February 28, 2022

Illustrating the Past in Wales

Talks from a conference held at Llangollen on 22-24 October 2021, celebrating 175 years of Archaeologia Cambrensis 1846-2021. An accompanying booklet is available from Castle Hill Books at £10 including p&p – details here –



Prof Huw Pryce – Harry Longueville Jones (1806 -70): Tory politics, French example and the Cambrians

Founder, with the Revd John Williams (ab Ithel), of Archaeologia Cambrensis in 1846, Harry Longueville Jones’s earliest publication On the Natural Scenery of the Snowdonian Mountains displayed his artistic abilities and strong sympathies with Wales and the Welsh Language. His views on ancient monuments and historic buildings were strongly shaped by his years as a journalist in Paris, where a burgeoning interest in the medieval past led to state funded committees for preservation and protection – a model, HLJ argued, for Great Britain. HLJ’s series of articles in Archaeologia Cambrensis on the ancient churches of Anglesey, Mona Mediaeva, were forwarded to Prosper Mérrimé, the first Inspector-General of French Historic Monuments. HLJ continued to edit Archaeologia Cambrensis after breaking with Ab Ithel. A keen educationalist, he was appointed as an Inspector of church schools in 1848 and sharply disagreed with his superiors on the derogatory views on the Welsh and the Welsh language expressed in the notorious ‘Blue Books’.


Prof Nancy Edwards – Recording and illustrating early medieval sculpture in Wales

Some of Edward Lhuyd’s records and drawings in the later 17th century were subsequently printed as relief woodblocks, a technique used in early issues of Archaeologia Cambrensis to replicate the on-site drawings and rubbings of J. O. Westwood. The technique of white line wood engraving was the main method of illustration in the explosion of printed material by the mid 19th century. The fine lines produced were used in Archaeologia Cambrensis in 3D illustrations showing different faces of a stone and the bilingual ogham and latin inscriptions. The Cambrians’ draughtsman, Worthington George Smith, produced some very fine engravings from 1875 onward, shown to scale and with sections and increasingly using photography to project an image directly onto the block. From the later 19th century photography was increasingly used both to record and reproduce early medieval carved stones.  Nash Williams used all these types of illustration in his The Early Christian Monuments of Wales in 1950.

Frances Lynch Llewellyn – Archaeological illustration: a plea for a return to the 1870s

Archaeology is a totally visual subject, with all the primary evidence encountered by the eye.  Exploration of this evidence inevitably incurs its whole or partial destruction and therefore a record must be made.  For most of the last few centuries of archaeological investigation that record has involved drawing. Quoting Ruskin – ‘I am not teaching you to draw, I am teaching you to see’ – Frances explains that the process of recording begins by looking, which leads to understanding. Artefact drawings from H. M. Stanley’s excavations at Porth Dafarch, Anglesey in Archaeologia Cambrensis provide particularly fine examples. The drawing of a collared urn, shown inverted and where the excavated fragments fitted, is still hugely informative; her own drawing of the same vessel to modern conventions only adds scale and more precise measurement. She deplores some recent publications where only photographs of such vessels are used and the decline in teaching archaeological draughtsmanship.  Photography, she argues, is not analytical and does not provide the information for close comparison at the heart of typological work.


Ian Wright – A personal history of photography: large format film to digital photography

Iain Wright, now retired from his post as photographer at the Royal Commission Wales, shows a dazzling sequence of images in a wide-ranging talk. He admires the 19th century photographs of the great civil engineering works of the era, such as the Manchester Ship Canal. The emphasis on quality black and white images in his training as a photographer meant the use of big format cameras and heavy gear and lighting. Developing his theme of ‘painting with light’, he shows how a seemingly natural and evocative image of, for example, the simple interior of St Baglan’s church, Llanfaglan, Gwynedd had in fact been achieved using soft lighting in the nave and a reflector light to create the effect of light streaming through the church door. Directional but soft lighting was necessary for features like the plasterwork or staircases in the many gentry houses photographed for RCAHMW. Now, of course, many of these effects can be achieved by manipulating digital images using specialist computer software.


Heather James – Early archaeological illustration in Archaeologia Cambrensis: artists, engravers and printers

Beginning with an explanation of the new processes in printing technology that led to an explosion in printed books, magazines, journals and newspapers, Heather James describes the techniques and processes of woodblock engravings which were the principal means of illustration until methods of mass printing of photographs were developed from the 1870s. Unusually the Cambrians had their own draughtsman – Worthington George Smith – who was an accomplished artist, engraver, archaeologist and photographer, producing an astonishing range and number of illustrations in Archaeologia Cambrensis for some 30 years from 1875. She explains that she is cataloguing the large collection of 19th century woodblocks from Archaeologia Cambrensis and a number of these together with the volumes in which they were printed were on display in an exhibition at the Conference.


Susan Fielding – Our Digital Past: recording and visualising the built heritage of Wales in the 21st Century

Susan Fielding of RCAHMW, the organiser of the ‘Digital Past’ conferences, discusses current approaches to recording and visualising built heritage in Wales. These are signalled by the measured plans, elevation drawings and photographs of the 1937 Anglesey Inventory, another milestone being the publication in 1973 of Peter Smith’s Houses of the Welsh Countryside which heralded the era of isometric cutaway drawings and distribution maps as well as photographic records.  A new age of digital survey, using AutoCAD and 3D reconstructions to show phases in a building’s development and present results in a more publicly accessible way, began in 2005 in a television series ‘Hidden Histories’. Current techniques of digitising and enhancing earlier cutaway 2D drawings use modelling and animation combined with new research. The website ‘Digital Dissent: The Story of Nonconformity in Wales’ utilises GIS to make formerly static distribution maps more interactive. She concludes with two recent projects which use the fast developing techniques of ‘virtual reality’ and ‘augmented reality’.


Toby Driver – Taking to the skies: transforming our view of Welsh Heritage from the air

A telling illustration from the CHERISH project on coastal change shows the ‘Survey Toolkit’ now available to archaeologists. On land, modern survey instruments can record to the millimetre, non-invasive methods of geophysical survey detect buried features and deposits, and coring can provide evidence for environmental change; all these techniques now precede and accompany archaeological excavation. Laser scanning can produce detailed 3D records of buildings. In aerial survey, flying and photography still play a central role but is now complemented by the widespread use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) photography. The recent advent of drones for aerial recording and survey is both cost effective and a means of making sites and excavations more accessible to the general public. Photogrammetric software is used to produce multi layered maps.