It is now nearly ten years since photographer Philip Jones Griffiths first visited the National Library of Wales. His visit was, in part at least, connected with a desire to find a home in Wales for his archive as sadly he had already been diagnosed with cancer. The following year he returned here and gave a scintillating and inspiring lecture at the annual LENS Festival of Documentary Photography. He passed away two years later aged 72.
Following on from the desire that his archive be housed in Wales after his death, the first shipment arrived from his flat in New York in 2011. In all the archive consisted of over 250 boxes of material – photographs, negatives, slides, books, cameras, slides, newspaper cuttings, lenses, slides, magazines contact sheets and even more slides – all hastily packed by a removals company. Crossing the Atlantic in a shipping container had done nothing to restore order to the boxes.
Nia Dafydd and Mari Elin Jones discuss the contents of one of the display cases in ‘A Welsh Focus on War and Peace’ that runs from 27 June to 12 December 2015
Unpacking 250 boxes, attending to conservation needs of the material types, sorting and interpretation has been a long process. The culmination of this will be the opening of a major exhibition, Philip Jones Griffiths: A Welsh Focus on War and Peace, on 27 June organised jointly with the Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation for the Study of War. The exhibition includes far more than photographs. On display are artefacts from five decades of travel as well as notebooks, cameras, photographic equipment and personal items. There is an opportunity to see a slide show of photos from his best-known work Vietnam Inc. – a powerful diatribe against the ravages of war on ordinary people. For those wanting to know more about his photographs there is an audio-visual display giving short critiques of some of his best known photos from Vietnam and a recreation of part of his New York flat. His other publications – Dark Odyssey, Agent Orange and Viêt Nam at Peace are also showcased.
The anthem was found in the back of a pamphlet dated 1875
This year marks 150 years since the first Welsh settlers embarked for Patagonia in South America in search of a better life. To celebrate the founding of Y Wladfa the National Library of Wales has curated an exhibition entitled “Gwladfa” (Colony) which features archives, manuscripts, photographs and artworks from the Library’s collections. The exhibition also features a Welsh Bible that was carried to Patagonia aboard the Mimosa in 1865. As The Wikipedian in Residence at The National Library I have been planning Edit-a-thon event to improve Wikipedia content relating to the Welsh colony and also, in association with People’s Collection Wales, to invite the public to share old documents and photos relating to Y Wladfa.
As I sorted through the research material I had gathered ready for the event I came across an old pamphlet entitled “Adroddiad y Parch. D. S. Davies am Sefyllfa y Wladfa Gymreig” (A report by the Rev. D.S. Davies on the situation in the Welsh Colony) in which the author reports on the state of agriculture, the wild life, animals, religion, and all aspects of life in the Colony. Dated 1875 the pamphlet is clearly a piece of clever propaganda aimed at encouraging others to emigrate. At the very end of the report, under the title “Gwlad Newydd y Cymry” is a song, attributed to one Lewis Evans, a poet, harpist, and one of the first Welsh settlers to immigrate to Patagonia. I recognised the song at once as a reworked version of Evan James’ popular “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”. This Patagonian version begins “Y Mae Patagonia yn anwyl i mi” and ends “O! bydded I’r Wladfa barhau” The piece describes the beauty of the river Camwy and the great white mountains of the Andes.
The piece is very much presented in the report as a song for a new Welsh nation – a kind of “National” anthem. And this is 1875, 30 years before the original composition was first sung before an international football or rugby match. By 1875 “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” was popular at eisteddfodau and other social events, but this find suggests that, for some, it was already very much a considered a “national” anthem. So far we have found no other reference to the Patagonian anthem in other sources and it seems that it has been largely lost to history for nearly 150 years, until its recent rediscovery. The patriotic piece evidently never caught on in Patagonia, where the Welsh community today sings “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”.
This discovery gives us a fascinating insight into the lives of those pioneering early settlers. The song portrays a people celebrating the foundation of a truly Welsh Nation, free from the historic oppression of their tradition, language and culture.
A book written by one of King Arthur’s greatest champions is to be re-published over 400 years after it made its first appearance.
Sir John Prise of Brecon’s Historiae Britannicae Defensio (‘A Defence of the British History’) was first published, in Latin, in 1573. It was a stalwart defence of the validity of a traditional Welsh origin myth, as established by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century, which traced Welsh history back to Brutus of Troy in the eleventh century B.C.
In 1534, an Italian humanist named Polydore Vergil published Anglica Historia (‘The History of England’), in which he attempted, quite successfully, to debunk the Welsh myth, and dared to raise doubts as to belief in the historical existence of traditional heroes, including King Arthur. Sir John Prise, a Welsh lawyer and administrator who had worked for Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII in the suppression of monastic houses, and who was himself an erudite scholar, rose to the challenge of defending his native traditions, and did so in a forensic-like manner.
Prise began writing his Defensio in the 1540s, basing many of his arguments on the Welsh manuscripts which he had seen, or were in his possession. These included the thirteenth-century Black Book of Carmarthen – containing some of the earliest references to Arthur and Merlin – which is now at the National Library of Wales. He argued that, whilst not all legends surrounding Arthur and Brutus could be believed, the Italian humanist and others were at a distinct disadvantage in not being able to access Welsh historical sources. For Prise, these proved that Arthur had, in fact, lived.
Sir John Prise died in 1555, without publishing his work, but entrusted the manuscript to his son Richard (who was named after Cromwell’s nephew). It was he who published the Defensio in 1573, and the appearance of the book ignited a new interest in Welsh history, based upon the greater study of source materials. Successive generations of Welsh scholars – among them Charles Edwards, Robert Vaughan and Theophilus Evans – were inspired by their respect for the myth created by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Now, over 400 years later, and coinciding with an exhibition and season on Sir John Prise and his work at the National Library of Wales, the Historiae Britannicae Defensio is to be published again, this time with an accompanying English translation. One of Wales’s greatest contemporary scholars, Professor Ceri Davies, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Swansea University, has not only edited and translated the entire work, but has also added an extensive introduction and notes setting the Defensio in its context.
The work of 390 pages will be launched, following a lecture by Professor Davies, at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth on Saturday, 20 June.
A week later, on 27 June, the exhibition Publisher and Plunderer? Sir John Prise and the earliest Welsh books, will come to an end.
On the 10th of June 323 BC Alexander the Great lay on his deathbed aged 32 and his vast empire soon fell into turmoil. His legacy is far reaching, but perhaps one of his greatest achievements was the foundation of Alexandria in Egypt.
The Greek, or Hellenistic, culture he seeded there and throughout his realm lead to the creation of the Royal Library of Alexandria. The Library boasted reading rooms, lecture halls, acquisitions and cataloguing departments and was part of a wider ‘Musaeum of Alexandria’.
Over two thousand years ago the Alexandrians paved the way for the modern National Library. Fire famously robbed the ancient world of many of its literary treasures when the great library burned.
Two years ago the National Library of Wales was itself ablaze, very nearly leading to a very Welsh ‘Greek Tragedy’. To celebrate the life of Alexander, the National Library has released digital images of thirty one 15th century decorated illuminations from ‘The Battles of Alexander the Great’.
These images from one of our most treasured illuminated manuscripts have been released into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons where they can be freely accessed, downloaded and used in Wikipedia articles.
Battle of Waterloo 1815. William Sadler II [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
18 June 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, a vital turning point in world history. Among the soldiers fighting that day was Private Thomas Jeremiah of ‘His Majesties 23rd Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers’, who in his autobiography in 1837 (NLW MS 22102A) describes his experiences of military life, the preparations for the battle and the actual battle itself.
Thomas Jeremiah was born on 21st of May 1797 in the parish of Goytre, Monmouthshire. He describes himself as a rebellious and unsettled youth who worked on several farms before enlisting with the Royal Welch Fusiliers on 27 November 1812, aged 16. In his autobiography he gives an honest picture of the life of a private in the regiment, and is not afraid to give his opinions on his fellow soldiers and officers – ‘truth plain and candidness is my object’.
Thomas Jeremiah writing about the Battle of Waterloo. NLW MS 22102A.
He includes an account of the Grand Review of allied troops on May 23rd, the ensuing Battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815 where the 23rd Regiment formed a cornerstone of the front line and describes the actual fighting on the day from the viewpoint of an ordinary soldier.
Our orders was now to march to the front and occupy a position near the ever memorable Hougoumont … when we arrived on our destined ground a grand sight opened to our view, the whole British army as well as Brunswick, Hanoverian, Dutch & Belgians were marching to occupy their respective positions, this must be one of the most cheerful and glorious sights that ever a British soldier saw, to see nearly 100,000 men moving with the regularity of a mass line’. ‘About 10 o’clock on Sunday the 18th day of June 1815 the whole of the allied forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington were drawn up in order of battle in 3 lines extending something short of 2 miles, the sight was at this time truly grand and imposing, not a word or whisper to be heard, all waiting for the signal from our noble commander.
Thomas Jeremiah writing about the Battle of Waterloo. NLW MS 22102A.
An extensive line of infantry were advancing in quick time towards us … at full gallop with dreadful yells and but for the maturity of our colonel and officers we should to a man been cut to pieces … ‘ ‘The trembling earth announced their coming charge …their steel clad troops, resistless in their course of destruction … they were within 30 or 40 paces of us when we opened a most destructive fire which staggered their advancing columns … the determined bravery and courage that was displayed on that day will serve as a stimulus to encourage the youths of old England to follow the example of those who conquered the invincible legions of France non the savage … field of Waterloo.
Thomas Jeremiah survived the battle, and served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers for over 25 years, but does not appear to have risen above the rank of a private, before being discharged on medical grounds on 26 June 1837 on a pension, at Kilkenny, Ireland with an additional pension for gallantry. In November 1847 he was appointed Superintendent of Police at Brynmawr, Breconshire, and then became Inspector of Weights and Measures for Breconshire until he died in 1868.
The Library has broken new ground today by broadcasting live on the Web using the Periscope app.
Hywel Lloyd being broadcasted live
A mobile device was used to broadcast Hywel Lloyd’s presentation on the Library’s W. E. Gladstone collection to be enjoyed by viewers across the world.
Although this was the first time that we have used this technology, 58 people tuned in to see and hear what Hywel had to say.
The Library is always looking for new and different ways of enhancing access and promoting our collections and services, and this may prove to be a very powerful medium in this respect.
Did you enjoy the broadcast? How can we improve our use of this medium? Do you have any ideas on how the Library can use this technology? We welcome all comments.
If you have downloaded the app or intend to do so, the presentation can be viewed until lunchtime tomorrow. You can also follow the National Library on Periscope and/or Twitter to find out about similar live broadcasts in the near future.
The restoration of the organ of St Peter’s church Carmarthen in 2000 led to some speculation as to whether an illegitimate offspring of George III may have lived in Carmarthen. A casual perusal of Welsh Newspapers Online reveals that this is not the only such story. The Cambrian News records that in the 1890s Llanilar boasted a pauper who was a grandson of one of the Georges.
The Cambrian News, 3 January 1890 (click to enlarge image).
The first report occurs in The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard for 3 January 1890 where the case of one David Jones of Llanilar, Ceredigion was raised at a meeting of the Aberystwyth Board of Guardians (who administered Poor Law Relief) who requested clothes and boots, and that he should be well treated because he was a grandson of George IV.
The Cambrian News, 6 December 1892 (click to enlarge image).
By 1892 it seems that Pentrellyn, Llanilar was regarded by the Board of Guardians as a nest of paupers, including a royal pauper, who were enjoying the benefits of charity, implying that they were leading a life not devoid of luxuries such as the taste of mangolds (“blas o mangolds”).
The third and final reference to David Jones, the Royal pauper, occurs on 9 February 1894, when a notice in the Births, Marriages and Deaths column of The Cambrian News records the death of David Jones, the son of Mr Fitz George at the age of 56.
The Cambrian News, 9 February 1894. Continues: Jones- February 2nd, at Pentrellyn, Llanilar, David Jones, son of Mr Fitz George, a natural son of King George IV, aged 56 years (click to enlarge image).
Laying the foundation stone of the St David’s Society building, Trelew, 1910
This week, an exhibition opens at the National Library to mark the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, a region of South America. On 28 May 1865, a group of about 150 settlers set sail for Patagonia aboard a tea-clipper named Mimosa with the aim of establishing a self-governing community where the Welsh language and culture would flourish unhindered. Their story is remarkable and has been a subject of admiration, inspiration, and not to mention some debate among the Welsh for generations.
This story will be told in a special exhibition entitled Gwladfa which opens at the Library on 23 May. The items on display include archives, manuscripts, photographs and artworks from the Library’s collections. The exhibition also features a Welsh Bible that was taken to Patagonia aboard the Mimosa in 1865 and which is on short-term loan at the Library only for the duration of the exhibition.
Edit-a-thon and bring-a-long
On 19 June, the Library will also host an edit-a-thon and bring-a-long event, where participants can bring images or documents relating to the Welsh in Patagonia and/or add and improve information about the settlement on Wikipedia and the People’s Collection Wales website. Experts will be on hand to provide source material and to help with editing and adding pictures to these websites. Find more information on the event here.
NLW resources relating to the Welsh in Patagonia
The National Library of Wales also has some great online resources that will help you to explore the history of the Welsh in Patagonia.
If you were unaware of this connection between Wales and South America and unable to visit the exhibition, the story of the settlement is also told through a series of articles on Glaniad, a trilingual website that was funded by the Welsh Government and launched in 2007.
There is also a wealth of related archives and manuscripts held by the Library.
Many archival documents (from the National Library, Bangor University and museums in Gaiman and Trevelin in Patagonia) have been digitised and can be found alongside documents from other archives on Glaniad and the People’s Collection Wales website.
Archivist Dr David Moore cataloguing the Welsh Town-Planning and Housing Trust Records.
In 1913, the Davies family of Llandinam attempted to address housing problems in Wales by establishing the Welsh Town-Planning and Housing Trust. The idea was to plan, build and manage better towns, villages and suburbs through local co-operative societies, often collaborating with the Great Western Railway. The Library has 56 boxes of the Trust’s archive, and now they can all be explored using the online catalogue of Welsh Town-Planning and Housing Trust Records.
The Trust imposed strict controls on the quality, density and aesthetic appearance of its housing, using local materials and traditions. There were gardens, open spaces and facilities for recreation, and care was taken to ensure a balance of domestic, commercial and public premises. Construction work was carried out by private contractors, and houses, land and business premises could be rented or purchased, with property owners receiving a dividend of up to 6% on capital.
Estates were run by the Trust, usually in association with housing societies who were controlled by committees elected by subscription-paying residents. Many properties were eventually sold, either to sitting tenants or to contractors who intended to develop land. In this way, estates were established at many locations, notably Barry, Wrexham, Rhiwbina, Burry Port, Penarth, Pentwyn, Llanidloes, Machynlleth, Severn Tunnel Junction, Swansea and Caerphilly, and also at some sites in England.
Part of the architect’s plan of Machynlleth Garden Village, 
Administrative and legal records might seem very dry, but the archive is a rich source of information. There are details of many aspects of houses, shops, cafes, recreation grounds, roads, utilities, allotments, garages, camping grounds and rights of way, including planning, building, tenancies, purchases, disputes, the uses of properties, tenants’ associations, and the workings of government and business. The history of many individual properties can be traced, and all of the minutiae of the suburban environment are documented, including bus stops, street lights, drains, paving stones, rubbish dumps, trees and weeds, as well as less common features such as bandstands, swimming pools, farms, ancient monuments and wartime requisitions. This is a superb resource for the study of everyday life in Wales during the twentieth century.
These are only a handful of the responses to the exhibition of Shani Rhys James’ excellent work in the Library’s Gregynog Gallery.
This exhibition, ‘Distillation’, is a survey of Shani Rhys James’ work from the last thirty years and includes early works, prize-winning paintings and some of her more recent works. Focusing on the themes of family, self, childhood, interiors and relationships, looking at these paintings you are drawn to the characters and the story they are trying to tell. They stare out at you challenging you to be drawn in to their story, to not only guess who they are but also to question who you are. It is tempting to think of these paintings as depicting her life story and although true to a great extent, her paintings are more than that and themes such as childhood, relationships and parenthood will resonate with many.
Despite what seems to be a certain sadness to these paintings their boldness, vibrancy of colour and powerful emotion make for an impressive exhibition.
Be sure to make the most of these last few weeks of ‘Distillation’ and visit before the exhibition closes on 30 May.
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.