Tag Archives: wicipics

Adventures of a Welsh Sailor

Collections - Posted 17-01-2022

In 2019 the National Library of Wales purchased at auction the first manuscript volume of the memoirs of the naval officer Captain William Owen (1732?-1778) of Montgomeryshire, a very early example of a memoir written by a Welshman.


Owen is best known for owning and settling Campobello Island, New Brunswick, which he was granted in 1767 (hence his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography). That period of his life was recounted by him in the second volume of his memoirs (now at the National Maritime Museum), parts of which were published in 1942.

Our manuscript, consisting of nearly six hundred pages, concerns the early, and arguably more incident packed, period of his naval career from 1750 to 1761, starting as a midshipman and ending up a lieutenant, serving aboard various ships, including HMS Tyger and the ill-fated HMS Sunderland.

In his first years he sailed the Atlantic and Mediterranean. He endured a fraught voyage to the Caribbean in 1753 during which sickness and appalling weather took the lives of eighty crewmates. From 1754 to 1761 he was in India, where he participated in the battle of Vijaydurg in 1756, Robert Clive’s expedition to retake Calcutta and the battle of Chandernagore, 1756-1757, and the naval battles against the French off Cuddalore, Negapatam and Pondicherry, 1758-1759.

On the night of 6 October 1760, during the blockade of the French port of Pondicherry, he took part in an action to board a French ship but lost his right arm to a cannonball (this accounts for the different handwriting in his contemporary log books and the later memoir!). He narrowly survived, was sent to Madras to recuperate and arrived back at Pondicherry just in time to witness from the shore the cyclone that sank the Sunderland with the loss of almost all hands.

He presents himself as unfailingly heroic and stoic during these events but was not above recounting various scrapes and escapades he found himself in, including various fights and drunkenness, the theft of a bullock at Calcutta and an ill-fated shooting expedition in Ceylon.

While Owen undoubtedly made use of (and freely copied from!) various printed works in compiling the narrative, his main sources were his own meticulous log books, journals, diaries and other papers and manuscripts. These survived his adventures and misadventures and so were available to him as he sat down one day in 1774 at his home in Shrewsbury to begin the memoir.

After his death the papers in due course came to Glansevern, the Montgomeryshire estate of his nephew, and in 1936 they were deposited at the National Library among the Glansevern Estate Records. The memoir itself seem to have remained in the possession of Owen’s direct descendants; it and its source materials are now reunited under the same roof for the first time in more than two centuries, an invaluable resource for researchers.


After a few delays (for reasons which surely need no elaboration!) the volume has now been repaired, boxed and fully catalogued as NLW MS 24132E. It is available to be consulted in the Library’s Reading Room.

Rhys Jones
Assistant Manuscript Curator

Thomas Jones the Almanacist

Collections / Digitisation / Uncategorized - Posted 27-12-2021

Another new year is on the horizon! Let us reflect on the Library’s collection of almanacs and how they were used in the past. These almanacs included dates of fairs and agricultural shows which would be of interest to country folk when planning their year.



Thomas Jones (1648?-1713) was one of the most prominent figures responsible for publishing and writing almanacs. He was born in Merionethshire, the son of a tailor. After moving to London as a young man to start his training there, he changed his career and became a printer and publisher. By 1693, he had moved to Shrewsbury and had established the first Welsh printing press. The main work of the press was to publish books, but it became famous throughout Wales for publishing almanacs. Thomas Jones won a royal patent for the press in 1679 to publish yearly Welsh almanacs, and he did so from 1680 to the year of his death in 1713. The almanacs were very popular in much the same way as we use calendars and year planners today.

In the example shown of Thomas Jones’s almanac, as well as a calendar, we have a short description of typical weather on each day of every month. Thomas Jones, it appears, wanted to warn, and entertain his readers at the same time. Some of the days in January are described as windy, others as frosty, others as rainy. Obviously, these are fruits of the imagination rather than a scientific analysis of the climate! But Thomas Jones also included cloudy prophecies in the almanacs with references to complex conditions he himself suffered (he was said to be a hypochondriac!).

His readers were delighted to read the almanacs for practical purposes, but the contents also proved to be a welcome escape from the harsh reality of their lives.


Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian.

From Östersund to Kiruna: Impressions of Lappland in the 1930s

Collections - Posted 20-12-2021

The National Library of Wales is home to the papers of the travel writer Dorothy May Fraser (1902-1980), who wrote prolifically under the pen-name of Maxwell Fraser. Born in London, Dorothy Fraser travelled all over the world for her books, but also wrote several volumes of Welsh interest following her marriage to Edgar Phillips of Pontllan-fraith, Monmouthshire, also known as the poet ‘Trefin’ and Archdruid of Wales.

Fraser’s papers provide a unique insight into travelling around the world from the 1920s to the 1960s, but it is her personal letters sent whilst journeying that are the most intriguing. In particular, her letters that were sent home during her travels through Norway, Sweden and north to Lappland in the 1930s can’t help but evoke a bit of Christmas spirit.

Travelling from Stockholm, Sweden to Östersund in 1937, she notes the ‘beautiful food and very kind people’ (Maxwell Fraser Papers, O/43), before continuing on to Skellefteå. Here Fraser recounts a comical story of taking the post-boat to the island of Ulnô (O/51), where the engine of the boat set on fire (maybe reindeer are more reliable?).

Sweedinsh stamps on letter O/65

Apparently this incident did not deter Fraser from her travels, as after meeting her guide, a Mr Holmquist and his dog Ludde (O/55) in Lappland, she returned in 1938 to explore the area further. A letter dated the 12th January (O/73) describes a fairytale reindeer sleigh ride at Jörn, Sweden, for her birthday, noting that ‘the country looks like fairyland’ with ‘heaps of snow’.

Coloured picture of reindeer pulling sleighs

After staying in Örnsköldsvik, Fraser travelled further north to Gällivare where she encountered ‘snow 3 or 4 feet deep and no shops within a hundred miles’ (O/74) before continuing to Trondheim, Norway. In June 1938, Fraser again returned to Stockholm where she described a traditional woodcarver, Erik Elenius, who presented her with a woodcutting and Lappish carving, before carrying on a long journey up to Kiruna in the far north of Swedish Lappland. Kiruna provided Fraser with what appears to have one of her favourite experiences – canoeing with Ludde the dog on an Arctic lake ‘just like glass… & a most beautiful shade of blue’ (O/86).

Fairytales, snow, reindeer…. it certainly evokes a little Christmas magic.

Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

Collecting pieces of the puzzle: Searching for a lost Welsh manuscript

Collections - Posted 14-12-2021

Archival collections and the preservation of historical documents play a vital role in helping us to understand the past. But perhaps just as importantly, these collections can also provide links to those things that may have otherwise been irretrievably lost.

The medieval manor of Hergest Court sits near the village of Kington, Hereford, facing the vast common of Hergest Ridge and the Offa’s Dyke Path on the English/Welsh border. Built around 1267, Hergest Court was occupied for centuries by the Vaughan family, and is synonymous with one of the most well-known medieval Welsh manuscripts, the late 14th     /early 15th-century Red Book of Hergest. Containing copies of, among other texts, the Welsh prose tales of the Mabinogi and the poetry of the Gogynfeirdd, the Red Book has a deserved reputation as one of the most important (and the largest) surviving medieval Welsh manuscripts.

But the Red Book was not the only great medieval Welsh tome associated with Hergest. It was also home to another volume, its geographical cousin, the White Book of Hergest. Commissioned by Watcyn Fychan of Hergest Court, and probably written sometime between c.1469 and c.1483, the White Book was destroyed in a bookbinders’ fire in London c.1810, and its original contents lost. Fortunately, however, numerous copies of its texts were made between the 16th and 19th centuries, enabling aspects of both its provenance and its contents to be recovered.

Peniarth 49 f.49 recto

NLW Peniarth MS 49, Barddoniaeth Dafydd ap Gwilym [16th cent., second ½ – 17th cent., first ½], including a note referencing transcriptions from the White Book of Hergest (f. 49r)


By surveying collections of manuscripts at NLW associated with some of the great historic Welsh estates, including those of Hengwrt, Wynnstay, Panton, and Llanstephan, a collection of transcriptions from the White Book could be gathered and compared. In total, thirteen manuscripts were surveyed, dating from the 1550s to the early 19th century. Altogether the transcriptions surveyed yielded a total of forty-six known texts apparently included in the White Book, consisting of text from the Laws of Hywel Dda, and the Statute of Rhuddlan; a large number of religious tracts (some 48% of the total transcriptions); prognostications and prophecies; genealogies and pedigrees; heraldry; several historical accounts, including that of Ifor Bach and the seizure of Cardiff Castle; as well as a significant amount of poetry by the medieval Welsh bards Lewys Glyn Cothi and Dafydd ap Gwilym. Notably, of the forty-six texts identified in transcriptions from the White Book, only three had been copied in English only, confirming that Welsh was the manuscript’s primary original language.

NLW Peniarth MS 225, Bucheddau’r Saint ([1594×1610]), which contains a transcription from the White Book of Hergest, pp. 107-118

Each transcribed text was indexed in detail based on manuscript, language, folio/page numbers, and titles (where possible). By indexing the transcriptions, a picture could be built of the original size and layout of the manuscript despite its loss. The survey indicated that the White Book in places contained more than one text on a single leaf, suggesting its size may have been similar to that of the Red Book. With the white leather covers after which it took its name, it would have been a large and impressive volume.

By studying the surviving transcriptions, elements of the White Book’s history could also be brought to light. We know that it may (at least in part) have been the work of Lewys Glyn Cothi, as three of the transcriptions surveyed repeated a note apparently inserted into the original manuscript by Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt identifying it as Lewys’ work. The transcripts from the White Book also had one text in common with the Red Book – ‘Cymydau a chantrefoedd Cymru’ (‘The commotes and hundreds of Wales’), and copies of the Welsh Laws, which apparently also featured in the White Book, had been copied decades earlier by scribes of the Red Book including Hywel Fychan. The Vaughans of Hergest came into possession of the Red Book after they received the forfeited library of Hopcyn ap Rhys, grandson of Hywel’s patron Hopcyn ap Tomas, following his uprising against Edward IV in 1465. Therefore conceivably several of the White Book’s exemplars could have come from Hopcyn’s library.

Above all, the transcribed contents of the White Book gave a valuable insight into the copying of texts and manuscript production during the turbulent period of the Wars of the Roses, and demonstrated the value of archival collections in ensuring the survival of even a lost manuscript.


Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

*This blog is based on Lucie Hobson, ‘Recovering the White Book of Hergest: A Survey of Manuscripts in Estate Collections at the National Library of Wales’ (MA Thesis, Aberystwyth University, 2020).

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St James Park Press

Collections - Posted 06-12-2021

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.

Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Romans at Rhiwarthen

Collections - Posted 29-11-2021

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.

Wil Troughton
Photograph Curator


Garden Festival of Wales, Ebbw Vale 1992 – a little [long] jingle

Discover Sound - Posted 24-11-2021

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.



Ebbw Vale Steelworks © Crown Copyright/ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales;  2. Garden Festival Wales aerial view © Blaenau Gwent County Council 


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.



Mechanical clock taken by Janet Karn © Haverfordwest Town Museum 2021


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.


“All kinds of greenery, all kinds of faces,

We’ll pull ‘em in from all kinds of places,

It’s gonna be the thing to do… in 1992.”



Blaenau Gwent poster ©BG County Council


Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer



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Tredegar Town Band – Playing for Wales! Chwarae dros Gymru!

Discover Sound - Posted 17-11-2021

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.



The Right Hon. Lord Tredegar, painted by George F Harris, from LLGC catalogue, available at https://viewer.library.wales/5227589#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F5227589%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=-1292%2C-125%2C4046%2C2490]


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


Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer

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Lady Charlotte Guest and the culture of the Orient

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 15-11-2021

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.



1. John, A., Parry-Williams, T. Guest (Schreiber), Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertrie (1812-1895), translator, businesswoman and collector. Available at https://biography.wales/article/s-GUES-ELI-1812#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F4674585%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=2285%2C1762%2C2101%2C1695

2. Bromwich, R. The Mabinogion and Lady Charlotte GuestThe Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1986, 127-41

3. John, A. Schreiber [néeBertie; other married name Guest], Lady Charlotte Elizabeth. Available at  https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-24832?rskey=aApn10&result=2 (Accessed 16 October 2021)


Hywel Lloyd,

Assistant Librarian.

Le Roman de la Rose

Collections - Posted

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.

Timothy Cutts
Rare Books Librarian





About this blog

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.

About the blog