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    11 May, 2006

    Celebrating People's History

    We debated the role of libraries and museums yesterday and I took the opportunity to focus on the efforts of the many different individuals and organisations in the Rhondda who are celebrating Rhondda history.

    Leighton Andrews: I will focus on the use of archives and the recording of history by real people in real communities. In the post-war period, a considerable amount was done by historians to explore the popular history of Wales, as it industrialised and as the struggles for democracy and the representation of ordinary working people developed.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, historians such as Merfyn Jones, Hywel Francis, Dai Smith and Gwyn Alf Williams did much to popularise that history and to locate it at the centre of historical study in Wales. Alongside movements such as the History Workshop in the UK as a whole, we had organisations such as Llafur, the journal and the society for the study of Welsh labour history, which were supported in their beginnings by organisations such as the south Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers. It led to developments such as the oral history recorded in South Wales Miners’ Library.

    History remains central to Wales, to south Wales, and to the communities of the former coalfield in particular. You cannot tell the story of the making of Cardiff as the capital city, or of Cardiff bay, without reference to the history of the coalfields, and I hope that that will be reflected in the new Cardiff museum.

    It is therefore hardly surprising that so many different historical activities are being undertaken, and so many different events being marked and explored. To give you some recent examples, in the Rhondda the Ark project has received £12,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a DVD about the mining history of the Rhondda. Porth County Community School and Hafod Primary School have received Heritage Lottery Fund and Cadw funding for their pit to port mosaic, which is now on display at Trehafod railway station, and their pit to port sculpture, which is about to tour Wales. In its final year, the Welsh Development Agency funded a feasibility study for community uses of the Powerhouse building in Llwynypia, which played a central role in the Tonypandy riots of 1910. Spectacle Theatre is looking at creating a community play about the 1910 riots for the forthcoming centenary. If we look at literature in its historical context, Rhondda authors such as Gwyn Thomas, Lewis Jones and Ron Berry are selling well in the first Library of Wales publications. Honno will shortly re-publish the autobiography of Rhondda Labour women’s pioneer, Elizabeth Andrews—no relation.

    The BBC has recently re-shown, 40 years on, Vincent Kane’s film The Long Street on BBC2W, with a free showing in the Parc and Dare Theatre for Rhondda residents. The entertainer Mal Pope is writing a musical about the Rhondda boxer Tommy Farr. Last week, residents of Cwmparc marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of the bombing of their village during the second world war with a memorial designed by local children. The Cistercian Way marks the long-standing role in religious pilgrimage of St Mary’s Church, Penrhys.

    There are dozens of individuals and many societies dedicated to the marking of Rhondda history, both communal and familial. In that context, I particularly wish to mention the late Haydn Shadbolt who did so much to ensure that the centenary of Rhondda transport was marked at the Rhondda heritage park two weeks ago. Haydn will be sadly missed by many of us. I also congratulate Rhondda Cynon Taf Country Borough Council on its online Rhondda heritage trail, which includes hundreds of digitised photographs, and which is supported by a grant from CyMAL.

    In a globalised system, we see an upsurge of interest by people in their family and community histories. There has been a huge growth in family history, which has exploded since the arrival of the internet, not only in relation to public sites, such as that of the Public Record Office, but also private sites such as ancestry.co.uk and 1837online.com, using digitised materials from the census, and births, marriages and deaths.

    Owen John Thomas: Do you agree that it would be a good idea if the census disks were put into local libraries, and not just at the large library in a town? It is not expensive to do, and they are materials from which people can learn a lot.

    Leighton Andrews: I urge you to keep up with what is happening, Owen, because if you did you would understand that most of the records are now on the internet, and in local libraries such as mine in the Rhondda they are therefore available through the internet provision.

    I regard these developments as positive and optimistic, and I also believe that in designing strategies for the archives of Wales, we should draw on the energy and interest of individuals and community organisations, which are at the forefront of recording and developing family history.

    When the National Museums and Galleries of Wales held its consultation about its future vision, central among the subjects that people wanted to hear about were the history of working-class movements in Wales, and the lives of ordinary people, especially their domestic lives. My colleague Huw Lewis has rightly championed the cause of a people’s history museum in Wales. As he says in his pamphlet, it would give people a vital sense of continuity and of their roots, allowing them to grow together in this emerging Wales. Amen to that.

    We should turn that vision of a people’s history museum into reality. We should explore how to create the museum from a number of different funding streams. We should seek to place Wales at the forefront of the digitisation industry, which is central to content development on the internet, starting with our own Welsh historic archives, which reside in so many record offices. We should work with the owners of photographic, audio and video archives, such as the BBC, ITV Wales and S4C, to get them to share their resources with us. We should look at the scope for partnership with potential commercial users of archive material, such as the family history websites that I mentioned, allowing them usage of archives under licence in return for digitisation funding. Above all, we should be working to ensure that this museum exists virtually as well as physically so that its contents, including our archives, can be accessed online as well as in person by the thousands out there who want them.

    Rhondda TV
    The Labour Party

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