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The Hay Festival

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 29-05-2023

The Hay Festival starts this week, and I thought I’d look into how a small, quiet town in Powys ended up hosting one of the biggest literary festivals in the world.

Back in the 60s, local business man Richard Booth opened a second-hand book shop in Hay-on-Wye, a decision that would forever change the history of the town. Within a few years, he had six book shops, and their popularity attracted even more booksellers to the town. This in turn led to Hay-on-Wye being labelled “The Town of Books”. Booth was well known for his eccentricities, as can be seen when he famously declared independence for the town, and made himself its King. This 1983 article from The Daily Telegraph shows us an example of his political pursuits, and his entry in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives further insight into his life:

‘Horsepower manifesto by eccentric bookman’ – The Daily Telegraph, 23 May 1983 (The Telegraph Historical Archive). Booth, Richard George William Pitt, 1938-2019 (The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).



The festival itself was the brainchild of Peter Florence, a local actor who supposedly staged the first festival in 1988 with his winnings from a game of poker. He managed to convince the playwright Arthur Miller to attend, and as this article in the World Literature Journal points out, Miller initially thought Hay-on-Wye was a sandwich!

‘Outposts: Literary Landmarks & Events’ – World Literary Journal, 2006 (JSTOR)



The first festival was a big success, which resulted in the Sunday Times sponsoring the event in its second year. As this announcement in the newspaper shows, they were proud to sponsor this festival, which according to them, was in a “living bookshop”. The event itself managed to attract a stellar list of authors, such as Ruth Rendell, John Mortimer, Ian McEwan and Benjamin Zephaniah.

‘Book Yourself a Festival’ – The Sunday Times, 12 March 1989 (Sunday Times Digital Archive)



Over the years, the festival has attracted some of the biggest names in literature, and as it grew, celebrities from other fields were invited to participate. There was much excitement when Bill Clinton attended in 2001, branding the festival “the Woodstock of the mind”. However, as this article at the time shows, there were some initial fears that these celebrities were drawing attention away from writers.

Making Hay – The Guardian, 31 May 2001 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Guardian & The Observer)



Luckily, this has not been the case, and the festival has continued to champion authors and their works. Now in its 35th year, it contributes to a number of educational and environmental projects, as well as holding overseas festivals in Europe and South America. Here’s a quick insight into what can be expected in this years’ festival

‘Are You Ready For Hay?’ – Western Mail, 29 April 2002 (Newsbank)



If you aren’t able to make it to this years’ festival, why not visit the Library, and read Ellen Wiles’ experience of the festival, in “The Hay Festival: The Remote Welsh Field That Stages the Global Publishing Industry”, available in our reading room via electronic legal deposit:

Os na allwch chi gyrraedd yr ŵyl eleni, beth am ymweld â’r Llyfrgell, a darllen profiad Ellen Wiles o’r ŵyl, yn “The Hay Festival: The Remote Welsh Field That Stages the Global Publishing Industry” sydd ar gael yn ein hystafell ddarllen trwy adnau cyfreithiol electronig.



Paul Jackson,

Legal Deposit and Aquisitions Librarian.

Aurora Borealis, 1774

Uncategorized - Posted 01-03-2023

Though the Northern Lights are not often seen in Wales, especially at their most spectacular, they have been seen by many over the centuries. This is William Williams Pantycelyn’s description of them in his booklet Aurora Borealis, 1774. Williams’ mobile phone was rather primitive. It lacked Photoshop to stimulate his imagination – he obviously didn’t need it.



Robert Lacey

Head of Published Content Development

Early Scientific Experiments in Snowdonia

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 09-01-2023

One of the books purchased recently for our rare book collections is Experiments and observations made in Britain, in order to obtain a rule for measuring heights with the barometer.  The author was Colonel William Roy (1726-1790), surveyor and founder of the Ordnance Survey.  The report was originally published in the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society in 1777, but the copy we have bought was published separately by J. Nichols the following year.



The experiments described in the report were carried out in various locations, including Schiehallion in Scotland and Snowdon in Wales.  As well as descriptions of the experiments, the book includes tables of the measurements and maps of the mountains where they were made.  It provides important evidence of the contribution of north Wales to scientific developments in the eighteenth century.

Timothy Cutts,

Rare Books Librarian.

Sir Kenelm Digby’s exotic recipes and miracle cures

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 22-08-2022

Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) was from a British Catholic family and his father was convicted of treason for being linked to the Gunpowder plot of 1605. He was consequently sentenced to death, and was hung, drawn and quartered in January 1606. This undoubtedly shaped Digby’s life and made him suspicious of authority and willing to take risks. An example of this was when he embarked on a privateering expedition to the Mediterranean with the purpose of attacking and plundering ships that came within sight of his position. After returning from this adventure, his life took another dark turn when his wife, Venetia Stanley, died unexpectedly. He reacted to this event, by immersing himself in scientific and quasi-scientific experiments.



Digby was a polymath, and had a thirst for knowledge that few other people of his time could match. His areas of expertise included philosophy, science, alchemy and cookery. The books featured in this blog encompass his interests in cooking recipes and chemistry. Science at the time was not recorded in any disciplined way, and though Digby was one of the founders of the Royal Society, his research ranged from chemistry and medicine on the one hand, to alchemy and astrology on the other.



There is strong evidence that the Library’s copy of The Great Bible (1539) comes from Sir Kenelm Digby’s library. The Bible is referred to in a number of volumes that were among the manuscripts of William Watkin Edward Wynne of Peniarth. There is evidence that these manuscripts were in Digby’s possession, including Digby’s diary in his own handwriting of his trip to the Mediterranean (see B. Schofield’s article in the National Library of Wales Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, 1939). The Library recently bought two books of his works.

  • The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digbie focuses on the recipes that he had discovered on his travels to Europe. It is a valuable historical document of the food and recipes of the 17th Century. As an extensive traveller, he was able to write about the exotic foods that he encountered and was enthusiastic in writing the recipes in great detail to his friends in Europe. They include how to make cider, metheglin and cherry-wine. It is interesting to note that Digby invented the modern wine bottle by manufacturing it from super strong, coloured glass in around 1633. Before this, wine bottles were thin and weak. This was fine for short term storage, but it meant that the wine would be oxidised much quicker. Therefore, the invention of the wine bottle meant that fine wine, champagne and vintage port could be used and marketed.



  • A Choice Collection of rare Chymical secrets and Experiments in Philosophy by George Hartman. This book outlines Digby’s credentials as a Chemist. It also shows how he believed the products of his experiments could be used as medicines to cure ailments and chronic illnesses such as gout, Dropsie, Palsy, French-Pox, Plague, Leprosie, Small-pox and Measles. The methodology and technique of the experiments are shown through scientific diagrams which were typical of early scientific writings. Though one of Digby’s main aims was to show the power of mechanistic science, much of the book alludes to alchemy and astrology.



The Library has a copy of A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska (Heinemann 2016). Moshenska noted that his hero, Sir Kenelm Digby, lived between the Renaissance world of Shakespeare, and the modern world of Milton and Newton. He studies Digby’s adventures, strong character and wide interests – a truly remarkable man.



Schofield, B. (1939). ‘Manuscripts of Sir Kenelm Digby’. National Library of Wales Journal 1 (2), 89-90. Available at:

Moshenska, J. (2016), ‘The adventures of Sir Kenelm Digby: 17th-century pirate, philosopher and foodie’. Available at: (Accessed: 18 August 2022)

Moshenska, J. (2016), A stain in the blood: The remarkable voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby, Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Foster, M. (2009). ‘Digby, Sir Kenelm’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Available at: (Accessed: 18 August 2022)

Digby, K. (1669) The closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. opened whereby is discovered several ways for making metheglin, sider, chery-wine, &c. : together with excellent directions for cookery, as also for preserving, conserving, candying, &c., London: Printed for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain.

Hartman, G. (1682) A Choice Collection of rare Chymical Secrets and experiments in Philosophy as also rare and unheard-of Medicines, Menmstruums and Alkahests; with the true secret of Volatilizing the fixt salt of Tartar Collected and experimented by the Honourable and truly Learned Sir Kenelm Digby, Kt. Chancellour to Her Majesty the Queen-Mother. Hitherto kept secret since his decease, but now published for the good and benefit of the Publick. London : Printed for the Publisher, and are to be sold by the book-sellers of London, and his own house in Hewes Court in Black-Fryers.


Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian

Jubilees in Wales

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 30-05-2022

As the United Kingdom celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it’s an opportunity to see how similar occasions have been marked in Wales in the past.

A number of monuments were built throughout Britain to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of George III in 1809, including the Arch near Devil’s Bridge, Ceredigion, which was built for Thomas Johnes, book collector and owner of the Hafod Press. A Jubilee Tower was built on the summit of Moel Famau, Flintshire, which is described in A history of the Jubilee Tower on Moel Fammau in North Wales by R.J. Edwards.  Both these monuments still stand today.  The Church of England (which included churches in Wales at that time) published special forms of prayer, in Welsh and English, to give thanks for half a century of the King’s reign.



Similar forms of prayer were published in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, and a thanksgiving service was held in St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen, with a sermon by the Bishop of St. David’s.  A decade later, Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.  One of the books published to mark the occasion was The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: illustrated record of Her Majesty’s reign and descriptive sketch of Aberdare, 1837-1897.



The collection given to the National Library by Miss Margaret Davies of Gregynog, near Newtown, includes a unique record of the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935.  A book was given to Miss Davies and her sister Gwendoline by members of the Montgomery County choirs who sang in the presence of the King and Queen in the Royal Albert Hall, to thank the sisters for their support.  The book is signed by members of the choirs and beautifully bound.



The next Silver Jubilee was that of the present Queen.  I remember as a child standing at the side of the road when she and the Duke of Edinburgh were returning from a thanksgiving service in Llandaff Cathedral in 1977.  An attractive bilingual booklet was printed containing the order of service.  A quarter of century later the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee, and amongst the year’s events she and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Festival of Youth in Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay.  A bilingual booklet was published to celebrate the visit.



I wonder what historical records will be added to our collections after this year’s celebrations?


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Conservationists receiving training in Wakefield

Collections / Conservation / Uncategorized - Posted 21-02-2022

Over two weeks in January the Library’s trainee conservators, Rhydian Davies and myself, traveled to Wakefield. While there, we attended a paper conservation module at the West Yorkshire History Centre. We are half way through the training, and here’s a taste of what we learned in the first half of the module.

Repairing wet documents

Wetting paper is a very useful way to relax it and wash dirt inherent in the fibers in preparation for repairing the document. Before washing the document, the surface should be cleaned. If this isn’t done, there is a danger of removing dirt inside the paper fibers. A soft brush is used to clean the dust, and a ventilated latex sponge (smoke sponge, aerated latex sponge) to remove more stubborn dirt. Sometimes a Staedtler eraser is used too.


After cleaning the surface, the document is ready to wet. The biggest risk with wetting any document is that the ink runs when it comes into contact with the water. To avoid disaster, we test the ink with a drop of water and alcohol. Shown above is a photograph of Rhydian doing just that.


Most manuscripts use “iron gall” ink that is not soluble in water or alcohol. The document has a seal present, which is soluble in alcohol but not in water, so we wetted the document in water only.


After washing it in water, we transferred the document to a glass table to start repairing. Due to the fragility of the document it was decided to place Japanese silk paper (2gsm) over the entire back; the tissue paper is so light and thin that it does not hide any words on the document.


The photograph above shows myself holding the Japanese tissue paper. The material is easily seen through, and once placed on the document, will be almost invisible!


This is the document after receiving the Japanese silk paper over the back. As as you can see from the photograph, it is much more stable. But the tissue paper alone is not strong enough to protect the document from mechanical damage. The document could be easily damaged further.

The next step was to learn to use the leaf casting method. It uses the concept of how paper is created in the first place, using a paper pulp to fill in the missing areas. The document is flooded, and once plugged, gravity pulls the pulp down to the places that need filling.

We don’t have a photograph of the final result, as the first half of the module finished after this step. We start the second half of the module on 7 February, so there will be much more to say after then! But for now, I hope you found this article informative.


Julian Evans,

Trainee Conservation Assistant.

Thomas Jones the Almanacist

Collections / Digitisation / Uncategorized - Posted 27-12-2021

Another new year is on the horizon! Let us reflect on the Library’s collection of almanacs and how they were used in the past. These almanacs included dates of fairs and agricultural shows which would be of interest to country folk when planning their year.



Thomas Jones (1648?-1713) was one of the most prominent figures responsible for publishing and writing almanacs. He was born in Merionethshire, the son of a tailor. After moving to London as a young man to start his training there, he changed his career and became a printer and publisher. By 1693, he had moved to Shrewsbury and had established the first Welsh printing press. The main work of the press was to publish books, but it became famous throughout Wales for publishing almanacs. Thomas Jones won a royal patent for the press in 1679 to publish yearly Welsh almanacs, and he did so from 1680 to the year of his death in 1713. The almanacs were very popular in much the same way as we use calendars and year planners today.

In the example shown of Thomas Jones’s almanac, as well as a calendar, we have a short description of typical weather on each day of every month. Thomas Jones, it appears, wanted to warn, and entertain his readers at the same time. Some of the days in January are described as windy, others as frosty, others as rainy. Obviously, these are fruits of the imagination rather than a scientific analysis of the climate! But Thomas Jones also included cloudy prophecies in the almanacs with references to complex conditions he himself suffered (he was said to be a hypochondriac!).

His readers were delighted to read the almanacs for practical purposes, but the contents also proved to be a welcome escape from the harsh reality of their lives.


Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian.

Lady Charlotte Guest and the culture of the Orient

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 15-11-2021

A few weeks ago the Library bought a copy of the first edition of “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” by Muhammad ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, one of the most historical and noteworthy books from the classical Arab world according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. The main reason for purchasing the book was the inclusion of a presentation sheet for Lady Charlotte Guest from the Oriental Translation Fund, which was attached to one of the first pages of the book. This illustrates the respect and admiration which scholars of the eastern languages had for Guest.



Lady Charlotte Guest married Josiah John Guest, the Merthyr Tydfil M.P. and the Master of Dowlais Ironworks. The iron works flourished and quickly increased in size to employ seven thousand people, the largest iron works in the world. Lady Charlotte took great interest in the day to day running of the business, including publishing a pamphlet explaining the technicalities of the use of a hot blast. She travelled widely with her husband within Britain and Europe and contributed to meetings with scientists such as Charles Babbage. She also had her own room in the company’s London office. After her husband’s death she became responsible for the business.

After learning middle Welsh and studying medieval Welsh history under the Reverends Evan Jenkin, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc) and John Jones (“Tegid Jones”), Lady Charlotte became famous for copying and translating eleven books from the Red Book of Hergest. These were the four tales of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances and four other tales. She also translated the “The book of Taliessin”, a middle Welsh manuscript. She was inspired by studying works of the Romantic revelation and the works of William Owen Pughe. By researching, she noticed the influences and the mythological ideas which were woven into the Mabinogi.

It is a sign of Charlotte Guest’s ability that she succeeded to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian without the help of a teacher to guide her. The period written about in “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” spans from the creation of the world to the period of the Prophet Shu’ayb in the Quran. It is quite possible that she drew from these writings while translating the Mabinogi. This is one of the first works published by The Oriental Translation Fund, whose admiration for the work of Lady Charlotte is clearly shown in the presentation sheet.



1. John, A., Parry-Williams, T. Guest (Schreiber), Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertrie (1812-1895), translator, businesswoman and collector. Available at

2. Bromwich, R. The Mabinogion and Lady Charlotte GuestThe Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1986, 127-41

3. John, A. Schreiber [néeBertie; other married name Guest], Lady Charlotte Elizabeth. Available at (Accessed 16 October 2021)


Hywel Lloyd,

Assistant Librarian.

The First Educational Book from the Pacific

Uncategorized - Posted 26-04-2021

While working from home, the staff of the Collection Development Section have continued to add to the Library’s collection.  One of the most unusual books purchased recently is Aritemeti: oia te haapaoraaotetaio e te faa au raa o te numera.  Despite its long title, this is a small book of 16 pages, bound in marbled leather covers.



This is probably the first educational text published in the Pacific.  It was printed by the Windward Mission Press in Tahiti in 1822.  The author was John Davies of Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa, Montgomeryshire (1772-1855), who served as a missionary for 54 years under the London Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands.  His other works include a dictionary and grammar of the Tahitian language and translations of Pilgrim’s progress, substantial portions of the New Testament and Psalms, and the Westminster catechism.

The book is a basic mathematical text listing the numbers in Tahitian and teaching how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  At the end is a list of important events in Tahiti from 1606 to 1822.  The text is based on an earlier edition published on the island of Huahine in the Leeward Islands in 1819.  The Windward Mission Press moved to Wilk’s Harbour, Papeete, in April 1818, and this is onoe of the first books printed there.  The Library already owns a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Tahitian printed by the press in 1820.

This little book is evidence of the influence of Welsh missionaries on the other side of the world.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Tuberculosis Eradication in Wales: 1912 – 1948

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 04-04-2019

International Tuberculosis Day was on March 24. It was a day to raise awareness of the devastating impact of the disease on health, society and economy. This blog looks at the campaign to eradicate tuberculosis in Wales by the Welsh National Memorial Association of King Edward VII, WNMA.

Tuberculosis (TB) was a major problem in Wales in 1900. In 1910, seven of the fifteen worst affected counties in Wales and England were in Wales and the five counties with the highest mortality rates were also in Wales. A plan was needed to deal with the disease and with the vision of one man, David Davies, MP (1880-1944) the WNMA began.

On 30 September 1910, in a meeting in Shrewsbury, a decision was made to commemorate King Edward VII by creating a campaign to eradicate TB in Wales and Monmouthshire.  Some years earlier, King Edward VII referred to the need to prevent TB: ‘If preventable, why not prevented?’ The sum of £300,000 was needed – half this amount was donated by David Davies. He became the first president of the WNMA, which was incorporated on 17 May 1912. The Campaign had four main aims:

  • Funding pharmacies across Wales
  • Providing residential establishments including sanatoria at Sully Hospital, Cardiff and Craig-y-Nos in Breconshire
  • Creating an educational department to publish educational material and host anti-tuberculosis lectures.
  • Funding a research department at the Welsh National School of Medicine, including the David Davies Tuberculosis Chair.

A Newtown office was established and an advisory committee of 6 medical experts were appointed to work in education, disease detection, treatment, post treatment, and research. David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided funding for sanatoria for the whole population through the 1911 National Insurance Act. By the Public Health Act (Tuberculosis) in 1921, all Welsh local authorities had transferred funding to the WNMA. Now, one national body existed with overall responsibility for the treatment and management of tuberculosis in Wales.

The educational campaign concentrated on training individuals to avoid TB. Between October 1911 and March 1913, 80 touring exhibitions took place. The Campaign’s caravan, bought to facilitate traveling to rural Welsh schools, made it possible to educate and lecture 11,500 children on ‘The Laws of Health and the Prevention of Tuberculosis’. Topics included: sleep, fresh air at night, home lighting, healthy food, tooth hygiene, clothing, body and hair hygiene, and the link between milk and saliva and the spread of TB.

The Campaign built two new hospitals and bought several hospitals and country mansions (such as Craig-y-Nos, Swansea). Over the next twenty years a network of pharmacies and hospitals had been created:

  • 5 Sanitoria (Menai Bridge, Denbigh, Talgarth, Llanybydder and Llandrindod Wells)
  • 12 Hospitals (total 1,600 beds)
  • 14 Pharmacies
  • 85 Visiting Stations
  • 22 X-ray Stations.

In early 1930s there were 11,000 new cases a year. Nurses and health visitors visited 40,000 homes annually. The King Edward VII National Memorial Association had become one of the most comprehensive plans to deal with tuberculosis. The results of the campaign were evident at an early stage with steady reductions in mortality rates from tuberculosis. Author Glynne R. Jones says:

‘There are few families in Wales without reason for gratitude to the WNMA, which had grown to be the foremost anti-tuberculosis organisation in the British Empire, if not the world – a fitting memorial to a king, which has ensured the WNMA a place of honour in Welsh History.’

NLW holds a complete collection of WNMA annual reports and minute books which form an important part of the Medical Printed Collection. The ‘Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS’  project will digitise these collections and they will be displayed online later this year.

For further information, contact Branwen Rhys.


01970 632996

Twitter @NLWPrintandMore    #MedHistWales

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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.

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