Visitors of behind-the-scene tours of Glamorgan Archives might be familiar with the impressive bank of bright red gas canisters which make up our fire prevention system. They contain Argonite, a cocktail of argon and nitrogen, which if released into our strong rooms would extinguish a fire within seconds.
Archive staff were under the impression that in the 75 year history of the office the gas systems had never been released. However, a newscutting from the Western Mail in September 1952 proves otherwise. The automatic gas-discharge system in our former home in Cathays Park was filled with CO2 gas, rather more toxic than what we use today. The newspaper report leads with the heading Strongroom ‘raiders’ were 2 gassed mice and gives details of how the caretaker at Glamorgan County Hall was alerted by the sound of the Record Office’s fire alarm. In the basement strong rooms he found that the gas system had been automatically released filling the strong rooms with gas. He could find no evidence of any fire, but witnessed two dying mice crawling out from a strong room asphyxiated. Luckily none of the Record Office staff were harmed! It was believed that the alarm might have been caused through interference with an electric switch and Major C G Traherne, Chairman of the Glamorgan County Records Committee, described the incident as ‘alarming in view of the serious effect of the gas’ and ordered an investigation.
The gas system had only been installed the year before the incident so it may be that the incident was due to teething problems. At some point a manual setting was added which could be put on during office hours to prevent the gas being automatically released whilst staff were at work in the strong rooms. Luckily since 1952 our gas systems have not been released again.
Free guided tours of Glamorgan Archives are held on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at 2.30pm. Please contact the Archives to book a place.