The hills and uplands of Ceredigion keep us busy and happy as peaceful havens to walk and cycle but they didn’t used to be this empty. The stories of the ‘lost’ communities inhabiting our mountain uplands have been documented in a very special way: A wealth of ‘Story of the Forest’ sound archives are housed at the National Library in Aberystwyth.
Interviews with community members made in the early nineties reveal what life used to be like in the uplands. After a couple of minutes of listening, the whole world of a surprisingly recent bygone age of our ‘wild west’ starts coming to life. The interviews unveil a history of the mountain communities who farmed the wild uplands before they were planted with forestry and paved with roads. Many farms moved or were left empty when the uplands were planted after World War II and after the cripplingly harsh winter of 1947. The remnants of these crofts, farms, pens and ‘corrals’ can be seen as ruins around Strata Florida and Teifi Pools; on the Abergwesyn pass and the Cwm Elan mountain road. The busy, resilient and hard working mountain communities who inhabited them are still represented throughout the upland towns and villages.
We hear of Dai Jones, the last horseback postman, delivering a weekly round for the General Post Office into the late 1950s. This ‘pony express’ – ran 3 days a week. Horses were central to the hill farming existence, the ‘sheep station’ farms may seem ‘outlying’, but in fact, what appear now as isolated communities were very mobile and culturally central. Men, women and children owned hill ponies which could take them anywhere in the mountain range for the cost of some hill-grazed grass.
Accounts of dragging a forestry siren up the mountain at midnight to ‘serenade’ a bride-to-be gives a sense of both hard work and wild fun. A farmer tells of breaking horses-in double-quick in the exhausting bogland, and one forester recalls encountering the legendary Free Wales Army platoons on mountain manoeuvres.
The depth and strength of the bonds of these hill farming communities is described in their communal work – every summer there would be mass hand-shearings of up to two thousand sheep at a time, the households of the community all coming together to help each other.
Under a National Lottery Heritage grant, National Library of Wales has commissioned Mapping Land Voices, an art project that aims to encourage access to the archive through walking and drawing old mountain paths whilst listening to their relevant oral histories. These creative, remediations of the mountain legends will be geo-tagged and made in the places the voices describe. It is easy to get inspired.
Hosted by the Peoples’ Collection Wales, this new-from-old archive of shared art will be part of a searchable National Library/British Library database, indexing the original sound archives through a twenty-first century community response.
The Mapping Land Voices project works on a first-come, first-served basis: to sign up click here
To access the sound archive, all it takes is a reader’s ticket to the National Library. You can research which archives are relevant to your local woodlands, and hear stories which are guaranteed to transport you back in time. Visit the Library
Firstly, I want to thank the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project for giving me the opportunity to listen to and give my opinions on this sound recording and all future ones. I believe this is an integral part of retaining Welsh history and culture for future generations and I am honoured to be able to help out with this wonderful work.
Starting out, I am impressed with the sound quality of this recording, considering it is from 18th July 1974. I listened to the recording with headphones and there wasn’t any form of crackling or feedback, which proved to me that the interviewer cared about getting an authentic listening experience for the listener. It felt as if I was in the room with Lydia. As for my listening experience, it was my first time listening to such a recording and I was pleasantly surprised. There were really personal feels to the song, as if we were in an intimate setting. The gentle, soft timbre of Mrs Watkins’ voice was soothing and it really made me feel at ease listening to it.
It was interesting to hear that Mrs Lydia Watkins, from Ontario, Canada, was originally from Merthyr Tydfil. She has retained her Welsh childhood memory of the songs she sang, which proves how connected she is to her Welsh identity. There is also a sense that she can have a dual identity – she can be both Canadian and Welsh, with neither part of them cancelling out the other. Both can co-exist in the same space for her, and both can be honoured just as much as the other. In light of this, it was intriguing to hear her clear, lilting Welsh dialect as she sang. The songs she sang were Anwylaf Lecyn Byd imi yw Cymru fechan lon (My favourite place in the world is Wales), Tra Bo Dau (While There’s Two) and Y Gelynen (The Holly). Her decision to sing them in Welsh shows how she has further kept hold of her Welsh heritage and roots, even though she was situated at the time of the recording in Ontario. It’s a wonderful melding together of cultures, and connects future generations of Welsh children to the cultural songs of Wales.
She talks of a music teacher giving voice training to one of her pupils, who threw up his hands in despair and said an interesting statement: ‘you sing in the cracks.’ The cracks indicate the gaps, the small fissures in a larger structure, where things are easily lost and forgotten about. Singing in the cracks, therefore, heavily implies that the teacher’s voice is so powerful and important that they manage to penetrate the cracks of the world, yet still be impactful. It was a brilliant statement and really made me think about the idea of being able to extend a voice into the places we don’t think they can go. It reminds me that the cracks are still places, even if we don’t value them, and that they will always be filled with sound if we remember to include them. Singing, then, never leaves anyone out in being able to reach the cracks. It’s kind of poetic, no?
Another quote stuck with me: ‘singing, and sitting beside someone you thought could sing anyway.’ The idea of community was established, and the trickle of laughter that accompanied it before Mrs Watkins launched into song again make it personable, relatable. The rest of the clip was her continuing to sing the songs I mentioned above, and it was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of life. A quiet moment to reflect, to bask in the beauty of Welsh folk songs carried over from childhood, and even though I didn’t understand the full meaning behind the words, I still felt included as an English speaker. They spoke to me in the universal language of music. It was wonderful.
Overall, I loved listening to the audio and I highly recommend everyone else does so too. You will feel nostalgic for the memories these songs bring, especially if you have grown up or are familiar with these songs. I am looking forward to seeing what else I can discover about Wales’ traditions and histories.
Until next time, dear readers.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
This is the final blog post from our group of Aberystwyth University MA students studying Archives and Record Management who have been working alongside the National Library of Wales as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project to catalogue recordings from the Heritage and Cultural Exchange archive in Butetown, Cardiff.
The most recent recording I catalogued was a talk by a local artist Jack Sullivan (1925-2002) who worked as a police officer in the Tiger Bay area from 1948 to 1955, as a British Transport Policeman. Jack walked the beat, often at night, patrolling Cardiff docklands. As he strolled through the city streets, he made some 800 sketches of the people and places he saw.
The tape consists of Jack Sullivan describing his painting from his time in Kenya where he worked as a police officer. The paintings focus mainly on tribal women in traditional dress and jewellery. Jack Sullivan provides several stories of his experiences of policing in Kenya and stories around the paintings including several bloody tales of tribal warfare, cattle raiders and even tales of peoples’ belief in witchcraft. Listening to the recording makes you envious of the exciting life he has led and the people and places he has seen (a feeling that was heightened given the current restriction we are living under!). This is a feeling I have experienced listening to a lot of the recordings and has led me to the conclusion that everyone has a story to tell.
Reflecting on the other series of recordings we have catalogued one thing I was struck by was the timing of these interviews. To me the recordings, especially the 1987 interviews tell a story which is common to many places in the UK in the twentieth century: the move from an industrial society to a post-industrial society. The people interviewed experienced the docks in its’ ‘heyday’ when Coal from the Valleys made it one of the busiest docks in the world and have witnessed its decline and, at the time of the interviews, the redevelopment of the docks. This is a story that is mirrored across the UK in the twentieth century, the move from an industrial to post-industrial society and a similar story would emerge around the Liverpool and London dock both of which have undergone huge redevelopment and regeneration projects in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Also hugely significant is that these recordings are an invaluable resource when it comes to studying race relations in Britain in the twentieth century. A topic which is hugely relevant in the kind of debates we are having as a country; these tapes tell the story of the experiences of one of Britain’s earliest multi-ethnic communities and are therefore a great resource as we move towards an ever more diverse society.
This project took place with the pandemic as a backdrop which has posed many challenges, most of them logistical. However, the digital nature of the material we catalogued made it well-suited in a pandemic when our group was split from the Isle of Man to Kent and had to work largely remotely. For the first part of the project, we conducted our meeting on Microsoft Teams which was not ideal but on reflection 10 to 15 years ago such technology wouldn’t have been sophisticated enough to allow us to proceed. Once we had all returned to Aberystwyth and could meet in person, we found that the meeting ran much more efficiently, not to mention more enjoyably.
From a personal standpoint this project has been a very useful learning experience. I had fairly limited practical experience of cataloguing before. I had some cataloguing experience from previous work experience, but I was unfamiliar with concepts such as standardization and interoperability (the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information) before starting my course. It is, of course, very important for metadata to be precise and consistent and I feel that you can learn a lot from the process of creating it and having your peers check your work. The ongoing process of review was very beneficial as it turned what could be a solitary exercise into a collaborative learning experience. I also feel that I have learnt more about the most sensitive aspects of cataloguing. Having to listen to each recording whilst considering how the release of any information could affect identifiable data subjects brought home to me the responsibility of the role. Overall, I feel that the project has left me better placed to search for work in the sector and has given me positive practical experience to talk about in any job interviews.
Finally, as this is our last blog post, I would like to take this opportunity to thank The National Library of Wales for giving us the opportunity to be involved in this project and for providing us with ongoing support and feedback.
Michael Holland, MA Archives and Record Management Student, Aberystwyth University
Alongside the welcome reopening of the National Library of Wales, the post-Easter period has witnessed a return to in-person teaching at Aberystwyth University. Our group of MA students studying Archives and Records Management (Department of Information Studies) who have been cataloguing sound recordings from ‘Tiger Bay- Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection as part of the nationwide Unlocking Our Sound Heritage initiative have therefore made a happy transition from virtual to face-to-face meetings.
We have recently been cataloguing a series of sound recordings consisting of interviews with residents from Butetown, Cardiff about their lives during the Second World War. The interviews were conducted during the early 2000s and include accounts of family life, schooling and work in Butetown and beyond, including memories of wartime service. Some of the themes addressed are familiar touchstones in the national collective memory of wartime Britain such as air raids, rationing, and Victory in Europe (‘VE’) Day celebrations. Yet the memories described are also individually rooted in the local community. Thus, among stories about rationing are memories of the food brought home by local sailors and shared among neighbours. Accounts of the relationships forged between residents in the unique and diverse local community are intermixed with those of the discrimination which they faced even during wartime.
The collection highlights the value of not only oral histories, but community-based oral histories in particular. You can hear about the same events told by neighbours and members of the same family which reveal how shared experiences are variously remembered. In other instances, such as interviews with siblings about their experiences of bombing raids, the detailed descriptions given are remarkable in their similarity and suggest that they are perhaps memories that have been retold many times in years since. As mentioned in our previous posts, these recordings form part of a wider collection which was founded by residents who interviewed each other about their shared local heritage. The recordings, and the reflections on wartime which they contain, therefore represent a dialogue as much as individual perspectives.
In addition to the fascinating content of the recordings, our team have been occupied with decisions about how they should be catalogued. When library cataloguers classify books, they will describe key bibliographic information about its features, such as the author, title, publication date and shelfmark. We call this information ‘metadata’ because it is data which describes other data (i.e. data about the book, which is itself data!). This information will be included in a catalogue record which will help library staff and users find and access the materials. For sound recordings, the catalogue record may include different metadata elements, such as the identity of the ‘performers’, the language(s) spoken, and notes on sound quality. A further example of the metadata fields we populate is the subject matter of the recordings. This is an important field as it indicates to users what the sound recording is about. Crucially, subject matter classifications will also influence the ability for users to search for and discover the items in an online catalogue, as they are one of the elements used to populate search results.
Classification of subject matter is not open-ended though. Cataloguers are generally restricted to the use of a particular set of pre-determined labels or words (“controlled vocabularies”) included in a particular cataloguing standard. A cataloguing standard provides guidance on the metadata to be included in a catalogue record and how that metadata should be described and formatted. Yet the available options can still be quite extensive and require careful thought. For example, if you were to classify a recording of an oral history about an individual’s childhood experiences of air raids in Butetown, what labels might you apply? Would you think of it as an account about air raids during the Second World War specifically? You might perhaps draw topical associations to ‘civil defence’ and the ‘Blitz’, or more regionally to the ‘Tiger Bay’ area. More broadly still, you might categorise the account as one of ‘childhood’, ‘community’, or ‘family life’. These are approximations of just a handful of the available subject classifications for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image (SAMI) catalogue of which the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage recordings form a part. Our work has therefore required us to think carefully about which labels best represent the content of the recordings, and to look beyond our subjective interpretations to imagine their utility and interest for a broad range of listeners and researchers.
As part of our wider coursework, our team have begun to create an archive catalogue of the sound recordings to demonstrate how they could be incorporated into an archival finding aid. Somewhat similarly to a library catalogue, a finding aid helps people locate a specific item, group of items or collection within an archive. Yet, because archivists use different cataloguing standards from those used by librarians, different controlled vocabularies may apply. Our team are using the ‘Dublin Core’ standard which outlines fifteen elements of metadata to be included in any descriptions used to create a finding aid. The Dublin Core standard advocates use of the ‘Library of Congress Subject Headings’ to classify subject-matter, which is an authoritative thesaurus of subject headings maintained by the Library of Congress. As the headings available may be different from those used in the SAMI catalogue, cataloguing may therefore involve reconceptualising the content of the recordings where the available options do not neatly overlap. With this experience comes an appreciation of the everyday quandaries faced by both librarians and archivists and the ‘two hats’ worn by those working across multiple metadata standards.
Throughout our project our team has benefitted from the guidance of staff members of the National Library of Wales who have shared their expertise about cataloguing in accordance with the MARC encoding standard, which ensures our entries will be machine-readable and capable of reproduction both in the Library’s own catalogues and those of other libraries. They have taught us about the rights and sensitivities issues which may impact on users being allowed access to the material. We have also recently learned about the process of digitisation for sound recordings and preservation issues relating to audio recordings held in both physical and digital formats. The knowledge which we have gained through our collaboration with the National Library of Wales will therefore support us not only in the completion of our project but throughout our hopeful future archival careers.
It was with regret that the committee organising the National Eisteddfod for 2021 had to make the decision to postpone the competition for a second year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The full title of the sound clip highlighted in this blog is “Why Should We Not Sing in War?”
We are currently waging war with the virus through vaccines, social distancing, and lockdowns; there have been many casualties of this war and the Eisteddfod is one of many organisations to have been affected by it adversely as well.
The festival, with a history tracing back to 1176, is a celebration of Welsh language and culture, which has been held during the first week of August since 1861, apart from 1914, when the outbreak of World War 1 caused it to be postponed for a year.
In 1916, the new Secretary of State for the War, David Lloyd George made an impassioned reply to a letter published in the Times, criticising the decision to hold the Eisteddfod during wartime. He made his speech at the opening of the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod that August, and even though the festival cannot take place this year, we can take his words as a reminder that while adversity strikes again, as it has done many times over the course of Welsh history, its people will carry on singing.
Although the speech was made in 1916, the sound file held by the National Library of Wales was made in the BBC studios on 15 February 1934, when Lloyd George was President of the London Welsh Trust. It was digitised by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.
By this point in his life, Lloyd George had been marginalised from British Politics, but his original oration was given just months before he was invited to form a government in December 1916, holding office until 1922, as the first and only Welshman to become Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Lloyd George was born in Manchester but was raised at his mother’s family home in Llanystumdwy, near Cricieth. He maintained lifelong ties to this area, being made Earl of Dwyfor in 1944, the year before his death at age 82. He is buried on the banks of Afon Dwyfor in Llanystumdwy.
He was a passionate advocate for Welsh politics and rights, and an eloquent speaker, which is obvious through this sound file. Beginning with the hiss and crackle of the 78rpm recording, Lloyd George leads with a question to his critics: “Why should we not sing during the war… why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?” He explains that Britain is greater than ever, so although war means suffering and sorrow, the country should be like the nightingale, giving its song in the darkness and so triumphing over pain.
This reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Chinese emperor and a nightingale whose song so moves Death that the emperor’s life is spared, was (as a musical side note) the subject of a 1914 opera by Igor Stravinsky, “La Rossignol”. Perhaps Lloyd George was familiar with the opera or perhaps he had liked reading fairy tales to his children, but in his estimation, although nightingales are not known on the Welsh side of the Severn, “…we can provide better. There is a bird in our villages that can beat the best of them. He’s called Y Cymro.”
Like the nightingale that sings in the night, the Welsh sing in the night and during the day, in joy and sorrow, at work and at play, in prosperity and through adversity, in sunshine and storm, during times of peace – and so why should they not sing during the war?
A transcription of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
Lloyd George continues, referencing the turbulent history of Wales and its ability to maintain cultural identity throughout: “Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the heart of Wales has never been silenced by one of them.”
In this day and age, the Eisteddfod cannot be completely silenced, even by a virus. Modern technology allows for the Eisteddfod AmGen to take place on various online platforms and social media with a strong competitive element. This freedom is like the end of the legend of the nightingale, in which a strong future is negotiated to ensure that the bird lives in its true environment so that it can continue to thrive and be heard.
At the heart of Lloyd George’s speech is a surety that we will make it through this present adversity and together we can stay in tune.
By Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
Transcription: Why should we not sing?
He sings in joy he sings also in sorrow.
He sings in prosperity he sings also in adversity.
He sings at play he sings also at work.
He sings in the sunshine he sings in the storm.
He sings in the day time he sings also in the night.
He sings in peace; why should he not sing in war?
In collaboration with the National Library of Wales and British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project, our group, postgraduate students studying for an MA in Archives and Records Management at Aberystwyth University, have been cataloguing a collection of digitised oral history recordings from Butetown, Wales. The recordings were created during the 1980s by an academic who was researching Butetown, also known as Tiger Bay, and was interviewing residents about their memories of the twentieth century. Butetown was one of the first multi-cultural societies in Britain and its docklands were a major distributor of coal and other goods during the nineteenth and twentieth century and as such, residents had unique perspectives.
In later years further interviews and discussions took place with aims of preserving the history of Butetown, as the area was going through a series of redevelopments and, consequently, many people had moved away, and some residents were elderly or deceased. One section of the collection contains recordings of the Women’s Lives Course, a year-long event that took place in Butetown during the late 1980s that was attended by residents, former residents, and people from surrounding areas. The course held weekly meetings, during which discussions took place focusing on a different topic that impacted the lives of women in Butetown including education, religion, marriage, employment, racism, and family dynamics. During the course participants were taught valuable skills such as how to devise interview questions, the best equipment to use for oral history interviews and technical skills, such as how to use microphones and tape recorders.
The recordings are very interesting, they contain excerpts from previous interviews and the discussions centre around the life of the individual in the original recording who, at times, attended the discussion as well as about similar and different experiences attendees had. Some attendees’ parents emigrated to Wales during the twentieth century, or they themselves emigrated to Wales and as a result, they recount stories about growing up in multi-cultural families, the different cuisines people ate and living in different countries, among others. The recordings further contain larger discussions about British culture and society, community identity, and emigration as well as about Butetown and its redevelopment.
The recordings from the Women’s Lives Course, consequently, provide invaluable insights into women’s lives in twentieth century Butetown, the experiences of diverse communities within Wales, how society was changing as it was approaching the twenty-first century and how community groups sought to preserve their memories.
Cataloguing oral history interviews can be a lengthy process which requires great attention to detail. When our group was introduced to the recordings, we were presented with an initial spreadsheet containing the titles of the recordings and general descriptions of their contents. Prior to listening to the recordings, we familiarised ourselves with the spreadsheet and carried out research into why the recordings were created. Afterwards we began planning how we would approach the recordings, we divided them between ourselves and began listening to them.
Listening to recordings for cataloguing purposes is unlike listening to music or a podcast. Cataloguers listen to determine the main topics discussed, to identify topics which users will be interested in and any material which should not be published. During interviews people, at times, will say things in confidence which they do not wish to be published or which may be about a sensitive issue. This material, thereby, may be removed from the recording or the recording may be classified as inappropriate for online publication and will only be accessible in-person. After we have listened to the recordings, our team writes descriptions, summaries, and other fields about what we have heard. Descriptions and summaries are not transcriptions, they are concise and yet detailed accounts of what is contained in the material so that users can decide if they want to listen to the recordings. This information may be inputted into archive and library software or another computer programme such as Microsoft Excel.
Rights holders research also must be carried out. All contributors, interviewers, interviewees, and people involved in the recordings such as sound engineers, hold copyright rights over the material and thus, they must be contacted, and their permission must be attained prior to the recordings being published online. If this permission cannot be attained or if the material contains topics which are extremely sensitive, they will be accessible only in-person.
After the recordings have been catalogued and the rights research undertaken, this information is imported into the National Library of Wales and the British Library’s catalogues. Some of the recordings within the ‘Tiger Bay– Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection such as the Women’s Lives Course recordings, contain sensitive material. Consequently, some recordings may be accessible only in person at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Although some recordings will not be accessible online, the collection is intriguing, and the recordings are worthwhile listening to in person.
By Evangeline Mills, MA Archives and Records Management Student, Aberystwyth University
Every year, postgraduate students studying Archive and Records Management at Aberystwyth University undertake a project which provides them with the opportunity to use some of the skills they have been developing. This year has been no different, although the widespread effects of the global pandemic have inevitably been felt. Nonetheless, with the support of University and National Library of Wales (NLW) staff, we have managed to adapt. It has been a very welcome opportunity for all of us in the group to gain some cataloguing experience and play a role in the wider Unlocking our Sound Heritage Project. Meeting up on Microsoft Teams every week, our team have gained experience of project planning and working together as a group to achieve a common aim. We have also had the opportunity to hone skills more specific to the role of an archivist, such as ensuring consistency and interoperability in the creation of metadata. To ensure consistency of language, we created cataloguing guidelines according to the requirements of NLW. This clearly set out what was required of each field, as well as whether any controlled vocabulary or international standards needed to be adhered to. To ensure interoperability, we made sure that all the information we recorded could be mapped across to different standards. This mitigates the risk of any information being lost if the collection is integrated into different catalogues.
The specific collection of recordings we have been helping to catalogue encompass various series of oral histories conducted with the residents of Tiger Bay, the diverse dockside community which has been redeveloped over time into the modern Cardiff Bay. I would like to focus in particular on the first series of recordings we have been cataloguing, which were recorded in 1987. This series encompasses a variety of interviews with a number of the residents of the time. They all lived very varied lives, but they are all united by their connection to Tiger Bay. The date these recordings were made means that the residents have interesting perspectives which would be of note to many researchers. Firstly, many of them lived in the shadow of both World Wars and contributed directly to the war effort. Secondly, many lived in Tiger Bay both before and after its 1960s redevelopment, and therefore provide a unique insight into how the so-called ‘slum clearances’ of the period could impact communities.
Other interesting topics raised during the interviews include: the nature of race relations in the twentieth century in a particularly multicultural part of Britain; the extent and nature of religious observance; gender roles; social values; working conditions and industry. Some interviewees spent more of their life than others in Tiger Bay. Those with a looser connection to the community still provide fascinating stories which may otherwise have been lost. This really brings home to me the value of oral histories as a medium. Although archivists have traditionally focused on documentary evidence, these recordings help to highlight the insight that oral histories can offer into unique lives which may otherwise have gone unrecorded.
All in all, the group are finding this a very interesting and worthwhile activity. We will be back in touch in due course, with other group members’ experiences with the subsequent series of recordings.
Ewan Macleod, MA Archive and Records Manager Student, Aberystwyth University
“As of 2016, it is widely accepted within the global audiovisual archival community that we have between 10 and 15 years in which to digitally preserve all carrier based audiovisual content held on magnetic media” International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)
Sound collections are under threat of being lost forever due to physical degradation, and as the means of playing sounds disappear from production. In response to this, 10 hubs across the UK joined the British Library’s National Lottery Heritage funded project – Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
The ambitious project aims to digitally preserve at-risk recordings, establish a network of audio preservation centres across the UK and engage more people with sound recordings. The National Library of Wales will digitise and catalogue recordings from our own collections as well as those held at various institutions in Wales.
It’s not just sound archives and museum that are facing risk of losing their sound collections but also personal private collections. Do you know how you could help safeguard your own recordings at home? Have you got a precious recording at home and would like to know more about it?
On Thursday 1st April 2021, Rhodri Shore, our Audio Preservation Engineer will be available on-line in a one to one session to discuss, offer advice and guidance on how you could look after your own personal sound collections.
We will be offering a rare chance for you to select sound items from your home, and ask anything about your own personal collection. Get advice on identifying the format, condition, how to store them at home and how to care and preserve your precious collections.
During your half hour slot, you can discuss your personal sound items and also hear about the challenges we faced while working with fragile sound recordings for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (UOSH).
Maybe you have an old cassette, audio reel, DAT, Minidiscs or Wax Cylinder that you need advice on? Whatever the format, make sure you pre-book your place for a friendly chat at events.library.wales
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
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.