Posted - 02-07-2015 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions

The Secret workings of nature : Robert Hooke and early science

The famous drawing of a flea in Micrographia

The famous drawing of a flea in Micrographia

Micrographia was written by Robert Hooke and published by the Royal Society in 1665, and was a best-seller of the period in Britain. This exhibition will show the significance of the book 350 years after it’s publication. Other items from the Library’s collections will also be used to demonstrate some of the main themes of the book.


Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was one of the leading figures of the scientific revolution at the end of the 17th century, and along with other scientists such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, he was one of the founders of the Royal Society. The society pioneered two revolutionary concepts:


  • The development of the early scientific method: one which depends on experimentation and observation to collect evidence, instead of the subjective instincts of the early Greeks.
  • The Popularisation of science, by publishing books in English (instead of Latin), aimed at a lay audience. The public understanding of science remains a subject of importance.


A compound microscope

A compound microscope

Hooke worked in the Royal Society as Head of Experiments and his scientific interests were wide. Perhaps one of his most well-known contribution to science was the law of elasticity, known as Hooke’s Law, which states that the extension of a spring (or wire) caused by an applied force is proportional to the force. But he made several other influential and pioneering contributions. For example, he used the compound microscope in his experiments to show detailed drawings of creatures and plants. Micrographia contains many of his observations drawn on impressive copper-plated illustrations, for example, the flea, which opens to four times the size of a page of the book. Another famous image is his study of cork under a microscope. Through this, he was the first, though without realising it initially, to discover the structure of plants cells.


The pictures of fossils under a microscope persuaded Hooke that fossils originate, not from stones, but from creatures that lived many centuries before. This was a novel theory, proposed at a time when it was not realised that the Earth was as old as it is and that different creatures lived on it at different periods. This is another example of Hooke’s far-sighted vision and ideas.


The moon, planets and stars in Micrographia

The moon, planets and stars in Micrographia

Despite the fact that the book is better known for its descriptions using the microscope, Micrographia also describes distant planets and discusses the theory of light waves.


In the exhibition there will be items by a number of other scientists, including Welshmen such as Edward Lhuyd, Thomas Pennant, Robert Recorde, William Jones and Lewis Morris. Also works by scientists of international renown such as Euclid, Descartes, Galileo, Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle will be included. A microscope and telescope from the period of Robert Hooke will be on display with the intention of giving a visual experience of the kinds of instruments that were used by Hooke and Newton when they made their discoveries.


Additionally, a programme of lectures has been organised to coincide with the exhibition. The details are shown below:


8 July : Dr Gareth Griffith (Aberystwyth University) : Robert Hooke and Micrographia (Welsh with translation).

2 September : Dr. Paul Evans : Thomas Pennant: the leading British zoologist after Ray and before Darwin (English).

11 September : Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal : Life and the cosmos: four centuries of expanding horizons (English).

7 October : Professor Gareth Ffowc Roberts and Dr Rowland Wynne : Copenhagen and Wales (Welsh with translation).

4 November : Dr Matthew Francis (Aberystwyth University) : ‘How Much Small There Is’: Robert Hooke’s Micrographia for the modern reader (English).

2 December : Professor Deri Tomos (Bangor University) : Opening life’s door. What exactly did Robert Hooke discover by identifying the cell? (Welsh with translation).

6 January : Sarah Hutton, Honorary Visiting Professor (University of York) : Stranger than fiction: Robert Hooke, Margaret Cavendish and satire on seventeenth-century science (English).


The exhibition will be displayed in Hengwrt gallery of the National Library from July 7th – January 9th.



Hywel Lloyd.

Posted - No Comments

ArAgor / Collections / News and Events

Uncovering the past with the new Welsh Newspapers Online website

Historical newspapers; column after column of minute and unimposing text interspersed with what, presumably, were meant to be images. Until recent times searching old news for something specific was like searching for a proverbial needle in a hay stack. In Wales that all changed in 2013 when the National Library of Wales launched a beta version of its free Welsh Newspapers Online website. Using the latest technology the text of hundreds of newspaper titles were thrust into the digital sphere. Long forgotten tit-bits and obituaries, headlines and controversies were made fully searchable, unlocking a vast vault of knowledge.

Now the National Library has replaced the beta version with a slick new interface with plenty of new features and an additional 400,000 pages, bringing the total to over 1 million. To test the power of this immense archive I performed a simple search for one of my Victorian ancestors. The little I knew about him came from my Grandmother who recalls childhood stories of her great grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant, a watchman on Barry Docks who whistled whilst he worked, and a man she claimed hung himself on the back of his bedroom door, because he thought God had forgotten him. What could all this technology tell me about dear old Tom Foley?

The new interface for the Welsh Newspapers website

The new interface for the Welsh Newspapers website

I searched for ‘Thomas Foley’ and limited my search to Glamorgan papers and found myself with hundreds of possible hits. Some were not relevant but I had definitely found my Great Great Great Grandfather. Working through the results chronologically the earliest record I found was 1890. He was a rigger living in Penarth, and a member of the Cardiff Riggers and Boatman Union. In a letter to the Western Mail he bemoaned that a recent meeting was ‘more like a bedlam than a meeting of sane men’


But quarrelsome men were soon the least of Foley’s problems. On April 3rd 1891 the Barry Dock news reported a ‘Serious accident to a rigger at Barry Dock’. Some months later Foley gave his own account of the accident;


‘On the day after Good Friday I was working on the SS. Emilie in Barry Dock, when I accidentally fell from a ventilator backwards down the empty bunker hatch, from the top to the bottom…When I recovered consciousness I found myself on the deck with a number of men around me’


A panoramic view of Barry Docks 1901.

A panoramic view of Barry Docks 1901. NLW tir03330

Foley had survived his fall but would never work as a rigger again. He was taken at once to Cardiff infirmary where he was diagnosed with a fractured hip. Then, he complains;


‘I lay there for a fortnight without any further examination, or even a lotion or liniment, or anything whatever to alleviate my pain, although I was complaining daily’.


The poor man was then discharged and lay bed-bound for several months with one of his legs ‘two inches longer than the other’. Thankfully for us, his affliction gave him even more time to write, as his letters to the Barry Dock News come thick and fast. Following the horrors he faced at the Cardiff Infirmary he began to campaign for a local hospital to serve the busy and dangerous docks.


He wrote to thank the manager of the SS. Emile who presented him with £25 to start him in some kind of business. But instead he found work as a Watchman, just like my Grandmother recalled. I figure he spent the money on books, as he soon begins quoting Greek history and Shakespeare in his prolific contributions to the local press. He even donated antique books to Barry Library – all diligently reported in the local papers. In December 1891 he even composed a poem following news that a collection had been raised to support the widows of two friends lost at sea.

A poem written by Thomas Foley in 1891.

A poem written by Thomas Foley in 1891.


In 1895 a report on the ‘Grand Eisteddfod at Barry’ describes the occasion that Foley won a ‘special prize’ in the short hand competition, having taught himself just two months earlier. ‘Mr Foley was enthusiastically greeted as he ascended the platform….and the president remarked that Mr Foley had….emulated some of the most famous scholars of Greece and Rome (Cheers)’. He certainly possessed the Greeks passion for politics. Following his attendance of a political debate Foley lambasted the politicians in a lively open letter. ‘If I am to judge from the observations of the three speakers the conservatives are a most contemptible class, and the liberal unionists is the lowest animal in the scale of creation’ He goes on, in as plain a tongue as you could imagine, to describe the Tories as ‘a very naughty lot of people’.


My search revealed so much material that I could probably write a small book about the trials and tribulations of Mr Foley, and it pains me to omit so much, but every story must have its ending. Everything points to a passionate and driven man. I see him, through my rose tinted specs, as a working class hero, a self-educated immigrant breaking down long established social barriers. So would such a man have taken his own life? Did he really hang from his bedroom door?


In fact, he did not, but the truth is sadly very near to the mark. On Boxing Day 1910, reports the Barry Dock News, Foley hanged himself from his bedpost with a handkerchief. But that is not all. His son, my Great Great Grandfather found his body, and fearing the shame a suicide would bring on the family, cut him down and, with his friend, put him to bed and suggested his father’s ‘weak heart’ was to blame for his demise. The very words spoken in the inquest are recorded in the paper, and the Coroner warned the son that his ‘foolish behavior’ could well see him stand trial for murder. Thankfully though he was eventually cleared and went on to become the Dock Master for Great Western Railways at Barry Docks – another story for another day.


I recon there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of stories waiting to be discovered amongst metadata and algorithms of one of Wales’ richest and most diverse digital archives. Search for your story today at


Jason Evans

Wikipedian in Residence, National Library of Wales

Tags: , , , ,

Posted - No Comments


What’s new? 6 new features you will find on the Welsh Newspapers Online website

The new Welsh Newspapers Online website has recently been unveiled, but what has changed? Here are 6 things that have been added to the new website:


1.  More pages

The new website contains 400,000 additional pages of digitised newspapers, some in new titles and others added to titles that were already on the website. If you would like to know which titles and content are new to the website, go to the project’s About page.





2.  A design that responds to your device

The website now adapts to the size of the screen that you’re using. This will improve the experience of using the resource on a tablet or mobile phone.


3.  Browse images

It is now possible for you to browse images in the newspapers based on five sub-categories: cartoons, graphs, illustrations, maps and photographs. It’s a great way of discovering content that is visually striking, and we expect this to be a very popular feature on the new website.




4.  Advanced search

The advanced search allows you to set paramaters on your search from the outset, and enables ‘boolean’ searching. For more information on undertaking a boolean search, go to the new website’s Help page.


5.  Cite on Wikipedia

Now you can link articles in the newspapers to one of the most popular websites in the world by using the ‘Cite on Wikiedia’ button which features under each article title to the right of the page viewer. This will give you a code which can then be inserted into a Wikipedia page to cite the article as a source.





6. Separating content according to language (Welsh/English)

It is now possible to restrict searches based on language for the first time, which will facilitate the use of the resource for users who cannot read Welsh. Please note that this distinction has been based on the language of the publication’s title rather than at article level, and Welsh language content may therefore slip through the filter when limiting the search only to English publications.


We will continue to look at ways of improving Welsh Newspapers Online resource and would welcome your comments and suggestions. Please let us know what you think about the site using the ‘Contact Us‘ link located on the bottom of every page.


Dafydd Tudur

Posted - 26-06-2015 No Comments


Philip Jones Griffiths

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

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.



Will Troughton

Posted - 18-06-2015 No Comments

Collections / News and Events

A National Anthem for the Welsh of Patagonia?

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.


Jason Evans.

Tags: , ,

Posted - 15-06-2015 No Comments

Collections / Exhibitions / News and Events

King Arthur’s doughty champion fights again

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.

Maredudd ap Huw

Posted - 10-06-2015 No Comments

ArAgor / Collections / News and Events

‘The Battles of Alexander the Great’ – Medieval Images Released

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.


Tags: , , , ,

Posted - 09-06-2015 No Comments


Thomas Jeremiah (1797-1868) and The Battle of Waterloo

Battle of Waterloo 1815 William Sadler II [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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.


Morfudd Nia Jones

Posted - 04-06-2015 No Comments

News and Events / Uncategorized

Broadcasting live from the Drwm

The Library has broken new ground today by broadcasting live on the Web using the Periscope app.

Hywel Lloyd being broadcasted live

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.

Posted - 25-05-2015 No Comments


Royalty and paupers in Ceredigion

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)

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

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)

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).


Wyn Thomas







← Older 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