Marion Eames: the papers of a historical novelist

Collections - Posted 08-02-2021

This year marks one hundred years since the birth of Marion Eames. She was born in Penbedw on 5 February 1921 and is remembered by many as the author of Y Stafell Ddirgel, a set text in secondary schools across Wales some years ago. It was her first novel. More information about her life and career can be found on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

The National Library is not only home to Marion Eames’ published works, but also a collection of sound and film recordings, photographs and a bronze bust of her likeness by the late John Meirion Morris (which can be seen on the Art UK website), along with a numerous other manuscripts and papers.



Among the first group of papers, received as a gift by Marion Eames in 1988, was a complete draft of Y Stafell Ddirgel and, following her death in 2007, the Library received a further deposit of her papers from her nephew. This later group included an early typescript of Seren Gaeth, a novel inspired by a quotation from the autobiography of Ernest Jones, husband of Morfydd Llwyn Owen, the talented composer who died at a young age. This typescript, however, is incomplete, which only includes chapters 1 to 8 – what a shame for anyone who came across the first half of the draft copy of the novel!

But, through careful collecting over the years, the Library has fortunately been able to add items to the archive. Among the items included in later years in 2016 and 2018, are the second half of the novel (chapters 9-15) and, more significantly perhaps, an early manuscript draft of the novel also.

Through perseverance and patience, the Library has ensured that a more complete archive has been preserved, giving us a more comprehensive picture of the career of a novelist who we remember fondly on the centenary of her birth.

Rhys Davies
Assistant Archivist

Y Gadwyn

Discover Sound - Posted 01-02-2021

By Berwyn Morris and Eirian Roberts


During October 1992 a small number of enthusiastic volunteers met to discuss the possibility of producing a Welsh-language magazine on disc for those of us who are visually impaired. After some discussion, it was realised that more hands would be needed to fulfill the dream, and representatives were invited from every village and town within the old Denbighshire and across the border in Caernarfonshire. Many came together and it was clear from the outset that their enthusiasm was unmatched and it was decided to launch Y Gadwyn on St David’s Day 1993. With the help of BBC and S4C staff a series of day schools were held to train interviewees for the Gadwyn.

Initially some thirty copies were distributed but the Gadwyn spread like wildfire.



Soon around three hundred of the little yellow wallets were wandering all over Wales, to large parts of England, and overseas to Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia. It was clear from the listeners’ response that the service was highly valued. Nowadays new faces have joined the crew and enthusiasm is as infectious as ever.

The CD has something for everyone, including talks about nature and the environment, interesting interviews and also various music.

We also send a copy of the CD monthly to the Bangor Society for the Blind, and to the National Library in Aberystwyth. It is very encouraging to learn that the recordings are being digitised by the Library for their protection, and that they are available for the public to listen to them. We as a Committee greatly appreciate this.

(Berwyn Morris, Y Gadwyn Secretary)



Gruff Ellis was a regular contributor to the Gadwyn. Gruff was born and raised in the Ysbyty Ifan area, and his roots were very deep in his area.

He knew every part of his habitat and knew every species that lived in it. In February 2012 he described the scene he was facing:



A translation of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.


He had a vast knowledge of all the natural history of the area whether it be flowers and vegetables, trees, animal or birds.



A translation of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.


He took a great interest in all the local names around the area, names that would have been lost had he not put them down on paper to record them. He published two books “Yma Mae Nghalon” (Here is my heart) 1997 and 2008’s “Cynefin Gruff”, where we see his great love for his area and the nature.

He contributed monthly to the Gadwyn magazine for years with the listeners enjoying listening to the story of his journeys out into the nature world with his old dog, who was his loyal friend. He would see something shocking and break into a song or recite a piece of poetry that he remembered. Listeners would say that listening to Gruff tell his stories is as good as getting out into the middle of nature.

He would love to go to the National Eisteddfod. He competed on the hymn for years. He was a member of Côr Meibion ​​Llangwm and the Brythoniaid, was an elder in the Seion chapel in Ysbyty Ifan and went out to various societies to lecture about nature and everyone adored his homely way. He also contributed monthly to the local community newspaper “Yr Odyn” and was a regular contributor to Radio Cymru’s ‘Galwad Cynnar’ (Early call) program.

(Eirian Roberts, Y Gadwyn Chair)



Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project has been able to digitise the Gadwyn’s sound collection to preserve it for future generations. To hear more stories from Gruff and others you can listen to digital files from the Gadwyn in the reading room by appointment.


Translation: Gruff Ellis

I look down at the old parish and the village of Ysbyty Ifan and it’s a nice but a cold afternoon. I see smoke coming from various chimneys. People have been making fire in the afternoon like this, it’s nicer out here than in the house, I’m sure. And then I look up in the direction of Blaenau and Serw Valley on the left, then over the cefnan there is Cwm Eidda and I look forward to exploring many of them again next year, this year again. And I’m looking at Snowdon and Carneddau and the Benglog and I see just the summit of Snowdon, completely on the left, just to the left. I clearly see the Benglog, top of Tryfan. I see Carnedd Llywelyn and Carnedd Dafydd, Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Creigiau Gleision. Oh, here’s a scene for you. Wonderful.

Translation: Gruff Ellis

These old crows will soon start carrying to their nests. Especially the raven, during February. And the old kite will start carrying towards the end of the month. They will nest, I am sure, towards the end of March to April but the old raven is nesting early. The old raven is a very spectacular bird, although I don’t like them. They are old primitive birds in the crows’ family. But, there is something about them, they pair for their lives.


Remember Gigs? Collecting posters and fanzines

Collections / music - Posted 29-01-2021

While curating the ‘RECORD: Folk Protest and pop’ musical exhibition in 2018 we became aware that the stars of the show were the gig posters. Not only are they attractive and colorful items but they also record the history of the Welsh rock and pop scene. They answered all the questions about what, who, where, and when of the music scene. What were the bands called? Who were playing at the same gig? In which village hall was the gig held? Who organized the gigs? One of my favourite facts on the poster was the cost of the ticket eg £ 1.50 to see Jim O ‘Rouke and Meibion Mwnt at the Old Quarry Lampeter in 1984. Bargain!




The appeal to collect gig posters was launched in February 2020. Over 200 posters have now been received, most of them online. I would like to thank the following for contributing to the national collection. It has been a pleasure to be in contact with you all during the campaign.

Dan Griffiths, Huw Bebb, Rhodri Davies, Dylan Lewis, Scotch Funeral, Sioned Edwards Eisteddfod, Catrin Morris Clwb Ifor Bach, Rhys Williams Caerdydd, Meirion Wyn Jones, Elizabeth Nerys Bowen, Almon, Efa Lois, Dylan a Neil, Mei Mac, Rhys Mwyn, Emma Daman Tomos, Hayley Jenney, Peter Roberts, Richard Chitty, Rwth Williams, Heledd Parri, Prys Dafydd, Non Jones, Laura Nunez, Blue Amber, Nyree Waters, and Rhiannon Roberts.

Rhys Mwyn, Radio Cymru

Radio Cymru’s Recordiau Rhys Mwyn programme has been a great advertisement and boost to the campaign. Listen again to this 9 minute clip where I describe 4 noteworthy posters including Tŷ Gwydr, 3 Hẃr Doeth, Bedlam Lampeter Eisteddfod and Manics at Clwb Ifor.


Padarn Roc poster by Meirion Wyn Jones

Graphic Designers

A number of posters came directly from the graphic designers, with highlights including 24 posters and 7 SAIN record covers from the 1970’s and 1980’s by Meirion Wyn Jones; and 27 posters by graphic designer Richard Chitty featuring Bubblewrap Collective Cardiff Christmas gigs 2013-2019 posters, and Sŵn Festival 2011-2019 posters. Some of the TAFWYL posters were received from artist Efa Lois; ‘Miri Madog’ posters by Bedwyr from Almonia, and ‘Allan yn y Fan’ band posters by Hayley Jenney. A gallery of Meirion Wyn Jones’ posters will be displayed on the NLW channel on AM Cymru.

Rhys Williams’ Fanzine Collection

This collection of fanzines was received from Rhys Caerdydd / Rhys Williams who was responsible for the website Fanzine Ynfytyn. The Library has archived the website and we have received the original paper copies of the fanzines for the national collection . The collection contains the following fanzines: Amser Siocled, Yn Syth o’r Rhewgell , Llmych / Chymll / Ychmll / Hymllc, Dyfodol Dyddiol, Ish, Groucho neu Marks, Llanast, Rhech, Gwyn Erfyl yn y Glaw, Cen ar y Pen and ANKST 03.



Cofio Gigs ? (Remember gigs?)

Join us in this event to mark Welsh Language Music Day 2021 as Nia Mai Daniel (The Welsh Music Archive) looks back on the appeal and chats about organising gigs, designing gig posters and collecting fanzines with Rhys Mwyn (Radio Cymru), the artist Efa Lois and fanzine collector Rhys Williams.

Nia Mai Daniel
Programme Manager The Welsh Music Archive | Twitter @cerddllgc | @MusicNLW

Remembering the Abermule rail disaster

Collections - Posted 26-01-2021

A century ago, on Wednesday 26 January 1921, one of the worst railway accidents in Welsh history occurred. Thirty-six people were injured and 17 were killed in the head-on collision on the Cambrian Railways’ main line between Newtown and Abermule in Montgomeryshire. The accident was reported across the world and a number of changes to safety systems and working practices came about as a result. The disaster has been a case study in a number of books on railway safety, including Red for Danger by L. T. C. Rolt, which traces improvements in railway safety from the start of the 19th century to the 1960s.

The railway line across mid-Wales was a single track, used by trains travelling in both directions. A complex signalling system ensured that goods and passengers moved efficiently and that trains passed each other safely at stations with additional tracks. Train drivers were required to carry special metal tablets which gave them authority to travel on each section of the single track. At each station where trains could pass each other, there were machines which issued the metal tablets and ensured that only one tablet for each section of the line could be taken out at any one time. This made sure that there could only be one train on any section of single track at any one time.



The primary cause of the Abermule disaster was that the staff at Abermule station didn’t follow the rules about handling the tablet. As a result, the drivers of two trains thought they had authority to the travel along the same stretch of line. The express train from Aberystwyth left Newtown for Abermule carrying the correct tablet while the local train, which was headed towards Aberystwyth, entered the same single line section carrying the tablet for the line between Montgomery and Abermule. Neither the driver or the fireman of the local train checked that the tablet they had was the correct one – with disastrous results.

There are many documents in the Library related to the accident. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, they’re not available to access at present but there are many digital resources which tell the story of the accident, the investigation, and those involved that can be used from home.

The disaster was widely reported in the media. While our Welsh Newspapers Online only includes newspapers up to 1919, there are many articles available through the Library’s subscription to external online resources. The Times and the Mirror carried detailed reports, with the Mirror paying special attention to the death of Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest, a director of the Cambrian Railways Company and friend of the King, and pictures of the accident site. The Times sent a reporter to Montgomeryshire to interview the surviving railway staff and raised questions as to how the accident could have happened with the tablet system in operation. Many reports of funerals and the accident investigation followed over the next few months.



The Library’s print collection contains volumes of material on the accident, including articles and books such as Red for Danger by L. T. C. Rolt, and The Deadly Tablet by David Burkhill-Howarth. It’s interesting to note that the official history of the Cambrian Railways Co, The Story of the Cambrian by C. P. Gasquoine, only dedicates a paragraph to the disaster. A digital copy of the book is available from the Gutenburg Project.

The official report into the accident, written by the railways inspector Col. Pringle, is kept with the Parliamentary papers in the Library. The 28 pages are full of details and show the depth of the investigation. A digital copy is available from the Railways Archive, and of course Hansard notes the various questions raised in the House of Commons.

Among the non-digitised material in the Library is NLW Photo Album Railways 2, which includes photographs of the accident, while the Screen and Sound Archive holds television programmes such as Y Dydd (1967) and Your Century (2003). There is even a recording of a song The Ballad of Abermule Railway Disaster by Evan Andrew.

The Library has a connection with the Abermule disaster through Lord Davies of Llandinam. He was involved in establishing the Library, donated land for the building and served as its president from 1927, and was chairman of the Cambrian Railways Company at the time of the accident. His papers, which are held at the Library, contain his correspondence from the period and papers related to his various railway interests across Wales.

A century ago, newspapers were the primary means of finding our about the Abermule disaster. Modern communication technologies such as the web and digitisation mean we can browse those same reports from our homes today.


Rob Phillips
Welsh Political Archive

Ancient Princes and Modern Poets: The Music Manuscripts of David Harries

Collections - Posted 11-01-2021

David Harries, one of the foremost Welsh composers of the 20th century, produced a varied and unique catalogue of works throughout his long career. Harries’ inspirations came mainly from his Welsh roots, and this is reflected in his compositions, which include aspects of Welsh poetry and folk melodies as well as referencing wider influences such as Greek mythology.

Harries was born in 1933, brought up in Pembrokeshire and studied music at the University College Wales, Aberystwyth, from which he graduated in 1954. He would later go on to teach at the Welsh College of Music of Drama where he became its Head of Composition in 1985, and he continued to write compositions into the 1990s. As early as the 1950s his chamber and instrumental work showcased a variety of musical influences, including his Opus 1, ‘Introduction (Quasi Notturno) and Allegro Scherzoso for String Quintet’ (1952) which incorporated the traditional Welsh folk melodies Hun Gwenllian and Hela’r ‘Sgyfarnog. His interest in history and mythology is also apparent in these earlier compositions, with his Opus 3, ‘Incidental Music to Antigone’ (1953) being based on the 1944 play Antigone by Jean Anouilh, an adaptation of the work of Sophocles.

As well as instrumental scores, Harries also wrote a number of works for voice and piano, many of which were composed as interpretations of poems. In particular, 20th-century Anglo-Welsh poets feature in his work. His Opus 10, ‘Canticle for Voice and Piano: Words by Twentieth Century Anglo-Welsh Poets’ (1956-1961) includes melodies based on words from, among others, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed’ and R. S. Thomas’ ‘When I was a Child’. This poetic interest appears to have endured throughout Harries’ career, but he did not only use the words of Welsh poets. The works of the late 19th/early 20th-century Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore were used in his Opus 65, ‘Gitanjali Song Offerings: Six Poems of Rabindranath Tagore for Soprano & Chamber Orchestra’ (1993).

But possibly the most engaging of Harries’ works are those that bring medieval elements to life. The collection contains many pieces composed for a full orchestra, but the most prominent of them is his epic orchestral score Opus 48, ‘Princes of Gwynedd: Symphonic Impressions’, commissioned for the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Caernarfon in 1979. A note included with the collection explains that the work is arranged in four movements to convey a musical impression of four medieval princes of Gwynedd: Maelgwn Gwynedd (d. 547); Cadwaladr Fendigaid (d. 664); Owain Gwynedd (d. 1170); and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d. 1282). As inspiration, Harries used quotations from near-contemporary medieval writers and poets to construct each piece, including works by Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gwalchmai ap Meilyr, and Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch. This imaginative use of medieval texts brings these ancient princes to life in a unique and creative way.



Creativity runs throughout the pages of Harries’ compositions, not least due to his writing style. His drafts of scores are dotted with scribbles, notes, and doodles which often illustrate a musical point – one of the manuscripts for Opus 48 (David Harries Music Manuscripts, 5/3), for example, is decorated with a sketch of a howling wolf, signaling the end of the piece.

The music manuscripts of David Harries show creativity and breadth of composition across five decades. Perhaps above all, the collection shows how influences and inspirations from Welsh literature can be used to create musical pieces of art.

The full catalogue can be viewed in the Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.


Lucie Hobson
Trainee Archivist

The Michael Marks Poetry in a Celtic Language Award

Collections - Posted 18-12-2020

Congratulations to Rhys Iorwerth on winning the Michael Marks Poetry in a Celtic Language Award. He was awarded the prize on Monday the 14 December, during a virtual event from the British Library in London – and several other places – for his pamphlet carthen denau.

Though the Michael Marks Poetry Awards are well known in the English-publishing world this is only the second time that the Celtic language prize has been awarded. The Awards are sponsored by the  Michael Marks Charitable Trust and the chair of the trust, Marina, Lady Marks is the one who’s idea it was to have an award for poetry in a Celtic language. The National Library of Wales are glad to be part of the organisation of this award.



The Welsh judge Dafydd Pritchard said of two of the volumes: ‘Dy Galon Ofalus/Your Careful Heart, by Elinor Wyn Reynolds, and carthen denau, by Rhys Iorwerth, were pamphlets of high quality both in terms of content and look. It is hoped that they will inspire more poets and publishers to publish more often in this exciting format. Rhys Iorwerth is a very worthy winner.

It’s great to see Y Stamp press  coming to to the top once again this year. Are there any other pioneering poets or publishers who would like to venture into the world of poetry pamphlet publishing in the new year? Details of the 2020-21 competition will be available on the Wordsworth Trust website soon.

New Year Traditions in Wales

Discover Sound - Posted 16-12-2020

While digitising sound recordings the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team have unearthed some lost and forgotten interviews from people talking about their childhood memories back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their school days, family life, communities, and local dialect. By saving these recordings we allow future generations to hear our past and learn about our history.

Wales is a country with a variety of customs and traditions which are an important part of our culture and history. One of these is the New Year’s tradition.

Stories about local customs from the 19th Century are being told, for instance the ‘Mari Lwyd’. A medieval folk custom, with the purpose of collecting money for the poor and homeless to make up for the lack of support from the government. A tall person was nominated to lead, holding the horse’s skull made from wood, with two others behind holding the offerings collected.

Listen to Myra Evans describing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay:


A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.


Myra Evans recalls seeing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay in January 1887, this is one of the last sighting of the Mari Lwyd in the area.
Myra stated that the Mari Lwyd party met outside the town to start the procession into New Quay. Leading were the three men with the mare, followed by men, followed by boys over 12 years old. Each wearing a face mask so no one would recognise them.

Myra remembers that her father was away at sea in 1887, leaving just her and her mother in the house. She was told that if she wanted to see the procession that passed their home she had to be quiet and make sure no one saw her. Her mother then locked the doors to stop the men from entering the house.

The party entered every pub, large shops and rich families to ask for money for the poor. If they refused or did not give much, the party would force their way into the building and take anything they liked.

Myra saw the party pass her house from behind the curtains making sure to be quiet, and unseen. If they saw her the mother said that they would try and break into the house.


Calennig is another Welsh tradition, where children go from door to door on New Year’s Day, until noon, singing good wishes for the year ahead and given calennig in return. These would be either food or money.

One song sung in mid Wales was:

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi
Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ
Dyma fy nymuniad i
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi



A happy new year to you
And to everyone in the house
This is my wish
A happy new year to you


Margaret Davies parents did not allow her to go out to collect Calennig, but recalls children calling at her house and receiving a penny or a piece of bread.

While D.J. Morgan from Abermeurig, Talsarn remembers going out for the first time with his mother and four sisters. They woke at 5am to go around Abermeurig then around the neighboring farms. He remembers that the best farm he visited was Mrs. Griffiths, where they received a piece of cake for singing, and was allowed to take another piece home with them.



Jack Poole recalls getting up at dawn and going straight to the furthest house in the village working his way back, no matter what the weather was like. Everyone enjoyed and sung verses at every door.

Jack remembers seeing a widower and her five children going around asking for Calennig with bags on their backs. They collected food such as bread or cheese. Every child carried a load on their back.

Listen to Jack reciting the verse he used to recite:


A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.


The audio recordings are part of the Ceredigion Library Oral history collection, and can be listened to here at the Library through appointment.



Transcription: Myra Evans
Well, a tall man was chosen to carry the horse’s head on his shoulders to lead the parade and two other men, one on each side, helped him walk in the middle of the road. One of them was taking care of the large leather purse he had to keep the money they had, another was a good rhymester seeking gifts of money and wine and cakes from the shopkeeper or the rich. The horse head had white linen over it, the eyes and ears decorated in leather and loose colorful ribbons hanging over the neck

Transcription: Mr. Jack Poole
We had sing or make some noise at every door, for example
Today is New Year’s Day, I come across you
To ask for the penny or a piece of bread and cheese
Oh don’t change countenance
Don’t change anything from your look
Before next New Year’s Day comes
Many will be in their grave
And then if you were in a hurry to go, you would say
Whole Calennig on New Years day morning, once, twice, three times
And then Happy New Year

Pride in Progress

Collections / Screen and Sound - Posted 14-12-2020

It is unlikely that a film promoting a hospital today would show you the boiler room or the septic tank (unless both had revolutionary green credentials) but both take pride of place, along with the local engineers, the X-ray department and the Llandinam maternity ward, in a c.1942 film appealing for funds for the Khasi Hills Welsh Mission Hospital at Shillong in eastern India.

If you would like to view Shillong Hospital (with the permission of the Presbyterian Church in Wales) please get in touch via

In similar vein, Cardiff Royal Infirmary – please give generously provides detailed footage of milking at the Pentrebane Dairy, St Fagans, which produces the Grade A milk supplied to the hospital. There are also shots of the hospital’s butchery, its soda water and ice producing plants and its bread-cutting and potato-peeling machines, all modern innovations in 1937 when the hospital was appealing for funds for a planned extension.

Available for viewing on-line on the BFI Player:



The non-medical and the medical aspects of the hospitals receive equal attention, showing financial contributors where their money goes and emphasising how important modern facilities are – in every area – for patient and staff health and well-being.

But is pride in progress just pride before a fall? The global Covid pandemic, coinciding with the rise in right-wing extremism, climate change and Black Lives Matter protests, has led to a widespread re-examining of everything that may have been taken as a given for so long. The Archive’s films reflect the history of the times – geographic, economic, social and cultural – in which the footage was shot and so are as open to re-evaluation as anything else.

David Lloyd George, prime minister of Britain (1916-22), was all for modern, mechanical development and can be seen on his farm ‘Bron-y-de’ in Churt, Surrey, putting two enormous machines through their paces in 1938. Being a producer of honey and apples, he might have come to rue the kind of progress that such machines contributed to: industrial farming.

See Rotatiller and Caterpillar Tractor, Oct. and Nov. 1938 on-line on the BFI Player:



Cory’s “Motor Spirit” allowed the use of such heavy machinery and the rise in ownership of cars, and the promotional film Energy (1935) – with English and Spanish inter-titles – celebrates its collieries in south Wales and its oil refineries throughout the world. Cory’s fossil fuels made the industrialised world go round but the price for using such fuels is being paid today.

Available for viewing on-line on the BFI Player:



‘Small is beautiful’ has rarely been used as strapline for progress in the industrial world and the Archive holds many films that commemorate enormous feats of concreting, of steel making, of human ingenuity, of environmental desecration. Jack Howells’ film Mine Shaft Sinking follows the making of “a fascinating hole in the ground” – shaft 4 at Cynheidre Colliery, near Llanelli. The work is shown in detail and the commentary gives the extraordinary concreting statistics of the project.

If you would like to view Mine Shaft Sinking please get in touch via

The Queen is always in demand for the opening of such major industrial schemes. On 26th October 1962 she was in Llanwern, Newport, for the opening of Richard Thomas and Baldwins’ new Spencer Works, which was recorded in the film A Great Day. The Speech of Welcome from RTB refers to the removal of 40 miles of hedgerow, the use of 10 million bricks, the laying of 39 miles of railway track, the building of 27 miles of road. It sounds similar, but on a smaller scale, to the felling of ancient woodland and hedgerows and the loss of nature reserves and SSSIs for the HS2 development, which in itself only highlights what must have been the scale of environmental damage undertaken to provide us with the original UK rail network (which, like HS2, was initiated to serve business interests). The RTB representative does goes on to remark that, “in all this upheaval and hub-bub, wildfowl and swans have declined to desert the area and we are leaving a few ponds on the site for their especial enjoyment and our own pleasure.”

Available to view on-line on the BFI Player:



See also Port Talbot’s Royal Day which is massive all round.

Available to view on-line on the BFI Player:

Like the Newport wildfowl and swans, hedgehogs are small and beautiful and in need of help. They are in decline in rural and urban areas for a variety of humankind-made reasons, so we are glad to have an enchanting record of one filmed by farmer Ion Trant, in Powys. It is seen curled up, in close-up, and encouraged to unfurl by the wafting of a boiled egg under its nose.

Available to view on-line on the BFI Player:



Mary Moylett, Cataloguer (Film) Screen and Sound Archive


Women on the map: Finding women in the NLW map collections, 16th–18th century

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 09-12-2020

Let’s get metaphorical (and naked)

Glancing at many early maps, you might be forgiven for concluding that women have to take their clothes off to appear on a map. The usual representation of women on many maps is symbolic, with them forming part of the decorative cartouche surrounding the map’s title. However, continents and countries are frequently personified as women, often with roots in classical myths.

Philipp Clüver’s map of Europe, first published in 1647 in Amsterdam, appears in Johannes Buno’s Introductio in Universam Geographicum and is a good example. Europa sits on a plinth with a bull, an allusion to a Greek myth in which Europa, a Phoenician princess, is abducted and raped by Zeus, who appears in the form of a bull.



Often, however, the figures do not represent a specific person, mythological or historical. They are simply decorative or representative of a concept. Emanuel Bowen’s 1729 map of South Wales, for example, includes two women, one lounging at the base of the cartouche holding a cornucopia, representing fertility and abundance, along with gambolling cherubs. The mapmaker, a serious-looking male, holds the cartographical instruments.



Maps were also used to show male and female social or racial ‘types’, either as cartouche decorations or forming part of the frame of a regional map. These tended to be based more on stereotype and hearsay than reality, in line with European colonial attitudes, and their purpose may have been to demonstrate the alien nature of people in need of ‘civilisation’ by European domination.

The illustration below comes from The English Pilot (1755), one of the first English sea-atlases, the production of these previously having been dominated by the Dutch. It can be seen in the context of colonial jockeying for power in Asia and Africa and British imperialism.



Making the map

Jodocus Hondius, or Joost d’Hondt, was an engraver and publisher of maps, who worked in Amsterdam in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He is particularly known for publishing copies of Gerardus Mercator’s atlas. If you have ever wondered why Greenland often looks as big as Africa on world maps, you can blame Mercator’s map projection, which is still used almost 500 years after it was developed. He was also the first to use the term ‘atlas’ (another classical reference) to describe a book of maps.

The NLW holds a several copies of Mercator’s atlas printed in Hondius’s workshop, including this one from 1619.



The title page is adorned with female personifications of continents, in varying states of nakedness. While Europa and Asia are relatively well-dressed, those continents who were regarded in the 17th century as ‘savage’ are noticeably more naked — including ‘Peruana’, representing South America, and ‘Magalanica’, representing the mythical ‘southern continent’, Terra Australis, that was thought to exist far to the south.

The dog with the globe was the symbol of the Hondius workshop. The Latin motto ‘Excusum sub cane vigilanti’ means ‘printed under the watchful hound’ — a play on the name of Hondius.

Jodocus Hondius died in 1612, and his widow, Coletta van den Keere, herself from a printing family, took over the business. She published several editions of Mercator’s atlas, including the 1619 copy in the NLW. Her name does not appear anywhere on the title page, as she maintained the ‘watchful hound’ branding and the trusted name of Jodocus Hondius on the maps she produced.

Map workshops in the 16th and 17th century were often family affairs. Printing plates and knowledge of techniques were passed down through families, which meant that marriages were often made within the printing world, as in the case of Coletta van den Keere and Jodocus Hondius. As well as running workshops, women took part in the manufacturing process too.

One of the tasks often undertaken by female artists was colouring. Printing was mainly a black-and-white affair until the 20th century, which meant that any colour had to be added afterwards, by hand, to individual copies of maps.

Abraham Ortelius is credited with creating the first modern atlas in 1570, although he called it Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or ‘Theatre of the World’, not an atlas — as we have seen, Mercator came up with the term ‘atlas’ in 1595. The original version of Theatrum contained 53 maps, with more added in subsequent editions. Abraham’s two sisters, Elizabeth and Anna, worked as colourists and both coloured copies of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.



Colourists were not generally credited anywhere on the final work. They were seen as merely filling in the lines created by the real artist, although good colourists were sought after. So we do not know who coloured the maps in our copy: Anna, or Elizabeth, or other unnamed colourists. We do know that women were closely involved in the production of copies like it.

Show me the money: buying, owning, giving

Many printed maps were paid for by an early form of crowdfunding: subscription. Subscribers signed up for copies of the map, and paid in advance. The advance then paid for the production of the map. Maps and atlases funded like this often include a list of subscribers, so we can identify people who were willing to invest to ensure publication — and to own a copy themselves.



John Evans’s map of the Six Counties of North Wales was one such map, and the NLW holds both a copy of the map and the list of its subscribers. 280 people are listed, including seven women:

  • The Right Honorable Lady Eleanor Butler, 2 copies
  • Miss Brown, Oswestry, Shropshire
  • The Right Honorable The Dowager Lady Dacre
  • Lady Glynne, Broad Lane, Flintshire
  • Miss Owen, Penrhôs, Montgomeryshire
  • The Honorable Miss Ponsonby, 2 copies
  • The Dowager Lady Williams Wynne

Only 24 subscribers requested multiple copies of the map, including two women, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. There are relatively few other private citizens requesting multiple copies. Many of the other purchasers are listed in an official capacity (e.g. ‘Mr. Sandford, Bookseller’, ‘Mr. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty’).

Eleanor Butler, who grew up in Kilkenny Castle, and Sarah Ponsonby lived together in a gothic mansion in Llangollen for 50 years, after leaving Ireland to maintain their relationship and escape a convent and conventional marriage respectively. They came to be called the Ladies of Llangollen, and were well known for their unusual living arrangement, which attracted an array of visitors, including writers Anna Seward, William Wordsworth and Lord Byron, industrialist Josiah Wedgewood (who also subscribed to the Evans map), novelist Caroline Lamb and diarist Anne Lister (the inspiration for the BBC series Gentleman Jack). Rumours circulated at the time that they were in a sexual relationship and they were frequently reported as wearing men’s clothes.

The NLW holds a famous portrait of the Ladies of Llangollen, created in the 1870s, after their deaths. They refused to have portraits painted of themselves in their lifetimes. This image is based on a surreptitious sketch of their faces made by a visitor, Mary Parker. The rest of the image is entirely imagined.



Women also owned land that cartographers and surveyors mapped. The NLW holds a large collection of estate maps, dating from the 16th to the 20th century, with most surveys undertaken in the late 18th century. They were usually commissioned by the landowner, and were intended to be working reference documents, as well as to show off the extent of the estates. The maps usually come with keys to land use and field names. Depending on the size of the estate they might be large volumes, with pages and pages of large scale maps of different parts of the estate.



As the map books were intended as status symbols as well as working documents, they often include decorative title pages to identify the owner of the estate. One such landowner was Margaret Pryse, whose estate of Gogerddan (or Gogerthan) near Aberystwyth was surveyed by Thomas Lewis in 1790, at the peak of estate mapping. The Pryse family owned the estate from the 16th century until the 1950s, when it was sold to the Forestry Commission and Aberystwyth University (then University College of Wales Aberystwyth). Margaret Pryse inherited the estate from her father in 1779. At the time, this covered around 30,000 acres (nearly 50 square miles).



As well as highly decorated title pages, we can also find traces of women’s ownership of maps in handwritten inscriptions on maps and atlases. It is fairly common to find bookplates or names written inside the covers of books and atlases, and sometimes multiple phases of ownership can be identified.

In a copy of Johann David Köhler’s Atlas manualis scholasticus et itinerarius, published in Nuremberg in 1724, we find a note: ‘The gift of Mrs. Anne Lewis to John Byrne Junior 1786’.



We don’t know whether Anne bought the atlas specially for John, or whether she was passing on something she had owned and used herself. But we do know from this inscription that she was engaging with geographical knowledge and encouraging its study.

There are many more women to be found in the map collection, both visible in the catalogue, like Margaret Pryse, and less so, like Coletta van den Keere and Anne Lewis. This blog post is intended as a tour of places to look, rather than an exhaustive list.


A note on defining women

I have written both about people who are well known and people we know nothing about beyond their name. I have taken as ‘women’ those who have traditionally female names, but it is important to recognise that we cannot know how all of these people defined themselves.


References & further reading

Brideoake, Fiona (2004). ‘“Extraordinary Female Affection”: The Ladies of Llangollen and the Endurance of Queer Community’, Romanticism on the Net, 36–37

Hudson, Alice and Mary Ritzlin (2000). ‘Preliminary checklist of pre-twentieth-century women in cartography’, Cartographia, Volume 37, Number 3, pages 3-8

Shopland, Norena (2017). Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales. Bridgend: Seren

Van den Hoonaard, Will C. (2013). Map Worlds: a history of women in cartography. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Further information on the Pryse Family of Gogerddan.


Ellie King
Trainee Map Curator

Celebrating 50 years of Planet

Collections - Posted 08-12-2020

In November 2020, Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, the Welsh political and cultural magazine, celebrated 50 years since it was first published. Established in 1970 by the author, journalist and scholar, Ned Thomas, Planet continues to this day to provide a lively and unique forum for Welsh cultural and political debate through the medium of English.

The magazine was originally published bi-monthly from the home of Ned Thomas in Llangeitho, before eventually moving to Aberystwyth. Founded in the wake of the decision to transfer the function of The Arts Council of Great Britain in Wales to the Welsh Arts Council in 1967, Planet was intended to provide a outlet for discussions about Wales in English. Its politics was left-wing, and it has since provided a platform for work on a huge variety of topics such as independence, ecology and climate change, sociology, minorities and minority languages, and Anglo-Welsh literature. It has been published continually since its 1970, apart from a temporary hiatus between 1979 and 1985 when it was relaunched. To date, 240 issues have been published under the editorship of Ned Thomas and subsequent editors John Barnie, Helle Michelson, Jasmine Donahaye and current editor, Emily Trehair.



The Planet archive was deposited at The National Library by Ned Thomas during the 1970s, and was coverted into a donation in 1991. Further donations were made in 2010 and 2015, along with a purchase of John Tripp’s correspondence files, in his capacity as literary editor, which were incorporated into the archive in 1988. The archive holds printers’ copies for editions 1-36, including typescripts of articles, artwork and proofs, and many series of correspondence, including letters from numerous important Welsh and Anglo-Welsh writers, such as Dannie Abse, R. S. Thomas, Gwynfor Evans, Meic Stephens, Jan Morris and Kate Roberts, among many, many others.

Planet remains at the forefront of political and cultural debates in Wales.

If you’d like to hear more about Planet – how it’s changed, how it hasn’t, and why a publication subtitled ‘The Welsh Internationalist’ is needed now more than ever – join Ned Thomas and Emily Trehair in conversation with author Mike Parker in the Library’s next online event on Tuesday 8 December at 5:30pm.

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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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