A Tour of Glamorgan Archives
At Glamorgan Archives we always enjoy welcoming the public to look around our wonderful building. Since we are not able to conduct tours at the moment, we have produced a virtual tour to give you a little glimpse behind the scenes at the Archives.
This is where you will be greeted when you first enter the building. If this is your first visit then staff at reception will need to register you before you can access the collection.
Details of what you need to bring with you to register on that first visit can be found here. There are a few public access computers in the foyer which you are welcome to use. You are able to use these computers even if you have not registered with Glamorgan Archives.
There are lockers to store your belongings and seating for when you need to take a break. You are welcome to eat and drink in this space but you will need to bring any refreshments with you as we do not have any facilities on site. There are however plenty of shops and cafes nearby.
The Buffer Zone
You can see from the decor (or lack of decor!) that this is a firmly behind the scenes part of the building. The buffer zone is a corridor which runs around the outside of the strongrooms. It allows for staff access but it also has another very important job. The temperature and humidity in the strongrooms is regulated to keep it at a constant optimum to best preserve the documents. It is important, for the documents, to avoid fluctuations of temperature or humidity; the buffer zone literally buffers the Strongrooms from the temperature changes outside. This in turn means that we need to intervene less to sustain these optimum conditions – we have an air conditioning system for this – so we use less energy.
Another important feature that can be seen in the Buffer Zone is the fire suppression system. These huge canisters are filled with Argonite Gas. In the event of a fire being detected in one of the Strongrooms, these canisters will release the gas into the Strongroom where it will squeeze out the oxygen and in so doing put out the fire. All without harming the documents. If you do come for a real tour then rest assured that the system is disabled when the Archive is open so there is no danger to staff or visitors.
Isolation and Cleaning
We are always delighted to receive new accessions into the collection. We receive new items most weeks so the collection is constantly growing. An accession can be large or small, consisting of anything from a single photograph to a van full of documents and almost everything in between. If you think you may have an item/items to deposit you can read our Collection Policy, Terms of Deposit and details of how to go about depositing records here.
When new material comes into Glamorgan Archives it is checked by a member of the conservation team. They will be looking for signs of damp, mould and insect infestation. Sometimes it is possible for items to be cleaned and made safe immediately, but if the infestation is very bad, or if there is a large quantity to clean, it may take some time. To keep the rest of the collection safe from contamination, items waiting to be cleaned are stored here in isolation.
There is a hatch between the isolation room and the cleaning room so that documents can be safely be passed between the rooms.
The strongrooms are the rooms where the documents are stored. The temperature and humidity in these rooms is kept at a constant to best preserve the documents. All the documents are packaged in archival quality acid free boxes and wrappings. Volumes have bespoke boxes made for them, loose papers are stored in standard sized archival boxes and rolled maps and plans are wrapped in an acid free protective paper. To make best use of the space available items are stored by size rather than as a collection. Therefore items from one collection could be stored in several different places around the Strongroom or even across different Strongrooms. Each document has a unique reference number and our strongroom bays and shelves are also numbered. These numbers are all recorded in our electronic locations database. The database enables us to know where every item is.
You can see from the pictures that the strongrooms do not have any windows. This is because light is a contributing factor in the deterioration of documents, so to best look after them, we keep them in the dark. Of course we have lights which we turn on when we are working in the strongrooms.
We have four strongrooms in the building which currently store over twelve kilometres of records. Our oldest records is a Grant of King Henry II which is over 850 years old. We also have records coming right up to the present day.
This is where our custom made archival boxes are created. All volumes and lots of other items which do not fit securely into a standard size archive box will have their own box especially made. Each volume or item is measured by hand and the dimensions programmed into the box making computer. The box making machine then cuts out the box from special archival quality card, being sure to have as little waste as possible. The cut and scored pieces of card are then assembled by members of the conservation team. The card is acid free and acts as a sponge, absorbing the acidity from the documents they contain and in doing so slowing down any deterioration. They also fit perfectly, supporting the documents inside and protecting them from damage. So far the box making machine and conservation team have made over 40,000 boxes.
This is where new accessions come after being inspected by conservation and cleaned if necessary. Here the Archivists are able to sort and catalogue the documents. The catalogue is a list of descriptions of all the records held at Glamorgan Archives. Anyone can search the catalogue to see what records we hold via our website here. Ely is a very large room so there is plenty of space to spread out and get a good look at the documents, find out what they are and how they fit together.
This is also a space where volunteers work alongside the archive team. Glamorgan Archives has a dedicated team of volunteers who complete important value added or extra tasks. These usually involve helping to add additional details to the catalogue or transcribing information from collections to make them easier to access. If you would like to find out more about volunteering opportunities please see our volunteering website pages
The Conservation Studio is where the Conservators work to take care of the collection. Here documents can be repaired and made stable so that they can continue to be looked at by members of the public in our Searchroom.
There is lots of specialist equipment in the studio: a fume cupboard to enable the conservators to work with degrading film and photographs, which can emit potentially harmful gases; a sink for washing documents; benches for conducting repair work and a giant wall board. The wall board is a single pane of glass measuring 3mx4m which can be lit up from behind. It is so large that the conservators use airport steps to reach the top.
The wall board allows the conservator to conduct repairs on large maps and plans vertically which would be impossible any other way. The wall board was specially commissioned to be the same size as the largest plan in our collection.
This is the space where members of the public are able to look at the documents Glamorgan Archives hold. Items need to be ordered using their catalogue reference number which is displayed next to the document description in the catalogue. A member of staff then retrieves the requested documents from the strongroom and brings it to you at your desk. There is always an archivist and archive assistant on hand to help to use the catalogue, answer questions and assist you with your research.
Some documents will require a cushion to support them or weights to help them to lie flat. The staff on duty will provide you with these so that you can safely handle the documents.
The computers in the Searchroom have free access to Find my Past and Ancestry which you are welcome to use.
There is also a small reference library in the searchroom. It is not possible to borrow books but you are welcome to use them in the searchroom to help you with your research.
There is no charge for using the Searchroom facilities but there are a few rules which you will need to observe. Some of them may seem a little strange – like not being able to take pens into the Searchroom and instead having to make notes in pencil – but all the rules are designed with the care of the documents in mind. A list of the Searchroom rules can be viewed here.