During October 1992 a small number of enthusiastic volunteers met to discuss the possibility of producing a Welsh-language magazine on disc for those of us who are visually impaired. After some discussion, it was realised that more hands would be needed to fulfill the dream, and representatives were invited from every village and town within the old Denbighshire and across the border in Caernarfonshire. Many came together and it was clear from the outset that their enthusiasm was unmatched and it was decided to launch Y Gadwyn on St David’s Day 1993. With the help of BBC and S4C staff a series of day schools were held to train interviewees for the Gadwyn.
Initially some thirty copies were distributed but the Gadwyn spread like wildfire.
Soon around three hundred of the little yellow wallets were wandering all over Wales, to large parts of England, and overseas to Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia. It was clear from the listeners’ response that the service was highly valued. Nowadays new faces have joined the crew and enthusiasm is as infectious as ever.
The CD has something for everyone, including talks about nature and the environment, interesting interviews and also various music.
We also send a copy of the CD monthly to the Bangor Society for the Blind, and to the National Library in Aberystwyth. It is very encouraging to learn that the recordings are being digitised by the Library for their protection, and that they are available for the public to listen to them. We as a Committee greatly appreciate this.
(Berwyn Morris, Y Gadwyn Secretary)
Gruff Ellis was a regular contributor to the Gadwyn. Gruff was born and raised in the Ysbyty Ifan area, and his roots were very deep in his area.
He knew every part of his habitat and knew every species that lived in it. In February 2012 he described the scene he was facing:
A translation of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
He had a vast knowledge of all the natural history of the area whether it be flowers and vegetables, trees, animal or birds.
A translation of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
He took a great interest in all the local names around the area, names that would have been lost had he not put them down on paper to record them. He published two books “Yma Mae Nghalon” (Here is my heart) 1997 and 2008’s “Cynefin Gruff”, where we see his great love for his area and the nature.
He contributed monthly to the Gadwyn magazine for years with the listeners enjoying listening to the story of his journeys out into the nature world with his old dog, who was his loyal friend. He would see something shocking and break into a song or recite a piece of poetry that he remembered. Listeners would say that listening to Gruff tell his stories is as good as getting out into the middle of nature.
He would love to go to the National Eisteddfod. He competed on the hymn for years. He was a member of Côr Meibion Llangwm and the Brythoniaid, was an elder in the Seion chapel in Ysbyty Ifan and went out to various societies to lecture about nature and everyone adored his homely way. He also contributed monthly to the local community newspaper “Yr Odyn” and was a regular contributor to Radio Cymru’s ‘Galwad Cynnar’ (Early call) program.
(Eirian Roberts, Y Gadwyn Chair)
Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project has been able to digitise the Gadwyn’s sound collection to preserve it for future generations. To hear more stories from Gruff and others you can listen to digital files from the Gadwyn in the reading room by appointment.
Translation: Gruff Ellis
I look down at the old parish and the village of Ysbyty Ifan and it’s a nice but a cold afternoon. I see smoke coming from various chimneys. People have been making fire in the afternoon like this, it’s nicer out here than in the house, I’m sure. And then I look up in the direction of Blaenau and Serw Valley on the left, then over the cefnan there is Cwm Eidda and I look forward to exploring many of them again next year, this year again. And I’m looking at Snowdon and Carneddau and the Benglog and I see just the summit of Snowdon, completely on the left, just to the left. I clearly see the Benglog, top of Tryfan. I see Carnedd Llywelyn and Carnedd Dafydd, Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Creigiau Gleision. Oh, here’s a scene for you. Wonderful.
Translation: Gruff Ellis
These old crows will soon start carrying to their nests. Especially the raven, during February. And the old kite will start carrying towards the end of the month. They will nest, I am sure, towards the end of March to April but the old raven is nesting early. The old raven is a very spectacular bird, although I don’t like them. They are old primitive birds in the crows’ family. But, there is something about them, they pair for their lives.
While digitising sound recordings the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team have unearthed some lost and forgotten interviews from people talking about their childhood memories back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their school days, family life, communities, and local dialect. By saving these recordings we allow future generations to hear our past and learn about our history.
Wales is a country with a variety of customs and traditions which are an important part of our culture and history. One of these is the New Year’s tradition.
Stories about local customs from the 19th Century are being told, for instance the ‘Mari Lwyd’. A medieval folk custom, with the purpose of collecting money for the poor and homeless to make up for the lack of support from the government. A tall person was nominated to lead, holding the horse’s skull made from wood, with two others behind holding the offerings collected.
Listen to Myra Evans describing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
Myra Evans recalls seeing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay in January 1887, this is one of the last sighting of the Mari Lwyd in the area.
Myra stated that the Mari Lwyd party met outside the town to start the procession into New Quay. Leading were the three men with the mare, followed by men, followed by boys over 12 years old. Each wearing a face mask so no one would recognise them.
Myra remembers that her father was away at sea in 1887, leaving just her and her mother in the house. She was told that if she wanted to see the procession that passed their home she had to be quiet and make sure no one saw her. Her mother then locked the doors to stop the men from entering the house.
The party entered every pub, large shops and rich families to ask for money for the poor. If they refused or did not give much, the party would force their way into the building and take anything they liked.
Myra saw the party pass her house from behind the curtains making sure to be quiet, and unseen. If they saw her the mother said that they would try and break into the house.
Calennig is another Welsh tradition, where children go from door to door on New Year’s Day, until noon, singing good wishes for the year ahead and given calennig in return. These would be either food or money.
One song sung in mid Wales was:
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi
Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ
Dyma fy nymuniad i
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi
A happy new year to you
And to everyone in the house
This is my wish
A happy new year to you
Margaret Davies parents did not allow her to go out to collect Calennig, but recalls children calling at her house and receiving a penny or a piece of bread.
While D.J. Morgan from Abermeurig, Talsarn remembers going out for the first time with his mother and four sisters. They woke at 5am to go around Abermeurig then around the neighboring farms. He remembers that the best farm he visited was Mrs. Griffiths, where they received a piece of cake for singing, and was allowed to take another piece home with them.
Jack Poole recalls getting up at dawn and going straight to the furthest house in the village working his way back, no matter what the weather was like. Everyone enjoyed and sung verses at every door.
Jack remembers seeing a widower and her five children going around asking for Calennig with bags on their backs. They collected food such as bread or cheese. Every child carried a load on their back.
Listen to Jack reciting the verse he used to recite:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
The audio recordings are part of the Ceredigion Library Oral history collection, and can be listened to here at the Library through appointment.
Transcription: Myra Evans [Translation]
Well, a tall man was chosen to carry the horse’s head on his shoulders to lead the parade and two other men, one on each side, helped him walk in the middle of the road. One of them was taking care of the large leather purse he had to keep the money they had, another was a good rhymester seeking gifts of money and wine and cakes from the shopkeeper or the rich. The horse head had white linen over it, the eyes and ears decorated in leather and loose colorful ribbons hanging over the neck
Transcription: Mr. Jack Poole [Translation]
We had sing or make some noise at every door, for example
Today is New Year’s Day, I come across you
To ask for the penny or a piece of bread and cheese
Oh don’t change countenance
Don’t change anything from your look
Before next New Year’s Day comes
Many will be in their grave
And then if you were in a hurry to go, you would say
Whole Calennig on New Years day morning, once, twice, three times
And then Happy New Year
During the early 70s Canada’s Government commissioned people to collect information about various nationalities who lived in the country. For three months during 1974, Glenys James researched into the history of the Welsh who migrated to Canada from Patagonia. During this time, she travelled over 8,000 miles speaking and recording interviews with various families of Welsh descents.
The recordings are of historical value and gives us a perspective of life in Patagonia and Canada in the early twentieth century. By listening to the voices of the people themselves we can hear what they saw, and how they felt.
During this time there was a lot of movement within Canada from various nations, including people from Patagonia with roots in Wales.
In 1902, over 200 of the Welsh left Patagonia for their new life in Canada with over 5,000 migrating after the Revival of 1904-5. Many moved due to the difficult living conditions they encountered mainly constant flooding, and no land available to farm.
New communities were formed with many of the Welsh settling in the Saskatchewan area, since this was a designated area chosen by the British Government under David Lloyd George. The new villages and towns were given Welsh place names, such as Bangor, Llewelyn and Glyndwr. Shops, buildings, schools and chapels were built and some of the Welsh traditions were kept, like the Eisteddfod.
Mr Griffith Jones recalls an ‘Englyn’ that his father wrote in an Eisteddfod:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
The oral history collection was then put together by the Canadian History Museum, Ottawa where the original tapes are kept. Copies were sent to the National Library of Wales where they were stored in a controlled environment in order to protect the tapes for future use.
The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and led by the British Library have now digitised and created metadata for these interviews. The collection can now be heard for the first time since the 70s.
Here’s Jonathan Wise from the Canadian History Museum discussing the Glenys James collection:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
For more information about the Glenys James collection and how they were digitised, have a look at our video ‘From Canada to the National Library of Wales’ on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/llyfrgen
Transcription: Mr Griffith Jones
Griffith Jones: Dad came from Wales, Tregeiriog first in 1891 and after several trips back came out again in 1910 and settled in the Wood River district. Mother is of Welsh parents and she came from the United States to Canada in 1902 and they were married in 1911. There were four of us born to them and probably I speak as good a Welsh as any of them which isn’t very good.
Glenys James: Now your father was well known in the area here for his Welsh writing of Englynion (verse) both in Welsh and in English.
Griffith Jones: He was well known all over North America in fact, because he contributed to the Welsh papers and he competed in all the Welsh Eisteddfod that he could with his Englynion and he won many prizes with them.
Glenys James: Can you recall any of these englynion that he wrote?
Griffith Jones: I could say one in English, as you know the englyn must have consonance that harmonies and one that he won a prize on in English was:
Lindy how well he landed
In Paris o peril confronted
Pretty Yank with great head
Away he went un daunted
Transcription: Mr Johnathan Wise
Hi my name is Jonathan Wise. I’m a collection specialist for the audiovisual archives at the Canadian Museum of History. Along with world class exhibitions and research programs, the Museum houses an archive of over 100,000 historical recordings. These unique collections date from 1899 and contain a variety of recorded songs, stories and interviews from communities in every province and territory of Canada.
One of these collections is that of Glenys James. In 1974, Glenys James set off across the country to research the lives of Welsh immigrants who had come to Canada during the last century. She interviewed people in their homes talking about their own unique lives and experiences. She asked about family histories and childhood memories. She was especially interested in how Welsh language and culture were being preserved.
From Montreal Quebec to Edington, Alberta and points in between Glenys James captured the moment in the life of Canada Welsh communities.
The staff of libraries, archives and museums across the globe work hard to protect oral history collections like those of Glenys James. Many of these recordings are on fragile and obsolete media that must be digitised for prosperity.
Ultimately, all this work is to preserve the past, to serve the present and future generations. The Canadian Museum of History is pleased to have an opportunity to share the work of Glenys James and I would like to thank everyone at the National Library of Wales for their support in helping preserve this important collection.
During the lockdown 25 composers have been busy composing new pieces for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The composers received various interviews from 5 different collections from the sound archive and were asked to listen and use them as inspiration to create a new piece of work.
Glenys James was born in London to Welsh parents and spoke Welsh at home and the chapel, but never lived in Wales.
She moved to Canada where she researched the Welsh who migrated to Canada and Patagonia for the Canadian Museum of Man, Ottawa (now known as Canadian Centre for Cultural Studies Ottawa)
In 1974, Glenys James recorded various interviews with people of Welsh descent living in Canada, especially the Satchawen area where Welsh communities were formed. Over 200 people left Patagonia for Canada in 1902 because of difficult conditions and wanting to create a better life for themselves. These interviews include personal stories and accounts of building new villages and naming them in Welsh (Glyndwr, Bangor, Llewelyn). They erected new schools and chapels and held Eisteddfodau.
The original reel to reel tapes are now kept at the Canadian Centre for Cultural Studies in Ottawa with cassette copies and digital files here at the National Library.
Why should we not sing?
In 1916 The Times published a letter where the writer objected to the holding of the Eisteddfod during war time. In response to the article, David Lloyd George delivered a speech at Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod, which began with the words – ‘Why should we not sing during war time?’
Throughout the speech he defends holding the Eisteddfod. It was reported that over 7,000 people listened and cheered his speech. On the 15th February, 1934, Lloyd George recorded part of his famous speech at the BBC studios to be aired on radio. A copy of this address is kept at the Library and has been digitally restored by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team.
Story of the Forest
Story of the Forest was a project run by the Forestry Commission in 2002-3 where they recorded interviews with people involved in Forestry Commission activities in Wales.
Personal stories were told by people who lived and worked in and around the forestry, discussing the situation from post war up to the 21st century, including accounts of how they came to work for the Forestry Commission, the activities – building roads, ploughing. The interviews give us an insight to the changes to Wales’ landscape, and teach us about the social, agricultural and economic effects.
167 Minidiscs were deposited to the Library; they were digitised and catalogued by students of the MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation courses from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Information Studies in 2019.
Meleri Mair interviews Caradog Jones in 1997 on the subject of poaching, with comments on his own experience as a river bailiff in the 1950s.
Mr Jones describes why people poached – mainly poverty, the consequences to those who were caught and the custom of disguising their identity to avoid detection at night.
Colin Edwards Collection
Colin Edwards was a Welsh journalist, broadcaster and author who lived in California. During the 1960s he recorded interviews with friends, family and acquaintances of Dylan Thomas. These accounts and reminiscences on the life of Dylan give us an insight to his character, his work, relationships, and family background.
The tapes were donated to the Library by Colin’s wife, Mary Edwards, following his death. David N Thomas used the tapes in his published books ‘Dylan Remembered’, 2 vols (Seren and NLW, 2003, 2004)
We would like to thank all the composers who took part in the commission work; we hope you enjoy listening to the compositions:
Alan Chamberlain; Angharad Davies; Ben McManus; Bonello, Ruth and Hay; Branwen Williams; David Roche; Derri Joseph Lewis; Gareth Bonello; Georgia Ruth Williams; Geraint Rhys; Gwen Mairi; Gwenan Gibbard; Gwilym Bowen Rhys; Gwydion Rhys; Luciano Williamson; Owen Shiers Pierce Joyce; Pwdin Reis composed by Neil Rosser; Sally Crosby; Sam Humphreys; Seth Alexander; Stacey Blythe; Steff Rees; Tinc y Tannau; Toby Hay.
I’m a Swedish archivist that has done an internship at the National Library of Wales (NLW) between January-July 2020. The internship was funded by the EU programme Erasmus+, and Gothenburg University was the supporting institution in Sweden. The purpose was to gain hands on experience of working as a sound archivist and at the same time help out a cultural heritage institution. I was therefore stationed at the Screen & Sound Archive and worked with the digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH).
The aim of the UOSH project is to preserve, digitise and make rare and unique sound recordings available to the public all over the UK. NLW is one of ten national and regional archival institutions involved and it is all being coordinated by the British Library. The consortium will also deliver various programmes of public engagement activities, and a website where a large part of the recordings will be freely available to everyone for research.
So I have digitised, catalogued, researched content and rights to recordings, as well as participated in training activities for volunteers in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff. The NLW has sound collections and recordings related to various aspects of life in Wales, dating back from the birth of recorded sound in the 1880s to present time. So working with the material has given me a first glimpse into parts of Welsh history and culture. I have also created content to be used in the NLW’s social media channels and written/edited articles for Wikipedia, in order to spread information about the UOSH project and the recordings (and about a previous digitisation project called Unlocking Film Heritage) to a wider public.
While working with Wikipedia I was reminded of its strengths and weaknesses in relations to archive. One of Wikipedia’s strengths is its availability and wide spread use around the globe, but on the other hand there are problems of representation in the articles.
In Sweden, I have previously taken part in a Wikipedia workshop aimed at women with no or little experience of editing and writing articles. It was arranged by Stockholm Museum of Women’s History in order to reduce the gender gap at Wikipedia. Around 90% of the articles are written by men and subsequently about four times as many articles are about men. We were therefore encouraged to edit and write articles about women.
I wrote an article about Stockholms Bulgariska Damkör (Stockholm Bulgarian Women’s Choir), a choir that had been active for over 20 years. But it was hard to get the article approved by Wikipedia because of the notability criteria. The subject of an article needs to be considered to have of a high degree of interest, significance or fame. The choir had been performing at festivals, in churches, embassies, museums, engaged in cultural exchanges, arranged work shops etc. But they had never released an album, hence it was argued that the choir wasn’t noteworthy. There were also few articles about them in music magazines or similar. I managed to find radio recordings of live performances and argued for their importance and uniqueness, so eventually the article was approved.
This got me thinking about representation and how Wikipedia run the risk of reproducing the same old hierarchy that has been prevalent during history. Women as a group have traditionally had less opportunities and consequently received fewer mentions in historic documentation, press etc. One way to counteract this has been for women to pursue different avenues to men. As a result, a modern day women’s choir might invest in live performance and getting to be known about via word-of-mouth, instead of doing recordings and trying to get media attention. Other suppressed groups like financially vulnerable people or different minorities (ethnic, cultural etc.) run the same risk of getting continuously less representation in the digital era.
Of course archives also battle with problems of representation. But one way to counteract this has been to consciously fill the archival gaps by conducting oral history interviews. Oral history can be understood as a method of gathering information about historical periods and events by interviewing people who experienced them. Interviews can also be done with persons whose experiences and memories are representative of certain communities or whose lives have been of special significance. The aim is often to obtain information from different perspectives, especially those that cannot be found in written sources. Oral history has developed hand-in-hand with sound and audio-visual recording techniques but interviews can also be transcribed. Song and music collecting is a similar way of gathering orally transmitted music (like folk music) and thus filling the musical gap.
I have come across a wide range of oral history recordings while working on the UOSH project. For example interviews with Welsh farmers that lived through World War II, descendents of Welsh emigrants in the USA, Welsh musician Andy Fairweather Low, film producer Eric Rowan who made the film about the artist siblings “Augustus and Gwen: The Fire and the Fountain (1975)”, Elinor Rosen who had a lifelong engagement with the Labour Party, photographer John Goddard and many interviews with Welsh painters and artists that were mainly active during the 1900 hundreds, like Eirian and Denys Short.
Some oral history interviews are done with relatives and friends of more famous people, that no longer are with us, like the interview with Tom Evans that explores the collecting activities of his wife Margaret Evans (1922-1996). She amassed costumes, artefacts, documents and ephemera associated with Aberystwyth and beyond, from 1800s to the 1900s. The documents from her collection went to Ceredigion Archives and the artefacts to Ceredigion Museum. Another example is the interview with Stanley Cheetham, related to the pioneer Arthur Cheetham (1864-1937), who was the first film-maker based in Wales. He made over 30 short films between 1898 and1912 and showed them in rural communities as well as opening the first all-year-round cinema in Rhyl in 1906. The Screen & Sound Archive also holds films made by Arthur’s son G.A. Cheetham.
Yet other oral history interviews are centred around a cultural phenomenon like professor Moira Vincentelli`s string of interviews exploring the use and role of the Welsh dresser across generations.
Finally, I would like to mention the Tiger Bay Collection. It belongs to The Heritage & Cultural Exchange Tiger Bay and the World, a community based organisation that strives to chronicle the heritage and cultural diversity of Tiger Bay and Cardiff Docklands. They have archival materials including: photographs, rations books, magazines, seamen’s discharge books, paintings and sketches, a school register as well as audio and videotaped interviews. The sound recordings are being digitised and catalogued during the UOSH project and would seem to be a treasure for people wanting to learn more about one of the original multicultural areas, with migrants from up to 45 nationalities.
And all these examples are recordings in English, there are a lot more for Welsh speakers. Hopefully there will be something relevant for everyone. All the digitised and catalogued recordings from the USOH project are being ingested into the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue and eventually a newly developed, purpose-built media player and website will be launched. There up to 100,000 recordings will be freely available to everyone for research, enjoyment and inspiration. The national and regional institutions will provide access locally to their own recordings and those that do not have licences and permissions to be published online.
Wikipedia do not accept oral history as a legitimate source for an article so it is worth searching the archives to find something original and different. And with the UOSH project archives are closing in on Wikipedia’s lead, when it comes to access and availability online.
Lastly, I would like to thank the staff at NLW, especially at the Screen & Sound Archive, who have been very welcoming and supportive during my time in Wales.
The National Library of Wales is one of 10 hubs across Britain that is collaborating with the British Library on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to protect the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings.
We are in the process of digitising, cataloguing and assessing the rights of 5,000 sound recordings from across Wales in order to protect them for future generations.
Over the next few weeks, composers will be composing new works based on some of Wales’s oral history collections. 25 artists have been commissioned to undertake this task. They will listen to a number of interviews recorded either in Wales or by people from Wales, and will use them to inspire creating a new piece of work.
During the summer the Library will unlock these works, showing how an audio archive can be used to create creative works.
The composers selected are listed below:
Ailsa Hughes a Sianed Jones: ‘Tinc y Tannau’ duo who work with historical Welsh music and poetry
Alan Chamberlain: composer who predominantly works with archival content
Angharad Davies: violinist, composer and performer and a member of several duets
Ben McManus: musician and composer with an interest in folk music and folklore
Bonello, Ruth and Hay: musical trio, featuring prominent Welsh songwriters who started performing together in 2019
Branwen Williams: musician, composer and member of several groups from Wales
David Roche: composer from Tredegar who has received over 30 academic and professional awards
Derri Joseph Lewis: musician and composer with experience of writing acoustic and electronic music
Gareth Bonello: musician and composer who uses Welsh folk songs and poetry in his work
Georgia Ruth Williams: musician and composer who is inspired by the history of Wales and folk tradition
Geraint Rhys: independent musician and award winning film-maker from Swansea
Gwen Mairi: professional harpist who sings Welsh folk songs
Gwenan Gibbard: singer and harpist specialising in folk music
Gwilym Bowen Rhys: Welsh folk singer who has developed a deep connection with the traditional songs of Wales
Gwydion Rhys: 6th form pupil at Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, Bethesda who composes and plays the piano
Luciano Williamson: composer about to graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Neil Rosser: hails from Morriston with over 30 years’ experience as a composer and performer
Owen Shiers: musician and composer who performs Welsh folk music
Pierce Joyce: composition student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, hailing from Ireland
Sally Crosby: singer – song writer with a degree in Music and Creative writing
Sam Humphreys: musician who plays the guitar and is a member of the band Calan
Seth Alexander: composer who likes to combine computer instrumentation with sound recordings
Stacey Blythe: composer, musician and performer who also performs as part of various duos
Steff Rees: musician and composer who is a member of the band Bwca, and part of the ukulele Iwcadwli orchestra
Toby Hay: composer and performer with his work being inspired by history, landscape and stories
As we celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) engineers have been digitising interviews recorded by Colin Edwards with friends and family of Dylan Thomas. The recordings were deposited to the National Library of Wales by Mary Edwards, Colin’s wife and the transcribed tapes were edited by David N Thomas and published in his books ‘Dylan Remembered, 2 vols. (Seren and NLW 2003, 2004)’.
Here, Sophie Tupholme one of the UOSH volunteers reflects on her experience of listening and cataloguing the collection.
For the past five months, I’ve had the lovely and lucky chance to help catalogue audio recordings made by Welsh journalist Colin Edwards. Across the 1960s, Edwards completed an ambitious collection of interviews with poet Dylan Thomas’s family, friends and acquaintances – altogether creating an intricate collage of accounts and reminiscences that shed unprecedented light on the poet’s life and character.
Coming from a relatively patchy understanding of Dylan Thomas’s biography, output and icon, I had the unique chance to piece together an impression of the man, his work and his relationships from intimate sources rather than from culturally accepted notions or mythologies. I learned of and enjoyed impressions of Dylan Thomas as a generous, humorous, sometimes shy but often gregarious individual, hearing these as if a friend were relaying them to me personally. Memories of Swansea’s landmarks and Grammar School collaged together gave me as vivid a picture as if I’d visited them myself; I recognized conversations with certain schoolmasters and students, I sat in the Kardomah Café on Sunday mornings, I walked the Promenade in the cool evenings. Listening to descriptions of summer holidays at Fern Hill Farm in Carmarthen, with a myriad of family, friends and locals all contributing their stories and perspectives, I felt an overall understanding of this period and locale as if I too had visited the neighbouring farms and been for a pint in the nearby villages.
What a fascinating treat – learning about an entire world, with this remarkable man at its center, through the reminiscences and shared histories of those who knew him best. Lucky for me, I now feel as if I know the man on a level above common knowledge, purely because these interviews feel like the sharing of privileged information from the memory and mouth of a friend. And even aside from content, the beautiful language used by the poets and artists in Thomas’s acquaintance (Charles Fischer, Alfred Janes, Frances Hughes and many others) when describing his ‘liveness,’ sense of humour or love of words, was enough to leave me moved and enthralled.
I was of course not alone in this journey and these discoveries. Prolific journalist and interviewer Colin Edwards led my way, guiding the conversations to specific points, querying new insights and digging for further details, and always returning the conversation to Dylan – the ‘real’ Dylan, the Dylan of family and friends’ acquaintance. Alongside discussions of Thomas’s schooldays, life in Laugharne and travels to America, other illuminating topics came to the fore, such as his impressive theatre performances, friendships with prominent figures and artists such as Edith Sitwell and Augustus John, and travels to Florence and Rome, Prague and Iran.
Getting to know Colin Edwards throughout these interviews was in itself a fascinating process, and I was thoroughly impressed with his patience, persistence and genuine interest in his subjects. I came to anticipate his favourite questions, the tone of voice used in particular situations, the points he most wanted to uncover and push for, the sorts of anecdotes he enjoyed or would find humorous, and the formality of his voice when speaking to someone especially esteemed in Thomas’s artistic circles, compared with the ease of his conversations with ‘ordinary blokes’ or long-time family friends. Accompanying Edwards on this oral history project has felt like joining an old friend while he calls upon neighbours, enjoying intimate conversations as an attentive outsider.
It was also interesting to hear the same anecdotes and responses repeated across interviews. These repetitions signalled a shared understanding of Thomas that, often times, really departed from ideas of Dylan Thomas that pervade our cultural understanding of his character and his life. Many interviewees shared stories of Thomas insisting upon repaying debts to his friends, successfully managing his drinking so that he could write unfettered and cheerfully playing with his children. Legends of his drinking, womanizing, reckless passions and unpredictability are weakened and seem outlandish compared to the tamer memories and impressions of his family and friends. Stories of his wild antics seem to have grown arms and legs as, of course, these stories sell better than those of Thomas trying to repay his debts, drinking pints rather than hard liquor and travelling to America for money to support his family and lifestyle, rather than for experiences of debauchery and freedom from homelife.
I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. Fascinating and informative, it brings together a wonderful assortment of voices and perspectives, and immediately engages the listener – whether you feel you know nearly everything or next to nothing about Dylan Thomas and his Wales. I found that the intensity of listening to so many interviews in a short stretch of time also helped me reflect on aspects beyond Thomas’s life and character, such as the most rewarding ways to conduct an interview and which points of conversation are likely to bring about the best responses. Edwards was, without a doubt, a highly skilled and professional interviewer, and this collection presents an enviable model for going about an oral history project for those who may be interested in pursuing something similar.
Having the chance to catalogue these audiotapes has been absolutely rewarding from start to finish. It’s been a pleasure contributing to our shared cultural heritage in this avenue, ultimately enabling these preserved works to be presented anew and collectively enjoyed by new and old audiences alike.
Julie Kenny and Katy Stone, volunteers for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project reflects on their experience of cataloguing the Cardiff Business Club Collection.
As trainee archivists at Aberystwyth University, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to participate in the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project, a UK-wide project that aims to help preserve the nation’s sounds and provide access to them for generations to come. The first collection we were tasked with cataloguing comprised of recordings of speeches given at dinners hosted by the Cardiff Business Club. This organisation promotes business inspiration and initiatives to its members, and is the leading organisation of this nature in Wales. Its patron is HRH The Prince of Wales.
The recordings covered interesting topics including: human rights; environmental impact and sustainability for businesses such as Ford, the National Grid, Mercedes Benz; healthcare systems; international interest in NICE and its future work in relation to drug development and possible clinical guideline expansion; political agendas; economic growth including inflation and the recession; the real estate market; BBC broadcasting and the charter review; the development of Wales’s biggest house builder Redrow; Margaret Thatcher’s axing of public works; the objectives of World Rugby and the opportunities offered by events such as the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic games; the effect of epidemics on businesses and the role of businesses in reducing outbreaks; Brazil’s relations with the UK; the Welsh economy; and the history and development of Cardiff Bay.
Some of the more well-known speakers include Shami Chakrabarti, Lord Tony Hall, Rt. Hon. David Cameron, Brett Gosper, and Professor Dame Sally Davies. Tributes were paid to Sir Cennydd Traherne, who was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.
We found listening to these recordings raised interesting points that we hadn’t considered before. It is clear to us how they could benefit a wider audience.
All in all, the time we have spent volunteering at the National Library of Wales (NLW) has been extremely valuable. It has contributed to our studies, and enabled us to develop skills that will be useful to us in our future profession. The staff at NLW have been very welcoming and accommodating, and we would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in protecting our sound heritage to volunteer.
By MA Archives Administration students Julie Kenny and Katy Stone.
David Lloyd George was born in Manchester on the 17 January 1863 then raised in Wales, where he became one of the most famous radicals of the century. Between 1890 and 1945 he was elected Member of Parliament for Caernarfon.
Through the early years of the First World War, Lloyd George became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the leadership of Herbert Henry Asquith. In 1916 he became Secretary of State for War and later that year became the first Welsh speaking Prime Minister.
In 1916 The Times published a letter where the writer objected to the holding of the Eisteddfod during war time. In response to this article Lloyd George delivered a speech at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod which started:
“Why should we not sing during the war? Why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?”
He continues to criticise the letter pointing out that Britain is still alive, not down, shattered and broken so “why should her children not sing?”
Through-out his speech Lloyd George vigorously defends the holding of the Eisteddfod during the war:
“Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the harp of Wales has never yet been silenced by one of them, and I should be proud if I contributed something to keep it in tune during this war, by the holding of this Eisteddfod today.”
According to the Abergavenny Chronicle Lloyd George said, “our soldiers sing the songs of Wales in the trenches, and they hold their little Eisteddfodau behind the trenches” where he continued to read a telegram sent from the front line:
“Greetings and best wishes for success to the Eisteddfod; from Welshmen in the Field. Next Eisteddfod we shall be with you.”
On the 22 of August 1916 the newspaper ‘Y Genedl’ reported that there were over 7,000 listening to Lloyd George defending the National Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth. Newspapers reported that he remained at the festival for some time after delivering his speech and then left the town amid scenes of tremendous enthusiasm.
On the 15 February 1934 Lloyd George then recorded part of his famous ‘Why should we not sing?’ speech at the BBC studios, ready to be broadcast on the radio, for the world to hear.
Listen to a clip from the ‘Why should we not sing?’ speech:
Copy of this address is kept at the National Library of Wales, and thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project has been digitised and safely stored at the British Library’s digital repository. You can listen to the recording at the Library’s Reading Room and it will soon be available online.
The National Heritage Lottery Fund’s Unlocking Our Heritage project aims to protect the UK’s unique and rare sound collections. The British Library and the 10 national hubs will digitize 160,000 audio items, catalog 470,000 recordings, and look at the rights of 100,000 items.
The National Library of Wales will digitise audio collections from Wales, in order to protect and create access to the files. These sound recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities, and will raise the profile of the UK Sound Archives collections. By the end of 2021 more people will be engaged with audio material and a new website will enable listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.
Through the generosity and kindness of the Friends of the National Library of Wales we have received a donation of a listening bench which will enable us to take these digital recordings on a tour of Wales. A selection of audio clips will be played on the bench at different locations over the next few years.
The Reverend Canon Enid Morgan, Chair of the Friends of the National Library of Wales, said:
The Friends are delighted to present this lovely Audio Bench as a gift to the Library. We are proud that over the years we have been able to help the Library in a variety of ways to add and care for its collections and this project which aims to digitize Welsh audio collections in order to protect and create access to them is a key part of our history as Welsh people.
Before the bench begins its journey it can be seen here on the front lawn of the National Library. Clips of interviews and music are played by Dylan Baines, Ectogram, Malcolm Gwyon, Meibion Mwnt, Tecwyn Ifan, Blew and Plethyn. These artists were originally recorded for Radio Cymru sessions, with the majority unheard since the early 80s. “I would like to thank the Friends of the National Library of Wales for supporting this project and for their kind donation. This is a great opportunity to release clips of sound collections from Wales that would otherwise have remained hidden. There will be an opportunity for people to listen and engage with these recordings in their local communities.” Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager (UOSH).
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.