Blog - Collections

A selection of Christmas related Welsh books from our collection

Collections - Posted 12-12-2022

With Christmas fast approaching, we have selected a number of titles from our collection to share the joy of the festive period with you:


Nadolig fel hynny / T. James Jones, 1988, 0863810969

Nadolig / W.H. Doane ; geiriau gan W. Waters, [19–?]

Nadolig Peppa / [gan Neville Astley a Mark Baker ; cyfieithiad gan Owain Siôn, 2011, 99125245802419

Nadolig Llawen: cerddi / gan Mererid Hopwood a Tudur Dylan Jones, 2007, 9781900437974

Gwerthfawr Drysor: Detholiad o garolau ac emynau’r Nadolig / Detholwyd a golygwyd gan E. Wyn James, 2019, 9781859949252

A Christmas story / by Richard Burton, 1964

A Christmas Carol Revisited / Phil Rowlands, [2012], 9781480075580

Christmas past at Nanteos / Janet Joel, 2014, 99418736502419

A Christmas collection from Wales / Chris S. Stephens, 2008, 9781843239796



A selection of new Welsh related material (November/December 2022)

History and general works

Trên Bach y Llan, The Little Train to Llan Ffestiniog : A History of the Festiniog & Blaenau Railway, the Area and its Community / Chris Jones, Lightmoor Press, 2022, 9781915069108

Grave tales from Wales: More ‘Stories in Welsh Stone’ / Geoff Brookes, Llyfrau Cambria Books, 2021, 9781838428921

Snowdonia Slate Trail (2nd edition) / Aled Owen, Rucksack Readers, 2022, 9781913817091

Ceiniogau’r Werin: Prifysgol Aberystwyth mewn 150 Gwrthrych = The pennies of the people: Aberystwyth University in 150 Objects / Prifysgol Aberystwyth, 2022, 9781739691707

The civil war in Wales: the scouring of the nation / Terry John, Pen and Sword History, 2021, 9781399004763

Pressed flowers of Herefordshire and the Welsh marches / John Gardner, ArtCircus Books, 2021, 9781914424045

Plas Newydd and the Manor of Talerddig / Melvin Humphreys, 2022

A history of the Vale of Montgomery from earliest times to the Black Death / John Davies, 2021



The Duke of Monmouth: life and rebellion / Laura Brennan, Pen and Sword History, 2022, 9781399075145

Manic Street Preachers: album by album / edited by Marc Burrows, White Owl, 2021, 9781399016216

In search of Ruritania: the life & times of Ivor Novello & My life / David Slattery-Christy, Christyplays Publications, 2022, 9781838136529



The way taken: A Chinese Expedition / Dave Wynne-Jones, 2022, 9781916367418

Poems From California / Beau William Beakhouse, 2019


Science, education, and nature

Dewch i drafod / Manon Steffan Ros, Iola Ynyr, 2022, 9781783903726

Metamorffosis: an easy reader for Welsh learners / Franz Kafka,, [2022], 9781527285798

Original Sin: Power, Technology and War in Outer Space / Bleddyn E. Bowen, Hurst & Company, 2022, 9781787387775



Mae gan Mam lwmp / Simone Baldwin, addasiad Cymraeg gan Rhys Iorwerth, 2022, 9781739164508

Fîra Farus a’r Wy Siocled Enfawr / Eira Moon, 2021, 9781916875524

The Witch-Hare / Irina Richards, 2022, 9781905038640



Old Flames / by Dewi Griffiths, 2022, 9781999926335

Black Valley / By John Washbourne and Dewi Griffiths, 2022, 9781999926373

Valley Noir, Valley Blan / J.M. Bayliss, 2022, 9781739724511


Governmental and politics

Arolwg 2023 o etholaethau seneddol Cymry y Comisiwn Ffiniau i Gymru : Adroddiad y Comisiynwyr Cynorthwyol / Comisiwn Ffiniau i Gymru, 2022

Arolwg 2023 o Etholaethau Seneddol: Cynigion Diwygiedig = 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituencies / Comisiwn Ffiniau i Gymru, 2022



Ian Evans

Shared Cataloguing Programme Manager

The Mari Lwyd in the Archives

Collections - Posted 05-12-2022


Mari Lwyd.

White as moonlight.

Rattle-bagged and broken backed.

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.



Mary Pearce of Fernlea, Christmas Card 1977


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.



Robert Alwyn Hughes Sketch 46 from ‘Y Fari Lwyd, Cysgod y farch, Shadow of the Horse’ (2004)


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.


Rasma Bertz

NLW Volunteer


This blog is also available in Welsh.

The National Library of Wales and the World Cup

Collections - Posted 17-11-2022

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 ( and in the Reading Room.

The Welsh Political Archive Annual Lecture 2022

Collections - Posted 14-11-2022

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.


Rob Phillips

The Welsh Political Archive


This blog is also available in Welsh.

When War Follows the Script

Collections - Posted 11-11-2022

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.

Literature and History of Medicine Research Centre

Collections / Digitisation / Events / Research - Posted 07-11-2022

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!

Dr Douglas Jones,

Published Collections Projects Manager.

World Digital Preservation Day

Collections - Posted 03-11-2022

Today is World Digital Preservation Day and an opportunity to highlight the work undertaken by the National Library of Wales to ensure that digital content is preserved for the future. In order to raise general awareness of issues relating to enabling on-going access to digital content, which affect personal as well as organisational data, I would like to introduce you to Wilf.

Although Wilf is familiar with physical collections (having sat on a shelf watching archival cataloguing for many years) he has recently become interested in digital content and how it will be accessible in the future. To learn more about this, he went around the Library to film the digital preservation activities of the Library. The film is available to view here:

Following his tour around the Library, Wilf wanted to find out more about how he could make sure his digital content was preserved. He discovered that the Library had been given an award by the Preservation Coalition for its work Learning through doing: building digital preservation skills in Wales. The award was presented by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network as an acknowledgement of the value of the work in providing training and raising skills for staff across Wales. Through studying the resources which supported the programme, Wilf has developed new skills and can virus check content, identify file formats, check that data is not corrupted and create metadata. The resources to do these actions are available for all to view and use  on the Archives Wales website.

Wilf enjoyed his adventures in the Library but is now back on his usual shelf. He has gained the knowledge that digital content cannot be left sitting on a virtual shelf but that action must be taken for its preservation. If you want any help or advice about digital preservation, please contact

Sally McInnes, Head of Unique and Contemporary Content

A selection of Welsh related books acquired by the Library (September – October 2022)

Collections / New Accessions - Posted 31-10-2022

History and general works

Cerdded y caeau / Rhian Parry, 2022, 9781784619497

Cynllunio adferiad y Gymraeg = Planning the regeneration of the Welsh language / Cynog Dafis, 2019

A history of Welsh music / edited by Trevor Herbert, Martin V. Clarke and Helen Barlow, Cambridge University Press, 2023, 9781316511060

Border Crossings: Then and Now in the Welsh Marches / Richard Dobson, 2020, 9781839751981

A History of The Vale of Montgomery from Earliest Times to the Black Death / John Davies, 2021

The old firm’s proud past, Volume III 1990-2020 / Martyn Ham, Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd, 2021, 9781839754937

The Story of the Cardiff and Vale Perinatal Mental Health Team January 1998 – July 2020 / Dr. Sue Smith, 2022, 9781839759550

Coin-weights of Europe, Volume 2 & 3 / Paul & Bente R Withers, Galata, 2022, 9781908715173 (v. 2) 9781908715180 (v. 3)

Transport recalled: North and Mid-Wales / Martin Jenkins, Charles Roberts, 2022, 9781526787071

Gwent Federation of Women’s Institutes 1921-2021, 2022

Life under COVID-19 from 2020 to 2022: A Collection of 22 Rhyming Poems / Neil Davies, Independent Publishing Network, 2022, 9781800689459

An Open Letter to the Right Honorable David Lloyd George / Lajpat Rai, 2017, 9789386423900

The four branches of the Mabinogi : epic stories, ancient traditions / General Editor: Jake Jackson, 2022, 9781839649936




Breuddwyd Syr Ifan / Penri Jones, 2022, 9780995655652

Vaughan Williams / Eric Saylor, 2022, 9780190918569

The Roman King Arthur? / Tony Sullivan, 2022, 9781399084024

From Merthyr to Persia : Memoirs of the Rt Hon Aubrey Jones, Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd, 2021, 9781839755712

The Cathays Files 25 / Haydn Thomas, Resarton Books, 2022, 9781739760052



Edward Wynne of Bodewryd (Anglesey) and Hereford and other Welsh History Essays / Neil Fairlamb, 2021



Wysg / Gaerth Writer-Davies, 2022, 9781999849177

Open / Paul Blount, The Cluny Press, 2022, 9780954761097

Ten Poems about Swimming / Selected and Introduced by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, 2022, 9781913627065


Science, education and nature

CBAC TGAU Drama, Dylunio Drama: Dylunio Goleuo, Sain, Set a Gwisgoedd / Sue Shewring, 2022, 9781913963330

The Birds of Wales = Adar Cymru / Edited by Rhion Pritchard …, 2021, 9781800859722



The Glory Years of Cardiff AAC / Clive Williams, 2020, 97818338257750

The Minor Counties Championship 1895-1914 / Julian Lawton Smith, Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, 2022, 9781912421329

Cardiff Arms Park : An Illustrated Architectural and Social History / David Allen, Cardiff Rugby, 2021, 9781527296527



Cyfrinach Fwyaf Siôn Corn / Lyndon Jeremiah, 2020, 9781838271312

Yes! Even a Mouse: The Very First Christmas / Christine Field-Davies, Bear With Us Productions, 2021, 9781838280819



Ring of spies : how MI5 and the FBI brought down the Nazis in America / Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, 2022, The History Press, 9781803990361

The Chronicle of Clemendy : or, The History of the IX. Joyous Journeys. In which are contained the amorous inventions and facetious tales of Master Gervase Perrot, Gent. now for the first time done into English / by Arthur Machen ; Illustrations by Jon Langford, 2022


Government and politics

Diwygio’r Senedd: Y camau nesaf = Senedd reform, The next steps, 2020

A Unique Binding by Julian Thomas

Collections / Exhibitions - Posted 24-10-2022

Over the years the library has collected books with fine and unusual bindings, especially those of Welsh interest.  A particularly rare example was added to the collection recently.  The volume is a reprint of a French book, La Prose du Transsibérien by the painter Sonia Delaunay-Terk and the poet Blaise Cendrars,  which was originally published in 1913.  The poem describes a train journey through Russia during the first revolution in 1905.  It is printed on four sheets glued together in concertina format.



For the 2019 reprint, 22 bookbinders were invited to create unique bindings.  The copy purchased by the Library this year was bound by Julian Thomas, the Library’s former Head of Binding and Conservation.  The case is covered in black calfskin coloured in fluorescent blue acrylic paint, with strips of calfskin inlaid, some gilded and others coloured with acrylics. The strips refer to the railway and the circle to the revolution and the wheels of the train.



This striking binding is a unique example of the work of one of the foremost bookbinders in the U.K.  More bindings by Julian Thomas, his predecessors in the Library and other craftsmen can be seen in the Beautiful Books exhibition in the World of the Book on the ground floor of the Library until 9th December 2022.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Handel with care: remnants of the Wynnstay music collection

Collections - Posted 03-10-2022

On 6 March 1858 a devastating fire swept through the mansion at Wynnstay and the inhabitants fled in their night clothes. No lives were lost but much of the library was destroyed, along with furniture, paintings and other valuables. A report in the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality on 13 March described the remains of the rare books and manuscripts as ‘masses of black substance in the shape of books but hard and wet, mixed with scraps of black-letter books (some partially legible), music and engravings’.

This dramatic description supplied the motivation for investigating the fate of the fourth baronet’s music collection. Did it all go up in flames……or not?

Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Baronet (1749-1789)  was a passionate devotee of the fine arts. He almost bankrupted the Wynnstay estate through his excessive expenditure on pictures, sculpture, theatre and music. At great cost he created a private theatre at Wynnstay for plays and concerts. His luxurious London home in St James’s Square,1 designed by Robert Adam, had its own lavishly decorated music room containing a Snetzler organ. Sir Watkin’s interest in music developed early, perhaps influenced by the family harpist, John Parry, or perhaps during his teenage years at Westminster School. As a young man he joined the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club  and he quickly became involved with the contemporary musical scene in London2  He was a steward at the annual music festival at St Paul’s to benefit the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy and treasurer of the committee for ‘Antient Concerts’. Inevitably he was on the committee for organising the Handel Commemoration Concert in Westminster Abbey in 1784.

Sir Watkin’s collecting habits were probably inspired by his Grand Tour3 in France and Italy, 1768-9. The first evidence comes from the account book4 of his long-suffering servant (later his steward) Samuel Sidebotham. The expenses included purchases of pictures, statues, furniture and rare books, concerts by Piantanida, Giovannini and others, music for the French horn for Mr Morris (a Wynnstay servant), harp strings and at Turin a violoncello for Sir Watkin, who was a proficient amateur player. Back at home the Wynnstay music accounts for 1773 showed purchases of Haydn’s quartets, Boccherini’s quartets, Hamal’s select overtures, Ebdon’s harpsichord sonatas and Noferi’s duets; as well as alterations to the cello, numerous concerts, and music lessons for Sir Watkin and for the bass singer, Mr Meredith. In 1774/5 some music by Handel (unspecified) was acquired. In April 1779 Sir Watkin attended the three day sale of the ‘truly valuable and curious library of music late in the possession of Dr William Boyce5 where he bought ten lots, comprising songs, madrigals, motets and instrumental works by Porpora, Bononcini, Orlando de Lassus, Caldara, Steffani, Gabrieli, Geminiani, Handel and others. The Williams Wynn family naturally subscribed to the works of John Parry, whose British Harmony being a collection of Antient Welsh Airs, published in 1781, was dedicated to his patron.



Wynnstay EH4/1, account book, 1768-69


More evidence of the Wynnstay music collection comes, unsurprisingly, from Charles Burney, whose Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon May 26th, 27th, 29th; and June the 3rd, and 5th, 1784 in Commemoration of Handel6 described the grandiose event in equally magnificent detail. Fortunately Burney incorporated a list of Handel’s works, both in the royal collection and in the hands of private individuals, including Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, who owned printed operas, oratorios and Te Deums (sic); and in manuscript the Te Deum in A, the anthem Let God arise, I will magnify thee, As pants the Hart for five voices (‘with several alterations and additions by Handel himself….’), The King shall rejoice, Sing unto God, Blessed are they, versions for voices without instruments of Let God arise and As pants the Hart, and Ode or Serenata for the Birthday of Queen Anne.

Among the Trevor Owen Manuscripts (now NLW MS 2785C) is  A catalogue of the Wynnstay library, 1840 (therefore predating the fire) which lists histories of music by Hawkins and Burney, The Welsh Harper by John Parry and other scores by Haydn, Avison, Clark, Handel, Gay, Corfe and Arnold, stored in the library, study and other rooms at Wynnstay. These were probably components of the fourth baronet’s music collection. Other sad remnants were viewed by Alexander Hyatt King in 1945, ruined by damp, mouldering in the stables at Wynnstay, described as ‘…practically all unbound, mint, in wrappers, as issued. The bulk was English, back to the seventeen-thirties, but it also included many Hummel and Roger editions, beside some French and Austrian publications.’7

Clearly Sir Watkin had amassed a music collection of national significance. Sadly the inventory of books and furniture at 20 St James’s Square, dated 1789, is too fragile to access.8 The full extent of the collection is unknown and it is difficult to assess exactly what proportion was lost to fire or to damp. Nevertheless some of it did survive, ultimately to be sold together with the silver, pictures and other Wynnstay heirlooms, to discharge debts and tax demands in the 1940s. Tantalising fragments have turned up later, in archive repositories, libraries and unexpected places.



Wynnstay Estate by John Ingleby (1749-1808)


An article by Martin Picker in the Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries9 describes eleven volumes of Handel, acquired by the Rutgers Library, New Brunswick, c. 1950, which appear to have originated from Wynnstay. Six of the volumes correspond exactly in content and order to those listed by Charles Burney. The uniformity of the binding and the consistent use of the same copyists suggest that all the volumes once belonged to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. Picker notes the locations of other Handel scores from the collection, notably anthems in the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at the Foundling Museum10 and Italian cantatas and early editions of operas at the University of Sydney, Australia.11

Donald Burrows, in Newsletter of the American Handel Society12 notes the unexpected discovery, in a Manchester animal charity shop, of a Messiah score in the hand of John Matthews probably from the 1760s, once belonging to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. Other manuscripts from Wynnstay, containing excerpts from the operas of Pasquale Anfossi, Piccini, Monza, and Gassman were formerly in the library of St Michael’s College at Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, and are now held at the Bodleian Library13

Sir Watkin’s musical interests obviously were not limited to Handel. The British Library holds seven manuscripts of Purcell, comprising ‘dramatic music, odes, etc.’ [1683×1695], the majority copied c. 1771 by Jos. Fisher, Darwen, Lancashire.14  The name of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn is inscribed on the flyleaf of one volume and the Williams Wynn eagle crest appears on the spine of several in that series. Purcell’s theatre music featured in the programmes of the Catch Club and the Concerts of Antient Music, promoted by the Earl of Sandwich and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. Sir Watkin is known to have owned copies of King Arthur, The Indian Queen and The Tempest.15



NLW MS 14427B, including compositions by Handel and John Parry, c.1764


Remarkably two of the instruments from the Wynnstay collection have survived the ravages of time. The first and most obvious is the magnificent Snetzler organ in its Adam case, originally located at 20 St James’s Square, removed to Wynnstay in 1864 and purchased by the National Museum Wales in 1995. The second is the cello which Sir Watkin bought in Turin on the grand tour in 1768. It cost him 480 Piedmontese livres and it was already an antique when he acquired it, bearing the label of Chiafredi Cappa, Mondovi 1697. The instrument was purchased from Wynnstay by Alfred Hill of W.E. Hill & Sons, London, and its provenance was confirmed by Rudolph Wurlitzer Co., Cincinnati & New York, 1931, Alfred Hill, 1934, Adolph Hoffman (n.d.), Desmond Hill, 1962 and Kenneth Warren & Son, Chicago, IL, 1962. It was entered for sale at Christies, New York, 6 March 1986, where it failed to achieve the anticipated $60,000.16 It has been identified as the cello which is now played by Marc Coppey, but confirmation is lacking.

Finally, immerse yourself in the sound world of the eighteenth century, recreated from music manuscripts held at the National Library of Wales.




  1. NLW Wynnstay Estate Records EH3/10.
  2. See NLW Blog 08-03-2021.
  3. The tour is described by Paul Hernon, Sir Watkin’s tours : excursions to France, Italy and North Wales, 1768-71 (Wrexham : Bridge Books, 2013).
  4. NLW, Wynnstay Estate Records EH4/1. Further account books of the fourth baronet are numbered EH4/2-10. Loose accounts are EH3/2-12.
  5. Robert J. Bruce and H. Diack Johnstone, ‘A Catalogue of the truly valuable and curious library of music late in the possession of Dr William Boyce (1779): transcription and commentary’ in Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle No. 43 (2010), pp. 111-171 (Taylor & Francis Ltd on behalf of the Royal Musical Association)
  6. Charles Burney, ‘List of Handel’s Works’ in An Account of the Musical Performances in Westmisnster Abbey and the Pantheon May 26th, 27th, 29th; and June the 3rd, and 5th, 1784 in Commemoration of Handel (London : T. Payne and son [etc.] 1785) pp 45-6.
  1. Alexander Hyatt King, Some British Collectors of Music, c. 1600-1960 (Cambridge University Press 1963), p. 18
  2. Denbighshire Archives, ref. Wynnstay Manuscripts DD/WY/7944.
  3. Martin Picker, ‘Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and the Rutgers Handel Collection’ in Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries Vol 53, No 2 (1991) pp. 17-26.
  4. Gerald Coke Handel Collection: Let God arise and Te Deum Laudamus, ref. 2/B/LET GOD ARISE (Former Coke Catalogue Number HC415a/C1 HC479c/C2)
  5. Reference not found.
  6. Donald Burrows, ‘Newly recovered Messiah Scores’ in Newsletter of the American Handel Society Volume IV, Number 3 (December 1989) pp. 1, 5.
  1. Bodleian Library, ref. MS. Tenbury 656 and MS. Tenbury 1153.
  2. British Library: Search Archives and Manuscripts, ref. Add. MS 62666-62672.
  3. S. Tuppen, ‘Purcell in the 18th century: music for the Quality, Gentry, and others’ in Early Music Vol. 43; Number 2, 2015 (Oxford University Press) pp. 233-245.
  4. Christies New York sale catalogue, ‘Important Musical Instruments’ Thursday March 6 1986, pp. 36-7.


Hilary Peters


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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

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