Posted - 16-06-2014 No Comments


Dylan with a difference

On Saturday 28th June 2014, we are so excited to present to our visitors the largest and most comprehensive Dylan Thomas expo as part of the centenary celebrations. Although it has been years in the planning, things are really starting to take shape as we work on the set build and installation over the next couple of weeks!

Visitors will be able to see a variety of original items from the National Collection including photographs, archives, manuscripts, film and art  – some of which have never before been exhibited. The  items will feature in these 4 exhibitions:

  • Dylan: Occupying the prestigious Gregynog Gallery, this multimedia exhibition is a journey into Dylan’s world – a world of poetry, stories, plays and extensive musings – guided by Dylan’s words.
  • Dylan Comes Home: A special exhibition of manuscripts and photographs on loan from The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, New York.
  • Weak or Strong?  The Art of Dylan: Artwork by Dylan, of Dylan and inspired by Dylan.
  • Ach y fi, Ach y fi: A Play for Vices: Visual artists Peter Finnemore and Russell Roberts interpret the dark and mischievous world of Dylan.

Our exhibition team have been working very hard on installing the exhibition which will include a few ‘surprise elements’ and innovative ways of bringing the Dylan Thomas collections to life. Had enough of Dylan Thomas already? Wait till you see what we have in store for you!  Here are a few tasters to whet your appetite…

coronation street     tafarn

Posted - 11-06-2014 No Comments


Weak or Strong?

On this day in 1936, The International Surrealist Exhibition was opened at the New Burlington Galleries in London. During the course of the Exhibition lectures on subjects such as ‘Art and the Unconscious’ and ‘Biology and Surrealism’ were delivered by celebrated surrealists that included Salvador Dalí, André Breton and Hugh Sykes Davies. Dalí’s lecture was delivered whilst wearing a deep-sea diving suit, (to ‘plunge deeper into the subconscious’), who very nearly suffocated.

Dylan Thomas also attended the International Surrealist Exhibition, and whilst there decided to take part. He carried around a teacup of boiled string, asking visitors whether they liked it “weak or strong?”

Although Dylan declared in a letter to Richard Church in 1935, “I wasn’t, never had been, never would be, nor never could be for that matter, a surrealist”, it’s impossible to deny his interest in the Arts. He seemed to gravitate to artistic ‘types’, and was often dabbling with pencils, pastels and paintbrushes himself.

Dylan’s question at the Surrealist Exhibition has inspired an exhibition here at the Library, which will showcase artwork by Dylan, of Dylan, and inspired by Dylan from the National Collection. ‘Weak or Strong?’ : The Art of Dylan will be open to the public between 28 June and 20 December 2014, and feature as part of our Dylan centenary celebrations. The exhibition will feature works by artists such as Mervyn Levy, Alfred Janes, Ceri Richards, Peter Evershed and Dylan himself.


'Dylan Thomas, San Remo N.Y.', © Peter Evershed

‘Dylan Thomas, San Remo N.Y.’, © Peter Evershed

Darlun gan Dylan Thomas / Doodle by Dylan Thomas © David Higham Associates

Darlun gan Dylan Thomas / Doodle by Dylan Thomas © David Higham Associates

'Dylan at Laugharne', Mervyn Levy © Ystâd Mervyn Levy / The Estate of Mervyn Levy

‘Dylan at Laugharne’, Mervyn Levy © Ystâd Mervyn Levy / The Estate of Mervyn Levy













Posted - 09-06-2014 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions

A postcard from Hereford

Hereford Cathedral LibraryCreating an exhibition takes long-term planning, and careful reconnaissance. Last Friday, Timothy Cutts, our Rare Books Librarian, and I took a trip to Hereford Cathedral Library. Our mission? To carry out research in advance of next year’s proposed exhibition on ‘Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books’.

Who was Prise, I hear you ask? In a nutshell, he was one of Henry VIII’s ablest agents, a Welshman employed by the King to fill the royal coffers with the proceeds of dissolved monasteries. However, Prise was far more than a mere well-connected accountant: he was learned, cultured, and a tasteful book collector. Many fine monastic manuscripts found their way into his private collection.

Timothy Cutts

Why then a visit to Hereford? Prise’s final years were spent in that town, and it is believed that he lies buried in her Cathedral. Furthermore, many of his priceless books were bequeathed to the remarkable Cathedral Library, where they remain chained to their historic shelves. Hence our Friday mission: we are tentatively hoping to bring some of Price’s treasures on a visit to Wales.

But what of those ‘first Welsh books’? It was John Prise who ‘rescued’ our own Black Book of Carmarthen from St David’s during the early 1540s, the earliest surviving Welsh manuscript. It was also Prise who published the first Welsh printed book, Yny lhyvyr hwnn, in 1546.Hereford Timothy Cutts open manuscript


One man and his books may well be one of the highlights of 2015 at the National Library of Wales. We shall endeavour to keep you abreast of developments.

Maredudd ap Huw
Manuscripts Librarian

We can both recommend Hereford Cathedral and its chained library as a place worthy of a summer outing!

Posted - 06-06-2014 No Comments

News and Events

Picturing Dylan

As part of DylanThomas100, the year-long celebration of the birth of Dylan Thomas, the Library will stage a major multi-media exhibition in conjunction with a series of newly commissioned showcase events.

The exhibition will run across several of the Library’s gallery spaces and will provide a unique opportunity to celebrate the life and work of this iconic Welsh literary figure.  Visitors will experience an extraordinary insight into Dylan’s world of poetry, stories, plays and extensive musings, guided by Dylan himself.  This multimedia exhibition will include never before exhibited manuscripts from the Library’s collection, as well as never before seen items on loan from the United States, and interactive experiences for all ages.

Located in Aberystwyth, The National Library of Wales serves as the collective long-term memory for Wales, and its collections are vast and varied and free to access. With thousands of Dylan Thomas related materials in the collection, the Library is a key venue for Dylan Thomas enthusiasts and researchers, and is also an entry point for people to learn about his work and life.
The Library has received funding for various artistic events and activities -such as new artistic interpretations, theatre performances, dance and poetry workshops – with the generous assistance from DT100 & the Scottish Power Foundation. This will take the exhibition and the Dylan Thomas collections to another level in terms of fresh interpretations and community involvement.


One of these projects is Picturing Dylan.The Poets Damian Walford Davies & Rhian Edwards will provide an opportunity to engage in innovative and exciting ways with the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

In the inspiring environment of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (which has kindly offered its space and some of its exhibits for the occasion), two poets and seasoned teachers – Damian Walford Davies and Rhian Edwards – will introduce Ysgol Trelai pupils to a range of Dylan’s imaginative worlds through the portal of visual images and objects from the Museum’s collections. Drawing text and image together in ways that will absorb and liberate young minds, this session will appeal to pupils’ visual imaginations and their delight in various forms of storytelling. From images of the poet himself to objects that conjure his life and work, and from maps to photographs, Picturing Dylan will bring Dylan Thomas’s legacy alive in new and relevant ways.
The young students will work, in groups, towards the production of word-and-image “posters” that will be displayed as part of the main exhibition at the Library.

Posted - 26-05-2014 No Comments


Private lives of the Myddeltons

The recently catalogued Plas Power Estate Records and Papers contain a wealth of information about the minutiae of every aspect of estate management in north-east Wales, as well as literary, antiquarian and political papers, and they also provide some fascinating insights into the private lives of the Myddelton family of Chirk Castle.


Among them is an account by Mary Myddelton (1688-1747) of what happened when her cousin, Robert Myddelton, declared passionate love for her and claimed that she had agreed to marry him. Driven by resentment against his ‘base Ungenerous’ behaviour, she recorded her feelings, the advice given by friends and relatives (which ‘proved very Fatall to me’), the difficulty of handling the matter in family circles, Robert’s pursuit of her, her attempts to avoid him, awkward meetings in the dining room at Chirk Castle, the rift that grew between them as she ‘used him like a Footman’ and forbade him to come to Chirk, futile attempts by family members to patch things up, and attempts to keep the whole affair quiet in order to avoid public scandal. Robert was eventually required to draw up a grovelling document denying that Mary had ever agreed to marry him. Despite their family ties, she never spoke to him again.


Picture 141

Robert Myddelton’s retraction and apology (Plas Power F6/3)


One of the most poignant and tantalising items I’ve come across in any archive is a small rusty key, apparently from Chirk in the early eighteenth century, with these words on its wrapper: ‘ye key of ye little box with all ye childrens things’. The box, the things and the children are all long gone, but the key allows the imagination to glimpse a long-vanished and intimately private world of childhood.


Picture 142

‘ye key of the little box’ (Plas Power F6/6)



David Moore (Archivist)

Posted - 14-05-2014 No Comments

Exhibitions / Uncategorized


On this day in 1953, Dylan Thomas’ famous play for voices Under Milk Wood, was performed for the very first time at The Poetry Centre at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Dylan himself read the parts of the First Voice and the Reverend Eli Jenkins, and the performance was recorded on a single-microphone tape recording which was later issued by Caedmon Audio. This is the only known recorded performance with Dylan as a part of the cast.

Under Milk Wood is undoubtedly one of Dylan’s most famous and popular works; it is still being read, listened to, sung, performed and watched today. There has been much debating over the fictional village of Llareggub –a play on words that gains a whole new meaning when read backwards – which real-life Welsh village is it actually based on? Some are confident that it’s New Quay, others sure that it is Laugharne. Or could it be the perfect mixture of all the strangest Welsh towns Dylan was lucky enough to visit in his lifetime?

To help with the writing of the play, Dylan drew the now iconic map of Llareggub which resides in the Library. It shows how he envisaged the setting for his cast of familiar but eccentric characters; Dai Bread and his two wives, Polly Garter and Nogood Boyo living as neighbours in Donkey Street, with the Wlados at Cockle Street, and the never closing Sailors Arms on Coronation Street.


Llareggub Map

‘Llareggub Map’ – © Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas


Why not visit the upcoming Dylan exhibition (28 June – 20 December) where the New York script other Under Milk Wood related items will be displayed in our very own Llareggub.

Posted - 12-05-2014 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

The farmer, the artist, the Princess and the Tsar

The image which first got my attention. The composition is similar to the style of many photographs known to have been taken by Alexandra.

The image which first got my attention. The composition is similar to the style of many photographs known to have been taken by Princess Alexandra.


There is a small collection which first came to my attention last year, bequeathed to the Library by one Miss Mary Lobb (Llyfr Ffoto M F V Lobb Album 12: Llyfr Ffoto 279C). My attention was first drawn to some images of what appeared to be quite rich 19th Century tourists. One image was of two women looking out of a window, shot into the light, making it almost a complete sillouhette. The intimate, relaxed nature of this, and other images, made me curious. Was Miss Lobb, who’s bequest this was, the photographer?
Well, as it turned out – no. She and her collection turned out to be far more interesting than anyone had previously realised.

Miss Mary Frances Vivian Lobb in her younger days.

Miss Mary Frances Vivian Lobb in her younger days.

Mary Frances Vivian Lobb, was originally from Cornwall. During WW1 she joined the Land Army and was posted to Lechlade in Gloucestershire. She was a formidable character, and had very soon upset the local men, who wanted her removed from the farm. Close by was Kelmscott Manor, home to May Morris, the youngest daughter of designers and artists, William and Jane Morris. She took Miss Lobb on as a helping hand and they remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Digging deeper I found that the 17 items attributed to Lobb in the catalogue, were only a fraction of the bequest, which originally consisted of 98 items. Scrap books, photo albums and postcards, some from her family and some, clearly from Kelmscott Manor. There are several watercolours by May Morris, many designs and test pressings of illustrations, decorative borders and typefaces from the days of The Kelmscott Press.

Sisters Marie Feodrovna and the then Princess of Wales, Alexandra, sitting atop their niece Marie Georgievna of Greece. Taken aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Victoria & Albert II around 1895.

Sisters Marie Feodrovna and the then Princess of Wales, Alexandra, sitting atop their niece Marie Georgievna of Greece. Taken aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Victoria & Albert II around 1895.

Most mysterious is the photo album which originally caught my attention. It took some time to work out, but it has been confirmed that it contains “snapshots”, from around 1895, of a gathering of Royal Families in Denmark. These include, Alexandra, Princess of Wales who probably took some of the photographs. Her sister Marie Feodrovna is shown with her husband Tsar Alexander III and children, Princess Xenia and Nicholas who would become the very last Russian Tsar.  How this album came to be in the possession of Miss Lobb, we might never know.

I hope to present a talk on this subject later in the year.

Simon Evans

Curatorial Assistant, The National Collection of Welsh Photographs.

Posted - 09-05-2014 No Comments

Exhibitions / News and Events

Dylan’s Selfies

This week sees the launch of our #100Dylan campaign – in celebration of the Dylan Thomas’ centenary year, we’re searching for 100 Dylan’s across the world.

Do you know someone called Dylan?  Are you a Dylan yourself?  If so, send us a Dylan selfie on Twitter (#100dylan), Facebook or e-mail ( and remember to include your full name and where you come from by 30 May 2014. We’ll print out all the photos and use each and every one to create a large portrait of Dylan which will be displayed in our exhibition Dylan (June 28 – 20 December 2014) and used both digitally and in print to promote the Library and its activities.

Dylan himself didn’t take any selfies with a camera as far as we know, but he was known to draw a few in his time.

Part of the Library’s Dylan archive is the papers of Veronica Sibthorp, with whom Dylan is supposed to have had an affair.  Dylan first met Veronica while staying at Mousehole, Cornwall in the spring of 1936 and stayed in touch up until at least 1939.  This collection contains two small notebooks full of dubious rhymes, and a collection of Dylan’s doodles, among which are two of his hand-drawn self-portraits.

The official opening of the exhibition will be held on the 28th of June where there’ll be a special invite to all who take part in the campaign.

Am I a Poet?

‘Am I a Poet?’
© Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

I'm young but I can learn

‘I’m young but I can learn’
© Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

Posted - 29-04-2014 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Digitising Tithe Maps

Cynefin is a Welsh word for the area you are familiar with. It is also the name of a project for digitising the Tithe Maps of Wales. This is a considerable challenge, there are over a thousand of them and they are large, some are two by three metres or more. The maps are highly popular with the public, and with television programmes, and it is easy to see why. Not only are the maps very detailed, but they also have attached schedules or apportionment documents which include the names of the people who were paying tithes around the 1840s, and where they were farmers, as most were, more often than not the names of their fields are included.

The Cynefin project will produce digitised images of the maps and the apportionment documents, and much more as well. As there is such a wealth of information in the apportionment documents, they will be transcribed, but for this we are reliant on help from the community. We also plan to link the apportionment entries directly to the field numbers which are on the maps, this work will also involve volunteers. There will soon be a crowd sourcing platform giving the public an opportunity to contribute directly to the project.

There are also several local projects and workshops planned to promote the use of tithe maps. While the amount of work to be done is substantial and will keep us very busy for the next two and a half years, the beauty of the maps and the volatile history of the period in which they were made brings a certain excitement to the project.

As I write we are approaching the 175th anniversary of the first Rebecca Rising on the 13th of May 1839. To commemorate this we have prioritised the digitisation of the tithe map of Cilmaenllwyd in Carmarthenshire made in 1838 which shows the village of Efail Wen on it’s Pembrokeshire boundary. No sign of a turnpike tollgate of course, and even when they built one in April 1839 it didn’t last very long. The burden of paying so many road tolls, in addition to other costs such as tithes, were too much for some and hundreds of protesters turned up dramatically dressed as women and burnt the tollgate. Another big issue of the period was the fact that the vast majority didn’t even have the right to vote, that’s why there was a growing Chartist movement which we also plan to illustrate with tithe maps later this year.

This project will produce a great new resource to support all kinds of historical research in Wales. The more important aim of the project, however, is to enable people become more familiar, and to connect more directly with their history, and tithe maps are a great starting point for that.

Part of the Cilmaenllwyd Tithe Map made in 1838 showing Efailwen

Part of the Cilmaenllwyd Tithe Map made in 1838 showing Efailwen

Einion Gruffudd

Project manager , HLF funded ARCW ‘Cynefin : Mapping Wales’ Sense of Place’ project



Posted - 25-04-2014 No Comments

News and Events

Bringing Dylan to the homeland

‘Quite Early One Morning’ in February I awoke in a hotel room in Buffalo, NY and looked out the window. Snow. Lots of it! In fact it hadn’t stopped snowing since I arrived and I was

Niagra Falls, Chwefror / February 2014

Niagra Falls, Chwefror / February 2014

experiencing first-hand what the locals called the ‘Polar Vortex’.  The timing couldn’t be worse, but today was the day we had been planning for several months. I had to focus on the mission ahead.

Today I was to personally escort an important package across the Atlantic under the utmost secrecy.

Unbeknown to but a few key personnel, some of Dylan Thomas’ most rare and important notebooks, letters and photographs were being returned for the first time to Wales from the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo to exhibit here.  I had been given the task to negotiating and arranging the loan, so it seemed appropriate that I should see the task through by couriering the items according to the special requirements of the lender.

Diary of a Courier

As Dylan recalled in A Visit to America  “…in plans and trains and boiling hotel ovens, many of these attempt to keep journals and diaries”, here is my own brief account of an epic journey.

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1930 Notebook © Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas, Llyfr Nodiadau 1930 Notebook
© Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

The curators at University of Buffalo, who are also keepers of a large portion of James Joyce material, are fiercely proud of the Dylan Thomas collection and have been so gracious in allowing us to borrow these items. In fact Dylan over there is likened to Robert Frost or James Joyce in that his name transcends his work. The planning of the ‘notebooks journey’ had been a journey in itself, so when I arrived at the University I was excited to finally meet the faces behind the countless email communications and of course the items that would be in my care.  We carefully checked through the items noting their condition and packed them up. It was difficult for me not to become distracted by the content or aura of the collection!

As a courier, training and experience is very important on these trips, but despite pre-planning it is always wise to expect the unexpected.

“Maam, I’m afraid that case cannot stay and will have to go in the hold.”

I’m embarking on the first part of my journey between Buffalo & JFK before travelling to Heathrow, then Aberystwyth. The plane is

Dylan Thomas, Hunan Bortread / Self Portrait © Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas, Hunan Bortread / Self Portrait
© Digital reproductions of manuscripts used with the permission of David Higham Associates on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

pokey, and although an extra seat was booked for the privilege of taking on board a hand-carry, the case was too large. Despite the nature of the loan, the quantity of items and packaging do not necessarily mean ‘hand carry’ – the weight and size of the case required physical stamina and some strength.  In fact drinking and subsequent visits to the toilet had to be planned with military precision! I discreetly explained the circumstances and thanked the air stewardess who commenced removing all the expensive suit jackets and briefcases  from the wardrobe to accommodate my case. I dared not look at the disgruntled businessmen and women in the seats behind!

Airline staff and Security have full authority and are particularly stringent in the US; a pleasant but firm temperament is a must when relying on your powers of persuasion – easier said than done.

So, 36 hours later after flights changing, negotiating with security and airport personnel on both sides of the Atlantic, and an equally epic journey back to Aberystwyth with not much

sleep in between, I was never so pleased to see Ceredigion Bay.  As Dylan said of Laugharne, “…in this timeless mild, beguiling island of a town…here we just are, and there is nowhere like it anywhere at all.”

Further information on the notebooks and the exhibition.

Jaimie Thomas

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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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