Unlocking Wales’s oral history interviews

Discover Sound - Posted 03-06-2020

The National Library of Wales is one of 10 hubs across Britain that is collaborating with the British Library on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to protect the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings.

We are in the process of digitising, cataloguing and assessing the rights of 5,000 sound recordings from across Wales in order to protect them for future generations.

Over the next few weeks, composers will be composing new works based on some of Wales’s oral history collections. 25 artists have been commissioned to undertake this task. They will listen to a number of interviews recorded either in Wales or by people from Wales, and will use them to inspire creating a new piece of work.

During the summer the Library will unlock these works, showing how an audio archive can be used to create creative works.



The composers selected are listed below:

  • Ailsa Hughes a Sianed Jones: ‘Tinc y Tannau’ duo who work with historical Welsh music and poetry
  • Alan Chamberlain: composer who predominantly works with archival content
  • Angharad Davies: violinist, composer and performer and a member of several duets
  • Ben McManus: musician and composer with an interest in folk music and folklore
  • Bonello, Ruth and Hay: musical trio, featuring prominent Welsh songwriters who started performing together in 2019
  • Branwen Williams: musician, composer and member of several groups from Wales
  • David Roche: composer from Tredegar who has received over 30 academic and professional awards
  • Derri Joseph Lewis: musician and composer with experience of writing acoustic and electronic music
  • Gareth Bonello: musician and composer who uses Welsh folk songs and poetry in his work
  • Georgia Ruth Williams: musician and composer who is inspired by the history of Wales and folk tradition
  • Geraint Rhys: independent musician and award winning film-maker from Swansea
  • Gwen Mairi: professional harpist who sings Welsh folk songs
  • Gwenan Gibbard: singer and harpist specialising in folk music
  • Gwilym Bowen Rhys: Welsh folk singer who has developed a deep connection with the traditional songs of Wales
  • Gwydion Rhys: 6th form pupil at Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, Bethesda who composes and plays the piano
  • Luciano Williamson: composer about to graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
  • Neil Rosser: hails from Morriston with over 30 years’ experience as a composer and performer
  • Owen Shiers: musician and composer who performs Welsh folk music
  • Pierce Joyce: composition student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, hailing from Ireland
  • Sally Crosby: singer – song writer with a degree in Music and Creative writing
  • Sam Humphreys: musician who plays the guitar and is a member of the band Calan
  • Seth Alexander: composer who likes to combine computer instrumentation with sound recordings
  • Stacey Blythe: composer, musician and performer who also performs as part of various duos
  • Steff Rees: musician and composer who is a member of the band Bwca, and part of the ukulele Iwcadwli orchestra
  • Toby Hay: composer and performer with his work being inspired by history, landscape and stories


Alison Lloyd Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager



Liber Landavensis: The Book of Llandaff

Collections / Digitisation - Posted 26-05-2020

Nine hundred years ago, in May 1120, the bones of the sixth-century saint Dyfrig were taken from Bardsey and reburied at Llandaff, where bishop Urban was rebuilding and enlarging the church to match what he considered to be its proper status. As bishop of Llandaff, Urban claimed jurisdiction over every church dedicated to the founding bishops and patron saints of Llandaff, namely Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy, and this brought him into conflict with the bishops of St Davids and Hereford, whom he saw as his inferiors. The translation of Dyfrig’s relics to Llandaff was intended to strengthen Urban’s case, but the centrepiece of his campaign was Liber Landavensis, the Book of Llandaff, which is now one of the Library’s treasures. Through it, we can see how Urban’s ambitious claims played an important part in redefining not only the Welsh church but its relations with the English church and the papacy.

The contents of the manuscript were compiled with the intention of showing that Llandaff possessed metropolitan status, direct ecclesiastical authority from the Tywi to the Wye (an area roughly equivalent to the old kingdom of Morgannwg) and an unbroken tradition from Dyfrig, appropriating the traditions of other churches in the process. It dates from between around 1120 and Urban’s death in 1133 (although other material was added later), and consists of the Gospel of St Matthew, the ‘Lives’ of Dyfrig, Teilo, Euddogwy and other saints, the ‘Privilege of Teilo’ in Latin and Welsh, an account of the foundation of Llandaff, a list of its bishops, and incomplete or corrupted copies of charters by which secular rulers granted land to Llandaff from the sixth century to the eleventh century. There is also some contemporary material, including a copy of the agreement made in 1126 between Urban and Robert of Gloucester, lord of Glamorgan, putting a stop to predations on the temporal possessions of the diocese. As is usually the case with propaganda, Liber Landavensis contains a mixture of fact, insinuation and fabrication that is often difficult to pick apart.



St Davids responded by creating its own propaganda, claiming metropolitan status over the whole of Wales and revising Rhigyfarch’s eleventh-century ‘Life’ of St David (or Dewi) so that Dewi became superior to Teilo and any reference to his consecration by Dyfrig was removed, but the matter was not to be decided in Wales. The growing power of the Anglo-Norman church and a reforming papacy meant that recognition from the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury was crucial to the success of Llandaff’s cause, and the manuscript carefully documents how Urban sought to achieve this. He owed his position to the Normans; having been appointed by Henry I and consecrated by archbishop Anselm in 1107, he was one of the first Welsh bishops to be installed by authorities from outside Wales, and the first known to have sworn canonical obedience to Canterbury. Liber Landavensis reflects this new reality, claiming (falsely) in the ‘Life’ of Euddogwy that Llandaff had been subject to Canterbury and obedient to English kings since the time of St Augustine, and that its customs were the same as those of the English. Similarly, Urban’s involvement in ecclesiastical affairs on a European level was novel for a Welsh bishop. He attended the Council of Rheims in 1119, where he first appealed to pope Calixtus II for recognition of the status of Llandaff; he received Cardinal John of Crema, the first papal legate known to have visited Wales, in 1125; he attended the Councils of Westminster in 1125 and 1127, and took part in the consecration of English bishops; he took his dispute with St Davids to the papal curia in person in 1128 and 1129; and he died in Italy while pursuing another case. Liber Landavensis records almost all of this, including copies of papal letters and accounts of Councils and of Urban’s journeys to Rome.

Urban was encouraged by a provisional ruling in his favour from pope Honorius II in 1128, but ultimately he lost his case. He had been presumptuous – Llandaff had only been an important church for a century or so, and Urban himself had been the first bishop of Glamorgan to style himself bishop of Llandaff – but he had made a significant difference. As a result of his ambition, St Davids won the boundary dispute and established itself as the leading Welsh diocese, Canterbury tightened its hold on Welsh bishoprics, and English churchmen were given new encouragement to take their complaints to the papal curia. Liber Landavensis bears testimony to Urban’s vision, and his failure.

A digital copy of the manuscript is available on the Library’s website, revealing text that was obscured until the volume was rebound at the Library in 2007.


Dr David Moore (Archivist)



The bronze image of Christ on the manuscript’s only surviving original oak cover board. It was probably attached shortly after being made in England in the middle of the thirteenth century. The covers are now kept separately.

“Safeguarding national treasures in challenging times …”

Collections - Posted 23-05-2020

During these challenging times, The National Library of Wales has continued to preserve and protect Wales’ national treasures. In addition, technology has enabled us to provide access to our collections; for the purpose of research, education, and inspiration – for all to enjoy from home!

However, behind the scenes at The Library building, our collections continue to be protected in a very practical way!
Whilst most Library staff have been able to work from their homes during this period of lockdown, the same cannot be said for our dedicated security staff – who continue to protect our vast and various items around-the-clock, twenty-four hours a day, from within the Library in Aberystwyth.

Paul Ingram, from The National Library of Wales’ security team, gives an insight into how work has continued inside the Library walls:

“Our day to day security procedures continue. There are a huge number of security checking points throughout the building, so all aspects of the Library are kept under constant surveillance. In addition, the team check and regulate the temperature and humidity levels, so that our valuable collections are safeguarded from any environmental threats.”

When asked about the changes to procedures during the current climate, Ingram said:

“Maintaining cleanliness has always been a key responsibility for the team. Our priority has always been to maintain the building to as high a standard as possible for the purpose of collection care, and staff and visitor safety. However, it is no surprise that this period has heightened our consciousness further, especially in terms of human contact. I’m sure, like many institutions, the word ‘sanitise’ has become a part of our daily vocabulary!”

The team have also faced some new challenges because of the Covid-19 epidemic, as Ingram explains:

“The only real challenge we’ve encountered is staff scheduling. Some members of our team, for various reasons, will be self-isolating for a prolonged period. As a result, particularly younger members of staff have been working further hours, taking on new responsibilities.”

However, the lockdown has brought some positive outcomes:

“This challenging time has certainly heightened our sense of team spirit, which is ironic, as we remain socially distanced during our shifts!

“We are very proud that our work ensures that all the Library’s national treasures are safeguarded during this challenging time.”

Colin Edwards and Dylan Thomas: Reminiscences About an Icon

Discover Sound - Posted 14-05-2020


As we celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) engineers have been digitising interviews recorded by Colin Edwards with friends and family of Dylan Thomas. The recordings were deposited to the National Library of Wales by Mary Edwards, Colin’s wife and the transcribed tapes were edited by David N Thomas and published in his books ‘Dylan Remembered, 2 vols. (Seren and NLW 2003, 2004)’.

Here, Sophie Tupholme one of the UOSH volunteers reflects on her experience of listening and cataloguing the collection.


For the past five months, I’ve had the lovely and lucky chance to help catalogue audio recordings made by Welsh journalist Colin Edwards. Across the 1960s, Edwards completed an ambitious collection of interviews with poet Dylan Thomas’s family, friends and acquaintances – altogether creating an intricate collage of accounts and reminiscences that shed unprecedented light on the poet’s life and character.

Coming from a relatively patchy understanding of Dylan Thomas’s biography, output and icon, I had the unique chance to piece together an impression of the man, his work and his relationships from intimate sources rather than from culturally accepted notions or mythologies. I learned of and enjoyed impressions of Dylan Thomas as a generous, humorous, sometimes shy but often gregarious individual, hearing these as if a friend were relaying them to me personally. Memories of Swansea’s landmarks and Grammar School collaged together gave me as vivid a picture as if I’d visited them myself; I recognized conversations with certain schoolmasters and students, I sat in the Kardomah Café on Sunday mornings, I walked the Promenade in the cool evenings. Listening to descriptions of summer holidays at Fern Hill Farm in Carmarthen, with a myriad of family, friends and locals all contributing their stories and perspectives, I felt an overall understanding of this period and locale as if I too had visited the neighbouring farms and been for a pint in the nearby villages.

What a fascinating treat – learning about an entire world, with this remarkable man at its center, through the reminiscences and shared histories of those who knew him best. Lucky for me, I now feel as if I know the man on a level above common knowledge, purely because these interviews feel like the sharing of privileged information from the memory and mouth of a friend. And even aside from content, the beautiful language used by the poets and artists in Thomas’s acquaintance (Charles Fischer, Alfred Janes, Frances Hughes and many others) when describing his ‘liveness,’ sense of humour or love of words, was enough to leave me moved and enthralled.

I was of course not alone in this journey and these discoveries. Prolific journalist and interviewer Colin Edwards led my way, guiding the conversations to specific points, querying new insights and digging for further details, and always returning the conversation to Dylan – the ‘real’ Dylan, the Dylan of family and friends’ acquaintance. Alongside discussions of Thomas’s schooldays, life in Laugharne and travels to America, other illuminating topics came to the fore, such as his impressive theatre performances, friendships with prominent figures and artists such as Edith Sitwell and Augustus John, and travels to Florence and Rome, Prague and Iran.





Getting to know Colin Edwards throughout these interviews was in itself a fascinating process, and I was thoroughly impressed with his patience, persistence and genuine interest in his subjects. I came to anticipate his favourite questions, the tone of voice used in particular situations, the points he most wanted to uncover and push for, the sorts of anecdotes he enjoyed or would find humorous, and the formality of his voice when speaking to someone especially esteemed in Thomas’s artistic circles, compared with the ease of his conversations with ‘ordinary blokes’ or long-time family friends. Accompanying Edwards on this oral history project has felt like joining an old friend while he calls upon neighbours, enjoying intimate conversations as an attentive outsider.

It was also interesting to hear the same anecdotes and responses repeated across interviews. These repetitions signalled a shared understanding of Thomas that, often times, really departed from ideas of Dylan Thomas that pervade our cultural understanding of his character and his life. Many interviewees shared stories of Thomas insisting upon repaying debts to his friends, successfully managing his drinking so that he could write unfettered and cheerfully playing with his children. Legends of his drinking, womanizing, reckless passions and unpredictability are weakened and seem outlandish compared to the tamer memories and impressions of his family and friends. Stories of his wild antics seem to have grown arms and legs as, of course, these stories sell better than those of Thomas trying to repay his debts, drinking pints rather than hard liquor and travelling to America for money to support his family and lifestyle, rather than for experiences of debauchery and freedom from homelife.

I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. Fascinating and informative, it brings together a wonderful assortment of voices and perspectives, and immediately engages the listener – whether you feel you know nearly everything or next to nothing about Dylan Thomas and his Wales. I found that the intensity of listening to so many interviews in a short stretch of time also helped me reflect on aspects beyond Thomas’s life and character, such as the most rewarding ways to conduct an interview and which points of conversation are likely to bring about the best responses. Edwards was, without a doubt, a highly skilled and professional interviewer, and this collection presents an enviable model for going about an oral history project for those who may be interested in pursuing something similar.

Having the chance to catalogue these audiotapes has been absolutely rewarding from start to finish. It’s been a pleasure contributing to our shared cultural heritage in this avenue, ultimately enabling these preserved works to be presented anew and collectively enjoyed by new and old audiences alike.



Sophie Tupholme

Cardiganshire Criminals

Collections - Posted 13-05-2020

In an old manuscript at the National Library of Wales is a treasure trove of criminal profiles and mug-shots which give us a fascinating insight into life in Mid-Wales during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Whilst we are used to seeing portrait photography from this period, the adoption of photography by the police in their records means we are given a rare glimpse into the world of some of the poorest, most desperate and occasionally treacherous in society.

Here are my top ten profiles.

19 year old Walter Chambers described himself as a gardener from Nottingham. Living homeless, he stole a coat from a draper on Great DarkGate Street, Aberystwyth in November 1904 . An hour later he approached a policeman, admitted his crime and gave himself up. He received little sympathy though, and was imprisoned and sentenced to 21 days hard labour.

Anne Williams of Swansea was committed at Lampeter to one month of hard labour for handling stolen money in 1905, and she doesn’t look impressed.

Thomas Taylor was a labourer by trade. He was committed to 2 months hard labour in 1907 for stealing a pair of slippers. Despite the petty nature of the crime, the police wrote up a detailed description of Taylor. He was 5ft 3 ⅜ inches, with brown hair and blue eyes. He has several anchor tattoos and scars on his hands, along with a mole above his left nipple and a scar from a boil below his left buttock.

This moving picture captures a Gipsy woman named Elizabeth Boswell, who was fined for stealing from an Aberystwyth Hotel in March 1900.

James Harries had a string of convictions for petty theft spanning over a decade. His trial at Llanilar Petty Sessions in 1903 is notable for being the first time fingerprints were used as evidence in a Cardiganshire, after local police worked with Scotland Yard to connect a Harries to a number of thefts around he country.

18 year old Sarah Mary Edwards of Pennal had hazel eyes and brown hair and stood at just 4ft tall. She was sentenced to hard labour for stealing several items of clothing.

John Edward Davies of Fourcrosses, worked as a porter on the Cambrian Railway in 1899. Being in charge of the luggage carriage he stole ‘a large amount’ of jewelry on the journey between Aberystwyth and Birmingham during September 1899. He was soon caught and sentenced to 6 months of hard labour.

Kate McCarthy of Liverpool and two accomplices were sentenced to 14 days hard labour for stealing clothes from Aberystwyth.

One of the toughest punishments recorded in the register was handed to 22 year old William Jarvis. Sentenced to 12 months hard labour in 1899 for theft, he had been free for only a few months when he was found guilty of burglary at Lampeter and sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. The register shows that he offended again after his release being sentenced to hard labour on a number of occasions.

John Smythe, a 65 year old painter was committed to 7 days hard labour in 1879 for stealing a duck from Llanychaearn.

The Cardiganshire Constabulary Register of Criminals has been digitised and can be explored in full on the National Library of Wales website. All the mug-shots from the manuscript have also been shared openly on Wikimedia Commons and can be explored here.

Jason Evans
National Wikimedian

For War Department purposes only: censorship and the Ordnance Survey

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 11-05-2020

The Ordnance Survey began with war in mind, in the shadow of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The country continued to be mapped with an eye to military strategy and resources, although the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the last major pitched battle on British soil.

Starting with strategically important coastlines in the southeast of England, considered vulnerable to invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, the maps were drawn at a scale of 1 inch to the mile (1:63,360, roughly equivalent to modern OS Landranger maps). Over the next few decades surveyors gradually worked their way across England and Wales. By 1810, most counties of southern England had been mapped but they were not available for sale for another half decade, after a fractious period of war, financial difficulties, and Luddite unrest.

By the 1840s all of Wales and most of England had been mapped at 1 inch to the mile. In the second half of the century, the threat of invasion having abated and the Industrial Revolution in full swing, Ordnance Survey mapping began to be guided more by economic than military concerns. The War Office conceded control of the Ordnance Survey in 1870 to the Office of Works (responsible for forestry and royal palaces), and in 1890 to the Board of Agriculture. With taxation and industry in mind, the OS County Series was born: mapping Great Britain in its entirety at the much larger and more detailed scale of 6 inches to the mile (1:10,560), with urban areas mapped at 25 inches to the mile (1:2,500). The new survey began in the 1840s, and revised editions were published until the 1950s. Created county by county, these new maps included an unprecedented level of detail.

With detail came risk. Although the maps were published and available to the public, some information was deemed too sensitive for general consumption. This was particularly so during the World Wars, when the threat of invasion loomed once more, and aerial bombardment was a new and frightening reality.

Military and industrial locations were surveyed in the Ordnance Survey’s usual detail, and were available to the military, but were omitted from the published maps.

Sometimes, the change was subtle, as in this map of Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire. Built during the Napoleonic Wars as a store of military equipment close to the strategic Grand Junction Canal, the store was later expanded to include barracks, and extra storehouses and workshops, which were added during the First World War. The site remained in use from 1804 to 1965. The barracks are shown in detail on both maps, but on the published sheet, labels that show the site’s military use are not included. The street name ‘Ordnance Road’ remains, however, which might have given the game away!

Lavernock Fort, in Glamorgan, was a gun battery built in 1870. It was used in the Second World War to defend the Severn, an important route for Atlantic shipping, and was used as a lookout post for volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps, responsible for spotting German aircraft. All evidence of the battery was removed from the published map.

Lavernock Fort is a fairly small military installation, but some much larger sites were given the same treatment. In northern Kent, on the Thames Estuary, a 128-hectare site manufactured cordite, nitro-glycerine, and gelatine dynamite for Curtis’s & Harvey, a gunpowder company which controlled half of the British gunpowder industry in 1898. The factory, and the battery to its south, disappeared from the published map, leaving sheepwashes as almost the only landmarks.

You might be forgiven for wondering about the point of our final map if you had access only to the published version. No physical geographical features are shown, only the administrative boundaries of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in the Humber Estuary.


At first glance the secret map does not appear any more detailed. For military eyes only, an inconspicuous cross has been added, marking Bull Sand Fort. The fort is the larger of two Humber sand forts, built on sandbanks during the First World War and extensively used in the Second World War to protect the entrance to the Humber Estuary. The fort is marked only with a cross as it was not surveyed in detail by the Ordnance Survey, but it was a significant fort, able to support 200 people, with fresh water pumped in from a natural source of fresh water under the sand. Armour on the seaward side was a foot thick. An anti-submarine steel net was stretched between the two forts, making a formidable barrier.

The removal of military installations from OS maps was at its height in the 19th century and the World Wars, but throughout the Cold War and beyond, many sensitive sites were left off the maps entirely. It took the public availability of high-resolution satellite imagery at the turn of the 21st century to render this type of censorship largely ineffective, although labels are still omitted in some cases.

Certain areas are still removed entirely from digital maps and satellite imagery, including some US military bases in the Middle East. Despite efforts to restrict access to sensitive information, new developments in mapping technology and data visualisation sometimes reveal what governments prefer to keep hidden.

In 2017, the fitness tracking app Strava released a global heatmap, aggregating data from its millions of users, each using GPS technology to record their exercise routes. In parts of Syria and Afghanistan, the only users of Strava were foreign military personnel, with the result that repeated runs around military bases created bright spots of activity, clearly identifying their location.

Ellie King
Trainee Assistant Map Curator

References & Further Reading

Digital Resources

Collections - Posted 07-05-2020

The doors of the National Library of Wales’s much-loved building in Aberystwyth may be closed for a while, but online we’re as open as ever and there’s still plenty you can do from home using our excellent range of resources online.

Over the last 20 years, the Library has been busy digitising its collection, resulting in over 5 million items available for free on the National Library of Wales website.

The available collections include:

  • books
  • manuscripts
  • archives
  • maps
  • pictures
  • photographs

so there’s plenty to entertain and inform whatever your interests.

Maybe you’d like to use this time to do some family history research?

Here are a few ways we can help:

  • Expert advice on how to start your Family History research.
  • Search and view our collection of pre-1858 wills for free.
  • Search for your ancestors among the 1.1 million pages of Welsh Newspapers. Who knows what hidden stories you’ll find among the 15 million articles dating from 1804 to 1919!

Perhaps you’re interested in discovering more about your house or local area?

The Places of Wales website is a great place to start.

Here you can search and browse over 300,000 entries from the Tithe Maps of Wales.  You can view the maps themselves and the accompanying apportionments and compare them to more modern maps.

Who owned you house, what was the land used for in the past – its all on the Places of Wales website.

There’s also 1.2 million pages of Welsh Journals dating between 1735-2007 that could help you with local history research.  Browse through 450 different journals and see what you can find about your local area.

Are you home schooling for the first time?

We can help!

The Library’s Education Service offers many education resources for free.

Available on the Education Services pages and Hwb, the resources cover a wide range of topics, from the Princes of Wales to the Second World War, to art and inspiring creativity.

And during playtime, why not try the Digital Build Challenge and recreate the National Library of Wales using Minecraft, Lego or any other block game! Videos, floor plans, dimensions and pictures, all available on Hwb, will help you along the way.

Had enough of research and teaching? Relax with the National Library!

Browse through our various collections.

Let our beautiful works of art inspire you! Search our Catalogue or browse nearly 2000 works of art from our collections through the ArtUK website.

Escape for a while with old photographs or films, which we offer free online.

You can even enjoy digital exhibitions from the comfort of your own home

The possibilities are endless and whatever interests you, you’re sure to discover something to inform or amuse.

Visit our Library Resources page for a full list of our resources available from home.

The Literary World of Paul Peter Piech

Collections - Posted 06-05-2020

2020 is the centenary of graphic artist and poster maker Paul Peter Piech, and here at the National Library is Piech’s largest collection of linocut blocks, as well as a large collection of his unique posters and prints.

Piech was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1920, but spent most of his professional career in Britain. Over five decades he produced striking prints relating to social, political, literary and musical themes combining his trademark square lettering with colorful and bold artwork to create a truly unique style.

During the 1980s Piech moved to Wales, where he continued to work as part of the Welsh art scene. He embraced the language and culture and turned his impressions of Wales and its people into striking posters.

The influence of literature is evident in his work, and he often uses the words of writers and poets that inspired him to convey his personal views and values. He was clearly influenced by his time in Wales, and portrayed some of Wales’ most prominent writes, with a tendency to focus on those whose work had a social, political or satirical focus.

A digital version of the exhibition can be viewed on the People’s Collection Wales website.

Mari Elin Jones

For and against vaccination

Collections - Posted 04-05-2020

With the Coronavirus disease spreading around the world at an alarming rate, it was interesting to read a timely booklet from the collection of the Welsh physician and psychiatrist, Sir Robert Armstrong-Jones. The items in the collection are divided according to subject and include around twenty pamphlets relating to pandemics.

The general view today is that a vaccine will be the most effective method to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, it is evident from reading this booklet entitled For and against Vaccination that there was disagreement over how best to reduce the spread of smallpox over a hundred years ago. It features a series of letters sent to the Dublin press between General Arthur Phelps, of the Anti-Vaccination League, and Percy Kirkpatrick, a renowned Irish physician and President of the Dublin Sanitary Alliance. Phelps and Kirkpatrick argue for and against vaccination throughout, using statistics of cases and deaths, including those from the French-German war of 1870-71.



But the debate wasn’t that straightforward. Phelps believed that cleanliness was the key to combating smallpox, not a vaccination. Here are his words:

Sanitation is the only remedy for smallpox, typhus, and other dirty diseases. Trying to make someone immune to disease A (smallpox) by infection with disease B (cowpox) is as absurd as it would be for a man to hang violent pictures at his children’s school with the idea of ​​stopping them from lying.

Phelps was discussing Edward Jenner‘s invention of vaccinating against smallpox by giving an injection that includes a cowpox virus. Of course, we know today that injecting someone with a less severe strain of the virus enables the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that will protect the person from the more serious strain of the disease. This is how a vaccine against flu is made and it is hoped that research of this kind will lead to the development of a vaccine against Covid-19.



Professor Minkowski, the Chief Physician of Augusta Hospital, Cologne is quoted in the booklet as saying that the German immunity was due to compulsory vaccination and re-vaccination. He did not believe that staying apart and social exclusion were as important factors. He added that without compulsory child vaccination and adult re-vaccination this would have failed completely.

Dr Brandhomme, who was a Health Hazard Officer for the city of Frankfurt, said the following:

I believe that vaccination and re-vaccination protect people best. Without these it would be impossible to keep the epidemic under control.

Fitzpatrick and Phelps did not have mathematical models to help them as governments do today, but it is clear that they studied statistics to try to find patterns that suggest the effect vaccination would have on the population. Phelps commented on the statistics in the photo below showing the breakdown of the numbers of smallpox cases and deaths in the German Empire in 1908: The most favoured were the vaccinated too late, of whom only 4.76 % died. If all the 434 had been in this happy category, the total deaths would have been not 65, but about 20! Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick believes that the table proves his point that vaccination works. By merging groups I and II (those that were not vaccinated and those that were only vaccinated once) we have a total of 55 deaths from smallpox and 291 cases of the disease. In group III (those that were vaccinated twice) we have 10 deaths and 143 cases.



Today there is no doubt that vaccination against smallpox has been successful and there have been no cases anywhere since 1977. It is interesting to note that a vaccine against Covid-19 developed by the University of Oxford and Imperial College London has begun trial stages during the last fortnight. We eagerly await the results in the hope of finding another vaccine to help mankind.


Hywel Lloyd,
Assistant Librarian.

Story of Wales: Quiz 4

Story of Wales - Posted 01-05-2020

As part of our Story of Wales series, we will be posting a weekly quiz every Friday over the coming weeks.

We will be challenging you with 10 questions. All the questions will have a Welsh flavour, and they’ll cover everything from Welsh history, to literature, music, geography and much more.

So, give it a go, and remember to let us know how you get on: NLW on Twitter, NLW on Facebook or NLW on Instagram

(By the way, the answers are at the bottom – no cheating!



1. In the folk tale of Gelert, who was the faithful hound’s owner?

2. The Italian-style village of Portmeirion was created by which British architect?

3. The folk song ‘Sosban Fach’ is associated with which Welsh rugby team?

4. The Great Orme, Llandudno, was mined for what metal?

5. Can you name the 2 MPS for Welsh constituencies who were Prime of the UK in the 20th Century?

6. Which Latin teacher became a naturalist and became the first warden of RSPB Ynyshir?

7. Who was the blind harpist from Wynnstay?

8. Who was the first woman to lead a political party at the Welsh Assembly?

9. The burial chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey, belongs to which prehistoric period?

10. Malcolm Campbell broke the world land-speed record in Bluebird, somewhere in Wales, but where?


  1. Llywelyn the Great (‘Llywelyn ap Iorwerth’ also accepted)
  2. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis
  3. Scarlets
  4. Copper
  5. David Lloyd George a James Callaghan 
  6. William Condry
  7. John Parry
  8. Kirsty Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats) 
  9. Neolithic
  10. Pendine Sands (Carmarthenshire) 
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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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