Blog

Posted - 06-11-2018

Collections / Events

The Welsh Political Archive Annual Lecture 2018

Last Friday, 2nd of November, The Welsh Political Archive Annual Lecture was delivered by The Revd Dr D. Ben Rees at Y Drwm, The National Library of Wales. The lecture is delivered in Welsh every three years, and the title for this year was ‘Camp Aneurin; y Gwasanaeth Iechyd Gwladol’ [translated as Aneurin’s triumph; the National Health Service in English].

The lecture was an opportunity to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the National Health Service and to acknowledge the magnificent achievement of Aneurin Bevan in all this. With all the tickets sold out before the evening, a great lecture was delivered by D. Ben Rees who traced the relationship of the Minister for Housing, Health and Local Government with the Tredegar Medical Aid Society which gave him a socialist vision to create a National Health Service.

This was the thirty-second public lecture in a celebrated series instituted in 1987. The previous lectures include Lord Kenneth O. Morgan, Lord Roberts of Conwy, Professor Angela V. John and Menna Richards.

Although he has spent the last 50 years in Liverpool, Dr Rees is a native of Llanddewi Brefi, Ceredigion, and is one of the most prominent preachers of his denomination. In addition, he is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster, and is an author of over 70 publications in Welsh and English.

He published a biography in Welsh on Jim Griffiths in 2014, a volume which was well-received as it was the first in Welsh to encompass the life and career of one of the most important political figures in Wales in the second half of the 20th century and the first Secretary of State for Wales. A sister volume was published last summer, which was a comprehensive biography of another political giant in 20th century Wales, Cofiant Cledwyn Hughes.

Interesting questions and a good discussion were had following the lecture, and a vote of thanks was proposed by Rhys Evans, Head of Strategy and Education at BBC Wales, who is a member of The Welsh Political Archive Advisory Committee which met earlier that afternoon.

The lecture is now published on the pages of The Welsh Political Archive (together with lectures of the past fifteen years) on the Library’s website, and a recording of the lecture forms part of The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.

D. Rhys Davies
Assistant Archivist, The Welsh Political Archive

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Posted - 27-10-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections

Dylan’s ‘wood and asbestos pagoda’ and the Captain Killick affair

An architectural drawing of Dylan Thomas’s Majoda bungalow in New Quay, Ceredigion has recently been purchased by the Library. The poet lived at Majoda from 1944 to 1945 where he found creative inspiration and started to write Under Milk Wood. Here he also succeeded in furthering his reputation both near and far -and what better fillip for any all-too-quiet, war-weary community than a resident Dylan Thomas perking things up?

 

The plan is associated with a notorious incident at Majoda on the night of 6th March 1945 when Captain William Killick, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) Commando and also Dylan’s neighbour and erstwhile watering hole chum appeared with a Sten gun and hand grenade and fired into the bungalow in which Dylan and his family were residing. Three friends were also present at the time.  The grenade (which had no detonator) was not deployed and luckily there were no casualties. The ferment led to a court case in Lampeter which was covered by the major newspapers and portrayed in the semi-biographical film The Edge of Love in 2008.

 

Captain Killick, who had recently returned from active service in Greece, was venting his spleen following tensions with Dylan which included the relationship between Dylan and the Captain’s wife, Vera, with whom Dylan had grown up in Swansea.

 

The plan was commissioned from an Aberystwyth architect specifically for the court case. PC Islwyn Williams was the village ‘Bobby’ who investigated the incident and whose pencil notes  appear on the reverse of the plan. These notes describe his observations at the scene – primarily the location of bullet holes.

 

Captain Killick was fortunate in being acquitted of all charges, including attempted murder. In both court and local community there had been some sympathy for the soldier who had survived several highly dangerous war missions behind enemy lines and indeed had been described by the SOE as having ‘an excellent operational record’.

 

 

Gwilym Tawy

Map Curator

Posted - 22-10-2018

Collections

Conjectures about Stonehenge

On 26th October 1918, Stonehenge was given to the nation by its owner Cecil Chubb, who had purchased it three years earlier.  The site had been put up for auction in 1915 following the death in the First World War of the only male heir of the family which had owned it since the 1820s.

Although it is one of Britain’s most famous monuments, the purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery.  This is reflected in the title of a book recently purchased for the collections of the National Library, Conjectures on the mysterious monument of ancient art, Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain.  Published in 1826, this is the fourteenth edition of the 82-page publication, reflecting the enduring interest in the monument and its history.  The book contains accounts of different aspects of Stonehenge by sixteen writers, including two Welshmen, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Bishop of St. Asaph (1100?-1154), and Giraldus Cambrensis (1146?-1223?).  Both writers recount that the stones had originally been taken by giants from Africa to Ireland, where the monument was known as the Giants’ Dance, and were brought to their present location by Merlin for Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, to commemorate the treachery of Hengist, the Saxon general.  Other writers in the book advance different theories about the origins of Stonehenge, and the preface acknowledges that it is almost impossible to ascertain the true purpose of the monument.

 

The preface begins by stating the purpose of the book: “No publications afford more entertainment, and prove of more public utility, than local delineations and descriptions, drawn with correctness and fidelity; they enable persons to form a just idea of remarkable places, to which fortune or situation denies them access.”  Thanks to the generosity a century ago of Sir Cecil Chubb (created a baronet the following year on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George), access to Stonehenge is now available to all.

 

Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Posted - 17-10-2018

Collections / Screen and Sound

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project is part of the ‘Save Our Sounds’ programme which aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and will receive funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. These institutions are:

 

  1. National Museums Northern Ireland
  2. Archives + Manchester
  3. Norfolk Record Office
  4. National Library of Scotland
  5. University of Leicester
  6. The Keep in Brighton
  7. Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
  8. National Library of Wales
  9. London Metropolitan Archives
  10. Bristol Culture

 

 

The project will focus on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.

The British Library will lead the project, sharing skills and supporting hubs across the UK to preserve their own unique and rare sounds while making them available to the public.

By the end of 2021 the National Library of Wales will have digitally preserved and provide access to unique and rare recordings from our own collection and from partners’ collections across Wales.

The recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities and will raise the profile for collections for Sound Archives across the UK. By the end of 2021 more people will have engaged in sound recordings and a new website will allow listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.

 

Alison Lloyd Smith

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager

 

 

Posted - 15-10-2018

Collections / Digitisation / Events / News / News and Events / Research

The Peniarth Manuscripts: a bountiful harvest

Back in March, the Library published the first group of Peniarth Manuscripts to have been digitised as part of an ambitious plan to present the contents of the entire collection online.

This week, as the Library celebrates items and collections which have been inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, we announce that images of a further 25 manuscripts from the Peniarth Collection have appeared on our website. They are presented here according to dates of creation:

From the 14th century, we welcome 190, a Welsh manuscript containing religious texts such as Lucidar and Ymborth yr Enaid, together with 328 and 329, two legal manuscripts in Norman-French, with the latter containing the text of Magna Carta.

From the beginning of the 15th century, we welcome the Latin and English religious texts of 334, and from the middle of that century, the work of Petrarch in a Latin manuscript produced at Oxford (336), and the Welsh text of Gwassanaeth Meir (191). An abundant crop from the second half of the century includes Welsh Law (175), a calendar in the hand of Gutun Owain (186), and poems written by Huw Cae Llwyd (189).

A dearth of sources from the first half of the 16th century is followed by an abundant crop from 1550 onwards, including the manuscripts of Roger Morris of Coed-y-talwrn (169), Thomas Evans of Hendreforfudd (187), lexicographer Thomas Wiliems (188), Simwnt Fychan (189), and another version of Gwassanaeth Meir (192). Pedigrees are represented in 193, and medical tracts in 184, 206 and 207.

Robert Vaughan did not neglect contemporary manuscripts, and 17th century examples include a collection of Welsh poetry (184), grammars and vocabularies written by John Jones of Gellilyfdy (295, 296, 302, 304 and 305), and volumes written by Robert Vaughan himself (180 and 185).

Finally, one lonely manuscript of Welsh sermons (324) from the 18th century, possibly the product of Montgomeryshire.

For a complete list of all Peniarth Manuscripts available digitally, consult the dedicated page on our website. Meanwhile, our diligent digitizers continue to work through the collection!

Maredudd ap Huw
Curator of Manuscripts

Posted - 08-10-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections

Murdoch Mackenzie the elder

Murdoch Mackenzie (Senior) contributed more enduringly to British theoretical and practical hydrography than any other individual. Born in Orkney in 1712, this grandson of the Bishop of Orkney had a mathematical  aptitude  which brought him into contact with mathematician Professor Colin Maclaurin who successfully advocated Mackenzie’s suitability to undertake a hydrographic survey in the Orkney Isles from 1742. Here, Mackenzie had valuable contacts to aid his work which resulted in the most precise and comprehensive marine survey yet undertaken in the British Isles. In 1750 his charts were published  as Orcades, or a geographic and hydrographic survey of the Orkney and Lewis Islands.

With Admiralty patronage, Mackenzie then embarked on a much grander project. He was commissioned in 1751 to survey the west coast of Britain and the entire coast of Ireland, a twenty-two year task which culminated in the publication of two chart volumes in 1774 and 1776.

By 1757 Scotland’s west coast mainland and islands had been surveyed. There followed a ten year survey of Ireland before his return to Great Britain’s western shores. In 1770 the survey ended in Pembrokeshire, the Menai Strait being omitted,  having been regarded by Mackenzie as unnavigable for larger vessels.

 

Mackenzie’s tried and tested surveying methods were acceptably accurate. They were also relatively swift, as is apparent from the prodigious length of coast surveyed in twenty years. This achievement was also particularly commendable bearing in mind the limitations of his surveying and monetary resources.

On Mackenzie’s retirement in 1770, he was succeeded as Admiralty Maritime Surveyor by his nephew, Lieutenant Murdoch Mackenzie (Junior). In 1771 Lieutenant Mackenzie continued where his uncle had ended by surveying the Bristol Channel.

 

Gwilym Tawy

Map Curator

Posted - 01-10-2018

Collections / New Accessions

New Edward Thomas Papers

The National Library recently purchased a group of literary papers relating to Edward Thomas (1878-1917), the poet, writer and soldier, all of which were all once in the possession of his friend the Gloucester lawyer Jack Haines (1875-1960).

They include two letters from Thomas to Haines and one from Thomas’s widow, Helen – the latter containing a frank description of the relationship between her, Edward and his close friend and fellow poet Robert Frost – as well as an apparently unpublished book review in his hand, dating from 1903, and several typescript copies of his poems.

However by some distance the most significant and interesting item is a school exercise book once used by Myfanwy, Edward Thomas’s daughter, which was reused by him to write his poetry. The majority of the pages were torn out of the book long ago, probably by Thomas himself, but the remaining eight leaves contain multiple drafts of two of his very earliest poems ‘The Mountain Chapel’ and ‘Birds’ Nests’, dated 17 and 18 December 1914. Until now no autograph copies or drafts of these were known to exist and so the manuscript potentially adds significantly to our understanding of his development as a poet.

The manuscript also has a draft of another poem ‘House and Man’, which was one of two published in the journal Root and Branch in 1915, the first of Thomas’s poems to see print.

The manuscripts are a valuable addition to the National Library’s already significant collection of manuscripts and papers of Edward Thomas, which include manuscript drafts of many of his poems, correspondence with his wife, his diaries, among them his 1917 War diary, and his letters to W. H. Hudson.

Rhys M. Jones
Assistant Manuscripts Librarian

Posted - 24-09-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections

A sea change for English hydrography

This ‘Year of the Sea’ blog highlights the initial bourgeoning of English hydrography, focusing on the work of Captain Collins, who also surveyed the Welsh coast.

In 1657 hydrographer and printer Joseph Moxon ventured into what had traditionally been the Dutch preserve of marine chart production with A Book of Sea Plats. These charts of European waters were nevertheless of Dutch origin.

John Seller envisaged an atlas containing charts surveyed, drawn, engraved, and printed at home. He was appointed Royal Hydrographer and remarkably secured a successful thirty-year order forbidding the import of Dutch ‘Waggoner’ charts (see Waghenaer’s ‘Spieghel’, our preceding maritime blog). Alas, Seller’s ambitions were beyond the means of an individual bookseller and instrument maker. Samuel Pepys later wrote that private individuals were incapable of such huge undertakings, and yet from 1671 Seller’s The English Pilot with its defects and partially refreshed old Dutch plates, progressively ousted ‘Waggoners’ from England.

In 1680 Captain Greenvile Collins began lobbying for a British survey. Collins, an experienced Royal Navy captain and skilled hydrographer was commissioned by King Charles II in 1676 to survey home waters and was promised significant assistance. Collins’s seven year survey began in 1681 and in 1693 his charts  were published in Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot.

 


The survey demanded rigorous coastal measurements and the precise coordinates of headlands. Progress was bedevilled by financial shortages and the waning interest of supporting bodies. Collins’s proposal to survey Ireland in its entirety was not realized.

Collins’s Pilot was the first systematic survey and first maritime atlas of British waters to be engraved and printed in London from original surveys and included forty-eight charts together with sailing directions, tide tables and coastal profiles. Despite inaccuracies and shortcomings the work was an immense advance for British navigation and validated Collins as one of history’s foremost hydrographers.

The Pilot, little altered, was issued between 1693 and 1792 and on at least twelve other occasions. Inevitably, by 1792, it was regarded as requiring considerable improvement.

The Library holds a 1779 copy of this atlas and several individual charts variously dated. Our illustrated charts of the western coasts of Wales and Milford Haven are dated 1693.

 

Gwilym Tawy,

Map Curator.

Posted - 21-09-2018

Collections / Digitisation

Revealing the Objects: Dictionaries and Grammars

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

Here’s a selection of dictionaries and grammars that will be digitized as part of the project.

Gruffydd Robert – Dosparth byrr (1563)

Gruffydd Robert was a Roman Catholic scholar, a grammarian of the sixteenth century and a humanist of the Renaissance. It comes as no surprise therefore that Robert was concerned with the study of language and the Welsh language in particular. As a Catholic exile he had to contend with rigorous press censorship across Europe which made the process of publication a daunting task. Gruffydd Robert’s multi-volume Grammar ‘Dosbarth byrr’, the earliest grammar to appear in Welsh, was at least partly published in Milan from 1567, where the author had settled. Robert was a firm supporter of the art of translation and believed it was a vital component in the expansion and development of a language in the modern world. He put his ideas into practice in his grammar. In addition, he converted the Ciceronian style into a Welsh medium by including a select translation of Cicero’s De Senectute in his sixth volume of ‘Dosparth byrr’.

John Davies – Antiquae linguae Britannicae, nunc vulgo dictae Cambro-britannicae, a suis Cymraecae vel Cambricae, ab aliis Wallicae, et linguae Latinae, dictionarium duplex. Prius Britannico-Latinum, … posterius, Latino-Britannicum. Accesserunt adagia Britannica (1632)

‘Dictionarium Duplex’ was a Latin-Welsh, Welsh-Latin dictionary and the first of its kind. This publication showcased John Davies’s lifetime study of the Welsh language, from Old Welsh poetry dating from around the sixth century down to the seventeenth century. Davies was a Renaissance scholar and these humanistic values were evident is his ‘Dictionarium Duplex’. The preface to the volume presented an interesting statement on the uniqueness of the Welsh language, its history and its place within an international linguistic context. In addition, his familiarities with the ideas of influential humanistic scholars were evident within the publication. This dictionary was aimed at, and produced for, scholars or Latinists. It was certainly not a practical resource for the ordinary Welsh-man, nor the uneducated poet. The ‘Dictionarium Duplex’ came to the attention of some of Europe’s leading linguists in the seventeenth century and laid the foundations for many future Welsh linguists and scholars. It also had a great impact on lawyers and priests during that time. Its publication is considered as one of the most important events in the history of the Welsh language in the seventeenth century.

Thomas Jones – Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb / The British language in its lustre (1688)

‘Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb’ or ‘The British language in its lustre’ was the first Welsh-English dictionary to appear in published form. This volume, by the almanacer Thomas Jones, was pocket sized and relatively cheap. Jones used John Davies’s Welsh-Latin section in ‘Dictionarium Duplex’ as a starting point for his publication. However, this dictionary was not intended for the educated minority, like Davies’s Latin version, but rather the ordinary population. Jones wished to enhance the lower class’s ability to write and spell both in Welsh and English through ‘Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb’.

Want to see more posts from this series? See below:

Elen Hâf Jones – Digital Access Projects Officer

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

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Posted - 19-09-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News / Research

Aberystwyth shipping records

Creating linked open data for Victorian shipping registers

Volunteers at the National Library of Wales have been transcribing 19th century shipping records for Aberystwyth and these are now being shared openly on Wikidata by the Library’s National Wikimedian.

 

For the first time it is now possible to visualise and query this rich historical record giving us a glimpse of life in 19th century Aberystwyth.

 

In the 18th and 19th Century the Welsh ‘interior’ was not easy to reach. Before the coming of the train and the invention of tarmac, the best way to get goods in and out of West Wales was by boat. Shipping was a booming industry in towns and villages along the West Wales coast and Aberystwyth was no exception. Records for more than 500 ships registered in Aberystwyth survive at the National Library of Wales and Ceredigion County Archive.

 

Aberystwyth Harbour by Alfred Worthington

 

Volunteers at the National Library began transcribing the Aberystwyth shipping records in 2012. The data they extracted contained information about the ships, their crew and the voyages they undertook.

 

In 2016 the library began to explore the possibility of enriching some elements of the data using Wikidata as a platform to share this data. If you are unfamiliar with Wikidata, it is part of the Wikimedia family of websites, which includes Wikipedia, and is a massive database of free to use data. It isn’t even six years old but it already contains 50 million data items about all sorts of places, people, things and concepts, all added by volunteers and organisations wishing to share their data with the world. The library’s Wikimedian collaborated with Ceredigion County Archives, who held additional information about the ships in order to create linked data about the ships themselves. This data included details such as the type and size of each ship, the date and location of construction and, where known, their fate.

 

From this, we were able to begin digging around in the data, and creating revealing visualisations. If you wanted to see the most popular names for ships registered in Aberystwyth, for example, we can easily retrieve and present this information. A map of where the ships were built revealed some interesting facts too. As you might expect, many ships were build locally in Aberystwyth, Borth and Aberdyfi, for example, but the data also reveals that dozens of ships were built in Canada. A little more research revealed that the government of the day was so concerned about a French invasion that they deliberately established ship building yards in safer lands, such as Prince Edward Island off the Canadian Coast, in order to safeguard the ability to move good around the uk by boat.

Word map of most popular ship names

 

Left; ships built in eastern Canada. Right; Ships built in Aberystwyth and Aberdyfi

 

We were also able to plot all the shipwrecks mentioned in the records. This not only highlights the perils of 19th century shipping, but reveals how ships from West Wales villages were traveling the world. From India, China and Africa to South America and even the South Pole, Welsh sailors were very well traveled.

 

The location of shipwrecks recorded in the shipping records

 

After the initial transcription work, many of the volunteers who had worked on the collection were keen to do more, to collect more information about the ships, their crew and their owners, so in 2017 a series of new tasks were set. Volunteers began searching for photographs and paintings of the ships, investigating the fate of more of the vessels, recording the owners of each vessel and they began the mammoth task of researching the lives of every ship’s master mentioned in the records.

 

Whilst the task of identifying all the ships masters will take some time yet, the first of the tasks  has now been completed. Data about the owners of each ship exists in the original shipping records, but was not within the scope of the initial project, so two of the volunteers who worked on the original project, Lilian and Myfanwy kindly went back through the records, and other sources such as the Crew List Index Project and extracted the the data. Much of this has now been incorporated with the rest of the data for each ship on Wikidata. Apart from providing an easy way to search and explore the data held within the collection the improved Wikidata allows us to query and visualize the data in new ways, which helps us better understand what these records tell us.

 

The new data now means that for many ships, we can chart its ownership throughout its life on the seas. We have also been able to create data items for each of the ships owners, be they individuals or established shipping companies. We know where the companies were based, and where individuals lived, and we know, from their names whether they were men or women.

 

For example we know that of the 630 owners identified, 47 were women. More research would be need, but at first glance it would appear that most of those 47 took ownership following the death of their husbands.

 

The records show how the ships often changed hands regularly. If we take the rather appropriately named ‘Volunteer’ we can plot a chart which shows all of its owners, the other ships those people owned, and the other owners of those ships – painting a complex picture of the business of ship ownership in West Wales. And it should be stated that the 630 owners identified will, in many cases, simply be the majority shareholders, or the appointed owner/manager. Many of these ships had multiple shareholders, meaning people from many walks of life could afford to invest in the busy shipping trade.

 

Owners of the ‘Volunteer’ with other connected ships and their owners

 

We can also see who the big players were in Aberystwyth by querying ship owners by the number of ships they owned. Thomas Jones, an Aberystwyth shipbuilder comes top of the pyle, owning more than 20 vessels at one time of another.

 

Ship owners, ordered by the number of ships they have owned

 

Timeline showing the ships owned by Thomas Jones

 

Wikidata, like Wikipedia, is a platform which anyone can edit so any one can now help to improve the data. If they spot mistakes, or have extra information it can be easily added directly to Wikidata. Our volunteers are still working hard to collect even more data so the amount of data connected to the Aberystwyth Shipping records will continue to grow over the coming months and years. Everyone is free to explore and reuse the data, so for the technically minded among you, please feel free to hack, create, mash and re-work our data, and be sure to share the results with us!

 

Jason Evans

National Wikimedian

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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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