Posted - 24-02-2015 No Comments


Welsh First World War digital archive nominated for award

A digital archive of the Welsh Experience of the First World War developed by the National Library of Wales has been nominated for a prestigious international digital humanities award. was launched in November 2013. It brings together a freely accessible digital collection of archives and special collections of Wales that relate to the impact of the First World War in Wales: tribunal records, archives of the Welsh Army Corps established by Lloyd George, and the manuscripts of the Welsh War poets, including Hedd Wynn and David Jones are all part of the collection of 220,000 digital items, much of it relating to the unseen histories of the War.

It has been nominated for The Digital Humanities Award for “best use of Digital Humanities for Public Engagement”. The Digital Humanities awards are an international initiative to recognize excellence in the digital humanities. The nomination of acknowledges its use by a wide audience, and its re-use for commemoration and education. Librarian and Chief Executive of the National Library of Wales, Dr. Aled Gruffydd Jones, said “We are delighted at this nomination, which recognizes the community engagement aspects of this important collaboration especially in the provision of content by communities and local organisations. This is especially gratifying for the National Library, as our new strategy, Knowledge for All, emphasizes community engagement around documentary heritage”.

Project Director, Professor Lorna Hughes (now at the School of Advanced Study, University of London) said: “Since its launch, has been used extensively for research, teaching, and public engagement, and this nomination recognizes this impact. Images of unknown conscripts and recruits from the digital archive were part of artist Bedwyr Williams sound and video installation Traw, presented at the site of the North Wales Memorial Arch, Bangor in August 2014. The digital archive is also helping schoolchildren in Wales to develop digital skills and literacy in the Wales at War project (”.

The digital collection was developed thanks to a £500,000 grant from Jisc, the UK funder of digital infrastructure and resources, and by Welsh Government funding. The project was led by the National Library of Wales in collaboration with Swansea University, Cardiff University, Bangor University, Aberystwyth University, the University of Wales Trinity St Davids, the local archives of Conwy, Flintshire, Glamorgan, and Gwent, BBC Cymru Wales Archive and community content developed with The People’s Collection Wales

The award also acknowledges the hard work put in by many people in developing the resource: staff at the partner organisation, and the collections, systems and IT staff at NLW. Thanks to their input, the resource was delivered on time and within budget.

Voting for the Digital Humanities awards closes on February 28th. Vote at

Posted - 16-02-2015

Collections / News and Events

Wilde, women and dear Mr Rhys

Oscar Wilde from flickr commons

Oscar Wilde

Staff have been puzzled for some time by the appearance of an undated letter by writer, wit and poet Oscar Wilde among the Sir John Rhŷs Papers here at the National Library of Wales. Why would such a debonair figure be writing to the studious Professor of Celtic at Oxford University? What was the connection between Wilde and Rhŷs?

The clue is in the headed note-paper, showing that the letter was written between the years 1887 and 1889, when Wilde was, of all things, editor of a popular women’s magazine. (Is this the man who claimed in one of his plays that ‘the world was made for men and not for women’?!).

In the letter addressed to ‘Dear Mr Rhys’, Wilde regrets his inability to travel to Oxford to accept the Professor’s hospitality, but thanks him for his ‘kind permission to photograph the picture’, and hopes that the photographer ‘will be successful in having a good light’. Was Rhŷs himself, the ‘ugly gnat of Rhos-y-bol’,  appearing as a pin-up in Woman’s World?

Woman's World 2Our only volume of the magazine (for 1889) yielded no clues, but an online search of the volume for 1888 (courtesy of finally provided an answer. An article by Oxford don William Leonard Courtney on ‘The Women Benefactors of Oxford’ in one of the 1888 issues of the magazine is illustrated by a picture of the ‘East Quadrangle, Jesus College, Feb. 1888’ and a reproduction of the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in the College hall. It seems that Wilde obtained permission for access to Jesus College from Rhŷs as College Bursar, and that this letter is an acknowledgement of that grant of access.

What a wonderful coincidence that Rhŷs, chairman of the first suffragette meeting held at Oxford, is also associated with an article on the female benefactors of that University!

Nia Mai Daniel, Head of Archives and Manuscripts at the National Library, will be unveiling some other remarkable gems among John Rhŷs’s papers at a special conference at Aberystwyth’s Old College this coming Saturday.

Maredudd ap Huw

Posted - 11-02-2015


From Magna Carta to a written Constitution?

E.J. Phelps, the American diplomat and lawyer.

E.J. Phelps, the American diplomat and lawyer.



With the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta coming up in June of this year my attention was drawn to an item in the Gladstone collection (an assemblage of pamphlets sent to Gladstone which are currently being digitised by the Library). It is a published address given by the American diplomat and lawyer E.J. Phelps in 1886, entitled The law of the land. It bears examples of Gladstone’s handwriting and is evidence of his interest in constitutional development.


An emphasis in the pamphlet is the importance of equal rights under the law, so that no one class of people is favoured over others. The most famous clause of the Magna Carta was a foundation for the written constitution of many countries including the U.S.A.:


No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.


Although the clause gave only free men the right for justice and a fair trial, its foundation enabled everybody to enjoy its privileges when succeeding versions were enshrined in law. All but 3 of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta have now been repealed, but it still retains significant symbolic power as a defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a way to safeguard individual liberties.


Another interesting topical point related to the pamphlet, is the current consultation process to look into having a written constitution for the United Kingdom. Until now people have not seen the need for this, but the increase in devolution within the UK has changed matters. A written constitution provides certainty especially when different parts of the UK have different laws. Most countries have a written constitution, but Israel and New Zealand are two exceptions.


Can you, the reader, decipher Gladstone’s handwriting next to a paragraph about the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom?

Gladstone's handwriting on the pamphlet.

Gladstone’s handwriting on the pamphlet.


Hywel Lloyd

Posted - 02-02-2015


Guess who?

The National Library of Wales is tremendously fortunate to have a comprehensive visual record of some of Wales’ most cherished bards, filmmakers, authors, artists and dramatists. The photographer, Julian Sheppard, was commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council from 1967 through to 1990 to take photographs of these remarkable individuals. Sheppard ultimately managed to capture about 7,000 beautiful black and white images.


His collection contains images of literary greats such as Pennar Davies, Kate Roberts, Cynan, Saunders Lewis, John Ormond to name but a few.


Kate Roberts

Kate Roberts

In January 2014, it was decided that we should begin to digitise this engaging collection. I was given the task of creating the metadata, which involved the careful identification and profiling of each individual negative, before uploading the information onto our purpose built digital database. This would provide the scanning operators with the ability to cross-reference their progress against our metadata.


Identifying the individuals in the photographs proved to be rather difficult, because a significant number of contact sheets had nothing more than an identification number. Particularly challenging was the fact that most of the negatives had not been printed either, thus we only had 35mm negatives to refer to.


How was I to remember the face of an individual after turning the page and moving on to the next poet or author? I needed a quick, but comprehensible ‘photographic’ reference, and so came up with a cunning plan…




As soon as I stumbled upon a contact sheet that had no name for the sitter, I would grab a pencil and quickly sketch what I saw through a loupe (a magnifying glass to you and me), in order to obtain – what I hoped was a likeness to the individual. This actually helped a great deal when it came to identifying the people I wasn’t too familiar with… not exactly textbook stuff, but it worked. Here’s an example:

Negative of Alan Llwyd

Sketch of Alan Llwyd

Inverted tones: It is difficult to recognise Alan Llwyd in the 35mm negative.


The Julian Sheppard collection promises to be online soon. We still have a few people left to identify, so please remember to inform a member of the enquiries team if you can put names to some of the faces.


Guto Morgan

Posted - 27-01-2015

Collections / Exhibitions / News and Events

Mystery of the lost eighth Commandment

Yny lhyvyr wyneb ddalenWhy did the author of the first Welsh book omit the eighth of the Ten Commandments (‘thou shall not steal’) from his volume? Was the conscience of John Prise, author of Yny lhyvyr hwnn, troubling him? Is this a deliberate mistake?

Yny lhyvyr hwnn was the first book to be printed in the Welsh language, in 1546. Between its covers, John Prise shows the main priorities of Welsh humanists and their concern for the future of their language. It includes the alphabet, a calendar, horticultural tips, and the basics of the Christian faith. But why omit the eighth of the Ten Commandments?

John Prise had a prominent role in the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, and it is thought that he used his position as a civil servant to amass a substantial and rich library of manuscripts and printed books, including the famous Black Book of Carmarthen. Could he have paid honestly for these volumes, or did they mysteriously fall into his pocket so that he could ‘preserve them for posterity’ in his home at Hereford? Was John Prise a national benefactor or an unscrupulous thief?

Some of his treasures are displayed in a new exhibition‘Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books’ – at the National Library of Wales between the end of January and the end of June, amongst them four manuscripts from Hereford Cathedral, volumes which came originally from the monasteries and priories of Brecon, Hereford and Gloucester.

According to Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library: ‘This is a rare opportunity to see volumes which have been chained to their shelves at Hereford for centuries, and to see them side-by-side with treasures preserved here in Wales. It is an opportunity to question the motives of a Welsh hero, and one of the giants of the Renaissance.’

Yny lhyvyr hwnn has been digitised anew for this exhibition, and published online, and a number of events, including a conference and day school, is part of the season of events at the Library.

On Wednesday, 4 February, at 1.15 in the Library’s Drwm, Dr Eryn White from Aberystwyth University’s Department of History and Welsh History will be looking anew at ‘Syr Siôn Prys, y Dadeni, a’r diwylliant print yng Nghymru’ [Sir John Prise, the Renaissance, and print culture in Wales], an event held in Welsh with simultaneous translation.

The exhibition ‘Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books’, can be seen at the National Library of Wales from 31 January – 27 June 2015.

Posted - 20-01-2015

ArAgor / Collections / News and Events / Reader Services

Wikipedian in Residence – How it will work.

Wikipedia is one of the most viewed websites in the world and the Welsh version is by far the most viewed Welsh language website in the world. It is the largest  encyclopedia ever created, and it is written by the people for the people. Anyone can edit and add content to this rich resource.


With funding support from Wikimedia UK the Wikipedian in Residence is a concept which has already proved its worth in other institutions such as the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the Natural History Museum. Now the National Library of Wales has appointed a Wikipedian in Residence.


The residency will run for one year with the goal of building lasting bridges between The National Library and Wikipedia. This will enable us to share our collections with the world, to improve the quantity and quality of Wikipedia content, particularly in the Welsh language. It is hoped that by supporting and contributing to such a high profile resource we can begin to realise the Library’s ambition of ‘Information for All’ and this in turn will draw people back to our website and to the Library.


The first aspect of the residency will focus on offering workshops to staff, so that they can become wikipedia editors themselves. A series of events called ‘Editathons’ will also be organised, where volunteer editors of all backgrounds can come together and spend a day improving the content on a particular subject, in English or Welsh (or any other language of their choosing).


The second aspect of the residency will involve releasing some of the Library’s digital collections on open licences so that they can be uploaded to Wiki-commons. From there anyone can use the images to improve Wikipedia content. By the end of the residency it is hoped that a more permanent system will be in place, whereby our digital media can be shared with Wikipedia as a matter of course.


From correcting spelling and grammar to creating detailed new articles from scratch, everyone has a role to play in the development of Wikipedia as a portal to Welsh life, culture and history.


Jason Evans

Posted - 19-01-2015

Collections / Exhibitions

The Road to Hell

It came to pass in days of yore

the Devil chanced upon Landore.

Quoth he: “by all this fume and stink

I can’t be far from home, I think.”


Today one can but imagine the “fume and stink” of that insidious sulphurous smoke which inspired this nineteenth century doggerel, but how well I recall my views from the train on the approach to Swansea’s High Street Station – Landore’s diabolical slag lands, the dereliction and a blighted and treeless Kilvey Hill, the ugly and toxic legacies of two centuries of profound industrial activity and brutal pollution.


This was the price that Swansea paid as a foremost cradle of the  Industrial Revolution, an area renowned for its metal smelting and also as the world’s principal centre of copper production during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was famously dubbed Copperopolis. The copper industry’s success stemmed from Swansea’s abundance of local coal and labour, its proximity to Cornish copper ore deposits and a navigable river which facilitated the ore’s direct conveyance to the smelters, initially from Cornwall but subsequently from distant overseas sources.

"Copper smelting houses near Swansea" by Thomas Rowlandson

“Copper smelting houses near Swansea” by Thomas Rowlandson


This recently purchased drawing by Thomas Rowlandson in pen and ink and watercolour with touches of pencil is inscribed “Copper smelting houses near Swansea”. Drawn in August 1797, it provides a glimpse of the city’s industrial beginnings.


Rowlandson depicts the smoke-belching copper furnaces at White Rock on the River Tawe’s east bank. White Rock was one of the earlier smelters and operated from 1736 to 1924. Also included is the newly constructed Smith’s Canal, which provided direct access for coal supplies and beyond the river, open ground where the huge Hafod and Morfa copper works were soon to be constructed and where the communities of Landore, Plas-marl and Morriston would grow. Above, on Clase Hill, stands ‘Morris Castle’, an unconventional Welsh ‘castle’, being in fact a block of workers’ flats dating from about 1775. Its austere ruins now overlook the valley.


On the road in the foreground, a barely discernible and incomplete pencil sketch displays  people, possibly with a barge horse.


Rowlandson’s drawing contains valuable information. The momentous reclamation work and removal of industrial despoilment began in earnest during the mid-1960s, before the concept and study of industrial archaeology had fully evolved and the site of the White Rock Copper Works, perfect for preservation, was lost. The restoration of some of this area’s few remaining historic industrial edifices continues, but these relics are now rarities amongst today’s offices, retail outlets and residential neighbourhoods.


Whilst in Swansea, Rowlandson also visited Mumbles and Caswell Bay, some of this region’s drawings being reproduced and published in 1800 by his companion Henry Wigstead, in his “Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales”. At this time Rowlandson also visited and illustrated other Welsh locations and many of his contemporary original drawings, particularly of Snowdonia, Conwy and Llangollen were bequeathed to the National Library of Wales by Sir John Williams, the Library’s foremost benefactor.


Rowlandson’s “Copper smelting houses” features in the Library’s current ‘Beth Sy’n Newydd?’ or ‘What’s New?’ exhibition which displays some of the recent acquisitions.


Gwilym Tawy

Posted -

Exhibitions / News and Events

The Wolf Hall Henchman… and the National Library of Wales

The broadcast of the BBC2 adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall at 9pm on 21 January heralds an important exhibition at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 10 days later.

A walk-on part in Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies scarcely reflects Welshman John Prise’s supporting role in Thomas Cromwell’s household circle. He had married into Cromwell’s family, and was frequently employed in carrying out the instructions of the King and of his Secretary. Prise wrote down statements made by heretics, collected evidence in support of Henry VIII’s first divorce, and administered the dissolution of some wealthy monasteries. In fact, he could have been one of Cromwell’s most loyal henchmen at Wolf Hall.

However, there’s another side to his character. Prise was also a Welsh ‘Renaissance Man’, passionate about his nation’s history, and an enthusiastic collector of old manuscripts. He preserved the earliest extant Welsh manuscript, the Black Book of Carmarthen, in his own library, and also produced the first Welsh printed book, Yny lhyvyr hwnn, at London in 1546. He may well have obtained monastic treasures as ‘ill-gotten gains’, but he also preserved materials which may otherwise have been destroyed.

A new exhibition at the National Library of Wales will reveal the life and work of John Prise. Some of his own handwritten notebooks will be on display, together with some of the precious manuscripts which he rescued (or perhaps plundered?) from former monastic libraries. This multi-dimensional Welsh Tudor character never bothered to have his portrait painted but he was far more than a faceless, unscrupulous administrator…

Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books, can be seen at the National Library of Wales between 31 January – 27 June 2015.

Posted - 15-01-2015

ArAgor / Collections / News and Events / Reader Services

Wikipedian takes up residence at the National Library of Wales

Wikipedia logo

Try searching for any subject on the Web without finding Wikipedia among your top results! The online encyclopedia has come a long way since its first appearance on 15 January 2001, now attracting hundreds of millions of users each month. A version in the Welsh language was also launched in July 2003 and now contains over 60,000 articles. And what is most remarkable about Wikipedia platforms is that you can not only read its content, but also edit and add to it yourselves.

With such a wide audience and as a resource that has been created and developed by its users, Wikipedia offers a great opportunity to present Wales, its culture, its heritage to its people and the world.

Today, the National Library of Wales celebrates Wikipedia’s fourteenth birthday by announcing the appointment of a Wikipedian in Residence in partnership with Wikimedia UK. The post will last a year and aims to establish a sustainable relationship between the Library and Wikipedia.

The Wikipedian will look at new ways of engaging with users and will organise activities such as ‘editathons’ to assist Library staff and users to contribute to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedian will also work closely with staff throughout the Library to identify materials from the Library’s collections that can be contributed to the Welsh and English versions of Wikipedia in order to raise awareness of Wales and its people.

Jason Evans has been appointed to the role and will begin in post on 19 January.


Jason Evans

Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence at The National Library of Wales


Posted - 13-01-2015

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

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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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