Tag Archives: Art

Posted - 06-12-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

Salem and all that …

When I first wrote about Sidney Curnow Vosper’s painting Salem in the magazine Planet in 1988, I could take it for granted that almost all of my readers would know something about the story of the picture, or at least be familiar with the look of it. The big coloured print still hung on the wall in many a grandparent’s house. That’s why I felt confident about coining the term ‘National Icon’ to describe it. But, about five years ago, teaching art history to a first year undergraduate class at Swansea University I got a shock. None of the class recognised the picture when I showed it, and none of the students had heard of it. The national icon had disappeared from the consciousness of this rising generation.

It was, perhaps, not the disappearance itself but the speed of the disappearance of Salem that was most surprising. After all, the living presence of the picture in the culture had been reinforced in every generation between its creation in 1909 and 1997, when the magazine Golwg reinvented it as a cover image during the devolution referendum campaign of that year. The magazine doctored the picture to show Sian Owen leaving the chapel with her fingers crossed – presumably on her way round to the vestry to vote ‘Yes’.

Created as an image of picturesque religiosity among the Welsh people, Salem originally presented a reassuring message of national docility intended for sale in the English art market. If all had gone according to plan, it is unlikely that more than a few Welsh people would ever have seen it. However, the purchase of the picture by William Hesketh Lever, MP, and its banal use by him in the form of a poster to promote the sale of his company’s Sunlight Soap, put the picture in the public domain and created the potential for the subsequent transformation of its meaning. Although the initial mechanics of the transformation remain obscure, by the 1920s the picture had acquired a new narrative among a different audience. The ‘discovery’ of the face of the devil in Sian Owen’s Paisley shawl stimulated the reinvention of Salem as a parable of the sin of pride. That said, I don’t suppose any but the most puritanical of Christian believers took that morality tale seriously – surely, it was the magical nature of the revelation of the face in the shawl that appealed. It was a story that had more in common with the Mabinogi than with Nonconformity, notwithstanding its promotion in a poem by T. Rowland Hughes, written during the dark days of the Second World War, as a work of Christian devotion. It was revamped again in a meditative mood, with a heavy dose of ruralist hiraeth, for the cover of an Endaf Emlyn LP in 1974. Going up-market, the painter Hywel Harries modernised it in a sort of Cubist-cum-patchwork quilt oil painting.

The failure of the 1979 devolution referendum changed the atmosphere, but in the period of political activism that followed, Salem was again powerfully reinvented. ‘Deffrwch y bastads. Mae Cymru’n marw’ – ‘Wake the bastards up. Wales is dying’ – was the slogan surrounding the image on a pamphlet produced in 1989 by Cymdeithas Cyfamod y Cymry Rhydd. The context was now the reaction against inward migration and the arson campaign against holiday homes. Subsequently, Sian Owen was deployed by environmentalists against the chemical multi-national Montsanto, based at Wrexham, this time making grotesque use of the myth of the devil lurking in Sian Owen’s shawl.

But that may well have been the end of the road for Salem as an active force in the culture. If the Swansea students are typical, perhaps the decline of the Nonconformist Christianity that was the picture’s original context, and the unfamiliarity of a social world based on chapel life, have eventually undermined its potential for redeployment. The National Library’s recent acquisition of the copy version of the picture has certainly reawakened interest in its history. This second version was painted for Frank Treharne James, a Merthyr solicitor and brother-in-law of the artist, who had been frustrated in his desire to acquire the original when the future Lord Leverhulme snapped it up for 100 guineas at a Royal Watercolour Society in London. But I suspect that the original Salem has now passed from the living place in the culture that enabled it to be reinvented unselfconsciously to meet the changing needs of the twentieth century, into a fascinating fossil. Sad as it may be, Salem exists now primarily as material evidence of a bye-gone age, an object of study by historians.

Peter Lord

Posted - 02-12-2019


Celebrating the life of Merêd

“I cannot think of my father as being a hundred years old”, says his daughter Eluned, and in fact while researching in the archive held at the Library it’s not an old man who comes to mind, but an energetic, enthusiastic, hard-working and determined man. Meredydd Evans, or Merêd, was a pivotal figure in the development of music in Wales. He spent his life contributing to Welsh life and culture as an avid collector, historian, musician, editor, nationalist and campaigner for the Welsh language. The centenary is a chance to celebrate a full and productive life and here is a taste of the buzz of activities at the National Library:

  • Film: Merêd Centenary – Archive clips Monday, 9 December 2019

Join us in celebrating the centenary of Merêd’s birth (9 December 1919 – 21 February 2015) on his birthday with a special showing of a selection of clips from the Screen and Sound Archive collection, which give a taste of Merêd and Phyllis Kinney’s life and work. Join us on a journey from ‘Noson Lawen’ to Ryan and Ronnie, and from the folk songs to Heather Jones singing ‘Colli laith’.

In September 2019 the musicians Siân James, Gwenan Gibbard, Gareth Bonello, Gai Toms, Iestyn Tyne and Casi Wyn were invited to create a new arrangement of some old Welsh folk tunes from the Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney archive, held at the National Library of Wales. It was broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru from the Welsh Folk-Song Society conference on 29 September. To mark the centenary of Dr Meredydd Evans’ birth, here is a rare opportunity for you to hear that collection of tunes being sung again, following the film which will be shown in the Drwm on the 9th of December.

  • Merêd centenary lecture

Lunchtime lecture by Geraint H. Jenkins, Wednesday 11 December. An opportunity to celebrate the centenary of Merêd’s birth – philosopher, writer, musician and activist – in the company of historian Geraint H. Jenkins. A special photograph of Merêd by Iestyn Hughes will be on view during the week.

  • Hela’r Hen Ganeuon (Hunting the Old Songs) BBC Radio Cymru programme

Following a period of research in the archive of Merêd and Phyllis at the National Library, musicians will respond to music relating to the Christmas and New Year period. Al Lewis, Nia Morgan and Arfon Gwilym join Georgia Ruth Williams, and perform songs related to the Christmas and New Year seasons e.g. Plygain, Calennig, and Mari Lwyd. On Sunday 8th December at 19:05 the Hela’r Hen Ganeuon programme will be broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru, and will then be available to listen again on the Radio Cymru website or the BBC Sounds app.

  • Frank Hennessy’s ‘Celtic Heartbeat’

Talk on Merêd on ‘Celtic Heartbeat’, Radio Wales, (1st December 2019)  with Nia Mai Daniel and Frank Hennessey discussing how he has been an inspiration to Welsh folk musicians throughout his life, from his work as Head of light entertainment at the BBC (1963-1973) to assisting the young musicians of the ’10 mewn bws (10 in a Bus) Project. Merêd was a talented performer, recording an important selection of songs for Folkway Records in New York in 1954, and later for the Sain record label.

  • Cataloguing the Merêd and Phyllis Kinney archive at the National Library

As part of the work of the Welsh Musical Archive we are preparing an archive catalogue to provide easy access to the treasure trove of archives containing Merêd and Phyllis Kinney’s musical papers, Merêd’s correspondence, and Merêd’s files on philosophy, literature, campaigns for the Welsh language, and more.

  • Index cards available online

Thousands of index cards on traditional Welsh music have been digitized and are available on our website. There are nine different groups (namely Folk songs, Carols, Carol lyrics, Nursery Rhymes, ‘Alawon fy Ngwlad’ tunes by Nicholas Bennett, Mari Lwyd, J. Lloyd Williams and the Journal of the Welsh Folk Song Society). There will be an exciting opportunity to get involved with a volunteering project on the Nursery Rhymes in the New Year.

  • Gwenan Gibbard’s folk music PhD

Gwenan Gibbard is the winner of a Doctoral Scholarship to study the contribution of Dr Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney to the field of folk music in Wales. This is a joint project between The Welsh Musical Archive at The National Library of Wales, The School of Music and Media at Bangor University and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.

  • ‘Record: Folk, Protest and Pop’ musical exhibition

Last chance to see the exhibition relating to Welsh music from the Crwth to the Y Cyrff. Please note that the exhibition closes on 11th December (not 1st February) due to construction work. The exhibition includes a section on Merêd looking at his influence as a collector and performer and as head of BBC Wales’ light entertainment programmes.

In celebrating the centenary, we are thankful for Merêd’s huge contribution to Welsh culture.

Nia Mai Daniel, The Welsh Music Archive @NLWMusic

Posted - 25-11-2019


Railway plans: insights into one of the first railways in Wales

A new collection of railway plans has recently arrived at the Library; it provides insights into one of the first railways in Wales.

One of our major sources of new items for the collection is donations from those who have spent many years building up their own collections. One such person is Alastair Warrington who worked for many years as an Engineer on the Western region of British Rail and later with Network Rail.

During his time working on the railways he became aware that large numbers of plans, correspondence and other items were being disposed of by the railways as different lines were closed down. This valuable archive of the history of railways in Wales was in danger of being lost forever and so he decided to take it upon himself to save as much as he could. Over the years he managed to amass a collection which included 1000s of plans, correspondence files and other documents which he has used for his own research and also to aid other researchers. Most of the collection covers South Wales, but it also contains items from elsewhere in Wales and the Marches.

Housing, organising and listing such a large collection has been a major undertaking and he wanted to ensure that the collection found a safe home for the future. Back in the year 2000 Mr Warrington agreed to bequeath his collection to the National Library as a fitting home to house and protect such a valuable historical resource. However, earlier this year he contacted the Library again to suggest that it would be better to transfer the collection to us now, so that he could help us to interpret and organise it. The collection is being transferred in batches from his home in South Wales to the Library.

So far over 500 railway plans and several hundred correspondence files have been transferred, but there are 1000s more drawings and other items yet to come. This picture shows part of the collection in its new home. Eventually we will flatten and encapsulate the smaller items and catalogue all of the plans and the correspondence files will be transferred to the Archives collection.



One of the features of this collection which has aided us greatly as curators is the fact that everything has been carefully organised and listed so that we are able to know exactly what we have and to provide access to it via the listings even before it is catalogued fully.

Of the material that has already arrived, one of the most fascinating items is this plan showing the proposed line of the Carmarthenshire Tramroad or Railway which was the first Railway in Wales to be authorised by an Act of Parliament, in June 1802. This plan was created as part of the legislative process and was countersigned by Charles Abbott, Speaker of the House of Commons (1802-1817). When the first part of the line opened in 1803 it became the first stretch of public railway to be used in Britain. The line did not use steam locomotives or carry paying passengers, the first successful use of a steam locomotive was on the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad in 1804. The first fare paying passenger railway was the Mumbles Railway starting in 1807.

It is remarkable that so many firsts in the history of rail travel happened in Wales, and this new collection will help to ensure that this rich railway history is preserved.

Huw Thomas
Map Curator

Posted - 22-11-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

Margaret Jones and the Art of Visual Storytelling


In 1982, Margaret Jones received a commission from the Arts Council of Wales to illustrate Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi.(1) Through her lifelong love of mythology and folklore, she was aware that generations had grown up with an intimate knowledge of the characters in these culturally iconic stories, and she knew she could shatter dreams with a single pencil line. Voices from the past were warning her to tread softly.(2) She needn’t have worried. Through her imagination and skill as an illustrator and researcher, Margaret’s images have come to define Welsh mythology as much as the words of the ancient stories themselves.

Margaret was born in Bromley, Kent, during the ‘Golden Age of Illustration’, not long after the end of the first world war. She grew up inspired by the books of Arthur Rackham and the great illustrators of the early 20th Century. As a little girl, she drew on wallpaper, carved a face into the wooden mantleshelf, and sketched a man slipping on a banana skin. Every day she drew, all through her schooling in Birmingham and Southport, and her early married life in India. In 1954, she moved with her young family to Aberystwyth where her husband Basil had accepted a job as a methodist teacher. Passing through Tre Taliesin on the bus, she knew this was where she would raise her children, make puppet shows, and become an illustrator.

An exhibition of Margaret’s paintings at the newly opened Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 1979 led to a commission from Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru to illustrate a new edition of Y Mabinogi. This was her first book commission. She was sixty four, inspired, and apprehensive.

The manuscript arrived from the publisher. Margaret had learned Welsh from reading children’s books, using her eyes rather than her ears, for she found the written language much easier than the spoken. She had no contact with the writer Gwyn Thomas until the end of the project when they met at Yr Eisteddfod.


Margaret recognised that the characters in the stories lived in a real Welsh landscape. These are tales of the tribe, attempts to avoid conflict with Ireland in the Second Branch, of migration and displacement in the Third, and the cruel treatment of women in the Fourth. Margaret knew the role of an illustrator is to complement the text, not replicate it, so she included objects and images from the real world to enhance the magic.

She researched the costumes thoroughly until every shoe and brooch reflected the time, and she drew her own landscape. The picture of Manawydan catching a fish was drawn in Capel Bangor, while the animals and birds were influenced by Ladybird books illustrated by Ynys Môn wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe.

Like Rackham before her, she laid down washes of yellow ochre, prussian blue, or vermillion, which muted the colours painted over the wash, much to the displeasure of the publisher who demanded bright primary colours, as was the deluded fashion of the day. Margaret preferred to explore the darker boundaries between the sentimental and the grotesque, so she wrote to the Arts Council to tell them that Arthur Rackham would never have had this trouble.

The compromise was that she painted four bright introductory letters to each branch.


Margaret finished her paintings for Y Mabinogi in 1982 and it was published two years later after the usual ups and downs common to the book trade.


She went on to illustrate more books for the Arts Council, including her favourite Welsh story, Culwch ac Olwen, followed by Taliesin, which she imbued with her wry humour and understanding that there is an inherent wit and parody in some of these epic tales, which becomes clearer when the story is heard rather than read.


Maps were once seen as mirrors into the ancient world, so it was little surprise when Margaret produced her iconic map of the Mabinogion. This was followed in 1988 by a map of Welsh Folk Tales inspired by Robin Gwyndaf’s collection of stories in St Fagans Folk Museum, which were later published in ‘Chwedlau Gwerin Cymru / Welsh Folk Tales’. At the millenium, the National Library invited Margaret to illustrate a map of the life of Owain Glyndŵr. She even illustrated a map of Narnia which was never published. The National Library also have a set of 12 unpublished drawings for the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym which had been submitted to Gregynog Press as a calendar.


More tales from the folkloric world followed, Madog, Dewi Sant, Arthur, Twm Sion Cati, and her own story of the changeling Nat who leaves the fairy world for the industrial valleys. And she used her memories of her time in India just after partition to illustrate a set of Hindu Tales.


She won the Tir na n-Og Award in 1989, 1993, 2000, and 2003, then in 2008 she collaborated again with Robin Gwyndaf on Llyfr Datguddiad Ioan, which may yet be seen as her masterpiece, perhaps because the stories in the Revelation of John mean more to Margaret than perhaps any other. The book was published privately by Robin in 2008, and is an exquisite piece of work.

Margaret’s visual storytelling has become our eyes into Welsh mythology. Her understandable nervousness in those early days has been turned on its head. Her books inspire other artists and illustrators who are in turn imagining new visions of the ancient tales. And in her hundredth year, she fittingly takes her place alongside illustrators who define the visual mythology of their own countries, Arthur Rackham, Virginia Sterrett, John Bauer, Kay Neilsen, Tove Jansson, Maurice Sendak, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Lotte Reiniger, and so many more. And how fitting that the myths of Wales, known for the stories of Branwen, Blodeuedd, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, and Goewin, are defined by another inspiring woman, Margaret Jones.

Peter Stevenson

This is a brief extract from a talk on 20th November 2019 which places Margaret’s work in an international context of illustrators who define their country’s mythology.

(1) Thomas, Gwyn: Kevin: Y Mabinogi, (Welsh Arts Council, 1984)
(2) Jones, Margaret: It Came, To Pass (Apecs Press 20??)

Further reference

  • Cyflwyniad gan Robin Gwyndaf i hunangofiant Margaret Jones, (unpublished forewordto ‘It Came, To Pass’), 2007.

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Posted - 15-11-2019


Focus on Photography – Your National Collection of Welsh Photographs


Richard Burton playing cricket whilst dressed as Alexander The Great might not be what you expect to find in The National Collection of Welsh Photographs housed here in the National Library of Wales, but it illustrates the diversity of the collection. It is just one of the 1.2 million photographs held here for the people of Wales which range from the first recorded photograph to have been taken in Wales – on 9 March 1841 by Reverend Calvert Richard Jones at Margam Castle – to images which were taken only this year, such as those by Jack Lowe and Nick Treharne, recently purchased by the Library.  It’s a collection that continues to develop and despite the effects of austerity, we have continued to buy works by contemporary photographers. These include the likes of Abbie Trayler-Smith, Pete Davis, Amanda Jackson and Rhodri Jones.

Amongst our holdings are many works by the greats of photography – such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, Carleton Watkins, Angus McBean and Philip Jones Griffiths to give just a few examples. During the last month we have also sought to draw attention to the wealth of photographs of the far-flung corners of the world, whether Fiji, Venezuela or Yemen. The collection also includes the work of Welsh photographers, recording all aspects of life in Wales.  Personally, I am very proud of the fact that this is a democratic collection. It is open to receive relevant material from anyone, it’s definitely not an exclusive club restricted to the greats of photography. After all who better to document a community than those who live in it?

Hopefully, the vlogs and tweets we’ve shared and events held here over the last few weeks have illustrated the depth and breadth of this collection.

This is a collection of photographs of, about and for the people of Wales. It’s your collection, which tells your story, so please use it and above all enjoy it. Visit The National Library of Wales’ website to find out more.


Will Troughton, Curator of Photography

Posted - 07-11-2019


World Digital Preservation Day

November 7 is World Digital Preservation Day. This is a global campaign, co-ordinated by the Digital Preservation Coalition, to raise awareness of the issues associated with the preservation of digital information. The theme of this year’s campaign is At Risk Digital Materials, but I would argue that all digital material is at risk, as the fast change of technology, the fragility of the binary code, the obsolescence of hardware and software, all present preservation challenges. There are also challenges in providing access to this material, as it can be difficult to establish provenance and original order, which is the way that archival material has traditionally been catalogued, when dealing with a succession of tweets posted on social media.

In Wales, we have been working together to mitigate the risks posed by the preservation of digital material. The Archives and Records Council Wales, supported by Welsh Government and the National Library of Wales, has produced a national digital preservation policy and developed a technological solution to preserve and provide access to the digital material acquired by its partners. The solution preserves the content in a central repository held at the Library, whist access is provided through the catalogues of the partners.

Family memories are also at risk from digital technologies, as emails, photographs and videos are all being created in digital format. The preservation of these digital memories depends upon the creators taking action now to ensure that they are available for future generations. The message of World Digital Preservation Day is to raise awareness of the need to act to order to preserve, so that digital content is safeguarded for the future.

Sally McInnes, Head of Unique Collections and Collection Care

Posted - 04-11-2019

Collections / Digitisation

“Three cheers for the charter”: the trial of the Chartist John Frost

“Every one who attempts to deprive bad men of power expect to meet with the hostility of those men whom he assails, and we all know perfectly well that the worse use they make of power the more do they desire to retain it” – John Frost.[1]


“Ye serpents and generations of vipers, why seek ye the life of Frost? You may succeed but what think ye of the mighty millions? If ye can escape the bullet, who can escape the match?” – Risca Letter, 17 December 1839.[2]


Today marks the 180th anniversary of the Newport Rising, and it is fitting that we’ve recently digitised the transcript of John Frost’s trial published in 1840 as The Trial of John Frost, for High Treason: under a special commission, held at Monmouth, in December 1839, and January 1840, as part of an ongoing project to digitise all the 19th century Welsh or Welsh interest biographies in the Welsh Print Collection. Based on the shorthand transcription of Joseph and Thomas Gurney, presumably the court stenographers at the trial, it’s a fascinating document, giving us a courtroom seat for one of the most sensational trials of the 19th century.

Frost, along with his fellow Chartist leaders Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, had been charged with high treason following the uprising, but it was Frost who was put on trial first. The build-up to the trial had been tense with campaigns and agitation in support of Frost, especially amongst Chartism’s working class supporters, across south Wales and the rest of Great Britain. Frost was able to retain two very capable lawyers, Sir Frederick Pollock, a former Attorney-General, and Fitzroy Kelly, considered to be “one of the most acute and powerful advocates at the bar.”[3] Both lawyers were ably assisted by Foster’s stepson, William Geach, who identified a technicality in relation to the prosecution’s sharing of a list of witnesses, which raised the possibility of a dismissal of the trial.

There was, however, no dismissal and Frost’s trial took place between 31 December 1839 and 8 January 1840. While Frost was at a serious disadvantage from the beginning having been unable to find many witnesses to testify in his favour, facing a large list of witnesses ready to testify against him and facing an expectation that he would duly be found guilty and punished accordingly. However, as The Trial of John Frost shows us, both Pollock and Kelly were able to mount a spirited defence through both their examination of the witnesses and in their summing up, destroying the credibility of at least one witness and undermining the evidence of several key witnesses, most notably the idea that the Chartists planned to stop the mail at Newport as a signal for a larger uprising across the rest of Great Britain.[4]

Pollock and Kelly’s efforts bore some fruit, with the prosecution abandoning much of their case against Frost in the summing up. However, the Attorney General maintained that by marching  thousands of armed men into Newport and attacking the Westgate Hotel they were guilty of treason by levying war against the queen.[5] More unexpectedly, it also led the trial judge, Lord Justice Tindal, to sum up in favour of acquittal, much to the chagrin to the Attorney General. The jury, however, comprised of propertied men, was not swayed returning a guilty verdict in just half an hour, a not entirely unexpected result considering the jury’s class composition.[6] Frost, Williams and Jones were be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, later commuted to transportation for life in Tasmania. In an act of defiance as they left the court at Monmouth after sentencing, William Jones shouted to the crowd, “Three cheers for the Charter!”[7]

Despite receiving conditional pardons in 1854, Williams and Jones would remain in Tasmania, with Williams making a considerable fortune in the coal industry. Frost, however returned to Britain in 1856 on receiving a full pardon, having first travelled to America in 1854. Returning to Britain, Frost remained a committed Chartist, and also a vocal campaigner against the horrors of transportation. Frost had himself been sentenced to two-years hard labour not long after arriving at Port Arthur following disparaging remarks made about the then Home Secretary, Lord Russell, and had witnessed countless floggings which had greatly disturbed him. Frost summed up his attitude to the penal colonies in his Horrors of Convict Life, originally published in 1856 noting, “Never, in my opinion, in any age or country, has society existed in so depraved a state as I have witnessed in the penal colonies, produced, too, by laws not equalled in severity in any part of the civilised world.”[8]

As noted above The Trial of John Frost is a fascinating and valuable work, documenting one of the most sensational and politically charged trials of the 19th century. It’s also one of over 2,000 Welsh or Welsh interest biographies that are currently in the process of being digitised by the Library. So, as we remember the Newport Uprising of 4 November 1839, why not take the opportunity to take your seat in the courtroom for The Trial of John Frost.



John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973, original published London, 1856)

Joseph and Thomas Gurney – The Trial of John Frost (London, 1840)

David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999)

Ivor Wilks – South Wales and the Rising of 1839 (Llandysul, 1989)

David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969)


Dr. Douglas Jones

Published Collections Projects Manager


[1] John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973), p. 5.

[2] David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999), p. 188.

[3] David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969), p. 266.

[4] Ibid., pp.275-278.

[5] Ibid., p. 282

[6] Ivor Wilks – South Wales and the Rising of 1839 (Llandysul, 1989), p. 219.

[7] Jones – The Last Rising

[8] Frost – Horrors of Convict Life, p. 16.

Posted - 28-10-2019


‘On Colour Vision’ by James Clerk Maxwell

Amongst the Gladstone pamphlet collection held at the National Library are hundreds of papers from the collection of The Reverend Bartholomew Price, a mathematician who held the Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy chair at Oxford University. They are mainly pamphlets sent to Price by other scientists in Great Britain. They were presented to the Library by his son, W.A. Price, in 1939.

It is obvious from the handwritten notes on many of these leaflets that Price was held in high esteem in the scientific community at the end of the nineteenth century. Amongst the authors of these pamphlets are famous names such as James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Sir George Stokes and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). Many of these pamphlets are rare and in some cases the only copies known to be in existence (the pamphlets, together with the presentation inscriptions on them provide evidence of how the scientists of the period exchanged their ideas).

James Clerk Maxwell’s pamphlet On Colour Vision is intriguing. This is a text of a demonstration lecture given by the author in 1871 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He observes that the science of colour is both a mental science in which our own nature determines the laws of colour observation and a physical science where clearly defined laws of nature can be applied.

Maxwell begins by showing how the laws of Newton are applied to colour observation. By passing light through a prism, Newton showed that white light is not the most pure form of light, as was previously thought, but was composed of all the colours of the spectrum. Objects that we call coloured when illuminated by white light make a selection of these rays, and our eyes receive from them only a part of the light which falls on them, e.g. a red object absorbs all parts of the spectrum apart from the red part which it scatters. However if they receive only the pure rays of a single colour of the spectrum they can only appear that colour, e.g. any object will look red when red light is shone on it- unless it absorbs red, in which case it will look black.

He describes how mixing red and green paint produces a very drab yellow. However when red and green light are mixed the result is a very bright yellow. This is because the red paint, when scattered, is robbed of its brightness by getting mixed with particles of green paint and vice versa. However the yellow light produced by green and red light is a pure colour and not divided into two portions like the mixture.

Maxwell goes on to compare our perception of colour to our perception of musical chords. It appears to our consciousness that each colour is uniform whereas we can easily make out the separate components of a musical chord.

The leaflet delves into describing other aspects of colour science such as colour blindness, and the yellow spot on the retina.  For example did you realise that the extreme part of the retina is insensitive to red? According to Maxwell if you hold a red flower and a blue flower in your hand as far back as you can see your hand you will lose sight of the red flower while you can still see the blue flower. Also if light is diminished, red objects will look darker in proportion to blue objects. I wonder if you, the reader, can confirm whether these observations are true? The third notable observation, which should definitely not be tried at home, is that a kind of colour blindness can be experienced by taking doses of Santonin. Maxwell himself ends the pamphlet by apologising to the readers for not taking the drug to confirm whether this is true!


Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian.

Posted - 25-10-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

The Moon-eyed People

This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

A folk tale from Wales and Appalachia for Halloween

At the end of May 2019, an exhibition of Welsh folk art titled ‘Meddygon, Swynion a Melltithion / Curers, Charms and Curses’, featuring the work of eight illustrators, photographers, sound artists, doll makers, and crankie makers, went on show at the Monongalia Arts Center in downtown Morgantown, West Virginia. I had carried the artwork along one of the old nineteenth-century European migration routes, over the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains to the steel and coal city of Pittsburgh, and down the Monongahela River into Appalachia. Admittedly not in a storm-tossed schooner bound from Aberaeron or with belongings strapped to a covered wagon hauled by a pack-mule, but in a large backpack trolley on an environmentally unsound 747 and an overnight Megabus.

On arrival in Morgantown, I gave an in-depth interview about Welsh and Appalachian folk arts to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s folklife reporter, Caitlin Tan, in the middle of which Larry, the cameraman, chipped in with an unexpected insight into the Mabinogion. He explained he had studied medieval linguistics at college, where he specialised in the ancient Welsh stories. At the opening night of the exhibition, Jesse Wright, head of WVPB news, filmed the entire event. A lady told me that her mother had organised a Welsh language eisteddfod in Morgantown until the early 1960s; JoAnn Evans from the St David’s Society of Pittsburgh gave me a bag of Welsh language vinyl collected by her father; the city museum discovered they had a pamphlet entitled Mining A career for Welsh Boys; Minister Bob Dayton from Pennsylvania performed the Snowdonia tale of Cadwaladr and the Goat with a bag full of sheep puppets. Something was stirring.

None of this was a surprise. I have family in Appalachia and I knew there were traces of the Welsh in the mountain state. Morgantown was founded by Zackquil Morgan, son of Morgan Morgan from Glamorgan, who arrived in what was to become West Virginia in the 1730s. The city graveyard is full of stones etched with the names Davies, Griffith, Evans, Jones, Williams, Price, and of course Morgan, yet there is little written evidence of their ancestors. It seems the forgotten Welsh vanished into the deep dark forests to become the lost Appalachians.

In the early 1800s, the Ceredigion commons were being bought by wealthy gentry, and the poor labourers who had farmed them for generations had little choice but to leave. They arrived in Appalachia as migrants and settled on land that was already lived and worked by indigenous people who were in turn forced to leave. By 1830, President Jackson’s ‘Indian Removal Act’ had become law, leading to the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee from Southern Appalachia.

Half the population died on ‘the Trail of Tears’ as they were marched under armed guard to Oklahoma. As the tears of the women soaked into the dry ground, a beautiful flower grew. The Cherokee Rose.

A hundred years later, miners and prospectors came to work in Osage and Scott’s Run on the outskirts of Morgantown, where Welsh was spoken alongside German, Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Italian and many more. The scrip system and company houses meant the colliers and their families were little more than objects owned by the mine owners – an injustice they thought left behind in Wales.

The Cherokee called the Welsh miners ‘The Moon-eyed People’, because they could see in the dark and lived underground.

Before the opening, little memory remained of the Welsh in West Virginia. After three or four generations, the sound of croaking frogs in the swamps and coal barges chugging along the Monongahela River had drowned out the Welsh language. Folks consider themselves Appalachian American now.

Yet their quiet voices have left a memory, not only in the coal culture, but in shared folk tales and folk arts. The exhibition celebrated the forgotten voices of the granny women of both Appalachia and Wales, who could charm, cure and curse, had remedies for every kind of ailment, and were treated with both suspicion and respect within their communities.

Beti Grwca of Cei Newydd was famed for her love potions, as was Nancie Gore, a Cherokee from the Ozark Mountains who loved horses, hated doctors, and had learned remedies from the old medicine men she knew. Agnes Dolan of West Virginia could cure fevers and curses by drawing a heart on a piece of paper and sticking it with pins, while Dark Anna of Llanfairfechan cursed by piercing a clay doll with her foster mother’s hatpin. A man in Clay County shot a raccoon in the leg and old Martha Pringle forever walked with a limp, while a farmer in Tregaron shot a hare with a silver bullet and a doctor pulled the same bullet from the leg of an old woman who lived nearby.

Both Appalachia and Wales share a tradition of quiltmaking. The exhibition features a blue and white quilt made in Oak Hill, Ohio in 1894, for the Rev. and Mrs J. Mostyn Jones, which includes the embroidered signatures of almost sixty Welsh women.

Folk tales and folk arts are archives of memories of those who carried knowledge and wisdom. They are our connection to the dead.

We remember them at Halloween.

Peter Stevenson

Adapted from:

Stevenson, Peter: The Moon-eyed People, Folk Tales from Welsh America (Stroud, The History Press, 2019)

Stevenson, Peter: Chwedlau, Cwiltiau a Chranci / Stories, Quilts and a Crankie (Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum, 2019)


Posted - 21-10-2019


‘A helpless ruin on the shores of Anglesea’ – The Royal Charter and the Rothsay Castle Shipwrecks

The 26th of October marks the 160th anniversary of the Royal Charter disaster, which saw the loss of over 450 lives off the coast of Anglesey. Amongst the books held in the National Library’s Welsh Print Collection are a number narratives recording both this disaster and another shipwreck off the coast of Anglesey 28 years earlier, that of the Rothsay Castle which saw the loss of around 130 lives. While the causes of these shipwrecks were radically different, one due to a particularly fierce storm, the other due to the actions of a drunken captain, the legacy of both shipwrecks was the implementation of measures to prevent further shipwrecks.


The Royal Charter was an iron-hulled steam clipper built at the Sandycroft Ironworks near Hawarden in 1855. One of the first ships of its kind, it broke the record for sailing between Liverpool and Melbourne on its first journey, completing the journey in 59 days. The Royal Charter was on course to matching this record, this time on the return journey, when it was caught without warning in one of the fiercest storms that had been witnessed along the British coast, later named the Royal Charter storm. As Alexander McKee notes, “no fewer than 133 ships were totally wrecked around the British Isles that night, and a further 90 driven ashore and badly damaged…Most of the ships so destroyed were small, but nearly 400 lives were lost on them.”[1] In total over 800 deaths were attributed to the storm, with by far the largest single loss of life on the Royal Charter.



Up until this point the Royal Charter’s journey had been largely uneventful; indeed, the passengers had presented the captain with a testimonial as they were anchored off Cork on 24 October. As they reached the Irish coast, stopping off at Queenstown (Cobh), the passengers were excited by the prospect of arrival at Liverpool, sending letters and telegrams to family members announcing their safe arrival. However, having passed Holyhead the weather had taken a serious turn for the worse, with the ship’s captain, Captain Thomas Taylor, unable to attract the attention of a pilot boat, due to the poor visibility, to guide them in to Liverpool, despite signalling from the Skerries and Point Lynas.


By the time the ship had reached the coast off Moelfre, the Royal Charter was in serious difficulties, being forced on the rocks off Moelfre by 100 mile-an-hour winds despite desperate and ultimately futile attempts to anchor the ship and to cut its sails. Captain Taylor and his crew fought through the night and morning to save the ship and to get passengers to safety, with the help of villagers on shore. However, just after the dawn the ship split in two, confining the majority of its passengers and crew, and also the considerable cargo of gold it was carrying, to a watery grave. Despite the heroic efforts of the crew and villagers only 40 survived the shipwreck. Amongst those lost was the crew member Isaac Lewis who, in a tragic irony, hailed from Moelfre. Lewis, trapped on the ship, recognised his father on the rocks but was swept away by a huge wave as he was being rescued. More apocryphal versions of his fate record his last words to his father as “Oh, I am come home to die” or “Oh father, I’ve come home to be drowned.”[2]


The Royal Charter disaster was a national event, even drawing the interest of Charles Dickens, who visited Moelfre and the wreck site soon afterward. Most significantly, it also focused the efforts of Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who had been in the process of lobbying for the creation of a national storm warning system since the summer of 1859. Following the disaster, FitzRoy drew up charts of the storm, recording its hourly progress along the British coast as an illustration of the need for such a warning system. FitzRoy’s detailed proposals for a storm warning system were accepted by the Board of Trade in December 1859 and implemented in September the following year. As Peter Moore notes, “FitzRoy’s storm cones were to be a vital new weapon in the battle against shipwreck.”[3]


While Captain Taylor had done his upmost to save his ship, passengers and crew from certain disaster, the same could not unfortunately be said of Lieutenant Atkinson, the commander of the Rothsay Castle which was shipwrecked off Penmon on August 17, 1831. Unlike the Royal Charter the Rothsay Castle was not a sea-worthy vessel, having being built in 1816 for use on the river Clyde. By 1831, it was an ageing ship with rotting timbers, pumps that did not work, no buckets and no means, such as flares or lights, of alerting others if it was in distress. Delayed by the weather, by an eagerness to get as many passengers on board as possible and by a gentleman’s desire to have his carriage hoisted onto the ship, the Rothsay Castle left Liverpool at midday, two hours later than planned and heading into increasingly dangerous tides. By the time it was in open sea, the weather had again taken a turn for the worse, with the steam packet struggling to make headway to Beaumaris.


As the weather worsened and the ship began taking on water, the passengers made several requests to the captain, who had retired to his cabin for a two-hour lunch, to turn back. The captain, who had emerged from his long lunch drunk and abusive, refused, insisting that there was no danger and that “he was not one that turned back.”[4] By 10pm the Rothsay Castle had reached the Great Orme’s Head, having travelled 36 miles in ten hours. As it approached the Menai Strait the ship was in serious difficulties, taking on more water, struggling against strong waves and with its pumps failing to pump the water leaking into the ship. Despite this, as they reached the Menai Strait the passengers were relieved, believing that the worse was behind them and that they would soon be docking at Beaumaris. Tragically this was not to be the case.


As they entered the Menai Strait, the ship hit Dutchman’s Bank, a sandbank off the coast of Penmon. This was followed by a series of further collisions as the Rothsay Castle travelled a mile further down Dutchman’s Bank. The captain, having once again emerged from his cabin was heard giving “confused and contradictory orders” to his crew.[5] Following this series of collisions the Rothsay Castle broke up, its iron funnel and main-mast falling first, taking Lieutenant Atkinson to his death with them and causing heavy damage to the side of the ship. Of the estimated 150 passengers and crew on board, only 21 were saved.


Like the Royal Charter, the Rothsay Castle shipwreck also left a literary legacy, becoming the subject of a number of odes at the Beaumaris Eisteddfod the following year. It also left a more lasting legacy – the establishment of the Penmon Lifeboat Station in 1832 and the construction of the Trwyn Du Lighthouse, which was built in 1838.


Dr Douglas Jones

Published Collections Projects Manager




Further reading

Adshead, Joseph – A Circumstantial Narrative of the Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet, on her passage from Liverpool to Beaumaris, Aug. 17, 1891 (London, 1833)

A & J. K. – Wreck of the Royal Charter Steam Clipper on her passage from Australia to Liverpool, October 26th 1859 (Dublin, 1860)

Bransby, James Hews – A Narrative of the Dreadful Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet in Beaumaris Bay, during the night of Wednesday, August 17, 1831, in a letter to a friend (Caernarfon, 1832)

Dickens, Charles – The Uncommercial Traveller (Oxford, 2015)

Jones, Ivor Wynne – Shipwrecks of North Wales (Newton Abbot, 1973)

Jones, T. Llew – Ofnadwy Nos (Llandysul, 1971)

McKee, Alexander – The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter (London, 1986)

Moore, Peter – The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future (London, 2015)

[1] McKee, Alexander – The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter (London, 1986), p. 50.

[2] Ibid., p. 94.

[3] Moore, Peter – The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future (London, 2015), p. 244.

[4] Adshead, Joseph – A Circumstantial Narrative of the Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet (London, 1833), p. 33.

[5] Ibid. p. 70.


Dr Douglas Jones,

Published Collections Projects Manager.




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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

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