Blog - Collections

Posted - 20-03-2019


The Language of the Heavens

It was reported in the news recently that Welsh was spoken on an episode of the television series Star Trek. This isn’t the first time that Welsh has been heard among the stars because the Welsh piece of music ‘Yr hufen melyn’ (literal translation ‘The yellow cream’) was once sung on an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series.

The famous phrase associated with Star Trek is, of course, “Beam me up, Scotty!”. Montgomery Scott (or “Scotty”) was the engineer on the starship Enterprise and one of his feats was to transport members of the crew to different locations using a beam. “Beam me up, Scotty!” was the call for his help and it is he who sang the song.

I heard about the connection between ‘Yr hufen melyn’ and Star Trek through the harpist Llio Rhydderch who is preparing notes for her new CD. She heard the fact from Dylan Meirion from Bangor. We explored the history of the piece of music, and thanks to her musical expertise and the Library’s rich resources, more information came to light, including information about the version that Scotty sang.    

The song has appeared in a number of different forms and under various names e.g. Yr hufen melyn, Hufen y cwrw melyn, Cream of the brown ale.



It was first published as a piece for the harp by the blind musician Richard Roberts (1769-1855) in his volume Cambrian harmony in 1829. According to Llio Rhydderch, it is possible that Roberts first heard the melody from his teacher, Wil Penmorfa. The piece was published in several publications e.g. Welsh harper, vol. 1 (1839), Y tant aur (1916) and Caniadau’r allt (1927):

But which of these numerous versions was sung by Scotty?

In the opinion of Llio Rhydderch, Scotty’s version is similar to the version noted by Alfred Perceval Graves in the volume Sixteen Welsh melodies (1909).

The Y tant aur version will be performed by Llio Rhydderch on her new CD and we look forward to hearing it. Without the rich folk tradition and without music archives, what would Scotty have sung?

Time to bid farewell:  “Beam me up, Scotty!”

Heini Davies, Assistant Librarian

Posted - 11-03-2019


Charles Darwin, fairy rings and blu-tack

Science Week runs from 8 to 17 March 2019. As a contribution, here are three letters by Charles Darwin, the naturalist, geologist and biologist who, with Alfred Russel Wallace jointly published their theories of evolution by natural selection at the Linnean Society in 1858. While two of the three letters relate to Darwin’s research work, unfortunately none of them relate to the Big Idea:


The first is the last page of a letter by an amanuensis, signed by Darwin, with train times and arrangements for meeting the unnamed recipient. (NLW, Dolaucothi L 5984).

Secondly, a letter dated 10 July 1875 written to an unnamed recipient by an amanuensis, again only signed by Darwin, thinking about contagion, and asking whether fairy rings start from a central point and spread outwards, or whether they start as rings. Also, whether it is known on what the mycelium subsists? (NLW, SA/CR/219). This letter is clearly, and the others possibly, part of an autograph collection. Some of the other letters in this collection, including one from Charles Dickens, have been framed, with the frames showing traces of blu-tack. From before their arrival at the Library, I hasten to add!

And lastly, a letter dated 22 Oct. 1880 to Thomas Henry Thomas (‘Arlunydd Penygarn’, 1839-1915), artist and active member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society. Darwin thanked Thomas and Prof. Schaefhausen for the photographs, which he found very interesting, and that Thomas had been fortunate to find such fine foot-marks. (NLW MS 3127C, no. 12).

All three letters have been submitted to Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence Project.

The Library also holds several letters by Alfred Russel Wallace. Something for another blog, another day perhaps.


Stephen Benham
Assistant Archivist

Posted - 04-03-2019


Contents of Glyn Cywarch

In March 2017 the contents of Glyn Cywarch, Talsarnau, were sold at Bonhams auction house in London – the material relics of four centuries, dispersed within hours to the highest bidders. Glyn Cywarch was a very old house, built in 1616, which passed by marriage from the Wynn family to the Owens of Brogyntyn and thence descended to the family of Ormsby Gore, Barons Harlech.

Recent cataloguing of the Longueville solicitors’ collection has revealed an inventory and valuation of the contents of Glyn, dated August 1876, property of the late John Ralph Ormsby-Gore, first Baron Harlech. The inventory of 124 pages is gloriously detailed. It itemises all the household furniture, carpets, window draperies, glass, china, plated articles, linen, blankets, quilts, wines, spirits, garden tools, plants, pheasant-keeping equipment and other effects. It presents a snapshot of each room, frozen in time at 1876. Some descriptions can be matched with the lots which were auctioned in the Bonhams sale of 2017.


The oval top old oak table with fall down leaves on a strong frame and spiral supports in the drawing room at Glyn must surely be Lot 3 on the auction website. The inlaid bureau filled with drawers and divisions, sloping fall down front, lined with green baize is a good match for Lot 89. Could one of the 3 sundry scent bottles be equivalent to Lot 492?

Perhaps the décor at Glyn seemed antiquated to William Richard Ormsby-Gore, second Baron Harlech. When he succeeded to the title he undertook a comprehensive scheme of refurbishment. An account book in the Brogyntyn estate records lists all the new items that he bought from Richard Jones, general draper and family grocer, New Shop, Dolgellau, 1877-1878. It includes table cloths, toilet covers, towels, bedding, muslin, chintz, pink glazed lining, tartan, Brussels carpet, crimson tapestry, a butter scale and a set of fire irons.

Do any of those items still grace the ancient house of Glyn? Or were they, too, sold to beautify some other home, far from Wales?

Longueville Collection Vol. 389
Brogyntyn Estate and Family Records EH3/3


Hilary Peters, Assistant Archivist

Posted - 01-03-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

What do we know about Saint David?

This post is the first of a new series called Wales’ Story. We will be looking at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. A post will be published fortnightly on Fridays, and you can follow it all by clicking on Wales’ Story on the right.



It’s over a thousand years since the birth of Sulien. He was twice Bishop of St. David’s, but his main contribution was the establishment of a centre of education at Llanbadarn Fawr, on a site now lying in the shadow of the National Library.

Some of our earliest manuscripts were created at Llanbadarn, these being the work of two of Sulien’s sons, Ieuan and Rhigyfarch (?1056-99). Rhigyfarch’s Psalter (created c. 1079) is now kept in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, but his most famous creative work was the Vita Davidis, a Latin biography of Saint David created c. 1094 to promote the status and independence of St. David’s bishopric.

Most of what we believe we know about David, the saint from the sixth century, is based on Rhigyfarch’s account, written five centuries later. In the Vita we find the story of his education by Peulin, his victory over Boia, the founding of the monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, and the sermon at the senate in Llandewibrefi. This work was translated and edited into Welsh during the first half of the fourteenth century by an unknown monk. One of the earliest versions of Buchedd Dewi is this text in The Red Book of Talgarth (Llanstephan MS 27), written by Hywel Fychan about 1400 for his patron, the nobleman Rhys ap Thomas.

Generations of Welsh children will be able to repeat the saint’s famous last words, spoken before his death on the first of March: ‘Arglwyddi, frodyr a chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch ac a welsoch gennyf i,’ which translates as ‘Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard from me.’

Strangely, the ‘little things’ do not appear in Rhigyfarch’s original Latin work, so we must congratulate the later Welsh translator on creating such a memorable sentence!

Maredudd ap Huw

Posted - 04-02-2019


Undermining the Sanctity of Art

Not my words but those of Dai Evans from Brynaman or ‘Y Dyn Surreal’ as he came to be known. Enigmatic and unique are two words used to describe David Augustus Evans (1924-2013) and his work. Is he a photographer, installation artist, surrealist, social commentator or humorist? Is he all five and probably more besides? Inspiration is another term that can be added to the list – writer Fflur Dafydd and artist Carwyn Evans have both been inspired by his work.


Dai Evans was the Chairman of Amman Valley Camera Club and a familiar figure in camera clubs in South Wales regularly entering photos in competitions, though his irreverence was not to everyone’s taste (the judges mainly). Equipped with mannequins, a cowpat, plastic chickens, assorted other props and a wicked sense of humour his works attracted the attention of younger audiences and covered a range of themes including literature, social change, international and personal events. His dry sense of humour and keen observation animates each of his photographs

He appeared on television on a number of occasions including Y Sioe Gelf and the BBC project Capture Wales. With the arrival of over forty of his prints here in the National Library of Wales his sense of humour will live on and continue to inspire others to make their own mark.

W Troughton


Posted - 28-01-2019

Collections / Uncategorized

A rare publication on the death of Captain Cook

The Library has bought a very rare book by a Welshman who was present when the explorer Captain James Cook was killed.  David Samwell was born in Denbighshire in 1751.  He had a particular interest in English and Welsh literature and in the Welsh cultural movements of his time, and wrote a great deal of poetry in Welsh and English.  He was President of the Gwyneddigion Society in 1797.  The Library owns his manuscripts, including correspondence with Iolo Morganwg.



Samwell sailed with Captain Cook as “surgeon’s first mate” on the Resolution in 1776 and witnessed Cook’s death in a skirmish with natives in Hawaii in 1779.  He wrote a full account of the event, and after his return to England published it in 1786 under the title A narrative of the death of Captain James Cook.  The Library already has two copies of this.  But in the same year, a French translation was published with the title Détails nouveaux et circonstanciés sur la mort du Capitaine Cook.  This is particularly rare, with only three known copies in other libraries throughout the world, so when a copy came up for sale we took the opportunity to add this important item to the collections of the National Library of Wales.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Posted - 24-01-2019



Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her saint day is celebrated on 25 January. Dafydd ap Gwilym described her as a master of easing the sorrows of distressed adolescents and he asked for her assistance to win over his love, Morfudd.

Dwynwen was one of the historic women of the fifth century, and she made her home on the island of Llanddwyn in Anglesey. According to the tale, Dwynwen prays to God following the advances of her lover, Maelon Dafodrull, and is provided with a potion that releases her from her love for him; Maelon turns into a lump of ice as a result of the potion. Dwynwen then receives three wishes: that Maelon is released, that she is inaugurated as the saint for lovers, and that she remain unmarried for the rest of her life.

Dwynwen became famous for her ability to solve the problems of lovers, and also for her healing powers. Sometimes she would perform small miracles from afar, especially in the case of poorly babies or small children, and it is said that she resurrected several people who appeared to be dead. The poet Dafydd Trefor said of her, ‘Iechyd a golud a gaid / Synnwyr a hawsáu enaid’ (roughly translated as ‘Health and riches are obtained / Wisdom and relief of the soul’), implying that physical well-being, wealth, wisdom and tranquility of the soul were all available through the hands of Dwynwen.

There are remains of Dwynwen’s cult in Tresilian, Vale of Glamorgan, where lovers used to determine their fate by throwing a stone over the natural archway in the rock. A church is consecrated to Dwynwen near Camelford in Cornwall, and it is possible that there was also a cult to her in Brittany (under the name of Saint Douine or Twine) where she was famous for healing every fever.

Guest blog by Rhiannon Ifans, author and expert on medieval Welsh literature.

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Posted - 18-01-2019

#LoveMaps / Collections / Exhibitions

Humphrey Llwyd – the man who invented Britain

January 19th sees the opening of the Library’s latest exhibition: Inventor of Britain – The Life and Legacy of Humphrey Llwyd. This exhibition is the latest in a series of events to mark the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, the author of the first published map of Wales. Last August to coincide with the actual anniversary a smaller exhibition was held for two weeks, but this larger exhibition will be on for the next six months.

While Llwyd is probably most famous for his map of Wales, in addition to being the father of Welsh cartography he is also considered to be the father of Welsh history as a result of his Cronica Walliae the first history of Wales in English based on the ancient Welsh chronicle the Brut y Tywysogion.

This would be enough of a contribution in itself to ensure the legacy of most people, however in addition to this Llwyd was also responsible for helping to steer the Bill for the Translation of the Bible into Welsh through Parliament, thus leading to the Welsh Bible which was a major factor in helping Welsh to survive as a language.

But Llwyd’s influence goes beyond the borders of Wales; his works were also used to help justify the British Empire (a phrase he is credited with coining) and the English reformation. Part of his extensive library was purchased by the Crown and now forms part of the collections of the British Library.

This new exhibition is being held in association with the AHRC funded project Inventor of Britain: the complete works of Humphrey Llwyd. A number of lectures will be given over the coming months by members of the project team and this year’s Carto-Cymru – the Wales Map Symposium will also be on the theme of Humphrey Llwyd.

The exhibition runs until the 29th June and further details of the associated events can be found on the Library’s website.

Huw Thomas
Curator of Maps

Posted - 14-01-2019


Latimer’s Sermons

On 16th October 1555, Bishop Hugh Latimer, one of the three Oxford martyrs, was burned at the stake for his Protestant beliefs during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I.  His writings, however, live on.  Not only were numerous editions of his sermons published during the reign of Mary’s Protestant successor Elizabeth I, but editions printed during Latimer’s lifetime have also survived.

The National Library of Wales was recently presented with a volume of Latimer’s sermons by Clive and Patricia Coleclough of Wrexham, in memory of Mr. Emrys Thomas of Caergwrle.  The book had been in the possession of Mrs. Coleclough’s family for about a century, having been bought at a bookshop in Llanrwst; unfortunately the shop no longer exists, so how it came to Wales remains a mystery.


The volume consists of a sermon preached in London on 18th January 1548 and published that year, and another seven sermons preached before King Edward VI in 1549, again published that year; originally these were printed as three separate publications.  The first sermon has the arms of the Duchess of Suffolk, to whom Latimer was chaplain, on the verso of the title page.  The volume is in its original 16th-century binding, with a Tudor rose and crown and the letters WB on the covers, no doubt the initials of the owner who commissioned the binding.

This is the only known copy of this edition in Wales.  It will now be preserved in our collections for future generations.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Posted - 07-01-2019


Sea Bathing – for your health!

What springs to mind when you think of the Christmas and New Year break? A swim in the sea? Well, that’s what many will be doing on Boxing Day or 1 January. Nationwide, people will be flocking to the seaside in fancy dress to brave the sea –either to raise funds for charity, accept a challenge or a show of courage. But have you ever thought of swimming in the sea as a way of improving your health?

For centuries, physicians have noted the physical benefits of bathing in cold water, advising patients to visit seaside towns to cure illness. It was believed that bathing in saltwater over a period of weeks or months would cure lung and skin conditions, improve circulation and strengthen immunity. In the past, a visit to the seaside was regarded as more of a medicinal remedy that a holiday, and to eighteenth century doctors, the sand, waves and the beach were regarded like our pharmacy today.

‘Thalassotherapy’ is the word given to this type of medicine, first used by Hippocrates to describe the beneficial effects of seawater. It comes from the Greek thalassa meaning ‘sea’and therapeia which means ‘therapy’ or ‘healing’.

Bathers at South Beach, Aberystwyth

In his Remarks on Sea Air and Sea Bathing, a pamphlet published in 1862, the surgeon John Holt Elkes Stubbs notes that:

‘A cold bath is a powerful tonic, particularly with children, and bathing in the open sea is the best form.’

It also includes a description by the physician Erasmus Wilson of the importance of the skin while bathing. The skin of an individual of average height and weight has a surface area of over 2,500 square inches, and includes over 7,000,000 sweat pores. The invigorating response of an individual to seawater is as a result of both salty grains which revive the skin and the shock from contact with the cold waves.Disease was averted and illness cured through the absorption of these salty particles by the skin.

The sea also had medicinal benefits for consumption or tuberculosis sufferers until the end of the epidemic in the 1860s. Some physicians went further urging patients to drink seawater as a medicine – enhancing its taste by the addition of honey or milk was permitted. Dr.Richard Russell prescribed bathing and drinking seawater for Leprosy. In his treatise published in 1750, A Dissertation on the Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, Particularly, the Scurvy, Jaundice, King’s Evil,Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption, he describes a sufferer covered in leporous spots. His cure was to sea bathe daily and drink a pint of saltwater each morning for nine months!

Sea temperature does not generally rise above 67°F (19.4 Celsius). So if you are brave enough to dip into the cold sea for your health on 1 January, go for it! Just be grateful that the practice of drinking saltwater with milk has not continued to this day!

The information above is derived from the medical section of the Welsh Print Collection. This collection of Welsh and Welsh interest printed works on medicine and health dates from 1750s. It contains 6,500 items including books on early medicine, herbal remedies, reports by urban and rural health officers,and reports of hospitals and mental health institutions. It also houses a complete set of reports and minutes of the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association (WNMA). A health organisation established in 1911, as a precursor to the NHS, to provide free healthcare for Tuberculosis sufferers.

‘Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS’ is a new NLW  project, funded by the Wellcome Foundation. These medical treasures, hidden for too long, will be catalogued and digitised over the course of the next year ensuring online access to a wealth of information for the public, students and historians of medicine.

Branwen Rhys
Project Manager, Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS

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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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