A few weeks ago, the Library welcomed Myra Booth-Cockcroft, a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, to the Archives and Manuscripts Department for two weeks of work experience. The Library would like to thank Myra for contributing this blog of her time with us and for her work cataloguing some of the inscribed Strata Florida slates.
During the past two weeks, I have been in the Archives and Manuscript Department of the National Library of Wales, getting some experience in the variety of work that goes on there. I met with staff from several different areas of the Department who provided an introduction to their working day, showing me the processes for (to name but a few!): cataloguing manuscripts; cataloguing large archives; manuscript digitisation; conservation, restoration and quarantine; early printed books; creating facsimiles; electronic archives and digital conservation. I also spent a morning observing the work of the staff at the South Reading Room desk, who answer enquiries and facilitate readers’ access to the Library’s collections. I particularly enjoyed having a go at preparing Peniarth MS 6 for digitisation (and getting to see the handwritten notes of J. Gwenogvryn Evans inside!) and photographing another of the Peniarth manuscripts with the staff working on the ongoing project of digitising the entire Peniarth collection. I was also privileged to be able to spend a day working alongside Dr Daniel Huws, Dr Ann Parry Owen, Dr Maredudd ap Huw and Gruffudd Antur, preparing Volume 3 of the forthcoming publication A Repertory of Welsh Manuscripts and Scribes.
I gained experience in cataloguing a variety of items: a collection of letters by the Welsh poet and artist David Jones to the French Professor of English Literature Louis Bonnerot; a genealogical roll of Francis Vaughan, dating to 1591, from workshop of renowned Welsh genealogist, Twm Sion Cati; a collection of the papers of the 19th century Welsh antiquary, Owen Williams (Owain Gwyrfai); a stray leaf from a late-13th century manuscript containing the Latin text of Psalm 87 from the Vulgate Bible; and another stray leaf from an early-13th century manuscript, which has survived due to being repurposed as a pastedown for a later manuscript. Perhaps my favourite task of the fortnight, however, was cataloguing the 15th century Strata Florida Slates.
This collection of 35 inscribed slates have been at the Library since 1946, when they were discovered at the site of the Strata Florida Monastery. It was extremely exciting to be able to examine the slates, which have inscriptions in Welsh, Latin, and English, and feature drawings depicting both humans and animals, as well as geometric patterns. The slates are totally unique in a Welsh context, however we find parallels for them in the inscribed slates of a similar date found in Smarmore, County Louth, Ireland, in 1959 and at Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1991. The Strata Florida Slates provide a glimpse into life at the Monastery in the 15th century: one of the slates gives a list of tenants of the Hafodwen Grange and records how many truggs of oats each tenant had to pay as rent for his land (SF1); three are inscribed with poetry in the cyhydedd nawban and cywydd metres (SF2, SF3 and SF4); three appear to have been used as practice for gravestone inscriptions (SF11, SF12 and SF13); and several others portray animals and people, perhaps partly depicting hunting scenes. While examining the slates, I discovered that two of them (SF23 and SF25) are in fact two halves of what was one slate at the time of inscription, revealing a full-length portrait of a bald man in a tunic – perhaps one of the Strata Florida monks? No doubt there is much more to say about these fascinating inscribed slates and I look forward to further research into them being carried out!
I would like to thank the National Library of Wales for a truly fantastic couple of weeks. In particular, thanks to Maredudd ap Huw for organising such a varied and interesting programme of work for me, to all of the staff of the Archives and Manuscripts Department for giving up some of their valuable time to show me their work and for being so welcoming. I am grateful also to the AHRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Celtic Languages for providing the funding for my time at the Library.
PhD candidate, University of Glasgow