As 2013 draws to a close, the coming New Year will see the nation commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War and the subsequent four years of global conflict that resulted in over 37 million casualties.
Here at The National Library of Wales, we have led a project in partnership with the libraries, special collections, and archives of Wales over the past eighteen months or so to mass digitise primary sources relating to World War One. This has resulted in an online resource which provides access to manuscript and archival sources, photographic material, recruitment posters, newspapers, journals and audio material which reveals the often hidden history of the First World War as it impacted all aspects of Welsh life, language and culture. The Welsh experience of World War One project was officially launched earlier in November.
Throughout the project, as an archivist, I have been working closely with the original material ensuring that the collections and metadata were represented accurately for the project. And, as it is nearly Christmas, what a better way of illustrating the content available than for me to highlight some of the historical sources that can be found in the digital archive that provides an insight to Christmastime during the War years.
Several Christmas cards can be found which are scattered among many collections. A good selection can be found here which were mainly addressed to Sergeant Major Richard Fear, the founder and organiser of the Aberystwyth Weekly Comforts for Fighters Fund, from soldiers serving overseas.
Letters of thanks were also written in the trench on Christmas Day thanking the generosity of the Fund in sending special Christmas parcels that usually contained a Christmas cake, plum pudding, chocolate and the usual supply of cigarettes.
A special addendum within the War Diary of the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers can be seen for the 25th of December 1916. A room at Bollezeele Station in northern France was hired, cleaned, furnished and decorated for a Battalion Christmas dinner. Six hundred men were served soup, turkey and vegetables, Christmas pudding and sweets which were washed down with stout and beer, and a concert followed which was given entirely by the men and lasted until eleven o’clock in the evening, when all were “well satisfied”.
However, the entry for Christmas Day 1917 provides a contrasting account. The dinners were served in the trenches, although noted that it was “thoroughly enjoyed by all”, and during the afternoon, gifts were distributed in the cold weather.
These, hopefully, provides one with a glimpse of what can be read and learned from the primary sources that are freely available on Cymru1914.org. Take an opportunity to see what you’ll discover yourself.
D. Rhys Davies
The National Library of Wales has published new images of one of Wales’s greatest literary treasures. It is the last of the Four Ancient Books of Wales to appear online.
The thirteenth-century Book of Aneirin, owned by Cardiff Council, and now kept at Aberystwyth, is one of the most important of Welsh books. It was written on animal skin by monks during the last decades of Welsh independent rule, and contains ‘the Gododdin’, a series of elegies commemorating warriors who died in battle at the end of the sixth century. At that time, parts of Northern England and Southern Scotland were ruled by Brythonic kingdoms who were attempting to guard their frontiers against the territorial advances of English settlers. After feasting for a year at Din Eidyn (modern day Edinburgh), 300 crack troops from the kingdom known as Manaw Gododdin marched south to face the English at a strategic point known as Catraeth (probably the modern-day garrison town of Catterick, Yorkshire). After a fierce battle, only 3 Brythonic warriors escaped with their lives, among them the poet Aneirin. He then composed a series of stanzas in a form of early Welsh, commemorating the slain young warriors.
Although they went to their deaths, the young men of Edinburgh butchered their enemies, and their ferocity and unrelenting savagery is celebrated by the poet. These youths would “sooner go to battle than to a wedding feast”, and their goal was to ensure that “the clash of spears echoed in the heads of mothers” as they “paid for their mead” with their lives. They were defeated, but their valiant attempt was regarded as being heroic, and not in vain.
A great emphasis is placed on the fact that the warriors died to fulfil their obligations to their Edinburgh patron, who had fortified them with strong drink during the previous year of preparation for battle.
Images of the Book of Aneirin are published to coincide with a popular exhibition which is drawing crowds to the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. 4 Books: Welsh Icons United is the first-ever opportunity for the public to view all early Welsh manuscripts together in one place, including the Red Book of Hergest, on loan from Jesus College Oxford.
Never before has the opportunity arisen for visitors to see all of Wales’s early literature brought together in one venue. The icing on the cake is that the last one of the Four Ancient Books of Wales has finally secured an online presence, and can be seen and appreciated by a worldwide audience. It now joins the Aberystwyth-based Black Book of Carmarthen and Book of Taliesin, and Oxford-based Red Book of Hergest, in cyberspace.
Catrin o Ferain (clutching a book and skull)
It is unlikely that we shall ever find the whole truth surrounding the four marriages of Catrin o Ferain (Katherine of Berain, d. 1591). She is reputed to have agreed to one marriage proposal on the way to a husband’s funeral. Her favourite method of despatching lovers is said to have been by pouring molten lead into their ears! The popular image is that of a scheming, manipulative ‘Lucrezia Borgia of Wales’. Thus has she become firmly established as arguably the most well-known female resident of Wales during the Tudor period. But what of the truth?
Catrin did marry 4 times, and made advantageous matches (and so did her husbands!). Her descendants became the ancestors of many prominent families in North Wales. She drew a succession of poets to her household, and commissioned one poet, Wiliam Cynwal, to record her family’s lineage in a special ‘household book’. More remarkably still, we have a picture of what she looked like, perhaps one of the earliest depictions of a named Welsh woman.
The National Museum of Wales has since 1957 owned a portrait of Catrin, painted on panels during her sojourn at Antwerp in 1568, and attributed to Adriaen van Cronenburgh. Now, through the kindness of the Garthewin family, visitors to the National Library of Wales will be able to see a version of the same painting.
Lyn Lewis Dafis with Menna and Bethany McBain viewing the painting
On 20 November, in a special ceremony at the Library, Menna and Bethany McBain presented a portrait of their ancestor to the temporary safe-keeping of the Library. Preliminary studies seem to indicate that this painting may also have been executed at Antwerp during the late 1560s, perhaps as a contemporary version of the Cardiff portrait.
A copy of the painting presented by the Library to the Garthewin family
Visitors to the Library will now be able to gaze at the ‘Mother of Wales’, and decide for themselves whether or not the benign and pious-looking figure deserves the reputation built up in folk memory. Thus, another ‘icon’ awaits to welcome visitors to this term’s exhibits at the National Library of Wales.
Maredudd ap Huw & Lona Mason
As a part of a series of events held throughout Wales celebrating the centenary of R.S Thomas‘s birth, the Library will be holding an R.S Thomas Day on Wednesday 4 December.
This will comprise of a lunchtime presentation, ‘R.S Thomas and Peter Hope Jones: Delweddu Enlli’ given by Dr Jason Walford Davies at 1.15pm, followed by a selection of films which include The Airy Tomb (1960) and What do you really believe?(ITV 1978) at 2.30pm.
The presentation by Dr Jason Walford Davies focusses on the book, Between Sea and Sky: Images of Bardsey – photographs of Bardsey by Peter Hope Jones, interspersed with extracts from R. S. Thomas’s poetry. Jason will discuss the book’s sumptuous and suggestive juxtaposition of images and text. The event will be in Welsh with simultaneous translation provided.
At 2.30pm the films, The Airy Tomb (1960) by Emyr Humphreys, R.S. Thomas: Priest and Poet (BBC,1971) by John Ormond, and and the first ever screening in Wales of an enthralling interview in the series, What do you really believe? (ITV West, 1978) – newly discovered in the ITV Archive will be shown.
Free admission by ticket to both events, available online, or by contacting the Library’s Shop (01970) 632 548.
Should you with to attend both events please order each ticket separately.
14 September – 14 December 2013
“An idea doesn’t exist unless you do something about it” John Petts
Fifty years ago on 15 September 1963, extremist group the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black girls attending Sunday school.
This act of terrorism touched the hearts of the people of Wales, particularly artist John Petts in his home at Llansteffan. He offered his services to design and create a new stained glass window for the church, and together with the Western Mail launched a campaign to raise funds for the appeal. The campaign heightened as money poured in from the masses, and the Western Mail published images of Welsh people from all races queuing to personally donate what they could.
Petts visited the church and worked on the design over the course of a year. Here are the window studies and final design by Petts, depicting a black Christ with arms outstretched, which was considered controversial at the time. In 1965, the window was installed and dedicated ‘Given by the people of Wales’.
Today, the window is known as the ‘Wales Window’ and is an iconic symbol of the American Civil rights movement.
14 September – 14 December 2013
Since the late 1950s, Falcon Hildred’s mission has been to make a visual record of the buildings of a disappearing industrial culture. In many areas, old industries were collapsing, long-established communities were being replaced by mass housing schemes and ambitious urban redevelopment was taking hold. Falcon could do little to halt this, but as a skilled designer and illustrator he could at least ensure that monuments to the past did not disappear without some record being made.
Born in 1935 in Grimsby, Falcon Hildred attended art colleges in Coventry and Birmingham, then the Royal College of Art in London. Since 1969, he has lived in Blaenau Ffestiniog. During the past half century he has documented a wealth of buildings and landscapes through detailed but evocative drawings. He has been motivated by a sense that buildings hold up a mirror to the lives of the people who built, used and inhabited them. He has said:
The thing about buildings is that they’re about people. [...] Everything we do in life is either in or around buildings. We celebrate, we teach, we live, we work, we heal, we compete, we store –everything is done in and around buildings, and they therefore embody all our needs, all our hopes, our beliefs, our fears […]. They are the symbols of what we want and what we believe. So the risk is that when you destroy a building you risk destroying something of ourselves
The Falcon Hildred Access and Learning Project
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, working in partnership with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has acquired a unique collection of over 600 original drawings of industrial buildings and landscapes by Falcon Hildred. Falcon Hildred has dedicated his working life to recording the buildings and landscapes of nineteenth- and twentieth-century industry, producing works of high aesthetic, historical and social value.
The Falcon Hildred Access and Learning Project preserves this valuable resource for the enjoyment of future generations, and opens access to the collection through a co-ordinated programme of digitisation, publication, exhibition and education across England and Wales.
To find out more, visit www.rcahmw.gov.uk or see the accompanying book, Worktown: the Drawings of Falcon Hildred.
Explore Your Archive, the national campaign to raise awareness about archives, was launched here in Wales on 14 November. In this blog we hear about the experiences of one archivist whilst exploring some collections at the National Library of Wales:
I might be going a little too far as to liken working here at the Library to being a certain Doctor’s companion on his Tardis, but I’m prepared to go that distance.
A few months ago I spent some time working in the Archives Department on varying collections. During this time, I travelled back twenty years and went behind the scenes of the Teliesyn television company, before going back even further in time to the 1920’s with the Newport Playgoers Society. After that I travelled through the late 1950’s to the mid 1980’s when I went on tour with the Caricature Theatre.
However, it was sitting in the company of the novelist Cledwyn Hughes, that I unexpectedly found myself in a 1940’s fashion show. Alyna Hughes, the novelist’s wife, was a highly respected dress designer (Alyna City Dress Designer), and it seems that her husband used a book that she once used for her ‘creations’ as a scrap book for his press cuttings.
The detail in these pictures is amazing. The designs range from sketches of just the dress, to sketches of women wearing them complete with eyelashes and glossy lips. The fabric used for the dresses is noted and there are some wonderful references of the colours she has used like ‘strawberry pink’. She gave her creations wonderful names like ‘Anemone’, ‘Red letter day’ and ‘Forget me not’. It’s also interesting to see which ones were sold, and which ones proved to be popular, and so she made them again and again.
These dresses were designed at the time of WW2, when fear, anger and maybe a little hatred gripped our nation, and I think it’s comforting to know that during this time of uncertainty, someone could create such beautiful things.
It’s strange to think that if she hadn’t been so kind and let her husband use her design book as a scrap book, I might never have found myself in this fashion show!
There are so many treasures to be had amongst the collections that live inside these walls, and sometimes something precious can be found hidden inside these treasures. It just goes to show, if you don’t have a Tardis, a swivelling computer chair will do! (or a very comfortable non-swivelling chair in the Library’s South Reading Room!)
A special piece of work will be unveiled at Plas Glyn-y-weddw near Llanbedrog on the 17th of November 2013, to celebrate the completion of the second project in the Eluned Gymraes Davies Programme, which is managed by The National Library of Wales.
The programme will be run with money bequeathed to the National Library from the estate of Eluned Gymraes Davies (1910-2004) in her memory. Eluned Gymraes Davies, who lived in Pontardawe , played a crucial part in establishing Bryn House Community Centre in Uplands, Swansea over 60 years ago , and was appointed as the first Principal there.
In June, the Library welcomed the renowned artists Ann Catrin Evans and Angela Evans to the Library in search of inspiration to create pieces of craftwork with the students in a series of 12 workshops.
During the workshops, the students created metal hand tools which were used to form markings on paper produced specially by them, and bound into little books. The work created as a result of these visits gave students the opportunity to practice new skills which include: soldering; embossing; colouring metal; forging iron; papermaking and bookbinding.
Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of The National Library of Wales said:
“The Eluned Gymraes Davies bequest has enabled The National Library to explore its collections in new ways. The idea of craftsmen learning new skills to people from all over Wales using items from the Library’s collection is very exciting”
One of the students, Nerys Jones said:
“It was a great opportunity to work with with copper and silver – materials that I would not normally have the opportunity to deal with them, under the very able guidance of tutors. I live on the Llŷn Peninsula; therefore, learning about my locality through collections at The National Library of Wales was an invaluable experience.”
Tutor Angela Evans added:
“It was great to have the opportunity to introduce high quality workshops free of charge to enthusiastic students. It was a privilege to emulate the work of Eluned Gymraes Davies, and play a part in her legacy by encouraging people to learn about and use traditional crafts. ”
All the individual pieces have now been attached to a framed panel that serves as a record of the students’ experiences and creative ideas. The work will be on display at Plas Glyn-y-weddw near Llanbedrog between November 17th and December 24th before being transferred to Aberystwyth to be exhibited in the Eluned Gymraes Davies Room at The National Library of Wales.
On Wednesday 20 November, Chapters, the Library’s Patron Scheme, will be holding a special event at the Library to examine the life of one of the most famous and successful women in sixteenth–century Wales, Katheryn of Berain, also known as the ‘Mother of Wales’. Having married four times, having six children and sixteen grandchildren, she was connected to most of Wales’s most influential families, hence the title ‘Mother of Wales.’ She was the daughter of Tudur ap Robert Vychan of Berain, Denbs, and grand-daughter of Sir Roland Velville, son of Henry VII. It is also said that she had been a ward of Elizabeth I.
The event will include an unveiling of a portrait of Katheryn of Berain, which has been deposited at the Library by her direct descendants, together with presentations by Dr Eryn White, Dr Maredudd ap Huw and Lona Mason.
Admission by ticket £25.00 (which includes lunch) – free to Chapter members.
Have you considered joining Chapters?
19 October – 10 May 2014
Drawing upon the Library’s rich collection of topographical paintings and drawings.
The topography of Wales has always attracted artists in search of beautiful and striking scenery to draw and paint. The ruined castles and abbeys and rugged mountainous areas of Wales have been popular with artists and photographers through the centuries.
The Library’s prestigious Gregynog Gallery plays host to the rich collection of topographical paintings and drawings, showing responses to the landscape over the centuries. Focussing on the famous beauty spots which we are familiar with, alongside the industrial and urban views which now surround us, the artist’s perception of our ever-changing landscape can be seen here.
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