This post is the first of a new series called Wales’ Story. We will be looking at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. A post will be published fortnightly on Fridays, and you can follow it all by clicking on Wales’ Story on the right.
It’s over a thousand years since the birth of Sulien. He was twice Bishop of St. David’s, but his main contribution was the establishment of a centre of education at Llanbadarn Fawr, on a site now lying in the shadow of the National Library.
Some of our earliest manuscripts were created at Llanbadarn, these being the work of two of Sulien’s sons, Ieuan and Rhigyfarch (?1056-99). Rhigyfarch’s Psalter (created c. 1079) is now kept in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, but his most famous creative work was the Vita Davidis, a Latin biography of Saint David created c. 1094 to promote the status and independence of St. David’s bishopric.
Most of what we believe we know about David, the saint from the sixth century, is based on Rhigyfarch’s account, written five centuries later. In the Vita we find the story of his education by Peulin, his victory over Boia, the founding of the monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, and the sermon at the senate in Llandewibrefi. This work was translated and edited into Welsh during the first half of the fourteenth century by an unknown monk. One of the earliest versions of Buchedd Dewi is this text in The Red Book of Talgarth (Llanstephan MS 27), written by Hywel Fychan about 1400 for his patron, the nobleman Rhys ap Thomas.
Generations of Welsh children will be able to repeat the saint’s famous last words, spoken before his death on the first of March: ‘Arglwyddi, frodyr a chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch ac a welsoch gennyf i,’ which translates as ‘Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard from me.’
Strangely, the ‘little things’ do not appear in Rhigyfarch’s original Latin work, so we must congratulate the later Welsh translator on creating such a memorable sentence!
The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.
The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.
So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT2NfMee-YxsGaH852qTx3Q or view them at the Library.
Not my words but those of Dai Evans from Brynaman or ‘Y Dyn Surreal’ as he came to be known. Enigmatic and unique are two words used to describe David Augustus Evans (1924-2013) and his work. Is he a photographer, installation artist, surrealist, social commentator or humorist? Is he all five and probably more besides? Inspiration is another term that can be added to the list – writer Fflur Dafydd and artist Carwyn Evans have both been inspired by his work.
Dai Evans was the Chairman of Amman Valley Camera Club and a familiar figure in camera clubs in South Wales regularly entering photos in competitions, though his irreverence was not to everyone’s taste (the judges mainly). Equipped with mannequins, a cowpat, plastic chickens, assorted other props and a wicked sense of humour his works attracted the attention of younger audiences and covered a range of themes including literature, social change, international and personal events. His dry sense of humour and keen observation animates each of his photographs
He appeared on television on a number of occasions including Y Sioe Gelf and the BBC project Capture Wales. With the arrival of over forty of his prints here in the National Library of Wales his sense of humour will live on and continue to inspire others to make their own mark.
The Library has bought a very rare book by a Welshman who was present when the explorer Captain James Cook was killed. David Samwell was born in Denbighshire in 1751. He had a particular interest in English and Welsh literature and in the Welsh cultural movements of his time, and wrote a great deal of poetry in Welsh and English. He was President of the Gwyneddigion Society in 1797. The Library owns his manuscripts, including correspondence with Iolo Morganwg.
Samwell sailed with Captain Cook as “surgeon’s first mate” on the Resolution in 1776 and witnessed Cook’s death in a skirmish with natives in Hawaii in 1779. He wrote a full account of the event, and after his return to England published it in 1786 under the title A narrative of the death of Captain James Cook. The Library already has two copies of this. But in the same year, a French translation was published with the title Détails nouveaux et circonstanciés sur la mort du Capitaine Cook. This is particularly rare, with only three known copies in other libraries throughout the world, so when a copy came up for sale we took the opportunity to add this important item to the collections of the National Library of Wales.
Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her saint day is celebrated on 25 January. Dafydd ap Gwilym described her as a master of easing the sorrows of distressed adolescents and he asked for her assistance to win over his love, Morfudd.
Dwynwen was one of the historic women of the fifth century, and she made her home on the island of Llanddwyn in Anglesey. According to the tale, Dwynwen prays to God following the advances of her lover, Maelon Dafodrull, and is provided with a potion that releases her from her love for him; Maelon turns into a lump of ice as a result of the potion. Dwynwen then receives three wishes: that Maelon is released, that she is inaugurated as the saint for lovers, and that she remain unmarried for the rest of her life.
Dwynwen became famous for her ability to solve the problems of lovers, and also for her healing powers. Sometimes she would perform small miracles from afar, especially in the case of poorly babies or small children, and it is said that she resurrected several people who appeared to be dead. The poet Dafydd Trefor said of her, ‘Iechyd a golud a gaid / Synnwyr a hawsáu enaid’ (roughly translated as ‘Health and riches are obtained / Wisdom and relief of the soul’), implying that physical well-being, wealth, wisdom and tranquility of the soul were all available through the hands of Dwynwen.
There are remains of Dwynwen’s cult in Tresilian, Vale of Glamorgan, where lovers used to determine their fate by throwing a stone over the natural archway in the rock. A church is consecrated to Dwynwen near Camelford in Cornwall, and it is possible that there was also a cult to her in Brittany (under the name of Saint Douine or Twine) where she was famous for healing every fever.
Guest blog by Rhiannon Ifans, author and expert on medieval Welsh literature.
January 19th sees the opening of the Library’s latest exhibition: Inventor of Britain – The Life and Legacy of Humphrey Llwyd. This exhibition is the latest in a series of events to mark the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, the author of the first published map of Wales. Last August to coincide with the actual anniversary a smaller exhibition was held for two weeks, but this larger exhibition will be on for the next six months.
While Llwyd is probably most famous for his map of Wales, in addition to being the father of Welsh cartography he is also considered to be the father of Welsh history as a result of his Cronica Walliae the first history of Wales in English based on the ancient Welsh chronicle the Brut y Tywysogion.
This would be enough of a contribution in itself to ensure the legacy of most people, however in addition to this Llwyd was also responsible for helping to steer the Bill for the Translation of the Bible into Welsh through Parliament, thus leading to the Welsh Bible which was a major factor in helping Welsh to survive as a language.
But Llwyd’s influence goes beyond the borders of Wales; his works were also used to help justify the British Empire (a phrase he is credited with coining) and the English reformation. Part of his extensive library was purchased by the Crown and now forms part of the collections of the British Library.
This new exhibition is being held in association with the AHRC funded project Inventor of Britain: the complete works of Humphrey Llwyd. A number of lectures will be given over the coming months by members of the project team and this year’s Carto-Cymru – the Wales Map Symposium will also be on the theme of Humphrey Llwyd.
The exhibition runs until the 29th June and further details of the associated events can be found on the Library’s website.
On 16th October 1555, Bishop Hugh Latimer, one of the three Oxford martyrs, was burned at the stake for his Protestant beliefs during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I. His writings, however, live on. Not only were numerous editions of his sermons published during the reign of Mary’s Protestant successor Elizabeth I, but editions printed during Latimer’s lifetime have also survived.
The National Library of Wales was recently presented with a volume of Latimer’s sermons by Clive and Patricia Coleclough of Wrexham, in memory of Mr. Emrys Thomas of Caergwrle. The book had been in the possession of Mrs. Coleclough’s family for about a century, having been bought at a bookshop in Llanrwst; unfortunately the shop no longer exists, so how it came to Wales remains a mystery.
The volume consists of a sermon preached in London on 18th January 1548 and published that year, and another seven sermons preached before King Edward VI in 1549, again published that year; originally these were printed as three separate publications. The first sermon has the arms of the Duchess of Suffolk, to whom Latimer was chaplain, on the verso of the title page. The volume is in its original 16th-century binding, with a Tudor rose and crown and the letters WB on the covers, no doubt the initials of the owner who commissioned the binding.
This is the only known copy of this edition in Wales. It will now be preserved in our collections for future generations.
What springs to mind when you think of the Christmas and New Year break? A swim in the sea? Well, that’s what many will be doing on Boxing Day or 1 January. Nationwide, people will be flocking to the seaside in fancy dress to brave the sea –either to raise funds for charity, accept a challenge or a show of courage. But have you ever thought of swimming in the sea as a way of improving your health?
For centuries, physicians have noted the physical benefits of bathing in cold water, advising patients to visit seaside towns to cure illness. It was believed that bathing in saltwater over a period of weeks or months would cure lung and skin conditions, improve circulation and strengthen immunity. In the past, a visit to the seaside was regarded as more of a medicinal remedy that a holiday, and to eighteenth century doctors, the sand, waves and the beach were regarded like our pharmacy today.
‘Thalassotherapy’ is the word given to this type of medicine, first used by Hippocrates to describe the beneficial effects of seawater. It comes from the Greek thalassa meaning ‘sea’and therapeia which means ‘therapy’ or ‘healing’.
In his Remarks on Sea Air and Sea Bathing, a pamphlet published in 1862, the surgeon John Holt Elkes Stubbs notes that:
‘A cold bath is a powerful tonic, particularly with children, and bathing in the open sea is the best form.’
It also includes a description by the physician Erasmus Wilson of the importance of the skin while bathing. The skin of an individual of average height and weight has a surface area of over 2,500 square inches, and includes over 7,000,000 sweat pores. The invigorating response of an individual to seawater is as a result of both salty grains which revive the skin and the shock from contact with the cold waves.Disease was averted and illness cured through the absorption of these salty particles by the skin.
The sea also had medicinal benefits for consumption or tuberculosis sufferers until the end of the epidemic in the 1860s. Some physicians went further urging patients to drink seawater as a medicine – enhancing its taste by the addition of honey or milk was permitted. Dr.Richard Russell prescribed bathing and drinking seawater for Leprosy. In his treatise published in 1750, A Dissertation on the Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, Particularly, the Scurvy, Jaundice, King’s Evil,Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption, he describes a sufferer covered in leporous spots. His cure was to sea bathe daily and drink a pint of saltwater each morning for nine months!
Sea temperature does not generally rise above 67°F (19.4 Celsius). So if you are brave enough to dip into the cold sea for your health on 1 January, go for it! Just be grateful that the practice of drinking saltwater with milk has not continued to this day!
The information above is derived from the medical section of the Welsh Print Collection. This collection of Welsh and Welsh interest printed works on medicine and health dates from 1750s. It contains 6,500 items including books on early medicine, herbal remedies, reports by urban and rural health officers,and reports of hospitals and mental health institutions. It also houses a complete set of reports and minutes of the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association (WNMA). A health organisation established in 1911, as a precursor to the NHS, to provide free healthcare for Tuberculosis sufferers.
‘Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS’ is a new NLW project, funded by the Wellcome Foundation. These medical treasures, hidden for too long, will be catalogued and digitised over the course of the next year ensuring online access to a wealth of information for the public, students and historians of medicine.
Branwen Rhys Project Manager, Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS
18 December is United Nations’ International Migrants Day, and ‘Migration with Dignity’ is the theme this year. The choices that people make in life are dignified ‘by paying them respect, and we respect them by treating those who make such choices with dignity’.
This year, the theme of ‘Migration’ and the European Year of Cultural Heritage brought together two cultural heritage programmes, Europeana and People’s Collection Wales, to work together for the first time. Their aim was to capture individuals’ personal experiences of migration, so they may be shared, understood, and respected.
A Thousand Voices – A Multicultural Community in Newport
Last month, a Collection Day was organised in Newport to capture the stories of people who had moved to Wales from overseas. The event was co-ordinated and held by People’s Collection Wales as part of Europeana’s campaign to hold Collection Days across Europe on the theme of ‘migration’.
This was the second of two events that People’s Collection Wales held in Wales as part of the campaign – the first was at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff in July. There were eighteen events across Europe altogether, with others in Brussels, Limerick, Utrecht, Luxembourg, Sibiu, Den Haag, Belgrade, Zagreb, Dublin and Pisa.
Members of the local community in Newport brought along photographs, documents, artworks and other various objects which helped illustrate the story of their movement. The materials were digitized and will be published on Europeana and the People’s Collection websites. Many shared their stories through oral recollections too.
A total of 15 individuals shared their stories as part of the Collection Day including:
Rahila, who moved from Pakistan to Wales in 1979 after her grandparents had arranged for her to marry a gentleman living in Newport. She had three children and worked for several mental health organisations, raising awareness particularly among the BME community.
Afia, a former lecturer, also originally from Pakistan. She, along with other members of her family moved to Wales in 2007. As part of the Collection Day, Afia contributed a mixed material photo album that was sewed by a Stitching Group at Community House. Her photographs include the peace celebrations of ‘Peace Mala’ at Newport, a Mehndi party at Community House, and a personal photo of her family near the twelfth highest mountain in Pakistan ‘Rakaposhi’.
Claire, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She met her husband Richard, from Wales, whilst studying in California. Both moved to Wales in 1975, with their five year old daughter and three year old son. Claire led a successful career as a teacher and head teacher after moving to Wales.
Roy, originally from Jamaica, he moved to Birmingham at 19 years of age to start an engineering apprenticeship. He relocated to Newport in 1962 where he continued his career in engineering. Roy, along with his wife, raised a family in Newport.
Ingrid was born and raised in London, before her family moved to Gloucester when she was 17. After completing her teaching PGCE in Leicester, Ingrid moved to Sierra Leone to work as a maths and physics teacher. She returned to the UK and accepted a teaching position at Newport in 1972. Ingrid also shared her grandmother’s story during the Collection Day and contributed her memoir as an item to be digitised. Her grandmother, Lena Kasmir, was born into a Jewish family near Kiev (now Ukraine) in 1894. Due to prevalence of anti-Semitism at the beginning of the 20th century, her family eventually moved to London, where Ingrid’s mother was born and raised.
Ten years of People’s Collection Wales and Europeana
Both Europeana and People’s Collection Wales this year celebrated the tenth anniversary.
Europeana is Europe’s digital cultural heritage platform. Since launching in 2008, the number of objects on the Europeana platform has increased more than tenfold from 4.5 million to more than 50 million. NLW has worked on other projects with Europeana, giving access through the platform to some of our most well-known digital collections, most notably the Geoff Charles and John Thomas photographic collections and the Welsh landscape collection. We have also contributed to the EuropeanaTravel, EuropeanaCloud and the Europeana280 projects, and, most recently, the ‘Rise of Literacy‘ project.
People’s Collection Wales is a cultural heritage programme funded by the Welsh Government. It seeks to capture and share the stories of the people of Wales. This digital platform gives individuals, communities and memory institutions a place to share and curate their collections in meaningful ways. The People’s Collection continues to collect stories of individuals and communities in Wales and beyond.
Do you have a story to share? Or perhaps you would like to capture stories in your community? We’d love to help you to share your stories with Wales and the world. Contact us at People’s Collection Wales.
Elen Haf Jones, Digital Access Project Officer & Dafydd Tudur, Head of the Digital Access Section
This month the National Library of Wales has opened the doors to a new gallery in Glan-yr-afon (The Riverside) in the heart of Haverfordwest. The gallery is the centre piece to a high quality culture and arts centre including a modern library, children’s area, tourist information, coffee shop and even a gaming zone for young adults.
The aim of the gallery is to reach out beyond Aberystwyth and enable the Library to share treasures with locals and visitors to the area. Over the last two years our team has been working in conjunction with Pembrokeshire County Council on the project. There will be two new exclusive exhibitions displaying various items from The National Library of Wales’ collection – The Story of Pembrokeshire and Kyffin Williams: Land and Sea.
The Story of Pembrokeshire
Visitors can expect to see a rich and varied collection of exhibits specially chosen by our curator to represent the history, culture and landscape of Pembrokeshire. Particular favourites of ours are an original letter from ‘Rebecca’ to the Vicar of Penbryn during the Rebecca Riots and Haverfordwest-born Gwen John’s beautifully understated yet strongly composed Vase of Flowers.
More unique items include a manuscript of sonnets composed by T.E. Nicholas in 1940 whilst in prison – written on prison toilet paper!
Aside from all the tangible exhibits you can also browse images of maps, photographs, manuscripts and paintings from the National Library of Wales’ collection. From the earliest Welsh book to J. M W. Turner’s eminent oil painting of Dolbadarn Castle, as well as items relating to Pembrokeshire, from topographical prints to photographs and works of art.
Kyffin Williams: Land and Sea
What better way to close the centenary celebrations and the ‘Year of the Sea’ than with an exhibition featuring a fantastic collection of paintings and drawings by Wales’ most well-known and prolific artists of the 20th century.
Some of Kyffin’s most iconic works are the oil paintings of Welsh landscapes, and this exhibition highlights some of the best in this genre. Look out for Penygyrwyd – the strong dark palette of the artist brings the dramatic mountain ranges of Snowdonia to Haverfordwest. In contrast, a selection of Patagonia paintings following his visit to South America in the late 1960s show Kyffin at his happiest, where the colour palette is much lighter and reflective of his mood at the time.
A selection of his best seascapes are on display. The powerful Wave breaking on Rocks shows how the paint has become an extension of the artist’s climactic emotions. Kyffin’s seascapes exemplify his technique for which he is best-known; a style characterised by a thick impasto, with the oil paint applied almost exclusively with a palette knife.
On the way out of the gallery you cannot fail to notice the calm, warm Sunset on Anglesey– a most reflective painting reputed to be one of the artists’ last before his death in 2006.
We could continue to sing the praises of this fabulous new building, but don’t just take our word for it – why not go and check it out for yourself!
Glan-yr-afon is open Monday to Saturday (10am-5pm) and Tuesdays (10am-7pm).
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.