Earlier this year the Library was successful at auction in buying the 1915 war diaries of Major Roundel Tristram Toke, o/c A Company, 1st Battalion, The Welsh Regiment. After a brief description of the battalion leaving Agra in India, convoy to England and transport to France, one diary covers the whole of 1915. The other is a slightly re-written version, ending in August with Toke’s transfer as o/c 6th Bn Bedfordshire Reg., but with added explanatory notes, maps etc. The highlight of the diaries are Toke’s vivid description of the battalion’s posting on the Ypres Salient, including the Second Battle of Ypres, April-May.
At the beginning of February 1915, the battalion took over French support trenches at Zillebeke, on the southern flank of the salient. Thankfully the weather was cold:
5th February. … The trenches were full of dead French soldiers, many of them only partially buried. One mans hand stuck out of the side of the communication trench. Our men used to shake the hand each time they went in and out of the trench. In one dug-out there was a dead Frenchman lying at the back partially frozen. At least he appeared quite fresh, although he must have been dead for some time. …
On 18 February “[a]t about 8.a.m. I discovered that I was being fired at by a sniper who could evidently see right down my trench. He was a deadly shot, and the casualties increased rapidly, the men mostly being hit in the head and killed outright.” After one officer and 12 men had been killed and 13 wounded, including receiving two bullets himself through his cap and one in the shoulder – “extremely painful” – Toke abandoned 50 yards of trench and turned all hands to building a traverse across the trench, during which another four were killed. Later the same day:
During the afternoon a R.E. [Royal Engineers] officer came down to know why I had withdrawn from a portion of my trench. I explained the situation to him and he said he was going to look at my traverse – he was extremely rude – I warned him not to look over the top – in three minutes I was told he was dead having stood up and looked over the top contrary to my instructions. …
This was far from Toke’s only experience of a sniper. In April the 1st Welsh moved to trenches at the outermost edge of the salient. This was an active sector and although the Second Battle of Ypres officially started on 22 April 1915, with a gas attack on French and Algerian positions in the north of the salient, Toke writes that the battle “roughly began about the 17th April”, coinciding with the 1st Welsh’s arrival:
16th April. Went up to Zonnebeke to see the new trenches. They are situated right in the apex of the salient. A very dangerous spot, as one can be fired on from three sides.
17th April. Marched up to the trenches. The Germans were shelling Ypres very heavily as we came through and all the roads leading through and round it. The big attack on hill 60 began at 7.p.m. just as we were clear of Ypres. We opened a terrific bombardment from every available gun to which the Germans quickly replied, sending over some very heavy stuff. We got very badly shelled on the road between Ypres and Potije [Potijze] one shell bursting right in the middle of the Battalion inflicting numerous casualties. …
18th April. Made a combined attack at dawn on the Birdcage, the name given to the house I was fired at from last night owing to its being covered over with wire netting as a protection against bombs [grenades]. The bombers of my Co’y under 2/Lieut Bryan and Lt Newington advanced from our trench while Torkington and Warren Davis with their bombers advanced from their trenches on the right. The Germans were in a very strong position in an old cellar and the attack was a ghastly failure, nearly the whole of our parties being killed or wounded. …
19th April. The Germans started blowing my trenches to pieces with a Minenwerfer or big trench mortar, throwing a bomb about 4 feet in length filled with H.E. The concussion was terrific and several dug-outs fell in. My communication trench was completely demolished and a large portion of the trench right in the apex completely blown in, sandbags and bricks from ruined houses being blown sky high. …
20th April. … Captain Playfair killed in my trench. He was an artillery officer and came down to observe. His O.P. [observation post] was a loophole in the parapet through which the Germans were continually sending bullets as they had spotted it. Consequently I blocked it up and posted a sentry there. I told Playfair not to remove the sandbags under any pretext. Within five minutes of leaving him he was dead. He removed the sandbags and was shot through the head at once. …
Evidently nobody had told Playfair that snipers don’t play fair. The same day the Brigade Major, the first staff officer Toke had seen in the trenches, was killed by a sniper in a neighbouring company’s trench after looking over the top. And so on and so on, day after day.
The diary also describes the effects of gas (25 April), Toke taking command of the battalion (14 May), the Battle of Bellewaarde (24-25 May), which effectively concluded the Second Battle of Ypres, Toke taking temporary command of the 84th Brigade (10 June), and being granted the temporary rank of Lt-Col (14 June). On 23 August, Major (temp. Lt-Col) Toke took command of the 6th (Service) Bn Bedfordshire Regiment, which was stationed on the front at Bienville, southwest of Arras, about 45 miles south of Ypres. The diary continues to record the daily grind on this also ‘active’ sector until the end of the year.
Toke survived the war. According to the index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, he married in 1922, registered the birth of a son in 1924 and a daughter in 1927, and died in 1957. Toke was a professional soldier, and had previously served in British contingents in the Boxer Rebellion, 1900, and the Russo-Japanese War, 1905-1907; his diaries and photographs from this period are at Duke University, USA. The 1st Bn Welsh Regiment war diary for 1915 is at PRO: WO 95/2277/4. It may be the battalion’s official record of service, but is likely to be bloodless in comparison.
This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
One Friday afternoon, in a small school in the Teifi valley, a young boy was invited to the big children’s class to hear the headmaster read a piece of a story. The story was an exciting one. It spoke of a dark and stormy night and of a lonely tollgate in the country. The gatekeeper heard the sound of horseshoes approaching in the distance, and the rider calling ‘gate’. After venturing out to the gate, the rider handed him something – a parcel wrapped in a cloak – before riding off into the darkness. And what was in the parcel? The gatekeeper saw after returning to the house – a baby.
The young boy listening to this story was non-other than T Llew Jones. For some reason, he didn’t hear more of the story, but it left a deep impression on his imagination for a long time. Later, he learnt that the story was Y Golud Gwell 4557 (1910) by Anthropos (Robert Davies Rowland; 1853?-1944), but not before he’d written his own version and published it as Un Noson Dywyll (1973).
Excitement, romance, intrigue – these are the corner stones of the story mentioned above. These are also the cornerstones that feature often in T Llew’s children’s literature – in his poetry and his prose. This is the gentleman who used historical and semi-historical figures like the pirates Harry Morgan and Barti Ddu, and the highwayman, Twm Siôn Cati as his raw material. This is also the gentleman who created legends from his own life, with the poachers of Pentre-cwrt, the ‘Pishyn Padis’ gypsies and the adventures of the Cilie poets all a part of one larger colourful saga, which he used to entertain audiences of children and adults alike.
It’s easy to romanticise T Llew. He was a romanticist. In some ways, that honourable and heroic title bestowed upon T Llew – ‘Brenin Llenyddiaeth Plant Cymru’ (King of Welsh Children’s Literature) is just as romantic. But, bestowing such a title upon him highlights the magnitude of his contribution to the field.
In the period following the Second World War, the Welsh publishing industry was in a sorry state. In 1950, of the 100 books published in Welsh, only 13 were publications for children. Alun R Edwards, a librarian from Ceredigion, was all too aware of this crisis. In September 1951, he organised the first of a series of conferences during the 1950s in Cilgwyn near Newcastle Emlyn, with the intention of encouraging budding writers to create Welsh reading material for children. 48 teachers from the old Cardiganshire were invited to this special conference, and in their midst was T Llew – a young poet and headmaster of Tre-groes at the time.
In his biography, Yr Hedyn Mwstard (1980), Alun R Edwards refers to T Llew as ‘y pysgodyn mwyaf a ddaliwyd gan y Cilgwyn’ (the biggest fish caught by the Cilgwyn). He wrote these words at the end of his career, when T Llew had already claimed his place as one of Wales’ foremost children’s authors. T Llew died nearly three decades later in 2009, and between then and the first Cilgwyn conference in 1951, he published around 50 volumes – most of them for children.
As a teacher – in Tre-groes (1951-1957) and Coed-y-bryn (1958-1976) – T Llew was aware of the need to entice children to read, and the importance of exciting material which would educate and entertain. His stories Trysor y Môr-landron (1960), Corn Pistol a Chwip (1969) and Cri’r Dylluan (1974), which take pieces of Welsh history and turn them into adventures full of heroes and villains, belong to this category. His poetry for children – which was published in Penillion y Plant (1965) a Cerddi Newydd i Blant (1973) – venture out of the classroom to the great outdoors, and attempt to open the reader’s eyes to the wonder of the world around them.
In an interview for the magazine Llais Llyfrau in 1968, T Llew said that he felt “mai’r hyn oedd eisiau fwyaf ar blant Cymru oedd arwyr” (what Welsh children needed most was heroes). Heroes are created at a time of need. And in the Welsh speaking Wales of the twentieth century, there was a need for an author like T Llew Jones in children’s literature.
To celebrate Libraries Week the National Library hosted a Welsh language Translate-a-thon for students at Aberystwyth University hoping to pursue a career as translators. The goal was to translate existing English Wikipedia articles about famous writers into Welsh. The event was part of a wider WiciLlên project, funded by the Welsh Government and aimed at improving online access to Welsh language information and data about literature and the Welsh bibliography.
Students translating content into Welsh during the event
The National Library of Wales’ National Wikimedian helps the library support and contribute to Wikipedia. The Welsh language Wikipedia has been the focus of this work since collaboration began in 2015. The Library and its main funder, the Welsh Government have recognised the importance of this hub of Welsh language knowledge in building a sustainable and thriving future for the Welsh language – Welsh Wicipedia is already the most viewed Welsh website and now has over 100,000 articles. However there is still lots of work to do in order to give access to ‘all knowledge’ in Welsh.
The Library has been working with the Professional Translation Studies course at Aberystwyth University for several years, building on the idea that using Wicipedia’s content translation tool for perfecting translation means students can actively contribute to the improvement of freely available Welsh language content whilst studying, giving real value to their assignments.
One of the articles translated during the event
Coarse leader Mandi Morse says: “We are delighted to be able to take advantage of the Wikipedia platform while teaching the postgraduate Professional Translation Studies course. It gives our students great experiences as they develop their translation skills, giving them the opportunity to practice translating all kinds of subjects and contexts. Wikipedia is certainly extremely useful and enriches our provision”
12 students attended the event at the National Library, and 9 new articles were created. In many cases, making information about these people available in Welsh for the first time. New articles include German novelist Gerhart Hauptmann, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1912 and English Children’s author Joan Aiken. You can find a full list of articles created here.
We hope to facilitate similar events in the future in order to support the improvement of Welsh language content online and to encourage Welsh Universities to think about how they can do the same.
An answer to almost any question is now only a few taps of your touchscreen away, or you can speak directly to your device. Ask Google ‘what do libraries do’ and it will tell you (with the help of Wikipedia) that ‘in addition to providing materials, [they] also provide the services of librarians who are experts at finding and at interpreting information needs.’
Surprisingly, perhaps, there is no mention of books. Some would prefer to see other activities or services mentioned; at the National Library of Wales, for example, we ‘collect, preserve and give access to all kinds and forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh and other Celtic peoples’. Most importantly, however, Google and Wikipedia’s definition of the role of the library is as valid today as it was in the pre-digital world of the twentieth century.
The theme of this year’s ‘Libraries Week’ is ‘Celebrating Libraries in a Digital World’ and it is an opportunity to highlight how libraries use new technologies to improve and extend their activities and services. With examples from the National Library of Wales, here are eight ways in which digital technology is enabling us to fulfil our mission more effectively today.
1. Widening access
For over twenty years, the National Library of Wales has been digitising collections to give access to them beyond our building in Aberystwyth. Over 5 million items have been digitised so far, including newspapers and journals, maps, manuscripts, artworks and photographs. You can browse highlights from the Library’s collections under the Discover tab on our website or view a list of our digital resources.
Among the Library’s most popular online resources are the Welsh Newspapers website, which gives access to over 1.1 million pages of newspapers published between 1805 and 1919, and its sister website Welsh Journals, which has 1.4 million pages of journals and periodicals. The popularity of these resources is due in large part to users being able to search their content – an enhanced level of access made possible by using software to read printed text and produce searchable text files as well as capturing images of pages.
2. Discover more
The Library’s entire holdings, both physical and digital, can be searched online using our online Catalogue, allowing you to find out quickly whether it can be found in the collections.
If you’re among the millions of people who are within a single day’s travel to and from Aberystwyth, you can use the Catalogue to request access to items on-site. If not, then you can request copies to be sent to you, use the Catalogue to compile lists of sources, or filter your results only to display those that are available online.
3. Opening new fields of research
Methods and formats of digital capture and data creation are enabling researchers to ask new questions and make discoveries that would have previously been virtually impossible.
On the Welsh Newspapers and Welsh Journals websites, for example, a vast amount of text can be searched in a matter of seconds. Duncan Brown, one of the founders of the ecological project Llên Natur, has used the resource to find historical references to the nightingale song, and to the fish brwyniad Conwy (smelt or sparling in English) being caught in the River Conwy after wet weather.
In 2015, ‘ghostly faces‘ were found on the pages of the 13th century manuscript, The Black Book of Carmarthen. They are believed to have been erased in the 16th century until they were discovered by Professor Paul Russell from the University of Cambridge and PhD student Myriah Williams with the use of image analysis techniques.
Research is probably the most exciting area in which Library’s use of digital technology is making an impact.
4. Opportunities to collaborate
Digital developments have led to opportunities for collaboration within Wales and internationally, working with other organisations to deliver shared resources and to improve our service to users.
To commemorate the centenary of the First World War, a project funded by Jisc brought together primary sources from the collections of 11 libraries, special collections and archives across Wales to be digitised and presented on the Cymru1914 website.
The Cynefin project led by the Archives and Records Council Wales saw the digitisation of tithe maps, most of which were held at the National Library but some in other archives in Wales and England, and related apportionment records held and digitised by The National Archives in Kew, to a single Places of Wales online resource.
Between September 2017 and February 2019, we worked in partnership with 12 other cultural heritage institutions across Europe to bring together collections on the Europeana digital platform to tell the story of ‘the Rise of Literacy’. Having selected materials for the project, individuals from the partner organisations worked together to discuss their shared history and to present the collections with digital exhibitions, blogs and galleries.
Most recently, we have been working with The National Library of Scotland, The Hathi Trust in the United States, The British Library, The University of Glasgow and RLUK as part of an AHRC-funded project to explore the possibility of creating a global catalogue of digitised texts that would enable organisations to plan their digitisation programmes and strategies jointly, and researchers to search digitised tests from a single point of access.
5. Enabling participation
Recent advances in digital technology have enabled users to create, enrich and interpret of cultural heritage in new ways. Participation gives opportunities to develop new skills, promote social cohesion and contribute to the health and well-being of participants.
Following the success of the Cynefin Tithe Map project and collaboration with the Wales for Peace project to transcribe the Welsh National Book of Remembrance, we have developed crowd.library.wales, a crowdsourcing platform to deliver projects that allow users to participate in the work of the Library by transcribing and annotating the Library’s digital collections. These projects include the transcription of First World War Tribunal Records, tagging Gwilym Livingstone Evans’s photographs of the community of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and transcribing the diaries of the Welsh artist Kyffin Williams.
Since the appointment of a Wikipedian in Residence in 2015, the Library has had a successful partnership with Wikimedia UK and, with the support of the Welsh Language Unit of Welsh Government, delivered four thematic projects (WiciPop, Wici-Iechyd, WiciPobl and the current WiciLlên project) to increase digital content available in the Welsh language. In keeping with the ethos of Wikimedia projects, these projects have a strong element of participation, inviting both new and experienced Wikipedians to get involved in the initiative and to attend editathons, translatathons or a hackathon.
People’s Collection Wales delivers digitisation training to community groups, projects and organisations so that they can digitise and share their own collections and stories online. Launched in 2010, People’s Collection Wales has delivered training to hundreds of groups throughout Wales and beyond, and gives access to over 120,000 objects on the website.
6. Sharing and promoting collections
Digital collections can be shared on various platforms simultaneously, where they can be presented in various contexts and reach different audiences. The National Library of Wales’s collections can be found on Art UK, People’s Collection Wales, Europeana, Wikicommons and Flickr Commons. Many of these images are available to re-use under open licences.
Using social media – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram – we take collections directly to users, where they can help to share and promote our digital collections. As well as promoting our collections to the world, we engage with users in discussion using these channels.
7. Augmented reality
Digital technologies are used to enhance visitor experience to the Library building. Using the Smartify app, you can access additional information about items that are displayed in the Library’s exhibitions. Smartify was used as part of the National Library of Wales’s exhibition at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst this year.
Using the Google Expeditions virtual reality platform, you can also take a virtual tour of the Library. Developed especially for use in education, the Library expedition takes you behind the scenes as well as to public spaces, presenting information about the Library and our collections.
8. Preservation for future generations
Ensuring long-term access to the record of today’s culture to future generations is one of the great challenges of the digital world as libraries deal with questions around storage, copyright and digital rights management, multiple and obsolete formats, information that can only be accessed using specific software and devices, not to mention information continuously evolving or disappearing from the World Wide Web. The National Library of Wales is the only library in Wales that has ‘legal deposit’ status, which allows specific libraries to collect and preserve electronic publications and to archive websites so that users can access digital publications and study the history of Web.
The tasks of collecting, preserving and giving access to knowledge continues, and the question is not whether there is a role for libraries in a digital world, but how do we continue to reach standards of service that not only make the most of opportunities these technologies offer, but ensure that future generations have free and unrestricted access to knowledge that has been digitised or is not yet available in digital form. To celebrate libraries in a digital world is to declare the importance of their role in society today and for years to come.
In early 2018, to coincide with the launch of the Kyffin Williams: Behind the Frame exhibition, the Library began collaborating with Smartify, a company who had developed a smartphone app for use with in-house exhibitions in museums, galleries and libraries worldwide.
It is an app that allows visitors to scan items on display at the Library with their smartphone to receive further information about it or about the creator of the work. The app is simple to use and free to download from the iOS and Google Play store. What is special about the app is that it gives you context surrounding the item and therefore enhances the users’ experience.After scanning an item, it is possible to save it in a personal gallery so that you can view the digital image or read about the item once you get home.
One of the Library’s items featured on the app is the original copy of the Welsh National Anthem ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’. After scanning an opening in this manuscript, not only will you be able to view interpretive information about the item but you will also have the opportunity to listen to the first known audio recording in Welsh, when the singer Madge Breese was recorded by the Gramophone Company, singing the anthem on 11 March 1899. The app certainly offers our visitors a new and interactive experience in today’s digital world!
Since the Library began collaborating with Smartify almost two years ago we continue to increase the number of items from the Library’s collections that are included on the app and ensure that all the information about the items is available in Welsh and English.
Next time you visit the Library remember to look out for any items on display with the Smartify logo beside them and give the app a go!
Many of you will be familiar with the point in life where you first see things which were part of your childhood in a museum. Collecting an archive which documents events, campaigns and people which you remember; you feel a bit older than you do but there is something special about re-living those events, often from a different perspective.
Mumph’s cartoons fed my teenage interest in politics. I looked forward to reading the Just William cartoon strip in the Western Mail on Saturday morning which followed the adventures of Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague. The portrait of Hague as a schoolboy in shorts and with a map of Wales upside down on the wall in his office may have been a bit harsh, but it did reflect the feeling that the job of Welsh Secretary had a low status in the cabinet, and the resentment that MPs with no connection to Wales had been appointed to the job. Sir Wyn Roberts’ role appeared to be to try to educate the Secretary of State on the issues of the day, but usually without success!
Mumph’s portrait of William Hague’s successor Ron Davies was very different. The strip was re-named The One Ronnie, with comedy connotations, but Ron Davies himself was portrayed as a gangster with dark glasses and a white suit with Minister Jon Owen Jones looking like a version of Frankenstein’s monster. In 1998 it was Alun Michael’s turn to star in the St Michael cartoon strips. This time the portrayal was heavily based on the idea that Alun Michael was parachuted in to the job by Tony Blair, so he always wore a parachute and was sometimes almost invisible except for his glasses. Peter Hain was portrayed wearing rollers and Rhodri Morgan with a tree growing out of the top of his head. When Rhodri Morgan had a hair cut, the tree was removed, but the stump remained, causing a great deal of confusion to a university friend which was only explained when I found an appropriate picture of the First Minister to make the comparison!
With the opening of the National Assembly opposition politicians made more appearances; Dafydd Wigley, Mike German and Rod Richards – usually with an English flag in his hat.
On one level cartoons like this are quite light-hearted, depending on emphasises physical features, mannerisms or character, but they reflect the political zeitgeist in a way that other media often fail to. The exaggerated features are often based on the way the public, or sections of the public at least, see them. If they’re not, the characters don’t really work. The cartoons record important events in a visually accessible way including the discussions over the Cardiff Bay Opera House, weapons, education, health and elections and the first decade of devolution.
Taking this collection into the Library is very exciting. Mumph cartoons are at least partially responsible for my interest in politics, and so they’re indirectly responsible for me being the political archivist. Digitising and making these cartoons available will hopefully spark more interest in the field, although it is hard for me to think of them as a historical resource. This is an expensive business and we’d appreciate any help towards the costs via our Collections Fund.
Those Saturday mornings reading Just William feel like a long time ago now.
This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
Every year, as part of the Education Service’s Outreach programme, a Masterpiece in Schools Day is held, when an original item from the Library’s art collection is taken to a school somewhere in Wales to be the focus of an educational workshop. In the last three years William Turner’s painting of Dolbadarn Castle has visited a school in Llanberis, and a series of Kyffin Williams’ artworks were taken to schools in Dyffryn Nantlle and Bro Lleu in Penygroes. These events are important because they are excellent examples of how the National Library’s collections can inspire a younger audience, and help them to learn about and interpret works of art and the history associated with them.
This year, guided by Sculpture Masterpieces in Schools Art UK (a charity aiming to promote works of art held by public bodies in Britain), we invited Ffederasiwn Cysgod y Foel – which includes Ysgol Bro Tryweryn, Frongoch and Ysgol Ffridd y Llyn, Cefnddwysarn – to participate in a project that focussed on one of the National Library’s most significant sculptures, Cofeb Tryweryn by John Meirion Morris. The sculpture was created with the intention of commissioning a full size version (30 feet tall) on the shore of Llyn Celyn to commemorate the drowning of the Tryweryn valley in the 1960s.
It was decided to invite Iola Edwards, a local artist and daughter of John Meirion Morris, to lead a session for pupils in Years 5 and 6. She visited the National Library to search our collections for artworks inspired by the story of Capel Celyn, which, alongside her father’s sculpture, would be used to prepare and provide suitable activities for the workshop.
On Thursday, 12 September, the sculpture was taken to the Bala area to be the focus for the day’s art workshop. The day began with an opportunity for the children of both schools to see the sculpture during the morning service.
To give some background to the memorial’s history, Iola showed the pupils some photographs taken by Geoff Charles. They tell the story of the drowning of Capel Celyn village, and the vigorous protesting that occurred in opposition to the plan.
The pupils’ first task was to study the sculpture’s form and make sketches of it, so that they could appreciate the dynamic shape of the bird reaching up from the water. They worked in charcoal that enabled them to leave a bold mark that flowed easily.
The children were given the opportunity to study the memorial very closely, and to see the detailed faces in the bird’s feathers. They discussed the feelings of the villagers that these faces represent, their sadness and their fears, all protesting against what was happening to them. After lunch the children went on to make 3D figures from paper showing faces shouting and screaming about the injustice suffered.
A part of the workshop looked at the village of Capel Celyn and the community that was lost under the water. Using their design skills, the pupils created an image of the village’s buildings, and made a collage of scenes of the area and the people using Geoff Charles’ photographs.
The last part of the workshop involved the pupils discussing how we remember the history of Tryweryn, and the iconic wall that stands near Llanrhystud in Ceredigion. Using the screen printing process, the children recreated the graffiti that has now been replicated at many sites across Wales.
This year’s Masterpiece in Schools Day was an opportunity for pupils to learn about and commemorate events that occurred a stone’s throw away from Ysgol Bro Tyweryn over half a century ago, in the presence of a sculpture created especially to commemorate the history. Under the guidance of Iola Edwards, the sculpture inspired a group of children to develop new art skills and create a mural as their own memorial to an extremely important event in the modern history of Wales.
While cataloguing the Wynnstay estate records some years ago, I made a note of a tale which concerned a Montgomeryshire clergyman in the mid-seventeenth century. It was the record of a case brought in 1647 before Edward Vaughan of Llwydiarth and his fellow JPs at ‘The Red Castle’ (Powis Castle). At this point I must adopt the tone of a television announcer and warn my readers that this post ‘contains strong language’. Statements asserted that Edmund Hall, rector of Llansantffraid, was A quarelous person, a lewd liver and producer of causeles (causeless) suits amongste his neighboures as appeareth by these articles following….
Mr Hall was said to have commenced a lawsuit in the Court of the Exchequer against Walter Griffithes, following a persecution campaign for the non-payment of tithes which he had imposed unfairly on his hapless neighbour. In addition, he disregarded his legal and moral obligation to observe every fast day and insteade of preaching upon the last day in August last 1647, hee the said Mr Hall tooke his recreacion by playing most of the said day att Chiffleboarde (shuffleboard) in the house of Edward Harry in the said parish.
Likewise on the next fast day, instead of preaching, he was found to be drinking at an alehouse and was confronted by one of his parishioners:
One John Powell of the said parish, demanding of the said Mr Hall att the said alehouse whether hee would preach that day, hee the said Mr Hall in a drunken humor said to the said Powell that if hee would not hould his tounge that hee would whipp his... [we’ll leave that one there!].
On the next fast day, the rector was playing bowls. To add to his catalogue of misdemeanours, upon the previous Whitsuntide he was very drunke att the house of one Richard Ashley in Dythur insomuch that he could not substancially stand to make water in a chamber pott but reeled about the roome.
At Welshpool in the house of Maurice Lloyd, far into the night he was desperatly bent (beinge farr in drinke) and it was alleged that he challenged one of the company to a fight, offering five shillings to anyone who would duel with him.
This story is contradicted by the document which accompanies it, signed by several respectable citizens of the rector’s previous parish at Montgomery, a testament to his blameless life, sober, worthy [of] his calling, free from scandal….laborious in preaching his doctrine, being sound, orthodox, free from heresy….
So, which story was true?
I was unable, in the limited time available, to discover anything else about Edmund Hall. Does anyone out there have further information about the so-called drunken rector of Llansantffraid?
This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
Developing an interactive timeline
Wales is a small but proud nation, a nation which has contributed more than its fair share of reformers, inventors and innovators to society. From Aneurin Bevan’s NHS to Edward George Bowen’s development of Radar, Wales’ contribution to technology and civilisation as a whole, should not be underestimated. And lets not forget, Wales too has entertained us with sporting greats, actors like Richard Burton and a plenitude of musical talent.
The Dictionary of Welsh Biography has for many years recorded the lives of our most celebrated people, so that we never forget their contribution to Wales and the world. Since 2004 all these biographies have been available bilingualy on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography website, and it’s regularly updated with new entries – over 5000 and counting.
Portraits of People in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography from Wikidata
In recent years, in a bid to make this resource as open and accessible as possible, the National Library has been sharing the data behind the website openly to Wikidata – a lesser known sister of the one and only Wikipedia, designed for sharing information as data, rather than prose, freely and openly with the world. Like Wikipedia anyone can edit and improve the data in Wikidata and we now have a rich resource of data about our 5000 VIPs. Wikidata lets us plot birthplaces on a map, it lets us connect data about people’s education with data for the schools and universities they attended, and we can see which other institutions hold relevant records, like portraits or archives.
The birth place of everyone in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Explore – A map plotting the journeys taken by Welsh Missionaries, using Wikidata.
Our volunteer team has also been busy using the Dictionary of Welsh Biography to create Wikipedia articles for the people, so that we effectively have two versions of every article – one a peer reviewed and carefully managed historical record, and the other, a community managed, constantly evolving article which anyone can contribute to and reuse freely.
Following the launch of a new website for the Dictionary of Welsh Biography last year, we secured funding to work with developers to add a new and exciting feature. Using the enriched data from Wikidata, and thousands of digital images from the library collections, we are developing an interactive timeline which will allow users to explore all 5000 people in the dictionary chronologically. Click on a person on the timeline and you will be able to see the relevant Dictionary of Welsh Biography entry and the Wikipedia article.
An early version of the timeline currently being developed
What’s more, the timeline will allow users to filter the records based on where they were born, where they were educated, their occupation and more. And these filters can be used in combination, so if you only want to see all the Footballers born in Aberdare, that’s fine! The Library has also carefully curated a timeline of important events in Welsh history which can be overlayed on the timeline to give more context to the lives of these people.
This level of interaction and customisation will help bring the dictionary of Welsh Biography to life. It will be easier than ever before to search and discover the lives of our most important citizens – the people who helped shape the story of Wales.
Sharing data and information about Welsh literature with the world
The National Library of Wales working in partnership with Menter Iaith Môn for a second time has secured a grant from the Welsh Government for the WiciLlên project, in order to deliver an ambitious project focused on openly sharing information about Welsh literature on the Wikimedia projects.
The project will consist of two main strands. Firstly the National Library will begin sharing a huge dataset of all books of Welsh interest ever published in Wales. This dataset contains information about nearly half a million books, their authors and publishers.
A visualization of linked open data for Welsh interest books published by the University of Wales Press
As part of the WiciLlên project the first 50,000 of those records will be enriched and shared as linked open data on Wikidata. The data will be searchable and reusable in dozens of languages, including Welsh. This will improve access to this important dataset, help improve citations on Wikipedia and provide opportunities for developers and researchers wishing to re-use the data.
The second strand of the project will focus on improving content on the Welsh Wikipedia. The National Library will deliver a Hackathon event and a series of Wikipedia editathons, whilst Menter Môn’s Wikipedian in Residence will deliver events for school children of different ages.
Wikipedia editing events held recently by Menter Iaith Môn and the National Library of Wales
Nia Wyn Thomas, who heads Menter Iaith Môn said: “It’s a privilege, as always, to work with Wikimedia UK and the National Library to enrich open content in Welsh through the skilled hands of Anglesey’s children. Over the period of the collaboration, we are proud of the work that has been achieved, and the impact of the work around developing children’s digital competency through the medium of Welsh, be it their first, or second language. The influence of the work on the development of the Welsh language is also great, in a field where the language is not always seen as progressive”
The project has already started and will run until March 2020.
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.