Tag Archives: Photographs

Artist Interviews

Discover Sound - Posted 16-06-2021

This is the final blog post from our group of Aberystwyth University MA students studying Archives and Record Management who have been working alongside the National Library of Wales as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project to catalogue recordings from the Heritage and Cultural Exchange archive in Butetown, Cardiff.



The most recent recording I catalogued was a talk by a local artist Jack Sullivan (1925-2002) who worked as a police officer in the Tiger Bay area from 1948 to 1955, as a British Transport Policeman. Jack walked the beat, often at night, patrolling Cardiff docklands. As he strolled through the city streets, he made some 800 sketches of the people and places he saw.

The tape consists of Jack Sullivan describing his painting from his time in Kenya where he worked as a police officer. The paintings focus mainly on tribal women in traditional dress and jewellery. Jack Sullivan provides several stories of his experiences of policing in Kenya and stories around the paintings including several bloody tales of tribal warfare, cattle raiders and even tales of peoples’ belief in witchcraft. Listening to the recording makes you envious of the exciting life he has led and the people and places he has seen (a feeling that was heightened given the current restriction we are living under!). This is a feeling I have experienced listening to a lot of the recordings and has led me to the conclusion that everyone has a story to tell.

Reflecting on the other series of recordings we have catalogued one thing I was struck by was the timing of these interviews. To me the recordings, especially the 1987 interviews tell a story which is common to many places in the UK in the twentieth century: the move from an industrial society to a post-industrial society. The people interviewed experienced the docks in its’ ‘heyday’ when Coal from the Valleys made it one of the busiest docks in the world and have witnessed its decline and, at the time of the interviews, the redevelopment of the docks. This is a story that is mirrored across the UK in the twentieth century, the move from an industrial to post-industrial society and a similar story would emerge around the Liverpool and London dock both of which have undergone huge redevelopment and regeneration projects in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Also hugely significant is that these recordings are an invaluable resource when it comes to studying race relations in Britain in the twentieth century. A topic which is hugely relevant in the kind of debates we are having as a country; these tapes tell the story of the experiences of one of Britain’s earliest multi-ethnic communities and are therefore a great resource as we move towards an ever more diverse society.

This project took place with the pandemic as a backdrop which has posed many challenges, most of them logistical. However, the digital nature of the material we catalogued made it well-suited in a pandemic when our group was split from the Isle of Man to Kent and had to work largely remotely. For the first part of the project, we conducted our meeting on Microsoft Teams which was not ideal but on reflection 10 to 15 years ago such technology wouldn’t have been sophisticated enough to allow us to proceed. Once we had all returned to Aberystwyth and could meet in person, we found that the meeting ran much more efficiently, not to mention more enjoyably.

From a personal standpoint this project has been a very useful learning experience. I had fairly limited practical experience of cataloguing before. I had some cataloguing experience from previous work experience, but I was unfamiliar with concepts such as standardization and interoperability (the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information) before starting my course. It is, of course, very important for metadata to be precise and consistent and I feel that you can learn a lot from the process of creating it and having your peers check your work. The ongoing process of review was very beneficial as it turned what could be a solitary exercise into a collaborative learning experience. I also feel that I have learnt more about the most sensitive aspects of cataloguing. Having to listen to each recording whilst considering how the release of any information could affect identifiable data subjects brought home to me the responsibility of the role. Overall, I feel that the project has left me better placed to search for work in the sector and has given me positive practical experience to talk about in any job interviews.

Finally, as this is our last blog post, I would like to take this opportunity to thank The National Library of Wales for giving us the opportunity to be involved in this project and for providing us with ongoing support and feedback.

Michael Holland, MA Archives and Record Management Student, Aberystwyth University


Teaming up to save the bits: digital sustainability in Wales

Collections - Posted 15-06-2021

The ability to remotely connect and network with colleagues has been one of the positives that have arisen from these challenging times. From my home in Aberystwyth, which is not always the most accessible of places by non-digital highways, I am able to engage with experts, learn from their experiences and contribute to discussions on a global basis. Although we have been building digital preservation capacity in Wales for many years, these encounters have inspired us to extend the reach of the work being undertaken to promote digital sustainability. Working with the sector, developing the use of digital technologies and sharing skills are key elements of the Library’s new strategic plan which will be launched shortly.

The opportunities presented by the use of platforms such as Teams and Zoom enable a more proactive engagement than has been previously possible. Through using these communication platforms, it is possible to discuss issues relating to sustainable access to digital material. The associated technological, organisational and policy issues which arise from providing access to digital material in the long term can be tackled by working collaboratively.

A particular innovation which will commence soon is the ‘Saving the Bits’ programme, which will be open to organisations across Wales. Sessions will discuss theoretical and practical issues, making reference to existing models, tools and workflows, which can be adopted by organisations. Taking advantage of new technologies, these sessions can now be both readily accessible and interactive, using presentations, live demonstrations and breakout discussions.

These sessions would not be possible without the resources and training materials which are now freely available; but what online meetings enable is greater coordination in the use of these resources and networking over how to implement new techniques more effectively. It is hoped that these sessions will contribute to the building of the community which is committed to saving the digital heritage a bit at a time.

Sally McInnnes


Reliving Wales’ Euro 2016 Campaign through Newsbank

Collections - Posted 11-06-2021

It’s been 5 years since the Welsh football team and its fans took Euro 2016 by storm, after a 58-year absence from football’s major tournaments. With the delayed Euro 2020 tournament beginning tonight, and the team hoping they can emulate the heroic effort of 2016, here’s a quick recap of those unforgettable games via the Library’s Newsbank subscription (click on the headlines to read the reports).



Wales 2 – Slovakia 1 – “Dragons do roar!”

Excitement was understandably high amongst the Wales fans before our first tournament game in almost 60 years. Could the team carry on from their success in the qualifying rounds? We got that answer within the first 10 minutes.  Firstly, Ben Davies pulled off a fantastic goal line clearance to thwart Slovakia, and shortly afterwards Gareth Bale scored one of his trademark free kicks to put us ahead. Although Slovakia equalised in the second half, Hal Robson-Kanu sent Welsh fans wild when he scored the winner in the 81st minute to put Wales on top of their group. A dream start.

England 2 – Wales 1: “England grab last-gasp winner and break Welsh hearts.”

Topping group B, Wales were confident ahead of the game against their neighbours, and things were looking promising after Gareth Bale scored a long range free-kick on the stroke of half time. However, after equalizing early in the second half, England scored an injury time winner to knock Wales down into second in the group.

Russia 0 – Wales 3: “Bale & Co thrash Russia in magnificent display as the Welsh fairy tale gathers momentum”

If the team felt any pressure about progressing from the group stages, it wasn’t apparent as they deservedly beat Russia. Ramsey and Taylor scored in the first half to give Wales a comfortable lead, before Bale wrapped it up in the second half, becoming the tournament’s top scorer. With England only managing a draw against Slovakia, this meant that Wales were the group winners.



Wales 1 – Northern Ireland 0: “Cruel blow as own goal sends Wales into fantasy land.”

With both teams playing their first knockout game since the World Cup in 1958, this was an understandably nervy affair. Chances were few and far between, and the match was ultimately decided by an own goal after Gareth McAuley diverted Gareth Bale’s low cross into his own net. Not that any Wales fan cared, the quarter-finals beckoned!

Wales 3 – Belgium 1: “Wales unleash the Dragon to roast Belgium and seal semi”

What came next was undoubtedly the most famous night in Welsh football history. Wales arrived in Lille knowing that they could make history and go one step further than their 1958 counterparts. Standing in their way were Belgium, who Wales had already beaten during the qualifying rounds. However, Belgium were favourites for a reason. 13 minutes into the game, they took a lead through Nainggolan’s 25-yard thunderbolt. Wales stayed in the game, and the captain Ashley Williams equalized on the half hour.

We were then treated to the goal of the tournament, when on 55 minutes, Robson-Kanu bamboozled the Belgian defenders with an exquisite turn, and then calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner. Cue Welsh fans delirium. Belgium continued to push for an equalizer, but Wales sealed victory with a stunning Sam Voakes header. Wales had made it to the semi-final!

Portugal 2 – Wales 0: “Welsh fairytale ends as Cristiano Ronaldo takes Portugal to Euro 2016 final”

Spirits were at an all-time high after the Belgium game, and Welsh fans had high hopes of the team making it to the final at the Stade de France. Unfortunately, Portugal had other ideas. Led by their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, they delivered a solid performance to book their place in the final, with Ronaldo scoring their first goal and setting Nani up for their second.

The dream was over.

Although they fell at the penultimate hurdle, the team had ensured that they would be forever regarded as sporting heroes, as was evident by the thousands of people who lined the streets of Cardiff to greet them home.

“UEFA honours Welsh fans‘ inspiring passion”

It was a campaign that went beyond any of our wildest dreams, and the team ensured that none of us would ever forget those 25 wonderful days. Here’s hoping for more of the same. Pob lwc hogia!!!


Thanks to Siôn England & Deiniol Glyn for the photos.


Paul Jackson

Legal Deposit, Electronic and Acquisitions Librarian.


Cataloguing Tiger Bay Oral Histories for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project: World War Two Collection

Discover Sound - Posted 09-06-2021

Alongside the welcome reopening of the National Library of Wales, the post-Easter period has witnessed a return to in-person teaching at Aberystwyth University. Our group of MA students studying Archives and Records Management (Department of Information Studies) who have been cataloguing sound recordings from ‘Tiger Bay- Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection as part of the nationwide Unlocking Our Sound Heritage initiative have therefore made a happy transition from virtual to face-to-face meetings.

We have recently been cataloguing a series of sound recordings consisting of interviews with residents from Butetown, Cardiff about their lives during the Second World War. The interviews were conducted during the early 2000s and include accounts of family life, schooling and work in Butetown and beyond, including memories of wartime service. Some of the themes addressed are familiar touchstones in the national collective memory of wartime Britain such as air raids, rationing, and Victory in Europe (‘VE’) Day celebrations. Yet the memories described are also individually rooted in the local community. Thus, among stories about rationing are memories of the food brought home by local sailors and shared among neighbours. Accounts of the relationships forged between residents in the unique and diverse local community are intermixed with those of the discrimination which they faced even during wartime.

The collection highlights the value of not only oral histories, but community-based oral histories in particular. You can hear about the same events told by neighbours and members of the same family which reveal how shared experiences are variously remembered. In other instances, such as interviews with siblings about their experiences of bombing raids, the detailed descriptions given are remarkable in their similarity and suggest that they are perhaps memories that have been retold many times in years since. As mentioned in our previous posts, these recordings form part of a wider collection which was founded by residents who interviewed each other about their shared local heritage. The recordings, and the reflections on wartime which they contain, therefore represent a dialogue as much as individual perspectives.

In addition to the fascinating content of the recordings, our team have been occupied with decisions about how they should be catalogued. When library cataloguers classify books, they will describe key bibliographic information about its features, such as the author, title, publication date and shelfmark. We call this information ‘metadata’ because it is data which describes other data (i.e. data about the book, which is itself data!). This information will be included in a catalogue record which will help library staff and users find and access the materials. For sound recordings, the catalogue record may include different metadata elements, such as the identity of the ‘performers’, the language(s) spoken, and notes on sound quality. A further example of the metadata fields we populate is the subject matter of the recordings. This is an important field as it indicates to users what the sound recording is about. Crucially, subject matter classifications will also influence the ability for users to search for and discover the items in an online catalogue, as they are one of the elements used to populate search results.

Classification of subject matter is not open-ended though. Cataloguers are generally restricted to the use of a particular set of pre-determined labels or words (“controlled vocabularies”) included in a particular cataloguing standard. A cataloguing standard provides guidance on the metadata to be included in a catalogue record and how that metadata should be described and formatted. Yet the available options can still be quite extensive and require careful thought. For example, if you were to classify a recording of an oral history about an individual’s childhood experiences of air raids in Butetown, what labels might you apply? Would you think of it as an account about air raids during the Second World War specifically? You might perhaps draw topical associations to ‘civil defence’ and the ‘Blitz’, or more regionally to the ‘Tiger Bay’ area. More broadly still, you might categorise the account as one of ‘childhood’, ‘community’, or ‘family life’. These are approximations of just a handful of the available subject classifications for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image (SAMI) catalogue of which the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage recordings form a part. Our work has therefore required us to think carefully about which labels best represent the content of the recordings, and to look beyond our subjective interpretations to imagine their utility and interest for a broad range of listeners and researchers.

As part of our wider coursework, our team have begun to create an archive catalogue of the sound recordings to demonstrate how they could be incorporated into an archival finding aid. Somewhat similarly to a library catalogue, a finding aid helps people locate a specific item, group of items or collection within an archive. Yet, because archivists use different cataloguing standards from those used by librarians, different controlled vocabularies may apply. Our team are using the ‘Dublin Core’ standard which outlines fifteen elements of metadata to be included in any descriptions used to create a finding aid. The Dublin Core standard advocates use of the ‘Library of Congress Subject Headings’ to classify subject-matter, which is an authoritative thesaurus of subject headings maintained by the Library of Congress. As the headings available may be different from those used in the SAMI catalogue, cataloguing may therefore involve reconceptualising the content of the recordings where the available options do not neatly overlap. With this experience comes an appreciation of the everyday quandaries faced by both librarians and archivists and the ‘two hats’ worn by those working across multiple metadata standards.

Throughout our project our team has benefitted from the guidance of staff members of the National Library of Wales who have shared their expertise about cataloguing in accordance with the MARC encoding standard, which ensures our entries will be machine-readable and capable of reproduction both in the Library’s own catalogues and those of other libraries. They have taught us about the rights and sensitivities issues which may impact on users being allowed access to the material. We have also recently learned about the process of digitisation for sound recordings and preservation issues relating to audio recordings held in both physical and digital formats. The knowledge which we have gained through our collaboration with the National Library of Wales will therefore support us not only in the completion of our project but throughout our hopeful future archival careers.


Richard Stone. Muslim Community- Everyday Life in Butetown, Cardiff, Wales, UK, 1943.
Accessed: 5 May 2021. Available at:
Licence: Public domain.


Gemma Evans, MA Archives and Records Management Student, Aberystwyth University

Tiny dragons and pretty pigs: Decoration in medieval Welsh manuscripts

Collections - Posted 07-06-2021

During lockdown, many of us have perhaps taken the opportunity to be more creative, whether that might be through art, crafts, or maybe learning a new skill such as a musical instrument. But if you were a medieval scribe, perhaps your only opportunity to channel your inner Van Gogh was by adding some colour to that manuscript you were working on. Scribes could add decoration to their work in a number of ways, so how about taking a look at some of the manuscripts that can be found in our digital collections at NLW for artistic inspiration?

Manuscripts were usually made of sheepskin or goatskin which was cleaned, stretched and dried to create parchment sheets. These sheets would be folded to create a quire (or gathering); four sheets made eight leaves (or bifolia) each with a recto and a verso side depending on the flesh or hair side of the parchment. To create a manuscript volume, several quires would be bound together. This was an expensive and time-consuming process, and the need to avoid wasting parchment coupled with natural imperfections in the material meant that manuscript pages were rarely perfectly even. So before writing on a page, the scribe would usually prick holes in the outer edges and rule each page with horizontal and vertical lines to maintain consistency. Spaces would be left for the insertion of decorations, as the scribe and the decorator were not always the same person.

Numerous different colours were used for decoration, which could be made from natural sources varying in rarity and cost. The ink used for text in medieval Wales could be oak gall-based (or gallotannic) ink, which presented a dark brown hue, but many other colours could be made from powder bases, such as red and orange from red lead (or minium), white from white lead, green from copper salts, and blue from lapis lazuli. These would all be mixed with a binding agent such as gum Arabic. Don’t try this at home though – many of these paints were poisonous! They were also expensive, so manuscript decoration was a sign of a wealthy patron.

The most common and simplest form of decoration was probably rubrication, or red lettering. This can be seen in many medieval Welsh manuscripts and was used for capital letters and headings. The Hendregadredd manuscript, containing Welsh poetry and the earliest parts of which date from the late 13th– early 14th centuries, demonstrates this, using red ink for poem titles, capital letters, and patterned space-fillers.

Rubricated letters were often alternated with another colour, which in the above instance was blue. But blue ink was expensive, so green was often substituted as a cheaper alternative. The rubricator of the 13th-century Llyfr Aneirin used green instead of blue, and additionally alternated green and red for its space-fillers.

Capital letters could also contain intricate drawings. If you like tiny dragons, you’ll love the zoomorphic letters in Peniarth 540B, a 12th-century Welsh-produced copy of Bede’s De natura rerum.

In some instances, the scribe really went for it and drew capital letter decorations along the entire page, as is the case with NLW MS 3024C, a 14th-century copy of the works of Gerald of Wales. The decorator of this manuscript even drew a bearded face – a contender for ‘Movember’ perhaps? (f. 42v).

If tiny dragons aren’t your thing, other beasts also feature. Scribes sometimes wrote the first words of the next page in the bottom right hand corner of the previous page or column as a guide. These catchwords could be decorated, with those in the 13th-century Black Book of Carmarthen (which contains a collection of Welsh poetry), decorated with a lion (f. 4r) and a rather shocked-looking sea creature (f. 49r).

But decoration wasn’t just limited to the mythical – everyday scenes could also be represented. The 13th-century Peniarth MS 28, a Latin manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda, contains several colour illustrations depicting a number of scenes enacted from the Welsh laws. The manuscript contains colourful figures including images of snappily-dressed court officials and animals of value such as deer, horses, and oxen, but the prize for the best illustration must surely go to the pig (f. 25r), drawn complete with curly tail!

When we think of the medieval period, we perhaps think of muted colours and faded pages. But tiny dragons and law-abiding pigs aside, we can see how these medieval Welsh manuscripts are not only texts, they are a showcase for the creativity and skills of their decorators and scribes even centuries after they were made. So the next time you pick up a pen or paintbrush, why not take inspiration from our manuscripts, and unleash your inner medieval scribe!

Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

Further reading:

  • Daniel Huws, Medieval Welsh Manuscripts (Cardiff, 2000)
  • Daniel Huws, Peniarth 28: Darluniau o Lyfr Cyfraith Hywel Dda = Illustrations from a Welsh lawbook (Aberystwyth, 2008)
  • Myriah Williams, ‘The Black Book of Carmarthen: Minding the Gaps’, National Library of Wales Journal 36.4 (2017), 357-375
  • Gerald Morgan, ‘The Book of Aneirin and Welsh manuscript prickings’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 20.1 (1962), 12-17
  • J. J. G. Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work (New Haven/London, 1992)
  • Daniel V. Thompson, The Materials of Medieval Painting (London, 1936)

Robert Recorde and the Whetstone of Witte

Collections - Posted 31-05-2021

Robert Recorde, who was born in Tenby is renowned for being the first mathematician to use the “=” symbol in a published book. This was featured in the The Whetstone of Witte which the Library will be exhibiting on-line soon.

Robert Recorde was born in Tenby in 1512. His mother was from Machynlleth. It was in Tenby that his interest in mathematics was first realised and this was recognised by the London Mathematical Society in 2015 when it commissioned an exhibition in his hometown to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Society.

Recorde clearly thought it was important to provide mathematical education to the masses who were not familiar with Latin or Greek. Most scientific books of the time were written in Latin and Recorde was one of the first authors to write mathematical books in English.

The first equation which used the symbol “=” can be seen in the illustration (it is on page 236 of the Library’s digital copy) from The Whetstone of Witte. There were other symbols used by mathematicians of the time in Europe which could easily have been adopted, and it was nearly a century before the two lines were generally accepted and recognised to denote equality. The symbol was used in influential works such as Richard Norwood’s Trigonometric, and its use then spread from England to Europe and to the rest of the world. To explain his use of two parallel lines, Recorde writes that “To avoid the tedious repetition of these words – is equal to – I will set as I do often in work use, a pair of parallels or Gemowe lines of one length, thus: = because no two things are more equal (see relevant page from the book blow).”

Recorde was also among the first mathematicians to use the forms of numbers that we are familiar with today (1, 2, 3, etc.). In another of his books named The Groundes of Artes, Recorde compares these numbers with the Roman numerals that were commonly used in textbooks at the time (i, ii, iii). The form of numbers that are used today are derived from Hindu or Arabic numbers from around 600 A.D. It is quite fascinating to see that Recorde had to introduce these numbers to his lay readership. This shows that English scientific writing involving mathematics and arithmetic was in its infancy and that Recorde was a key figure in its introduction to the people of Britain.



Recorde was a Fellow in All Souls’ College, Oxford having earlier graduated in mathematics. He later studied medicine at Cambridge. He was also a Royal Physician and was appointed Head of the Royal Mint. While working at the Mint he was answerable to the Earl of Pembroke. Recorde accused the Earl of siphoning some of the profits of the Mints to himself. He was prosecuted for slander for making the accusation and was fined a thousand pounds. As he had no means to pay the fine he was imprisoned for bankruptcy. He soon fell ill in prison and died in 1558. When Elizabeth I rose to the throne a few years later the case was re-opened and his name was cleared. As compensation, land was given to the family in Tenby.

Recorde wrote his mathematics in English so that it could be understood by people. He introduced the numbers 1, 2, 3 etc. to his readers. But we remember him mainly for being the first mathematician to use two parallel lines to denote equality. Robert Recorde made an unique contribution to mathematics in the sixteenth century.


Roberts, G. (2016) Robert Recorde: Tudor Scholar and Mathematician, Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Roberts, G. Ff. (2020) Cyfri’n Cewri: Hanes mawrion ein mathemateg, Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.


Hywel Lloyd,

Assistant Librarian.

Share a Story Month

Collections - Posted 26-05-2021

It’s Share a Story month and Wales’ tradition of sharing stories is reflected not only in our Manuscripts collection but also our printed books collections. From folklore and the legendary tales of Twm Siôn Cati to stories of Madog and his voyage to America, to the adventures of Wil Cwac Cwac and his friends in Llyfr Mawr y Plant and the magical world of Harry Potter, this is a chance to share some of our favourite stories from the printed books collections.

The hero of The adventures and vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti (1828) is the legendary character who sometimes corresponds to Robin Hood or Rob Roy. His exploits are claimed to be based on events in the early life of Thomas Jones of Tregaron, landowner, antiquary, genealogist and poet. This was the first book to celebrate this hero. It is evident that the book was intended for a Welsh readership from the author’s open criticism of English travellers.

Cymru fu : yn cynnwys hanesion, traddodiadau, yn nghyda chwedlau a dammegion Cymreig (1862) is one of the first important works published by Isaac Foulkes (Llyfrbryf, 1836-1904), publisher, journalist and man of letters from Llanfwrog in Denbighshire. As well as publishing books such as this collection of folklore, Llyfrbryf wrote biographies of J. Ceiriog Hughes and Daniel Owen, and edited the poetry and letters of Goronwy Owen and the works of Twm o’r Nant. He did more than any other editor of the time to arouse the interest of ordinary Welsh people in their country’s literature.


Madog ab Owain Gwynedd is said to have sailed with eight ships from Abercerrig near Abergele to search for a new country in the west after tiring of the quarrels between his brothers following their father’s death, and to have landed in Mobile Bay about 1169. In the 16th century, John Dee was the first to claim the New World for the Queen of England on the basis of Madog’s voyage. The descendants of the Welsh who emigrated with Madog were identified with the Mandan Indians living to the west of the Missouri river at the end of the 18th century. The myth came to public notice when the historian John Williams published Farther observations, on the discovery of America, by Prince Madog ab Owen Gwynedd (1792). As a result of Iolo Morganwg’s forgeries this became a strong motivation for emigrating from Wales to America.

The novelist Isaac Craigfryn Hughes (1852-1928) was born in Quakers’ Yard, Glamorgan. He was a miner and was blind for the latter part of his life. Y ferch o Gefn Ydfa (1881?) is the most popular of his six novels, which tells the story of Ann Maddocks (1704-1727), daughter of William Thomas of Cefn Ydfa, a house near Llangynwyd in Glamorgan, and wife of Anthony Maddocks. Her father died when she was a child, and according to the unfounded romantic legend she unwillingly married Maddocks, a wealthy lawyer who was her guardian’s son, although she was in love with a young poet called Wil Hopcyn, who composed the verses “Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn” for her. She is said to have died of a broken heart soon after marrying Maddocks. Iolo Morganwg was the first to claim that Wil Hopcyn was the author of the song, but Hughes added over-emotional details to the story in this novel.

Histori Sawney Beane (ca. 1800) is an extraordinary legend telling the tale of Alexander “Sawney” Beane, head of a 45-member clan in Scotland in the 16th century. His wife Agnes Douglas was accused of being a witch. The clan was responsible for murdering and cannibalizing more than 1,000 people while living undiscovered in a cave between Girvan and Ballantrae for 25 years, until they were discovered and executed on the orders of King James VI. This book about the history of Sawney Beane is a translation from the English.

This of course is only a small selection – the Library’s shelves groan under the weight of books that are full of stories of myths, magic and mayhem. There are boundless hours of entertainment between the covers of these books – search our catalogue to see what stories you will discover.

Why Should We Not Sing?

Discover Sound - Posted 21-05-2021

It was with regret that the committee organising the National Eisteddfod for 2021 had to make the decision to postpone the competition for a second year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The full title of the sound clip highlighted in this blog is “Why Should We Not Sing in War?”

We are currently waging war with the virus through vaccines, social distancing, and lockdowns; there have been many casualties of this war and the Eisteddfod is one of many organisations to have been affected by it adversely as well.

The festival, with a history tracing back to 1176, is a celebration of Welsh language and culture, which has been held during the first week of August since 1861, apart from 1914, when the outbreak of World War 1 caused it to be postponed for a year.

In 1916, the new Secretary of State for the War, David Lloyd George made an impassioned reply to a letter published in the Times, criticising the decision to hold the Eisteddfod during wartime. He made his speech at the opening of the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod that August, and even though the festival cannot take place this year, we can take his words as a reminder that while adversity strikes again, as it has done many times over the course of Welsh history, its people will carry on singing.



Although the speech was made in 1916, the sound file held by the National Library of Wales was made in the BBC studios on 15 February 1934, when Lloyd George was President of the London Welsh Trust. It was digitised by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

By this point in his life, Lloyd George had been marginalised from British Politics, but his original oration was given just months before he was invited to form a government in December 1916, holding office until 1922, as the first and only Welshman to become Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Lloyd George was born in Manchester but was raised at his mother’s family home in Llanystumdwy, near Cricieth. He maintained lifelong ties to this area, being made Earl of Dwyfor in 1944, the year before his death at age 82. He is buried on the banks of Afon Dwyfor in Llanystumdwy.



He was a passionate advocate for Welsh politics and rights, and an eloquent speaker, which is obvious through this sound file. Beginning with the hiss and crackle of the 78rpm recording, Lloyd George leads with a question to his critics: “Why should we not sing during the war… why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?” He explains that Britain is greater than ever, so although war means suffering and sorrow, the country should be like the nightingale, giving its song in the darkness and so triumphing over pain.
This reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Chinese emperor and a nightingale whose song so moves Death that the emperor’s life is spared, was (as a musical side note) the subject of a 1914 opera by Igor Stravinsky, “La Rossignol”. Perhaps Lloyd George was familiar with the opera or perhaps he had liked reading fairy tales to his children, but in his estimation, although nightingales are not known on the Welsh side of the Severn, “…we can provide better. There is a bird in our villages that can beat the best of them. He’s called Y Cymro.”

Like the nightingale that sings in the night, the Welsh sing in the night and during the day, in joy and sorrow, at work and at play, in prosperity and through adversity, in sunshine and storm, during times of peace – and so why should they not sing during the war?


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


Lloyd George continues, referencing the turbulent history of Wales and its ability to maintain cultural identity throughout: “Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the heart of Wales has never been silenced by one of them.”

In this day and age, the Eisteddfod cannot be completely silenced, even by a virus. Modern technology allows for the Eisteddfod AmGen to take place on various online platforms and social media with a strong competitive element. This freedom is like the end of the legend of the nightingale, in which a strong future is negotiated to ensure that the bird lives in its true environment so that it can continue to thrive and be heard.

At the heart of Lloyd George’s speech is a surety that we will make it through this present adversity and together we can stay in tune.


By Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer


Transcription: Why should we not sing?

Y Cymro.
He sings in joy he sings also in sorrow.
He sings in prosperity he sings also in adversity.
He sings at play he sings also at work.
He sings in the sunshine he sings in the storm.
He sings in the day time he sings also in the night.
He sings in peace; why should he not sing in war?

Women’s Lives Course

Discover Sound - Posted 18-05-2021

In collaboration with the National Library of Wales and British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project, our group, postgraduate students studying for an MA in Archives and Records Management at Aberystwyth University, have been cataloguing a collection of digitised oral history recordings from Butetown, Wales. The recordings were created during the 1980s by an academic who was researching Butetown, also known as Tiger Bay, and was interviewing residents about their memories of the twentieth century. Butetown was one of the first multi-cultural societies in Britain and its docklands were a major distributor of coal and other goods during the nineteenth and twentieth century and as such, residents had unique perspectives.

In later years further interviews and discussions took place with aims of preserving the history of Butetown, as the area was going through a series of redevelopments and, consequently, many people had moved away, and some residents were elderly or deceased. One section of the collection contains recordings of the Women’s Lives Course, a year-long event that took place in Butetown during the late 1980s that was attended by residents, former residents, and people from surrounding areas. The course held weekly meetings, during which discussions took place focusing on a different topic that impacted the lives of women in Butetown including education, religion, marriage, employment, racism, and family dynamics. During the course participants were taught valuable skills such as how to devise interview questions, the best equipment to use for oral history interviews and technical skills, such as how to use microphones and tape recorders.

The recordings are very interesting, they contain excerpts from previous interviews and the discussions centre around the life of the individual in the original recording who, at times, attended the discussion as well as about similar and different experiences attendees had. Some attendees’ parents emigrated to Wales during the twentieth century, or they themselves emigrated to Wales and as a result, they recount stories about growing up in multi-cultural families, the different cuisines people ate and living in different countries, among others. The recordings further contain larger discussions about British culture and society, community identity, and emigration as well as about Butetown and its redevelopment.

The recordings from the Women’s Lives Course, consequently, provide invaluable insights into women’s lives in twentieth century Butetown, the experiences of diverse communities within Wales, how society was changing as it was approaching the twenty-first century and how community groups sought to preserve their memories.



The Voice of the Tiger Newsletter, (1) September 1994, Accessed: 15 April 2021.
Available at: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/728376
Creative Archives Licence, c. Butetown History and Arts Centre


Cataloguing oral history interviews can be a lengthy process which requires great attention to detail. When our group was introduced to the recordings, we were presented with an initial spreadsheet containing the titles of the recordings and general descriptions of their contents. Prior to listening to the recordings, we familiarised ourselves with the spreadsheet and carried out research into why the recordings were created. Afterwards we began planning how we would approach the recordings, we divided them between ourselves and began listening to them.

Listening to recordings for cataloguing purposes is unlike listening to music or a podcast. Cataloguers listen to determine the main topics discussed, to identify topics which users will be interested in and any material which should not be published. During interviews people, at times, will say things in confidence which they do not wish to be published or which may be about a sensitive issue. This material, thereby, may be removed from the recording or the recording may be classified as inappropriate for online publication and will only be accessible in-person. After we have listened to the recordings, our team writes descriptions, summaries, and other fields about what we have heard. Descriptions and summaries are not transcriptions, they are concise and yet detailed accounts of what is contained in the material so that users can decide if they want to listen to the recordings. This information may be inputted into archive and library software or another computer programme such as Microsoft Excel.

Rights holders research also must be carried out. All contributors, interviewers, interviewees, and people involved in the recordings such as sound engineers, hold copyright rights over the material and thus, they must be contacted, and their permission must be attained prior to the recordings being published online. If this permission cannot be attained or if the material contains topics which are extremely sensitive, they will be accessible only in-person.

After the recordings have been catalogued and the rights research undertaken, this information is imported into the National Library of Wales and the British Library’s catalogues. Some of the recordings within the ‘Tiger Bay– Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection such as the Women’s Lives Course recordings, contain sensitive material. Consequently, some recordings may be accessible only in person at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Although some recordings will not be accessible online, the collection is intriguing, and the recordings are worthwhile listening to in person.


By Evangeline Mills, MA Archives and Records Management Student, Aberystwyth University


Covid Passports – 1600 style

Collections - Posted 17-05-2021

Proving one’s state of health may be a current preoccupation with modern would-be travellers, but that is by no means a new phenomenon.

Before he journeyed to Italy with two friends in 1600, Elizabethan author and poet Robert Parry of Tywysog, Denbighshire, tells us in his diary that he had first to obtain a ‘lycence’ for overseas travel from Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil. Like the modern passport, this document enjoined those officials whom they would encounter to give them aid and protection as they departed their own land, and whilst they travelled abroad. It was also a means of monitoring the movement of individuals in-and-out of Elizabeth’s rather paranoid realm!

Clutching his vital lycence as he landed at Calais on 22 February, Parry had to face an obstacle to his journey. Intending to travel to Italy through France, the party discovered that areas of Savoy in the Western Alps, and Piedmont in north-west Italy, were experiencing outbreaks of plague, common enough at that time. Quite naturally, the Italians were worried by the spread of the disease:

“the Italians are very curious & circumspect in receavinge any strayngers into theire Contreyes wthout Bulletynes which could not be had but in places free from disseases the meanynge whereof in place more apte I will declare: for that I nothinge doubt, but that this worde bulletyne is straynge to our nation especially those that have not travelled in forren contreyes.”

Not to be thwarted, the intrepid travellers entered Switzerland, and travelled into Italy via that route, thus avoiding the need to satisfy the Italians by producing bulletynes of health!

Robert Parry seems more interested in the word than in the implications of his action. He suggests that this meaning for the English bulletin(s) – adapted from the Italian bullettino – was new. It may not have been accepted into wide-spread parlance, as the earliest instance in the Oxford English Dictionary is its use over forty years later by John Evelyn.

Thankfully, Robert Parry returned safely from his six-month ‘Iter in Italia’, minus the plague, and carrying a new English word as a souvenir. He entered it into his diary, now at the National Library of Wales: the earliest surviving diary written by a Welshman.

Maredudd ap Huw
Curator of Manuscripts


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

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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