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 - 15-03-2019

Story of Wales

The extraordinary life of Cranogwen: From mariner to poet and so much more …

Celebrating Women’s Achievements

It seems that March has become the ultimate month to broadcast the achievements of women, of today and yesterday. Even though International Women’s Day has come and gone this year, March continues to hold the official status of Women’s History Month.

It should come as no surprise that we continue our Story of Wales series with a summary of a truly remarkable woman’s life – Cranogwen. Rest assured however; we will continue to evaluate the story of the women of Wales throughout the series, as should be done of course all year round!


A woman before her time

Sarah Jane Rees (b. 1839), known by her bardic name Cranogwen, was an innovator in many fields. A tall, striking and confident woman, she defied many of the notorious restrictions famously associated with the Victorian era and followed a career packed with extremely diverse experiences and achievements.

It’s no wonder that historian Professor Deirdre Beddoe referred to Cranogwen as ‘the most outstanding Welsh women of the nineteenth century’.


Master Mariner

Cranogwen first came to prominence as a master mariner.

Having been raised in the coastal village of Llangrannog; having to bid her ship captain father farewell many a time as a child, it seems that Cranogwen was also destined for life on the sea. To her parents’ disappointment, she began a career in the nautical field and worked as a sailor on cargo ships for two years, sailing between Wales and France, before returning to London and Liverpool for study.

Cranogwen would go on to gain a master mariner’s qualification, allowing her to command ships all over the world.

However, in 1860 at the age of 21 she would return home as an educated young women and thus was appointed to the role of head teacher at her local school.


Cranogwen the poet

It would seem that Cranogwen’s grasp of the Welsh language was as impressive as her handling of a ship’s helm!

She became the first ever women to win a poetry prize at the National Eisteddfod. Her success at the Aberystwyth festival of 1865 gave Cranogwen a public platform and in a way made her an overnight celebrity in Wales!

Writing under the bardic name Cranogwen, Sarah Jane Rees’s poem ‘Y Fodrwy Briodasol’ – The Wedding Ring – was a somewhat humorous and sarcastic response to the married woman’s destiny.

It only took Rees five years to become a published poet and her popular collection ‘Caniadau Cranogwen’ appeared in 1870.


A Welsh Magazine for the Women of Wales

Cranogwen is remembered as the first women to attempt many goals within the literary field in Wales.

Among her greatest achievements was the success of ‘Y Frythones’; the only second Welsh magazine to be dedicated to women’s issues, and the first to be edited by a female.


Cranogwen’s vision, as editor, would drive and shape the magazine’s content from 1879 to 1889. The publication included many interesting features including short stories and poems, campaigns, problem pages and advisory columns. As a general rule, every issue would also contain an article dedicated to the life and work of a respected woman, set as an example to the reader.


Cranogwen also championed the works of other female writers in ‘Y Frythones’ and gave many a platform to develop and showcase their voices.

Dedicated Activist and Preacher

It seems that Cranogwen’s talents were endless! She was an effective public speaker and travelled to America twice in order to address audiences and lecture on various subjects.

Among her many passions was the issue of Temperance and she was a key figure in the Movement. In her view, alcohol was extremely destructive to the family unit. In 1901 she founded the South Wales Women’s Temperance Union, which had developed over 140 branches by 1916.



Elen Hâf Jones
Written as part of the Europeana ‘Rise of Literacy’ project

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 - 14-02-2019

Conservation / Digitisation / ITV Cymru / Wales / Screen and Sound

Restoration, Restoration, Restoration

The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.

The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.

So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel or view them at the Library.


Martin Edwards

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.

Tags: ,

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

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About this blog

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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