Over the years the Library has built a comprehensive collection of the publications of private presses, which produce beautiful books in limited editions, using traditional hand-printing methods. Sadly several private presses in Wales have ceased functioning in recent years: the Gregynog Press near Newtown, the Red Hen Press in Breconshire and the Old Stile Press in Monmouthshire, leaving only the Gwydir Press in Llanrwst as far as I know. Several in England have come to an end as well.
So it was heartening to discover a new private press recently. The St. James Park Press was established in London by James Freemantle in 2015, and I had the pleasure of visiting it this year. The Library has bought a copy of a book published by the press in 2020, an edition of Arthurian stories. The book was published in a limited edition of 65 copies on an Albion press, using hand-made paper. It includes striking wood engravings to accompany the text.
We have also purchased a copy of a book published by the press in 2018, On the Birmingham School of Art, 1940 by Eric Gill. Eric Gill was a printer and sculptor who established a workshop in Capel-y-ffin, Powys, in 1924. He designed several typefaces, and was a significant influence on a number of private presses. This edition of Gill’s report on the Birmingham School of Art is limited to 100 copies, in a bamboo binding with an illustration by Eric Gill engraved on the cover.
The press is about to publish its most ambitious book yet, an edition of George Orwell’s 1984. The Library has received a prospectus of the book for its collections. It is to be hoped that the St. James Park Press will continue to flourish. It would be good to see private presses established in Wales once again to continue this tradition.
Until the founding of Ceredigion Museum the National Library of Wales had become the natural repository for interesting items found locally. Subsequently many of these items found their way to more relevant institutions. Working in the most interesting department of the Library and having insatiable curiosity can have its advantages, especially with regard to overlooked brown boxes containing shards of terracotta and numerous small coins covered in verdigris.
A note inside this particular box reads “List of coins in National Library of Wales from hoard found at Aberystwyth 1890.” Further use of Library resources found no trace of such a discovery but at some point a Mr. D T Harris presented the remains of a coin hoard to the Library. This was originally found at Rhiwarthen Isaf, nr Capel Bangor in 1881 and referred to in Archaeologica Cambrensis as comprising thousands of coins. It passed through the hands of a Mrs Morgan who made jewellery and bracelets out of, presumably, the better condition coins. This is the most likely source of our hoard, which fortunately was closely examined by ‘A.S.R.’ in 1948 who meticulously identified many of the 900 or so coins remaining.
Tetricus and Galienus may, depending on your bent, sound like Premiership football players or pharmaceutical products for uncomfortable intestinal problems. In fact they are third century Roman Emperors who post-humously have through their coinage reached the inner sanctum of the National Library of Wales. Other coins are from the reigns of Postunus, Victorinus and Claudius II. All reigned during the 260s and 270s A.D. suggesting the hoard was buried around 280 A.D. to be discovered some 1600 years later.
My third and final Tredegar sound file blog is based on a jingle written for the Garden Festival of Wales in 1992, which although anonymous was presumably written by a Tredegar resident. The National Garden Festival was held nearby in Ebbw Vale.
The jingle was probably written for a competition – I doubt it was a winner, or at least it was not used for news clips at the time but there are enough similarities to the wording of the refrain to suggest that “the thing to do in 1992” was a prompt given by competition organisers. It is extremely long for a jingle – 14 verses, plus intro, outro, key change, and an instrumental bridge! Perhaps this did not lend a competitive edge.
The sound file contains no identifying information about the artists (singer, guitarist, bass, and drums) or song writer(s), but I would say it was written by someone who grew up listening to the Beatles and who lived through the ‘groovy and hip’ seventies, with a penchant for the Americanism ‘gonna’.
Even though the jingle was written five years prior to Ground Force taking the UK by storm, Alan Titchmarsh gets a mention. In 1992, he was presenter of Songs of Praise and had been co-presenter of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show since 1988. Titchmarsh’s Travels was one year old, so he was evidently popular enough for verse seven.
Otherwise, the jingle is amusing in that it provides a snapshot of the British backyard gardener at the time through its many verses. There’s a definite sense of excitement from the get-go in verse one:
“Get ready, it’s gonna be soon. Ebbw Vale’s gonna be in bloom.”
Followed by the jaunty refrain: “It’s gonna be the thing to do… in 1992. (Boop boo de doo)” which goes really well with the festival’s little gnome mascot, Gryff, shown playing a saxophone on the cover of the souvenir brochure.
The background story to Ebbw Vale’s festival is quite incredible. It was the last of the National Garden Festival programmes introduced by Michael Heseltine in the 1980s to help communities to regenerate after the closure of major industry in the area – in this case, the Ebbw Vale Steelworks. It was also the most successful festival for two reasons. Firstly, it attracted over 2 million visitors bringing with them spending money which went into the local coffers; secondly, unlike the festivals in Glasgow and Newcastle, the site stayed live becoming the Festival Park shopping experience.
The bottom line was that after a closure of the steelworks which took place over a period of 25 years, the deprivation in the Blaenau Gwent area was horrific, the environment spoiled and the town of Ebbw Vale surrounded by slag heaps and other eyesores from the decommissioned works.
Blaenau Gwent Borough Council applied for the garden festival scheme, hoping for the injection of investment monies (estimated between £25 and £70 million per area) to regenerate the area and showcase the results over six months, bringing in further tourism income in the short and long term.
Originally, the Ebbw Vale application was not successful – Wales being left out of the scheme altogether. Not to be deterred, Brian Scully, then leader of the council, took this inequality to the Secretary of State for Wales, Lord Crickhowell. It took several months of putting pressure on the government, but it was agreed that Wales should be represented. Nineteen local authorities submitted a bid and on 19 November 1986, Ebbw Vale was the announced winner.
The project began with a budget of £8m, which stretched to £18m. This paid for the removal of slag heaps, building 1000 homes and a church, planting over 300,000 trees (not to mention over half a million shrubs, flowers, and bulbs in the Welsh culture-themed gardens), a giant waterfall, and the mechanical clock built by sculptor Andy Plant which was affectionately named “In the Nick of Time”. There was also a funicular, a land train, and a sky shuttle to transport visitors around the site.
t appears that 1992 was the year of ‘staycations’ as most of Wales came to Ebbw Vale on holiday to enjoy the festival, which was attended by stars and personalities from all over Britain. Every pupil in the area was brought on a school trip to hunt for bugs and adventure within the 1.75-mile landscape. Best of all, the festival provided hundreds of jobs, alleviating the area’s desperate poverty.
Today the site looks a lot different. The shopping centre still has the original pagoda, there is an owl sanctuary on site as well as a playground and the UK’s longest tub-ride. Nowadays, anglers are allowed to fish in the festival lake, which has enjoyed a happy overgrowth. The Blaenau Gwent council has moved two of its offices to the site, and there is a Premier Inn to welcome holiday makers during the busy summer season. The Festival Church runs a food bank and a community radio station; however, the funicular is gone, and the mechanical clock now sits in the middle of a roundabout in Llanwern.
Despite some people’s concerns that more of the festival site could have been preserved after the event was over, the real positive story is summed up in the words of Brian Scully: “Blaenau Gwent was no longer a place that lacked confidence after losing its industry. It was willing to change and modernise”. The council is currently attempting to buy the Festival Park to convert it to a tourist attraction, after it was purchased in February 2019 by a London-based investor. Sadly, the almost immediate pandemic undermined plans to turn it into a mecca for climbers and mountain bikers, and with the closure of several shops, the site went back on the market.
To tie this all in with the Sound Archives… as it happens, I came across a mention of the Garden Festival Wales in a file I was listening to for clearing purposes this week. It was in the last part of an interview with potter, Tony White, who had relocated to Wales (near Tregaron) from Leicester in 1983, and who took the opportunity to become one of the artisans who held stalls during the festival. His experience was overwhelmingly positive, and his Welsh business boomed as a result – to paraphrase: even if only 1% of the millions of visitors stopped by the stall, that was more exposure than most artists get in a lifetime.
It appears that most people interviewed for various anniversaries of the event, have positive memories of their time as children, visitors, players of Gryff and other walk-about characters, employees, and stall holders.
In another part of my life, in a land far, far away (British Columbia) I was a music graduate; my main instruments were voice and percussion – tympani being my favourite.
For several years, I had the pleasure of playing in the mischievous back row of a community concert band, so I was delighted to find out that one of my assigned sound files was the complete first CD by the Tredegar Town Band (TTB), recorded in 1992 after they placed third at the 1991 European Championships.
This band has an illustrious history, which is partially outlined (thanks to Heritage Lottery funding) on their website when they celebrated 140 years in 2017. Although there isn’t much modern information, the band has been alive and well, and very successful in various championships right up until COVID forced them into a hiatus.
They now post most of their information on their Twitter and YouTube accounts, and it looks like rehearsals have started up again under their current director, Ian Porthouse.
The band’s very first ‘gig’ was reported in the Monmouthshire Merlin in 1849; the TTB played the opening of a “splendid new mill” at Samuel Homfray’s ironworks in Tredegar. This was a very special occasion – all the town shops were closed for the day, bunting everywhere, and the procession involved 1600 people with thousands more spectators. The band played “a sprightly tune” after Mr Homfray’s speech, and later that night, gave a full performance at the celebratory dinner held in the Town Hall contributing “to the gratification of the assembly” and ending with ‘God Save the Queen’.
From this time forward, the band had some challenges but increasingly many successes. They were called to play at many processions, community gatherings and important openings. The first official concert, to raised funds for the band, appears to have taken place in 1873, the next year a ‘new brass band’ led by Mr Joseph Gwyer won first prize of £1 10 shillings at the Tredegar Eisteddfod; TTB went on to win first prize and the gold medal at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham in 1876 and this laid the foundation for future successes both in the Eisteddfod tradition but also the international circuit. By 1883, the band’s patron was Lord Tredegar, and the prize money had increased to £5.
Lord Tredegar presided over the first National Eisteddfod to be held in London (1909) and presumably took his ‘band’ with him to compete – however, the band’s website timeline has not been updated past 1904.
The CD is a source of delight to many I’m sure and is still available on iTunes! The band has its own YouTube channel as well; a live version of this programme can also be found on the Tredegar Wales YouTube channel — performed at the Garden Festival Wales in Ebbw Vale in 1992 under the baton of Nigel Weeks.
Playing for Wales! is a fun compilation of classical standards and music popular in the early 1990s. It begins with James Curnow’s ‘Blenheim Flourishes’ which, during the 1991 competition would have set the tone for their whole performance.
I have been unable to find out the name of the principal cornet player at that time, but their solo in the band’s arrangement of Marvin Hamlisch’s ‘The Way We Were’ is truly stunning, as is the cadenza work throughout. The CD continues with an overture by Carl G Reissiger, a trumpet showcase by Harold Walters, the more popular ‘Pasadena’ by Harry Warren, and Richard Wagner’s ‘Procession to the Minster’.
This is followed with the Honest Toil March (William Rimmer), which I would assume went down very well in the mining community of Tredegar. There are two romances – ‘Je crois entendre encore’ by Georges Bizet, and Gilbert Vintner’s ‘Salute to Youth, which are placed either side of my favourite tune on the album – a concert band arrangement of Jerry Herman’s ‘Mack and Mabel.
The CD concludes with the theme from the film E.T. which was celebrating its tenth anniversary, of course composed by the iconic John Williams, who has probably contributed more music for concert band than any other composer of the 20th century.
Wearing their resplendent red coats, the members of the band are pictured during their contest performance, on the recording’s cover, at the De Doelen Hall in Rotterdam. The recording is testament not only to their conductor, Nigel Weeks, but to the players themselves – precise articulation and rhythmic control, superb attention to dynamics and some very talented solo players. The repertoire was well chosen reflecting the preferences of the time with a selection of exciting marches, romantic ballads, showcase tunes, a jazzy carnival waltz and movie music. Sadly, there was no Welsh content but two of the three percussionists were women, which puts me in good company.
As I’ve said earlier, the band is still an impressive band with consistent successes. In more recent times, TTB have won the British Open title in 2010 and 2013; they provided a major part of the score (as well as an on-screen cameo) for the movie ‘Pride’ which won a BAFTA in 2014; the next year they performed at the Old Vic Theatre, London for Tim Minchin, and in 2016 became the Band Cymru title, becoming Champion Band of Wales for the 11th time. Last year, they played on Britain’s Got Talent – the only performance during the pandemic until recently when competitions were allowed again.
Although TTB celebrated 140 years in 2016, the band really has been an exceptional part of Welsh musical history for 172 years – thirty-two years before incorporation in 1876. I’m personally very glad that I discovered the band because of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project and the files assigned to me. The National Library holds several electronic resources showcasing the band in its catalogue, much of it in the BBC Radio Wales collection or from S4C/HTV Wales. There is even one score available of ‘Fanfares & Scherzo for Brass Band’ commissioned by the band from Wyndham Thomas. I heartily recommend listening to the Tredegar Town Band in whatever format you fancy.
Tredegar Town Band logo, available in various places online
A few weeks ago the Library bought a copy of the first edition of “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” by Muhammad ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, one of the most historical and noteworthy books from the classical Arab world according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. The main reason for purchasing the book was the inclusion of a presentation sheet for Lady Charlotte Guest from the Oriental Translation Fund, which was attached to one of the first pages of the book. This illustrates the respect and admiration which scholars of the eastern languages had for Guest.
Lady Charlotte Guest married Josiah John Guest, the Merthyr Tydfil M.P. and the Master of Dowlais Ironworks. The iron works flourished and quickly increased in size to employ seven thousand people, the largest iron works in the world. Lady Charlotte took great interest in the day to day running of the business, including publishing a pamphlet explaining the technicalities of the use of a hot blast. She travelled widely with her husband within Britain and Europe and contributed to meetings with scientists such as Charles Babbage. She also had her own room in the company’s London office. After her husband’s death she became responsible for the business.
After learning middle Welsh and studying medieval Welsh history under the Reverends Evan Jenkin, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc) and John Jones (“Tegid Jones”), Lady Charlotte became famous for copying and translating eleven books from the Red Book of Hergest. These were the four tales of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances and four other tales. She also translated the “The book of Taliessin”, a middle Welsh manuscript. She was inspired by studying works of the Romantic revelation and the works of William Owen Pughe. By researching, she noticed the influences and the mythological ideas which were woven into the Mabinogi.
It is a sign of Charlotte Guest’s ability that she succeeded to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian without the help of a teacher to guide her. The period written about in “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” spans from the creation of the world to the period of the Prophet Shu’ayb in the Quran. It is quite possible that she drew from these writings while translating the Mabinogi. This is one of the first works published by The Oriental Translation Fund, whose admiration for the work of Lady Charlotte is clearly shown in the presentation sheet.
In 1922 the Library purchased over 6,000 books and 150 manuscripts which had been collected by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921), poet, scholar and bibliographer from Midhurst in Sussex. The collection includes many mediaeval French texts and early illustrated books. One of the highlights of the collection is 23 editions of Le Roman de la Rose published before 1550. This is an allegorical poem about romantic love, begun in about 1230 by Guillaume de Lorris and completed around half a century later by Jean de Meun.
The editions include beautiful wood engravings. In one of the Library’s copies, printed in 1531, they have all been coloured by hand.
The Library continues to add to this collection, and recently purchased an edition of Le Roman de la Rose which we did not already hold. The edition was published in Paris in 1538. The copy is bound in two volumes, and in gold on the covers are the arms of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), member of the French Court and mistress of King Louis XV. The volumes contain extensive manuscript notes, possibly in Madame de Pompadour’s own hand, suggesting that she read the text in detail.
This year’s Welsh Political Archive annual lecture was held on Tuesday 2nd November. Last year’s lecture had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 restrictions and replaced it with an online discussion panel, so Professor Paul O’Leary’s lecture was long awaited.
2020 was the first time in its history the lecture had to be postponed, and this year was the first time it was held outside Aberystwyth. The Senedd in Cardiff Bay was the venue for the 2021 lecture, entitled Lloyd George, Empire & the Making of Modern Ireland.
As Paul O’Leary noted Lloyd George had been active during his early career in campaigns for Welsh home rule and as chancellor had given financial support to the National Library. It was therefore fitting that the National Library should hold a lecture on Lloyd George at the Welsh Parliament.
Ireland had played a role in Lloyd George’s career since his election to the UK Parliament in 1890; he was passionate about home rule and was inspired by the Irish land agitators but the British Empire was central to his worldview. Paul O’Leary argued that while he sympathized with unionists in the north he believed that the United Kingdom was a nation of different nations but he did not see the countries of Britain, Wales, England Scotland and Ireland in the same way as the dominions such as Canada and Australia. Giving Ireland similar status was a step too far.
The Irish Consul General in Wales was watching the lecture remotely and the Llywydd of the Welsh Parliament, Elin Jones was in the audience.
I was given three sound files relating to the town of Tredegar, all recorded in 1992, but so different in content that I asked if I could write three blogs to do each file justice.
The three files include the first CD released by the Tredegar Town Band, which had just won third place in the 1991 European Championships; a jingle written for the very last Garden Festival Wales; and a narration based on life-time resident William Cliff Smith’s memories of the Tredegar between 1912 and 1926. I am going to start with Mr Smith.
Tredegar is a town which maintains a hugely popular community following – not only does it have its championship brass band, but it is home to the Tredegar Orpheus Male Voice choir (started in the 1880s), at least three websites and several open forums which were very helpful for fact and name checking. Most of these are available through the umbrella site www.tredegar.co.uk which was set up in 1991.
My sound file is a clean copy (with added organ music) of a cassette tape recording available on YouTube. It begins with the narrator (presumed to be Barry Davies thanks to some investigative digging on one of the forum sites) saying:
“It could be truthfully said of Cliff Smith that he sincerely loved Tredegar, and this underlying dedication to Tredegar is evident in his two books: “Tredegar, My Town” and “Tredegar’s Yesterdays’.”
W C Smith “Tredegar’s Yesterdays” book cover – found on Amazon
Thus begins an interesting recollection of life after the turn of the century, up to and including the Great Miners’ Strike of 1926, covering all aspects from housing and living conditions, the daily routine of ‘the housewife’ (beginning at 5am) to the realities of washing day in a mining town. Men took care of their own clothes on Saturdays while the children were at one of the four cinemas in Tredegar, and the wives chatted with their neighbours, knowing their official washing day was on a Monday.
The descriptions and naming of the various hawkers – from food to underclothing to coal and oil – are interesting and detailed. There’s a real sense of neighbourhood during this timeframe. Each of Tredegar’s neighbourhoods had established door-to-door salespeople, including packmen who unrolled their wares on the stoop and women who came on their cobs from as far away as Crickhowell to sell chickens and vegetables. Commercial Street lives up to its name as the hub for shops, some of which were the pick-up locations for the vendors who then dispersed to their associated neighbourhood.
I particularly enjoyed the story about the fish mongers who came from Merthyr in a fleet of flat-top, horse drawn carts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Since there was a bylaw in Merthyr about unsold fish, there arose a tradition of these fish carts lining up, at the end of the route, outside a tea shop called The Rice Pudding owned by spinsters, the Misses Price. Their café served pudding for a penny and tea for a half penny and while the fish men enjoyed their break, elderly townsfolk would gather around the carts to see what was left. They were able to buy a fish for a penny, while the remainder was distributed for free to the poor.
Another section of the sound file was allocated to nicknames of the various hawkers, including Jack Lookup (who sold everything imaginable from his high cart and who serviced the whole town), Billy Dumpling (baker), Trevor the Milk (whose descendent was awarded an MBE to go with the appellation in 2008), Mott the Oil and others.
Townsfolk also earned memorable nicknames. There was Dai Backrent who collected for the Tredegar Iron & Coal Co., Billy Born-Drunk, Jackie Banjo and Jim Drummer, Billy Kidgloves (temperament or affectation?) and Dai Bluemark, so called because of a scar on his face which, because of coal dust impregnation, turned blue on healing. George Pierce became so well-known for his tall stories, that anyone caught telling a white lie was called a ‘george pudding’. The three Jones brothers of Whitworth were called Jimmy Hallelujah, Tommy Saviour and Billy Cow-and-Calf. The first two were converted at a Tent Appeal in 1912; presumably Billy missed out on that but due to his small holding was awarded a nickname too.
Cliff recalls the ice cream vendors on pedal carts, a similar cart was also used by Mrs Morris, the lady who ran a fish & chip cart with a tubular chimney – smoke billowing out “like a first world war naval dreadnaught.” Apparently, her chips were golden brown and her batter unrivalled. Then there were the milk ladies – Angelina and her sister, and the one-eyed cockle man from Dowlais. There was as much friendly competition between the fruit and veg sellers as there was on the allotments to see who could grow the biggest cabbage. Consequently, there was a greengrocer on almost every street.
The memoirs overall show a great spirit of community – every shop on the high street thriving, the poorest section of the population cared for in some way or other, but also the realities of living in a mining town. Towards the end of the file, the depravations experienced by the town due to major strikes in 1921 and 1926, bring home the importance of community pulling together.
Even before the lean years, allotments, chicken coops and pigsties were a common site around Tredegar. The allotments were cared for by the miners who began the growing year with a May Day celebration of digging and sowing seeds. I loved the description of the children going around with a soapbox trolley gathering up horse manure – deposited daily and imperative for the allotment plots. In some areas, the street sweeper would anticipate the trolley by shifting the manure into a tidy pile ready for collection on a street corner.
Side two of the sound file, which was digitised by the Sound Archive, is dedicated to stories of Cliff’s early work life in a brick kiln from the age of thirteen, and his love of dancing which started when he was fifteen.
Life was hard in these days – everyone worked from an early age and long hours, but they enjoyed life as well. There was a rhythm to the town; everyone knew the routine of industry into which home life fit as a harmony. The descant to this lifestyle was made from the moments of social pleasure, which came in the form of music (the band and choirs which had started in the late 1800s, glee parties, the dancehalls) and the cinemas – Palace, Workman’s Hall, Olympia and the Top Cinema (officially the Queen).
These were the days before talkies and Cliff’s adolescent heart was stolen by the actress, Pearl White. Although the films were silent, the audience were incredibly noisy with adults shouting to read the captions aloud for their unschooled friends and the pandemonium of the children on a sugar high screaming whenever the villain appeared on screen.
After the Saturday morning chores, eight-year-old Cliff and his sister would rush off to the closest sweet shop to load up on marble rocks before heading to the cinema for the weekly dose of Pearl’s serial “Trail of Hearts”. After the movie, the two would go to a fish shop on Commercial Street where they would gorge on “fish batter and chips strainings”. This part of the recording had me salivating!
By the time Cliff was a teenager, there was excellent choice in dancehalls – the Town Hall at the top or the Drill Hall at the bottom of Tredegar. The north end of town was looked after by a band leader named Tom James, and several times a year dances were held, under special licence, at the Crwsiad Hall at the catholic school.
Walking was popular and one of Cliff’s favourite summer routes would commence at the end of the afternoon shift crossing in Cefn Golau (now a nature reserve), descending into Rhymney, and then circling north to Princetown and Tafarnaubach. Cliff and his friends would arrive back home at Dukestown between 1am and 2am. Some days he got up at 3am to walk to the Dyffryn to pick mushrooms or winberries.
Proposed 9-mile walking route taken by Cliff Smith and his friends from the brickyards in Georgetown – using the OS map route planning open-source software
The end of the second side is depressing. By 1926, Cliff had been appointed secretary of a soup kitchen. Financial aid came from the Orpheus Choir which split into touring groups, holding concerts in London, Liverpool, and Birmingham, sending donations to the Cooperative Society, which in turn, bought the produce required for Tredegar’s four soup kitchens. Cliff’s post at Ebenezer Chapel fed 130 men and boys every day. Cliff relates the realities of the morning task of peeling five sacks of potatoes. The peelings went to a pig dealer who traded for a few packets of cigarettes, which were split between the men. Cliff passed his allocation on to his father.
The unemployed queued with their admission cards; some ate their stew or soup at tables, others brought a jug so they could take their allocation home, which would be watered down to feed the whole family. Another testament to the community spirit of Tredegar is in the words: “Through it all, the miners and their families bravely endured the hardships, exhibiting a spirit of unity and brotherhood which has not been surpassed.”
The sound file finishes with Barry Davies telling the listener that Cliff Smith died on 22 November 1990, aged 84. According to one of the Tredegar forum members, there are at least 24 other cassette tapes recorded by him. I am not sure if the National Library holds them all, or if they have been digitised, but he is an engaging narrator, and with subject matter like Cliff Smith, brings to life the joys and struggles of everyday Wales.
Combining Wikidata and OpenStreetMap to improve Welsh language mapping services
Open data as a concept has developed rapidly in recent years, propelled further by the need for rapid, collaborative solutions during the pandemic. In many ways platforms like Wikidata and OpenStreetMap (OSM), which have been growing at pace for a number of years now, are leading this open data revolution.
OSM is a crowd-sourced mapping dataset, where the public works together to build a rich open-access global map, which can be reused and adapted for free by all.
Wikidata is a huge linked open data set containing data about just about everything. Again, anyone can contribute and reuse for free, but perhaps the biggest difference here is that many organizations and other data aggregators also contribute.
In both these datasets the name of each entity can be given in multiple languages, including Welsh. And additional variations in each language can also be added.
In Wales we have small but active communities of contributors to both projects, and both receive support from the Welsh Language Technology Unit at the Welsh Government. For a number of years the National Library of Wales has directly supported Wikidata by appointing a ‘National Wikimedian’.
The project currently underway is a partnership between the National Library of Wales and the Mapio Cymru team, funded by the Welsh Government.
Combining Wikidata with OSM allows us to build on the work of Mapio Cymru which has been developing a map of Wales using only Welsh language data held in the OSM database. By aligning and combining this with Wikidata the map can begin to grow further, offering more information to users through the medium of Welsh.
And this is important. Many places in Wales, be they towns, villages, hills or beaches have two names, or sometimes more. The names in Welsh are almost always the original place names, ancient in origin and steeped in history. These names are usually descriptive or refer to long lost saints, chieftains or fortresses. The English versions of place names are sometimes meaningless mutations of the Welsh originals or names imposed by medieval invaders or Victorian ‘modernisers’. Even today historic properties are renamed in English by their new owners and Welsh names are dropped from websites and maps in favour of English alternatives deemed to be ‘more easy to pronounce’.
This project aims to decolonise mapping in Wales, not by erasing English place names from the record but giving users the option to view and explore a modern map of Wales solely through the medium of Welsh – a service that didn’t really exist until the launch of Mapio Cymru.
So the first challenge with this project is actually to encourage communities to contribute their local Welsh place names to OSM or Wikidata so that they can be included in the map, and this is done through a series of discussions, workshops and editing events.
The technical aspect of combining Wikidata with OSM begins with aligning the two datasets. OSM allows you to add the corresponding Wikidata ID records for places in its database, and this lets us know which places are missing from either of the datasets, and more particularly, where Welsh language data is missing. By looking at Welsh places already aligned to Wikidata we were immediately able to add 5000 additional Welsh place names to the Mapio Cymru map tiles using Welsh labels from Wikidata and this number should continue to rise as more places in OSM are aligned to Wikidata and more Welsh names are added.
Rendering Wikidata names directly onto the OSM map tiles is one way of adding value to the Welsh map, and a way of uniting two distinct communities to the cause. However, we can also bring further value by adding a Wikidata skin on top of the OSM map. The additional layer allows us to render pins (or points) on the map for a number of different data types, such as transport hubs, medical services, beaches and historic buildings. It allows users to filter specific content types, and gives them the option to see many places that don’t yet have Welsh OSM data. The proof of concept map below shows how this might look;
Thinking further ahead, this type of interface could be easily adapted as a crowdsourcing tool, allowing the community to visualize gaps in the data and leading them to OSM or Wikidata to add the missing information.
Ultimately the map could also form the foundations of a Welsh language Sat-Nav system.
Making the connection with Wikidata also has plenty of extra potential, since it holds far more information than just coordinates and multilingual names, including images and links to Wikipedia articles. The concept below shows another way in which Wikidata could combine with OSM to connect users with relevant Welsh language Wikipedia articles.
For this project we have also worked with the Welsh Language Commissioner to add standardized Welsh language place names to Wikidata, so these can also be displayed on the prototype map. In total over 10,000 Welsh place names have been added to Wikidata using Welsh Government Open Data and other Open Data sources and these can now be displayed on the prototype map.
We hope the development of the map can continue, and there is already interest from bilingual organizations in using the OSM Cymru map to enhance their Welsh language online services.
This is a map that belongs to the people of Wales. It is a living entity and its existence is a testament to the strength of the Welsh language and the resolve of those who volunteer their time in order to ensure its future. The map is more than simply a record of Welsh names, it’s the basis for a rich, modern Welsh language mapping service, which can be developed and used by all.
We need your help! The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (UOSH) and the Tiger Bay Heritage and Cultural Exchange Organisation is working with freelancers to create a new piece of work inspired by the ‘Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club’ film and oral histories recorded from the area. We are trying to locate relatives of interviewees who were recorded by the late Butetown History and Arts Centre.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and have received funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. The project has focused on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.
One of the collections digitised by the National Library of Wales consists of oral history recordings relating to people who (used to) live and work in Tiger Bay, or Butetown, and the Cardiff Docks. The interviews conducted between 1984 and 2000 includes several projects such as life histories, Artists interviews, Second World War, Somali Elders and much more.
“The aim of digitising these oral histories is to preserve and make them accessible for future generations. Tiger Bay has developed over the Centuries and the past can now be heard by the voices of the community themselves” Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager.
“The Heritage & Cultural Exchange is a community based organisation that actively encourages the participation of local people in the development of, and the ongoing use of the collection of oral history tapes and photographs so that everyone can see the achievements and tenacity of their ancestors. We tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in the Docks to schools, colleges and through exhibitions.
We want the world to know we are here and have been for a very long time.
The Heritage & Cultural Exchange wants to give full credit and show respect to those who shared their stories but we need help to identify some of them or their living relatives. Can you help us?” Gaynor Legall, Chair Tiger Bay Heritage & Cultural Exchange
These interviews are a significant piece of the city’s diverse history heard by the voices of everyday people from the Tiger Bay area. This call out is for interviewees or their relatives in order for us to use part of their stories. Do you have any information about James Sapo Mannay, Ronald Jenkins, Joan Duggan, Katie Anderson Johnson, Abbas Abdullah, Christopher Stevens, Sunday and Eva Dennis and Harry Jarret? If so, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
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.