December 2019

The Future of the Gaol and Archive Local   historian   GARETH   EVANS   puts   forward   his   views   on the future of the Gaol and Archive Ruthin   is   blessed   with   two   councils,   both   playing   a   role   in improving   and   helping   develop   the   town’s   future.   Currently, one   council,   Ruthin   Town   Council,   is   doing   splendid   work renovating   the   lordship   courthouse   on   Saint   Peter’s   Square   and turning   it   into   a   multi-purpose   centre   for   the   community.   The   other   council,   Denbighshire   County Council, plans to withdraw services from Ruthin gaol, placing at risk the future of the building. Denbighshire    has    responsibility    for    protecting    heritage    buildings    and    consequently    the    future    of    the 18th/19th century gaol should be a major issue for it. Its   decision   to   attempt   to   move   the   County Archives from   the   Gaol   to   a   location   outside   the   County,   in Flintshire,    has    certainly    raised    many    eyebrows. They   have   been   located   in   Ruthin   periodically   since the   1790s,   but   the   decision   to   relocate   the Archives and    join    with    Flintshire    in    creating    a    modern archival   centre   at   Mold   is   driven   mainly   by   the   need to   provide   additional   storage   for   the   ever   growing archives    of    Denbighshire    and    by    the    increasing difficulties   of   working   in   an   old   building   in   constant need of repair. The   gaol   is   apparently   bursting   at   the   seams,   with several   kilometres   of   archival   material   and   there   is simply   not   enough   space   in   the   present   archival block.   For   the   Archives   service,   the   priority   has   to be    the    care    and    preservation    of    Denbighshire’s archives   and   there   is   no   doubt   that   the   decision   is professionally   sound   and   will   contribute   greatly   to the future safety of the archival material. There   are   also   trends   within   the   archival   world,   which   may   make   it   less   necessary   in   future   for   researchers to   have   direct   access   to   original   archival   material.   Already,   the   census,   many   parish   registers,   military records,    electoral    rolls    and    much    other    material    is    on-line.    Catalogues    are    increasingly    being    made available   on   the   county’s   archives   website   and   this   is   a   process   that   will   continue. Already   it   is   possible   to have   access   to   major   national   collections   in   the   National   Library   at Aberystwyth   and   The   National Archives at Kew, without leaving one’s home. Significant   collections   such   as   most   19th   century   newspapers,   wills   and   inventories   can   now   be   accessed without making the long journey to either Aberystwyth or Kew. Nevertheless,   while   these   useful   trends   offer   hope   for   the   future,   there   is   a   great   difference   in   attitudes between   Denbighshire   and   other   counties   towards   the   historic   records   in   their   custody.   Only   relatively recently,   the   people   of   Merionethshire   lobbied   hard   to   prevent   their   archives   from   leaving   the   old   county. Wrexham   has   battled   with   great   determination   to   establish   an   archives   in   its   new   county   and   Conwy   has recently commissioned a new records office. Their   attitude   is   different   from   Denbighshire’s   and   much   more   positive.   It   would   be   interesting   to   know   what Flintshire’s   attitude   to   this   new   partnership   would   have   been   if   it   had   been   suggested   that   the   combined archives should be located in Denbighshire. The   collections   in   Ruthin   do   not   only   come   from   the   present   county   of   Denbighshire   but   from   historic Denbighshire   as   well.   The   rich   collections   represent   a   wide   range   of   historical   human   activity   from   Colwyn Bay   right   across   to   Wrexham.   It’s   a   huge   area   and   one   wonders   with   all   the   talk   of   local   government reorganisation    whether    the    council    has    given    adequate    consideration    to    its    choice    of    partner.    If Denbighshire   is   eventually   twinned   with   Conwy,   which   seems   natural,   a   huge   archive   of   interest   mainly   to Denbighshire   residents   would   be   trapped   outside   the   county   and   few   of   the   documents   have   anything   to do with Flintshire. For Ruthin, the situation is much simpler. The   County   Council   seems   incapable   of   finding   new   use   for   its   heritage   buildings.   It   closed   the   frontage building   of   the   Gaol   on   Clwyd   Street   and   has   found   it   impossible   to   find   a   new   use   for   it   and   now   it   seems the rest of the gaol is going to go the same way. For   Ruthin   the   future   does   look   difficult,   with   an   increasing   number   of   large   old   buildings,   some   the   direct responsibility of the county council being made empty by them. There   doesn’t   appear   to   be   any   evidence   of   any   initiatives   by   the   council   to   resolve   these   issues   which   are of   their   own   making. There   is   talk   of   a   large   museum   complex   but,   with   no   money   being   allocated,   it   seems somewhat fanciful. For   Ruthin,   there   is   a   double   calamity.   The   county   council   needs   to   find   £2,000,000   to   invest   in   the   new Flintshire complex offering additional economic opportunities for Mold. Our   community   will   have   to   dig   deep   into   its   pockets   to   make   this   investment   in   Flintshire   at   the   expense   of jobs and a deterioration of our town centre. On   account   of   this,   if   for   no   other   reason,   the   county   needs   to   sit   down   &   work   out   whether   the   spending   of this money, which will inevitably be at the expense of the economy of Denbighshire, makes good sense.
Archive from 2013 Historic Interest
Parting of the ways?