Unlocking Our Sound Heritage and archives’ relevance in the age of Wikipedia

Discover Sound - Posted 13-08-2020

I’m a Swedish archivist that has done an internship at the National Library of Wales (NLW) between January-July 2020. The internship was funded by the EU programme Erasmus+, and Gothenburg University was the supporting institution in Sweden. The purpose was to gain hands on experience of working as a sound archivist and at the same time help out a cultural heritage institution. I was therefore stationed at the Screen & Sound Archive and worked with the digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH).

The aim of the UOSH project is to preserve, digitise and make rare and unique sound recordings available to the public all over the UK. NLW is one of ten national and regional archival institutions involved and it is all being coordinated by the British Library. The consortium will also deliver various programmes of public engagement activities, and a website where a large part of the recordings will be freely available to everyone for research.

So I have digitised, catalogued, researched content and rights to recordings, as well as participated in training activities for volunteers in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff. The NLW has sound collections and recordings related to various aspects of life in Wales, dating back from the birth of recorded sound in the 1880s to present time. So working with the material has given me a first glimpse into parts of Welsh history and culture. I have also created content to be used in the NLW’s social media channels and written/edited articles for Wikipedia, in order to spread information about the UOSH project and the recordings (and about a previous digitisation project called Unlocking Film Heritage) to a wider public.

While working with Wikipedia I was reminded of its strengths and weaknesses in relations to archive. One of Wikipedia’s strengths is its availability and wide spread use around the globe, but on the other hand there are problems of representation in the articles.

In Sweden, I have previously taken part in a Wikipedia workshop aimed at women with no or little experience of editing and writing articles. It was arranged by Stockholm Museum of Women’s History in order to reduce the gender gap at Wikipedia. Around 90% of the articles are written by men and subsequently about four times as many articles are about men. We were therefore encouraged to edit and write articles about women.

I wrote an article about Stockholms Bulgariska Damkör (Stockholm Bulgarian Women’s Choir), a choir that had been active for over 20 years. But it was hard to get the article approved by Wikipedia because of the notability criteria. The subject of an article needs to be considered to have of a high degree of interest, significance or fame. The choir had been performing at festivals, in churches, embassies, museums, engaged in cultural exchanges, arranged work shops etc. But they had never released an album, hence it was argued that the choir wasn’t noteworthy. There were also few articles about them in music magazines or similar. I managed to find radio recordings of live performances and argued for their importance and uniqueness, so eventually the article was approved.

This got me thinking about representation and how Wikipedia run the risk of reproducing the same old hierarchy that has been prevalent during history. Women as a group have traditionally had less opportunities and consequently received fewer mentions in historic documentation, press etc. One way to counteract this has been for women to pursue different avenues to men. As a result, a modern day women’s choir might invest in live performance and getting to be known about via word-of-mouth, instead of doing recordings and trying to get media attention. Other suppressed groups like financially vulnerable people or different minorities (ethnic, cultural etc.) run the same risk of getting continuously less representation in the digital era.

Of course archives also battle with problems of representation. But one way to counteract this has been to consciously fill the archival gaps by conducting oral history interviews. Oral history can be understood as a method of gathering information about historical periods and events by interviewing people who experienced them. Interviews can also be done with persons whose experiences and memories are representative of certain communities or whose lives have been of special significance. The aim is often to obtain information from different perspectives, especially those that cannot be found in written sources. Oral history has developed hand-in-hand with sound and audio-visual recording techniques but interviews can also be transcribed. Song and music collecting is a similar way of gathering orally transmitted music (like folk music) and thus filling the musical gap.

I have come across a wide range of oral history recordings while working on the UOSH project. For example interviews with Welsh farmers that lived through World War II, descendents of Welsh emigrants in the USA, Welsh musician Andy Fairweather Low, film producer Eric Rowan who made the film about the artist siblings “Augustus and Gwen: The Fire and the Fountain (1975)”, Elinor Rosen who had a lifelong engagement with the Labour Party, photographer John Goddard and many interviews with Welsh painters and artists that were mainly active during the 1900 hundreds, like Eirian and Denys Short.

Some oral history interviews are done with relatives and friends of more famous people, that no longer are with us, like the interview with Tom Evans that explores the collecting activities of his wife Margaret Evans (1922-1996). She amassed costumes, artefacts, documents and ephemera associated with Aberystwyth and beyond, from 1800s to the 1900s. The documents from her collection went to Ceredigion Archives and the artefacts to Ceredigion Museum. Another example is the interview with Stanley Cheetham, related to the pioneer Arthur Cheetham (1864-1937), who was the first film-maker based in Wales. He made over 30 short films between 1898 and1912 and showed them in rural communities as well as opening the first all-year-round cinema in Rhyl in 1906. The Screen & Sound Archive also holds films made by Arthur’s son G.A. Cheetham.

Yet other oral history interviews are centred around a cultural phenomenon like professor Moira Vincentelli`s string of interviews exploring the use and role of the Welsh dresser across generations.

Finally, I would like to mention the Tiger Bay Collection. It belongs to The Heritage & Cultural Exchange Tiger Bay and the World, a community based organisation that strives to chronicle the heritage and cultural diversity of Tiger Bay and Cardiff Docklands. They have archival materials including: photographs, rations books, magazines, seamen’s discharge books, paintings and sketches, a school register as well as audio and videotaped interviews. The sound recordings are being digitised and catalogued during the UOSH project and would seem to be a treasure for people wanting to learn more about one of the original multicultural areas, with migrants from up to 45 nationalities.

And all these examples are recordings in English, there are a lot more for Welsh speakers. Hopefully there will be something relevant for everyone. All the digitised and catalogued recordings from the USOH project are being ingested into the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue and eventually a newly developed, purpose-built media player and website will be launched. There up to 100,000 recordings will be freely available to everyone for research, enjoyment and inspiration. The national and regional institutions will provide access locally to their own recordings and those that do not have licences and permissions to be published online.

Wikipedia do not accept oral history as a legitimate source for an article so it is worth searching the archives to find something original and different. And with the UOSH project archives are closing in on Wikipedia’s lead, when it comes to access and availability online.

Lastly, I would like to thank the staff at NLW, especially at the Screen & Sound Archive, who have been very welcoming and supportive during my time in Wales.

Diolch yn fawr

Maria, archivist from Sweden

New Accessions: Papers of Sir David Treharne Llewellyn

Collections / New Accessions - Posted 03-08-2020

In January this year a small collection of letters and ephemera relating to the political career of Sir David Treharne Llewellyn, a former Conservative MP, came up for sale at auction. Llewellyn served as MP for Cardiff North from 1950 to 1959 and was appointed as Under Secretary of State at the Home Office following the Conservative victory in the General Election of 1951. Llewellyn had only a year in office in the Home Office, before he had to resign because of his health but it was a very significant appointment.

In their manifesto for the 1951 General Election, the Conservatives had promised to create a ministerial post to deal with Welsh affairs and when he was appointed to the cabinet, David Maxwell-Fyfe was given the title of Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs. To prove that this was more than just a job title, a minister was appointed who was specifically responsible for Welsh affairs in his department; David Treharne Llewellyn was the first politician in that role.

The Welsh Political Archive collects the papers of the Secretaries of State for Wales, so we felt this small archive was worth buying. There is not a great deal of material from his time in the Home Office but one letter from Winston Churchill thanking him for his service to Wales as a minister and much correspondence with other ministers during his parliamentary career including James Callaghan, Edward Heath, David Maxwell-Fyfe and Gwilym Lloyd George. There is an interesting collection of letters from Philip Noel-Baker, Minister for Fuel and Power for support for victims of colliery accidents and their dependents, and another group that shows the relationship between Llewellyn and George Thomas and discusses the Aberfan disaster and the Investiture of 1969.

Llewellyn had played a brief but significant role in the development of Welsh politics, so it is fitting that his small archive came to the National Library with the papers of Secretaries of State for Wales and Welsh politicians of the same period.

The papers are now available via our online catalogue.

Rob Phillips
Welsh Political Archive

Curators Present: Tips for Searching the Church in Wales Diocesan Records

Collections - Posted 27-07-2020

In 1944 the Church in Wales began to deposit the records of every Welsh diocese in the National Library of Wales, for the benefit of the nation.  These included the records of the four ancient dioceses of Bangor, Llandaff, St. Asaph and St. Davids, and the two modern dioceses of Monmouth and Swansea & Brecon. Documents, manuscripts, maps and drawings were deposited initially, and the Library continues to receive regular deposits to this day.

Most diocesan records relate to Church administrative and legal systems.  The records chart the history of the Church and its dioceses, church buildings, and the work of its bishops, courts, and clergy. It contains vital sources for those interested in ecclesiastical, family, and local history.  It is also a very large collection – one of the largest collections of corporate records in the National Library of Wales.  Fortunately for researchers, it is a well-organized collection, which makes access to the material relatively straightforward.

If you have never used the collections before and the prospect of navigating the diocesan records seems a bit daunting, try the following tips:

1. Know your diocese: Records of each diocese have been arranged into broad categories, such as Bishops’ Transcripts, Consistory Court Papers, Chapter Records etc.  In general, you can expect to find the same types of records in each diocesan collection, although there may be differences in the extent of the records and the time periods covered.

2. Browse the main description for the diocese: The main diocesan catalogue page will summarise what records are available – ‘Content and Structure’ and ‘System of Arrangement’ are particularly helpful. The main page will also display the categories of records.

3. Quick Search: Many of the series and record titles are keyword searchable, so try searching for specific terms relevant to your research.  Remember to try different spelling variations to improve search results. It is possible for you to undertake a quick search within the collection itself by using the search box on the left hand side of the Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

4. Printed resources: If you are trying to find information about a member of clergy, begin your search with Crockford’s Clerical Directory.  It contains details of Anglican clergy appointments since 1858. This information can be a useful starting point.

5. Unexpected places: Investigate sections of the collection which may seem irrelevant to your research.   Some official documents were not put into one of the general categories. For example, the Miscellaneous series in St. Davids Diocesan Records contains material relating to nonconformist chapels in Brecon!

Enjoy searching!

Lorena Troughton
Assistant Archivist

Salem – A Symbol of Welsh Identity

Collections - Posted 23-07-2020

Safeguarding the second version of ‘Salem’

Last October the National Library was tremendously proud to have safeguarded the iconic work ‘Salem’ from 1909 by Sidney Curnow Vosper (1866-1942) for the nation. This work in watercolour depicts a congregation in Salem Chapel, Cefncymerau, Llanbedr near Harlech, with the character of Siân Owen dressed in a traditional Welsh costume holding a hymn book central to the scene. Across the decades, ‘Salem’ became an iconic symbol of Welsh identity and of the Nonconformist tradition in Wales.

Welsh homes and folk memory

Two versions of ‘Salem’ were created by Vosper during his lifetime. The first was created in 1908 and was exhibited in London where it was bought by the industrialist William Hesketh Lever who used the image to advertise his product ‘Sunlight Soap’. As a result, ‘Salem’ evolved into an iconic image across Britain. As Peter Lord stated in his book ‘The Tradition’ in 2016: ‘In the wake of a nationwide religious revival in 1904, the picture itself and its associated mythology entered Welsh homes and folk memory’. Among the other reasons for the painting’s popularity was that not many other Welsh images were to be had as attractive and cheap colour prints in the period before the First World War. In 1937 Ifan ab Owen Edwards sold prints of the work to raise money for the Urdd. The image was also reproduced for the ‘Cymru Rydd’ calendar in 1950, 1956 and 1957 and many Welsh people took advantage of this by cutting out the image and displaying it in their homes. The second version which differs slightly from the original and which was bought by the National Library was created in 1909 for Frank Treharne Jones, a solicitor from Merthyr and the artist’s brother-in-law.


As Peter Lord argued there is a strong contrast within the work between the simplicity of the chapel, the humility of the worshipers and the richness of Siân Owen’s shawl. Many believed that they could see an image of the devil in the fold of Siân Owen’s shawl, which did much to add to the work’s intrigue. Some believed that the image of the devil was a warning to others against the sin of vanity, something Siân Owen was displaying by dressing extravagantly to attend chapel. It could also be said that Siân Owen represented the figure of the ‘Mam’ in 19th century Wales. Siân Owen was known locally as Siân Owen, Tŷ’n y Fawnog. She was over 70 years old when the painting was created and went on to tragically lose two of her grandsons in the First World War. This gives an even heavier poignancy to the painting, when thinking of her symbolism as the Welsh mother and of the thousands of other Welsh mothers whose children were tragically killed during the two World Wars.

Local characters

Local characters are portrayed within the work, and they modelled for the artist in the chapel. One exception being the tailor’s dummy which he named Leusa Jones and which he placed in the front pew. It is interesting to note that the artist used Siân Owen’s features and expression for Leusa Jones’ face. It is unlikely that the black Welsh hat would have been worn in 1908, and as Tal Williams stated in his book Salem from 2010 not one of the women portrayed within the work owned their own hat. The same Welsh hat worn by Siân Owen, Laura Williams, Mary Rowlands and the tailor’s dummy was borrowed from Elin Edwards, of Chapel House, grandmother of Rev. Evan Rowlands. The paisley shawl was loaned by Mrs. Williams, wife of the Vicar of nearby Harlech. For the sitting the artist gave Evan Lloyd, the young 6 year old boy who sits with his aunt, Mary Rowlands a box of Quaker Oats to hold instead of a hymn book, for the artist was afraid that the boy would become easily distracted and start playing with the book’s pages. Wiliam Siôn and Rhobet Williams, Cae’r Meddyg are the names of the two local men within the scene.

‘An expression of allegiance to Wales’

During his lifetime, the artist Vosper was inspired to create works based on the Welsh and Breton culture, but without doubt this is by far his most famous work today. As Peter Lord stated: ‘Ultimately Salem’s success comes down to an expression of allegiance to Wales’.

Morfudd Bevan
Art Curator at The National Library of Wales

Curators Present: Using the records of the Court of Great Sessions (Part 2)

Collections - Posted 20-07-2020

Part 2: Records and finding aids within the Great Sessions archive

The most useful Great Sessions records for researchers are Plea Rolls (the largest class), Gaol Files (the most interesting) and Pleadings, representing civil, Crown and equity cases respectively. There are no proper indexes, but many of the court’s records are complementary and can be used as finding aids. These are not comprehensive, but they are the place to start unless you know when a particular case was heard. Documents are in English from 1733, as are earlier equity proceedings, criminal testimonies and Commonwealth records, whereas most of the pre-1733 material is in Latin.

Here is what you can expect to find in the records and the internal finding aids:

Civil Side

Plea Rolls mostly comprise pleadings in cases that reached trial, giving the names and pleas of all parties, occupations and places of residence of defendants, and details of the issues under dispute and of any previous attempts to bring them to trial (noting court judgements and names of jurors). They also include recoveries (property trusts usually created for marriage settlements or disentailments), challenge pedigrees (drawn up by plaintiffs to prove family relationships to Crown officers so that defendants could not challenge the empanelment of juries), lists of attorneys, summonses and other process writs (often noting verdicts and damages awarded).

Finding Aids

Docket Rolls and Books and Praecipe Books (for the Carmarthen circuit) record details of every case submitted, including types of actions, names of parties, properties involved and names of attorneys. They are either arranged by the name of the plaintiff’s attorney or according to the stage the case had reached.

Prothonotary’s Files include the pleas of plaintiffs and defendants, copies of supporting documents, schedules of costs, and petitions to be excused jury service. The most useful contents are challenge pedigrees (see above) and slander cases (most of which were tried by ecclesiastical courts).

Docket Books of Fines and Recoveries, Docket Books of Pleas and Fines (for the Brecon circuit) and Remembrance Rolls of Recoveries (for the Carmarthen circuit) contain final concords and pleas in common recoveries, both being fictitious collusive actions. These records are often more numerous in estate archives, which also include deeds revealing the real intention of the transactions.

Rule Books and Order Books contain judgements and instructions concerning how cases should proceed. They are often heavily abbreviated.

Imparlance Books record cases carried forward to the next session.

Crown Side

Gaol Files comprise records relating to criminal cases, namely:

  • Calendars of prisoners waiting to stand trial, including names, alleged offences, occupations, places of residence, sureties, who committed prisoners to gaol, prisoners pleading their belly, and some verdicts and sentences. Later calendars also name convicts. Calendars are heavily abbreviated and often worn.
  • Lists of court officers and jurors of the various juries summoned to attend court (including those excused, challenged or fined for non-appearance), with names of defendants and outlines of cases.
  • Indictments recording alleged offences, where and when they occurred, the names, occupations and places of residence of defendants, when they were apprehended, names of plaintiffs and other victims, and suspects receiving benefit of clergy. Details that were not crucial to the success or failure of a trial were often conflated or recorded vaguely or inaccurately, and indictments were regularly amended because of plea bargaining or the desire to avoid capital punishment. Defendants’ pleas are also commonly recorded, as are verdicts and sentences.
  • Bills indicating whether juries thought there was a case to answer.
  • Bonds to ensure the presence of prosecutors, defendants and witnesses in court, giving names, addresses and the date of offences. Enforcement of bonds required this information to be accurate.
  • Petitions, usually comprising complaints by defendants about how cases were being handled.
  • Depositions and examinations of witnesses and victims taken before trial, usually in English (often translated from Welsh) and sometimes in Welsh, containing detailed information about every aspect of daily life. These are an extremely valuable source, all the more so because oral testimony given in court was not recorded, but most were destroyed because they were not official records of the court.
  • Schedules of prisoners, with case summaries to help jurors.
  • Presentments by constables and the Grand Jury submitting offences believed to have been committed. These often included failure to maintain roads.
  • Writs to ensure the presence of the accused, ranging from the initial summons to distraint and outlawry. The type of writ used depended on the crime and how many writs had been issued previously.
  • Bills of costs, showing (among other things) how suspects were apprehended and how the court used interpreters.
  • Writs moving cases from Quarter Sessions to the Great Sessions, giving basic information about cases.
  • Coroner’s inquests into matters such as violent and unexpected deaths, treasure trove and wrecks. The focus was on determining whether a crime had taken place rather than establishing the facts in full.

Findings Aids

Crown Books (only for Flintshire 1564-1666) and Black Books (only for the Brecon circuit 1726-1830) contain names of prisoners, details of offences and pleas, and verdicts and sentences. Not every case is included. The Crown Books also provide information about many of the other records found in the Gaol Files.

Calendar Rolls provide indexes to the early calendars for Radnorshire, Glamorgan, Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire.

Order Books, Rule Books and Minute Books mostly relate to civil cases but their most useful contents are criminal verdicts and sentences. Records are patchy and often heavily abbreviated. Imparlance Books have similar information for the Brecon circuit.

Equity Side

PLEADINGS comprise statements and answers by plaintiffs and defendants, with witness depositions. Parchment and paper records are separate, so details of a case may appear in more than one place.


Bill Books record when each complaint was first received.

Decree Books contain details of cases, summaries of pleadings, and court judgements.

Order Books contain orders of the court, including decrees.

We hope this brief account will help and inspire researchers.

Dr David Moore
Assistant Archivist

Curators Present: Using the records of the Court of Great Sessions (Part 1)

Collections - Posted 16-07-2020

The records of the Court of Great Sessions are an exceptionally valuable resource for the social, economic and legal history of Wales from 1542 to 1830, and they are more complete than comparable records in England. They are one of the Library’s most important archives, but they have been underused by researchers. This is partly because court records can be difficult to use, but this blog will attempt to help readers find their way into the records. Part 1 will give a brief overview of what the Great Sessions did and what secondary finding aids are available, and Part 2 will look in more detail at the court records themselves, what they contain, and how they can help you to search the archive.

The court and its work

The Court of Great Sessions in Wales was established in 1542 as part of the ‘Acts of Union’, which applied English common law to the whole of Wales for the first time. The new court was empowered to hear the most serious cases, and twelve of the county courts in Wales were arranged into four circuits of three counties each, namely Chester (Denbighshire, Flintshire and Montgomeryshire), North Wales (Anglesey, Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire), Brecon (Breconshire, Glamorgan and Radnorshire) and Carmarthen (Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire). Itinerant justices were to visit each circuit twice a year, sitting in sessions of six days in the spring and late summer, and they were to hear civil, Crown and equity cases.

  • Civil cases were those between subjects in which the Crown had no interest. They were the backbone of the court’s business, and mostly concerned disputes over property (including real estate, goods and chattels) and debt, as well as breaches of contract, slander, trespass, payments of fines, common recoveries, some damages arising from physical assaults, and other matters. The competence of the Great Sessions in civil cases was comparable to that of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster.
  • Crown cases were those that touched the interests of the Crown. They mostly consisted of criminal cases, and the records are particularly rich. They ranged from felonies (capital crimes) – murder, manslaughter, treason, arson, rape, burglary, theft of goods worth more than one shilling (grand larceny), witchcraft and other serious offences – to misdemeanours such as trespass, riot, affray, illegal assembly, entries, ejectment, extortion, contempts, recusancy, and theft of goods worth less than one shilling (petty larceny), which could be punished by fines, imprisonment, whipping, the stocks or mutilation. Some non-criminal matters were also dealt with, including highway maintenance and Coroner’s inquests, although not all of these were strictly part of the court’s business. The competence of the Great Sessions in Crown cases was comparable to that of English assize courts and the Court of King’s/Queen’s Bench at Westminster.
  • Equity cases were those that could not be answered by a common law court, either because the common law did not recognise the issue at hand (such as equitable interests in land), or because the court had no jurisdiction (in disputes that arose at sea, for example), or because no precedent was available. The principles of equity and conscience were followed, therefore, rather than the usual strict rules. This was the least important part of the work of the Great Sessions, but the records are valuable for genealogists because most equity cases involved matters of trust and agreement, such as marriage settlements, oral agreements, wills, mortgages and trusts, many of which arose from family arrangements. The competence of the Great Sessions in equity cases was comparable to that of the Court of Chancery at Westminster; this seems to have been the case throughout its existence, even though equity was not specified in the 1542 statute.

These arrangements continued until the court was abolished in 1830, and they are reflected in the records and the structure of the Library’s catalogue. Monmouthshire was allocated to the Oxford assize circuit, and its records are in The National Archives.

Minor cases were heard at county Quarter Sessions, and also at manor courts, as well as at Petty Sessions from the eighteenth century. Nor did the Great Sessions enjoy a monopoly over more serious cases. It co-existed with a number of other courts with similar jurisdictions, notably the court of the Council of Wales and the Marches (a prerogative court sitting at Ludlow until 1689), as well as ecclesiastical courts, King’s Bench, Chancery, English assize courts, and others; most Welsh cases in equity, for example, never came before the Great Sessions. Over time, precedents were established for hearing more cases in English courts, and the Great Sessions was gradually undermined. The complexities, anomalies and limitations of the court were widely criticised, as was the quality of its judges, and by 1830 it was considered outdated and unnecessary, although it had become a Welsh national institution.

Starting research in the Great Sessions records – secondary finding aids

A simple and rewarding way into the Great Sessions is the Library’s searchable Crime and Punishment database of criminal records for 1730-1830.

In addition, Murray Chapman has calendared and indexed the early Montgomeryshire Gaol Files, providing researchers with a much easier route into these records. Eight volumes have been published by the Library to date, covering the periods 1541-1613 and 1650-1660.

Readers who would like to discover more will need to make their own searches. To help with this, the Library has produced several finding aids, including:

  • a full and easily browsable online catalogue of the Great Sessions records
  • Glyn Parry’s A guide to the records of Great Sessions in Wales, which is the most comprehensive single work on the court’s records, procedures and development; it also contains extensive bibliographic notes
  • A leaflet for readers entitled ‘Records of the Court of Great Sessions’, available in the Reading Room

Part 2 of this blog will look at how the court records themselves can help your research.

Dr David Moore
Assistant Archivist

1945 General Election

Collections - Posted 06-07-2020

While many General Elections have been hailed as ‘historic’, few can come close to the election held on 5th July 1945.

The UK had been ruled by a coalition government since 1940 but, following the German surrender, the Labour Party withdrew from the coalition, forcing an election while the war was still underway in the far east. The logistics of members of the forces voting meant that the results couldn’t be declared until 26th July and, when they came, they were a shock.

As the Prime Minister who had led Britain through the war, Winston Churchill was widely expected to win, but instead the result was a landslide victory for the Labour Party which took 47.7% of the vote and 393 seats. It was tremendous mandate and enabled the new government, headed by Clement Attlee, to embark on huge reforms, including the establishment of the National Health Service, a comprehensive welfare state, legal aid, education reforms and nationalisation of key industries including coal mining, steel making, railways and road transport, and shipping. The decolonisation process slowly started with the partition of British India and Wales was given a very moderate level of devolution through the establishment of the Council of Wales and Monmouthshire.

Due in part to the strength of the labour movement in Wales, many Welsh men and women were at the heart of this transformation, and the Welsh Political Archive at the National Library of Wales holds many archives which shed light on the drama and debates of the period.

Government Ministers

Aneurin Bevan was Minister for Health and Housing; while there was cross party agreement on the provision of universal healthcare, Bevan created the model of a ‘nationally’ managed and centrally funded service. While many of Bevan’s papers are held by the Open University and the People’s History Museum, the papers of Bevan’s agent, Cllr Ron Evans, contain a great deal of interesting material.

Jim Griffiths was Minister for National Insurance, another key plank of the government’s reform programme. As well as reforming the systems for unemployment and pensions, Griffiths introduced family allowance and reformed the system for industrial injuries compensation.

James Griffiths Papers

David Rees-Williams, who was later elevated to the peerage as Lord Ogmore, was still serving in the military when he defeated the sitting Conservative MP in Croydon South. He was appointed as Minister in Colonial Office and travelled widely, advising on reforms leading to increased self-government and independence for countries in south Asia.

Lord Ogmore Papers

Labour MPs

The Library also holds the papers of a number of MPs who were part of the 1945-50 Labour group in Parliament. Elwyn Jones was elected as MP for Plaistow in 1945 and acted as junior British Counsel during the Nuremberg Trials, and was Lead Prosecutor) at Marshal Erich von Manstein in 1948. He later served as Attorney General for England and Wales and Lord Chancellor of England and Wales.

Lord Elwyn Jones Papers

George Thomas was also elected during the 1945 landslide for Cardiff West. He later served as Secretary of State for Wales and Speaker of the House of Commons before being elevated to the peerage as Lord Tonypandy.

Viscount Tonypany Papers

Tudor Watkins held the rural constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire from 1945 until 1970 and during the 1950s was a strong supporter of the Parliament for Wales Campaign.

Lord Watkins Papers

Goronwy Roberts was another who won his seat, Caernarvonshire, in 1945. He was also a strong supporter of the Parliament for Wales Campaign and later served as Minister of State in the Welsh Office and a number of other ministerial roles.

Lord Goronwy Roberts Papers

D Emlyn Thomas wasn’t elected in the 1945 landslide but in a by election in the Aberdare Constituency in 1946. In his maiden speech he spoke about compensation for injured miners; a topic which would be addressed by the government’s social security programme.

D Emlyn Thomas Papers

W. H. Mainwaring was the MP for Rhondda East, and unlike many sitting Labour MPs, he scraped to victory in 1945 over a strong challenge from the Communists

W H Mainwairing Papers

Robert Richards was the MP for Wrexham; during World War 2 he was Head of the Civil Defence Service for North Wales and in 1946, he led a parliamentary deputation to India.

Robert Richards MP Papers

Council for Wales and Monmouthshire

In response to demands for the establishment of a Secretary of State for Wales, the Attlee government instead established an advisory committee for Wales. Its first chairman was trade union official Huw T Edwards, who became known as the ‘Unofficial Prime Minister of Wales’ and who donated a substantial collection of papers to the Library. The official records of the council are also held by the Library, and include papers related to the decision to designate Cardiff as the Capital City of Wales in 1955.

Huw T Edwards Papers

Council for Wales and Monmouthshire Records


Gordon MacDonald had been the Labour MP for Ince but resigned in 1942 to become Controller of Fuel and Power for Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. He did however have a key role in government from 1946, but not in the UK. He was appointed by Attlee as Governor of Newfoundland, which was then a Dominion under a form of direct rule and oversaw the process of confederation with Canada before returning to the UK, being elevated to the peerage as Lord MacDonald of Gwaenysgor and serving as Paymaster General. The papers are in the process of being catalogued.

Other Material

The Library’s collection of Illingworth Cartoons include many related to the 1945 General Election and the 1945-50 Labour Government, and some of the Library’s holdings of election addresses and posters have recently been digitised. The addresses of Labour, Conservative, Liberal, Plaid Cymru and Independent candidates can be browsed on our website.

Rob Phillips
Welsh Political Archive

High Flyers: Birds in music

Collections / music - Posted 23-06-2020

One night, as I tried to sleep, I was captivated by a bird call outside my window. A nightjar, perhaps? I couldn’t tell, but I began thinking about birds in mythology and music alike.

Herbert Howells’s ‘King David’ is a musical setting of Walter De La Mare’s striking poem about the sadness of King David. He called for the music of a hundred harps but their sweet sound could not release him from his melancholy. He wandered into his garden and was struck by the sad song of the nightingale and as he listened to it in the cool moonlight, his own sorrow disappeared. Birds have a similar ability in Arwel Hughes‘s work, ‘Adar Rhiannon’.

The cuckoo’s two note call may be heard in some of our folk songs, like the lovely, ‘Daw hyfryd fis …’ as well as in the works of eminent composers like Handel and Beethoven. To old Japanese poets the cuckoo’s call could be either the voice of spring or a voice from the land of the dead and this dichotomy is reflected in the music of Oliver Knussen, ‘O hototogisu’.

I often thought that the ecstatic cry of swifts was like the sound of children playing so it was interesting to read in Peter Tate’s book, ‘Flights of fancy’, that the Inuit and Russians had a similar feeling about the sound of swallows and even believed they were the spirits of dead children.

In the real world, few would trust a bird to deliver a message – but lovers do in folk songs (e.g. ‘Aderyn du a’i blufyn sidan’) and John Williams’s film music, ‘Hedwig’s theme’, portrays Harry Potter’s owl who delivered letters in her beak.

The swan sings before death, according to the old tradition. Peter Tate quotes one of Orlando Gibbons’s madrigals:

“The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approach’d, unlock’d her silent throat”

Tate states that the tradition was kept alive by the eminent zoologist, Daniel Giraud Elliot, who described seeing a swan being shot in 1898. The swan’s wings became fixed in flight and to everyone’s astonishment, it started to make plaintive and musical sounds – at times as though running quietly through the notes of an octave. Fanny Mendelssohn composed a superb piece about a swan’s last song: ‘Schwanenlied’.

I would love to hear a concert of Welsh music inspired by birds e.g. folk tunes and music by composers like Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Rhian Samuel.

Raising money for music projects (or any other project) is always difficult. Perhaps we could benefit from studying the business techniques of the opera singer Adelina Patti. When a certain individual entered her room her pet parrot would screech “Cash! Cash!”

Heini Davies
Assistant Librarian

“Where do you want to go today: the Great Barrier Reef, the International Space Station, or what about The National Library of Wales?”

Collections - Posted 22-06-2020

The National Library of Wales building has been closed for several weeks, but did you know that you can pay a virtual visit to one of Wales’ leading institutions on your smartphone or tablet?

In 2017 the National Library was invited to work with Google on producing a tour for the Google Expeditions app. This is a resource that teaches children about important places throughout the world by providing virtual tours. This project was an important milestone for the company, since this was the first time that Google Expeditions had produced an expedition in Welsh.

Representatives of Google Arts and Culture held discussions with the Library’s Digital Access unit and Education Service in order to confirm the content of a virtual visit to The National Library of Wales. It was agreed that the expedition should include materials representing the Library’s extensive collections, and which offer a taste of Wales’ history and heritage, as well as showing various spaces within the building.

For users to appreciate the full effect of the virtual visit they need to wear a VR headset, but the experience can also be enjoyed on a smartphone or tablet without a headset. It is possible to look around spaces in the Library – each view is 360º – and by clicking on a POI (Points of Interest), a user can learn more about the organisation, the building or items from the collection.

Each expedition contains facts about the place of interest, and challenges the viewer with relevant questions. To make sure that the resource is suitable for pupils of different ages, the questions ranged between easier ones for younger children and more difficult ones for older children. A teacher has access to the answers, without the pupils being able to see them.

Equipment was brought over from the United States to produce images of the Library’s spaces, and even though the company only filmed for an afternoon, the work of stitching the digital scenes together in California, as well as preparing the text and questions in the Library, took several days.

The resource enables children on the other side of the world to see the The National Library of Wales, but the Education Service has also used the tool to introduce pupils in Wales to the Library and its collections, as seen here in a workshop held at Ysgol Gymunedol Trimsaran.

To visit The National Library of Wales on Google Expeditions, you’ll need to download the Google Expeditions app free of charge from Google Play or App Store. Once you’ve downloaded the app onto your device you can search for specific tours by using the app’s search facility. Look for The National Library of Wales for the English version or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru for the Welsh language tour, and follow the directions.

The Education Service: Using the digital collection

Collections - Posted 08-06-2020

One of the Education Service’s main responsibilities is to provide access for teachers and learners to the National Library’s collections, as digital copies online or workshops in the building. Therefore, during a period when we can’t welcome pupils to the Library in person, the Education Service has been creating digital resources – and highlighting provisions that already exist – so that teachers and pupils can continue to use the national collections from afar.

Many resources have already been published on Hwb, the digital platform introduced by the Welsh Government for learning and teaching in Wales. Amongst the materials published by the National Library – as well as resources produced in partnership with other institutions – are E-books, lesson plans, presentations and tasks. The Education Service staff research and interpret the Library’s collections, producing resources that can help pupils learn and understand a variety of subjects and skills. Here are links to a small selection:

As well as presenting resources on Hwb, by providing links on the Library’s website the Education Service also facilitates easier access to parts of the collections that can support teaching in the classroom or online. Examples of these are shown below:

This video was produced to inform teachers about the materials available to them, and to help them locate the resources that have been provided.

For further details about the work of the Education Service, please contact the Education Officers directly on the emails/numbers noted below:
01970 632988 / 01970 632913

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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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