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Vol. 14 2006

Uncovering the archival secrets of the Royal Institution of South Wales: a postscript

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2004 saw the beginning of a collaboration between the Royal Institution of South
Wales and the West Glamorgan Archive Service to catalogue the Royal Institution's
archive collections. Most members might have been surprised to hear that there was
a significant archive to catalogue and only a relatively small number of people had
made extensive use of them in the past. Some months ago, one prominent member
of the Royal Institution was heard to say 'So, what's this archive thing all about
anyway?' In recent months the project has come to a successful conclusion and the
archives have been publicised through a programme of events and exhibitions.
Members of the Royal Institution may be interested to find out more about the work
that has been carried out and the background to the archive collections.
The Royal Institution's function as a collector and preserver of archives may be
relatively unknown, but nonetheless it has been of considerable importance to local
historians. Without the work carried on by members and librarians, a wealth of
important documents might not have survived to the present day. Archives are not
usually visually arresting: they are difficult to make into a good display, either in a
glass case or as copies on an exhibition board. To the casual observer, one faded
brown parchment looks much like another. Nonetheless, they are the raw material of
history, without which little could be known with certainty about the characters,
administration, culture and social life of our area in the past. In the dull, yellowed
leaves of each tired-looking manuscript can be found the names and life stories of
the local people who have made Swansea and South Wales what they are. In an
article in last year's issue of Minerva we wrote about George Grant Francis, who
was instrumental in collecting documents, firstly on behalf of Swansea Corporation,
then later on his own account.' After his death his son, John Richardson Francis,
donated them to the Royal Institution, and these form the core of the archive
collections. That was just the beginning: the collections were added to, catalogued,
stored, moved and moved again, all the while augmented by documents recording
the activities of the Royal Institution itself (as distinct from those documents
collected by it). In undertaking this project, it became increasingly clear that our
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