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1. Information content and structure

The National Monuments Records in England, Scotland and Wales, as they are today, have grown from a combination of different records set up to record archaeological sites and buildings for a number and variety of purposes. The purpose, structure and data content of these diverse records have led to the complexity of today's national records, fundamentally influenced their computerisation strategies and are instrumental in determining future directions.

The distant origins of the NMRs lie in the National Buildings Records that were started during the Second World War to ensure that buildings in vulnerable areas were recorded in case of damage resulting from military action. In Scotland, the SNBR (Scottish National Buildings Record) was created rapidly by using as many drawings and photographs as possible from existing sources, e.g. architects' offices, as well as actively undertaking surveys and making records. This tradition has continued in Scotland so that the NMRS has the largest collection of architectural drawings of the three NMRs.

The SNBR and the subsequent architectural record consisted of a collection of both original and copied drawings together with photographs. A loose-leaf catalogue of the collections was created giving the numbers of each item in the collection and very brief details, but the record was most frequently searched by browsing along the shelves. The catalogue was held in County order and alphabetically by name of building. Computerisation of this catalogue is still in process and likely to take a further five years.

The three NMRs also hold the archaeological records of the Ordnance Survey. Although never intended for public use, they were widely consulted by the archaeological community and were transferred to the NMRs when the responsibility for providing information on 'antiquities' for mapping purposes passed to the three Royal Commissions in 1983. The archaeological records are based on the records of the Ordnance Survey gathered for the full re-survey of Britain that begun in 1950s and ended in 1970s. The OS cards were compiled with a précis derived from published texts and other sources, which were then used by the field surveyors attached to the OS Archaeology Division to verify the sites in the field and to assess those that matched the criteria for publication on the map.

The OS record consisted of annotated maps at 1:10,000 scale and a card index containing very precise details of location, the précis, a list of source material together with a field report, sometimes with a drawing, plan or photograph attached. The card index was held in 1:10,000 map sheet order. Computerisation of the text from the cards is complete. The information on the 1:10,000 maps and the plans and photographs are not fully digital.

The role of the NMR in Scotland as an archive has always been strong owing to the legacy of the SNBR collections. A particular feature of the NMRS is that it is a requirement of government-sponsored excavation and field work that the documentation created during the work should be deposited in the NMRS, while in England and Wales the material is deposited in local museums with the finds. Similarly, the requirement to publish results immediately after the field seasons in the Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, which is also incorporated annually in the NMRS database, means that there is information available rapidly for research and heritage management. While DES is incorporated annually into the NMRS database, the cataloguing of the excavation archive is an ongoing project.

In addition, the material from the Royal Commission Surveys is an important part of the archive, taking the form of survey drawings and photographs as well as text published in Inventories. A number of other initiatives, not all of which can be summarised here, have contributed information over the years to make up today's record describing the buildings and archaeological remains, together with underwater sites. Mention should, however, be made of the aerial photographic surveys undertaken in all three countries both as part of the Commissions' survey programmes (some 5000 photographs in Scotland annually) and by others depositing photography in the NMRs. Sites recorded in this manner are generally well-located but not well described, leaving the user to analyse the photographs for themselves. Collections of mainly vertical aerial photography have also been incorporated into the NMRs from the MOD, OS and other surveys and provide a blanket cover from the 1940s to the present day. These are indexed by sortie plots, drawn on maps, tracing the flight path of the plane. In Scotland 80% of these have been digitised.

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Last updated: Fri Jan 30 2004