Posted - 13-01-2015 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions

A National Collection

Collecting is an important part of the role of any cultural institution. A national collection has a particular emphasis: it reflects the nation’s life, history or aspirations.

The Collection here at the National Library has been growing steadily since the Library opened in 1909. Generations of dedicated staff members have carefully added material, using their particular expertise to ensure the best possible examples.

We collect as part of our everyday activity: it is our mind-set as librarians, curators and archivists. To collect means to gather together and present in a form which reflects intellectual input on the material. More specifically, collecting is also about connecting. This can be obvious links between people and localities or complex and subtle connectors over time and space.

The small display which opens on 24 January, of recent acquisitions, provides a glimpse of the collecting experience of staff here at the Library over the last two years. It celebrates the fact that, despite all the reductions in purchase grant and loss of longstanding experts, we can still acquire works of national significance from national and international markets. Both the items illustrated below will form a small part of the exhibition.

The history of parishes of Whitford and Hollywell by Thomas Pennant.  Original watercolours by Moses Griffith

The history of parishes of Whitford and Hollywell by Thomas Pennant.
Original watercolours by Moses Griffith

Much of the new material has been donated by individuals far and wide; some have years of association with the Library whilst others are new to us

The Fly Fisher’s Legacy by George Scotcher.  Published in Chepstow ca. 1819

The Fly Fisher’s Legacy by George Scotcher.
Published in Chepstow ca. 1819

and show that our audience is never static and always growing.

Collecting also includes storing and preserving, then of course providing a sensible access for the public. All these items on display will be available via our Catalogue; however there is no substitution for seeing groups of works together. Not only does it help us to understand the Collection context, but it can inspire our own collecting interests and ideas.

A Collection must continue to collect. It is the breath and life of the institution. It is the Collection which defines the Library and, dare I say it, new things can show fresh ways to see Wales.

Paul Joyner

January 2015

Posted - 06-01-2015 No Comments

Exhibitions / Kyffin Blog

Kyffin Williams

On display in the main hall of the Library, between the two reading rooms is Kyffin Williams’s Self Portrait, 1968. David Griffiths’s portrait of Shane Williams previously hung in this position. The subjects of the two portraits seemingly have little in common, but as Kyffin Williams reminds us in his first volume of autobiography, he too graced the rugby field. Writing about his time working and living in London, the artist reports:

“I even played for London Welsh extra ‘B’ [the third XV], but when a large St. Thomas’s Hospital forward flattened me and apologised with a “Frightfully sorry, sir,” I realised the time had come for me to become a spectator.” (Williams, Across the Straits, p.173)

Welsh rugby’s loss was indeed Welsh art’s gain. (It is here too, that similarities between the subjects of the pictures end- it is uncertain whether Shane Williams has painted any landscape pictures!).

This self-portrait is one of several in the Library’s collection. The artist is instantly recognisable: his distinctive moustache and semi-long, swept back hair feature in all his self-portraits; the palette held in his right hand acts as a reminder of his vocation. Although the artist wears a serious expression, there is perhaps an element of humour in the image. Photographs of Kyffin show his long moustache drooping around his mouth, but in this portrait his moustache is flicked up at the edges, recalling cartoon images of artists- perhaps the stereotypical artist’s beret is just out of frame.

Kyffin Williams is renowned for using a palette knife technique especially in his landscape paintings. Critics of the artist sometimes note a heavy-handed approach, but this painting shows how nuanced his technique could be when used in portraiture. The heavy impasto often used to give a textural quality to a mountain side or rocky outcrop is used here to imply depth and gradation in the human form. The subtlety (not a word often used in relation to Kyffin’s application of paint) of the facial features is particularly notable, with light catching on the bridge of the nose, and facial hair having a real, bristly quality. Other passages are more expressive: the check of the brown shirt under his sleeveless smock is suggested by lines being scored into the thick paint possibly with the handle of a knife or brush. While the picture contains these subtle elements it retains a sense of rapidity in common with his landscape works. In the painting, Kyffin holds the palette in his right hand; the right-handed artist would naturally have held the palette in his left, reminding us that the picture is being painted from life: that is, from his own reflection in a mirror. The colours on the palette match the tones of the artist’s cheek, giving a sense that the picture is being painted in the here-and-now.

This painting was created in what can be seen as a pivotal year for Kyffin Williams. The artist turned 50 years old on May 18th 1968 and at the end of that year he made his journey to paint the Welsh communities of Patagonia as part of a Winston Churchill Foundation Fellowship. Much of the work produced by the artist as part of his journey to Patagonia is held at the National Library. This self-portrait captures the artist at perhaps the mid-point of his career. A few years later he would return to live on Anglesey after almost thirty years of teaching in London, a period reflected upon in his first volume of autobiography, Across the Straits, published in 1973. Self-Portrait, 1968 captures an experienced and confident artist at a point just before he was to become the dominant figure in Welsh painting of the late twentieth century.

An exhibition of Kyffin’s Patagonia paintings will be on display at MOMA Machynlleth 28 February – 9 May 2015.

Lloyd Roderick (Research student Kyffin Williams Online)

Posted - 13-12-2014 No Comments


“And now gentlemen, like your manners, I must leave you.”

With Dylan Thomas’ centenary year coming to an end, will we be waving farewell to Dylan? Will he return to a dusty shelf until the next anniversary?

Last week it was announced that May 14th would from 2015 onwards be Dylan Day. A large number of books have been written, films scripted, works of art created and music composed to honour the great Welsh writer. A brand new exhibition has opened at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea; all to remind us to ‘love the words’.

We certainly won’t be forgetting Dylan in a hurry… did you know that the largest collection of Dylan Thomas related material is here at the National Library of Wales? A great deal of it is still on display in our Dylan exhibition (it closes on December 20, so you’ve got a week left if you haven’t been to see it yet!). But even though the manuscripts and the letters, the drafts of stories and scripts, the doddles and the personalia will be going back into the collection, they’re still here for you to view either in the Library building, or online.

To ensure that Dylan’s legacy lives on, we’ve digitised a vast amount of his archive, which can be viewed for free, anytime you wish on the Dylan website – go on, discover Dylan.

Gwefan Dylan Website

Llun-sgrin Gwefan Dylan / Dylan Website Screenshot


Posted - 08-12-2014 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions / News and Events

The oldest Welsh printed book looks as good as new

Yny lhyvyr 3As a rare books librarian I am used to having books on my desk which were printed several centuries ago, but it isn’t often that I see anything as rare as Yny lhyvyr hwnn. This modest-looking book is one of the most important items in the Library, as it is the only known surviving copy of the first book ever printed in the Welsh language. The book was written by Sir John Prise, a Welshman working for Thomas Cromwell, and printed in 1546. It contains the basics of the Welsh language and the Christian faith.


Yny lhyvyr 1This unique item will be one of the centre pieces of an exhibition about Sir John Prise next year. Discussion with conservation staff immediately revealed that urgent repair work was needed before the volume could be put on display. The fragile pages were splitting badly in places, and needed some weeks of expert treatment by one of our in-house conservation specialists. This involved removing the pages from their existing binding, repairing them, and putting them into a new binding which will not place strain on the leaves as the previous one did.Yny lhyvyr 2


During this process, we took the opportunity to scan the pages in order to create a digital version of Yny lhyvyr hwnn. The digital images will also be used to create a facsimile of the volume. However, it is the newly-repaired original that will be shown in the exhibition Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books, which opens in the Hengwrt gallery on 31st January.

Timothy Cutts

Posted - 17-11-2014

News and Events

The Welsh Book of Rememberance

The Book of RememberanceAs part of a wide range of events and activities to mark the centenary of the First World War, the National Library of Wales and the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) have been working in collaboration to digitise the Welsh Book of Remembrance, a beautifully decorated volume containing the names of all the Welsh servicemen who lost their lives during the First World War. The volume measures approximately 32 x 48 x 15cm and contains just over 1000 pages, each page displaying around 40 names written by professional scribes in neat calligraphy.


The WCIA has recently been awarded a grant of £920,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards a new consortium project, Cymru dros Heddwch / Wales for Peace, which aims to explore how Wales has contributed to the search for peace since the First World War. The project aims to engage 100,000 people in discovering, sharing and learning from the peace heritage of Wales – the people and organisations who have been part of this search, and whose stories remain largely untold.


As part of the four-year project, the National Library will collaborate further with the WCIA to develop software that will allow the transcription of the contents of The Book of Rememberance. Volunteers will be able to use the transcription tool to record division and battalion names and military personnel.


Some of the names in the Book of RememberanceSome initial experiments to analyse the page layouts and the calligraphy OCR have already taken place at the Library. The transcribed data will be made available to the public and will be searchable for data such as name, rank, regiment and place of residence. It is hoped that the database will then be used to create an interactive map of Wales which will allow users to click on a particular town to view the number of names transcribed from that area.


The Cymru dros Heddwch / Wales for Peace project was formally launched in Cardiff Bay on 11 November.

Posted - 13-11-2014


Talking politics…

On the first Friday in November each year, the Library hosts the Welsh Political Archive Annual Lecture. First held in 1987, the lecture attracts attention from academics, politicians and the media and is designed to raise the profile of political archives at the National Library of Wales.


Promoting the use of our archival collections is a key part of our work, but we also have another important audience; those who create the archival material in the first place. The Welsh Political Archive was established in 1983 to provide a focus for political archives in the Library, and to establish links with both the users and producers of those archives. These include not only individual politicians such as Assembly Members, Members or Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, but political parties, formal groups with a significant political element, as well as pressure groups and less formal campaigning organisations. The lecture, and the advisory committee which meets once a year and is made up of academics, journalists and representatives of political and civic society, help the Library to reach these audiences.


Many well-knowNick Bournen figures in Welsh public life have given the annual lecture, and this year the task fell to Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth ( Lord Bourne had a distinguished academic and business career before being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and subsequently serving as leader of the Conservative and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. He now sits in the House of Lords.


Lord Bourne took on a challenging and controversial topic for his lecture; the case for an entrenched written constitution for the United Kingdom, arguing that it could serve as a “users’ manual” for the people of the UK as well as codifying fundamental rights and clarifying the relationships between the UK Parliament, the European Union and devolved legislatures.


Lord Bourne’s lecture was reported by ITV News ( and Click on Wales ( and provoked a lively debate in the Drwm. Along with lectures from previous years, you can download a copy of Lord Bourne’s call for a written constitution from the Welsh Political archive pages (



Rob Phillips

Posted - 11-11-2014

News and Events

Explore Your Archive

Thinking about researching your family tree? How about looking into the history of your home or community? Perhaps you have just started a course and need help with a project. Whatever it might be why not start exploring your archive today?

The Explore Your Archive campaign started on 10 November with the aim of encouraging people to discover the stories, the facts, the places and the people that are at the heart of communities.

Events will be held all over Wales, as archivists, record managers and conservators delve into Welsh archives where the records of people’s life, their communities and businesses are collected, kept safe and made accessible.

Archives across the UK and Ireland are taking part, to emphasise the value of archives to society and to highlight the rich variety of content that is held, preserved and made available to users.

For more information please visit:

Posted - 03-11-2014


Innocent as Strawberries

Exciting news! As part of the Library’s Dylan Thomas Centenary celebrations, the Library – with financial assistance from DT100 and Scottish Power Foundation – have commissioned national children’s theatre company Arad Goch to perform a special theatrical production in the Library to Secondary Schools.

The performance will be based on a series of Dylan Thomas’ poems and short stories dealing with adolescence, drawing inspiration from ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ especially.  You can watch a short animated film of the poem created by the BBC here.

The Tormenting of the Hunchback © Jeff Philips

The Tormenting of the Hunchback © Jeff Philips

The performance will be held in the ‘Dylan’ exhibition in the Gregynog Gallery between 10th and 14th November.

The exhibition will remain open as usual to the public; although visitors are advised there may be some disruption in the gallery during this period, specifically audio/visual exhibits. The company will also be rehearsing in the space on Friday 7th November, however the gallery will still remain open during this time.

If you are planning a visit to the exhibition between these dates and would like further information regarding the timings of the performances (whether to avoid or catch a glimpse of!), please contact the Library.


Posted - 30-10-2014

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


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


← Older Posts Newer Posts →


Archived Posts

About this blog

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.

About the blog