Background information
The pilot project


Our first attempts
In order to explore what was feasible, we decided to run a pilot project. We were able to re-deploy a member of staff to work on the Pilot Project for three months from November 1996 to January 1997. He was able to develop two sites in the time.
The first took a thematic approach and was based on a particular case from the Montgomeryshire Quarter Sessions, in which three young men from Newtown were charged with stealing a quantity of unrefined sugar from a warehouse and eating it with their friends. The case was an unusually rich one with detailed examinations of witnesses which made for entertaining reading. In the end they were found guilty and - the sting in the tail - transported to Australia. By great good fortune we were put in touch with a local historian, Mr Brian Owen, who had researched the fates of transported criminals, and we were able to include their subsequent careers as part of the site on display.

The second site took a different approach. Rather than trying to tell a story, we chose to display a variety of source materials - maps, documents, trade directories, and the like - for the area around Crickhowell. This is more of the "shop-window" approach, illustrating what is available, but not trying to place it in a detailed context or provide much background information about the subjects.

  From these two very different ways of presenting information, we learned some valuable lessons. First of all, although the archival images were attractive to look at and were important for serious researchers to have access to, most users of the sites were not overly concerned with them. It was the transcripts that they referred to most often. Secondly, in order to successfully present archival information on the Internet for inexperienced researchers you have to undertake a great deal of background research yourself. For example, what is a Quarter Session? What did a Lord Lieutenant do? When was (is?) Epiphany? Local words that are out of currency have to be explained too. For example, the young men from Newtown hid the stolen sugar in a "tallant". Local people may know that this is an old word for a hayloft, but many others won’t. So at the very least some sort of glossary is required and background information pages as well. And last of all, we discovered that there is a tremendous interest among the wider community for material of this kind.