Blog - Collections

Posted - 04-02-2019


Undermining the Sanctity of Art

Not my words but those of Dai Evans from Brynaman or ‘Y Dyn Surreal’ as he came to be known. Enigmatic and unique are two words used to describe David Augustus Evans (1924-2013) and his work. Is he a photographer, installation artist, surrealist, social commentator or humorist? Is he all five and probably more besides? Inspiration is another term that can be added to the list – writer Fflur Dafydd and artist Carwyn Evans have both been inspired by his work.


Dai Evans was the Chairman of Amman Valley Camera Club and a familiar figure in camera clubs in South Wales regularly entering photos in competitions, though his irreverence was not to everyone’s taste (the judges mainly). Equipped with mannequins, a cowpat, plastic chickens, assorted other props and a wicked sense of humour his works attracted the attention of younger audiences and covered a range of themes including literature, social change, international and personal events. His dry sense of humour and keen observation animates each of his photographs

He appeared on television on a number of occasions including Y Sioe Gelf and the BBC project Capture Wales. With the arrival of over forty of his prints here in the National Library of Wales his sense of humour will live on and continue to inspire others to make their own mark.

W Troughton


Posted - 28-01-2019

Collections / Uncategorized

A rare publication on the death of Captain Cook

The Library has bought a very rare book by a Welshman who was present when the explorer Captain James Cook was killed.  David Samwell was born in Denbighshire in 1751.  He had a particular interest in English and Welsh literature and in the Welsh cultural movements of his time, and wrote a great deal of poetry in Welsh and English.  He was President of the Gwyneddigion Society in 1797.  The Library owns his manuscripts, including correspondence with Iolo Morganwg.



Samwell sailed with Captain Cook as “surgeon’s first mate” on the Resolution in 1776 and witnessed Cook’s death in a skirmish with natives in Hawaii in 1779.  He wrote a full account of the event, and after his return to England published it in 1786 under the title A narrative of the death of Captain James Cook.  The Library already has two copies of this.  But in the same year, a French translation was published with the title Détails nouveaux et circonstanciés sur la mort du Capitaine Cook.  This is particularly rare, with only three known copies in other libraries throughout the world, so when a copy came up for sale we took the opportunity to add this important item to the collections of the National Library of Wales.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Posted - 24-01-2019



Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her saint day is celebrated on 25 January. Dafydd ap Gwilym described her as a master of easing the sorrows of distressed adolescents and he asked for her assistance to win over his love, Morfudd.

Dwynwen was one of the historic women of the fifth century, and she made her home on the island of Llanddwyn in Anglesey. According to the tale, Dwynwen prays to God following the advances of her lover, Maelon Dafodrull, and is provided with a potion that releases her from her love for him; Maelon turns into a lump of ice as a result of the potion. Dwynwen then receives three wishes: that Maelon is released, that she is inaugurated as the saint for lovers, and that she remain unmarried for the rest of her life.

Dwynwen became famous for her ability to solve the problems of lovers, and also for her healing powers. Sometimes she would perform small miracles from afar, especially in the case of poorly babies or small children, and it is said that she resurrected several people who appeared to be dead. The poet Dafydd Trefor said of her, ‘Iechyd a golud a gaid / Synnwyr a hawsáu enaid’ (roughly translated as ‘Health and riches are obtained / Wisdom and relief of the soul’), implying that physical well-being, wealth, wisdom and tranquility of the soul were all available through the hands of Dwynwen.

There are remains of Dwynwen’s cult in Tresilian, Vale of Glamorgan, where lovers used to determine their fate by throwing a stone over the natural archway in the rock. A church is consecrated to Dwynwen near Camelford in Cornwall, and it is possible that there was also a cult to her in Brittany (under the name of Saint Douine or Twine) where she was famous for healing every fever.

Guest blog by Rhiannon Ifans, author and expert on medieval Welsh literature.

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Posted - 18-01-2019

#LoveMaps / Collections / Exhibitions

Humphrey Llwyd – the man who invented Britain

January 19th sees the opening of the Library’s latest exhibition: Inventor of Britain – The Life and Legacy of Humphrey Llwyd. This exhibition is the latest in a series of events to mark the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, the author of the first published map of Wales. Last August to coincide with the actual anniversary a smaller exhibition was held for two weeks, but this larger exhibition will be on for the next six months.

While Llwyd is probably most famous for his map of Wales, in addition to being the father of Welsh cartography he is also considered to be the father of Welsh history as a result of his Cronica Walliae the first history of Wales in English based on the ancient Welsh chronicle the Brut y Tywysogion.

This would be enough of a contribution in itself to ensure the legacy of most people, however in addition to this Llwyd was also responsible for helping to steer the Bill for the Translation of the Bible into Welsh through Parliament, thus leading to the Welsh Bible which was a major factor in helping Welsh to survive as a language.

But Llwyd’s influence goes beyond the borders of Wales; his works were also used to help justify the British Empire (a phrase he is credited with coining) and the English reformation. Part of his extensive library was purchased by the Crown and now forms part of the collections of the British Library.

This new exhibition is being held in association with the AHRC funded project Inventor of Britain: the complete works of Humphrey Llwyd. A number of lectures will be given over the coming months by members of the project team and this year’s Carto-Cymru – the Wales Map Symposium will also be on the theme of Humphrey Llwyd.

The exhibition runs until the 29th June and further details of the associated events can be found on the Library’s website.

Huw Thomas
Curator of Maps

Posted - 14-01-2019


Latimer’s Sermons

On 16th October 1555, Bishop Hugh Latimer, one of the three Oxford martyrs, was burned at the stake for his Protestant beliefs during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I.  His writings, however, live on.  Not only were numerous editions of his sermons published during the reign of Mary’s Protestant successor Elizabeth I, but editions printed during Latimer’s lifetime have also survived.

The National Library of Wales was recently presented with a volume of Latimer’s sermons by Clive and Patricia Coleclough of Wrexham, in memory of Mr. Emrys Thomas of Caergwrle.  The book had been in the possession of Mrs. Coleclough’s family for about a century, having been bought at a bookshop in Llanrwst; unfortunately the shop no longer exists, so how it came to Wales remains a mystery.


The volume consists of a sermon preached in London on 18th January 1548 and published that year, and another seven sermons preached before King Edward VI in 1549, again published that year; originally these were printed as three separate publications.  The first sermon has the arms of the Duchess of Suffolk, to whom Latimer was chaplain, on the verso of the title page.  The volume is in its original 16th-century binding, with a Tudor rose and crown and the letters WB on the covers, no doubt the initials of the owner who commissioned the binding.

This is the only known copy of this edition in Wales.  It will now be preserved in our collections for future generations.


Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Posted - 07-01-2019


Sea Bathing – for your health!

What springs to mind when you think of the Christmas and New Year break? A swim in the sea? Well, that’s what many will be doing on Boxing Day or 1 January. Nationwide, people will be flocking to the seaside in fancy dress to brave the sea –either to raise funds for charity, accept a challenge or a show of courage. But have you ever thought of swimming in the sea as a way of improving your health?

For centuries, physicians have noted the physical benefits of bathing in cold water, advising patients to visit seaside towns to cure illness. It was believed that bathing in saltwater over a period of weeks or months would cure lung and skin conditions, improve circulation and strengthen immunity. In the past, a visit to the seaside was regarded as more of a medicinal remedy that a holiday, and to eighteenth century doctors, the sand, waves and the beach were regarded like our pharmacy today.

‘Thalassotherapy’ is the word given to this type of medicine, first used by Hippocrates to describe the beneficial effects of seawater. It comes from the Greek thalassa meaning ‘sea’and therapeia which means ‘therapy’ or ‘healing’.

Bathers at South Beach, Aberystwyth

In his Remarks on Sea Air and Sea Bathing, a pamphlet published in 1862, the surgeon John Holt Elkes Stubbs notes that:

‘A cold bath is a powerful tonic, particularly with children, and bathing in the open sea is the best form.’

It also includes a description by the physician Erasmus Wilson of the importance of the skin while bathing. The skin of an individual of average height and weight has a surface area of over 2,500 square inches, and includes over 7,000,000 sweat pores. The invigorating response of an individual to seawater is as a result of both salty grains which revive the skin and the shock from contact with the cold waves.Disease was averted and illness cured through the absorption of these salty particles by the skin.

The sea also had medicinal benefits for consumption or tuberculosis sufferers until the end of the epidemic in the 1860s. Some physicians went further urging patients to drink seawater as a medicine – enhancing its taste by the addition of honey or milk was permitted. Dr.Richard Russell prescribed bathing and drinking seawater for Leprosy. In his treatise published in 1750, A Dissertation on the Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, Particularly, the Scurvy, Jaundice, King’s Evil,Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption, he describes a sufferer covered in leporous spots. His cure was to sea bathe daily and drink a pint of saltwater each morning for nine months!

Sea temperature does not generally rise above 67°F (19.4 Celsius). So if you are brave enough to dip into the cold sea for your health on 1 January, go for it! Just be grateful that the practice of drinking saltwater with milk has not continued to this day!

The information above is derived from the medical section of the Welsh Print Collection. This collection of Welsh and Welsh interest printed works on medicine and health dates from 1750s. It contains 6,500 items including books on early medicine, herbal remedies, reports by urban and rural health officers,and reports of hospitals and mental health institutions. It also houses a complete set of reports and minutes of the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association (WNMA). A health organisation established in 1911, as a precursor to the NHS, to provide free healthcare for Tuberculosis sufferers.

‘Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS’ is a new NLW  project, funded by the Wellcome Foundation. These medical treasures, hidden for too long, will be catalogued and digitised over the course of the next year ensuring online access to a wealth of information for the public, students and historians of medicine.

Branwen Rhys
Project Manager, Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS

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Posted - 18-12-2018


International Migrants Day 2018 – People’s Collection Wales and Europeana

18 December is United Nations’ International Migrants Day, and ‘Migration with Dignity’ is the theme this year. The choices that people make in life are dignified ‘by paying them respect, and we respect them by treating those who make such choices with dignity’.

This year, the theme of ‘Migration’ and the European Year of Cultural Heritage brought together two cultural heritage programmes, Europeana and People’s Collection Wales, to work together for the first time. Their aim was to capture individuals’ personal experiences of migration, so they may be shared, understood, and respected.


A Thousand Voices – A Multicultural Community in Newport

Last month, a Collection Day was organised in Newport to capture the stories of people who had moved to Wales from overseas. The event was co-ordinated and held by People’s Collection Wales as part of Europeana’s campaign to hold Collection Days across Europe on the theme of ‘migration’.

This was the second of two events that People’s Collection Wales held in Wales as part of the campaign – the first was at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff in July. There were eighteen events across Europe altogether, with others in Brussels, Limerick, Utrecht, Luxembourg, Sibiu, Den Haag, Belgrade, Zagreb, Dublin and Pisa.

Members of the local community in Newport brought along photographs, documents, artworks and other various objects which helped illustrate the story of their movement. The materials were digitized and will be published on Europeana and the People’s Collection websites. Many shared their stories through oral recollections too.

A total of 15 individuals shared their stories as part of the Collection Day including:

  • Rahila, who moved from Pakistan to Wales in 1979 after her grandparents had arranged for her to marry a gentleman living in Newport. She had three children and worked for several mental health organisations, raising awareness particularly among the BME community.
  • Afia, a former lecturer, also originally from Pakistan. She, along with other members of her family moved to Wales in 2007. As part of the Collection Day, Afia contributed a mixed material photo album that was sewed by a Stitching Group at Community House. Her photographs include the peace celebrations of ‘Peace Mala’ at Newport, a Mehndi party at Community House, and a personal photo of her family near the twelfth highest mountain in Pakistan ‘Rakaposhi’.
The cover of Afia’s photo album, sewed by a Stitching Group at Community House
  • Claire, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She met her husband Richard, from Wales, whilst studying in California. Both moved to Wales in 1975, with their five year old daughter and three year old son. Claire led a successful career as a teacher and head teacher after moving to Wales.
  • Roy, originally from Jamaica, he moved to Birmingham at 19 years of age to start an engineering apprenticeship. He relocated to Newport in 1962 where he continued his career in engineering. Roy, along with his wife, raised a family in Newport.
  • Ingrid was born and raised in London, before her family moved to Gloucester when she was 17. After completing her teaching PGCE in Leicester, Ingrid moved to Sierra Leone to work as a maths and physics teacher. She returned to the UK and accepted a teaching position at Newport in 1972. Ingrid also shared her grandmother’s story during the Collection Day and contributed her memoir as an item to be digitised. Her grandmother, Lena Kasmir, was born into a Jewish family near Kiev (now Ukraine) in 1894. Due to prevalence of anti-Semitism at the beginning of the 20th century, her family eventually moved to London, where Ingrid’s mother was born and raised.
A page from the memoir of Ingrid’s grandmother

Ten years of People’s Collection Wales and Europeana

Both Europeana and People’s Collection Wales this year celebrated the tenth anniversary.

Europeana is Europe’s digital cultural heritage platform. Since launching in 2008, the number of objects on the Europeana platform has increased more than tenfold from 4.5 million to more than 50 million. NLW has worked on other projects with Europeana, giving access through the platform to some of our most well-known digital collections, most notably the Geoff Charles and John Thomas photographic collections and the Welsh landscape collection. We have also contributed to the EuropeanaTravel, EuropeanaCloud and the Europeana280 projects, and, most recently, the ‘Rise of Literacy‘ project.

People’s Collection Wales is a cultural heritage programme funded by the Welsh Government. It seeks to capture and share the stories of the people of Wales. This digital platform gives individuals, communities and memory institutions a place to share and curate their collections in meaningful ways. The People’s Collection continues to collect stories of individuals and communities in Wales and beyond.

Do you have a story to share? Or perhaps you would like to capture stories in your community? We’d love to help you to share your stories with Wales and the world. Contact us at People’s Collection Wales.

Elen Haf Jones, Digital Access Project Officer & Dafydd Tudur, Head of the Digital Access Section


Posted - 17-12-2018


Branching out in Haverfordwest

This month the National Library of Wales has opened the doors to a new gallery in Glan-yr-afon (The Riverside) in the heart of Haverfordwest. The gallery is the centre piece to a high quality culture and arts centre including a modern library, children’s area, tourist information, coffee shop and even a gaming zone for young adults.

The aim of the gallery is to reach out beyond Aberystwyth and enable the Library to share treasures with locals and visitors to the area. Over the last two years our team has been working in conjunction with Pembrokeshire County Council on the project. There will be two new exclusive exhibitions displaying various items from The National Library of Wales’ collection – The Story of Pembrokeshire and Kyffin Williams: Land and Sea.

by Kyffin Williams
by Kyffin Williams

The Story of Pembrokeshire

Visitors can expect to see a rich and varied collection of exhibits specially chosen by our curator to represent the history, culture and landscape of Pembrokeshire.  Particular favourites of ours are an original letter from ‘Rebecca’ to the Vicar of Penbryn during the Rebecca Riots and Haverfordwest-born Gwen John’s beautifully understated yet strongly composed Vase of Flowers. 

More unique items include a manuscript of sonnets composed by T.E. Nicholas in 1940 whilst in prison – written on prison toilet paper!

Aside from all the tangible exhibits you can also browse images of maps, photographs, manuscripts and paintings from the National Library of Wales’ collection. From the earliest Welsh book to J. M W. Turner’s eminent oil painting of Dolbadarn Castle, as well as items relating to Pembrokeshire, from topographical prints to photographs and works of art.

Kyffin Williams: Land and Sea

What better way to close the centenary celebrations and the ‘Year of the Sea’ than with an exhibition featuring a fantastic collection of paintings and drawings by Wales’ most well-known and prolific artists of the 20th century.

Some of Kyffin’s most iconic works are the oil paintings of Welsh landscapes, and this exhibition highlights some of the best in this genre. Look out for Penygyrwyd – the strong dark palette of the artist brings the dramatic mountain ranges of Snowdonia to Haverfordwest. In contrast, a selection of Patagonia paintings following his visit to South America in the late 1960s show Kyffin at his happiest, where the colour palette is much lighter and reflective of his mood at the time.

A selection of his best seascapes are on display. The powerful Wave breaking on Rocks shows how the paint has become an extension of the artist’s climactic emotions. Kyffin’s seascapes exemplify his technique for which he is best-known; a style characterised by a thick impasto, with the oil paint applied almost exclusively with a palette knife.

On the way out of the gallery you cannot fail to notice the calm, warm Sunset on Anglesey– a most reflective painting reputed to be one of the artists’ last before his death in 2006.

We could continue to sing the praises of this fabulous new building, but don’t just take our word for it – why not go and check it out for yourself!

Glan-yr-afon is open Monday to Saturday (10am-5pm) and Tuesdays (10am-7pm).


Jaimie Thomas

Exhibitions Officer


Posted - 07-12-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections

Welsh waters, World waters

In this, the final ‘Year of the Sea’ Blog, we overview the Library’s collection of marine charts dating from 1800.

Charts are primarily intended for navigation and should provide clear, correct and up to date information to help plan, plot and navigate a safe course. Charts also provide researchers with information on the natural and man-made marine and coastal environment, past and present.

From the late seventeenth century the British became the foremost of chart makers. Over time, technological advances produced better charts which revealed earlier oversights and errors, for instance the Pembrokeshire chart of 1812 shown here mentions corrections to Lewis Morris’s earlier survey whilst the 1857-1859 chart records both sea and coast in intricate detail.

British private enterprises gradually gave way to the work of the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, now the UKHO, which was established in 1795, primarily to furnish Royal Navy requirements.  The UKHO remains one of the world’s  principal hydrographic organizations, its charts being widely supplied to  navies, merchant shipping and the public.

Over 15,750 UKHO electronic charts are currently available, although the Library only receives copies of their 3,500 sheet editions through legal deposit. The Library’s  12,000 modern charts encompass locations worldwide and are mainly received from the UKHO, together with their associated publications including  Notices to Mariners  and Pilot Books.


Supplementary collections include Admiralty Fleet charts originally only available to the Royal Navy and some recent publications from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Argentina and the Philippines.

A smaller number of charts derive from British commercial publishers whose home waters and overseas charts are aimed at leisure users and fishermen. The collections can be accessed through the Library’s online catalogue and UKHO catalogue.

Map collectors habitually proclaim that modern charts are not as aesthetically appealing as their antiquarian forerunners in which errant sea monsters and mermaids recurrently appear. Contemporary charts do however contain the most pertinent, accurate and unequivocal information on the marine environment. Crucially they protect lives at sea and need to be heeded when sailing. Use this hard-won information wisely and never forget the naval adage  ‘A collision at sea can ruin your entire day’.

Gwilym Tawy

Map Curator

Posted - 27-11-2018


The archive of Wales ‘Second-chance’ College

For almost 100 years Coleg Harlech was one of Wales’s foremost educational establishments. It was established in 1927 by Thomas Jones CH (who had been cabinet secretary to both David Lloyd George and Stanley Baldwin) with the aim of providing residential adult education, especially to those who hadn’t had the opportunities of education. Students came from all over Wales and many former students went on to play key roles in the life of the nation.

Following the closure of the college in 2017, the Library began discussion with Adult Learning Wales to ensure that the college’s archive was preserved. This wonderful collection traces the whole history of Coleg Harlech through documents such as annual reports, minutes, correspondence, registers, prospectuses and photographs. It contains plans for the development of the college site and documents which bring the student experience to life. A book on the first 50 years of Coleg Harlech was published in 1977, I’m sure that the archive contains plenty of material for further books and articles.

The archive is a large one and will probably fill more than 100 archival boxes, so packing and moving it would have been challenging, even in the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, the dates we’d arranged to collect the archive – Thursday 20th and Friday 21st September coincided with the arrival of Storm Bronagh! I’d been up to Coleg Harlech to make preparations to move the archive beforehand; listing what there was to move, packing the archive in boxes and putting them all in one place. It was also a good opportunity to plan how we would physically move things – for example checking where could we park the van, how would we get the boxes out and whether there were there any steps.

So, in the middle of the heavy rain and high winds were we loading the Coleg Harlech archive in the van. We always plan for bad weather and the blankets and covers we’d brought to keep the boxes dry while being moved did their job. The archive stayed dry – but we got soaked!

As it was such a large archive, we needed to make two trips to Harlech and by the send day the heavy rain had caused roads to flood. Our trip to Harlech was diverted via Mallwyd and Cemmaes Road due to the Dyfi Bridge being closed. Our return journey was even longer as further flooding meant we had to travel via Caersws and Llangurig. The flooding at one point looked passable, but we decided not too risk it just in case water did get into the van and the precious archive would be turned into slush!

Coleg Harlech was also home to a fascinating library which included a substantial collection of political books. Sadly we weren’t able to take the library was well – the books are in the National Library’s collection in any case – but we were able to preserve the library catalogue as part of the archive. This comprises 120 books listing the contents of the library by location and author.

The archive is now safely at the National Library of Wales and we aim to start sorting and cataloguing it in the new year. It will be a complicated project, but it will mean that the records of Wales’ ‘second-chance college’ will be available for researchers for the future.


Rob Phillips
Head of Archives and Manuscripts

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About this blog

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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