Background information
Powys Digital History Project: phase 1

  Having evaluated the results of the Pilot Project we were then able to draw up a rather more ambitious specification to cover the whole of Powys, which is laid out in more detail below. Then we embarked on the arduous process of trying to find funding for the Project which was finally successful in the Spring of 1998 when we secured European funding from the Llwybr/Pathway organisation and the Social Development Fund which is administered by the Shire Committees of Powys County Council. This has enabled us to fund two people to work on the Project for one year. The Project was therefore formally established in June 1998, based in The Gwalia, Llandrindod Wells.
The county of Powys covers a huge area. In fact there are over two hundred traditional parishes across the 2,000 square miles of its extent, and it is not possible to cover in detail every one of those parishes in the time available. Ultimately it is envisaged that the Project will offer a representation of examples from many of them, but in the meantime we are forced to concentrate on those communities with the facility of an Internet connection in the local library, of which there are eighteen. With the initial funding that we received, it was decided to concentrate on six communities: Machynlleth, Llanidloes, Rhayader, Presteigne, Hay-on-Wye and Ystradgynlais. These seemed to offer a wide range of types of community, the widest geographical spread and places with readily-accessible materials.
  The blueprint for the presentations for each of the communities has been separated into ten subjects. These are indicative in content, and should be seen as a starting point for each community site and not a proscriptive limitation.
To illustrate some of the themes covered in the project, a farm or grand house or hamlet can be taken as a specific example and traced in detail through the records and illustrated by scanned images. These images will come from old records at the County Archives Office relating to property such as entries from tithe maps and schedules, enclosure maps, entries in the census returns for the Victorian period, entries from Land Valuation records, electoral registers and local newspapers.
  Secondly, religion. This will consist of a history of the established church in the communities from the earliest Christian communities to modern times. It will include material on local churches and monasteries and the wider political role of the church. Just as important is the history of nonconformity in each area including material on the great revivals and the heyday of the chapels. The presentation will include material from primary and secondary sources with scanned images from parish records at the National Library of Wales and other record offices, as well as engravings and photographs of churches, monuments, etc. The same applies to the representation of nonconformity, but local chapels will also be invited to contribute material to a presentation on the social aspects of chapel life.
  Thirdly, education. This will comprise material on the development of education in each community from the earliest church and private schools to modern state education with wider developments in education to give a context. Primary and secondary sources will be used together with images from trade directories, old newspapers and the surviving records of the schools themselves.
  Fourthly, crime and punishment. The general background to the subject in medieval Wales will be set out (particularly the difference between the native law and law in the English lordships) together with developments from the Act of Union up to recent times, and in particular the Quarter Sessions, the Great Sessions and Assizes and the local magistrates courts. It will also cover the whole topic of policing, from the historic parish constable to the modern constabulary. This topic will mainly be illustrated by scanned images from court and police records with photographs of gaols, lock-ups, police constables and courts as well as old newspaper reports.
  Fifthly, care of the poor. The history of the care of the poor in Wales from medieval times through the development of the parish system after the Act of Union to the establishment of Poor Law Unions and the large Victorian workhouses will be chronicled. Scanned extracts from parish records, Quarter Sessions and other court records will be used together with photographs of workhouses and inmates. 
  Sixthly, short biographies of eminent local characters from the communities chosen for local or national importance. Family history material will be included as well as scanned portraits, pictures and engravings of birthplaces or residences, and extracts from documents and newspapers indicating their activities.
  Seventhly, local buildings. This section will include descriptions and brief histories of local buildings of note. These should be of architectural or historical interest however modest in scale. They will be illustrated by engravings, old photographs, architectural drawings and plans, documents from the County Archives Office and elsewhere, and contrasted with modern digital images.
  Eighthly, the local landed estates and families. This will cover the history of those local estates which exerted most influence over the communities together with an account of the involvement of landed gentry in public life. The presentation will consist of scanned images from estate records and other records related to the land and land ownership. Images from public and official records showing gentry involvement in the life of their communities will be used along with portraits, photographs, monuments, etc.
  Ninthly, a special local topic. Each of the communities has something unique to itself. This area of the presentations will reflect, as far as possible, that which is unique to each community. For example, Rhayader has the building of the Elan Valley dams; Presteigne has its role as both a county town and border town at the same time; Ystradgynlais has its important role in the development of iron and steel; Hay and district have the border experience and the celebrated Rev. Francis Kilvert; Machynlleth has its connections with Owain Glyndwr and Llanidloes has its part in the Chartist movement and the flannel industry. These suggestions are of course not proscriptive, but merely indicate possible lines of approach. Presentation will depend on the content in each case as well as on surviving records and photographs.
  Finally, the topic called "within living memory". This section has been left as open as possible to allow local communities to contribute in any way they like. This can be in the form of specialist content from a local interest group (for example the coming of the railway or canal to the town), or a more general topic to which groups and individuals can contribute (such as the community in the war years). In such a flexible area as this project staff can support this more anecdotal material with material from public and official records of the time, as well as with newspapers and secondary sources. First-hand anecdotal material is central to this section along with reminiscences, family photographs and possibly even sound files. Where film footage exists, brief extracts can be displayed as video files. 
  These are the topographical pages. Sitting alongside these are a complementary sequence based on themes from local history. These are primarily intended to provide a certain amount of background information to avoid unnecessary duplication in the rest of the site, but also offer an alternative way of viewing archival material on-line. For example, it would involve a great deal of duplication to give a history of the legislation leading to the building of workhouses in the period 1782-1880s as part of each site telling the history of every town. Instead it is preferable to provide links to a single section laying out the relevant background material, and to concentrate on the main developments as they affected the communities concerned. These thematic pages are also capable of being expanded to include digital images of original material to serve as examples for study in their own right, as well as simply linking back to the topographical pages. A good example is the topic looking at Crime and Punishment. No matter how many times one reads of harsh punishments for comparatively trivial offences, there is something particularly shocking about seeing a document like this:
"Margaret Luke being indicted at this Sessions for the felonious stealing of one Bodice of the Goods of Walter Davies and upon her Tryall Convicted of the said offence It is by this Court ordered that she be stript from the waist upward and publickly whipt tomorrow Morning between the hours of eleven and twelve from the East Gate to the West Gate in the Town of Brecon."
   It can be easy to exaggerate about conditions in previous times, and it can also be very easy to dismiss harsh interpretations as mere exaggerations. The important thing about the presentation of archival material in this way is that it lets the readers draw their own conclusions. The documents can speak for themselves. The one thing that the Project is not able to do is to put this into a statistical context (did this happen every week? Once a month? Is this the only instance in the Order Book?), but at least by including examples of leniency and humane treatment we can challenge simple or one-sided views of history. Hopefully the student of local history will find many examples that stimulate and challenge his perceptions of life in earlier times. As Mark Twain commented, "The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice". By presenting original documents and making them available to the widest possible audience via the Internet we are trying to present an unprejudiced introduction to history.
   As well as the detailed content for the community and thematic sites referred to above, the following background information will also be necessary to support the Project overall. A glossary of unfamiliar words and phrases; an explanation and history of each territorial unit (county, hundred, parish) referred to; an explanation and history of each administrative unit (poor law union, district council, manor) referred to; background historical material to place local events in context; links to other Web sites with related material; information on the towns in the present day, with full acknowledgement to all individuals who are contributing to the project; explanations of main sources used and information to be found in them (such as tithe surveys, enclosure awards and Census returns).