Over the years the Library has built a comprehensive collection of the publications of private presses, which produce beautiful books in limited editions, using traditional hand-printing methods. Sadly several private presses in Wales have ceased functioning in recent years: the Gregynog Press near Newtown, the Red Hen Press in Breconshire and the Old Stile Press in Monmouthshire, leaving only the Gwydir Press in Llanrwst as far as I know. Several in England have come to an end as well.
So it was heartening to discover a new private press recently. The St. James Park Press was established in London by James Freemantle in 2015, and I had the pleasure of visiting it this year. The Library has bought a copy of a book published by the press in 2020, an edition of Arthurian stories. The book was published in a limited edition of 65 copies on an Albion press, using hand-made paper. It includes striking wood engravings to accompany the text.
We have also purchased a copy of a book published by the press in 2018, On the Birmingham School of Art, 1940 by Eric Gill. Eric Gill was a printer and sculptor who established a workshop in Capel-y-ffin, Powys, in 1924. He designed several typefaces, and was a significant influence on a number of private presses. This edition of Gill’s report on the Birmingham School of Art is limited to 100 copies, in a bamboo binding with an illustration by Eric Gill engraved on the cover.
The press is about to publish its most ambitious book yet, an edition of George Orwell’s 1984. The Library has received a prospectus of the book for its collections. It is to be hoped that the St. James Park Press will continue to flourish. It would be good to see private presses established in Wales once again to continue this tradition.
Until the founding of Ceredigion Museum the National Library of Wales had become the natural repository for interesting items found locally. Subsequently many of these items found their way to more relevant institutions. Working in the most interesting department of the Library and having insatiable curiosity can have its advantages, especially with regard to overlooked brown boxes containing shards of terracotta and numerous small coins covered in verdigris.
A note inside this particular box reads “List of coins in National Library of Wales from hoard found at Aberystwyth 1890.” Further use of Library resources found no trace of such a discovery but at some point a Mr. D T Harris presented the remains of a coin hoard to the Library. This was originally found at Rhiwarthen Isaf, nr Capel Bangor in 1881 and referred to in Archaeologica Cambrensis as comprising thousands of coins. It passed through the hands of a Mrs Morgan who made jewellery and bracelets out of, presumably, the better condition coins. This is the most likely source of our hoard, which fortunately was closely examined by ‘A.S.R.’ in 1948 who meticulously identified many of the 900 or so coins remaining.
Tetricus and Galienus may, depending on your bent, sound like Premiership football players or pharmaceutical products for uncomfortable intestinal problems. In fact they are third century Roman Emperors who post-humously have through their coinage reached the inner sanctum of the National Library of Wales. Other coins are from the reigns of Postunus, Victorinus and Claudius II. All reigned during the 260s and 270s A.D. suggesting the hoard was buried around 280 A.D. to be discovered some 1600 years later.
A few weeks ago the Library bought a copy of the first edition of “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” by Muhammad ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, one of the most historical and noteworthy books from the classical Arab world according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. The main reason for purchasing the book was the inclusion of a presentation sheet for Lady Charlotte Guest from the Oriental Translation Fund, which was attached to one of the first pages of the book. This illustrates the respect and admiration which scholars of the eastern languages had for Guest.
Lady Charlotte Guest married Josiah John Guest, the Merthyr Tydfil M.P. and the Master of Dowlais Ironworks. The iron works flourished and quickly increased in size to employ seven thousand people, the largest iron works in the world. Lady Charlotte took great interest in the day to day running of the business, including publishing a pamphlet explaining the technicalities of the use of a hot blast. She travelled widely with her husband within Britain and Europe and contributed to meetings with scientists such as Charles Babbage. She also had her own room in the company’s London office. After her husband’s death she became responsible for the business.
After learning middle Welsh and studying medieval Welsh history under the Reverends Evan Jenkin, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc) and John Jones (“Tegid Jones”), Lady Charlotte became famous for copying and translating eleven books from the Red Book of Hergest. These were the four tales of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances and four other tales. She also translated the “The book of Taliessin”, a middle Welsh manuscript. She was inspired by studying works of the Romantic revelation and the works of William Owen Pughe. By researching, she noticed the influences and the mythological ideas which were woven into the Mabinogi.
It is a sign of Charlotte Guest’s ability that she succeeded to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian without the help of a teacher to guide her. The period written about in “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” spans from the creation of the world to the period of the Prophet Shu’ayb in the Quran. It is quite possible that she drew from these writings while translating the Mabinogi. This is one of the first works published by The Oriental Translation Fund, whose admiration for the work of Lady Charlotte is clearly shown in the presentation sheet.
In 1922 the Library purchased over 6,000 books and 150 manuscripts which had been collected by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921), poet, scholar and bibliographer from Midhurst in Sussex. The collection includes many mediaeval French texts and early illustrated books. One of the highlights of the collection is 23 editions of Le Roman de la Rose published before 1550. This is an allegorical poem about romantic love, begun in about 1230 by Guillaume de Lorris and completed around half a century later by Jean de Meun.
The editions include beautiful wood engravings. In one of the Library’s copies, printed in 1531, they have all been coloured by hand.
The Library continues to add to this collection, and recently purchased an edition of Le Roman de la Rose which we did not already hold. The edition was published in Paris in 1538. The copy is bound in two volumes, and in gold on the covers are the arms of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), member of the French Court and mistress of King Louis XV. The volumes contain extensive manuscript notes, possibly in Madame de Pompadour’s own hand, suggesting that she read the text in detail.
Combining Wikidata and OpenStreetMap to improve Welsh language mapping services
Open data as a concept has developed rapidly in recent years, propelled further by the need for rapid, collaborative solutions during the pandemic. In many ways platforms like Wikidata and OpenStreetMap (OSM), which have been growing at pace for a number of years now, are leading this open data revolution.
OSM is a crowd-sourced mapping dataset, where the public works together to build a rich open-access global map, which can be reused and adapted for free by all.
Wikidata is a huge linked open data set containing data about just about everything. Again, anyone can contribute and reuse for free, but perhaps the biggest difference here is that many organizations and other data aggregators also contribute.
In both these datasets the name of each entity can be given in multiple languages, including Welsh. And additional variations in each language can also be added.
In Wales we have small but active communities of contributors to both projects, and both receive support from the Welsh Language Technology Unit at the Welsh Government. For a number of years the National Library of Wales has directly supported Wikidata by appointing a ‘National Wikimedian’.
The project currently underway is a partnership between the National Library of Wales and the Mapio Cymru team, funded by the Welsh Government.
Combining Wikidata with OSM allows us to build on the work of Mapio Cymru which has been developing a map of Wales using only Welsh language data held in the OSM database. By aligning and combining this with Wikidata the map can begin to grow further, offering more information to users through the medium of Welsh.
And this is important. Many places in Wales, be they towns, villages, hills or beaches have two names, or sometimes more. The names in Welsh are almost always the original place names, ancient in origin and steeped in history. These names are usually descriptive or refer to long lost saints, chieftains or fortresses. The English versions of place names are sometimes meaningless mutations of the Welsh originals or names imposed by medieval invaders or Victorian ‘modernisers’. Even today historic properties are renamed in English by their new owners and Welsh names are dropped from websites and maps in favour of English alternatives deemed to be ‘more easy to pronounce’.
This project aims to decolonise mapping in Wales, not by erasing English place names from the record but giving users the option to view and explore a modern map of Wales solely through the medium of Welsh – a service that didn’t really exist until the launch of Mapio Cymru.
So the first challenge with this project is actually to encourage communities to contribute their local Welsh place names to OSM or Wikidata so that they can be included in the map, and this is done through a series of discussions, workshops and editing events.
The technical aspect of combining Wikidata with OSM begins with aligning the two datasets. OSM allows you to add the corresponding Wikidata ID records for places in its database, and this lets us know which places are missing from either of the datasets, and more particularly, where Welsh language data is missing. By looking at Welsh places already aligned to Wikidata we were immediately able to add 5000 additional Welsh place names to the Mapio Cymru map tiles using Welsh labels from Wikidata and this number should continue to rise as more places in OSM are aligned to Wikidata and more Welsh names are added.
Rendering Wikidata names directly onto the OSM map tiles is one way of adding value to the Welsh map, and a way of uniting two distinct communities to the cause. However, we can also bring further value by adding a Wikidata skin on top of the OSM map. The additional layer allows us to render pins (or points) on the map for a number of different data types, such as transport hubs, medical services, beaches and historic buildings. It allows users to filter specific content types, and gives them the option to see many places that don’t yet have Welsh OSM data. The proof of concept map below shows how this might look;
Thinking further ahead, this type of interface could be easily adapted as a crowdsourcing tool, allowing the community to visualize gaps in the data and leading them to OSM or Wikidata to add the missing information.
Ultimately the map could also form the foundations of a Welsh language Sat-Nav system.
Making the connection with Wikidata also has plenty of extra potential, since it holds far more information than just coordinates and multilingual names, including images and links to Wikipedia articles. The concept below shows another way in which Wikidata could combine with OSM to connect users with relevant Welsh language Wikipedia articles.
For this project we have also worked with the Welsh Language Commissioner to add standardized Welsh language place names to Wikidata, so these can also be displayed on the prototype map. In total over 10,000 Welsh place names have been added to Wikidata using Welsh Government Open Data and other Open Data sources and these can now be displayed on the prototype map.
We hope the development of the map can continue, and there is already interest from bilingual organizations in using the OSM Cymru map to enhance their Welsh language online services.
This is a map that belongs to the people of Wales. It is a living entity and its existence is a testament to the strength of the Welsh language and the resolve of those who volunteer their time in order to ensure its future. The map is more than simply a record of Welsh names, it’s the basis for a rich, modern Welsh language mapping service, which can be developed and used by all.
We need your help! The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (UOSH) and the Tiger Bay Heritage and Cultural Exchange Organisation is working with freelancers to create a new piece of work inspired by the ‘Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club’ film and oral histories recorded from the area. We are trying to locate relatives of interviewees who were recorded by the late Butetown History and Arts Centre.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and have received funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. The project has focused 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.
One of the collections digitised by the National Library of Wales consists of oral history recordings relating to people who (used to) live and work in Tiger Bay, or Butetown, and the Cardiff Docks. The interviews conducted between 1984 and 2000 includes several projects such as life histories, Artists interviews, Second World War, Somali Elders and much more.
“The aim of digitising these oral histories is to preserve and make them accessible for future generations. Tiger Bay has developed over the Centuries and the past can now be heard by the voices of the community themselves” Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager.
“The Heritage & Cultural Exchange is a community based organisation that actively encourages the participation of local people in the development of, and the ongoing use of the collection of oral history tapes and photographs so that everyone can see the achievements and tenacity of their ancestors. We tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in the Docks to schools, colleges and through exhibitions.
We want the world to know we are here and have been for a very long time.
The Heritage & Cultural Exchange wants to give full credit and show respect to those who shared their stories but we need help to identify some of them or their living relatives. Can you help us?” Gaynor Legall, Chair Tiger Bay Heritage & Cultural Exchange
These interviews are a significant piece of the city’s diverse history heard by the voices of everyday people from the Tiger Bay area. This call out is for interviewees or their relatives in order for us to use part of their stories. Do you have any information about James Sapo Mannay, Ronald Jenkins, Joan Duggan, Katie Anderson Johnson, Abbas Abdullah, Christopher Stevens, Sunday and Eva Dennis and Harry Jarret? If so, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the years the Screen and Sound Archive at the National Library of Wales have worked hard to ensure that all genres of music in Wales are represented in our collections. Here Dan Griffiths tells us about some of the Black Music held in our collections:
One of the most famous Welshmen of the 20th century, Dylan Thomas, was born on this day in 1914. As today would have been his 107th birthday, I thought I’d delve into the Library’s collection of electronic resources to see what I could find about one of our most important poets.
Where best to start than this comprehensive entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This gives an insight into his upbringing and education, and discusses his development as a poet, his rise to fame and his notorious behaviour which led to his untimely death at the age of 39: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/36471
Under Milk Wood is probably Thomas’ most famous work, originally conceived as a play for radio. Shortly after its premiere on BBC Radio, it won the Prix Italia best for literary/dramatic programme. Due to its huge success, it was quickly adapted for stage and screen. This article from Critical Studies in Television (Sage Journals) analyses the transformation into these physical mediums, and whether they were as successful: https://doi.org/10.7227/CST.9.3.8
Following on from this article, I found a gushing Daily Mail review of the first complete UK performance of Under Milk Wood, held at London’s Old Vic in 1954. In the review, found in Gale Primary Sources, the reviewer states that he found the play in print to be an “unwieldy mass of adjectives”. It’s clear that the cast, which included his compatriot Richard Burton and Dame Sybil Thorndike, helped raise the play to another level. “On the stage, the magic of these eight voices set the ears ablaze with his verbal fireworks.” A gust of Wicked Welsh fun indeed!! https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EE1864227004/DMHA?u=nlw_ttda&sid=bookmark-DMHA&xid=98dcf147
Billy Boston is one of the most talented and successful Welsh rugby players of all time, yet for many years his achievements were hardly recognised in Wales. His career is a great sporting story, and one that deserves to be told.
Billy was born in Butetown, Cardiff, in 1934, and became a rugby star in the 1950s and 1960s. His mother came from Cardiff’s Irish community, and his father was a black merchant seaman from Sierra Leone. As a boy, Billy played Rugby Union for Cardiff Internationals Athletic Club (CIACS), a club that reflected the multiracial nature of the Cardiff docklands. He was an exceptionally talented winger, with great speed, strength, balance and footballing intelligence, as well as a devastating sidestep. Billy played for Wales at Youth level, but his dream was to play for Cardiff, and perhaps one day for Wales. There was no doubt that he was good enough.
Billy never got the opportunity to fulfil his dream of playing for his beloved Cardiff RFC; the same was true of Johnny Freeman and Colin Dixon, other black players who went on from CIACS to have very successful careers in Rugby League. Further, no black player was selected to represent Wales at full international level in Rugby Union until the 1980s.
A bitter division had grown up between Rugby Union and Rugby League after they had split in 1895 – Union was an amateur game, while League was professional. Professionalism was banned in Union, and players who went to the north of England to play League – or who even spoke to a League scout – were ostracised. Union was strictly amateur, and the hypocrisy and the stigma remained until the game became professional in 1995. However, generations of Welsh rugby players – many of them black – found employment in Rugby League, especially at times when Wales was struggling economically.
When he was approached by the Rugby League club Wigan in 1953, Billy Boston did not want to go north and his mother refused their £1,000 offer. Billy would sign for £3,000 and no less. The Bostons hoped and expected this to put Wigan off, but the club was prepared to pay exceptional money for an exceptional player, and so the 19-year old Billy signed a League contract. Having done so, he knew that his dream of playing Union for Cardiff and Wales could never be realised. That night, he wept and could not sleep.
Billy made an immediate impact at Wigan, and became a League legend during his career there, which ended in 1968. He played wing, but unusually he could play centre or fly half just as well. He became less agile towards the end his career, but he kept his pace and developed his size and muscle and a powerful hand-off. He was the complete Rugby League threequarter, and he was often unstoppable.
The year after he signed for Wigan, he was selected to represent Great Britain, and his career statistics speak for themselves: a club record of 478 tries in 487 appearances (110 more than any other Wigan player in history); numerous domestic trophies; 30 international tries in 31 Test matches; a Great Britain tour record for tries scored in Australia; the first GB player to score 4 tries in a match against New Zealand; and a World Cup win in 1960. By the time he retired from Rugby League in 1970, Billy had scored 572 career tries in 562 appearances – only the winger Brian Bevan from Australia has ever scored more.
The people of Wigan embraced Billy as one of their own, not just because of his success on the field but because he was a team player who was both humble and approachable. Billy felt at home in Wigan, and ran a pub near the club ground when his playing days were over; he never came back to live in Wales. The population of Wigan was almost entirely white, but the rugby club had long been cosmopolitan and multiracial in outlook, as had Rugby League in general, and players came in from all over the world. Unfortunately, however, Billy did still experience racial discrimination, most notably when Great Britain played several matches in South Africa after the 1957 World Cup. The South Africans told Billy – who was already unwilling to take part in this leg of the tour because of apartheid, and was now carrying an injury – that his skin colour meant that he could not stay in the same hotel as the rest of the squad, and that he could not visit their hotel or play in any of the games. Billy rejected these terms. The GB team went to South Africa without him.
Ever since his early days at Wigan, Billy Boston has been revered in Rugby League. There are statues of him at Wembley and in Wigan, where one of the club’s stands is named after him, and he was one of the original members of both the Rugby League Hall of Fame and the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame. The city of Cardiff is also now recognising Billy’s achievements, and fortunately this has occurred during his lifetime. In December 2020, it was announced that there will be a statue depicting Billy Boston and two other Rugby League legends who came from the Cardiff docks area, Clive Sullivan and Gus Risman.
The Union game, however, has been very slow to recognise many of the Welsh players who have achieved great things in Rugby League. They include some of the greatest players in either code, but while their achievements in Rugby League are celebrated in the north of England, this has usually not been the case in Wales. They are forgotten heroes of Welsh rugby.
Although the story of Billy Boston and others can be discovered here in the Library using collections such as our, printed books and newspaper collections or some of the External E-resources that we subscribe to, we’re keen to develop collections relating to areas of Welsh life that are of national importance but have nevertheless been under represented, whether they relate to race, Rugby League or anything else. If you are able to help us with this, please get in touch.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement, an influential pressure group whose members campaigned vigorously across Wales for an end to racism and the apartheid system in South Africa. The group was originally a regional branch of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) but separated in 1981 adopting the name ‘The Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM).’
Local groups and branches supporting the AAM had been active in Wales, based primarily in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. They realised greater support could be achieved with a clear Welsh identity. The newly-formed group was active throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, campaigning for international action to help bring apartheid to an end.
In 2008, the archives of WAAM were deposited here through Hanef Bhamjee, one of its founding members and long-term Secretary. These extensive records reflect the Movement’s aims, aspirations and activities. They include records of the group’s committees, correspondence with companies, public officials, politicians and individuals reflecting all aspects of WAAM’s activities. There is also a fascinating collection of newsletters, publicity material and ephemera, much of it unique.
The bulk of material documents WAAM’s campaigning activities. These campaigns included opposing rugby and cricket tours of South Africa, UK trade with South Africa and an end to nuclear and military collaboration. Sustained campaigning was conducted for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and included in the collection is the printed Order of Ceremony when Mandela was made Freeman of the Borough of Islwyn in 1986.
WAAM was dissolved in1994 following the first democratic elections in South Africa and its assets were transferred to ACTSA Wales, which continues to campaign and work for peace and democracy in Southern Africa.
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.