Blog

Posted - 16-07-2018

Collections

Letters from Elsi to Penny

The Library has recently received a donation of letters written by Mildred Elsie Eldridge (Elsi), wife of R.S. Thomas, to Penny Condry of Ynys Edwin, Eglwys-fach. R.S. Thomas had met Penny’s husband, the naturalist and writer, William Condry, through their shared passion for ornithology, and both were involved in the Bardsey Island Trust. It was through a suggestion by William Condry that R.S. Thomas came to be vicar of Eglwys-fach in 1954. Their wives also enjoyed a close friendship which is evident in the letters written by Elsi to Penny between 1953 and 1988. A few of the letters were sent from Manafon rectory before the move to Eglwys-fach. However, the majority were written from subsequent abodes at Aberdaron vicarage and Sarn y Plas, Y Rhiw, Pwllheli, 1967-1988. The contents mostly concern the correspondents’ mutual interest in gardening, ornithology and other wildlife, and they are sometimes illustrated with delightful sketches of mice and plants, reminding us that Elsi was also a successful professiional artist. This extract is fairly typical:

I have just been doing the water colours for R.W.S. autumn exhibition – rugosa alba and a study of a very lovely common lizard which I found who had a very beautiful turquoise tummy and chin. …..The toadflax is 3ft tall in the hedges and the harebells in great drifts on the banks.

In addition there are descriptions of the Thomas family life, their son, Gwydion, William Condry’s work at Ynyshir, conservation and heritage issues in North Wales, particularly the future of Bardsey Island and the garden at Plas yn Rhiw. Not least, we catch a glimpse of R.S. at home, making impressively good jam or heedlessly clumping through the house in his heavy outdoor boots because it was the bird migration season!

Hiliary Peters

 

Posted - 13-07-2018

Collections / Digitisation

Revealing the Objects: Ballads

As of October 2018 the Library will share a number of additional items from its collections on Europeana, a European digital cultural platform. We are currently working with 12 other partner institutions on a project entitled ‘The Rise of Literacy’ which aims to explore the history of reading and writing in Europe. In this weekly blog – ‘Revealing the Objects, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Below is a selection of ballads that will be contributed as part of the project.

Ballad-pamphlets were produced on a mass scale by the new printing presses in Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hawkers often sang ballads aloud in the market-place or at the fairground. With regards to content; some were of a religious and moral tone and others discussed historic and current affairs; such as local and national crimes, riots and industrial accidents and incidences.

The ballad played an important role in the social and cultural life of Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century ballads were being printed at 96 towns and villages across Wales and were bought in their thousands, often by individuals of the lower classes. Their populist nature attracted and recruited many new Welsh readers.

 

Alban Thomas, ‘Cân o senn iw hên feistr Tobacco’, 1718

‘Cân o senn iw hên feistr Tobacco’ was the first ballad to be published in Wales by an official press. It was published by Isaac Carter’s Press at Trefhedyn in 1718. The ballad discusses the evil and immoral nature of tobacco.

Lewis Davies, ‘Pennillion a wnaeth Lewis Davies o Lanrwst, i ffarwelio a’i wlad wrth gychwyn i America’, 18??

Lewis Llanrwst Davies bids farewell to his fellow-countrymen as he begins his journey to America.

Ywain Meirion, ‘Rhyfel-gan, am wrthryfel yr India, a gorchfygu y gelynion, a meddiannau Delhi’, 18??

This broadside is a war-song. Meirion discusses the insurrection of India and the defeat of the ‘enemy’ as the British army take possession of Delhi.

Unknown Author, ‘Ymweliad y cholera, ynghyd â galwad ar bawb i ymofyn am gymod â Duw cyn eu symud i’r byd tragwyddol’, 18??

This ballad introduces two warnings with regards to the cholera epidemic in Wales. It informs of the disease, and it calls on every sufferer to seek reconciliation with God before moving to the eternal world.

Elen Hâf Jones – Digital Access Projects Officer

This post was created as part of the Europeana Rise of Literacy Project

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Posted -

#LoveArt / Collections / Exhibitions / Kyffin Blog

Kyffin Williams’ Seascapes

Kyffin Williams’ emotive seascapes which are on display in the artist’s centenary exhibition here at the National Library, should be celebrated in their own right and stand apart from the artist’s other more well-known works. Kyffin’s highly expressionistic style within these monochrome works manages to convey the movement and the violence of a storm at sea in in a tremendously effective manner, reflecting the artist’s own hidden inner turmoil.

Kyffin’s connection to Trearddur Bay, which is located on the west coast of Holy Island off the coast of Anglesey where many of these seascapes were based can be traced back to the artist’s childhood. As a young boy of six years old who would turn 7 the following week he was sent to Trearddur Bay Boarding School in May 1925. He stated in his memoir ‘Across the Straits’: ‘It did not take me long to fall under the spell of the island’s mood. The storms, the sea mists, the wrecks, the wailing sirens, and in summer the peculiar haze that hung over the island, all made Trearddur Bay a very special place’.

The expressionistic impasto technique used in such works as ‘Stormy Sea’ was explained by the artist in the book ‘The Land and the Sea’, 1998: ‘These great storms have always excited me and I seem to be stimulated by the noise and energy of the waves – to such an extent that, when I transfer my frenzied scribbles onto canvas, my own energy attacks the canvas…These paintings are not easy to control for often they try to take over and I lose my tones in a confusion of white wave and spray… My personal chemistry demands the excitement of a storm at sea.’

As the authors Rian Evans and Nicolas Sinclair stated in the recently published work, ‘The Light and the Dark’ on Kyffin’s life, the artist who had suffered with the afflictions of epilepsy and depression throughout his life acknowledged that he expressed his most turbulent feelings through his seascapes. In an interview in 2000, the artist stated that it was due to his battle with epilepsy that he felt a need to apply strongly contrasting colours down onto the canvas, as can be seen in these seascapes. He stated: ‘It might be part of the epilepsy, the excitement – the epileptic shock of dark against light, it’s very exciting you see. Van Gogh was an epileptic and he had the same love of contrast’. Inspired by other notable palette knife users such Gustave Courbet and Van Gogh, Evans and Sinclair also saw a parallel within Kyffin’s seascapes to other iconic works such as Hokusai’s ‘The Wave’ and August Strindberg’s dramatic seascapes. The artist would return to paint the subject throughout his life.

 

Morfudd Bevan – Art Curator

Posted - 09-07-2018

Collections

An Audio Visual Treasure Trove

The BBC Archive is a treasure trove of audiovisual material and records all aspects of life in the 20th century. Looking back on old television clips can conjure up so many memories, happy and sad, and they can provoke so many feelings! This is a clip of another sweltering summer – back in 1976 – how does watching this make you feel?

Posted -

Uncategorized

Bees in the archive

Did you know that a large collection of papers relating to the world of the bee is held here at the Library?

The International Bee Research Association was formed in 1949, originally as the Bee Research Association, and its archive also incorporates that of the earlier Apis Club, (active 1919- 1951). The Bee Research Association was established in Hull by bee scientist Dr Eva Crane, before eventually being based in offices in North Road, Cardiff. The aim of the association, which is still active, was to promote the value of bees by providing information on bee science, and is now one of the world’s foremost authorities in the world on bees and beekeeping.

The IBRA archive is wide ranging, consisting of documents covering the period c.1876-2004 and also including those relating to the publication of IBRA’s quarterly journal, Bee World. Many of the earlier records belonged to the Apis Club and the British Beekeepers Association, and include correspondence, reports, minutes, and conference papers. Of particular interest is the IBRA archive’s large collection of research papers which date from 1880-1988, charting the development and changing priorities of bee research over the course of a century.

The collection also contains some more unique items, a notable one being a copy of a letter to IBRA founder Dr Crane from climber and enthusiastic beekeeper Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary notes that during his successful ascent of Everest in 1953, the team was very pleased to discover several pots of honey left on the mountain left by a previous expedition, as it was sadly not on the list of official expedition supplies.

The IBRA archive can be found and requested through the Library’s catalogue.

Posted -

Collections / Events / Exhibitions

Euclid’s Elements with a preface by John Dee

As part of the Seeing Euclid network of exhibitions throughout the UK, the National Library of Wales will display an example of their valuable Euclid collection of books from 7 July to 27 August. The project aims to highlight the legacy of Euclid’s Elements in the early modern period in Britain and Ireland, with displays of books and artefacts from the period. It is curated by the research project Reading Euclid, based at the University of Oxford and funded by the AHRC. The exhibition is a collaboration between nearly thirty institutions across Britain and Ireland.

 

He compiled the thirteen books of The Elements while working in Alexandria in the third century B.C. His work describes the foundations of Mathematics and dominated the subject for over two thousand years. He developed the concept of logical proof, in which theorems are proved, directly or indirectly, from axioms.

 

The Library has a large collection of books authored by Euclid. It consists of 270 editions of Euclid’s work which were published from 1484 to 1800. The original collection of 39 volumes was given to the Library by Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford in 1927 and an addition of 11 volumes in 1928. Since then the Library has continued to add to the collection.

 

The full title of the volume which the Library will put on display is The Elements of the Geometrie of the most auncient Philosopher Euclide. It is a handsome volume with fold-out diagrams of polyhedra and intersecting planes. It is a translation published in 1570 and interestingly contains a preface by John Dee, who was of Welsh parentage. He is said to have had the largest library in Britain and the fact that he was chosen for the task indicates the esteem in which he was held. He was a brilliant and rather strange man – mathematician, astronomer, adviser to Queen Elizabeth the First but also interested in magic and astrology. Mathematics was not as well developed in Britain at the time as it was in Europe and was seen as only necessary for the study of fields such as astrology and alchemy. However, Dee helped to show that it was applicable to a range of useful applications such as hydraulics and engineering. He was quoted as saying “And for these, and suchlike marvelous arts and feats naturally, mathematically and mechanically wrought and contrived, ought any student and modest Christian philosopher be counted and called a conjurer?”

 

 

Hywel Lloyd

 

Assistant Librarian

Posted - 06-07-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

Revealing the Objects: Plays

As of October 2018 the Library will share a number of additional items from its collections on Europeana, a European digital cultural platform. We are currently working with 12 other partner institutions on a project entitled ‘The Rise of Literacy’ which aims to explore the history of reading and writing in Europe. In this weekly blog – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of plays that will be digitized as part of the project.

 

Twm o’r Nant (Thomas Edwards), Tri Chryfion Byd, 1789

Twm o’r Nant (pen name of Thomas Edwards) was a renowned interlude and play writer. This particular interlude, ‘Tri Chryfion Byd’ or ‘Three Pillars of the World’ was one of his most popular. Poverty, Love and Death, the three pillars, are personified by Twm o’r Nant, and all preach, narrate, advise and commentate during the course of this humorous and lively play. Like many of his other works this interlude includes social commentary.

R. J. Derfel, Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, 1854

R. J. Derfel was a poet, writer and socialist. His play ‘Brad y Llyfrau Gleision’ or ‘The Treachery of the Blue Books’ was a direct reaction to the criticisms presented in the 1847 ‘Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales’, also referred to as ‘The Blue Books’. Derfel portrays Wales as an extremely godly country in his play, which makes it an intolerable destination for the demons. These demons however are excepting of Welsh clergymen, a group that provided most of the evidence used in the 1847 reports. Many Welsh clergymen were accused, mostly by devoted Nonconformists, of betrayal during the inquiry. In the second act Beelzebub (prince of the demons) sends three spies to assess the state of the Welsh people, not dissimilar to the three deputies appointed to carry out the 1847 inquiry. The ‘treachery’ however is committed by the Church goers and clergymen. Many, including Derfel, thought that their evidence enhanced and even fed ‘The Blue Books’’ anti-Welsh judgements. The play was inspired by the tale of the “Treachery of the Long Knives”.

Beriah Gwynfe Evans, Chwareu-gan : drama yn null Shakespeare ar “Owain Glyndwr”, 1879

Beriah Gwynfe Evans was a journalist and dramatist. He wrote many a play, most of which were based on historic events and figures. His play ‘Owain Glyndwr’, was successful at the Llanberis eisteddfod; it broke new ground and arguably inspired a dramatic movement in Wales. A new version of the play was staged at Caernarvon in 1911 during the investiture of the Prince of Wales.

Idwal Jones, Pobl yr ymylon: drama bedair act, 1927

Idwal Jones was a schoolmaster, poet and dramatist. ‘Pobl yr ymylon’ is considered his most important work. This four act play explores the meaning of respectability and argues against some societal expectations.

Elen Hâf Jones – Digital Access Projects Officer

This post was created as part of the Europeana Rise of Literacy Project

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Posted - 02-07-2018

Collections

Bwlchystyllen

Bwlchystyllen today is a remote, ruined farmstead in the Cardiganshire mountains near Llyn Syfydrin. From 1787 to 1791 it was the subject of a legal battle between Mathew Davies of Long Acre and Margaret Pryse of Gogerddan. Mathew Davies brought a case against John Pierce and other agents who worked for Mrs Pryse’s tenant farmer. The defendants were accused of taking sheep from Llyast Nant Glas, part of the Bwlchystyllen sheepwalk. They justified their actions by claiming that Davies’ sheep had damaged the pasture of Mrs Pryse’s tenant. They also alleged that Davies had illictly laid claim to a sheep fold and part of the sheepwalk.

A bundle of papers survives from the case, archetypal, ‘dry, dusty’ material, stuffed with lawyers’ jargon. Suddenly, buried in the brief for the defendants, there is gold – a history of that derelict farm and the traditions of the locality:

On that part [of Bwlchystyllen] called Nant-glas there was a place used by the shepherds for a sheep fold… which is called by the inhabitants Vagwr – it is something like the ruined walls of an old cot or barn…there is an old tradition amongst the inhabitants of the hills that in former days the gentleman that lived near the lee side used to have leave from the proprietors of the hills to build summer houses or Havodtys on the hills in order to reside there during the fishing and gaming seasons and it is presumed that the vagwrs are the old ruins of such houses or Havodtys.
About the year 1752 a Mr Mathew Evans of Aberystwyth, an attorney and an ancestor of the plaintiff, laid some claim to the old vagwr or fold near Nant-glas and for some years made Hugh John Griffith, who was a very weak ignorant man, pay some compensation for this vagwr….

About the year 1784 the plaintiff ordered a house to be built on the old walls of Nant Glas Vagwr and to have laid claim to the sheepwalk from Rhosfawr down to the River Rheidol. Sometimes it is worth digging a bit deeper into the most arid parts of the estate archives. You may find treasure!

Gogerddan Estate Records, legal papers
Pictures: Portrait of Margaret Pryse; map of Bwlchystyllen, 1784

Posted - 29-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

Revealing the Objects: Poetry

As of October 2018 the Library will share a number of additional items from its collections on Europeana, a European digital cultural platform. We are currently working with 12 other partner institutions on a project entitled ‘The Rise of Literacy’ which aims to explore the history of reading and writing in Europe. In this weekly blog – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of volumes containing poetry that will be digitized as part of the project.

 

Huw Jones (ed.) – Diddanwch Teuluaidd, 1763

‘Diddanwch Teuluaidd’ was edited by Huw Jones and included works by noted Anglesey poets, for instance, Goronwy Owen, Lewis Morris and Hugh Hughes. The volume was first printed in London and was reprinted at Caernarvon in 1817 and at Liverpool in 1879.

Goronwy Owen was a renowned poet and teacher. In 1757 he sailed from London to Virginia after accepting a teaching position at a grammar school in Williamsburgh. When Owen was a youngster he composed many poetic masterpieces. He was greatly admired by generations of Welsh poets and his poetic works were emulated by many a writer.

Lewis Morris was a noted poetic teacher and Goronwy Owen was among his students. Morris wished to breathe new life into Welsh literature and wrote many metrical and free compositions that were of an irreverent nature; these were included in this volume.

Hugh Hughes was also a bardic teacher and a close friend of Lewis Morris and his brothers. A collection of his compositions were also published in ‘Diddanwch Teuluaidd’.

John Ceiriog Hughes – Oriau’r hwyr: sef, gweithiau barddonol John Ceiriog Hughes, 1860

John Ceiriog Hughes was a renowned poet and ‘Oriau’r hwyr’ was his first publication. Some of Owen’s favourite themes and topics included nature, lust and patriotism. By today’s standards, these poems were highly sentimental in their content and tone, however very popular during Victoria’s reign. In this volume, one can recognise popular pieces that were recited, made into songs and heard on Welsh stages for many generations. With the exception of the Bible, ‘Oriau’r hwyr’ was the most bought volume in Wales during the 1860s, with 30,000 copies being sold between 1860 and 1872.

Sarah Jane Rees, Caniadau Cranogwen, 1870

Sarah Jane Rees, also known as Cranogwen, was a renowned poet, schoolteacher and editor. In 1865, at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod, she won her first distinguished prize as a poet on the subject ‘Y Fodrwy Briodasol’ (The Wedding Ring). ‘Caniadau Cranogwen’ is a compilation of her work and was published in 1870 after her poetic successes. Cranogwen was also a noted public speaker, preacher and activist; in 1878 she became editor of ‘Y Frythones’, a Welsh journal dedicated to women’s issues.

Alun Lewis, Raiders’ Dawn and other poems, 1942

Alun Lewis was a poet and writer of short stories. The volume ‘Raiders’ Dawn and other poems’ is a compilation of Lewis’s work. These poems were written between 1940 and 1941 when he was at the Bordon military camp, receiving introductory military training. Most of Lewis’s imageries were inspired by Biblical and Greek mythologies and he tended to shape his poems into parables or allegories. All initial copies quickly sold and the volume was reprinted six times.

Elen Hâf Jones – Digital Access Projects Officer

This post was created as part of the Europeana Rise of Literacy Project

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Posted - 28-06-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Mary-Ann Constantine

Mary-Ann Constantine is Reader at the University of Wales Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies. She works on C18th Welsh literature and is currently leading the AHRC-funded project, Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820.

Responses to John Evans’ Map of North Wales 1797.

When Thomas Pennant evoked the view, on a rare clear day, from the top of Snowdon, he remembered it as a map:

In a former tour, I saw from it the county of Chester, the high hills of Yorkshire, part of the north of England, Scotland, and Ireland: a plain view of the Isle of Man; and that of Anglesea lay extended like a map beneath us, with every rill visible. I took much pains to see this prospect to advantage; sat up at a farm on the west till about twelve, and walked up the whole way.

Other travellers in Wales who mention maps often use them in the same, metaphorical, way to describe extensive views. Many, indeed, borrow Pennant’s image, particularly when they find themselves at the summit of Snowdon. Henry Wigstead, though pessimistic of the chances of actually seeing anything, claimed that ‘when the prospect is unobstructed, it is the most wonderful map imagination can form.’

By the end of the century we start to find more references to people using real maps, to plan their routes and to interpret the landscape around them. Sometimes, their observations reveal interesting mismatches between the way places are represented and the actual terrain. William Hutton, describing the dirty, straggling little village of ‘Dinas Mouddy’ (Dinas Mawddwy) is much amused by its historic claims to ‘considerable eminence in the scale of Welch towns’. ‘I had observed also’, he notes wryly, ‘its name distinguished with bold letters in our maps’. More dramatically, his experience in Snowdonia points up the problems with reading contemporary maps for gradient. Having successfully identified ‘a sheet of water, a mile long, and three quarters wide […] which, by the map, I knew must be Ogwen Pool’, he finds himself quite literally brought up short:

But what was my surprize, when, at the extremity of the pool, I instantly found myself upon a precipice two hundred feet high, and burst, in a moment, upon a most beautiful valley, nearly one mile wide and four long.

The mineralogist Arthur Aiken experienced no such ‘surprize’, having taken the precaution of purchasing John Evans’s beautifully detailed large-scale nine-sheet map of 1795, ‘pasted on canvas, and folded up into single sheets for the conveniency of carriage’. With this, he and his companions could trace ‘every turning of the road, every winding of every rivulet’. Even more gratifyingly for the geologist:

the plan of every mountain is given with such accuracy that a person conversant with the forms of mountains may, by a bare inspection of the map, distinctly trace the course of the primitive, secondary, and limestone ridges through the whole of North Wales.

After 1797 most travellers mentioning maps are referring specifically to John Evans’s smaller map, published by his son two years after his death. For William Bingley, travelling on foot in 1798, it was ‘the correctest map I ever travelled by’, and particularly accurate in its depiction of roads. When, a few years later, he published an expanded version of his Tour, he felt obliged to include his own map ‘compiled from the most authentic sources, to which I could have access, and corrected by my own observations’. This, he explained, was not due to his superior cartographical skills, but rather because ‘Mr John Evans’s ‘Map of North Wales’, which contains by far the fewest errors of any that has yet been published, now sells at the enormous price of a guinea’.

One of the most fascinating responses to Evans’s 1797 map appears in a lively description of several tours in north Wales by the Birmingham writer Catherine Hutton, who travelled with her father William Hutton in the late 1790s, and like him, kept a record of their experiences. An account of her tour appeared as a series of letters to her brother in the Monthly Magazine in the 1810s, but the manuscript version, held here in the National Library, is more detailed, and more intimate. Catherine Hutton was obsessed with the mountains of north Wales. She familiarized herself with their names and their contours – counting them off, for example, as she rode along the eastern shore of Anglesey, enjoying the dramatic line of peaks across the Menai Straits. Suffering acutely from vertigo, Hutton, though a keen rider and pedestrian, could not emulate her seventy-six-year-old father in his energetic ascent of Snowdon. But her descriptions of the mountains, seen from the valley floor, from different angles and in different weather conditions, are vivid and full of a kind of reverence.

Towards the end of the final tour in 1800 Hutton writes from the new hotel at Capel Curig with a description of Snowdonia that verges on the visionary. Drawing on the Biblical phrase ‘an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ (2 Corinthians 5:1) she tells her brother:

I have fancied Snowdonia a city not made with hands, whose Builder and Maker is God. I have bounded my fancied city by the district of Arvon; an imaginary line drawn from the Rivals to Pont Aber Glaslyn; the vale beginning at Pont Aber Glaslyn, and ending at Pont y Pair, and the Vale of Conwy, from Pont y Pair to the sea.

The limits and features of this eternal city are described at length and with precision: it is intersected by huge ‘streets’ (the deep valleys between the ranges) and has Snowdon as its ‘temple’. To give her brother a clearer idea of its form, she notes: ‘I have annexed a sketch of Snowdonia, from Evans’s map, which will explain my ideas better than all the words I could use’. This ‘sketch’, folded neatly into her hand-written account, is a map of a map—a spiritual map derived from a geographical one—a visual record of Catherine Hutton’s, creative, imaginative grasp of the complex mountainous space around her.

References.
Derek Williams ‘John Evans’ Map of North Wales 1797’, Ystrad Alun 11 (Nadolig, 2010).
Mary-Ann Constantine, ‘”The bounds of female reach”: Catherine Hutton’s Fiction and her Tours in Wales’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, no. 22, 92-105
Curious Travellers

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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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