This year marks the centenary of the publication by J. Gwenogvryn Evans of his monochrome facsimile of the contents of the Black Book of Chirk (notwithstanding the 1909 imprinted on the title-page!). Through the generosity of a patron, and to mark the occasion, the National Library has published new digital images of the manuscript on our website.
This manuscript – Peniarth 29 – was once believed to be the earliest written in Welsh. Today, it is regarded as among the earliest, sharing a birthdate, as it were, with another Black Book, the rather more famous one from Carmarthen. Both were produced in the mid-thirteenth century, one in the South, and the other in North Wales.
The Chirk manuscript was written in Welsh, on parchment, by six scribes, in regular and professional style, although their familiarity with written Welsh may not have been fluent.
The volume contains legal texts relating to the king and his court, according to the ‘Venedotian’ or ‘Iorwerth’ code, associated with Gwynedd. The ‘king’ is a native ruler, one such as the young Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, known as ‘the last native Prince of Wales’, whose influence was becoming apparent at the time when the manuscript was written. Following the Law of the Court (reminiscent of those fine images in Peniarth 28, a contemporary Latin law manuscript), the scribes record laws that were relevant to ordinary inhabitants, including elements such as the values of wild and tame animals. A summary, text and translation is available on the Cyfraith Hywel website.
The manuscript also contains non-legal additions, such as proverbs, and Dafydd Benfras’s elegy on the death of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) in 1240, harking back perhaps to the ‘golden age’ of native law in the Gwynedd tradition.
But why is the volume associated with Chirk, in Denbighshire? The contents suggest affiliation with medieval North Wales, and by 1615, it was owned by John Edwards of Plas Newydd, Chirk, a scholar and recusant who lost many belongings by sequestration before his death in 1625. Llanstephan MS 68 is a copy of the manuscript, made by Francis Tate whilst the Black Book was owned by Edwards. Subsequently, probably via John Jones of Gellilyfdy, it became part of Robert Vaughan’s library at Hengwrt, and on the upper part of page 114 is part of his ornate inscription identifying the work as ‘Y llyfr du or Waun’ (the Black Book of Chirk).
The original black covers are long gone, but the remains of the binding leaves survive at the end of the manuscript.
In September 2000, the Library opened an exhibition to mark the 600th anniversary of Owain Glyn Dŵr’s proclamation as prince of Wales and the beginning of his rebellion against Henry IV and the English crown. Now, in 2021, it is 600 years since the last act of that rebellion: the acceptance of a royal pardon from Henry V by Owain’s son, Maredudd, in 1421.
Not much is known of Maredudd’s life. He is said to have been one of six sons of Owain (Peniarth MS 59), all of whom fought in the rebellion (NLW MS 2021B [Panton MS 53]), and Maredudd emerged as the main leader of the revolt from 1412. Support was now waning, however, and successes were few. In the years that followed, Maredudd and his father were reduced to living on the run in remote forests and moorlands, according to the chronicler Adam of Usk, and their prospects appeared bleak. Maredudd’s mother, Margaret Hanmer, his brother Gruffudd and his sister Catrin – Owain’s wife and children – had all been captured by royal forces and kept as hostages for several years, and they had then been left to die of starvation in custody when they were no longer considered useful. Nothing is known of the other brothers, except that they all seem to have died before Owain himself.
Owain was offered a royal pardon in 1415, but did not accept it, and he was not mentioned when further pardons were offered to Maredudd in 1416 and 1417. It appears that Owain had died in the meantime. Maredudd rejected the pardons offered to him and continued to hold out in Meirionnydd and Arfon, seeking help from the Scots and fugitive English Lollards as well as Welsh rebels. This revival of the revolt is likely to have been connected with French scheming against the English at the Council of Constance, but it did not last. By 1421, Maredudd had run out of options. He was offered a pardon in April of that year and accepted it, very likely because his supporters had had enough. The rebellion always depended upon local communities, officials and clerics as much as upon great landlords and military leaders, and all of these groups were involved in taking important decisions. In order to ease the final reconciliation, Maredudd’s pardon stated that he had not followed his father’s malice after Owain’s death, but had dwelt peaceably among the king’s subjects. In truth, the Welsh rebellion had lasted more than 20 years.
Maredudd’s pardon is not in the Library’s collections – it is kept with the Crown Patent Rolls at The National Archives in London (C 66, 9 Hen. V) – but there are a number of other pardons from the revolt in our collections, and they illustrate some of the complex story of the period (Gogerddan Estate Records JAA1/7; Chirk Castle F 9877; Elwes Papers 68; Wynnstay (1945 deposit) GX3, GX4, GX5, GX6 and GX8; Bettisfield Estate Records 202; Penrice and Margam Estate Records 243). Throughout the revolt, many of the rebels’ decisions were driven by local considerations rather than the national picture, and many Welshmen found it expedient to submit or change sides when circumstances required it. In some cases, rebels submitted at times when Glyn Dŵr controlled almost the whole of Wales, or within months of the Pennal letter which outlined his vision of an independent Wales, while others held out as late as 1420. Their motivations are often not clear to us, but this is gradually changing as historians delve deeper into the complex local networks of loyalties, rivalries and personal and community interests. There were major royal campaigns in 1403, and the rebellion suffered regular and significant military reverses from 1405 onwards, but this rarely tells the whole story behind Welsh submissions. Self-interest was often a key factor. While it was always made clear to the rebels that their rebellion had been treasonous, most of them were reinstated to their former status and possessions. At Cydweli in 1413, Henry Dwn took this a step further by taking advantage of his restoration as a royal official to fine his tenants for failing to support him while he had been in rebellion.
By 1413, Henry V was keen to offer pardons in Wales so that he could concentrate on his war in France. Many former rebels fought alongside him at Agincourt, including another Maredudd ab Owain who had been sheriff of Cardiganshire and had also held Aberystwyth for Glyn Dŵr. One man who was not among them was Maredudd ab Owain ap Gruffudd – the son of Glyn Dŵr. We do not know what became of him after he was pardoned in 1421.
The granting of pardons was one of the clearest assertions of royal authority and power, and as such it was treated with the utmost solemnity. The king’s administration was beginning to record many of its activities in vernacular English by the early fifteenth century, but all of the pardons in our collections were written in Latin.
The Library has a large collection of popular and academic books about Owain and his revolt, with significant recent additions including Dyddiau olaf Owain Glyndŵr by Professor Gruffydd Aled Williams (2015) and The rise and fall of Owain Glyn Dŵr: England, France and the Welsh Rebellion in the Lste Middle Ages by Gideon Brough (2017). There is still much that we do not know about the revolt, but many of the answers may lie in libraries and archives throughout Britain and Europe, not least within our own collections, especially our manuscripts of Welsh poetry.
In the same way that, for some, a picture paints a thousand words, it’s music, that for me is the conduit that transports me to other places, other times and other lives.
Whilst cataloguing the audio recordings of the Tiger Bay Collection from the Butetown History and Arts Centre oral history project I was lucky enough to stumble across a recording of Tiger Bay local and renowned jazz guitarist Victor Parker. The occasion was Victor’s birthday sometime in the mid-seventies (although his age and the actual date have been lost somewhere along the way). On the recording Victor and his band are found whiling away the afternoon in The Quebec Hotel on Bute Street, treating the assembled drinkers, dancers, singers and swooners to a free and easy, laid back run through their repertoire of jazz standards, blues and modern folk. It’s far from an organised, structured concert, the lengthy gaps between numbers see to that, but this relaxed format allows us to eavesdrop of the chatter of the crowd. The laughter, the snippets of gossip and fragments of tales, the layers upon layers of indistinct chat all make for one of the most evocative recordings that I have encountered throughout the whole collection.
Original Shelf Mark Identifier: 101-0021-024 : Catalogue Number: UNLW023/605 in Tiger Bay ‘Lectures and Events’ collection
Granted, this didn’t give us any hard and fast information, there were no detailed descriptions, stories or recollections that we may usually look for in a valuable oral history archive, it is without doubt that any factual, reasoned debate or discussion was the last thing on the minds of the attendees. However, it did offer us something different, something that an interview or a vox-pop never could. The hour and a half of this recording captures and evokes all kinds of imagery, memory and feeling. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s, and I am also able to remember afternoons just like the one captured here (albeit in my case it would have been traditional Irish folk music in a Mancunian shebeen) – but if I close my eyes and listen, I can still feel that 70s afternoon filling my senses. The scratchy polyester itch of my shirt collar, a thick fog of cigarette smoke stinging my eyes, the acrid breath of a companion who had maybe drunk a little too much, and then that clear easing of tensions as people drank, relaxed, danced and sang along to the vibrant, seductive rhythms of the band in the corner of the room. It all seems a lifetime ago, but this recording transports me right back to those heady days in an instant.
Image: from Tiger Bay – Victor Parker YouTube
That is the beauty of oral histories, and in particular audio archives; the written word may well provide a clear, distinct understanding, a route through imagination to empathy, but recordings like this will, for many spark memories of times long gone, and bring them all back, so vividly, in an instant.
A structured interview will often be interesting, important and offer a whole range of vital information that could otherwise have been lost with the passing of time, but a recording like this, which goes such a long way to evoking imagery and prompting memory is unparalleled. To me, above and beyond any number of structured discussions, this recording tells us as much, and maybe even more about how the community in 1970s Tiger Bay filled their leisure time and let down their hair.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
Born in Ystrad Mynach in the Rhymney Valley, Mervyn Burtch (1929-2015) was a teacher and composer whose work embraced a wide range of genres including opera, concertos, string quartets, works for brass bands, and choral pieces. During a career spanning some sixty years he produced and arranged some 650 works, a significant proportion of which were written for community groups, children and friends. He was an early member of the Guild for Promotion of Welsh Music.
Mervyn Burtch attended the Lewis Grammar School at Pengam where he was taught music by David Wynne (1900-1983), one of Wales’s most significant composers. He studied at the University College Cardiff, and later secured the position of Head of Music at Lewis School for Girls. In 1979 he joining the staff at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff (now the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama). He was made a Fellow of the College following his retirement in 1989, and awarded the M.B.E in 2003 for his services to music and education in Wales and work as President of KidsOp.
As Director of the Welsh College of Music and Drama Schools’ Opera Programme, he produced such works as The Pied Piper and Alice in Wonderland, others had fantastic titles such as the The Dragon of Abercwmgoch; Percy the Martian; The Great Wine Gum Robbery; and Fred Fish and the Weather Bureau. Some of his most significant works were his Concertos and the cycle of seventeen string quartets which he composed during the period 1985 and 2013.
He married his wife Rita Jones when he was 74. Following a long illness, on 12 May 2015, Mervyn Burtch died aged of 85. His Funeral service was held at Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff on May 27. The Mervyn Burtch Trust was created with the sole purpose of Educating and promotion of the appreciation of the public in the music of Mervyn Burtch and the education of the public in the life of Mervyn Burtch.
Hello everyone. I come at you today with another blog post. This time, it is about Ken Jenkins, a singer who is singing his favourite Welsh folk songs and verse. Ken originally came from Rhondda Valley, so there is a multi-cultural crossover between Wales and Canada here. The audio recording was made on July 9th 1974, nearly 50 years ago, which adds another sense of nostalgia to the piece. The audio was quite old, but that wasn’t a bad thing as the sound file gave a feel of timelessness, as if the listener was being let into a secret about Ken’s love of music. It had very nostalgic, warm vibes and the crackling of the background tape was like a fire kindling and spitting on a cold night. Ken Jenkins is introduced, and begins to sing. He has a vibrato type voice, and is really good at singing.
After a minute or so, it switches to a female singer, who has a lovely voice. The lady, whose name I didn’t catch because the audio is too quiet, but she says that she brought it over from Wales, as her brother heard it from the boys of Bangor. The second one of these finished on a high note, which was a spectacular demonstration of her singing abilities. Then, she progresses to a song she learnt in school. The array of songs she demonstrates is wonderful. She says how as she has no one to accompany her in the song, so she has to come in the melody first then the verses. She can’t remember the name of the song, but she launches into singing it anyway.
Next, she explains that she would tell the crowd in performing her next song that it came from the Eisteddfod, a festival in Wales, where there were five competitors and she was watching the performances. She re-enacts the words she heard them say, but the talking is quite quiet, so is hard to discern exactly what is being said. However, I got the sense that it was a dynamic performance and the female singer is copying them very well. She talks about a choir in Canada that came from a small village in Wood River, that would get into the Welsh spirit, and they would have a free supper at the end of the day to celebrate. They would sing for another 2 and a half hours after the supper and talks about how other groups learned Welsh songs via English words at first. She remembers signing at the Welsh church and goes into detail about the multi-cultural society that is put in place in Canada. In this society, some of the people dressed up in Welsh costumes to sing a 10-minute song within a choir. At the end of the song, a group of 11 children joined the choir, for the grand finale, and sung ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Each ethnic group was asked to do one line of the chorus in Welsh. She talks about how there was a display of Welsh crafts in the auditorium, as well as Welsh food and other cultural items of significance. She mentions the Welsh cakes she makes, that could survive an international food fair, which she passed the recipe onto her friend, who in turn made them for said international food fair. On the packets of currants they used, they put on the original lady’s recipe for Welsh cakes, which is a really nice touch and honours the female singer.
I really liked the fact that there were snippets of different songs from both of them, and that they both still had their roots coming through as well as their accents from Wales, which shows that they are still connected to Wales even in Canada. This reminds me of one of the previous blog posts I did. A lovely cyclical end to this post. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, because I have enjoyed writing and listening to these audios. See you in the next one.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
The recent Covid lockdowns and self-isolation have left many of us to re-evaluate how we work on a day to day basis, needing to work from home I was lucky enough to become involved with the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project at the National Library of Wales.
The British Library led project is a UK-wide exercise that aims to preserve, digitise, and provide public access to a large part of the nation’s sound heritage, with my involvement focusing on the oral histories of Tiger Bay collected by the Butetown History and Arts Centre during the 1980s and 90s.
Whenever I discuss my work at the Library with people unfamiliar with our archives, their perception is often that our collections are focused on primarily academic, staid and quite dry material. The Tiger Bay oral histories definitively prove that idea wrong by giving a voice to the ‘ordinary’ people of a Welsh community that has developed over time to become perhaps one of the most interesting and unique communities in Wales.
The Tiger Bay oral history collection viewed as a whole offers much more than just a snapshot of a community throughout the twentieth century. Through first-hand accounts of residents, we learn how the area developed through migration and immigration to become what is regarded as one of the most multi-cultural and ethnically diverse in the United Kingdom, continually showing the social dynamics of different migrant communities melding to become one, whilst at the same time striving to retain their own distinct identity. Tied together through ongoing sociological and anthropological threads within the discussions the main thing that shines through is the individuality, the identity and the pride of the locals whose histories are recorded.
Subject areas covered by the collection are wonderfully diverse, and the recollections and reminiscences of the day to day lives of the interviewees document clearly a period in history that saw dramatic changes within society. Alongside stories from the Cardiff Docks, of the sea-farers and shipping industry, we hear discussed in exacting detail the impact of wartime on the area, evacuees tell of their time in the Welsh Valleys, whilst those left behind in The Bay speak vividly of air raids, with heartfelt tales of family and friends lost at sea or in bombing raids. We hear how the domestic role of women changed dramatically with wartime opportunities in munitions factories, and perhaps more importantly, how they never looked back once the war was over. More recent times are covered with the redevelopment of Tiger Bay as it became the place that we know today, the unease and reluctance of many to accept sweeping changes and re-structuring of the community and a way of life in the place that they call home is laid bare at public meetings and in discussion groups.
Everything is there, the gossip and chatter as locals reminisce, laugh and cry together, the music and the song as the sea-farers give us shanties and Victor Parker lights up the Quebec Hotel with his jazz standards, the pride and the passion, the anger and the fight as the Cardiff Three recount their story of wrongful conviction. This is the life of a community laid out in its entirety, the good times, and the bad.
There are many things that make a nation, the history, and the geography both play a major role, but what really gives a nation an identity is the people, all of the people. Yes, our academics, our poets and authors, our politicians and protesters, our musicians and our sports stars, they all bring awareness and leadership; but the beating heart of a nation is the people whose lives are inextricably entwined with the place on a day to day basis. These are the people who have openly, freely spoken up on these recordings, their life stories showing us where they came from, where they are now and where they are going. An absolute inspiration.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
The transatlantic slave trade, which flourished between the 17th century and the 19th century, affected Wales in ways that are still not fully appreciated. It left its mark not only on the merchants, sailors, plantation owners and estate workers who were directly involved in it, but also on the rest of Welsh industry, commerce, society and daily life. Wales was known for its iron, wool and copper, all of which were often made into items that were traded for slaves or used in the slave ships and plantations, while the cotton and tobacco that were widely consumed at all levels of society in Wales were produced by slaves.
Evidence of the slave trade and its impact can be found in many of the Library’s collections, especially the archives of landed estates that owned slave plantations. Sometimes the references are clear, but often we need to scratch the surface before we can see the full picture. Work by historians such as Professor Chris Evans (Slave Wales: the Welsh and Atlantic slavery 1660-1850; University of Wales Press, 2010) has helped to uncover the story, but there is a lot still to be discovered in the archives. As UNESCO marks the International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23, we take a look at some of the material relating to the slave trade in the Library’s collections.
The slave trade within the British empire was carried on across the world, from the East Indies to the Americas, and many Welsh people were involved in it. UNESCO emphasises the importance of the transatlantic trade because of its far-reaching impact on race relations today, so the focus of this blog is on the West Indies. Our collections also contain a wealth of information about the slave trade in other parts of the world.
From the beginning, many contemporary references to the slave trade were heavily coded by those involved in it. In 1692, for example, a joint stock company trading in Africa and the West Indies referred only to its ‘interests’ there (Tredegar Estate Records MSS and Docs 122); this was the time when the Royal African Company was at its height, monopolising the English and Welsh trade in African slaves – a statue of its Deputy Governor, Edward Colston, was famously pushed into the harbour in Bristol in 2020. Outwardly, and throughout the period, title deeds and financial transactions concerning plantations in places such as Montserrat, St Kitts and Dominica gave the impression that the properties were no different from manors in Gloucestershire or Monmouthshire (Gogerddan Estate Records MC2/1; Penty Park Estate Records 28; Nassau Senior Papers E714), and correspondence from the sugar plantations in Nevis and St Kitts often made very little if any mention of the presence of slaves (Bodrhyddan Estate Papers 58/1-143).
Similarly, letters from Navy officials to Charles Hayes, the Deputy Governor of the Royal African Company, mentioned French protests about British encroachments on their trade at Senegal in the mid-18th century without being explicit about what that trade was (Gogerddan Estate Papers GCB1/1). Even apparently innocent hydrographical charts of the West Indies, such as that drawn up by Joseph Smith Speer in 1774, conceal the dark reality of the world of slavery in which they were created (Aston Hall Estate Records 3503). At the same time, colonialists such as the Ottley family took great pride in their position as Establishment figures in Antigua, St Vincent, Grenada and other parts of the British West Indies (Ottley Family (Additional) Papers 1).
Slavery is far from invisible in the archives, however. A letter to Charles Hayes from William Slawman in 1747 openly invited him to engage in the supply of slaves from Gambia to Buenos Aires (Gogerddan Estate Papers GCB1/1), and sales of slaves were recorded (Nassau Senior Papers E732). Slaves were generally listed as possessions alongside livestock and mineral deposits in inventories and agreements (Peniarth Estate Records DK2), and Richard Swarton’s estate in Jamaica in the 1760s consisted mostly of slaves (Slebech Estate Records 3328-33). In 1785, William Knox of Slebech was party to the purchase of 100 slaves at a price of £54 10s. (NLW Deeds 1948); these slaves had already been taken from Georgia to Jamaica, and they were now to be delivered to South Carolina. The agents who conducted this business kept journals (Nassau Senior Papers E814) and sometimes recorded information about the health of slaves, but only in relation to how well they could work (Slebech Estate Records 8342-440). They saw slaves merely as financial assets, and complained about inflated prices and the difficulty of obtaining ‘seasoned slaves’ (Nassau Senior Papers E51, E64, E4).
The slavers were well aware that their rule was based on force, and they made it clear that they expected ‘runaway slaves’ to be suppressed (Nassau Senior Papers E74). West Indian planters and merchants petitioned the British government with their concerns when tensions between slaves and planters escalated in 1791 (Slebech Estate Records 11532-41) – a successful slave revolt a few months later in the French colony of Saint-Domingue eventually led to the establishment of the free state of Haiti – and the owners’ fears grew stronger during Britain’s wars with revolutionary France (Glansevern Estate Records 1010). When slaves in the West Indies first became free, it was through their own bloody struggle with European colonists.
There was always opposition in Wales to the slave trade, but it made little difference until the end of the 18th century. By that time, meetings calling for abolition, such as the one at Usk in 1792, were becoming more common (Tredegar Estate Records 64/346). Edward Williams or Iolo Morganwg was known for his strong opposition to the trade; not only did he speak, read and write on the subject, he also refused to sell his literary work to those whom he knew to be supporters of the trade in Bristol (Iolo Morganwg and Taliesin ab Iolo Manuscripts and Papers NLW MS 21282E/359, NLW MS 21396E/17, NLW MS 21392F/29, NLW MS 21400C/24-24a). His opinions were not shared by everyone, however. Many of the Welsh gentry and their agents had invested extensively in the plantations, and they argued that abolition would ruin the economy of Liverpool and other ports (Harpton Court Estate Records 2073).
The slave trade in the British empire was abolished in 1807, but slavery still persisted, and in some circumstances slaves could still be bought and sold. In October 1810, for example, Major General Thomas Picton – at that time fighting in Portugal with Wellington – made an agreement with members of the Delaforest family for the conveyance of plantations, buildings, implements, slaves, horses, mules and other effects in Trinidad, which had become a British colony in 1797 (Picton Family Records 19). Picton, a wealthy landowner who later became M.P. for Pembroke Boroughs, was well known for his cruelty and arbitrary brutality, especially to slaves, and he had been found guilty of approving the torture of a young girl called Luisa Calderón (who was not a slave) in Trinidad in 1801, but he had appealed against the conviction on a technicality and the case was never resolved. For many years he was best remembered for his part in the Peninsular war and his death at Waterloo, and a monument was erected in tribute to him in Carmarthen. There has recently been a campaign to remove it.
The cruel treatment of slaves in Jamaica was still being commented on in 1815 (Nassau Senior Papers E136), and the Royal Navy in the West Indies had to act against piracy and the slave trade – which the government now considered to be closely related – for years after that (Penralley Papers 219). The attention of abolitionists was now turning towards slavery itself, not only in the British empire but in the United States of America and elsewhere. The campaigners in Wales included the Independent minister Samuel Roberts (‘S.R.’) (NLW MS 9523A), but the most prominent individual in the Library’s collections is Thomas Clarkson, who travelled extensively for the Anti-Slavery Society (NLW MS 14984A) and dedicated his life to the cause, sometimes at great personal risk. It was Clarkson who galvanised the movement for abolition in Britain in the 1780s by collecting testimonies from sailors, which he knew would reveal not only the terrible conditions faced by crew members on board slave ships but also the treatment of the slaves themselves. Some of those Bristol and Liverpool sailors were Welsh.
These are just a few of the more easily accessible items in our collections. Many hidden stories still lie buried in the archives, waiting to be unearthed.
Wales’s involvement in slavery did not begin with the transatlantic trade. Medieval Welsh law – of which there are several manuscripts in the Library, such as Peniarth MS 28 – routinely took slaves for granted as a category of society, while narrative sources such as Brut y Tywysogyon (Peniarth MS 20) and Vita Griffini filii Conani (Peniarth MS 434E) tell of Vikings from Ireland taking people in Wales into slavery. Even the seventh-century lullaby Pais Dinogad, which is written in the voice of a woman singing to her child, refers to their eight slaves (‘wythgeith’) singing along with them (NLW Llyfr Aneirin, Cardiff MS 2.81).
Nor is the slave trade yet a thing of the past. In 2007 and 2008, as part of the Everywhere In Chains community project, Women in Jazz conducted a series of workshops in south Wales to raise awareness of human slavery and trafficking both in the past and in the modern world (Jazz Heritage Wales / Women’s Archive Wales 4/9). We hope that such additions to our collections will not be necessary in the future.
It was interesting to read a pamphlet, included in the Gladstone unbound volumes, by the eminent mathematician and physicist, George Stokes, titled On the bearing of the study of Natural Science and the contemplation of the discoveries to which that study leads on our religious ideas.
Stokes was eager to show his readers that scientific discoveries change but they don’t undermine religious belief. He believed that gaining knowledge of the laws of natural science helps people to appreciate religion and deepen their faith. He gives several examples to support this.
He starts by asking his readers to imagine an undiscovered island in the Pacific Ocean. He calls the island Irene. The Irenians are intelligent and deeply religious, but because they are cut off from the rest of the world, they don’t understand natural science. They valued the sense of sight and believed it was a special gift from the Creator.
Eventually, the island was discovered by the captain of a ship with a team of scientists on board. They got along well with the islanders and the scientists taught the Irenians much about physics. They taught them about optics, the existence of rays and the laws of reflection and refraction, also the formation of images by a telescope. After dissecting an eye, they showed that it acted just like an optical instrument in forming external objects on the retina. The Irenians had accepted the sense of sight as a direct gift from the Creator, but now they realised that their eyes acted like any other lifeless matter. They were forced to accept that so much they saw around them just obeyed the laws of nature.
After the scientists had left, the islanders started to form a more moderate opinion of what they had learned. Human reasoning had taught them that images had formed in the retina like those in optical instruments. But how were its parts so well adapted to fulfil this? They had become impressed with the evidence of design. There must have been a designer. They had learned to think of God in a different way. God accomplished his design by working with natural laws rather than against them.
Stokes then compares the state of the islanders with the state of his readers when new scientific discoveries are made. He implores his readers to keep a balanced mind between scientific evidence and religious ideas. This is good advice for us today.
Stokes discusses other scientific theories such as the conservation of energy and the theory of evolution to support his belief that a Creator lies behind the natural order of the world. The fact that one of the most renowned scientists of the nineteenth century saw fit to address this topic emphasises its importance to his readers then. It remains of much interest to us today (see the second item in the Bibliography).
Stokes, G.G. (1879) On the bearings of the Study of Natural Science and of the contemplation of the discoveries to which that study leads, on our religious ideas. London: E. Stanford.
Davies, Noel and Jones, T. Hefin (2017) Cristnogaeth a Gwyddoniaeth. Cardiff: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.
The evolution of recording owes everything to Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), who invented the phonograph in December 1877. The concept of wax cylinders as the best medium to reproduce sound on disc came about through healthy competition between Alexander Graham Bell and Edison, who eventually pipped Bell to the patent post by releasing his 1888 ‘Perfected Phonograph’.
Although the phonograph’s initial use was either archival or for transcription, the turn of the 20th century opened a market for musical recordings with the advent of moulded cylinders, and hymns enjoyed a heyday at this time.
Sleuthing through some of these recordings was engaging, although the audio quality is understandably poor having been digitised by the Sound Archive from the original wax cylinders with all their imperfections. While the collection description identifies the type of music and the method of recording, there is no information about when these cylinders were recorded, by or for whom. Subsequent information provided in the recordings’ introductions brought some of the picture to light with snippets gleaned from between crackles of wax.
The collection consists of 4 sound files; the original wax cylinders have not been catalogued at National Library of Wales yet. Those cylinders may have more details written on them, identifying performers and dates, but in their absence, the fun of this exercise was in listening and then identifying the hymns before researching the poets and composers, as follows:
Hymn 1: “I am praying for you”, sung by two people with small orchestral accompaniment – mostly obscured by crackling. The announcer is unidentified and the names of the singers partially obscured although the tenor is clearly named Anthony. There is a reference to Hereford, either as place or patronym, but it was impossible to work out the name or the gender of the second singer. Although Hereford suggests the recording was made in the UK, the announcer is clearly American.
This is a Methodist hymn written by Samuel O’Malley Cluff (1860) and set to a tune by Ira David Sankey (1874).
Reverend Cluff was born in Dublin in 1837. He attended Trinity College and became an Anglican minister, pastoring at various locations in Ireland. In 1884, he became the leader of the Plymouth Brethren after which he married Anne Blake Edge, had four children and wrote over 1000 hymn texts and songs, composing many of the melodies as well. Ira Sankey came across “I am praying for you” while holding crusades in Scotland. Inspired by its words about prayer, he composed music for it and it became popular during subsequent crusades. The author credit was given in Sankey’s 1878 publication of Sacred Song & Solos as ‘S. O’M. Clough’.
Although the full hymn has four verses, this recording features only the first verse with a repeated refrain.
I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Saviour, though earth-friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me,
But O, that my Saviour were your Saviour, too!
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.
Hymn 2: “Pass me not, O Gentle Saviour” – with this second recording, the announcer gives us a bit more information about the singers, who are the same as in the first recording. It is likely this is a husband-and-wife duo, Anthony & Ann Hereford of Hereford Records, but there is still no geographical location with which to find out more about them. It is also likely that the announcer is Thomas Edison himself because he has a distinctive voice, which can be compared with other online sources; whether Edison was recording in the UK, or if the Herefords were based in the USA is still unclear.
This hymn text was written by Fanny Crosby, who published her poems under an incredible number of pseudonyms, both male and female. Frances Jane Crosby was born in New York state in 1820 and was blinded during an illness at 6 weeks old. She subsequently received an excellent education from the New York Institute of the Blind. This was where she started writing hymn texts for her teacher of music, Dr Geoffrey Root. Between 1864 and her death in 1915, Fanny wrote over 8000 texts, making her the most prolific hymn writer in the English language. The hymn tune was composed by William Howard Doane – prolific composer, American industrialist and philanthropist who supported the work of evangelical campaigns, including those headed by Ira D Sankey, mentioned earlier.
Although another four-verse hymn, the Herefords have chosen to record verses one and four with repeated refrains and an instrumental interlude between verses. There is a charming outro featuring brass and percussion.
1 Pass me not, O gentle Saviour
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do no pass me by.
4 Thou the Spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heav’n by Thee [Refrain]
Hymn 3: “Jesus, Lover of my Soul”, sung by tenor, Mr William McGillis. Unfortunately, his geographical location is obscured completely. The announcer’s voice is American, but different to Thomas Edison, so this cylinder may have been recorded by someone else working in the industry, or on Edison’s behalf.
The text for the hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1740, published in a collection of Hymns and Sacred Poems. The eighteenth child of Anglican cleric and poet Samuel Wesley, Charles was the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley, and contributed the cornerstone of the Methodist hymnody; in fact, of the 770 hymns published in the Wesleyan Hymn Book, 623 were written by Charles, although this represents only 10% of his total output.
Recognised as one of Wesley’s finest hymns – also one of the earliest – it is thought to echo two life experiences of this so-called ‘Bard of Methodism’. The first was the arrival of a small songbird pursued by a hawk who flew through an open window and into Wesley’s arms as he was pondering spiritual difficulties: “let me to Thy bosom fly”; the second might relate to a faith-shattering tempest experienced by John and Charles while sailing on a missionary trip to the colony of Georgia in 1735. The brothers were impressed by a group of fellow passengers from Moravia who sang hymns throughout a raging storm. Wesley’s verses mention waters rolling, a “tempest” and the “storm of life”. But while the Moravians possessed the certainty of Salvation through their faith, John Wesley later confessed that they “had gone to Georgia to convert the people there, finding they themselves had need to be converted.”
This hymn was originally titled “In Temptation” and is a plea for sanctuary for all who are tempted, undeserving or requiring cleansing from sin because there is no other refuge. The tune used for this recording is now known as Celebration 167 in the Baptist Hymnal (2008). It was originally known as Martyn 220.127.116.11.D (reflecting the meter of the hymn) and was composed by Simeon Butler Marsh, who taught music to hundreds of adults and children in career spanning both New York State church and school system over the course of 30 years. McGillis sings verses one and three, with the accompaniment of a brass band.
1 Jesus, lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
3 Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find:
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is Thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Hymn 4: “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus” – this recording is so badly damaged (possibly due to previous use of the wax cylinder for other recordings) that it was almost impossible to identify the hymn or its tune. However, one clear line led to a text written by George Duffield in 1858, and once the full words were on screen, it was possible to hear enough of the rest to confirm the hymn as above. From there the tune was identified as one known as “Morning Light” written by George J Webb on a voyage from England to the USA in 1837.
Reverend Dr George Duffield (son of a Presbyterian Minister) was born in Pennsylvania in 1818 and followed in his father’s footsteps. When Duffield wrote “Stand Up”, he was a pastor in Philadelphia, but had been pastor of a parish in New Jersey where Webb was living, so the two may have met. According to an entry in Lyra sacra Americana (Cleveland, 1868, p. 298):
“I caught its inspiration from the dying words of that noble young clergyman, Rev. Dudley Atkins Tyng, rector of the Epiphany Church, Philadelphia, who died about 1854. His last words were, ‘Tell them to stand up for Jesus: now let us sing a hymn.’ As he had been much persecuted in those pro-slavery days for his persistent course in pleading the cause of the oppressed, it was thought that these words had a peculiar significance in his mind; as if he had said, ‘Stand up for Jesus in the person of the downtrodden slave.’ (Luke v. 18.)”
After Duffield gave the manuscript to his Sunday School Superintendent, it was first published as a small children’s handbill, where it became known as ‘Soldiers of the Cross’.
As far as can be made out from the timing and meter, the recording is of the first two verses, but both the identity of the singer and the announcer are completely obscured by damage. The singer has a high voice, and although it is impossible to say whether they are female or boy soprano, if a guess at their name were allowed, the candidates would be either Iris or Idris Edwards. The announcer, likewise, sounds more British than American, so this wax cylinder might have been one of the first to be recorded in the UK – after all, the first Phonograph & Gramophone Society was established in 1911 in West London, with many forming over the next decade with Thomas Edison as their patron.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus
ye soldiers of the cross;
lift high his royal banner,
it must not suffer loss:
from vict’ry unto vict’ry
his army he shall lead,
’til ev’ry foe is vanquished,
and Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the trumpet call obey;
forth to the mighty conflict
in this his glorious day:
ye that are men now serve him
against unnumbered foes;
let courage rise with danger,
and strength to strength oppose.
For those who wish to know more about the phonograph, there are many sources available in the library catalogue, including cylinder histories and personal histories of Edison and Bell, published by the City of London Phonograph and Gramaphone society; Ma Rainey’s phonograph – featured in an article looking at the legacy of black embodiment within the visual-sonic tradition; technical manuals for those who own or are restoring phonographic equipment; and phonographs and popular memory, a look at gathering oral history in America.
If it is agreed that the announcer of the first two cylinders held in this collection is Thomas Edison, and in keeping with other cylinders available to listen online of a similar religious nature, then it is probably safe to assume that these four recordings date from around 1908. By 1912, shortly after the UK caught up to the wax cylinder phenomenon, Edison was selling his commercial disc phonograph, and recording technology continued on its evolutionary path to the digital world we inhabit today.
Between 1961 and 1963, Rhodri Morgan, who later became leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister of Wales, studied at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thanks to a scholarship from the Thomas and Elizabeth Williams (Loughor School Board) Fund he was able to study and travel in the USA. A lack of applications from Loughor meant that the fund was opened up to residents of Swansea, providing Morgan with a wonderful opportunity. During his time in the USA, he wrote a series of letters to his family in Swansea.
A phone call from a member of the Welsh Political ArchiveAdvisory Committee came late last year saying that Rhodri’s brother, Professor Prys Morgan, was eager for a collection of 88 letters, written by Rhodri Morgan during this period should come to the National Library of Wales. Shortly afterwards a collection of letters, photographs and an explanatory note had reached my desk.
Receiving such packages is one of the reasons why I enjoy my work so much. It was a privilege to read about Rhodri Morgan’s adventures, his work and university life, meetings, and various trips. His travels across the country to Georgia, Iowa, California, New Orleans and Puerto Rico can be followed in the letters; most written neatly in Welsh on thin Aerogramme paper, and in the accompanying photographs. One letter is written from the United Nations Plaza in New York and another contains a draft essay for Prys to comment on!
The first letter from New York contains a description of the journey by ship from Rotterdam, with arrival a day and a half late. Rhodri noted that he missed seeing the Statue of Liberty! In another letter he talks about the big celebrations on St Patrick’s Day compared to a much quieter St David’s Day and in another from Berkley where he talks about meeting people from differing political groups such as the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade and the Socialist Party Social Democratic Federation.
The letters provide an opportunity to see the world through Rhodri Morgan’s eyes, to see his political interests develop and to get an idea of the experiences and friends that influenced him. We are very grateful to Professor Prys Morgan for sharing them.
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.