Libraries gave us power, sang the Manic Street Preachers, but what really happens behind the bookshelves at Wales’ own cultural powerhouse, the National Library of Wales?
Matthew Rees, PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University’s International Politics department.
“I’m at the National Library most days. The variety of books, wonderful working environment with excellent light, desks at the right height – for someone who’s 6 foot 6, this is a real benefit – and really helpful and friendly staff are what attract me. The fact that all the staff speak Welsh, but I don’t think it’s an intimidating environment for my non-Welsh speaking friends, is also excellent, as it’s one of the few places I can use Welsh all day.
I’m originally from Cardiff and was brought up in an English-speaking home, but went to a Welsh medium school. I then went to the University of Warwick to do my first degree in politics. After this I returned to Cardiff to do a masters at Cardiff University. At this time, I became very interested in the relationship between religion and politics, and decided to pursue this interest through research. I arrived in Aberystwyth in 2012 to study for my doctorate. My research looks at faith-based political engagement in the devolved regions of the UK. Religious organisations and faith-based organisations traditionally wielded a large amount of power in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but their influence declined during the 20th century.
The National Library has been such a gift over the past three years of research. Being able to work in a library with almost every book ever published in the UK is such a privilege when studying the devolved regions of the UK. The library’s archives have also been helpful when it came to the primary research on Wales, the very helpful and friendly staff have gone out of their way to give me access to difficult to find sources.
“I usually walk up Penglais hill at around 9 and pop into the International politics department for around half an hour before heading down to the library. I then put my things into one of the lockers, show the porters my readers card and enter the library. I normally sit in the same spot in the North room at the end of the reading room.
“The North room is so beautiful. In a strange way it’s very modern despite also having a grand old feel about it. The library has done a very good job of creating a library space which is fit for modern research, but it keeps its feel as an old institution at the same time. You really feel the sense of history in the place, while at the same time feeling like it’s your library to use and come up with something new.
I like silence to work, with no distractions- that’s why I go to the National Library. It’s one of the few places in the world where you genuinely get that!
Reading and writing a for a thesis takes huge concentration and really drains energy and makes eyes weary, so it’s important to take routine breaks, especially when you’re doing it day in, day out and often on weekends for four years. The library’s Café Pendinas comes in handy at these points, the coffee shop feels as much like a lounge as a business establishment.
The library staff here are all genuinely interested in what you’re doing. The porters often ask how things are going and you get to know these people after a while. It’s a really iconic place to work, whilst keeping a friendly feel about it at the same time.”
The Girlguiding Cymru movement, whose headquarters is based at Broneirion in Llandinam Powys, has a very impressive archive that spans 100 years. In an attempt to preserve the collection senior Guides approached the National Library of Wales with a view of depositing the items for safe keeping. The National Library suggested they also considered the possibility of digitising the collection for sharing online and that led to a discussion with the People’s Collection Wales programme.
That was two years ago and the collaboration between Girlguiding Cymru and the People’s Collection Wales has grown and developed into a wonderful relationship which has created opportunities for Guides to learn new skills which can lead by progression to completing an Agored Cymru accredited unit at Level 2 and carries 3 credits.
To date 57 guides have attended People’s Collection Wales’ standard digital training and have gone on to complete the Agored Cymru accredited unit. The guides were also keen to develop a badge that they could add to their collection which would be awarded upon completion of the Agored Cymru Unit. This badge is the Precious Artefacts badge and includes the People’s Collection Wales branding.
Saturday 23 April saw the launch of the Girlguiding exhibition, Pushing Boundaries, at the National Library of Wales, which will run until early September. It is a great opportunity for the general public to view items and learn about the history of the movement over the past 100 years.
Additional digital items can be viewed on the Girlguiding Cymru’s account on the People’s Collection Wales website. They currently have 216 objects on display and many of those object are multi-part items. To showcase their collection and to highlight the exhibition People’s Collection Wales has created a special banner page which shows a section from the beautiful tapestry which is on display. The tapestry was designed and embroidered by members of the Trefoil Guild in Wales and highlights the Girlguiding journey from 1910 to the present day with contributions from each of the Girlguiding counties of Wales.
For more information on the People’s Collection Wales visit the website.
Section manager, People’s Collection Wales
Libraries gave us power, sang the Manic Street Preachers, but what really happens behind the bookshelves at Wales’ own cultural powerhouse, The National Library of Wales? From novelists to genealogists, PhD students and poets, we spoke to some of the many and varied readers of the National Library of Wales to find out what they are up to behind the bookshelves.
Jacqui Kenton, freelance genealogist, based in Aberystwyth.
“My proximity to The National Library of Wales is very attractive to my clients, with its wealth of historical resources which aren’t available online. Many of them are from the USA or Australia – they are often curious and passionate about their Welsh roots and Aberystwyth isn’t the easiest place to get to so it’s by far cheaper to pay me to look into it for them.
“Living just ten minutes away from the library I’m here at least 3 or 4 times a week. I tend to base myself in the South Reading Room where the parish registers and archives are kept. It’s a true hub of Welsh history and you do feel privileged to work from such a wonderful facility. There are three other genealogists I know working in North Wales, Pembrokeshire and Cardiff, but they will often ask me to access information as so much of the really useful resources are kept here.
I often see other researchers beavering away diligently in the reading rooms, but as you would expect there is a deathly hush. Every now and then you hear some excited chatter when something is discovered but generally noise is frowned upon.
“I get all sorts of commissions – from an Australian goldminer who gave me some names and locations and just said ‘go’, to people who have begun their research but have hit a brick wall. I always hope I can help them but I work forensically – I will only work with absolute proof, so if I can’t be sure I have the right person I will tell them. The biggest issue I face as a Welsh family history researcher is commonality. Being given a Jones can be a
horror as it casts the net so widely and the same goes for Davies, Hughes and Richards. Further back in Welsh history, patronymics can also be an issue. Generally speaking, if your family were posh, it’s quite easy to find records of wills, land deeds and the like to help in the search, but the same goes for criminality, there are lots of records of the badly behaved.
“Sometimes, I’ll get requests for something other than family trees. I was recently commissioned by Christie’s in New York to look into the provenance of two tables they had for auction. It was thought that they might have been owned by Sir Watkins Williams-Wynn of Welsh nobility and they wanted me to prove the link. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so but while looking into it via account books and letters at the library I discovered a fascinating tale of a servant who was eventually hung for his crimes. I am considering writing a book about the story I found there.”
Sir Watkin loved masquerades and theatre. In September 1769 he attended the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford, organised by David Garrick. Garrick was a great promoter of Shakespeare and he advocated a more natural style of acting. Not content with just watching, Sir Watkin had his own theatre built at Wynnstay [by Gandon]. An annual week of amateur dramatics took place, featuring Sir Watkin, his family and the staff. One of the performers was Juba Vincent, the black boy servant. Sheridan and David Garrick both visited Wynnstay, though Garrick snootily declined to perform with amateurs. A bill for theatre equipment by Alexander Johnston for 4 weeks at Wynnstay and for work in London included:
- 24 yds fine Irish linnen for the transparency
- 6 yds white sarcenet for the Temple of Apollo
- 23 yds canvis sent to Wynnstay for Mr Sandby to paint on
- Painting a pallace flate with a sett of collumn wings and sky……
- A piece of fine green shelloon for the great curtain & rings etc…..
- Pullys, box holes & cleets…
- A tin lightning box & macheen
- Lamp and cover for the transparency….
- A fancy’d dress for Mr Cassie to speak to the poppets in….
- 2 busts of Shakespeare
Other scenes were painted by George Wilkinson who apparently performed at the play. A detailed inventory provides us with a virtual tour of the theatre storerooms30.
Wardrobe in ladies’ dressing room, 2nd shelf:
- A black velvet gown and apron
- A blue silk gown and petticoat trimmed with silver…
- A jacket and petticoat of plaid stuff once wore by Miss Grenville in Masquerade..
- 4 helmets made of pasteboard
- Old boots & shoes….in an old hamper:
- A pair of old high topped boots wore by Mr Foot in the character of Major Sturgeon
- An old pair of boot wore by John Moody in ye Journey to London
- Wardrobe in gentlemen’s dressing room, shelf 1:
- A soldier’s coat, waistcoat and breeches…
- A pearl coloured silk coat laced with gold…
- Suit for the character of Pistol
- Punche’s suit
- Falstaff’s belly
- Falstaff’s breeches & remnant of his coat….
The seats were upholstered in crimson padua to match the wallpaper and the auditorium was illuminated by dozens of spermaceti candles. The audience was composed mostly of local gentry. Mrs Owen of Brogyntyn received a letter from her agent and friend John Jones who had attended in 1784:.
Sir Watkin being summon’d to London, We had only four nights Plays: The Tragedy was very well perform’d….After the Saturday Night’s play, Sir Watkin supp’d with his company & then sett out to attend his parliamentary duty, on Monday the 12th instant.56
Wynnstay by Ingleby (NLW)
Colonel Thomas Johnes, Member of Parliament and Lord-Lieutenant of Cardiganshire, most well-known for the development of the wooded and landscaped Hafod Estate in Ceredigion towards the close of the eighteenth century, died on the 23 April 1816 aged 68 years. He left a legacy which is still preserved in the Hafod landscape, and in the collection of Hafod Press items held here at the Library, that I have had the privilege of cataloguing.
In past accounts of the Estate, there is much praise for the new mansion built by Johnes from the designs of Thomas Baldwin of Bath in the Gothic style, the extensive planting of trees on the Estate (from 1796-1801, over 2 million planted, and 200,000 each year after that!), not to mention his collection of miscellaneous art treasures and library. There are much less detailed accounts of his printing press, known as The Hafod Press.
The establishment of the private press was the outcome of the owner’s circumstances – Johnes, being a keen agriculturist, was eager to fulfil his many visionary schemes for the Estate, but was also anxious to publish his translations of French texts. The printing of these literary works would have meant lengthy absences from home, so the only solution to this problem, despite the cost and labour, was to set up his own press on his property, enabling him to carry out his favourite pursuits of agriculture and the publishing of his translations.
The Hafod Press was therefore set up presumably early in 1803 at Pwll Peiran, about a mile and a half from the house, with the careful craftsman James Henderson employed as printer during the seven years of its existence.
It was here that Johnes’ English translation of ‘Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France and the adjoining countries’ was the first printed output of the press in four instalments from 1803 onwards, and ‘Memoirs of the life of Sir John Froissart’ in 1810. The title-pages of each volume include a quaint copper-plate engraving of Hafod itself.
“Memoirs of the life of Sir John Froissart” with a copper engraving of Hafod estate.
These Hafod Press items and many others can be found in the Library’s collections.
A world first
Since the National Library appointed a Wikipedian in Residence in January 2015 many interesting and exciting collaborations have occurred, and the Library is now pioneering a brand new idea – Give a Wikidata expert access to Library metadata so that they can turn it into linked up Wikidata.
The idea of a ‘Wikipedia’ Visiting Scholars is not new, and the scheme, which gives volunteer Wikipedia editors free access to Library collections, has been run by the Wikipedia Library in the United States for several years, but bringing in a Wikidata specialist to work with data sets, as a visiting scholar, is a world first.
Wikidata is a linked database that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It contains millions of pieces of data on all sorts of subjects, which all link together to form a hive of knowledge and, like all Wiki projects any one can contribute and reuse the Wikidata for free.
A sample of the Library’s huge Geoff Charles photographic collection. Collections can easily be explored geographical using Wikidata.
Wikidata was used to create this Histropedia timeline of National Library Collections with Wikipedia articles.
The first Wikidata Visiting Scholar is Simon Cobb who recently graduated Aberystwyth University with an MA in Information and Library Studies and now works for Leeds University Library. On becoming our Wikidata Visiting Scholar Simon said;
“I will be working to add some of the National Library of Wales’ collections to Wikidata, accompanied by high quality metadata that will link individual items to associated places, people, temporal periods and much more besides. This has the potential to reveal new and interesting links between materials, both within the National Library and far beyond, and this is what I find particularly exciting about having the opportunity to work with the National Library’s datasets and Wikidata.”
Our Wikidata Visiting Scholar volunteering at a Wikidata Edit-a-thon at the National Library.
Our Visiting Scholar’s first task is to use Metadata for 3000 images from the Welsh Landscape collection, which are available on Wikimedia Commons, to create detailed linked data. Simon will then work with the Library and volunteers in the Wikidata community to explore new ways of exploring and analysing the data and associated images.
An image from the Welsh Landscape Collection demonstrating the level of detailed linked data our volunteer is creating for each image.
Wikidata already contains over 17 million entries and is growing fast. At the same time software developers are creating increasingly innovative tools for exploring and analyzing this data. It is hoped that sharing National Library of Wales metadata openly for projects such as this, will enable and inspire the public use of our digital collections and data in many exciting and innovative ways.
This trial scheme is being supported by the Wikipedia Library, and it’s hoped that it can be used to attract other cultural institutions to run similar projects in the near future.
Wikipedian in Residence
The dour visage of R.S. Thomas is scarcely associated with laughter and levity. Yet he could mock himself as some unknown writer of verses during his friendship with the naturalist, William Condry. They met when Thomas was vicar of Eglwys-fach (1954–1967) and Condry was living at Ynys Edwin on the future RSPB reserve at Ynyshir.
R S Thomas
They shared a passion for ornithology and they undertook a bird-watching expedition to Spain together in 1966. The Library has recently acquired a file of letters to William (Bill) and Penny Condry by R.S. Thomas and his wife, Elsi, written from Aberdaron vicarage and subsequent abodes, 1968-1998. The letters discuss mainly their wildlife interests, frequently mentioning the bird reserve at Ynyshir and the start of Condry’s wardenship in 1969. The proper maintenance of Bardsey Island as a nature reserve was of deep concern to them both.
Other topics include gardening, family matters and Thomas’ personal philosophies.
His remarks reveal a dry, self-deprecating wit. On a trip to Greece, he wrote:
I looked hard for God on Olympos but found only Crested Tits
and contemplating his own mortality:
I would die happy if I could see a Leach’s Petrel. Perhaps when I arrive the Greater-Crested God will arrange a fly-past in my honour. Or if I go to the other place the fork-tailed one will arrange for me to see a hybrid Storm/Leach and die laughing…’
The fire-and-brimstone priest was human after all. The congenial company of a fellow ornithologist had clearly succeeded, where most had failed, in eliciting humour from this sternest of Welsh vicars.
Hilary Peters, Assistant Archivist
Rhingyll with spear (Peniarth MS 28, f.6v)
Coinciding with the Library’s Words of War: conflict in Welsh literature exhibition, Dr David Moore will be talking this Wednesday about one of the most interesting periods in both the literature and the military history of Wales, namely the eleventh and early twelfth centuries.
This was a time of renaissance in the literature of Wales – the Mabinogi, Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Gogynfeirdd, and much more. It was also a time of bitter warfare involving not only the Welsh themselves but also Normans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and others, all of whom had their own perspectives on events.
What can we learn from the literature about warfare in Wales at the time? Gerald of Wales was responsible for many of the ideas now common in the popular imagination, but how do his observations compare with what we know from other literary sources? Was Gerald right to portray the Welsh as militarily unsophisticated, relative to the Normans? Was their method of fighting really that different, and if so, why? And was warfare in Wales really as brutal as he claimed? Both sides learned from each other, and also from the often ignored Anglo-Saxons and Vikings.
Find out more at ‘Warfare and literature in Wales 1039-1136’, 1.15pm in the Drwm, Wednesday 6 April (free of charge).
Since December, the following items and collections have been made
available via the Digital Gallery on the NLW website as well as the
NLW MS 24068F: Confirmatio of Henry de Gower
A Latin parchment, dated 21 May 1328, that revealed the circumstances
surrounding the election of Master Henry de Gower as Bishop of St David’s.
Peniarth MS 109: Lewys Glyn Cothi
A volume of ‘cywyddau’ in the bard Lewys Glyn Cothi’s own hand,
containing elegies and ‘cywyddau’ in praise of Welsh noblemen.
Brogyntyn MS I.27: Brogyntyn Lute Book
The Brogyntyn manuscript contains music for the lute copied about 1595
and transcripts of poems, elegies and legal miscellanea.
Peniarth MS 513D: Recipes collected by Merryell Williams
A volume of cooking and medicinal recipes collected by Merryell Williams
of the Ystumcolwyn Estate, Montgomeryshire, towards the end of the 17th
century and beginning of the 18th century.
NLW MS 22102A: Autobiography of Private Thomas Jeremiah
A Short Account of the Life and Adventures of Private Thomas Jeremiah,
23rd or Royal Welch Fusiliers 1812-1837, including His Experiences at
the Battle of Waterloo.
NLW 13248i-iiB: Dyddgoviant William Owen Pughe
The diary of the lexicographer and antiquarian, William Owen Pughe
(1759-1835), for the period 1811-1835.
NLW MS 11117B: John Harries’ Book of Incantations
A manuscript from the library of John Harries, of Pantcoy, Cwrtycadno,
Carmarthenshire, astrologer and medical practitioner, containing many
illustrated spells and astrological signs.
Sir John Rhŷs Papers
Letters and cards from Whitley Stokes, 1871-1909.
A brand new section on our website dedicated to digitised historical maps, showcasing over
300 maps including Ptolemy’s ‘Prima Europe Tabula’ – the oldest map in our collection,
Humphrey Llwyd’s ‘Cambriae Typus’, Christopher Saxton’s proof map of Wales (1580),
a whole series of of 16th and 17th century county maps of Wales and nautical maps.
The section also provides online access for the first time to over 200 estate maps.
The items are displayed in the new viewer which allows users to:
– zoom in/out;
– view full screen;
– view details of the item’s catalogue record;
– embed the viewer in other websites.
Morfudd Nia Jones
It was wonderful to see Mary Jones’s Bible return to Bala recently to be shown to children at local primary schools and exhibited at the Mary Jones World visitor and education centre. The Bible is usually stored in the Bible Society’s archive in Cambridge University, and Mary Jones’s story has an important place in the history of the Society’s formation.
Have you heard Mary Jones’s story? And did you know that there is also a ‘Mary Jones Bible’ in the National Library of Wales’s collections? At first glance, there is nothing that would seem to link this old Bible with Mary Jones. The key evidence is to be found in a brief letter explaining its background …
Who was Mary Jones?
Mary Jones’s story has been told many times over the decades. She was a 15-year-old girl who, in 1800, walked about 25 miles barefoot from her home in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, near Dolgellau, to Bala to purchase a copy of the Bible from the Reverend Thomas Charles.
It is said that Mary’s journey made such an impression on Thomas Charles that he proposed to the Religious Tract Society that a society be established to supply Bibles to Wales. Her story was an inspiration to the movement that led to the formation of the Bible Society in 1804.
More than one ‘Mary Jones Bible’?
How could this also be called ‘Mary Jones’s Bible’? It appears that there was more than one: the handwritten letter concerning this Bible supports the belief that Mary bought three copies of the Bible when she arrived at Bala, one for herself (the one that was recently exhibited in Bala) and another two for other members of the family.
The letter states that this is one of the three Bibles that Thomas Charles gave to Mary Jones, which she then gave to her niece Lydia Williams. The author of the letter, Lizzie Rowlands, also explains how the Bible came into her possession: that it was given to her by Lydia Williams as she lay on her deathbed, and that Lizzie Rowlands later gave it to Dr Lewis Edwards, Principal of the Calvinistic Methodist College in Bala.
I now wonder what happened to the third ‘Mary Jones Bible’ …
The National Library of Wales’s collections include over 6 million books, over 1.5 million maps, 950,000 photographs, 250,000 hours of film and television, 150,000 hours of radio and sound recordings, 50,000 pictures as well as the largest archival collection in Wales.
There are so many treasures to be found in these collection and so much more to discover here.
Dr Dafydd Tudur, Digital Access Section Manager
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