Blog - Story of Wales

Posted - 26-04-2019

Discover Sound / Story of Wales

Protecting the Story of Wales

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is an exciting UK project that’s funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the British Library.

The National Library of Wales is proud to be one of the 10 Hub partners participating in the project where half a million rare and at risk sound recordings will be digitally preserved and 100,000 made available online.

From September 2018 until September 2021 the National Library of Wales will digitise, catalogue and assess rights for 5,000 sound recordings from Wales. They will include a range of subjects from oral history, lectures, dialect, poetry, radio sessions to Welsh pop and folk music.

We will preserve sound recordings that are held on obsolete medium and are under threat of physical degradation. Experts suggests we have no more than 15 years to save these sound collections before they will be lost forever.

Thanks to Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, we will be able to preserve and protect some of Wales’ sound recordings and make them publicly available. In order to fulfill this, we will be working with some of our partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar.

While digitising the recordings we have unearthed some lost and forgotten interviews from people talking about their childhood memories back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their school days, family life, communities, and local dialect.

Wales is a country with a variety of customs and traditions which are an important part of our culture and history. By saving these recordings we allow future generations to hear our past and learn about our history.

Stories about local customs from the 19th Century are being told, for instance the ‘Mari Lwyd’ a medieval folk custom, with the purpose of collecting money for the poor and homeless to make up for the lack of support from the government. A tall person was nominated to lead, holding the horse’s skull, with two others behind holding the offerings collected. The Mari Lwyd was last seen in New Quay in 1887.

A description of the ‘Ceffyl Pren’ can be heard. This was a wooden horse used as a practice of social justice. The aim was to punish those who did something against the spirit of society when the law could not. The rider and horse was made of wood and straw in order to represent the guilt. A hood was worn by those who carried the effigy, to hide their identity, and a procession took place through the public areas of the town leading to the home of the culprit, and three weeks later the effigy was burnt in front of the culprit’s house.

Thomas Williams talks about the ‘gogryddion’ (sievemakers) moving into the community and used for processing wheat. He recalls a tradition where a sixpence was thrown in with the wheat, and when the coin appeared it indicated the wheat was ready. The sieves were made out of split willow and the makers were known to be Mormons.

During the three years a wealth of history, traditions and heritage will be saved and without the means to preserve these recordings the first-hand accounts could be lost forever.

If you would like more information about the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, please contact us on:


Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager

Posted - 12-04-2019

#LoveArt / Collections / Exhibitions / Story of Wales

Collecting Contemporary: Art from the National Collection

‘Hel Llwch’ by Valériane Leblond, 2018 (Copyright: Valériane Leblond)


The National Library of Wales is home to an important collection of contemporary Welsh art. On display in the Library’s recently launched ‘Collecting Contemporary’ exhibition (6.4.19 – 21.3.20) are examples of works recently acquired by the Library, which vary from Paul Peter Piech’s dynamic linocut, to Charles Byrd’s cubist work.


‘Abstraction’ by Charles Byrd, 1964 (Copyright: Charles Byrd Estate)


An important gift which recently came into the Library’s possession was the Roese Collection, a valuable and comprehensive collection of contemporary Welsh art. This is one of the most important collections of contemporary art to enter the Library’s collections, and a number of the works by artists such as Charles Byrd, Ernest Zobole, Ceri Richards, Mary Lloyd Jones, Ivor Davies, Glenys Cour, Charles Byrd and Iwan Bala can be viewed within this exhibition.


‘View through a window’ by Ivor Davies (Copyright: Ivor Davies)


This year we were also fortunate to acquire nine iconic works by the Glyn Neath based pop artist Ken Elias into our collections.


‘Check’ by Ken Elias, ca.2008-2009 (Copyright: Ken Elias)


The Library prides itself in collecting works from artists who are currently attracting attention in this field, such as the London based artist Seren Morgan Jones, and the locally based artist Teresa Jenellen in Machynlleth. The theme of women is central to their works. Another local artist whose work is exhibited here is Valériane Le Blond, and her imaginative paintings portray a Welsh countryside which is familiar to us all, whilst Sarah Carvell’s expressionistic landscapes and Lisa Eurgain Taylor and Elfyn Lewis’ abstract works show the eternal inspiration of the Welsh landscape.


‘Blue Gloves, Orange Chair’ by Seren Morgan Jones, 2016 (Copyright: Seren Morgan Jones)


Our collection is increasing in strength with ongoing purchases and donations from generous benefactors.


Morfudd Bevan, Art Curator at the National Library of Wales


Posted - 29-03-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

Pennal Letter: Wales’ important role in European politics

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.

The Pennal Letter is one of the most striking documents produced in Wales during the Middle Ages. It reveals a confident Wales that played an important part in European politics at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

By March 1406, when the letter was written, Glyndŵr had experienced incredible success. After a disappointing start in 1400 the rebellion had swept throughout the country winning military victories, capturing a number of Edward I’s main castles and attracting support from the French king. Glyndŵr was crowned prince of Wales and he held a parliament with representatives from every corner of the country. He had succeeded in creating a Welsh principality that was free from the control of the king of England.

But by 1406 the tide had begun to turn against the rebellion. In the months before the letter was written Glyndŵr lost battles, his brother was killed, his son was captured and some parts of the country began to waver in their support. He had therefore to regain momentum by ensuring further support from France.

At the time of the rebellion major events were happening in Europe’s history. European kings were divided by the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, and the Church was split in two by the Papal Schism when two popes were elected in opposition to one another. France supported the Avignon pope while the Roman pope was supported by England. The purpose of the letter was to strengthen the alliance between Wales and France by transferring Wales’ allegiance from the Roman pope to the Avignon pope. The letter made Wales an independent player in Europe’s political games and placed the nation at the centre of the greatest events of the day.

What we also see in the letter is Glyndŵr, as in many other aspects of the rebellion, following a policy that was at the same time both traditional and radical.

An alliance with France made political sense, but Glyndwr was also following in the footsteps of other important Welsh rulers. In the 1160s an alliance existed between Owain Gwynedd and Louis VII while in 1212 a similar relationship developed between Llywelyn the Great and Philip Augustus. Only a few decades before the Glyndŵr Rebellion the king of France had supported Owain Lawgoch, a descendant of the princes of Gwynedd, in his attempt to become prince of Wales.

What was new about the letter is the comprehensive vision that it includes. While supporting the Avignon pope Glyndŵr outlines his plans for the country:

  • a Welsh Church free from the authority of Canterbury, under an archbishop of St David’s;
  • two universities, one in the north and another in the south, to train the clergy;
  • clergy should be able to speak Welsh, rather than the non-Welsh-speakers from England often appointed to the highest positions in the Church;
  • the revenue of the Church in Wales should stay in Wales rather than, as often happened, going over the border to England.

This vision wasn’t fulfilled in Glyndŵr’s day, but modern-day Wales – with its parliament, universities, national institutions and emphasis on the importance of the Welsh language – in many ways resembles the vision outlined by Glyndŵr in the Pennal Letter.

Dr Rhun Emlyn

Medieval Historian

University of Aberystwyth

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 - 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




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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