Tomorrow is Halloween – the eve of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day. It is also the anniversary of what is regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation – the appearance of Matrin Luther’s 95 theses. This year is special – it is the 500th anniversary of the event.
So it is an ideal time to draw attention to one of the Library’s more fascinating collections. Edmund Jones (1702-93) of Pontnewydd near Pontypool was popularly known as Yr Hen Broffwyd (the Old Prophet) and his library of books is the most interesting if not the only chapel library of such rarity to have survived in Wales. It comprises 80 volumes of Welsh and English Protestant sermons and theological writings, mainly from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, almost all of which have been marked by Edmund Jones. Some have detailed notes, such as his opinion on the contents of the volume and from whom he received it; in two of the books he wrote inside that they were given to him by John Wesley. The books have all been catalogued by myself, and are therefore available for users to read and research the impact that these early Protestant sermons had on Jones and the Welsh public.
Edmund Jones was deeply interested in the new Methodist movement in Wales in the 18th century pioneered by men such as Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland and William Williams, Pantycelyn, (whose birth was celebrated this year and noted in this blog a couple of weeks ago). His form of Christianity was more experiential and heartfelt than the cerebral form which was still favoured by many in the established Anglican Church at the time. He professed a belief in spiritualism and apparitions which may have been derived from the new ideas spreading at the time. His reputation in this regard rests on his alias of The Old Prophet and a book which he wrote entitled Relations of Apparitions in Wales. This contains accounts of alleged supernatural occurrences in Wales, which Jones attested to. Can you, the reader, find any evidence in some of the notes seen in his books (see images above) to confirm some of his strange beliefs?
UNESCO’s World Day for Audio-Visual Heritage (WDAVH) is celebrated by screen and sound archives all over the world. It takes place each year on October 27th, and its aim is to raise awareness of the importance of audio-visual material. Every year there is a theme to WDAVH, and the theme this year is ‘Discover, Remember and Share’. The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is an extensive audio-visual collection, and now the Archive’s staff would like to share a few choice items from the collection that have been discovered, and why it all needs to be remembered.
Wilhelmina Barnden Two of my favourite films both feature memorable characters, one a sincere and hardworking man who loves his job, the other a ‘shy soul’ who lives a bleak and lonely existence.
The first film is ‘Kidwelly Castle’ (1973). Will Gower, the Stonemason at Kidwelly Castle, is undoubtedly the star of the film, which was made to promote the castle. Will gives an endearing commentary on the love of his work at the castle, and tells us of Gwenllian, a local heroine who led an army against the Normans.
The second film is a wonderful portrayal of the R.S. Thomas poem ‘The Airy Tomb’ (1963). The narrator recites the bleak tale of Twm, a sad soul who lives and dies alone in his house on the mountainside. The words and images come together to give us an atmospheric portrait of a life not fully lived.
Angharad Griffiths Since coming to work for the archive over five years ago I have come across many wonderful films, and television clips as part of my work, but the one that always come to the fore of my mind is ‘Baby Marred 1955-59’. Firstly, the film is simply adorable – it is a charming record of a baby growing into a toddler, with her loving and playful sister Annes at her side. But for me, the fact that this was one of the first films I digitised after coming back from maternity leave really made me realise the importance and impact these films can have upon people. Obviously I do not know these children, and yet this simple home movie conveys the shared experience of being a parent – the joy of seeing milestones reached – and of seeing the relationship between siblings bloom. I realised that this film would not have meant as much to me before I became a mother, and so it then struck me that other films I may not immediately make a connection with may mean the world to someone else. Perhaps it will remind them of their childhood, of a job they used to love, or reignite memories of friends and family past. In short, this film reminded me why what we do is so worthwhile, and why it is so important to preserve and share the material in our care.
Emma Towner ‘Send out your Homing Pigeons Dai’ is a film that celebrates both poetry and pigeons. As an avid reader and writer of poetry, I fell in love with this film instantly after only watching the first few minutes. It is one of my favourite films that we hold in our collection because through the use of images, poems by Idris Davies come to life. Along with his poetry, William Robinson shares with us the story of his pigeons, and by doing so touches our hearts with his passion of caring for birds. He says, “If you’ve got a hobby, you’ve got to love it!” and it’s very clear that William loved caring for his pigeons.
Mark Davies One of my favourite current titles in the collection is the ‘First Through Train from Euston to Rhyl, 1908’. The original 35mm nitrate suffers from considerable deterioration but in a way this adds to its magical dream like imagery. What fascinates me most about this film are the curious faces and attire of 1908. Whilst digitising the reel, we discovered new details of the film that were hand written on a sign that were attached to the stationary engine. As these were sat close to the top left frame corner – a slight modification of the scanner’s geometry revealed further information printed on the frame edge and in the perf rebate area – confirming the train’s location. Enjoy the film!
Mapping change and changing maps – blog post by Professor Rhys Jones, Aberystwyth University as part of our #LoveMaps Campaign
“There is something disconcerting about maps that present a familiar place or region in an unfamiliar way, and there is nothing as disconcerting, I would venture, as a map of one’s own country that looks, somehow, different from what one is used to. One such series of maps is the one that appears in Edward Hull’s (1882) monograph on the physical history of the British Isles. The maps show the changing extent of the British Isles as a result of the ice ages that have taken place over the Quaternary period or, in other words, over the past 1.8 million years. One can see from these maps that the shape of the Brtish Isles has evolved markedly over time as a result of the sea level change associated with the waxing and the waning of the ice sheets. Avid readers of this series of blogs will be aware, by now, that my exposure to nonformism from a very early age has made me prone to drawing out three themes from the maps that have inspired each blog. Readers will not be surprised that the same pattern continues here.
First of all, viewing Hull’s maps of the changing contours of the British Isles reminds us of the important role played by maps of one’s own country in acting as banal reminders of who we are and of the place with which we are connected. Michael Billig, back in the 1980s, showed that nationalism was an endemic group identity in all countries and that a series of banal symbols helped remind individuals of their membership of a particular nation. Maps of one’s own country fulfil this function. Weather maps, for instance, are never labelled with the name of the country, whose weather is being described; this is ‘our’ weather, as it relates to ‘our’ country, which helps to reinforce in us an attachment with ‘our’ nation. And that is why maps such as Hulls are so disconcerting. They make the familiar unfamiliar. They show that the geographical certainty that one is so used to is anything but. If the constancy of the physical character of our country is so illusory, what does that say about our nation and our identity?
Second, Hull’s maps help us appreciate that our coastline has always been, if the reader will excuse the pun, fluid. Of course, the changing nature of our coastline is not just an historic process but one that is very much a pressing concern in many coastal communities today. Not far from where I’m typing, in Borth and Fairbourne, attempts have been made to build and reinforce sea defences as a way of prolonging the life expectancy of these settlements. While the long-term future of these settlements may well be uncertain, there is some hope that their predicament can help to bring home the reality of the impact of climate change on our lives. Too often we think of climate change as something that is abstract or, at best, consider it as something that affects people and environments in other places (the human communities on the Pacific island of Vanuatu and the polar bear in the Arctic being prime examples here). It may be, though, that we need more local – and, therefore, perhaps more real – reference points than this if we are to change our way of living in order to minimise the long-term impact of climate change. The constant battle against the seas, tides and waves in places like Borth and Fairbourne, in this respect, may help to provide the much-needed impetus for change for us in Wales.
Third, Hull’s maps also help to make a far broader point about the ability of maps to be able to represent change. The maps that we have grown up with in atlases or on walls provide unparalleled static representations of the distribution of phenomena in space but they often struggle to represent changing distributions over time. A series of maps, such as those depicted in Hull’s monograph, can go some way to showing the nature of changes over time and the creative use of choropleths and arrows can, to a certain extent, represent dynamic change. But this is dynamism up to a point. It may be that digital mapping provides the best solution here as a way of charting changes in the past, as well as the character of evolving presents and possible futures. A good case in point is the web-based map, which has been produced to model the impact of different levels of sea level rise on coastal communities in the Netherlands and the UK (http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/netherlands.shtml). I do like a paper map, and even now, in middle age, I enjoy a habit that I developed during my youth; namely leafing through an atlas. And yet, it may be that is a past-time for a bygone age. We may need to change our maps if we are to be able to map change effectively.”
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Over the next four weeks Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws will introduce her favourite art works from the Library’s collection as part of the #LoveArt Campaign.
She has chosen Cardiganshire Landscape by John Elwyn as her first choice.
“Paintings convey so much: memories, images, people, colours, the shape of buildings and a hundred thousand and other things. But the paintings by John Elwyn, especially those of the landscapes of south west Wales, convey my childhood. The sun is out, the grass is green and the farm buildings shine white in the heat. The smell of the grass that has been cut is mixed with the diesel of the tractor and if I’m lucky I would sit on top of the bales as we go back to the hay shed. The summer holidays last forever and no one is worried that I’m in the sun from the beginning of the day until the sun goes down (though I’m sure they all know exactly where the little girl is).
John Elwyn’s paintings belong to the period of childhood innocence – no rain and no pain! Seeing the “Cardiganshire Landscape” painting gives me goosebumps.
With the Library’s current exhibition Arthur and Welsh Mythology looking at Wales’ rich tradition of myths, legends and folklore, including the Welsh Arthurian tradition, now is perhaps an opportune moment to note that amongst the Library’s Welsh Print Collection is one of Wales’ largest collections of Arthurian literature and works on the Arthurian legend.
With its roots in early Welsh poems such as Y Gododdin, early Welsh tales such as Culhwch ac Olwen and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittania, the Arthurian legend encompasses a variety of literary forms, including the chronicle, the romance, poetry and the novel, and a number of other artistic forms such as opera and film. The Arthurian legend and its mythos also give us an example of a truly Trans-European literary tradition (or transatlantic tradition if we include the Connecticut Arthur). Starting from its roots in Welsh poetry and folklore, Arthurian literature and legend spread across Europe, with English, French, Italian, German and Nordic influences, amongst others transforming, cross-fertilising and enriching the genre.
The Arthurian legend has also proved to be an especially durable and enduring literary tradition, from early Welsh poems and folk-tales through to the chivalrous romances of the medieval period, the Arthurian revival in the nineteenth century and the fantasy novels and historical fictions of the twentieth and twenty-first century. During this time the Arthurian legend has also been used for a variety of political and ideological purposes with the uses made of the legend to support both Welsh and Norman claims to the island of Britain during the medieval period just one example of how Arthur was used in this way.
The Library’s collection of printed works related to the Arthurian legend is as varied as its history. Comprising over 1,500 titles, the collection, dating from the early nineteenth century onwards, reflects its trans-European nature including works in Welsh, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Norwegian. It also reflects the variety of literary forms with works ranging from early Welsh poems and tales, the chivalric poems and tales of the medieval period through to the novels of John Steinbeck, T. H. White, Bernard Cornwell and Rosemary Sutcliffe alongside the Monty Python and the Holy Grail screenplay. The collection also includes a large number of academic works on the Arthurian legend and Arthurian Literature.
So if you have an interest in Arthurian literature, Arthurian legend or the mythology of ancient Britain or are visiting the exhibition and want to learn more, why not take a moment to explore the collection through the Library catalogue.
The last month has been a busy period for the Broadcast Archive project as we prepare for our public consultation. The consultation has now started and we’re eager to hear your opinion!
A programme of activities is being planned for the next three months and we are looking for individuals or groups that are keen to take part or contribute. Details of events will be shared on our Twitter page: @NatBA_NLW and Facebook, look out for the latest news. The first step is live from today – our questionnaire is now open.
Our focus whilst developing this project is you, the user. We want to hear about how you would like to use the broadcast archive or the digital viewing hubs and we would love to hear about the kinds of events and activities you would like to attend. So, why not spare five minutes of your valuable time to complete this questionnaire so that we design a project that answers your needs? And then if you really enjoy it, why not persuade friends and family to take part too?
October 21st is International Home Movie Day, and our collection here at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is a great place to explore a wealth of such films dating from the 1920s onwards. Once upon a time, Home Movies were seen as personal accounts of daily life, and due to their format only viewed by a small number of people, but modern technology has made it so they can be shared. We have recently digitised over seven hundred of the films in our care, many of which are now available to view for free on the BFI Player here. It’s almost like you’re looking through someone’s window, only the window is someone else’s camera lens.
Our collection ranges from home movies depicting the deeply personal, to celebrating the wider community. They are all humbling for the care, effort and cost which the filmmaker must have incurred, but most importantly they offer something that is very real and (largely) unedited.
These home movies offer an opportunity for investigation, reflection and hopefully inspiration. Although the method and media has changed drastically in the following years, our drive to capture and share our lives has become – seemingly – evermore insatiable. The home movies of yesteryear recorded on Super 8, projected on living room walls and stored in attics, are now recorded on phones, projected through social media and stored in the cloud. Perhaps one day we will have a department dedicated to preserving Snapchats, Instagrams, Tweets and Facebook live posts of specific interest to Wales and relating to its culture!
Over the Summer, the Archive contributed to a wonderful programme called ‘Wales’s Home Movies’ which was broadcast last Sunday (October 15th) on BBC Wales. It showed personal film footage caught on camera, and interviewed the people that were in the films, who shared stories of the days that had been captured. If you missed it, or would like to view it again, it is available on the BBC iPlayer here until November 14th. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be inspired (almost) daily by our collection, and you are always welcome to visit us in person at the National Library of Wales to see how we care for these precious films, and safeguard them for future generations.
“It is ironic that I am the most loved & most honoured Welsh artist of all time & yet I am hated by the art world.” – Kyffin Williams (diary) 16th October 1993.
We are delighted to reveal plans to hold an extensive exhibition which will launch in February 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the defining Welsh artists of the 20th century – Sir Kyffin Williams.
The relationship between the Library and the artist first began in 1949 at the start of Kyffin’s career when we first purchased one of his paintings. From this point onwards this relationship was cultivated through consistent purchases, donations and exhibitions until his death in September 2006 when the Library was bequeathed a generous part of his estate. The Library’s existing collection together with the bequest, forms the largest most comprehensive collection of material relating to Kyffin Williams in existence.
So what has the Library been doing with this generous gift until now? Organising and presenting a comprehensive exhibition of his work is a product of several years of sorting, cataloguing, conservation and study, although this is still on-going and there is much to do. We have been making his collections accessible to the public both on-line, through exhibitions and our loans programme, particularly with our partner Oriel Kyffin / Oriel Ynys Môn. In fact our relationship with Oriel Kyffin is a great legacy of Kyffin’s bequest, where hugs now replace handshakes at meetings! The Library and Oriel Kyffin will be teaming up to share collections during the centenary year along with working together on a rich programme of outreach activities.
The iconic style and subject matter of Kyffin’s work is appealing as it has become synonymous with the vision of Wales and Welshness, an essential aspect of our understanding of who we are. But who was he?
“I am the greatest living expert on myself” – Kyffin Williams (diary), 29th January 1993
How do we represent such an iconic artist who has been written and talked about by so many? We felt the best way of doing this was to draw upon the artists own words – from his own diaries and letters – to interpret his creations. We will look ‘behind the frame’ to learn about his technique, what inspired him and how his personality and complexity of his character and health influenced his life and work.
Our patronage of this artist over the years has culminated in this exhibition and a whole host of events and outreach activities during the centenary year. It is particularly pertinent that – as we come to a close in the year of legends – we launch a celebration of this unique and legendary individual.
Delving down into the deep – blog post by Professor Rhys Jones, Aberystwyth University as part of our #LoveMaps Campaign
Geological maps have always fascinated me. There is something intriguing about the ability of geologists to construct the nature of rock formations under the earth – synclines, anticlines, faults and the like – on the basis of what they know about the geology of the surface of the earth and a little bit of logic. This early map of the geology of the South Wales coalfield is a classic example of the geologist’s art. It shows the location of those different rock formations that were crucial to the development of industry in South Wales; the places where one would find the iron ore and the coal seams that sustained much of the economy and society of South Wales for nearly two hundred years.
Three interesting themes, in my mind, arise in the context of this map. First of all, it serves to remind us of the significant connection that has existed between the discipline of Geology and Wales as a country. The development of the discipline has been intimately connected with Wales, as can be seen by the use of terms such the ‘Cambrian’ and the ‘Silurian’ to name geological time periods. The fact that the Cambrian period was so named by an English geologist called Adam Sedgwick and the Silurian period was named by a Scottish aristocrat called Sir Roderick Murchison should not detract from the fact that names possessing strong connections with Wales are now used as ways of describing periods of geological time throughout the world. Wales, in this sense, has had a global presence from the very beginnings of Geology as a discipline.
Second, the map is particularly interesting for me for personal reasons. Born in Carmarthen and raised in Llanelli, I am someone who has been familiar from an early age – perhaps unwittingly admittedly – of the impact of geology on the nature of the economy, society and culture of a place or area. Carmarthenshire, in this respect, is a county that has been clearly shaped by its geology, with those communities in the east of the county being totally different from those in the west and north. The Gwendraeth Valley is particularly interesting, in this regard, since it is here that we witness the coexistence of an industrial society and culture – linked to the seams of anthracite to be found there – and a more agricultural society and culture. It has become unfashionable to describe oneself as an environmental determinist – or, in other words, someone who believes that different aspects of the environment conditions what it is possible for humans to do and achieve – but the obvious link between the geology of the South Wales coal field and the changing character of society and culture in places like Carmarthenshire does give one some pause for thought in this respect.
Third, and finally, the map acts as somewhat of a symbol of the large-scale destruction of the environment that was caused by the industrial revolution in places such as South Wales. We are all too familiar with the impact of heavy industry on different aspects of nature in the region; be it the rivers, lakes and soils that were polluted or the lungs of the colliers that were ruined. It gives us hope, in this respect, when one hears of rivers in South Wales that have been re-populated with salmon and trout. More broadly, I wonder whether this negative experience of industrialisation has also acted as something of a spur – even at a subliminal level – for politicians and policy-makers to try to position Wales as a world-leader in relation to sustainable development and the protection of the environment more broadly. Developments such as the creation of the single environmental body of Natural Resources Wales signals an attempt on the part of Wales to protect the environment in a more holistic way than exists in most other countries. In addition, the recent passing of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, whose aim is to place sustainable development at the heart of everything that public bodies do in Wales, is also testament to Wales’ overall commitment to mainstreaming sustainable development and wellbeing as key principles of how we should be governed. If that is the case, then the environmental costs associated with industrialisation – those represented in some ways by this map of the South Wales coalfield – could well have laid the foundation for a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable future for Wales as a country.
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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.