Posted - 30-10-2014 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions

Dylan Thomas had a great uncle

During the 1868 election, a number of Cardiganshire farmers decided not to vote in accordance with the wishes of their Tory landlords. My great great grandfather, Benjamin Jones, who lived on the Llanfair estate, was one of those farmers. A secret ballot was not possible and a visitor called at the farm with an eviction order for Benjamin.


Dafydd Jones from the neighbouring estate of Alltyrodyn also received an eviction order, despite the fact that he and his wife had lost four of their children. The family decided that their only hope was to emigrate to America, with the disastrous consequence that Dafydd lost his entire family.


One who was familiar with this family’s tragedy, and who had been present in the service held to say farewell to them before they emigrated, was a young Unitarian minister called William Thomas (Gwilym Marles), the great-uncle of the poet Dylan Thomas.


Since establishing himself as a schoolmaster and minister of Llwynrhydowen and Bwlchyfadfa chapels, he threw himself passionately into the work of reforming the injustices of the day, despite the vengeance that would most certainly follow. He discussed the political oppression by means of pulpit and stage and also challenged the faults of the education system. He campaigned for a School Board in the School Board Election of 1871 and fought in vain to save Sarah Jacob (“The Fasting Girl”) from the superstition that led to her death at the age of 12. His health suffered greatly.


"Gwilym Marles and the Lock Out, Llwynrhydowen Chapel, 1876" Copyright: Jacqueline Chadwick. All rights reserved.

“Gwilym Marles and the Lock Out, Llwynrhydowen Chapel, 1876″
Copyright: Jacqueline Chadwick. All rights reserved.

One Saturday evening in 1876, a letter arrived from the representative of the Alltyrodyn squire, banning Gwilym Marles and his congregation from Llwynrhydowen Chapel. Gwilym Marles could not be silenced, however, and the next day he delivered an electrifying speech in front of a huge crowd outside the chapel’s locked gate. In the cemetary, beyond the locks, lay the congregation’s loved ones but the same congregation refused the squire’s offer to have the ban lifted if they appointed another minister. A week after the “Lock Out”, their minister was addressing the press.


Suddenly and unexpectedly, Gwilym Marles received an invitation to meet the squire, John Davies Lloyd, at his mansion. A revolver lay on the table before him. He confessed that he had already killed a man in California, and that he would kill again if necessary. He seemed worried by groundless fears and imagined that Gwilym Marles had threatened him with the eternal fire of hell, to which the latter replied that Unitarians did not believe in such a thing for anybody.


Gwilym Marles said that he was often told that the cause of all his troubles was that he talked too plainly and that he attacked oppression too relentlessly. He replied: “I’ll keep sinning till the end”. Money was raised to build a new chapel (the “Memorial Chapel”) and when the foundation stone was being laid in June 1878, Gwilym Marles said, “The opponent can take away the candlestick, it belongs to him, but no one can move the candle. It is God’s candle”.


The young squire died and Gwilym Marles wrote of feeling inexpressible sadness at his death. The squire’s sister, Mrs. Massey, promptly returned the old Llwynrhydowen chapel to the congregation. On the day it was reopened, on July 24, 1879, Mr. and Mrs. Massey’s coach was pulled there by hundreds of people with ropes, all the way from Llandysul station, and among this crowd was my grandfather. (He never tired of telling the story to my father!). Gwilym Marles passed slowly by in a carriage, too ill to stop, but unable to stay away.


Grave of Gwilym Marles (1834-1879), Memorial Chapel, Llwynrhydowen Copyright: Heini Davies

Grave of Gwilym Marles (1834-1879), Memorial Chapel, Llwynrhydowen
Copyright: Heini Davies

He did not see the opening of the beautiful new chapel the following October, but died in December, and was laid to rest in front of the chapel by his fellow Unitarians.


One of Gwilym Marles’s ardent pleas was, “Read!”. More historical details about the above story may be found in the works of authors such as D. Jacob Davies, Nansi Martin, M. Wynn Thomas and Kate Crockett. The next time you visit the Library to do some reading, why not also visit the Dylan Thomas exhibition? The exhibition lasts until 20 December 2014.


Heini Davies

Posted - 27-10-2014 No Comments


Happy Birthday Dylan!

Today we celebrate Dylan Thomas’ hundredth birthday.  I wonder what kind of gifts he would’ve received today… an iPad?  An Amazon gift voucher?  Or maybe a personalized beer glass?

On his twenty-third birthday, Dylan bought himself cigarettes, beer and a bright green shirt with the birthday money sent to him from his friend Keidrych Rhys.  It’s quite probable that he had a birthday pint or two to celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday, but it was quite a different gift that Dylan decided to give to himself on that occasion – the poem ‘Poem on His Birthday’.

Dylan Thomas, 'Poem on His Birthday', © David Higham Associates

Dylan Thomas, ‘Poem on His Birthday’, © David Higham Associates

© David Highams Associates

Dylan Thomas, Rhestr o eiriau ‘Poem on His Birthday’ Word List © David Higham Associates

So how about celebrating Dylan’s birthday today by visiting the exhibition here in the Library, where you can listen to the man himself reading the poem at the Poets’ Pub.  Or take a look at the website where you can read excerpts of the poem in Dylan’s own handwriting?

However you choose to celebrate, join us by using #DylanThomas


Posted - 13-10-2014 No Comments



The LENS Festival of Documentary Photography is now ten, yes ten, years old. Established with the aim of publicising the National Collection of Welsh Photographs here at the Library it has become a popular and well attended event.


Preparation for any LENS Festival starts with 51 weeks to go. First there is an inquest into the previous LENS, what could be improved and consideration of suggestions from the floor. After all LENS belongs to those who attend it.


Next comes the juicy bit. Choosing speakers for each LENS event is akin to being a child in a sweet shop – lots of choice, some old favourites, some new delights to be discovered. At least photography doesn’t ruin your teeth.


Our Friday night slot is traditionally devoted to the more artistic side of photography. This year we look forward to hearing from James O. Jenkins.


Saturday will showcase four presentations, each speaker free to interpret the chosen theme as they wish. Neil Turner has photographed extensively in the Middle East and will be relating aspects of his travels to us. Amanda Jackson has recently been photographing those who have chosen to walk a different and more sustainable path, notably in North Pembrokeshire.  Tina Carr and Annmarie Schone have worked together for over 25 years and are well represented here in the National Collection of Welsh Photographs having photographed extensively in Wales. Their projects have included Pigs & Ingots, Coalfaces and Abandoned.

Tina Carr and Annemarie Schöne


Homer Sykes came to prominence with his book ‘Once A Year’ published in 1977. Numerous other works followed including ‘The Village Pub’ (a personal favourite) in 1992. He continues to be fascinated by the quirkier side of life in Britain.

Homer Sykes


In previous years requests have been made for more information about storing digital photographs. This year our own Ifor Ap Dafydd will be speaking about digital preservation, in particular digital photographs.


The National Library of Wales is pleased to confirm the purchase of another album of photographs by John Dillwyn Llewellyn at a recent auction in New York.


Will Troughton

Posted - 02-10-2014 No Comments


Do Archivists Dream of Electric COWs?

The COW and the CloudWales is famed as a land of sheep but we were delighted to hear recently that the ARCW Digital Preservation Group’s  ‘COWs in the Cloud’ project has made it onto the short list for the prestigious Digital Preservation Coalition’s Annual Awards.  We’ve all got digital files that are important to us – whether they are family pictures, business documents or emails – and the COW, or Community of the Willing has been an Archives Records Council Wales collaborative project, bringing together universities, archives, and record offices across Wales to help find ways of working together towards saving our nations’ digital heritage, if it ends up in the National Library of Wales, your local archive, or stored in the Cloud. We would also like to congratulate students and colleagues at Aberystwyth University, for making the shortlist in their respective categories too.

Ifor ap Dafydd, MabLab Project

#dpa2014 #dpc


Posted - 12-09-2014 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions / Uncategorized

GLAMorous archivists

In a few days the Library will be welcoming a GLAMorous set of archivists for a conference on ‘Collaborative Approaches in Literary Archives’.
GLAM is the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts ( established in 2005 to bring together archivists, librarians, curators, writers and researchers with an interest in the collecting, preservation, use and promotion of literary archives and manuscripts in Britain and Ireland.  Their visit coincides with the Dylan Thomas exhibition at the National Library which can be seen until 20 December 2014.

Dylan Thomas Exhibition

Dylan Thomas Exhibition

The Dylan Thomas exhibition at the Library (with online version at is a prime example of the interest and activity that can be created around the papers of a poet and writer. Also the Library’s collaboration with the David Jones Society and the David Jones Centre at Aberystwyth University will be discussed.
The holdings of the Library of literary archives in Welsh and English is comprehensive, and includes the papers of Edward Thomas, David Jones, John Cowper Powys as well as Kate Roberts and Islwyn Ffowc Elis. Visit our web pages on Modern Literary Archives for more information:

'Sali Mali' Mary Vaughan Jones, 1969. (NLW XPB2124 J77). © Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion

‘Sali Mali’ Mary Vaughan Jones, 1969. © Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion

There are two other exhibitions currently at the Library which bring attention to our literary holdings. The first, ‘Words and Pictures Women in Welsh Children’s Literature’ includes original manuscripts, personal letters, reviews and artwork based on the literature of Winnie Parry, Mary Vaughan Jones (author of Sali Mali) and others. The second on ‘ Valleys Writers’ celebrates the life and literature of four Welsh valleys writers, Jack Jones, Rhys Davies, Glyn Jones and Idris Davies.


Nia Mai Daniel


Posted - 08-09-2014 No Comments

Exhibitions / Uncategorized

“…innumerable exercise books full of poems…”

After traveling to Wales in January and spending five months at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Dylan’s Notebooks have returned to the Library, and to the ‘Dylan Comes Home’ exhibition.

This exhibition includes the four poetry Notebooks Dylan compiled during his teenage years between 1930 and 1934. He sold them to Buffalo University in the 1940s for a small sum of money, and this is their first trip back to Wales since that fateful day.

With the famous Notebooks are letters written between the poet and Pamela Hansford Johnson, which shed light on his writing process, as well as manuscripts for the poem ‘Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait’.

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1932 Notebook © David Highams Associates

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1932 Notebook
© David Higham Associates

Dylan Thomas, Hunan Bortread / Self Portrait © David Highams Associates

Dylan Thomas, Hunan Bortread / Self Portrait
© David Higham Associates

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1930 Notebook © David Highams Associates

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1930 Notebook
© David Higham Associates












The ‘Dylan’ exhibition in the Gregynog Gallery will also be having a revamp, with new items from the Library’s collection going on display. More letters that have never before been published will displayed, including one from Dylan to his mistress in America, Elizabeth Reitell. Manuscripts for some of Dylan’s famous poems will also be out on show in the Poets’ Pub, including ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London’ and ‘Into Her Lying Down Head’.

If you’ve already visited the exhibition,do call by again to view Dylan’s Notebooks and the new material on show in the Gallery from 13th September.  We look forward to seeing you!


Posted - 26-08-2014 No Comments


Wales’ Most Famous Shed

‘..the heaven of my hut’


A replica of Dylan Thomas’ famous writing shed is at the Library from Thursday 28th August to Saturday 30th August 2014.

The shed – complete with curled pictures on the walls, boiled sweets on the desk and the poet’s jacket still hanging on the back of his chair – is on tour as part of Dylan Thomas 100, the year-long festival commemorating the centenary of the great Welsh writer’s birth.

The original shed sits above the Boathouse in the scenic seaside town of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, where Thomas penned some of his most famous works including Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night and his play for voices Under Milk Wood. The replica will be situated at the front of the main entrance of the Library building overlooking the beautiful views of Cardigan Bay.

 In the shed there will be an opportunity to invent your own ‘Dylan-esque’ new word, which will then be added to the ‘Dictionary for Dylan’. Why not complete your visit by visiting the Library, home to the largest ever exhibition of the poet’s rare original items.


Geoff Charles, Sied Ysgrifennu, Dylan Thomas Writing Shed ©LLGC / NLW

Geoff Charles, Sied Ysgrifennu, Dylan Thomas Writing Shed ©LLGC / NLW

The shed was documented by photographer Geoff Charles in 1955. These images – which are in the Library’s collection – are believed to be the last pictures of the poet’s workspace as it was before his death.

The writing shed has free admission and will be open daily from 9am – 5pm from Thursday 28th August to Saturday 30th August 2014.


In partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council.


Posted - 18-08-2014 No Comments


Sir Watkin and the Italian Castrato

As the musical world celebrates the tercentenary of Gluck (1714-1787), the star of Orfeo ed Euridice emerges from the account books of a Welsh estate. Previous to his role in Gluck’s opera the Italian castrato, Gaetano Guadagni (1728-1792) had become a London ‘celeb’, through professional contacts with Handel and David Garrick, sleazy lifestyle notwithstanding; and to London he returned in 1769.

Portrait of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn – by kind permission of the National Museum of Wales

Portrait of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn – by kind permission of the National Museum of Wales

Guadagni’s audience at the King’s Theatre included Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, the greatest Welsh patron of art and music in the eighteenth century. His name was linked with John Parry, the blind harpist, the Antient Concerts and the Handel Commemoration Concert in Westminster Abbey, 1784. He idolised both Handel and David Garrick, so he must have found Guadagni’s style utterly captivating. These are some of the heart-melting arias written for Guadagni.

Sir Watkin invited Guadagni and Stephen Paxton to perform at the installation of a new Snetzler organ in Ruabon church. Their astronomical fees are recorded in the Wynnstay accounts (October 1770):

Gave Mr Guadagni by Sir Watkins order having been 8 weeks at Wynnstay £100-0-0.

Pd Mr Paxton for the same time 60 guinees & gave him towards his expences 10 guineas £73-10-0.

Wynnstay accounts, 1770 (NLW, Wynnstay Estate Records, EH4/2, p. 32)

Wynnstay accounts, 1770 (NLW, Wynnstay Estate Records, EH4/2, p. 32)

Guadagni quarrelled with his manager and appeared before the magistrates for performing unlicensed opera at Carlisle House. The adverse publicity did not diminish the adulation of his devoted fan. Wynnstay accounts for March 1771 record that £20 was paid to Guadagni for singing at Grosvenor Square. He dedicated the libretto of Orfeo (1771) to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, denying any further professional remuneration: …..with all due respect to the public, that in performing the part of Orpheus, I require no other bribe, or reward, than the pleasure of shewing you a ready obedience.

Eventually Guadagni returned to Padua but Sir Watkin Williams Wynn must have remembered the astounding voice of the Italian castrato.

Hilary Peters

Posted - 14-08-2014 No Comments


Speed’s Wales : A recently purchased atlas

The name Speed is famously synonymous with antiquarian maps. John Speed (1552-1629) remains the most eminent of English cartographers, a reputation primarily secured by his atlas “The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine” , initially published in 1611/12. The “Theatre”, the first atlas of the British Isles, proved very successful and was issued by several publishers from its inception until 1770. Its individual county maps are the best known and among the most coveted of antiquarian county maps.


Picture 512


Speed attempted to produce his maps from the most reliable and contemporary sources available. He reaped, yet acknowledged the fruits of others’ labours but also introduced innovations, notably town views or plans which appear as insets on many of his maps, together with the boundaries of counties and hundreds and the coats of arms of Royalty and local gentry. In so doing Speed created highly informative, decorative, and attractive maps.

In July the Library purchased the Welsh component of the “Theatre”, known as the “Second Booke containing the Principality of Wales”. The volume comprises a general map of Wales, flanked with inset views of the county towns plus four cathedrals and thirteen individual maps of the Welsh counties, each with one or two urban insets. The maps name and locate towns, larger villages, estates, sites of historic interest and rivers. Hills and mountains are represented pictorially. Each map is coloured, its verso (or reverse side) carrying descriptions of the area depicted. The atlas is competently and appealingly bound in calfskin.


Picture 513


In spite of the date 1662 on the title page, this edition of the “Second Booke” was published in London by Roger Rea the Elder and Younger about 1665, its manifestation unfortunately coinciding with the Great Fire of London. Many copies were lost in the devastation and consequently the Rea editions are amongst the scarcest editions of the “Theatre”. This atlas is thus a rarity of Welsh cartography. The Library also possesses other editions of the “Second Booke” with its Welsh maps dating from 1611 to 1713, as well as examples of the “Theatre” with its maps of other British counties and countries.

Gwilym Tawy

Posted - 05-08-2014 No Comments


Dylan Online

Today we launch an online exhibition of Dylan Thomas manuscripts, which mirrors the physical exhibition that can be seen at the Library until 20 December 2014.

© David Highams Associates

Dylan Thomas, Rhestr o eiriau ‘Poem on His Birthday’ Word List © David Highams Associates


Over 150 digital images can be viewed on the website, varying from Dylan’s passport, personal letters to friends and family and notes relating to some of his most famous poems, to drafts of stories, broadcasts and scripts, his hand-drawn map of Llareggub and a collection of his doodles.

The National Library houses the largest archive of material in the world relating to the ‘rock-and-roll’ poet, and although many of his manuscripts can currently be seen in the physical exhibition, even more can be seen in detail on the website. We hope to add further material over the next months and years as a legacy to Dylan Thomas’ centenary celebrations.

This fantastic digital archive is now available to everyone from all four corners of the earth free of charge, so why not take a look and browse this valuable collection relating to the Welsh literary icon.


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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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