The papers of the senior civil servant Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans came to the Library in 2019, but thanks to the pandemic, it was only last summer that I had the opportunity to organise and catalogue them.
Sir Guildhaume had a very interesting and successful career. After he was injured in the First World War he went to work for Lloyd George and became a specialist on labour matters, serving in the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and representing the British Government on the International Labour Organisation. This gave him the opportunity to travel, make interesting international contacts and witness the occasional political spat.
Sir Guildhaume was a member of the governing body of the International Labour Organization at the time of the petroleum conference in Caracas, Venezuela, in April 1955. Although the representatives of employers and governments supported the bid to hold the conference there, representatives of trade unions had objected because of the treatment of union officials, including the imprisonment of a number of them, by the military government there which had come to power in a coup d’état in 1948. During the opening session the representative of the unions from the Netherlands, Mr Vermeulen, gave a speech drawing attention to the rights of workers in the country and a number of union leaders who were in prison. The response of the Venezuelan government was to send officers of the security forces to his hotel to escort him to the airport and to send him out of the country.
Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers, D3/4
When the other representatives of the unions heard about this, they agreed not to take part in the main conference until he was allowed to come back and because of the International Labour Organisation’s constitution of the, the conference could not go ahead. Vermeulen spent over a week in Curacao while Sir Guildhaume and other officials tried to find some kind of resolution but despite suggested compromises and high level negotiations they were unable to broker an agreement that was acceptable to both Mr Vermeulen and the Venezuelan authorities.
Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers, D3/1
Despite Sir Guildhaume’s efforts to persuade the authorities otherwise, Venezuela temporarily pulled out of the International Labour Organization but it seems that indirectly at least, the whole affair did have the effect that Mr Vermeulen and the union officials had been hoping for. In a letter from Sir Guildhaume to the British delegation in Geneva on 31 May he was able to report that a number of union officers had been released from prison adding in typical civil servant understatement:
“I like to think that I might have some partial responsibility for this happy result”.
The full story can be found in Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers Series D3.
2022 was a busy year for the Library’s archivists. The easing of covid restrictions meant that they were able to spend the whole year cataloguing archives in earnest as well as undertaking their other responsibilities, so many more catalogues were produced than in the previous two years.
Here is a taste of the catalogues that were completed in 2022. Work continues on other catalogues as ever, including some substantial and important new archives and also small additions to existing catalogues. Details of recently catalogued manuscripts in the NLW MSS and NLW ex series will appear in another blog.
King John’s Abergavenny charter. There was a blog about the charter soon after we purchased it, and a more detailed article about it has also been published recently: D. J. Moore, ‘Abergavenny and Dunwallesland: a 1209 charter of king John’ in The Monmouthshire Antiquary: Proceedings of the Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association XXXVII (2022), 5-13
Papers of Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans (1894-1964), a senior civil servant, industrial relations expert and British representative to the International Labour Organisation, including records relating to the Local Government Commission for Wales, as well as a diplomatic spat in Venezuela with the ILO.
Administrative papers of the Aberystwyth, Pontypridd and Cardiff branches of Welsh Women’s Aid, referring to many issues affecting women and their children who use the service including domestic violence, social welfare and the law.
During the 1980s computer boom, a number of new companies emerged that began creating hardware for the general public. Previously, cost and size was a prohibiting factor, but with computers getting smaller and cheaper to manufacture, a new dawn for tech enthusiasts arose. One of these new companies was named Dragon Data, which was set up in the early 80s in South Wales by the toy company Mattoy.
They had some success with their Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 computers, but life would be short for this Dragon. Technical limitations meant that it would eventually trail behind its competitors, such as Sinclair and Commodore and the company began to struggle. During the mid-80s the company was purchased by Eurohand S.A. which then relocated its base to Spain. In 1987, the original company and name was finally discontinued following bankruptcy.
The National Library holds a number of titles that relate to the Dragon computer (see the photograph). Many of which dive deep into how to program using the machine.
Even though the Dragon’s life was short, its legacy and name lived on. Many social media creators on outlets such as Youtube display their detailed research of the company.
Duncan Smeed. 1983. Inside the Dragon.
George Knight. 1983. Learning to use the Dragon 32 Computer.
Keith Brain. 1984. Advanced sound & graphics for the Dragon computer: including machine code subroutine.
Keith Brain. 1984. Artificial intelligence on the Dragon computer: Make your micro think.
Keith Brain. 1984. Dragon 32 games master: Learn how to write your own top level games.
Tim Hartnell. 1984. Giant book of games for your Dragon.
Tim Langdell. 1982. 35 programs for the Dragon 32.
One of the books purchased recently for our rare book collections is Experiments and observations made in Britain, in order to obtain a rule for measuring heights with the barometer. The author was Colonel William Roy (1726-1790), surveyor and founder of the Ordnance Survey. The report was originally published in the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society in 1777, but the copy we have bought was published separately by J. Nichols the following year.
The experiments described in the report were carried out in various locations, including Schiehallion in Scotland and Snowdon in Wales. As well as descriptions of the experiments, the book includes tables of the measurements and maps of the mountains where they were made. It provides important evidence of the contribution of north Wales to scientific developments in the eighteenth century.
Steed of winter who the pale men carry.
Who are those that squire you?
Slow and ceaseless, yard by yard, house by house, and door by door.’
(Torchwood, episode 57, 21 December 2021)
This began as a chance conversation in the corridor; I was inspired by the Mari Lwyd because of Aberystwyth’s own procession and because I’m interested in the hybridisation of folktales and religion.
Two Mari Lwyds on the Prom, Aberystwyth, January 2022. Photo: Rasma Bertz
My interest in finding out whether the Grey Mare came from a time when two Popes celebrated the medieval Feast of the Ass – built on the foundation of Blessed Mary; the important role of the donkey leading to, and present at, the birth of Christ; the flight into Egypt and later, as transport for Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, will have to wait for another day.
Likewise, confirming the origin of the Mari (in the words of artist Robert Alwyn Hughes) as ‘a figure of ritual significance for a pagan fertility [tradition] …celebrating the Celtic Goddess Rhiannon.’
Instead, a ballad by Vernon Watkins became my focus because after reading it, I was haunted for days. That kind of impression cannot be ignored. But first: what is the Mari Lwyd?
She appears to be the love child of a Wassail and a Mummer’s rite – an intimidating horse skull, decorated and originally carried by six men (named like Morris-dancers with one fiddler) from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night or Hen Galan, the Welsh New Year on 13 January by the Julian calendar.
If the Mari knocks on your door, you must be quick-witted and sing back verses to prevent the mare from entering. Inevitably the host loses, and once inside, food and drink are provided.
The first item I found in the archives was a 1930 composition for timpani titled ‘The Prelude to the Ballad of the Mari Llwyd [sic]’ by Daniel Jones. There are two other references to the same title, and until the various publication dates are ordered, it is easy to assume that this piece was written to accompany the 1958 TV adaptation of Vernon Watkin’s 1941 poem ‘The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd’ by Douglas Cleverdon.
As a timpanist, I had to look at the sheet music. There is an addendum which reveals it to be ‘music for approaching and retreating footsteps’, but the mystery remains as to why it was written and if there was ever more than just a prelude!
Of Vernon Watkins, there is much more available: the original drafts of the ballad (NLW MS 21263E) and two versions of the TV script (NLW MS 22841), one with initials for each actor reciting the verses. Notes identify the Living as William Squire, Rachel Thomas, Haydn Jones, Jeffrey Segal and William Eedle, while the Dead were voiced by Aubrey Richards and Basil Jones.
Watkins, described by his close friend Dylan Thomas as ‘the most profound…Welshman writing poems in English’ was a codebreaker in WWII. In fact, he was stationed at Bletchley Park when he wrote this ballad, a fact that possibly explains his vivid geographical imagery – a homesickness maybe; also, the way in which Watkins turns perspective inside out.
Echoing the use of the Mari Lwyd as an archetype for the Blessed Mary, darker imagery is used for the holy, while light represents elements of society that we usually deem less reputable i.e., the outcasts, sinners and blasphemous.
Watkins wrote that ‘the singers came every year to my father’s house; and listening to them at midnight, I found myself imagining a horse’s skull decked with ribbons, followed and surrounded by all kinds of drunken claims and holy deceptions.’
To me, this hearkens more to the Celtic Samhain, but ‘the last breath of the year is their threshold, the moment of supreme forgiveness, confusion and understanding, the profane and sacred moment impossible to realize while the clock hands divide the Living from the Dead’ emphasises the evocativeness of this Welsh tradition.
In a signed document, Watkins added lines to be spoken by unseen figures in the wings as a prequel to the prologue in the dramatized version. This strophe/antistrophe begins: ‘Come to me, Mother of God: in an hour the Old Year ends.’ and ends: ‘The beggar is holy within this hour, the inner and culprit divine, even as I bolt the door on those hands, the handcuffs fall upon mine.’
Watkins weaves a thread of social consciousness throughout his ballad, just as he uses call and response – like the verse exchange on the doorstep – to contrast religious against secular concerns:
‘And the chattering speech of skull and spade
beckon the banished poor.
[Refrain] Sinner and saint, sinner and saint
A horse’s head in the frost.
Conscience counts the cost.’
A sinister refrain: ‘Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Hark at the hands of the Clock’ is used to switch the verses between earthly locations and pursuits with biblical imagery – stanza 23: ‘Starving we come from Gruffydd Bryn’ also mentions Felinfoel beer versus stanza 27: ‘for she knows all from the birth of the Flood’.
We are taken to Harlech’s bitter coast with Living reply:
‘White horses need white horse’s food:
We cannot feed a ghost.
Cast your Lwyd to the white spray’s crest
That pounds and rides the air.
Why should we break our lucky feast
For the braying of a mare?’
And to Hebron, Dolgellau, Kidwelly – ‘we bring from Cader Idris, and those ancient valleys, Mari of your sorrows, Queen of the starry fillies…’ – a continued overlay of sacred and profane.
Once the reader is aware of distinction between living and dead, the call and response becomes even clearer: the ghostly Mari’s duet professing to be holy, the living residents declaring her drunken and malicious.
‘Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari:
A sacred thing
Betrayed are the living, betrayed the dead
All are confused by a horse’s head.’
Out of all the items in the catalogue – including songbooks, arrangements of the Blessed Mary carol, and song and dance tune collections, Vernon Watkins’ ballad had the greatest effect on me personally, especially in emphasising the battle for the return of the Light at this time of year.
With the World Cup in Qatar on the horizon, it’s worth remembering that the National Library holds a number of World Cup and football-related items that the general public can read, view and enjoy when they visit the Library.
The Qatar World Cup is only the second time Wales have qualified for the competition, our only previous qualification being the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. The Library holds a number of items from that World Cup campaign, including programmes from the games, Football Association of Wales reports on qualification and the tournament itself, and for Swedish language readers the official book of the tournament, published in Sweden shortly after the tournament. We also hold a number of biographies published after the tournament by key players such as John Charles, Cliff Jones and Jack Kelsey. You can also find newspaper reports of the games and of the build-up to the competition in the newspapers collection.
The Library also holds more recent works associated with the Welsh football team and the World Cup, including paintings of team members by Owain Fôn Williams, recent national team match programmes, biographies of leading Welsh footballers, books on the history of the Wales football team and books on the history of the World Cup. For those of us who enjoyed collecting Panini stickers in our youth, the Library also holds a recently published facsimile of completed Panini sticker albums from each World Cup from 1970 onwards.
So, in between watching the games and supporting your national team, why not take some time out to visit the Library and explore some of the materials related to the competition held in its collections. A selection of items will be on display at the Library during the World Cup period and our collections can be browsed online (discover.library.wales) and in the Reading Room.
The Welsh Political Archive annual lecture is now a well-established event in the calendar of the National Library of Wales. On the first Friday of November the Welsh Political Archive Advisory Committee meets with the lecture following at 5.30pm. This is the first time since 2019 that we have held the lecture in the Library; a panel discussion was held online in 2020 and in 2021 Professor Paul O’Leary delivered his lecture on Lloyd George in the Senedd in Cardiff.
Huw Edwards at the National Library of Wales
Journalist Huw Edwards was the lecturer this year. Huw is a familiar face and voice since the 1980s on the BBC, and the subject of the lecture was his work as a reporter and Wales’ place in British news and politics. Huw looked back at the 1980s, noting in particular how the BBC had reported on the launch of S4C in 1982 and the coverage of Welsh affairs in the UK Parliament, comparing it to the period since devolution. He mentioned some prominent figures in Welsh politics including Jim Griffiths, Megan Lloyd George and Sir Wyn Roberts, the first Welsh debate in the UK Senate, developments such as the establishment of the Welsh Grand Committee, the Welsh Affairs Committee, the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales and the establishment of a National Assembly Wales.
Huw presenting in the Drwm
As part of the day’s events we held a pop up exhibition in the Summers Room showing items from the the archives of 3 prominent Welsh journalists: Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Patrick Hannan and Gareth Vaughan Jones. Like Huw Edwards, Wynford Vaughan Thomas had presented BBC programs on major British events including royal funerals, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall.
Pop up exhibition and Huw with Rob Phillips, head of the Welsh Political Archive
An interesting discussion followed the lecture, the text of which will soon be available to view on the Welsh Political Archive pages on the National Library’s website.
The Broadcast Archive, which is being established at the National Library, will give access to thousands of BBC radio and television scripts, as well as a great deal of audio visual digital material.
Emma Towner is cataloguing the scripts, and there are some chilling stories in some of the early scripts.
There are just over 1100 boxes in the BBC Script collection that are made up of radio and television programmes. With these programmes covering a dozen genres and spanning roughly 90 years, it was a challenge to decide what to prioritise and catalogue first. I began with the oldest scripts, Children’s radio programmes from 1931. They were full of light hearted tales of Magic Jam Pots, Plumtones and Pirates. There were also fun scripts that told the story behind nursery rhymes. Why did Jack and Jill go up the hill to begin with? Did a dish really run away with a spoon while a cow jumped over the moon, or did something else happen? They were a nice place for me to start.
World War Two news scripts were next on my list, and in contrast to the Children’s programmes, I found these scripts were harder to read. I had learnt about the war in school, and seen films. I knew what happened in Dunkirk and on the beaches of Normandy. I knew about Pearl Harbour, and my grandparents told me about the Blitz in London and in Swansea. But reading about these events as they happened, day by day, was different.
Not long after I began working on these scripts, fighting in Eastern Europe broke out. As I was reading about the First Soviet-Finnish (Winter War) where The Soviet Union was attacking Finland just over 70 years ago, I was watching footage on the news of the Russian attack on Ukraine that was happening in the present. The stories were very similar, towns were being attacked and bombs were falling on hospitals. Then 15 months after the First Soviet-Finnish War had ended came the Second Soviet-Finnish War, which bought more conflict between Russia and Finland. But this time the news featured a few more countries, one of which was Ukraine. Now the locations I’d been hearing about on the news were appearing in the scripts, and I found it getting increasingly difficult to watch the news when I returned home after finishing my working day. Just like this week, in 1943 it dominated the news.
Each news script would have been broadcast over the wireless every evening around 5pm. I often thought about the people listening to these broadcasts day in day out wondering, if the war would end, and hoping it would be soon. I was lucky, I knew the end date, and I knew how the war was going to end. Since the end of the Second World War, there have been more wars that have brought more pain and loss. It makes me sad that history seems to always be repeating itself. No one seems to be learning from what has happened in the past.
Aberystwyth University, in partnership with the National Library, is launching a new research centre on Friday, 11 November, the Literature and History of Medicine Research Centre. The centre will make use of the research sources in the Library’s medicine collections as a foundation for new academic research in the field. A one-day conference has been arranged for the launch on 11 November. It’s free and you can book a ticket to the event here. The conference will be held in person and online.
The Library’s medicine-related collection is extensive, and includes print material, archival material, manuscript material, architectural material, drawings and photographs. As a result of the Library’s Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS project, the medicine-related material that is part of the Welsh and Celtic Print Collection is now available on the online catalogue in its entirety, with the items that are out of copyright also digitized and available remotely. The print collection includes a number of important research sources, including the reports of the Medical Officer of Health for the rural and urban district councils across Wales, hospital reports and psychiatric hospital reports.
The psychiatric hospital reports offer a good example of the type of information and data that is included in these print sources. If we look at the example of the annual reports of psychiatric hospitals, in this case the reports of the Joint Counties Asylum at Carmarthen (see above for the embedded digital version or click here to see it on the Library’s digital viewer), we can see the feast of core data that the reports offer to researchers. The reports contain data on a large number of aspects of the life of the hospital and its patients including statistics regarding where patients came from, their work, the nature of their illnesses, mortality rates, the patients’ diet, the patients’ ages, readmission levels, the patients’ relationship status, and the institution’s financial statistics.
Such data is fundamental to research in this field, and it is hoped that establishing the Centre in partnership with Aberystwyth University will be a means of strengthening the relationship between the Library, our collections and the research community. If you want to learn more about the partnership, or if you’re interested in the latest research in the field of literature and the history of medicine, book a ticket to the conference!
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.