Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) has been described as the most prominent zoologist after John Ray and before Charles Darwin. He was born and spent the whole of his life at his family’s estate in Downing Hall near Whitford, Flintshire, but he travelled to Scotland, Cornwall and other parts of Britain, recording the antiquities and natural life he saw. The Library has an extensive collection of his works, including The British Zoology, A Tour in Scotland and A Tour in Wales.
In a recent auction we succeeded in purchasing an English Bible printed in 1619 with the signature “Thomas Pennant Esqr Downing” in elegant handwriting on one of the endpapers. Further on in the volume are more handwritten notes: “This Book for the Sarvents [sic] of Thos. Pennant Esqr of Downing” and also: “David Pennant Esqr His Booke In the year of Our Lord God 1751”. David was the name of Thomas Pennant’s son, but he was born in 1763, so this is probably the signature of Thomas Pennant’s father, also called David. So the volume probably spent many years in the home of the Pennant family. It is appropriate that it should now find a new home in the National Library with the works of this prominent Welshman.
The first group of Ann Jones’ papers told the story of the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 and her background as a fire officer is clear in the recent addition. In 2000 a plan was published which would have resulted in merging all the fire control rooms in Wales including the north Wales control centre in Rhyl. Three files in the papers detail Ann Jones’ cmapaign to retain the control room in Rhys through letters, press releases and other documents.
The majority of the group records Ann Jones’ role in the campaign to ensure projects to support children in Wales following teh annoucement by the Children’s Society that they would withdraw from all their operations in Wales. The correspondence with the Chief Executive and trustees of the Children’s Society, bishops, staff and partners convey they shock and anger at the annoucement. The papers related to the UK Parliament Welsh Affairs Committee investigation pose some interesting questions and the hard work done in a working group established by Wales’ new Assembly to ensure that the projects continued is clear in the working papers, annoucments and correspondence. As a result, Tros Gynnal (https://www.tgpcymru.org.uk/) was established to continue the work.
This was a big story at the time but the real story is what went on behind the scenes. Thanks to Ann Jones, the whole story can now be told.
On 19 August 2020, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, the National Library of Wales purchased at auction a substantial group of letters of the artist, engraver and poet David Jones (1895-1974) to his friend Valerie Wynne-Williams (née Price).
When they first met in 1958 Jones was in his early sixties and Price nearly forty years his junior. Whilst their relationship was entirely platonic, Jones was undoubtedly besotted with Valerie and the letters are certainly, in part, love letters to her. He addresses her throughout by her pet name ‘Elri’, occasionally decorating her name with illustrations of flowers and birds. His infatuation continued long after Valerie married her fiancée Michael Wynne-Williams in early 1960.
The letters concern his usual preoccupations such as his declining health, his living conditions in successive lodgings in Harrow-on-the-Hill and Harrow and his struggles with his art, but also his deep interest in Wales, the Welsh language and Welsh history. In this last regard Valerie was an ideal correspondent, being a Welsh speaker and a supporter of, and later a parliamentary candidate for, Plaid Cymru.
Between them David and Valerie knew many stalwarts of the Welsh language cultural and political establishment and in the letters the likes of Saunders Lewis, Gwynfor Evans, Aneirin Talfan-Davies and Keidrych Rhys jostle for space with Jones’ other friends such as T. S. Eliot, Stephen Spender and Harman Grisewood.
The letters contain several illustrations, including pigs, ponies and a sleeping cat, a portrait of a beautiful woman and the view (drawn from memory) of Stonehenge as seen from his tent whilst stationed on Salisbury Plain in 1915. There are several of his distinctive inscriptions, mostly in Welsh, the most impressive being a version of his inscription commemorating the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282.
The letters are unpublished but were made use of by Thomas Dilworth for his recent biography David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London, 2017).
The National Library of Wales is home not only to David Jones’s personal library but also to his main archive, consisting of personal papers, correspondence and literary and artistic works. His letters to Valerie Wynne-Williams are another significant addition to our holdings, complementing as they do the sixty letters from her to Jones and a handful of draft letters from Jones already in the archive. They are also the second significant group of David Jones papers recently acquired with the aid of a Friends of the National Libraries grant, following the purchase at auction of his letters to Morag Owen in November 2019.
The National Library remains keen to acquire further groups of David Jones’s correspondence, in particular to complement letters already in the archive. We are especially interested in correspondence reflecting his interest in Wales and Welsh affairs, such a notable and interesting feature of his letters to Valerie and Morag.
The letters have now been catalogued (reference number NLW MS 24167E) and are available to access in the Library’s reading room.
In January this year a small collection of letters and ephemera relating to the political career of Sir David Treharne Llewellyn, a former Conservative MP, came up for sale at auction. Llewellyn served as MP for Cardiff North from 1950 to 1959 and was appointed as Under Secretary of State at the Home Office following the Conservative victory in the General Election of 1951. Llewellyn had only a year in office in the Home Office, before he had to resign because of his health but it was a very significant appointment.
In their manifesto for the 1951 General Election, the Conservatives had promised to create a ministerial post to deal with Welsh affairs and when he was appointed to the cabinet, David Maxwell-Fyfe was given the title of Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs. To prove that this was more than just a job title, a minister was appointed who was specifically responsible for Welsh affairs in his department; David Treharne Llewellyn was the first politician in that role.
The Welsh Political Archive collects the papers of the Secretaries of State for Wales, so we felt this small archive was worth buying. There is not a great deal of material from his time in the Home Office but one letter from Winston Churchill thanking him for his service to Wales as a minister and much correspondence with other ministers during his parliamentary career including James Callaghan, Edward Heath, David Maxwell-Fyfe and Gwilym Lloyd George. There is an interesting collection of letters from Philip Noel-Baker, Minister for Fuel and Power for support for victims of colliery accidents and their dependents, and another group that shows the relationship between Llewellyn and George Thomas and discusses the Aberfan disaster and the Investiture of 1969.
Llewellyn had played a brief but significant role in the development of Welsh politics, so it is fitting that his small archive came to the National Library with the papers of Secretaries of State for Wales and Welsh politicians of the same period.
On 21 November 2019, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, the National Library of Wales purchased at auction a small group of letters of the artist, engraver and poet David Jones (1895-1974) to his friend Morag Owen (née McLennan), together with some related papers.
In his later years living in Harrow, Jones was increasingly supported by a large circle of friends, one of whom was Morag Owen, a young art student at the time of their first meeting in 1948. Once Morag married and moved away, she became one of the many friends with whom Jones corresponded frequently and at length.
The letters, the later ones written in his distinctive combination of black, red and green ink with notes and postscripts added at angles in the margins, cover a variety of topics, although a recurring theme is his declining health.
Although born in Kent, Jones’s father was Welsh and he was always very conscious of his Welsh heritage. He had a lifelong interest in Welsh history and literature and, while never a fluent speaker, had a detailed knowledge of Welsh grammar and etymology. All of this is attested to in the letters. Prompted by Morag’s Glaswegian upbringing, Jones also discusses at some length the history and place names of the Brythonic-speaking regions of Strathclyde and Rheged, the ‘Old North’ of Welsh tradition.
Representing his artistic side is a fine pencil drawing of an unidentified woman. A distinctive and original aspect of Jones’s artistic output is his painted inscriptions, juxtaposing quotations in Welsh, Latin, Greek and English. There are also several examples of these among the papers; some are incorporated in his letters as greetings, others are photographic reproductions, which he sent as Christmas cards.
During Tudor and Stuart times, heraldic visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Heralds or their deputies to scrutinise, register and record the coats of arms of the nobility and gentry in England, Wales and Ireland. Having recently purchased a fine pedigree roll of the period, the National Library invited two modern-day heralds to visit us in October: the present Wales Herald Extraordinary, Mr Thomas Lloyd, and his predecessor, the sprightly 90-year old Dr Michael Powell Siddons.
They are seen here inspecting (and no doubt approving of) the heraldic roll, dated 3 December 1591, which was recently purchased by the Library at auction in Shrewsbury. The roll (now NLW MS 24125G) traces the pedigree of Frances Vichan (or Vaughan), heiress of Hergest Court, Herefordshire to ‘Kradog, Earle of Herefourde, Lord of Radnor and Knight of ye Round Table in King Arthur’s time’. Frances married Herbert Jeffreys of Kirham Abbey, Yorkshire, whose grandfather, Col. Herbert Jeffreys, had been Governor of Virginia.
The 2-metre long roll, which seems to be in the hand of Richard Adams, scribe and painter of Ludlow, was produced by Thomas Jones (c. 1530-1609) of Fountain Gate, Cardiganshire. Jones, the almost mythical ‘Twm Siôn Cati’, is popularly depicted in later literature as a brigand and rogue, and is sometimes described as ‘the Welsh Robin Hood’. In real life, he was a canny producer of pedigrees for the up-and-coming Welsh nobility, and had cornered the market for ornate displays of prestige and one-upmanship on parchment. Strict accuracy was not always a primary consideration, and having appealed to the vanity of his patrons, one can almost imagine this entrepreneur’s smirk as the pocketed the proceeds of his latest venture.
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.
Some twenty months ago an archive was transferred to the Library and for the past few weeks, I have been given the privileged task of arranging and then listing the papers. They are of the late T. Ifor Rees, the first British Ambassador to Bolivia.
It was expected that the collection would be interesting, not only for the fact that it would fill a number of gaps in the collection of his father, the musician J. T. Rees that was already here. However, whilst arranging his literary works, after removing some papers that were placed in a rusty springback binder that had held everything together for decades, there was a brown envelope placed at the bottom of the bundle.
Although “On His Britannic Majesty’s Service” was clearly marked on the envelope, it was assumed that it contained a further draft or notes belonging to one of the publications of T. Ifor Rees on Mexico, as that was the work in hand. But this envelope was in need of further attention. It was sealed, and that due to it being in a damp place sometime in the past and the glue reactive to re-seal the envelope. Or possibly, the envelope may not have been opened since it was originally sealed.
The envelope had to be opened to ensure that its contents were to be placed in the relevant group. It contained three carbon copies of a typescript letter written from the British Legation in La Paz following an expedition to Sajama. T. Ifor Rees was a British Minister at the time, and as one who enjoyed mountaineering and taking photographs in his leisure time, had the opportunity to walk the highest peak in Bolivia (21,500 feet) with four other companions. According to the report, it seems that this had been somewhat of an adventure to the mid-fifties diplomat from north Cardiganshire, which had a tragic end.
With the urge of finding out more about the event and being aware that he had published a book under the same name as this extinct volcano in 1960, it was somewhat surprising to read that he did not present the story as he did in that original report he wrote within a month of the historic adventure in August 1946.
However, this reminds us that reporting events of the past varies with the passage of time, and that one has to depend on the original sources that were created at the time to ascertain the full story – and ultimately, that’s why archives are so important.
D. Rhys Davies
It is intended to complete the work on this archive shortly and an online discovery resource will be published in the Spring.
100 years on the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth is securing the legacy of Edward Thomas by collecting and digitising his archive, with 5 new opportunities for the public to engage with his archive.
This week we will be noting the death of the poet Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917) who was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. It was not until 1914 that he wrote his first poem, and due to his tragic death he did not live to see the publication of his Poems (1917) (under his pseudonym Edward Eastaway), nor the subsequent Last Poems (1918) and Collected Poems (1920).
1. Lunchtime presentation
On Wednesday (5 April 2017) Dr Andrew Webb, (Head of School of English Literature, Bangor University) will explore Edward Thomas as a Welsh writer, considering his Welsh heritage, his connection to figures including O. M. Edwards, and the ways in which Wales informs his prose and poetry. Tickets for the lunchtime lecture are available here.
2. Archives and manuscripts at the National Library of Wales
The diaries and manuscripts of the poet and prose writer Edward Thomas are held at the Library, and include diaries, letters, draft poems and the original manuscript of Edward Thomas, The Heart of England (London, 1906) and the catalogue is available to view online.
Also a newly acquired archive of Geoffrey Woolley contains letters from Edward Thomas, and a file on Edward Thomas publications, with loose pages from ‘The bookman’, comprising copies of Edward Thomas’s poetry columns and book reviews. This is a brand new source of research for life and work of Edward Thomas.
The presentation given by Dr Andrew Webb coincides with our exhibition to note the centenary of his death in action during the Battle of Arras. One hundred years ago two poets were killed in battle during the Great War: Hedd Wyn and Edward Thomas. The exhibition Fallen Poets: Edward Thomas & Hedd Wyn runs to 2 September 2017.
Many of his manuscripts have already been digitised by the National Library and more are being digitised during the centenary year.
5. Edward Thomas webpage
A new webpage relating to Edward Thomas and his collection has been published and available to view on the Library’s website.
Nia Mai Daniel
Pennaeth Isadran Archifau a Llawysgrifau
Head of Archives and Manuscripts Section
Last month, we received an important and substantial film accession.
This arrived by lorry from S4C in Cardiff. It roughly consists of around 400 cans of 35mm & 16mm prints of film and animation which date predominantly from the 1980s and 1990s. The first task after un-loading the shrink wrapped collection of 10 pallets was to make an inventory and then this information will be input into our library’s database.
By now, the collection sits safely in our film vault where the next step will be to inspect, re-can and number it for access purposes. Here follows a selection of just a few of the titles: Leaving Lenin, Coming Up Roses, Gogwana, multiple titles from the Superted series, Solomon & Gaenor, Arthur’s Departure, Otherworld, My Pretty Valley, Boy Soldier…
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.