Blog - Collections

“Safeguarding national treasures in challenging times …”

Collections - Posted 23-05-2020

During these challenging times, The National Library of Wales has continued to preserve and protect Wales’ national treasures. In addition, technology has enabled us to provide access to our collections; for the purpose of research, education, and inspiration – for all to enjoy from home!

However, behind the scenes at The Library building, our collections continue to be protected in a very practical way!
Whilst most Library staff have been able to work from their homes during this period of lockdown, the same cannot be said for our dedicated security staff – who continue to protect our vast and various items around-the-clock, twenty-four hours a day, from within the Library in Aberystwyth.

Paul Ingram, from The National Library of Wales’ security team, gives an insight into how work has continued inside the Library walls:

“Our day to day security procedures continue. There are a huge number of security checking points throughout the building, so all aspects of the Library are kept under constant surveillance. In addition, the team check and regulate the temperature and humidity levels, so that our valuable collections are safeguarded from any environmental threats.”

When asked about the changes to procedures during the current climate, Ingram said:

“Maintaining cleanliness has always been a key responsibility for the team. Our priority has always been to maintain the building to as high a standard as possible for the purpose of collection care, and staff and visitor safety. However, it is no surprise that this period has heightened our consciousness further, especially in terms of human contact. I’m sure, like many institutions, the word ‘sanitise’ has become a part of our daily vocabulary!”

The team have also faced some new challenges because of the Covid-19 epidemic, as Ingram explains:

“The only real challenge we’ve encountered is staff scheduling. Some members of our team, for various reasons, will be self-isolating for a prolonged period. As a result, particularly younger members of staff have been working further hours, taking on new responsibilities.”

However, the lockdown has brought some positive outcomes:

“This challenging time has certainly heightened our sense of team spirit, which is ironic, as we remain socially distanced during our shifts!

“We are very proud that our work ensures that all the Library’s national treasures are safeguarded during this challenging time.”

Cardiganshire Criminals

Collections - Posted 13-05-2020

In an old manuscript at the National Library of Wales is a treasure trove of criminal profiles and mug-shots which give us a fascinating insight into life in Mid-Wales during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Whilst we are used to seeing portrait photography from this period, the adoption of photography by the police in their records means we are given a rare glimpse into the world of some of the poorest, most desperate and occasionally treacherous in society.

Here are my top ten profiles.

19 year old Walter Chambers described himself as a gardener from Nottingham. Living homeless, he stole a coat from a draper on Great DarkGate Street, Aberystwyth in November 1904 . An hour later he approached a policeman, admitted his crime and gave himself up. He received little sympathy though, and was imprisoned and sentenced to 21 days hard labour.

Anne Williams of Swansea was committed at Lampeter to one month of hard labour for handling stolen money in 1905, and she doesn’t look impressed.

Thomas Taylor was a labourer by trade. He was committed to 2 months hard labour in 1907 for stealing a pair of slippers. Despite the petty nature of the crime, the police wrote up a detailed description of Taylor. He was 5ft 3 ⅜ inches, with brown hair and blue eyes. He has several anchor tattoos and scars on his hands, along with a mole above his left nipple and a scar from a boil below his left buttock.

This moving picture captures a Gipsy woman named Elizabeth Boswell, who was fined for stealing from an Aberystwyth Hotel in March 1900.

James Harries had a string of convictions for petty theft spanning over a decade. His trial at Llanilar Petty Sessions in 1903 is notable for being the first time fingerprints were used as evidence in a Cardiganshire, after local police worked with Scotland Yard to connect a Harries to a number of thefts around he country.

18 year old Sarah Mary Edwards of Pennal had hazel eyes and brown hair and stood at just 4ft tall. She was sentenced to hard labour for stealing several items of clothing.

John Edward Davies of Fourcrosses, worked as a porter on the Cambrian Railway in 1899. Being in charge of the luggage carriage he stole ‘a large amount’ of jewelry on the journey between Aberystwyth and Birmingham during September 1899. He was soon caught and sentenced to 6 months of hard labour.

Kate McCarthy of Liverpool and two accomplices were sentenced to 14 days hard labour for stealing clothes from Aberystwyth.

One of the toughest punishments recorded in the register was handed to 22 year old William Jarvis. Sentenced to 12 months hard labour in 1899 for theft, he had been free for only a few months when he was found guilty of burglary at Lampeter and sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. The register shows that he offended again after his release being sentenced to hard labour on a number of occasions.

John Smythe, a 65 year old painter was committed to 7 days hard labour in 1879 for stealing a duck from Llanychaearn.

The Cardiganshire Constabulary Register of Criminals has been digitised and can be explored in full on the National Library of Wales website. All the mug-shots from the manuscript have also been shared openly on Wikimedia Commons and can be explored here.

Jason Evans
National Wikimedian

For War Department purposes only: censorship and the Ordnance Survey

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 11-05-2020

The Ordnance Survey began with war in mind, in the shadow of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The country continued to be mapped with an eye to military strategy and resources, although the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the last major pitched battle on British soil.

Starting with strategically important coastlines in the southeast of England, considered vulnerable to invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, the maps were drawn at a scale of 1 inch to the mile (1:63,360, roughly equivalent to modern OS Landranger maps). Over the next few decades surveyors gradually worked their way across England and Wales. By 1810, most counties of southern England had been mapped but they were not available for sale for another half decade, after a fractious period of war, financial difficulties, and Luddite unrest.

By the 1840s all of Wales and most of England had been mapped at 1 inch to the mile. In the second half of the century, the threat of invasion having abated and the Industrial Revolution in full swing, Ordnance Survey mapping began to be guided more by economic than military concerns. The War Office conceded control of the Ordnance Survey in 1870 to the Office of Works (responsible for forestry and royal palaces), and in 1890 to the Board of Agriculture. With taxation and industry in mind, the OS County Series was born: mapping Great Britain in its entirety at the much larger and more detailed scale of 6 inches to the mile (1:10,560), with urban areas mapped at 25 inches to the mile (1:2,500). The new survey began in the 1840s, and revised editions were published until the 1950s. Created county by county, these new maps included an unprecedented level of detail.

With detail came risk. Although the maps were published and available to the public, some information was deemed too sensitive for general consumption. This was particularly so during the World Wars, when the threat of invasion loomed once more, and aerial bombardment was a new and frightening reality.

Military and industrial locations were surveyed in the Ordnance Survey’s usual detail, and were available to the military, but were omitted from the published maps.

Sometimes, the change was subtle, as in this map of Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire. Built during the Napoleonic Wars as a store of military equipment close to the strategic Grand Junction Canal, the store was later expanded to include barracks, and extra storehouses and workshops, which were added during the First World War. The site remained in use from 1804 to 1965. The barracks are shown in detail on both maps, but on the published sheet, labels that show the site’s military use are not included. The street name ‘Ordnance Road’ remains, however, which might have given the game away!

Lavernock Fort, in Glamorgan, was a gun battery built in 1870. It was used in the Second World War to defend the Severn, an important route for Atlantic shipping, and was used as a lookout post for volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps, responsible for spotting German aircraft. All evidence of the battery was removed from the published map.

Lavernock Fort is a fairly small military installation, but some much larger sites were given the same treatment. In northern Kent, on the Thames Estuary, a 128-hectare site manufactured cordite, nitro-glycerine, and gelatine dynamite for Curtis’s & Harvey, a gunpowder company which controlled half of the British gunpowder industry in 1898. The factory, and the battery to its south, disappeared from the published map, leaving sheepwashes as almost the only landmarks.

You might be forgiven for wondering about the point of our final map if you had access only to the published version. No physical geographical features are shown, only the administrative boundaries of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in the Humber Estuary.


At first glance the secret map does not appear any more detailed. For military eyes only, an inconspicuous cross has been added, marking Bull Sand Fort. The fort is the larger of two Humber sand forts, built on sandbanks during the First World War and extensively used in the Second World War to protect the entrance to the Humber Estuary. The fort is marked only with a cross as it was not surveyed in detail by the Ordnance Survey, but it was a significant fort, able to support 200 people, with fresh water pumped in from a natural source of fresh water under the sand. Armour on the seaward side was a foot thick. An anti-submarine steel net was stretched between the two forts, making a formidable barrier.

The removal of military installations from OS maps was at its height in the 19th century and the World Wars, but throughout the Cold War and beyond, many sensitive sites were left off the maps entirely. It took the public availability of high-resolution satellite imagery at the turn of the 21st century to render this type of censorship largely ineffective, although labels are still omitted in some cases.

Certain areas are still removed entirely from digital maps and satellite imagery, including some US military bases in the Middle East. Despite efforts to restrict access to sensitive information, new developments in mapping technology and data visualisation sometimes reveal what governments prefer to keep hidden.

In 2017, the fitness tracking app Strava released a global heatmap, aggregating data from its millions of users, each using GPS technology to record their exercise routes. In parts of Syria and Afghanistan, the only users of Strava were foreign military personnel, with the result that repeated runs around military bases created bright spots of activity, clearly identifying their location.

Ellie King
Trainee Assistant Map Curator

References & Further Reading

Digital Resources

Collections - Posted 07-05-2020

The doors of the National Library of Wales’s much-loved building in Aberystwyth may be closed for a while, but online we’re as open as ever and there’s still plenty you can do from home using our excellent range of resources online.

Over the last 20 years, the Library has been busy digitising its collection, resulting in over 5 million items available for free on the National Library of Wales website.

The available collections include:

  • books
  • manuscripts
  • archives
  • maps
  • pictures
  • photographs

so there’s plenty to entertain and inform whatever your interests.

Maybe you’d like to use this time to do some family history research?

Here are a few ways we can help:

  • Expert advice on how to start your Family History research.
  • Search and view our collection of pre-1858 wills for free.
  • Search for your ancestors among the 1.1 million pages of Welsh Newspapers. Who knows what hidden stories you’ll find among the 15 million articles dating from 1804 to 1919!

Perhaps you’re interested in discovering more about your house or local area?

The Places of Wales website is a great place to start.

Here you can search and browse over 300,000 entries from the Tithe Maps of Wales.  You can view the maps themselves and the accompanying apportionments and compare them to more modern maps.

Who owned you house, what was the land used for in the past – its all on the Places of Wales website.

There’s also 1.2 million pages of Welsh Journals dating between 1735-2007 that could help you with local history research.  Browse through 450 different journals and see what you can find about your local area.

Are you home schooling for the first time?

We can help!

The Library’s Education Service offers many education resources for free.

Available on the Education Services pages and Hwb, the resources cover a wide range of topics, from the Princes of Wales to the Second World War, to art and inspiring creativity.

And during playtime, why not try the Digital Build Challenge and recreate the National Library of Wales using Minecraft, Lego or any other block game! Videos, floor plans, dimensions and pictures, all available on Hwb, will help you along the way.

Had enough of research and teaching? Relax with the National Library!

Browse through our various collections.

Let our beautiful works of art inspire you! Search our Catalogue or browse nearly 2000 works of art from our collections through the ArtUK website.

Escape for a while with old photographs or films, which we offer free online.

You can even enjoy digital exhibitions from the comfort of your own home

The possibilities are endless and whatever interests you, you’re sure to discover something to inform or amuse.

Visit our Library Resources page for a full list of our resources available from home.

The Literary World of Paul Peter Piech

Collections - Posted 06-05-2020

2020 is the centenary of graphic artist and poster maker Paul Peter Piech, and here at the National Library is Piech’s largest collection of linocut blocks, as well as a large collection of his unique posters and prints.

Piech was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1920, but spent most of his professional career in Britain. Over five decades he produced striking prints relating to social, political, literary and musical themes combining his trademark square lettering with colorful and bold artwork to create a truly unique style.

During the 1980s Piech moved to Wales, where he continued to work as part of the Welsh art scene. He embraced the language and culture and turned his impressions of Wales and its people into striking posters.

The influence of literature is evident in his work, and he often uses the words of writers and poets that inspired him to convey his personal views and values. He was clearly influenced by his time in Wales, and portrayed some of Wales’ most prominent writes, with a tendency to focus on those whose work had a social, political or satirical focus.

A digital version of the exhibition can be viewed on the People’s Collection Wales website.

Mari Elin Jones

For and against vaccination

Collections - Posted 04-05-2020

With the Coronavirus disease spreading around the world at an alarming rate, it was interesting to read a timely booklet from the collection of the Welsh physician and psychiatrist, Sir Robert Armstrong-Jones. The items in the collection are divided according to subject and include around twenty pamphlets relating to pandemics.

The general view today is that a vaccine will be the most effective method to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, it is evident from reading this booklet entitled For and against Vaccination that there was disagreement over how best to reduce the spread of smallpox over a hundred years ago. It features a series of letters sent to the Dublin press between General Arthur Phelps, of the Anti-Vaccination League, and Percy Kirkpatrick, a renowned Irish physician and President of the Dublin Sanitary Alliance. Phelps and Kirkpatrick argue for and against vaccination throughout, using statistics of cases and deaths, including those from the French-German war of 1870-71.



But the debate wasn’t that straightforward. Phelps believed that cleanliness was the key to combating smallpox, not a vaccination. Here are his words:

Sanitation is the only remedy for smallpox, typhus, and other dirty diseases. Trying to make someone immune to disease A (smallpox) by infection with disease B (cowpox) is as absurd as it would be for a man to hang violent pictures at his children’s school with the idea of ​​stopping them from lying.

Phelps was discussing Edward Jenner‘s invention of vaccinating against smallpox by giving an injection that includes a cowpox virus. Of course, we know today that injecting someone with a less severe strain of the virus enables the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that will protect the person from the more serious strain of the disease. This is how a vaccine against flu is made and it is hoped that research of this kind will lead to the development of a vaccine against Covid-19.



Professor Minkowski, the Chief Physician of Augusta Hospital, Cologne is quoted in the booklet as saying that the German immunity was due to compulsory vaccination and re-vaccination. He did not believe that staying apart and social exclusion were as important factors. He added that without compulsory child vaccination and adult re-vaccination this would have failed completely.

Dr Brandhomme, who was a Health Hazard Officer for the city of Frankfurt, said the following:

I believe that vaccination and re-vaccination protect people best. Without these it would be impossible to keep the epidemic under control.

Fitzpatrick and Phelps did not have mathematical models to help them as governments do today, but it is clear that they studied statistics to try to find patterns that suggest the effect vaccination would have on the population. Phelps commented on the statistics in the photo below showing the breakdown of the numbers of smallpox cases and deaths in the German Empire in 1908: The most favoured were the vaccinated too late, of whom only 4.76 % died. If all the 434 had been in this happy category, the total deaths would have been not 65, but about 20! Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick believes that the table proves his point that vaccination works. By merging groups I and II (those that were not vaccinated and those that were only vaccinated once) we have a total of 55 deaths from smallpox and 291 cases of the disease. In group III (those that were vaccinated twice) we have 10 deaths and 143 cases.



Today there is no doubt that vaccination against smallpox has been successful and there have been no cases anywhere since 1977. It is interesting to note that a vaccine against Covid-19 developed by the University of Oxford and Imperial College London has begun trial stages during the last fortnight. We eagerly await the results in the hope of finding another vaccine to help mankind.


Hywel Lloyd,
Assistant Librarian.

Digging in the horticultural archives

Collections - Posted 29-04-2020

The garden has always been a source of solace, delight, exercise and food production, never more so than in the recent worldwide health crisis. To celebrate National Gardening Week, and for those who are unable to access a garden, we bring you an armchair guide to some of the Library’s horticultural archives.

An early example is a manuscript draft of Sir Thomas Hanmer’s ‘Garden Book’, written between 1650 and 1664, and published with an introduction by E. S. Rohde in 1933. Sir Thomas Hanmer had formerly been cup-bearer to Charles I and he had fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War. In the aftermath he escaped to France but returned to make his home at at Bettisfield in Flintshire, where he devoted much of his life to the garden. The ‘Garden Book’ contains memoranda of monthly tasks, lists of plants, notes on viticulture and methods of increasing plants. At the very time that tulipomania was sweeping Europe, Sir Thomas indulged his own passion for tulips. One of the finest specimens which he introduced to Britain was named after him, ‘Agate Hanmer’.

There is a portrait of Sir Thomas Hanmer by Cornelius Johnson in the National Museum Wales.

Another keen horticulturalist and botanist was John Wynne Griffith (1763-1834) of Garn in Denbighshire. The Garn Estate Records contain several letters of significant botanical and horticultural importance from Heneage Finch Earl of Aylesford, Sir Joseph Banks, William Bingley, Hugh Davies, James Dickson, John Fenton, Edward Hasell, James Hunter, Jonathan Stokes, Robert Teesdale, Dawson Turner, James Watt, and William Withering, senior and junior, 1794-1830. The depth of his knowledge may be judged from the plant lists which he exchanged with William Withering in 1794:

226. C[ircaea] intermedia. The specimen bearing this no. according to shape of the pairs belongs as you observe to C. lutetiana but the shape of the leaves much resemble those of C. alp.

Most of the Welsh gentry houses, like their English counterparts, were surrounded by gardens. The layout of the formal garden at Gogerddan in Cardiganshire is illustrated on a wonderful plan by William Combs, dated 1765. It shows the parterres, terraces and steps around the mansion, the watercourses and the straight paths radiating out in a fan shape to the more natural woodland landscape beyond.

The Gogerddan Estate Records also contain a garden account book showing produce for August and September and the prices, 1835, and a cash book recording receipts mainly for produce and plants, payments for garden equipment and carriage charges for parcels of horticultural goods, 1916-1919. Wage records reveal that in 1870 the male gardeners at Gogerddan earned between 10 and 15 shilling per week; their female colleagues earned 6 shillings.

The final destination on our horticultural tour is the twentieth century garden of Penny Condry at Ynys Edwin, Eglwys Fach, near Machynlleth. The papers of her husband, William Condry, contain numerous references to the wildlife and ecology of gardens. There is an unpublished script about Ynys Edwin called ‘Wild Welsh Garden’ dated 1991, accompanied by notes on weeds, bee keeping, pests, and various wild plant and animal species.

Penny shared her keen horticultural interest with Mildred Elsie Eldridge (Elsi), wife of R.S. Thomas. Elsi’s letters to Penny were highly descriptive and they were sometimes illustrated with delightful sketches of mice and plants. They are explored in a previous NLW Blog post.

While searching for suitable images to accompany this blog post, I noted that the Library holds several beautiful flower paintings by John Parker (1798-1860). This is one of them, showing white narcissi against a natural background of rocks and ferns.

Finally here is that musical icon of Wales, Aled Jones in an adaptation of Handel, portraying a young man wistfully gazing after his lady as she walks down the garden path singing.

Hilary Peters


  • NLW Manuscript NLW MS 21753B
  • Garn Estate Records FPG3
  • Gogerddan Estate Records GBC3, GBF
  • William Condry Papers LP1/15, RT5/9

A sprinkling of history

Collections - Posted 28-04-2020

Achieving Royal Assent to the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 was an historic event. The National Assembly for Wales gained the power to legislate in certain areas and in certain circumstances under the Government of Wales Act 2006, and a number of government measures had been passed on issues such as education, health, and waste. The Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 was the first law introduced by a backbench Assembly Member (AM) to be passed by the Assembly. Ann Jones, AM for the Vale of Clwyd, was the AM responsible for the law and as a former fire officer, she had expertise and a long-term interest in the field.

Ann Jones presented the archive of papers tracing the passing of the law to the National Library of Wales through the Women’s Archive Wales as part of their Setting the Record Straight project. The project works with current and former women Assembly Members to record their oral histories and arrange for their papers to go to an appropriate archive. This was the first archival collection to come to an archive office as part of the project and I went with Rhian James, Head of Archives and Manuscripts, to collect it from the Senedd in Cardiff in November 2019.



The story of the Measure becoming law is an interesting one, and the papers follow each stage of the process through research, obtaining a Legislative Competence Order, debates in the Assembly, passing the measure, and implementing the regulations. Among the papers are drafts of speeches in which Ann makes the case for the law passionately and effectively; drafts of the legislation; and correspondence with Welsh Government ministers, MPs and Lords, and chief fire service officers. There are copies of research into similar measures in Toronto and Scottsdale Arizona, papers of fire safety conferences, and a collection of interesting correspondence between Ann Jones and UK Government ministers, including David Jones, who were critical of a law they felt placed an unreasonable burden on the construction industry. Ann Jones’ answers demonstrate her mastery of the arguments and her expertise in the field as well as her willingness to enter discussions to achieve the goal of reducing the number of people who die in domestic fires.

The ‘Sprinkler law’ is one of the National Assembly for Wales’ most well-known accomplishments so it is only right that the documents that tell the story and record the role of the politician behind it are available as part of the Welsh Political Archive and Women’s Archive of Wales at the National Library. The archive can be browsed on our online catalog.


Rob Phillips
Welsh Political Archive


Lobscaws and Llymru: Welsh food and recipes

Collections - Posted 22-04-2020

I recently enjoyed reading First Catch Your Peacock: The Classic guide to Welsh food by Bobby Freeman (Y Lolfa, 2006). The book provides a thoroughly-researched introduction to the history of Welsh food, followed by examples of traditional recipes.

The book’s definition of ‘traditional’ is the food which was cooked in the Welsh cottage or farmhouse kitchen, using a pot or a bakestone originally over the open fire, or in later centuries on the cast iron cooking range. The recipes were passed down orally through families for generations, rarely written down until recorded in the the prize-winning Eisteddfod essay of Mati Thomas in 1928.



Freeman comments on the difficulty of distinguishing traditional Welsh recipes from English or foreign ones, due to the similarity of ingredients or to linguistic confusion. One example is the ubiquitous meat and vegetable broth called ‘lobscaws’ in the north,‘cawl’ further south. The ingredients may be identical but the origins of the names are entirely different. While ‘cawl’ appears to be a genuine Welsh word, ‘lobscaws’ actually derives from the north German ‘labskaus’, which in northern England became ‘lobscouse’. Conversely, Welsh food names may have passed undetected into the repertoire of ‘old English’ cookery. The gelatinous dish called ‘llymru’, made from oatmeal in Wales, became ‘flummery’ in England and it appeared with its original ingredients in Gervase Markham’s Countrey contentments, or The English husvvife (London 1623). By the mid-seventeenth century fancier variations had evolved, containing sugar, cream, orange-flower water or fruit flavourings, such as the recipe published in The Closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. opened (London 1669), which resembles more closely the modern cook’s notion of a traditional flummery.

Among the cookery books consulted by Bobby Freeman at the National Library of Wales is The First Principles of Good Cookery illustrated and Recipes communicated by the Welsh Hermit of the Cell of St. Gover (London 1867) by the redoubtable Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover. While the language is English and the authenticity of some ‘Welsh’ items may be suspect, the recipe for Salt Duck (p. 408), we are assured, is convincingly genuine. A digital copy of the early edition is available on the Library’s website.

Other interesting culinary information may be found in the Library’s collections of estate records. Freeman identifies these recipes from the ‘plas’ more closely with the English cookery tradition, yet they are ‘Welsh’ in the sense that they were written down by the wives and housekeepers of the Welsh gentry homes, and that most of the fresh ingredients came directly from their own estates. One very fine example is Peniarth Manuscript 513D, a book of recipes compiled in the seventeenth century by Meryell Williams (1629-1703), the highly capable wife of John Williams of Ystumcolwyn, Montgomeryshire. The immaculate handwriting makes it quite ‘user-friendly’ for today’s cooks. The book is logically organised into sections for pottage, meat and fish, puddings, biscuits, cakes, preserves, wines and medicines, all meticulously indexed at the back of the volume. Many of the recipes were translated into Welsh by Dr Enid Pierce Roberts, Gwraig orau o’r Gwragedd (Gwasg Pantycelyn, 2003).

Gogerddan near Aberystwyth belonged to the Pryse and Loveden family. Only one recipe book has survived, together with a few loose items, one of which is a menu in Welsh, dated 1796, when the estate belonged to Pryse Pryse (formerly Loveden). The menu seems quite festive although the occasion is not specified. It includes Brithyll ffrio, math o’r pysgodin berw yn Saesneg enw Turbot, oen coes berw gyda y llwin ffrio, pwding crynu, cig eidion rhost…pastai afal ffrwythau (fried trout, boiled turbot, boiled leg of lamb with fried loin, quaky pudding, roast beef and apple pasty).

Much of the food produced from the Gogerddan estate and garden was for immediate use in the house. The lists of seeds and the accounts show what was grown in the kitchen garden between 1767 and 1919: white Spanish onions, London leeks, orange carrots, parsnips, rape seed, white Cos lettuce, imperial lettuce, Italian celery, three varieties of cauliflower, kidney beans, cabbages, cucumbers, and apples. Greenhouse crops included tomatoes and grapes. The cash book records the costs of sending parcels of produce to Aberystwyth, and more ominously, the prices of fumigating compound and rat poison. There are wonderful series of farm accounts, showing livestock bought and sold, crops sold and farm wages, 1813-1919; and the dairy accounts, recording weekly the production of milk, cream and butter, 1881-1919. Many of the groceries such as sugar and tea were purchased from local tradesmen in Aberystwyth. All of these records may be discovered among the Gogerddan estate and household administration papers.

Some of the best household records in the Brogyntyn archive date from the time of Mrs Mary Owen in the mid-18th century. Mary (née Godolphin) went as a somewhat unwilling bride to William Owen, the squire of Brogyntyn on the Welsh borders.  As Mrs Owen, she settled into her new life as mistress of a large house, facing the challenges of domestic management.  Among the household papers are the instructions which she wrote for her servants:

The Cook’s Business. She must be able to get a dinner of fiveteen dishes of meat; four or five things when the family is alone is sufficient…..She must salt all the meat……fatten the poultry…….keep the scullery and larders and kitchen clean, and the utensils belonging to them……dress the wheat flower……make the parlour bread……rise with the other maids to wash, till her own business requires her elsewhere……She has help from the other maids to scour, which is once in four weeks, but I expect her to scour the pewter plates every fortnight……She is to carve for the lower servants at dinner…..When she has time I expect her to iron her own cloaths……


The arduous servants’ duties which were specified by Mrs Owen force us to consider the problems faced by the cooks of both the cottage and the ‘plas’ in previous centuries. Bobby Freeman and Mati Thomas each observe the difficulty of cooking to a consistent quality on an open fire or a cast-iron range, dependent on the type of fuel, the daily weather conditions and the efficiency (or deficiency) of the chimney.  They remark on the sheer physical effort expended in handling the heavy implements of the traditional Welsh kitchen and in maintaining a high standard of cleanliness. Evidence of the old cooking equipment may be obtained from a detailed scrutiny of the thousands of inventories which survive in the pre-1858 Welsh Probate Records, most of which are available in digital form on the Library’s website.



A good example is the inventory of Thomas Lewis’s house at Llan-gors, which was possibly Trewallter, although the abode is not named in the probate documents. The kitchen contained a whole array of different sized pewter dishes, basins and plates, salt cellar, candlesticks and flagons; skillets, brass candlesticks, warming pans, chafing dishes, various brass pans, bell metal vessels; dripping pans, frying pans and other iron implements; one pair of cupboards, one jack, one iron plate before the fire and other iron wares; vats, barrels, hogsheads, another cupboard, one chair and two joint stools (NLW wills, BR1680/103).

Actual utensils may be viewed at Ceredigion Museum or at St Fagans National Museum of History.


Hilary Peters
Assistant Archivist



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Phyllis Kinney. The musician from Michigan

Collections / music - Posted 23-03-2020

Phyllis Kinney’s life is a journey from America to Aberystwyth, and from an early career as an operatic singer to becoming one of the foremost authorities on Welsh traditional music.

Phyllis Kinney (now enjoying her 97th year)  was born in Pontiac, Michigan near Detroit on 4 July 1922 – Independence Day. She was educated at Pontiac High School and then the Michigan State College, East Lansing where she specialised in music and graduated in 1943. Such was her vocal talent that she secured a fellowship at the Juilliard School of Music, New York where she studied for 3 years. In 1947 she became the lead solo with the Carl Rosa opera company, and while touring in Bangor, North Wales met Meredydd Evans (1919-2015) whom she married on 10 April 1948. Their daughter Eluned was born during the summer of 1949, and their married life was mostly spent in Wales, apart from a period of eight years from 1952 to 1960 which they spent in America – with her parents in Pontiac, in Princeton and in Cambridge Mass. She continued her musical career, performing in an opera by the American composer Roger Sessions in Princeton in 1955, and also teaching music in primary and secondary schools.

After returning to Wales she contributed to BBC light entertainment programmes, as a singer and also became a presenter and specialist researcher for television programmes. Her musical interest varies from American musicals to Welsh folk songs and she has spent the last few decades researching music manuscripts and publications at the National Library of Wales, Sain Ffagan and Bangor University. This was the background to her notable work, Welsh Traditional Music (University of Wales Press, 2011), which is the authoritative book on Welsh traditional music from its beginning to the present day. She has also contributed numerous articles to journals (notably in Canu Gwerin and Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru: Welsh Music History) and has published several books on Welsh folk music, and songbooks for children, some co-authored by Meredydd Evans. She was awarded an honorary M Mus degree by the University of Wales in 1991 and became honorary fellow of Bangor University alongside her husband in 1997.

The archives of Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney, which were kindly donated to the National Library is a treasure trove of information about Welsh traditional music. Phyllis Kinney’s’ files (over 30 boxes) containing detailed and meticulous notes and analysis of tunes, with information about musicians and collectors of music. Her systematic approach, looking at rhythm, cadence, form, harmony and modes meant that she could confidently state in a letter to the poet Keith Bosley that the most popular folk metre in Welsh folk song is the trochaic tetrameter quatrain; and write an article on the connection between ‘Migldi Magldi and a particular Irish / Welsh tune family. Her correspondence shows her generosity in answering enquiries and providing support for students, researchers and fellow enthusiasts worldwide. The archive reflects the way she embraced Wales, its people and its culture, becoming a fluent Welsh speaker and elevating Welsh traditional music through her musicological studies.

Nia Mai Daniel
Rheolwr Rhaglen | Programme Manager
Yr Archif Gerddorol Gymreig | The Welsh Music Archive

@cerddllgc | @MusicNLW


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