration of projects or products, and the chance to talk to heritage organisations, product developers and retailers.

The themes for this year are ‘Technical Survey’ and ‘Deliverables’.

For ongoing information on speakers and the programme please go to and follow #digitalpast2014

Registration cost for the two days is £69, including lunch and refreshments on both days. To register please go to

Limited places are available and early registration is advised.

We look forward to welcoming you to Digital Past in 2014.
The Digital Past Team

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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Amlwch Age Well Society, Pembrokeshire Shipwrecks and Ynyslas Rocket Range

Helen Rowe, Royal Commission People’s Collection Officer, conducting a talk to the Age Well Society, Amlwch.

Last week we were pleased to be invited to join Amlwch Age Well History Society as part of our People’s Collection Wales outreach. The society has taken part in many interesting projects in the past and has made a valuable contribution to recording the town’s heritage. Samantha Jones, Community Archaeologist for the Royal Commission, has been helping the Age Well group with the project in Amlwch (a town with a rich mining heritage and vast copper-works) through the umbrella project Metal Links. Helen Rowe, Peoples Collection Wales Officer, travelled to Amlwch to give a talk on the various ways the People’s Collection Wales website can be used to publicise, share and disseminate the fantastic research collated by thriving local history groups such as Amlwch.  Sarahjayne and I were able to shadow this talk, and it was really good to watch the members engaging with the website. It was a success all round, with the members showing a genuine interest and enthusiasm towards the site and uploading their material.

Kimberly Briscoe and Sarahjayne Clements checking phone signal at Granston Church, Pembrokeshire.
Boats at Porthgain, Pembrokeshire.

The rest of the week was just as busy: on Monday we furthered our work with the Royal Commission/Cadw Shipwrecks Project by attending a promising meeting with Pembrokeshire Archives, who seem keen to be involved in researching shipwrecks on the Pembrokeshire coast and are keen to be able to offer their facilities to the local Welsh Baccalaureate students. After such a successful meeting we then undertook a recce of the areas of significance to the Charles Holmes shipwreck along the Aberbach and Abermawr coast. This was in the hope of locating a strong-enough phone signal for the use of a potential augmented reality app, intended for interpretation for coastal walkers. Despite our efforts, phone signals seem limited in this area for such internet- based applications; however it was still good to spend the afternoon investigating the coastline and there are certainly a variety of ways that technology can be used to make interpretation accessible to the public, and we are keen to explore them!
Wartime Observation Post, Ynyslas Dunes, Ceredigion.
The infamous Rocket  Range Test Track Base, Ynyslas, Ceredigion.
On Thursday I took a trip to Ynyslas National Nature Reserve with Medwyn Parry, the Royal Commission’s military specialist, to learn more about the military use of the Rocket Range, in preparation for my forthcoming project there. It was great to see the varied uses and understand the complexity of military strategy at Ynyslas. In the afternoon Sarahjayne and I visited Ysbyty Cynfyn Church (a site linked closely with the Metal Links project) to improve our skills in graveyard recording.

Kimberly Briscoe and Sarahjayne Clements, Community Archaeologists, recording gravestones at the churchyard at Ysbyty Cynfyn.
Finally, to end a week of travelling the length and breadth of Wales, I was able to attend two conferences. On Friday we attended the IFA Community Archaeology Day School in Machynlleth. It was a positive experience to see the variety and scale of community archaeology projects across Wales, and I heard some ‘amateur’ community archaeologists presenting their work and some of their fantastic achievements. It certainly provided some great ideas and interesting viewpoints to consider for our forthcoming projects!

On Saturday I was then able to accompany Toby Driver and Keith Haylock as they disseminated their new research on Grogwynion Hillfort (along with the use of the pXRF gun in archaeological investigations) to the Hillfort Study Group at Oxford University.

By:  Kimberly Briscoe

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Monday, 18 November 2013

Top Award For Royal Commission’s 3D Animation Of Copper Industry

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’ use of computer reconstruction and animation to explain complex industrial archaeological sites has been recognised by an award from the Association of Industrial Archaeology (AIA).

The Hafod Copper Works animation, created in conjunction with Ceredigion–based visualisation company ThinkPlay, was carried out as part of the ESRC–funded project, The Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper. A focal part of the project was to enhance understanding of the Hafod Copper Works, at its height the largest copper–smelting works in the world, but which, since its closure in 1980, has largely disappeared. A particularly important aspect of the site is the Musgrave engine which powered the rolling mills, the only surviving insitu engine of its type. 

The two surviving engine sheds and rolling machinery at the Hafod Copper Works site. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
Utilising a wealth of survey carried out by the Royal Commission and our in-house expertise, combined with historic images from the West Glamorgan Record Office and Swansea Museum, the animation recreates the detail of buildings, machinery and processes on the site with a sense of the highly industrial nature of the Lower Swansea Valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Stills from the animation. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
As well as being a key part of the major The Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper temporary exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum (NWM), the animation has been used in an episode of Time Team, and is an integral part of the Swansea Community Boat experience. It has been shown in countries from France to China, as well as winning the acclaim of the American Society for Industrial Archaeology who have commended the film to their members. The animation is now on permanent display at the NWM.

While the Royal Commission has long been known for using informed 2D cutaway drawings and reconstructions in such books as the ground-breaking Houses of the Welsh Countryside, in recent years it has lead the way in the use of digital technologies in interpreting complex sites across Wales. The granting of the Peter Neaverson Award recognises the impact that this work has had on developing the interpretation, dissemination and conservation of our industrial heritage and archaeology. Examples of all RCAHMW animations can be viewed at

The Hafod Copper Works animation was funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)as part of The Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper, led by Swansea University and the European–funded Atlanterra project.

The first Award for Digital Innovation has been made to the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales for their animation of the Swansea copper industry. Stephen Hughes received the Award from AIA President Marilyn Palmer at the Association’s Conference Dinner on board HMS Unicorn in Dundee.

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Friday, 15 November 2013

Celebrate Christmas with Britain from Above

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes on heritage projects? How the sources are gathered and what process they go through to become a project in which everyone can take part?

Now’s your chance to find out!

The Royal Commission is offering the opportunity to find out more about the Britain from Above project, an online collection of historical aerial photographs of Wales, Scotland and England from 1919–53, these are available for everyone to enjoy and share memories.

On 20 November the Royal Commission will be opening its doors for people to find out about what the Commission does, with talks, an archive tour and an opportunity to see some of the Aerofilms albums of Wales.

The afternoon starts at 2:30pm with the main events running until 5pm. There will then be a break for tea, followed by Light, Landscape and Lasers - Revealing the Heritage of Wales from the Air, a talk by Dr Toby Driver at 6pm, and mince pies and winter punch afterwards.

It should be a fascinating afternoon but places are very limited, so please book by phoning 01970 621200 or by emailing

By Natasha Scullion

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Friday, 8 November 2013

The Royal Commission Christmas Lecture: Light, Landscape and Lasers―Revealing the Heritage of Wales from the Air by Dr Toby Driver

Come to the Royal Commission’s offices, Plascrug,  Aberystwyth on the evening of Wednesday, 20 November, and enjoy the Royal Commission’s Christmas lecture from 5.30pm onwards.  At 6pm, Dr Toby Driver will be talking on Light, Landscape and Lasers: Revealing the Heritage of Wales from the Air. The evening will also offer the opportunity for all to peruse some of the treasures of the National Monuments Record of Wales’ unrivalled aerial collections in the Library, chat to staff, and enjoy locally-made festive mince pies and mulled drink. Dr Driver will be available to chat about his work and offer book-signings of his latest publication Cymru Hanesyddol o'r Awyr / Historic Wales From the Air. This book explores the landscapes and history of Wales in over 220 superb images dating from the 1920s to the present day, from the earliest work of private and military aerial photographers to the latest discoveries by aerial archaeologists. Booking for the event is advisable and a warm welcome is extended to all.

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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

News from our Community Archaeologists: Archive research, Surveying and ‘The Big Draw’

Kimberly and I have been really busy recently so I thought it was time to update you all on our activities.

Last Thursday we helped on the ‘The Big Draw’ event here at the Royal Commission organised by The People’s Collection Wales and Britain From Above projects. Primary school pupils were asked to draw what they thought Aberystwyth would look like in the future and used aerial photos taken in the 1930s, and more recently, to see changes to date. They drew using different materials, in the style of two artists whose collections are held in the National Monuments Record: Falcon Hildred and R.E. Kaye. Local Welsh Baccalaureate students helped to prepare the material and the finished work will soon be uploaded onto the Peoples Collection Wales. The children came up with some really fantastic ideas including a big waterslide into the sea, chocolate factories, a gigantic football pitch, theme parks, haunted houses and outdoor swimming pools. Many opted to keep the castle and graveyard!

We have visited the National Library of Wales to learn about archive and family history research, as well as the Ceredigion Record Office to see and obtain information on the variety of records they hold. These visits were essential to us as we start to plan our forthcoming projects in Borth and Ynyslas. In Borth, I am planning to carry out census research on gravestone information and undertake a community audit, town trail and selected site surveys.

Our training with Royal Commission staff continues and we have been learning how to carry out building surveys using the Reflectorless Total Station and TheoLT. We have also started learning Welsh which I am really enjoying. It has already been useful for basic conversations and will be crucial for outreach with communities as well as introductions at events.

Sarahjayne and Kimberly learning how to use a Total Station.

I have also had the valuable opportunity to work shadow a colleague at the Ceredigion Museum who is working with Welsh Baccalaureate students setting up an exhibition on entertainment, what they do now and what people have done in the past. This will be fantastic to see when it is finished and something that Kimberly and I will be continuing to help with.

By Sarahjayne Clements.

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