Looking down the lens: Ceinws Archives

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

In November, People’s Collection Wales began to digitize and preserve over a thousand images relating to Corris and the immediate area and to upload them to the PCW website. The collection comprises of black and white photographs, taken over a period of 15 years, which record different aspects of local history, and in particular, the history of the slate industry in the area. This fantastic collection was created by Ray Gunn, a keen photographer from Ceinws, Esgairgeiliog, and both Ray and his wife, Julia, have been adding content to their Ceinws Archive account on the website, since 2011, which includes photographs and documents, oral history, and short films.

Originally from Ceinws, a small village four miles north of Machynlleth, Julia returned to live there with her husband, Ray, in 1982. Ray moved to the Corris area as a teenager, from a small village in the Cotswolds. Both are retired, but their love of photography is still very much alive.

“Julia and I used to share a camera when we were courting,” explains Ray. “We also shared the same interest in the older generation and their way of life. I can’t speak Welsh fluently –but Ceinws and Dyffryn Dyfi is in my blood by now. I’m from a little village in North Cotswolds, Oxfordshire originally. However the house where I was brought up, and where I called home doesn’t exist any more ... so I feel that I have a really strong connection with the Dovey Valley as I have been living here so long. Also, I believe that there is a sense of urgency in Wales regarding recording local knowledge and a way of life that has disappeared – including place names that are in danger of being forgotten completely.”

The items Julia has been publishing on the People’s Collection Wales website are mainy related to the local history of the area her family have been living since the seventeenth century, along with other items which record the history and life events of present family members. Julia used to be a member of a community group which used to meet under the name of Corris Community Archive, and who received training from the People’s Collection Wales team in 2011. They went on to open an account and started uploading some local history items within a couple of months. All this went ahead under the supervision of Dr Sarah Higgins, a lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at Aberystwyth University and students from the department also worked with them. Here is a short film documenting People’s Collection Wales’ work with Corris Archive.

‘We used to meet in the Institute in Corris, and I enjoyed working with them,’ explains Julia. ‘When the group stopped meeting I was really sad, and was even more sad when Corris Archives came to an end.’
However Julia was encouraged to carry on with her hobby. ‘Sarah Higgins suggested that I could create my own archive and this is when I started ‘Ceinws Archive’, and I began to upload items on the People’s Collection Wales website later on in 2011. By now I have uploaded well over 300 items on behalf of both of us.’ Julia added: ‘ I believe that the People’s Collection Wales website is really important, because it makes Wales’ history easier to understand and more accessible for those people who can’t travel to places such as the National Library.’

The books that Julia Gunn has written about her family history and the history of Esgairgeiliog Ceinws village are extremely important to her: "The sound recordings that I have uploaded are also really important to me of course,’ she added. ‘I always play and share some of these family films on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and by doing this I still feel that I can be close to them, so it’s really great to be able to do that. My father, Kenneth Rowlands, was a good storyteller when he was in the mood – stories about his upbringing in Ceinws and local history – about the quarries etc. By sharing oral history in this way you are essentially recording a way of life.”

Moira Rowlands’ Memories

Kenneth Rowlands

According to Julia, her favourite film of all the ones they have shared on the People’s Collection Wales website is Corris Uchaf – Fronheulog. "The film is about finding Fronheulog – my great, great, great grandparents’ house,’ she explains. ‘Robert and Margaret Owen lived at Fronheulog in 1841, and it is this piece of research for my family history which led me right the way back to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, Prince of Powys in 1068!"
Corris Uchaf – Fronheulog

Ray’s favourite item from their account is this black and white photograph showing the view from outside our house, Yr Efail, in Esgairgeiliog. "It’s exactly the same view that was taken by the photographer, Donald George, who used to sell his photographic work to Valentines Postcards in Dundee. He moved down to Upper Corris and often visited this area. He took a photo of the mountain opposite our house. The fist time I saw it, I just thought ‘I want to do that’ and so recording views of the village is what I’ve been doing for years."

In 2018 Natural Resources Wales had the large fir trees felled from across the village as they were a danger by the main road, especially Evans’ Bridge. When they had completed the work Ray was then able to photograph the picture he wanted from more or less the same spot that Donald George took in 1928, 90 years earlier. This is the published item.

With thousands of photographs and negatives stored at home, Ray was determined to safeguard his personal archive, and he received support from the People’s Collection Wales to do so with his collection of black and white photographs documenting local history – photos which he took between December 1995 and January 2010. With help from the National Library’s Volunteering Service, work is now under way to digitize the 110 films to archive standard, and to help with filling in the bilingual metadata forms so that Ray’s detailed knowledge of the area will also appear on the website. Six volunteers are now working on this project, including Tim, who is familiar with various aspects of digital preservation and who, by now, has nearly finished scanning the 1,300 negatives. Lianne and Jackie have been inputting information on the metadata spreadsheet with Nonna and Tomos contributing to the translation work and Elfed working bilingually on the metadata. Elfed, who lives in Corris Uchaf and who has family connections with the area graduated from Leicester University last summer and will begin working at the National Library in January.

The majority of Ray Gunn’s photographs will continue to be published on the People’s Collection Wales website before Christmas, and the remaining items in the New Year – a collection which is certainly a valuable contribution to Wales’ industrial heritage, and which documents important social changes in the Corris area. You can take a closer look at the Ceinws Archive account and their collections on the slate quarries in the Corris area.

Elena Gruffudd's picture