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.
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.
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 [Translation]
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 [Translation]
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
‘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 email@example.com.
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.”
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.
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.
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 archivehttps://archives.library.wales/index.php/planet-papers-2 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.
This year we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of one of the milestones in Welsh publishing, the 1620 Bible. The first edition of a substantial portion of the Scriptures in Welsh was William Salesbury‘s New Testament, published in 1567. This was followed by William Morgan‘s translation of the whole Bible in 1588. So why publish a new version so soon afterwards? There were several reasons for this. William Morgan was not entirely satisfied with the 1588 edition, which contained a number of misprints. Also, in the meantime the Authorised King James Bible had been published in English in 1611. The English translation had a significant influence in Wales, although the translators were not bound by it in preparing the 1620 Welsh Bible.
The 1620 Bible is known as the Bible of Richard Parry, Bishop of St. Asaph, but the main responsibility for the work lies with Dr. John Davies, Rector of Mallwyd and author of a number of important books including the Welsh grammar Antiquae linguae Britannicae … rudimenta and the Welsh-Latin dictionary Dictionarium duplex. Before moving to Mallwyd John Davies had lived in the same house as William Morgan in St. Asaph and worked with him on a revised version of the New Testament.
The 1620 Bible revised the language of the earlier version, making it more similar to spoken pronunciation. It also includes more than 2,000 new words. Although it was published as a large Bible for use in the pulpit, a smaller edition was published a decade later, the 1630 “Beibl Bach”, which was affordable for ordinary people to buy and read in their homes. The 1620 version was the Bible used by the people of Wales into the second half of the twentieth century and beyond.
Because of this year’s circumstances it has not been possible to hold an exhibition in the National Library in 2020 to celebrate the 400th anniversary, but the intention is to hold it in 2021. In the meantime the Library has held a series of online lectures by prominent scholars to discuss different aspects of the history of the Bible in Wales.
During the early 70s Canada’s Government commissioned people to collect information about various nationalities who lived in the country. For three months during 1974, Glenys James researched into the history of the Welsh who migrated to Canada from Patagonia. During this time, she travelled over 8,000 miles speaking and recording interviews with various families of Welsh descents.
The recordings are of historical value and gives us a perspective of life in Patagonia and Canada in the early twentieth century. By listening to the voices of the people themselves we can hear what they saw, and how they felt.
During this time there was a lot of movement within Canada from various nations, including people from Patagonia with roots in Wales.
In 1902, over 200 of the Welsh left Patagonia for their new life in Canada with over 5,000 migrating after the Revival of 1904-5. Many moved due to the difficult living conditions they encountered mainly constant flooding, and no land available to farm.
New communities were formed with many of the Welsh settling in the Saskatchewan area, since this was a designated area chosen by the British Government under David Lloyd George. The new villages and towns were given Welsh place names, such as Bangor, Llewelyn and Glyndwr. Shops, buildings, schools and chapels were built and some of the Welsh traditions were kept, like the Eisteddfod.
Mr Griffith Jones recalls an ‘Englyn’ that his father wrote in an Eisteddfod:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
The oral history collection was then put together by the Canadian History Museum, Ottawa where the original tapes are kept. Copies were sent to the National Library of Wales where they were stored in a controlled environment in order to protect the tapes for future use.
The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and led by the British Library have now digitised and created metadata for these interviews. The collection can now be heard for the first time since the 70s.
Here’s Jonathan Wise from the Canadian History Museum discussing the Glenys James collection:
A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
For more information about the Glenys James collection and how they were digitised, have a look at our video ‘From Canada to the National Library of Wales’ on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/llyfrgen
Transcription: Mr Griffith Jones
Griffith Jones: Dad came from Wales, Tregeiriog first in 1891 and after several trips back came out again in 1910 and settled in the Wood River district. Mother is of Welsh parents and she came from the United States to Canada in 1902 and they were married in 1911. There were four of us born to them and probably I speak as good a Welsh as any of them which isn’t very good.
Glenys James: Now your father was well known in the area here for his Welsh writing of Englynion (verse) both in Welsh and in English.
Griffith Jones: He was well known all over North America in fact, because he contributed to the Welsh papers and he competed in all the Welsh Eisteddfod that he could with his Englynion and he won many prizes with them.
Glenys James: Can you recall any of these englynion that he wrote?
Griffith Jones: I could say one in English, as you know the englyn must have consonance that harmonies and one that he won a prize on in English was:
Lindy how well he landed
In Paris o peril confronted
Pretty Yank with great head
Away he went un daunted
Transcription: Mr Johnathan Wise
Hi my name is Jonathan Wise. I’m a collection specialist for the audiovisual archives at the Canadian Museum of History. Along with world class exhibitions and research programs, the Museum houses an archive of over 100,000 historical recordings. These unique collections date from 1899 and contain a variety of recorded songs, stories and interviews from communities in every province and territory of Canada.
One of these collections is that of Glenys James. In 1974, Glenys James set off across the country to research the lives of Welsh immigrants who had come to Canada during the last century. She interviewed people in their homes talking about their own unique lives and experiences. She asked about family histories and childhood memories. She was especially interested in how Welsh language and culture were being preserved.
From Montreal Quebec to Edington, Alberta and points in between Glenys James captured the moment in the life of Canada Welsh communities.
The staff of libraries, archives and museums across the globe work hard to protect oral history collections like those of Glenys James. Many of these recordings are on fragile and obsolete media that must be digitised for prosperity.
Ultimately, all this work is to preserve the past, to serve the present and future generations. The Canadian Museum of History is pleased to have an opportunity to share the work of Glenys James and I would like to thank everyone at the National Library of Wales for their support in helping preserve this important collection.
The Welsh Political Archive annul lecture has been part of the National Library’s calendar for 30 years with a mix of politicians, journalists and academics having delivered the lecture over the years. However, due to the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it wasn’t possible to hold the lecture this year, even though all the arrangements had already been made.
But every challenge is also an opportunity and so we decided to try something a bit different; an on-line panel discussion using Zoom to bring together creator and users of political archives to discuss their experiences and ideas.
We had a fascinating discussion for just over an hour on a mix of questions which I’d prepared and questions submitted by the audience; some of which dealt with serious issues and others touching on lighter subjects. We looked at the role of archives in the age of social media, ensuring that we properly record the stories of all the communities of Wales, which movements we need to make sure we record and what ideas or items would best tell the story of 2020.
The session is available to view (in Welsh) on the Library’s Facebook page and we’ll be preparing versions with English and Welsh subtitles to be made available alongside the annual lecture during the next few weeks.
Every year, the Digital Preservation Coalition holds a World Digital Preservation Day with the aim of drawing attention to the complex strategic, cultural and technological issues involved in ensuring sustained access to digital content. This year has brought into particular focus the global reliance on digital information, infrastructure and connectivity and the theme this year: Digits: for Good, reflects the positive impact of preserving and providing access to trustworthy digital content. This theme aligns perfectly with the Library’s innovative approaches in traditional conservation, digitisation and digital preservation which integrate to ensure that the Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda are accessible now and in the future.
The Boston Manuscript was purchased in 2012 by the Library with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and the Welsh Government. The manuscript, written in Welsh, dates from around 1350 and records the native Welsh laws, which were thought to have been codified by Hywel Dda. It is a key text in the history of Welsh law and provides insights into Welsh identity and cultural life. It was used as a working text, being annotated by a Judge in South Wales, who carried it around in his pocket. By the 19th century, the manuscript had reached America and was in the custody of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, having probably been taken there by an emigrant.
A conservation assessment revealed that the manuscript was very fragile, with many tears and splits, meaning that it could not be handled without the risk of further damage. The decision was taken to dis-bind the volume and digitise the content, which would enable the re-binding of the original, the creation of facsimile copies and digital access.
End to end workflow
A complex workflow has been developed to manage the digitisation process from selection to access and storage. A Benchmarking exercise ensured that the manuscript was digitised according to the standards and methodologies established for digitising manuscript materials. The protocols for scanning were specified, including the essential information to capture, such as file name attribution, conversion process and the file formats specification for master and derivative files.
Digitising the manuscript
The scanning process was facilitated through the dis-binding, enabling each folio to be captured in entirety, without the need to de-warp. This assisted with the process of digitally extending the outside edges of the parchment. Each flattened folio could be scanned through the use of a line scanning system, rather than the usual method of using a single-shot camera and cradle. Through the use of this method, the images could be captured at a higher resolution than usual practice allowed and there was greater consistency in lighting and enhanced colour accuracy.
The scanning process generated TIFF master files, with the JP2 derivatives being generated on ingest to Fedora, the Digital Asset Management System. The METS files, which included descriptive and structural metadata were also generated on ingest. The master TIFF files were stored in the Digital Archive. Preservation actions, including checksum verification, fixity monitoring and preservation planning ensure the preservation of the digital content.
Creating the facsimiles
Another benefit of the disbanding and scanning process was the ability for the Library to demonstrate its pioneering techniques in creating facsimiles, which are almost indistinguishable from the originals. Printed copies of the scanned leaves, on high quality archival paper, were joined together and pasted back to back to form folios and gatherings. This back to back format ensured that the facsimile would be the same thickness as the original manuscript. The innovative technique of emulating parchment through manually stretching the paper unevenly, whilst the leaves were still damp, resulted in an authentic cockled appearance.
The facsimiles were bound in the same way as the original and have been used for teaching and outreach purposes, allowing extended access to the manuscript, whilst safeguarding the original.
Spot the difference!
The digitised manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s website. The images are served up through a IIIF manifest, linked to the derivative files held in Fedora, which supplies the Universal Viewer. The images can be manipulated, with the ability to zoom in on parts of the manuscript, turn the pages and have a variety of views. The descriptive metadata is available with the images to provide contextual information.
Through its integrated approach to preserving and extending access to one of Wales’s most significant treasures, the Library has certainly used its digits, both figuratively and literally, for good and for all.
Sally McInnes, Head of Unique Collections and Collections Care
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