Tag Archives: Digitisation

Posted - 13-07-2018

Collections / Digitisation

Revealing the Objects: Ballads

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 – ‘Revealing the Objects, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Below is a selection of ballads that will be contributed as part of the project.

Ballad-pamphlets were produced on a mass scale by the new printing presses in Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hawkers often sang ballads aloud in the market-place or at the fairground. With regards to content; some were of a religious and moral tone and others discussed historic and current affairs; such as local and national crimes, riots and industrial accidents and incidences.

The ballad played an important role in the social and cultural life of Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century ballads were being printed at 96 towns and villages across Wales and were bought in their thousands, often by individuals of the lower classes. Their populist nature attracted and recruited many new Welsh readers.

 

Alban Thomas, ‘Cân o senn iw hên feistr Tobacco’, 1718

‘Cân o senn iw hên feistr Tobacco’ was the first ballad to be published in Wales by an official press. It was published by Isaac Carter’s Press at Trefhedyn in 1718. The ballad discusses the evil and immoral nature of tobacco.

Lewis Davies, ‘Pennillion a wnaeth Lewis Davies o Lanrwst, i ffarwelio a’i wlad wrth gychwyn i America’, 18??

Lewis Llanrwst Davies bids farewell to his fellow-countrymen as he begins his journey to America.

Ywain Meirion, ‘Rhyfel-gan, am wrthryfel yr India, a gorchfygu y gelynion, a meddiannau Delhi’, 18??

This broadside is a war-song. Meirion discusses the insurrection of India and the defeat of the ‘enemy’ as the British army take possession of Delhi.

Unknown Author, ‘Ymweliad y cholera, ynghyd â galwad ar bawb i ymofyn am gymod â Duw cyn eu symud i’r byd tragwyddol’, 18??

This ballad introduces two warnings with regards to the cholera epidemic in Wales. It informs of the disease, and it calls on every sufferer to seek reconciliation with God before moving to the eternal world.

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 - 06-07-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

Revealing the Objects: Plays

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 – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of plays that will be digitized as part of the project.

 

Twm o’r Nant (Thomas Edwards), Tri Chryfion Byd, 1789

Twm o’r Nant (pen name of Thomas Edwards) was a renowned interlude and play writer. This particular interlude, ‘Tri Chryfion Byd’ or ‘Three Pillars of the World’ was one of his most popular. Poverty, Love and Death, the three pillars, are personified by Twm o’r Nant, and all preach, narrate, advise and commentate during the course of this humorous and lively play. Like many of his other works this interlude includes social commentary.

R. J. Derfel, Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, 1854

R. J. Derfel was a poet, writer and socialist. His play ‘Brad y Llyfrau Gleision’ or ‘The Treachery of the Blue Books’ was a direct reaction to the criticisms presented in the 1847 ‘Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales’, also referred to as ‘The Blue Books’. Derfel portrays Wales as an extremely godly country in his play, which makes it an intolerable destination for the demons. These demons however are excepting of Welsh clergymen, a group that provided most of the evidence used in the 1847 reports. Many Welsh clergymen were accused, mostly by devoted Nonconformists, of betrayal during the inquiry. In the second act Beelzebub (prince of the demons) sends three spies to assess the state of the Welsh people, not dissimilar to the three deputies appointed to carry out the 1847 inquiry. The ‘treachery’ however is committed by the Church goers and clergymen. Many, including Derfel, thought that their evidence enhanced and even fed ‘The Blue Books’’ anti-Welsh judgements. The play was inspired by the tale of the “Treachery of the Long Knives”.

Beriah Gwynfe Evans, Chwareu-gan : drama yn null Shakespeare ar “Owain Glyndwr”, 1879

Beriah Gwynfe Evans was a journalist and dramatist. He wrote many a play, most of which were based on historic events and figures. His play ‘Owain Glyndwr’, was successful at the Llanberis eisteddfod; it broke new ground and arguably inspired a dramatic movement in Wales. A new version of the play was staged at Caernarvon in 1911 during the investiture of the Prince of Wales.

Idwal Jones, Pobl yr ymylon: drama bedair act, 1927

Idwal Jones was a schoolmaster, poet and dramatist. ‘Pobl yr ymylon’ is considered his most important work. This four act play explores the meaning of respectability and argues against some societal expectations.

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 - 29-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

Revealing the Objects: Poetry

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 – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of volumes containing poetry that will be digitized as part of the project.

 

Huw Jones (ed.) – Diddanwch Teuluaidd, 1763

‘Diddanwch Teuluaidd’ was edited by Huw Jones and included works by noted Anglesey poets, for instance, Goronwy Owen, Lewis Morris and Hugh Hughes. The volume was first printed in London and was reprinted at Caernarvon in 1817 and at Liverpool in 1879.

Goronwy Owen was a renowned poet and teacher. In 1757 he sailed from London to Virginia after accepting a teaching position at a grammar school in Williamsburgh. When Owen was a youngster he composed many poetic masterpieces. He was greatly admired by generations of Welsh poets and his poetic works were emulated by many a writer.

Lewis Morris was a noted poetic teacher and Goronwy Owen was among his students. Morris wished to breathe new life into Welsh literature and wrote many metrical and free compositions that were of an irreverent nature; these were included in this volume.

Hugh Hughes was also a bardic teacher and a close friend of Lewis Morris and his brothers. A collection of his compositions were also published in ‘Diddanwch Teuluaidd’.

John Ceiriog Hughes – Oriau’r hwyr: sef, gweithiau barddonol John Ceiriog Hughes, 1860

John Ceiriog Hughes was a renowned poet and ‘Oriau’r hwyr’ was his first publication. Some of Owen’s favourite themes and topics included nature, lust and patriotism. By today’s standards, these poems were highly sentimental in their content and tone, however very popular during Victoria’s reign. In this volume, one can recognise popular pieces that were recited, made into songs and heard on Welsh stages for many generations. With the exception of the Bible, ‘Oriau’r hwyr’ was the most bought volume in Wales during the 1860s, with 30,000 copies being sold between 1860 and 1872.

Sarah Jane Rees, Caniadau Cranogwen, 1870

Sarah Jane Rees, also known as Cranogwen, was a renowned poet, schoolteacher and editor. In 1865, at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod, she won her first distinguished prize as a poet on the subject ‘Y Fodrwy Briodasol’ (The Wedding Ring). ‘Caniadau Cranogwen’ is a compilation of her work and was published in 1870 after her poetic successes. Cranogwen was also a noted public speaker, preacher and activist; in 1878 she became editor of ‘Y Frythones’, a Welsh journal dedicated to women’s issues.

Alun Lewis, Raiders’ Dawn and other poems, 1942

Alun Lewis was a poet and writer of short stories. The volume ‘Raiders’ Dawn and other poems’ is a compilation of Lewis’s work. These poems were written between 1940 and 1941 when he was at the Bordon military camp, receiving introductory military training. Most of Lewis’s imageries were inspired by Biblical and Greek mythologies and he tended to shape his poems into parables or allegories. All initial copies quickly sold and the volume was reprinted six times.

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 - 22-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

Revealing the Objects: Religious Publications

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 – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of religious publications that will be digitized or contributed as part of the project.

 

Gruffydd Robert – Y Drych Cristianogawl, 1585

During parts of the sixteenth century Roman Catholic printing was prohibited in Wales, and as a result, most Catholic works were distributed in manuscript form. ‘Y Drych Cristianogawl’ was amongst two Welsh Catholic publications that found their way into print during that time. These publications were successfully formed through secret presses and the first part of ‘Y Drych Cristianogawl’ was printed by Roger Thackwell in Rhiwledin cave, on the Little Orme, near Llandudno in early 1587. The latter parts were not printed due to government intervention; however they have survived in manuscript form.

William Morgan – Y Beibl cyssegr-lan sef Yr Hen Destament, a’r Newydd, 1588

Y Beibl cyssegr-lan sef Yr Hen Destament, a’r Newydd’ by William Morgan, was the first whole translated version of the Bible to appear in Welsh. It took some years for the work to be completed in printed form; between the Act of Parliament of 1563 and its publication in 1588. Morgan was a Cambridge graduate and later became bishop of Llandaf and St Asaph. He based his translation on the Hebrew and Greek original Bibles, consulting also the English Bishops’ and Geneva versions. ‘Y Beibl cyssegr-lan’ included original translations as well as adaptations of Salesbury’s New Testament. No other Welsh book has been as influential for it is a work of great linguistic and literary significance. The translator skilfully moulded the classical language of the poets into the literary Welsh known to us today. In short, the book is the foundation stone on which modern Welsh literature has been based. It also allowed a highly monoglot Welsh population to read and hear the Scriptures in their own language for the very first time.

John Bunyan – Taith neu Siwrnai y Pererin, 1688

John Bunyan was an English writer and Puritan preacher. His tale ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to come’ was an allegory and is amongst the most important pieces of religious English literature. It tells the tale of a Christian, on his journey from this world, the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City”. This publication has fascinated generations of readers and its popularity is particularly important with regards to its Welsh translation – ‘Taith neu Siwrnai y Pererin’ by Trebor Lloyd Evans. This version appeared in 1678, a decade after ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ was first published. Its translation is significant as it gave the Welsh monoglot population a taste of Bunyan’s tale in their own language.

Thomas Charles – Crynodeb o egwyddorion crefydd neu, gatecism byrr i blant ac eraill i’w ddysgu, 1789

Thomas Charles was the main leader of the second generation of Methodists in Wales and became one of the denomination’s most important members. Charles was a great believer in the importance of the catechism and began a campaign to emphasize its significance by publishing ‘Crynodeb o egwyddorion crefydd’, later translated into English – ‘A Short Evangelical Catechism’. The publication was aimed at children.

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 - 15-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation

Revealing the Objects: Prose and Novels

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 – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.

Here’s a selection of novels and prosaic works that will be digitized as part of the project.

Anna Maria Bennett – Anna, or, Memoirs of a Welch heiress, 1785

Anna Maria Bennett was an eighteenth century Welsh novelist. She spent most of her early years in Merthyr Tydfil. During her life-time, Bennett wrote a total of seven popular novels including ‘Anna, or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress’.

Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn Prichard – The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti, descriptive of life in Wales: interspersed with poems, 1828

Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn Prichard was a travelling actor and author. Prichard is mostly known for his tale, entitled ‘The adventures and vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti’. The volume was a financial success and was recognised by some as Wales’s first ever novel; a comment that sparked later debate. This 1828 first edition, printed at Aberystwyth, was his crudest version in terms of content and style. It was reformed and improved in two later editions, printed in 1839 and 1873.

Roger Edwards – Y Tri Brawd a’u Teuluoedd, 1869

Roger Edwards was an ordained minister with the Calvinist Methodists; he was also a devoted editor and writer. As editor of ‘Y Drysorfa’ ( 1847-86; jointly with John Roberts until 1853), he made the decision to publish, in serial form, his own novels in the publication, starting with ‘Y Tri Brawd’ in 1866. Edwards’s aim was to allay Methodist suspicion of fictional literature and thus he paved the way for Daniel Owen, who ‘discovered’ the Welsh novel, inducing him to contribute ‘Y Dreflan’ to that journal.

Elizabeth Amy Dillwyn – The Rebecca rioter: a story of Killay life, 1880

Amy Dillwyn was a novelist, industrialist and activist that spent most of her life in her home city of Swansea. ‘The Rebecca rioter’ was the writer’s first novel and is recognised as her best work. It tells the story of a famous attack on the Pontardulais toll gate by the Rebecca Rioters. The novel is written from a rioter’s perspective, and the author’s support to their cause is evident. Amy Dillwyn’s novels also focused on the rank of women in Victorian society, it is no surprise therefore that she was an avid supporter of the Women’s Freedom League.

Daniel Owen – Profedigaethau Enoc Hughes, 1891

Daniel Owen is one of Wales’s most noted novelists. In his childhood he received little education and during his early career he worked at a tailor’s shop. In 1865 Owen went to Bala C.M. College, he did not excel as a student, however he was well read and took great interest in English literature. At the request of Roger Edwards, he contributed his first novel – ‘Y Dreflan’, chapter by chapter in ‘Y Drysorfa’, a Calvinist Methodist publication. Daniel Owen was fond of exploring a Welsh community that revolved around the chapel. However in his third novel ‘Profedigaethau Enoc Huws’ he moved beyond the Methodist seiat and included characters that were on the outskirts of those religious meetings. ‘Profedigaethau Enoc Hughes’ was serialised by Isaac Foulkes in ‘Y Cymro’ between 1890 and 1891. The novel centres on the character Enoc who was raised in a workhouse, but becomes a successful shopkeeper. This comedy tells the story of Enoc’s hopeless love affairs, the peculiar troubles between himself and his housekeeper, and his tumultuous encounters with the Captain Trefor. All of Owen’s publications were significant in the development of the Welsh novel.

Daniel Owen’s second novel ‘Hunangofiant Rhys Lewis, gweinidog Bethel’ will also be digitized as part of the project.

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 - 08-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News

New Blog Series – Revealing the Objects: Digitizing items for Europeana project

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. As a result of this initiative, various users will be able to access a wide range of text based objects, many of which are being showcased on a digital platform for the first time: from manuscripts to printed volumes, periodicals to newspapers.

These items will be explored in various editorial features, all focusing, in one way or another, on the development of literacy in Europe. We as institutions are currently working on a range of curatorial content – from digital exhibitions and blog posts to visual galleries, and these will assess the significance of the text based objects within a pan-European context. The curated features will appear on Europeana Collections from October onward.

This new weekly blog series will reveal the Library’s contributions on a thematic basis. From manuscripts to newspapers, dictionaries to cook books, and children’s literature to ballads; they all have something to offer with regards to tracking the history of literacy. From the iconic to the unexpected, they collectively give a multi-layered summary on the evolution of reading and writing in Wales and beyond, from the mid-thirteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century.

A selection of items: –

The National Library of Wales’s contributions to the project will be disclosed under the following headings in the coming weeks:-

 

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 - 04-02-2016

Collections / News and Events

A year as Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales

Hundreds of new articles created, thousands of images shared and millions of hits on Wikipedia

 

It’s been a year now since I began my journey into the world of Wikipedia. My brief was simple enough  – get people editing, engage the community and embed an open access ethos at the National Library of Wales.

With 18 billion page views a month it seems that Wikipedia is most peoples’ one stop shop for information of any kind, and across the world top cultural institutions have been teaming up with the giant encyclopaedia in order to share their knowledge and their growing digital collections. The Nations Library’s goal is to provide knowledge for all, and Wikipedia is just one avenue being used to share that knowledge.

 

Making Wikipedia better

Wikipedia has not been without its critics, and its policy of inviting anyone and everyone to contribute means that some articles have certain shortcomings. To help remedy this and to better represent Wales on Wikipedia, a number of community events, or ‘Edit-a-thons’, have been organised to train new Wikipedia editors on a number of subjects from Medieval Law to the Rugby World Cup.

Over 100 people have volunteered to have a go at editing during organised events, and Wikipedia’s introduction of the new ‘Visual Editor’ has made contributing even easier.

A volunteer improving Wikipedia articles relating to WWI at a Public Edit-a-thon event

A volunteer improving Wikipedia articles relating to WWI at a Public Edit-a-thon event

Staff and members of the Library’s enthusiastic volunteer team have also been busy working on Wikipedia related projects, and with 6.5 million printed books in the Library vaults there is no shortage of information to be added.

Through the course of the year it has also become apparent that Edit-a-thons act as a gateway for community engagement. They help engage the public with the library, its collections and with Welsh heritage in a flexible, inspiring and subtle way.

 

Sharing

The Library began digitising its collections nearly 20 years ago and has now amassed hundreds of thousands of digital items representing all aspects of Wales cultural heritage. More recently a major shift in policy meant that they no longer lay claim to copyright of digital images, if copyright in the original works has expired.

This open access policy has led the library to start sharing parts of its digital collections on Flickr, and social media. During the residency the library have taken the next step towards openness by sharing nearly 8000 images with Wikipedia’s sister project Wikimedia Commons, where they are freely available to all without any restrictions.

Already, National Library of Wales images have been added to over a thousand Wikipedia articles in more the 70 languages and since those images were added, these articles have been viewed nearly 33 million times, highlighting the incredible exposure Wikipedia can facilitate.

Statistics highlighting the impact of sharing images via Wikimedia Commons

Statistics highlighting the impact of sharing images via Wikimedia Commons

 

Impact

Improving content and sharing collections are both crucial aspects of the residency but it is equally important that the benefits of activities are clearly recorded and shared with others.

Demonstrating impact certainly made it easier for the Library to extend the residency, and one of the library’s major partners, People’s Collection Wales have taken big steps toward open access and a sustainable relationship with Wikipedia.

One of the first things I did as a Wikipedian was to delve into the world of Twitter as a way of networking and sharing news about the residency, and this has led to great exposure both for the Library and for Wikipedia in Wales. Community events and digital content shared with Wikimedia Commons has caught the eye of news agencies, magazines and bloggers alike.

Infographic highlighting advocacy work during the first year of the residency

Infographic highlighting advocacy work during the first year of the residency

 

What next?

Together the Library and Wikimedia UK were able to extend the residency beyond the initial 12 months and the post is now funded until August 30th 2016.

Work on improving Wikipedia content will continue in English and in Welsh and thousand more images will be made available via Wiki Commons.

Images from the National Library of Wales in Wikimedia Commons. (left to right) Powis Castle 1794, 'Boy destroying Piano by Philip Jones Griffiths, The siege of Jerusalem from the medeival 'Vaux Passional' manuscript.

Images from the National Library of Wales on Wikimedia Commons. (left to right) Powis Castle 1794, ‘Boy destroying Piano by Philip Jones Griffiths, The siege of Jerusalem from the medeival ‘Vaux Passional’ manuscript.

 

Existing partnerships will be built upon, but I also want to reach out to other Welsh cultural institutions and encourage them to get involved in any way they can.

One of the biggest challenges between now and August will be finding ways to get Wikipedia into  the education sector – to encourage young people and their teachers not to ignore the enormous globe shaped elephant in the room, but to engage with it responsibly.

Finally, all credit to the National Library who have embraced Wikipedia. With their open access, knowledge for all, ethos and my residency has been supported at every turn. Steps are now being taken to ensure that the legacy of the Wikipedian will be long and fruitful, helping ensure that Wales, its people and culture are well represented on the world’s biggest ever encyclopaedia.

 

Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence

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Posted - 23-11-2015

Collections / News and Events

The Vaux Passional

To celebrate #LoveDigital week the National Library of Wales has released high quality digital images of one of its most important and finely decorated medieval manuscripts, The Vaux Passional, into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Many of these images illustrate an account of the Passion of Christ and they also include, perhaps the earliest known portrait of Henry Tudor, later Henry VIII.

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Posted - 19-08-2015

Collections / News and Events

Sharing thousands of Welsh landscapes with Wikipedia

Several years ago the National Library of Wales digitised around five thousand paintings, sketches, engravings and prints of Welsh landscapes mostly dating from 1750-1850.

Many of these are accurate topographical representations which are of huge value to historians, conservationists and archaeologists, whilst others are romanticised artistic works which simply capture the beauty of the Welsh landscape and aspect of Welsh life in a time before the invention of the camera.

As Wikipedian in Residence, making this collection available to Wikipedians was one of my first priorities, and now the entire collection is being released into the public domain and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

Already these fantastic images of castles, high streets, churches, ruins, and more, are being added to Wikipedia articles.

Events will soon be held to make more use of these images on Wikipedia, enriching the history of Wales on the world’s most used encyclopaedia.

Browse through the images here and please let us know if you are interested in helping us by adding these images to Wikipedia articles.

A_plan_&_view_of_a_chain_bridge_-_erecting_over_the_menai_at_Bangor_Ferry_1820

A plan of a first bridge to be constructed between Anglesey and mainland Wales. 1820

Aberystwyth Harbour, c.1850

Aberystwyth Harbour, c.1850

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Posted - 02-07-2015

Collections / News and Events

Uncovering the past with the new Welsh Newspapers Online website

Historical newspapers; column after column of minute and unimposing text interspersed with what, presumably, were meant to be images. Until recent times searching old news for something specific was like searching for a proverbial needle in a hay stack. In Wales that all changed in 2013 when the National Library of Wales launched a beta version of its free Welsh Newspapers Online website. Using the latest technology the text of hundreds of newspaper titles were thrust into the digital sphere. Long forgotten tit-bits and obituaries, headlines and controversies were made fully searchable, unlocking a vast vault of knowledge.

Now the National Library has replaced the beta version with a slick new interface with plenty of new features and an additional 400,000 pages, bringing the total to over 1 million. To test the power of this immense archive I performed a simple search for one of my Victorian ancestors. The little I knew about him came from my Grandmother who recalls childhood stories of her great grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant, a watchman on Barry Docks who whistled whilst he worked, and a man she claimed hung himself on the back of his bedroom door, because he thought God had forgotten him. What could all this technology tell me about dear old Tom Foley?

The new interface for the Welsh Newspapers website

The new interface for the Welsh Newspapers website

I searched for ‘Thomas Foley’ and limited my search to Glamorgan papers and found myself with hundreds of possible hits. Some were not relevant but I had definitely found my Great Great Great Grandfather. Working through the results chronologically the earliest record I found was 1890. He was a rigger living in Penarth, and a member of the Cardiff Riggers and Boatman Union. In a letter to the Western Mail he bemoaned that a recent meeting was ‘more like a bedlam than a meeting of sane men’

 

But quarrelsome men were soon the least of Foley’s problems. On April 3rd 1891 the Barry Dock news reported a ‘Serious accident to a rigger at Barry Dock’. Some months later Foley gave his own account of the accident;

 

‘On the day after Good Friday I was working on the SS. Emilie in Barry Dock, when I accidentally fell from a ventilator backwards down the empty bunker hatch, from the top to the bottom…When I recovered consciousness I found myself on the deck with a number of men around me’

 

A panoramic view of Barry Docks 1901.

A panoramic view of Barry Docks 1901. NLW tir03330

Foley had survived his fall but would never work as a rigger again. He was taken at once to Cardiff infirmary where he was diagnosed with a fractured hip. Then, he complains;

 

‘I lay there for a fortnight without any further examination, or even a lotion or liniment, or anything whatever to alleviate my pain, although I was complaining daily’.

 

The poor man was then discharged and lay bed-bound for several months with one of his legs ‘two inches longer than the other’. Thankfully for us, his affliction gave him even more time to write, as his letters to the Barry Dock News come thick and fast. Following the horrors he faced at the Cardiff Infirmary he began to campaign for a local hospital to serve the busy and dangerous docks.

 

He wrote to thank the manager of the SS. Emile who presented him with £25 to start him in some kind of business. But instead he found work as a Watchman, just like my Grandmother recalled. I figure he spent the money on books, as he soon begins quoting Greek history and Shakespeare in his prolific contributions to the local press. He even donated antique books to Barry Library – all diligently reported in the local papers. In December 1891 he even composed a poem following news that a collection had been raised to support the widows of two friends lost at sea.

A poem written by Thomas Foley in 1891.

A poem written by Thomas Foley in 1891.

 

In 1895 a report on the ‘Grand Eisteddfod at Barry’ describes the occasion that Foley won a ‘special prize’ in the short hand competition, having taught himself just two months earlier. ‘Mr Foley was enthusiastically greeted as he ascended the platform….and the president remarked that Mr Foley had….emulated some of the most famous scholars of Greece and Rome (Cheers)’. He certainly possessed the Greeks passion for politics. Following his attendance of a political debate Foley lambasted the politicians in a lively open letter. ‘If I am to judge from the observations of the three speakers the conservatives are a most contemptible class, and the liberal unionists is the lowest animal in the scale of creation’ He goes on, in as plain a tongue as you could imagine, to describe the Tories as ‘a very naughty lot of people’.

 

My search revealed so much material that I could probably write a small book about the trials and tribulations of Mr Foley, and it pains me to omit so much, but every story must have its ending. Everything points to a passionate and driven man. I see him, through my rose tinted specs, as a working class hero, a self-educated immigrant breaking down long established social barriers. So would such a man have taken his own life? Did he really hang from his bedroom door?

 

In fact, he did not, but the truth is sadly very near to the mark. On Boxing Day 1910, reports the Barry Dock News, Foley hanged himself from his bedpost with a handkerchief. But that is not all. His son, my Great Great Grandfather found his body, and fearing the shame a suicide would bring on the family, cut him down and, with his friend, put him to bed and suggested his father’s ‘weak heart’ was to blame for his demise. The very words spoken in the inquest are recorded in the paper, and the Coroner warned the son that his ‘foolish behavior’ could well see him stand trial for murder. Thankfully though he was eventually cleared and went on to become the Dock Master for Great Western Railways at Barry Docks – another story for another day.

 

I recon there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of stories waiting to be discovered amongst metadata and algorithms of one of Wales’ richest and most diverse digital archives. Search for your story today at Newspapers.library.wales

 

Jason Evans

Wikipedian in Residence, National Library of Wales

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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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