Ministry Guidebooks from 1955

Caernarvon Castle


My study of Ministry Souvenir Guidebooks has appeared in the latest number of the Journal of Public Archaeology (2018).

The first formal guidebooks for historic sites placed in state guardianship in the United Kingdom appeared in 1917. There was an expansion of the series in the 1930s and 1950s. However from the late 1950s the Ministry of Works, and later the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, started to produce an additional series of illustrated souvenir guides. One distinct group covered Royal Palaces: The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Queen Victoria’s residence of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. This was followed by guides for the archaeological sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, the Neolithic flint mines at Grime’s Graves, the Roman villa at Lullingstone, and Hadrian’s Wall. In 1961 a series of guides, with covers designed by Kyffin Williams, was produced for the English castles constructed in North Wales and that now form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’. These illustrated guides, some with colour, prepared the way for the fully designed guides now produced by English Heritage, Cadw, and History Scotland.

‘The Ministry of Works and the Development of Souvenir Guides from 1955’, Public Archaeology (2018). DOI:

Leading Visitor Attractions 2017: English Heritage


Framlingham Castle, September 2017 © David Gill

The figures for Leading Visitor Attractions in 2017 have been published. The top English Heritage sites are:

  • Stonehenge [17]: 1,582,532 [+14.5%]
  • Dover Castle [88]: 379,740 [+13.9%]
  • Osborne [105]: 308,861 [+16.1%]
  • Tintagel Castle [121]: 246,039 [+7.1%]
  • Audley End House and Gardens [147]: 179,167 [+8.1%]
  • Whitby Abbey [153]: 166,362 [+9.6%]
  • Clifford’s Tower, York [158]: 154,135 [+5.1%]
  • Kenwood [162]: 143,490 [+6.8%]
  • Wrest Park [165]: 137,131 [+10.3%]
  • Carisbrooke Castle [168]: 126,584 [-0.3%]
  • 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield [170]: 123,220 [-10.6%]
  • Kenilworth Castle [172]: 118,090 [+9.3%]
  • Eltham Palace and Gardens [174]: 109,501 [+12.5%]
  • Walmer Castle and Gardens [176]: 109,005 [+18.8%]
  • Housesteads Roman Fort [177]: 108,660 [+6.5%]
  • Framlingham Castle [178]: 106,149 [+35.9%]
  • Bolsover Castle [179]: 104,383 [+13.2%]

Note that Framlingham Castle in Suffolk had the largest percentage increase, while only two sites saw a fall in visitor numbers.

See figures for 2016.

Fixed Frontiers


Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.

South Shields (Arbeia) Roman Fort


South Shields Roman Fort © David Gill

The Roman fort at South Shields guards the mouth of the Tyne.The fort probably dates to the 160s, and major reconstruction took place in the early 3rd century. The site was first identified in 1875, and further excavations took place after the Second World War. The west gate was reconstructed in 1988.


Bryan H. St.J. O’Neil and his contribution to guidebooks

Caerlaverock Castle © David Gill

Caerlaverock Castle © David Gill

Bryan H. St. John O’Neil (1905-54) held the position of Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales and then Chief Inspector. He steered the Ministry through the difficult post-war years. He prepared a number of key guidebooks for sites in Wales, England and Scotland.

1951 (repr. 1954)

1951 (repr. 1954)

1943 (repr. 1963)

1943 (repr. 1963)

His early guidebooks cover Peveril Castle (1934) in Derbyshire, a site that came into state guardianship in 1932. In the same year he published a guide to Dartmouth Castle (1934) in Devon [e-copy], though this was followed by a shorter paper guide in 1951. A more detailed study of the defences of the Dart was published in the Society of Antiquaries in 1936 (Dartmouth Castle and Other Defences of Dartmouth Haven). The third in his guides of English castles was on Clifford’s Tower (1936) in York.

In 1936 O’Neil succeeded C.A. Ralegh Radford as Inspector in Wales. However his first guidebook for a site in Wales was Criccieth Castle (1934). The monument had been placed in state guardianship in 1933. In the same year Talley Abbey was placed in the care of the Office of Works, and O’Neil, now Inspector for Wales, wrote the guidebook (1938). A further Welsh castle studied by O’Neil was at Newcastle, Bridgend (1949). This had passed into state guardianship in 1932.

1949 (repr. 1952)

1949 (repr. 1952)

In 1945 O’Neil had become Chief Inspector. After the Second World War he excavated on the Isles of Scilly and published a collective guidebook on Ancient Monuments of the Isles of Scilly (1949). This included three prehistoric sites and three Civil War defensive structures.

(repr. 1975)

(repr. 1975)

He then prepared guides to two of the castles of the Cinque Ports, Deal (1953) and Walmer (1949).

Audley End

Audley End (1955)

The house at Audley End (1950) in Essex was purchased for the nation in 1948 and O’Neil prepared the guide. (There had been a possibility that Audley End would be placed with the National Trust.)

1975 (8th impression)

1975 (8th impression)

O’Neil’s responsibilities also include Ancient Monuments in Scotland. He prepared the guide for Scalloway Castle (1950) in Shetland, and Caerlaverock Castle (1952).

1954 (5th impr. 1960)

1954 (5th impr. 1960)

O’Neil’s main interest was in castles. He prepared An Introduction to the Castles of England and Wales (1954) that formed a companion to the six Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments (I: Northern England; II: Southern England; III: East Anglia and Midlands; IV: South Wales; V: North Wales; VI: Scotland). This guide to castles continued as the revised Department of the Environment Guide.

Castles (1973)

Castles (1973)

I have not included a discussion of the other guidebooks O’Neil prepared for the Channel Islands (Castle Cornet, Guernsey [1952]), the Isle of Man (Castle Rushen [1951]) and Ghana (Report on Forts and Castles of Ghana [1951].

C.A. Ralegh Radford: guidebooks

Tretower Castle (1965)

Tretower Castle (1965)

Two areas of research have been coming together. The first is my biography of Dr Winifred Lamb, Honorary Keeper at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The second is a study on the development of guidebooks in England and Wales. These two areas merge as a young Ralegh Radford was taken round north-western Greece in the hunt for a suitable prehistoric site to excavate. They both joined William Heurtley’s excavation at Saratse in Macedonia. Radford also assisted (Sir) Charles Reed Peers with the publications of the excavations at Whitby Abbey.

In 1929 Radford was appointed Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales and Monmouthsire. His first guide was for Grosmont Castle (1930) (and now part of Jeremy K. Knight’s very useful CADW guide to The Three Castles: Grosmont Castle, Skenfrith Castle, White Castle [1991]). Radford then worked with Wilfrid James Hemp on the guidebook for Denbigh Castle (1932) in North Wales. Hemp had been appointed Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales in the Ministry of Public Works and Secretary to the Board of Ancient Monuments in 1913 (Dictionary of Welsh Biography). He had become Secretary to the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire in 1928.



Radford then prepared the guide for Goodrich Castle (1933), just over the border into England. He was then responsible for a series of guides in Wales: Ogmore Castle (1933), White Castle (1934), Dolwyddelan Castle (1934) and Kidwelly Castle (1935) [see shortened version]; Cymmer (Cymer) Abbey (1934), St David’s Bishop’s Palace (1934) and Strata Florida (1936). He also prepared the National Trust guidebook for the Roman Site at Segontium (1936).


1939 (2nd ed., 10th impress. 1962)

His work in Wales was interrupted with guidebooks for three castles in south-west England, all appearing in 1935: Tintagel Castle (1935), Restormel Castle (1935), and Lydford Castle (1935).

In 1936 he was appointed Director of the British School at Rome.

Radford prepared one further guide in Wales: Tretower Court (1938).


1949 (2nd impress. 1967)

After war service he prepared a series of guides:

This list of over 30 guidebooks and leaflets to many of the key medieval castles and monastic sites in England, Wales, and Scotland is but a tip of Radford’s contribution to the interpretation of British built heritage. Perhaps of note are his studies on inscribed stones: Margam (1949), Pillar of Eliseg (1953), Kirkmadrine (1953), and The Sandbach Crosses (1956).


1953 (5th impress. 1968)

Ministry of Works Guides to Roman Sites

I thought that it would be interesting to see which Roman sites under State Guardianship had guidebooks or pamphlets by 1955.


Other guides included Roman elements.