‘Pioneers of Shopping by Post’: The Pryce Jones Collection


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Wales can lay claim to several pioneering and entrepreneurial feats during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the most impressive include those of Pryce Jones (1834-1920) and his woollen flannel company in Newtown.

The company saw Wales’ woollen industry flourish and provided thousands of local jobs. The Pryce Jones Collection, held at Powys County Archives, demonstrate its other significant achievements:

World’s first mail order business: The arrival of railways to Newtown, and Pryce Jones’ business prowess, turned this local company into a global concern. He was one of the first to make a success of the mail order model which we’ve become so used to today. Delivery service was a major factor in the company’s success. This is reflected in the collection which contains leaflets, catalogues and other promotional material sent out to gain orders. In 1901 a post office was added to the company’s premises, the Royal Welsh Warehouse, to deliver parcels all over the world.

Sales catalogue, 1955

Sales catalogue, 1955. Powys County Archives.

Royal orders: The business provided Welsh flannel to royalty and aristocracy. Orders came from royal households home and abroad, including Norway, Sweden and Russia. Sales leaflets show that customers included Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria. The collection includes a series of papers relating to Royal Warrants and Patronage from 1880 onwards. Pryce Jones was knighted in 1887.

The Royal Welsh Warehouse: Pryce Jones began with a little drapers shop. A much larger premise was built in 1879, The Royal Welsh Warehouse. This was extended in 1887-87 and again in 1901 to include the Post Office. A factory, known as Agriculture House, was built and the two were connected by a footbridge. The collection includes photographs and drawings of company buildings, department lists and items relating to opening celebrations. Since the Pryce Jones Company was taken over in 1938, the listed red-brick building has housed a number of home shopping companies. It has recently been temporarily taken over by Hope Church as a place of worship: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26138359

The collection also include papers of staff and social events (including female sports teams), the company’s store in Canada, and many other business records.

A detailed catalogue of the collection can be found here, please contact Powys County Archives for more details.

Royal Welsh Warehouse Ladies Cricket Team, 1939. National Library of Wales.

Royal Welsh Warehouse Ladies Cricket Team, 1939. National Library of Wales.


ICA Conference ‘From Factory to FaceBook: new ways to engage with business archives’ London, 14-15 April 2014


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I’m looking forward to attending this free conference in April! I’ll be part of a panel looking at National Strategies for business archives, with representatives for England, Scotland and Wales.

See here for programme and booking form.

Great panes! Stained glass company records at West Glamorgan Archives


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Vision Fulfilled

A less industrious, and more illuminative, spotlight on business collections this week with the records of a stained glass company. Celtic Studios was the first to produce stained glass in Wales, and was well known for its bold and original designs. The work of the company decorated churches through England and Wales, as well as many abroad.

The collection, held by West Glamorgan Archive Service, includes:

  • Files of correspondence, design briefs and orders for individual churches
  • Records of the running of the studios
  • Advertising and publications
  • Photograph albums showing designs and artists at work
  • Cartoons for stained-glass windows designed for churches in Canada, America and South Africa

A book, based on the collection, was published by West Glamorgan Archive Service in 2010.  ‘A Vision Fulfilled: the story of Celtic Studies and Swansea architectural glass tradition‘ tells the history of the company and its influence upon Swansea Metropolitan University’s internationally renowned Welsh School of Architectural Glass.

As well as giving an insight into the running of the company, the records could also be a rich resource into research on religious imagery, design and visual culture. Examples of Celtic Studios’ stained glass work can be found on the Imaging the Bible in Wales database.

A detailed catalogue is available online here, for more information please contact West Glamorgan Archive Service.

Forging ahead with the preservation of steel archives in Wales


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In April 2014, the cataloguing project ‘Wales Showing Our Metal’ (funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme) will begin. Archives and Records Council Wales have now also secured a vital grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to enable a programme of conservation, cleaning and re-packaging work to run alongside it.

The project will utilise the skills of conservators, preservation assistants and trained volunteers and will include:

  • Detailed conservation work on a series of patents, correspondence and reports of the Dowlais Iron Company, concerning the Bessemer process at Dowlais Works, including correspondence with Sir Henry Bessemer. These are held by Glamorgan Archives and require interventive treatment in order to correct earlier outdated conservation work and address concerns over their future accessibility.
  • Repair work on watercolour plans and a rentbook from Brymbo Steelworks at Flintshire Record Office.
  • Cleaning and re-packaging work for the collection due to be catalogued (British Steel Collection at Glamorgan Archives, Iron and Steel Trades Confederation at Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University and Brymbo Steelworks Records at Flintshire Records Office and Wrexham Archives).

Combined, the cataloguing and conservation work will go a long way in raising the accessibility, profile and use of Wales’ steel archive collections as a whole. Updates on progress will be posted here regularly.

‘Intimate portrait of a family firm’: Insights from the Emlyn Colliery collection


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Emlyn Colliery and Brickworks collection at Carmarthenshire Archive Service is a comprehensive resource for the business processes, technological advances and manpower behind anthracite mining. Dr Quentin Outram, Leeds University Business School, found that the collection offers:

an astonishingly candid account of the employer’s motives and actions, an all but unique account of the support offered to the Emlyn directors by employers’ organisations and an intimate portrait of the family firm in operation.

Of particular interest is a set of records concerning an industrial dispute in 1934. The stoppage lasted for two months, and was organised by Arthur Horner, executive committee member (and later president) of the South Wales Miners’ Federation (SWMF), and a founding member of the Communist Party. The strike was a battle between the SWMF and company unionism. One of the main grievances of the striking miners’ was the companies alleged dishonouring of price lists, and minimum wages.

The correspondence, company reports and price lists provide an insight into industrial disputes from both the company and the worker point of view. These company records provide a fascinating and differing perspective to trade union material, government records and newspaper reports. The series includes:

  • letters between the colliery owner, G E Aeron Thomas, and the SWMF
  • correspondence with the South Wales Miners Industrial Union, with informers, the Mines Department, media etc
  • reports on Arthur Horner, and his influence on the stoppage
  • employee observations of experiences at meetings
  • verbatim accounts of discussions at a meeting held in Aug 1934, following the end of the strike

The collection was catalogued in 2010 as part of the ‘Powering the World: Looking at Welsh Industry through Archives’ project (funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme and CyMAL). For more information contact Carmarthenshire Archive Service.

Making the Media work for you


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Before Christmas, I went on some training organised by CyMAL’s Audience Development Team. The day was called ‘Media Skills: Making the Media Work for you’ and was based at the Media Wales offices in Cardiff. Media Wales are part of the Trinity Mirror Group and produce publications such as the Western Mail, South Wales Echo, a number of local newspapers, and WalesOnline.

The training consisted of a general overview of working with the media through talks, practical activities and a tour of the different working areas. It also gave us the chance to ask specific questions and advice for the archive sector. Most of the advice was just a lot of common sense, but worth hearing it reiterated by the journalists and editors themselves.

  • Make ‘friends’ with the media: Journalists and the Newsdesk are happy to take calls and discuss ideas for stories, working relationships can be built through social media, and identifying direct contacts for reporters with an interest in your geographic or subject area is a great advantage.
  • Perfect your press release: Around 4 out of 5 press releases are ignored. So, how can you make yours stand out? There’s plenty of advice online about this, but some basic pointers are: putting content in the text of an email not as an attachment (quicker for reporter to open and digest); make subject of email succinct and to the point (remember this is the first, and sometimes only, thing a reporter will see); use short sentences; no jargon; open with the most important information; make them relevant; the wackier/more personable the better.
  • Provide a good image: The lack of an impressive image can mean a good story isn’t covered, conversely, an impressive image can mean a weaker story gets better coverage. For archive services, it’s worth thinking about having a Flickr site with sets of images ready to use (some good examples are University of Glasgow and the British Postal Museum and Archives). If a business collection lacks such visually appealing design or marketing material, the importance of the records can still be expressed by using people in images (see Swansea University’s ‘Stories of Steel’ Flickr set as an example).
  • Make your story relevant: Reacting to news agendas, or framing your piece as a local example of a national or international issue, will make a story more attractive to the media. Other ways of becoming more relevant is to find a historical angle on a current issue, time it with an anniversary, or link to a tale of human emotion. Business archives in the banking, postal and retail industry in particular often do this effectively.
  • Get the timing right: Archivists work in an environment where immediacy can be difficult to achieve. Most services have to go through council/company/head organisation PR team which means that by the time a press release is ‘ready to go’ the issue or event might have passed. Sending through stories which can be kept for use over quieter periods (known as ‘Squirrels’ in the media world) might prove more fruitful (Christmas and New Year, Thurs or Fri for Sunday and Monday papers).
  • Focus on the web: Content is continuously being updated so there is less emphasis on deadlines for stories, and a more flexible approach to the news with light-hearted features, photo galleries and videos. Below is an example of a gallery for business archives held in public services across Wales which featured on the BBC:


  • Cover your own events: On the whole reporters can’t promise to attend or provide coverage of events, though sending through a diary marker and a reminder at least means it should get considered. Press photographers are diminishing, so taking lots of your own photos and video footage will increase the chance of good coverage.  Try to lure a minor celebrity or sports star, because whilst getting the Minister to attend an event is a big plus for our sector, it isn’t going to get tails wagging in the media room.

Overall, it was a really interesting day, and gave me much food for thought. I will feel better prepared if I want to send a press release or publicise an event in the future. However, it would be interesting to see how much of this ‘relationship building’ is actually successful given the media’s world of tight deadlines, interest in the new/novel/celebrity, and heavy workloads.

I think it was also a great opportunity to show the media team how archives could contribute to interesting stories, providing unique images and historical insights. This piece by Glamorgan Archives was discussed on the day as a ‘potential’ story, and appeared online a few days later: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/food-drink/old-welsh-christmas-recipes-you-6392046

On top of this, I think training for archivists outside traditional ‘archive training’ is really useful for gaining different skills and awareness of the benefits of working with other sectors.

In the blue of Swansea Bay: the re-development of Mumbles Pier


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Reports in the local press today show that re-developments on Mumbles Pier and the Lifeboat Station are going well, and further progress will be seen in the New Year. Plans include a new hotel and spa and a new boardwalk.  A video of the first launch on the new lifeboat slipway is available here.

Archives in the South Wales Transport Collection at the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University, show that it’s not the first time it’s all been in need of a good repair. As well as being a comprehensive resource for the development of transport in South Wales, and particularly the famous Mumbles Railway (said to be the Worlds first passenger service), the collections (ref no LAC/10 and LAC/85) also include records relating to Mumbles Pier and Lifeboat Station.

Amecco (or Amusement Equipment Company Limited) have been involved with the running of the Victorian pier for over 60 years, from 1938 as sub-lessees from the South Wales Transport Company, then as owners from 1971. The records of the South Wales Transport Company include documents concerning the history of the pier, from the original plans approved by the Board of Trade, to its sale to Amecco.

In 1889, an Act of Parliament was obtained incorporating the Mumbles Railway and Pier Company, who built an extension of Mumbles Railway to Mumbles Head, and a new deep water pier. The new line and pier opened on 10 May 1898. In 1899 both Mumbles Railway and the Pier were leased to Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company. This lease was later transferred to the South Wales Transport Company, who sub-leased the pier to Amecco. In 1959 the South Wales Transport Company purchased the pier, hotel and railway from the original owners Swansea and Mumbles Railways Limited and Mumbles Railway and Pier Company. While the railway was soon after abandoned, South Wales Transport allowed Amecco to continue their lease of the pier, before they eventually purchased it.

In 1952 the Pier was closed and declared unsafe. Files kept by the company’s secretary include reports on the negotiations between the lessees and sub-lessees for the repair and plans of the proposed new jetty. There is also a folder of plans and correspondence with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution about a new lifeboat station and an extension to the slipway in the 1920s, and the establishment of an inshore lifeboat station in the 1960s.

There are a large number of deeds from the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company in the collection, including some agreements for facilities and amusements for the pier in the 1900s. These include agreements with a Pierriot troop (they would appear every day except Sundays), a company supplying a Mutoscope Machine (an early motion picture device), a company supplying a confectionary machine, the lessees of a photographer’s shop and a fancy dealer’s shop.

One of the main attractions at the Pier was the Pier Hotel, which included a dance hall. A dispute over the lease of the hotel in the 1940s reveals how the hotel was enjoyed by people during the Second World War. Officials of the South Wales Transport Company described how goodwill and increased business was brought about by the war. There were more troops in the area, Mumbles was felt to be at greater safety from bombing compared to Swansea and travelling restrictions meant that more people were staying local for holidays. War dances were held every night except Sunday, with one of the inspectors stating that people seem to have ‘gone crazy on dancing, drinking and any form of amusement during the war’. Visitors to the war time dances were made up of American troops, a large number of merchant seamen of all nationalities, some British troops and munitions workers.

These papers also show the inherent link between the railway and the pier, with one inspector estimating that 90% of people attending the dances would travel there and back on the railway. The trains ran every 16 minutes, and sometimes the driver was unable to stop until Oystermouth because the carriages were so full. With this in mind, it would be interesting to see if there has been, or will be, any talk of proposals to bring back the Mumbles Railway, to complement the planned rejuvenation of the pier.

MA Students at Swansea University produced a website based on the Swansea and Mumbles Railway collections http://mumblesrailway.wordpress.com/

*This post is a re-hash of one from the Powering the World project*

*Title lyrics come from Clement Scott’s ‘The Women of Mumbles Head’*

World War One in the archives of Old Castle Tinplate Company


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A new website ‘Cymru 1914: The Welsh Experience of the First World War‘, funded by JISC and project partners, opens up access to digitised primary sources relating to World War One and its effects on Wales. It will prove a rich resource from libraries, special collections and archives across the country. For more information see the BBC news story here.

Within the collections is material from Old Castle Tinplate Company Limited, contributed by the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University. The Llanelli based business was one of a number of tinplate works in the area, which was nicknamed ‘Tinopolis’.

The general meetings minute book for 1915-1938 (LAC/87/B/3) is an illuminating example of the impact of conflict on businesses and the work force. Through the directors’ reports we also learn about the national effect on the tinplate industry and related supply and manufacturing trades. The digitised pages detail:

  • initial concerns that work would have to come to a complete stand still due to export prohibitions. Some of these restrictions were relaxed with special licences issued to declare that exports to neutral countries would not ultimately end up for use in enemy countries. However, each separate shipment was reviewed individually, which was a timely process and held up orders
  • the numbers of the workforce who responded to their country’s call. This increased in 1917 as the tinplate industry was removed from the list of reserved occupations. The total amount called up from Old Castle was 266.
  • injuries, fatalities and honours for the workforce
  • the effect of becoming a ‘controlled establishment’ under the Munitions War Act of 1915, particulary managing profit
  • increase in the proportion of tinplate manufactured for Government purposes to contribute to the War effort, for food packaging for the Army and Navy
  • company contributions for wives and other dependents of serving men, a total of £2080-15-10 during the war years. The workforce supplemented this amount with weekly payments from their funds
  • demobilisation and arrangements for the return of the workforce
  • post war business recovery. An initial upturn was reported due to good demand in order to replenish depleted stocks, however this came with warnings about severe competition from abroad and particulary America

Old Castle Tinplate Company managed to keep some of its mills open during the war years despite restrictions on raw materials and shipping, and the absence of a large section of the workforce. It was the pressure from international competition which caused more problems in the following years. After the war, the company commissioned a memorial to its fallen, which can now be found at Kidwelly Industrial Museum.

Related articles

Neath Abbey Ironworks


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This week came the great news that West Glamorgan Archive Service have purchased the Neath Abbey Ironworks collection through generous grants from the PRISM fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.

The collection of rare engineering drawings provide evidence of creation and development at the works, which produced machinery for clients across the UK, but also for mining operations in Mexico and South Africa. It includes:

  • locomotive and railway plans, 1826-1892
  • ship and marine engineering plans, 1817-1883
  • gas installations, 1870-1874
  • general plans of machinery, 1782-1882

Kim Collis, West Glamorgan Archive Service, speaks of the high importance of the collection:

The plans themselves are detailed and finely drawn. The level of care taken in their execution reflects high standards of workmanship for which the foundry had a reputation. The variety of machinery produced is directly reflected in the plans, and the collection is therefore an invaluable resource to anyone interested in the history of techniques of manufacture and mining and of transport and history.

The acquisition has received coverage on the BBC website and on television channel S4C.  

Show me the money! The Business Archives Council conference



BAC conferenceEarlier this month was the Business Archives Council conference 2013. This years title was ‘Show me the money!- Securing Funding for Business Archive Projects’. It was hosted at Boots Archives in Nottingham, and, although there wasn’t time to incorporate a tour into the day, we did get some free hand cream.

External funding is really important for business archives which are held in public archive services and has been vital for the cataloguing and promotional work for business archives in Wales over the past few years (see the Wales Powering the World blog for more details). For business archives held within a company, gaining internal funding and advocacy can be a challenging but vital task.

Re-iterated throughout the day, was the importance of

  • gaining ‘champions’ for support
  • talking to stakeholders throughout the development and application process
  • presenting clear needs for, and benefits of, potential projects

As well as inspiring delegates with case studies of successfully funded projects and their achievements, the speakers provided really useful practical guidance on identifying and applying for funding. A panel session rounded off the day perfectly as it gave a real insight into the expectations and motivations of funders.

A summary of the day, and the links to the presentations (including my own) are available on the Business Archives Council website.