Richard Burton playing cricket whilst dressed as Alexander The Great might not be what you expect to find in The National Collection of Welsh Photographs housed here in the National Library of Wales, but it illustrates the diversity of the collection. It is just one of the 1.2 million photographs held here for the people of Wales which range from the first recorded photograph to have been taken in Wales – on 9 March 1841 by Reverend Calvert Richard Jones at Margam Castle – to images which were taken only this year, such as those by Jack Lowe and Nick Treharne, recently purchased by the Library. It’s a collection that continues to develop and despite the effects of austerity, we have continued to buy works by contemporary photographers. These include the likes of Abbie Trayler-Smith, Pete Davis, Amanda Jackson and Rhodri Jones.
Amongst our holdings are many works by the greats of photography – such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, Carleton Watkins, Angus McBean and Philip Jones Griffiths to give just a few examples. During the last month we have also sought to draw attention to the wealth of photographs of the far-flung corners of the world, whether Fiji, Venezuela or Yemen. The collection also includes the work of Welsh photographers, recording all aspects of life in Wales. Personally, I am very proud of the fact that this is a democratic collection. It is open to receive relevant material from anyone, it’s definitely not an exclusive club restricted to the greats of photography. After all who better to document a community than those who live in it?
Hopefully, the vlogs and tweets we’ve shared and events held here over the last few weeks have illustrated the depth and breadth of this collection.
This is a collection of photographs of, about and for the people of Wales. It’s your collection, which tells your story, so please use it and above all enjoy it. Visit The National Library of Wales’ website to find out more.
November 7 is World Digital Preservation Day. This is a global campaign, co-ordinated by the Digital Preservation Coalition, to raise awareness of the issues associated with the preservation of digital information. The theme of this year’s campaign is At Risk Digital Materials, but I would argue that all digital material is at risk, as the fast change of technology, the fragility of the binary code, the obsolescence of hardware and software, all present preservation challenges. There are also challenges in providing access to this material, as it can be difficult to establish provenance and original order, which is the way that archival material has traditionally been catalogued, when dealing with a succession of tweets posted on social media.
In Wales, we have been working together to mitigate the risks posed by the preservation of digital material. The Archives and Records Council Wales, supported by Welsh Government and the National Library of Wales, has produced a national digital preservation policy and developed a technological solution to preserve and provide access to the digital material acquired by its partners. The solution preserves the content in a central repository held at the Library, whist access is provided through the catalogues of the partners.
Family memories are also at risk from digital technologies, as emails, photographs and videos are all being created in digital format. The preservation of these digital memories depends upon the creators taking action now to ensure that they are available for future generations. The message of World Digital Preservation Day is to raise awareness of the need to act to order to preserve, so that digital content is safeguarded for the future.
Sally McInnes, Head of Unique Collections and Collection Care
“Every one who attempts to deprive bad men of power expect to meet with the hostility of those men whom he assails, and we all know perfectly well that the worse use they make of power the more do they desire to retain it” – John Frost.
“Ye serpents and generations of vipers, why seek ye the life of Frost? You may succeed but what think ye of the mighty millions? If ye can escape the bullet, who can escape the match?” – Risca Letter, 17 December 1839.
Today marks the 180th anniversary of the Newport Rising, and it is fitting that we’ve recently digitised the transcript of John Frost’s trial published in 1840 as The Trial of John Frost, for High Treason: under a special commission, held at Monmouth, in December 1839, and January 1840, as part of an ongoing project to digitise all the 19th century Welsh or Welsh interest biographies in the Welsh Print Collection. Based on the shorthand transcription of Joseph and Thomas Gurney, presumably the court stenographers at the trial, it’s a fascinating document, giving us a courtroom seat for one of the most sensational trials of the 19th century.
Frost, along with his fellow Chartist leaders Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, had been charged with high treason following the uprising, but it was Frost who was put on trial first. The build-up to the trial had been tense with campaigns and agitation in support of Frost, especially amongst Chartism’s working class supporters, across south Wales and the rest of Great Britain. Frost was able to retain two very capable lawyers, Sir Frederick Pollock, a former Attorney-General, and Fitzroy Kelly, considered to be “one of the most acute and powerful advocates at the bar.” Both lawyers were ably assisted by Foster’s stepson, William Geach, who identified a technicality in relation to the prosecution’s sharing of a list of witnesses, which raised the possibility of a dismissal of the trial.
There was, however, no dismissal and Frost’s trial took place between 31 December 1839 and 8 January 1840. While Frost was at a serious disadvantage from the beginning having been unable to find many witnesses to testify in his favour, facing a large list of witnesses ready to testify against him and facing an expectation that he would duly be found guilty and punished accordingly. However, as The Trial of John Frost shows us, both Pollock and Kelly were able to mount a spirited defence through both their examination of the witnesses and in their summing up, destroying the credibility of at least one witness and undermining the evidence of several key witnesses, most notably the idea that the Chartists planned to stop the mail at Newport as a signal for a larger uprising across the rest of Great Britain.
Pollock and Kelly’s efforts bore some fruit, with the prosecution abandoning much of their case against Frost in the summing up. However, the Attorney General maintained that by marching thousands of armed men into Newport and attacking the Westgate Hotel they were guilty of treason by levying war against the queen. More unexpectedly, it also led the trial judge, Lord Justice Tindal, to sum up in favour of acquittal, much to the chagrin to the Attorney General. The jury, however, comprised of propertied men, was not swayed returning a guilty verdict in just half an hour, a not entirely unexpected result considering the jury’s class composition. Frost, Williams and Jones were be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, later commuted to transportation for life in Tasmania. In an act of defiance as they left the court at Monmouth after sentencing, William Jones shouted to the crowd, “Three cheers for the Charter!”
Despite receiving conditional pardons in 1854, Williams and Jones would remain in Tasmania, with Williams making a considerable fortune in the coal industry. Frost, however returned to Britain in 1856 on receiving a full pardon, having first travelled to America in 1854. Returning to Britain, Frost remained a committed Chartist, and also a vocal campaigner against the horrors of transportation. Frost had himself been sentenced to two-years hard labour not long after arriving at Port Arthur following disparaging remarks made about the then Home Secretary, Lord Russell, and had witnessed countless floggings which had greatly disturbed him. Frost summed up his attitude to the penal colonies in his Horrors of Convict Life, originally published in 1856 noting, “Never, in my opinion, in any age or country, has society existed in so depraved a state as I have witnessed in the penal colonies, produced, too, by laws not equalled in severity in any part of the civilised world.”
As noted above The Trial of John Frost is a fascinating and valuable work, documenting one of the most sensational and politically charged trials of the 19th century. It’s also one of over 2,000 Welsh or Welsh interest biographies that are currently in the process of being digitised by the Library. So, as we remember the Newport Uprising of 4 November 1839, why not take the opportunity to take your seat in the courtroom for The Trial of John Frost.
John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973, original published London, 1856)
Joseph and Thomas Gurney – The Trial of John Frost (London, 1840)
David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999)
Ivor Wilks – South Wales and the Rising of 1839 (Llandysul, 1989)
David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969)
Dr. Douglas Jones
Published Collections Projects Manager
 John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973), p. 5.
 David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999), p. 188.
 David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969), p. 266.
Amongst the Gladstone pamphlet collection held at the National Library are hundreds of papers from the collection of The Reverend Bartholomew Price, a mathematician who held the Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy chair at Oxford University. They are mainly pamphlets sent to Price by other scientists in Great Britain. They were presented to the Library by his son, W.A. Price, in 1939.
It is obvious from the handwritten notes on many of these leaflets that Price was held in high esteem in the scientific community at the end of the nineteenth century. Amongst the authors of these pamphlets are famous names such as James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Sir George Stokes and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). Many of these pamphlets are rare and in some cases the only copies known to be in existence (the pamphlets, together with the presentation inscriptions on them provide evidence of how the scientists of the period exchanged their ideas).
James Clerk Maxwell’s pamphlet On Colour Vision is intriguing. This is a text of a demonstration lecture given by the author in 1871 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He observes that the science of colour is both a mental science in which our own nature determines the laws of colour observation and a physical science where clearly defined laws of nature can be applied.
Maxwell begins by showing how the laws of Newton are applied to colour observation. By passing light through a prism, Newton showed that white light is not the most pure form of light, as was previously thought, but was composed of all the colours of the spectrum. Objects that we call coloured when illuminated by white light make a selection of these rays, and our eyes receive from them only a part of the light which falls on them, e.g. a red object absorbs all parts of the spectrum apart from the red part which it scatters. However if they receive only the pure rays of a single colour of the spectrum they can only appear that colour, e.g. any object will look red when red light is shone on it- unless it absorbs red, in which case it will look black.
He describes how mixing red and green paint produces a very drab yellow. However when red and green light are mixed the result is a very bright yellow. This is because the red paint, when scattered, is robbed of its brightness by getting mixed with particles of green paint and vice versa. However the yellow light produced by green and red light is a pure colour and not divided into two portions like the mixture.
Maxwell goes on to compare our perception of colour to our perception of musical chords. It appears to our consciousness that each colour is uniform whereas we can easily make out the separate components of a musical chord.
The leaflet delves into describing other aspects of colour science such as colour blindness, and the yellow spot on the retina. For example did you realise that the extreme part of the retina is insensitive to red? According to Maxwell if you hold a red flower and a blue flower in your hand as far back as you can see your hand you will lose sight of the red flower while you can still see the blue flower. Also if light is diminished, red objects will look darker in proportion to blue objects. I wonder if you, the reader, can confirm whether these observations are true? The third notable observation, which should definitely not be tried at home, is that a kind of colour blindness can be experienced by taking doses of Santonin. Maxwell himself ends the pamphlet by apologising to the readers for not taking the drug to confirm whether this is true!
This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
A folk tale from Wales and Appalachia for Halloween
At the end of May 2019, an exhibition of Welsh folk art titled ‘Meddygon, Swynion a Melltithion / Curers, Charms and Curses’, featuring the work of eight illustrators, photographers, sound artists, doll makers, and crankie makers, went on show at the Monongalia Arts Center in downtown Morgantown, West Virginia. I had carried the artwork along one of the old nineteenth-century European migration routes, over the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains to the steel and coal city of Pittsburgh, and down the Monongahela River into Appalachia. Admittedly not in a storm-tossed schooner bound from Aberaeron or with belongings strapped to a covered wagon hauled by a pack-mule, but in a large backpack trolley on an environmentally unsound 747 and an overnight Megabus.
On arrival in Morgantown, I gave an in-depth interview about Welsh and Appalachian folk arts to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s folklife reporter, Caitlin Tan, in the middle of which Larry, the cameraman, chipped in with an unexpected insight into the Mabinogion. He explained he had studied medieval linguistics at college, where he specialised in the ancient Welsh stories. At the opening night of the exhibition, Jesse Wright, head of WVPB news, filmed the entire event. A lady told me that her mother had organised a Welsh language eisteddfod in Morgantown until the early 1960s; JoAnn Evans from the St David’s Society of Pittsburgh gave me a bag of Welsh language vinyl collected by her father; the city museum discovered they had a pamphlet entitled Mining A career for Welsh Boys; Minister Bob Dayton from Pennsylvania performed the Snowdonia tale of Cadwaladr and the Goat with a bag full of sheep puppets. Something was stirring.
None of this was a surprise. I have family in Appalachia and I knew there were traces of the Welsh in the mountain state. Morgantown was founded by Zackquil Morgan, son of Morgan Morgan from Glamorgan, who arrived in what was to become West Virginia in the 1730s. The city graveyard is full of stones etched with the names Davies, Griffith, Evans, Jones, Williams, Price, and of course Morgan, yet there is little written evidence of their ancestors. It seems the forgotten Welsh vanished into the deep dark forests to become the lost Appalachians.
In the early 1800s, the Ceredigion commons were being bought by wealthy gentry, and the poor labourers who had farmed them for generations had little choice but to leave. They arrived in Appalachia as migrants and settled on land that was already lived and worked by indigenous people who were in turn forced to leave. By 1830, President Jackson’s ‘Indian Removal Act’ had become law, leading to the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee from Southern Appalachia.
Half the population died on ‘the Trail of Tears’ as they were marched under armed guard to Oklahoma. As the tears of the women soaked into the dry ground, a beautiful flower grew. The Cherokee Rose.
A hundred years later, miners and prospectors came to work in Osage and Scott’s Run on the outskirts of Morgantown, where Welsh was spoken alongside German, Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Italian and many more. The scrip system and company houses meant the colliers and their families were little more than objects owned by the mine owners – an injustice they thought left behind in Wales.
The Cherokee called the Welsh miners ‘The Moon-eyed People’, because they could see in the dark and lived underground.
Before the opening, little memory remained of the Welsh in West Virginia. After three or four generations, the sound of croaking frogs in the swamps and coal barges chugging along the Monongahela River had drowned out the Welsh language. Folks consider themselves Appalachian American now.
Yet their quiet voices have left a memory, not only in the coal culture, but in shared folk tales and folk arts. The exhibition celebrated the forgotten voices of the granny women of both Appalachia and Wales, who could charm, cure and curse, had remedies for every kind of ailment, and were treated with both suspicion and respect within their communities.
Beti Grwca of Cei Newydd was famed for her love potions, as was Nancie Gore, a Cherokee from the Ozark Mountains who loved horses, hated doctors, and had learned remedies from the old medicine men she knew. Agnes Dolan of West Virginia could cure fevers and curses by drawing a heart on a piece of paper and sticking it with pins, while Dark Anna of Llanfairfechan cursed by piercing a clay doll with her foster mother’s hatpin. A man in Clay County shot a raccoon in the leg and old Martha Pringle forever walked with a limp, while a farmer in Tregaron shot a hare with a silver bullet and a doctor pulled the same bullet from the leg of an old woman who lived nearby.
Both Appalachia and Wales share a tradition of quiltmaking. The exhibition features a blue and white quilt made in Oak Hill, Ohio in 1894, for the Rev. and Mrs J. Mostyn Jones, which includes the embroidered signatures of almost sixty Welsh women.
Folk tales and folk arts are archives of memories of those who carried knowledge and wisdom. They are our connection to the dead.
We remember them at Halloween.
Stevenson, Peter: The Moon-eyed People, Folk Tales from Welsh America (Stroud, The History Press, 2019)
Stevenson, Peter: Chwedlau, Cwiltiau a Chranci / Stories, Quilts and a Crankie (Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum, 2019)
The 26th of October marks the 160th anniversary of the Royal Charter disaster, which saw the loss of over 450 lives off the coast of Anglesey. Amongst the books held in the National Library’s Welsh Print Collection are a number narratives recording both this disaster and another shipwreck off the coast of Anglesey 28 years earlier, that of the Rothsay Castle which saw the loss of around 130 lives. While the causes of these shipwrecks were radically different, one due to a particularly fierce storm, the other due to the actions of a drunken captain, the legacy of both shipwrecks was the implementation of measures to prevent further shipwrecks.
The Royal Charter was an iron-hulled steam clipper built at the Sandycroft Ironworks near Hawarden in 1855. One of the first ships of its kind, it broke the record for sailing between Liverpool and Melbourne on its first journey, completing the journey in 59 days. The Royal Charter was on course to matching this record, this time on the return journey, when it was caught without warning in one of the fiercest storms that had been witnessed along the British coast, later named the Royal Charter storm. As Alexander McKee notes, “no fewer than 133 ships were totally wrecked around the British Isles that night, and a further 90 driven ashore and badly damaged…Most of the ships so destroyed were small, but nearly 400 lives were lost on them.” In total over 800 deaths were attributed to the storm, with by far the largest single loss of life on the Royal Charter.
Up until this point the Royal Charter’s journey had been largely uneventful; indeed, the passengers had presented the captain with a testimonial as they were anchored off Cork on 24 October. As they reached the Irish coast, stopping off at Queenstown (Cobh), the passengers were excited by the prospect of arrival at Liverpool, sending letters and telegrams to family members announcing their safe arrival. However, having passed Holyhead the weather had taken a serious turn for the worse, with the ship’s captain, Captain Thomas Taylor, unable to attract the attention of a pilot boat, due to the poor visibility, to guide them in to Liverpool, despite signalling from the Skerries and Point Lynas.
By the time the ship had reached the coast off Moelfre, the Royal Charter was in serious difficulties, being forced on the rocks off Moelfre by 100 mile-an-hour winds despite desperate and ultimately futile attempts to anchor the ship and to cut its sails. Captain Taylor and his crew fought through the night and morning to save the ship and to get passengers to safety, with the help of villagers on shore. However, just after the dawn the ship split in two, confining the majority of its passengers and crew, and also the considerable cargo of gold it was carrying, to a watery grave. Despite the heroic efforts of the crew and villagers only 40 survived the shipwreck. Amongst those lost was the crew member Isaac Lewis who, in a tragic irony, hailed from Moelfre. Lewis, trapped on the ship, recognised his father on the rocks but was swept away by a huge wave as he was being rescued. More apocryphal versions of his fate record his last words to his father as “Oh, I am come home to die” or “Oh father, I’ve come home to be drowned.”
The Royal Charter disaster was a national event, even drawing the interest of Charles Dickens, who visited Moelfre and the wreck site soon afterward. Most significantly, it also focused the efforts of Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who had been in the process of lobbying for the creation of a national storm warning system since the summer of 1859. Following the disaster, FitzRoy drew up charts of the storm, recording its hourly progress along the British coast as an illustration of the need for such a warning system. FitzRoy’s detailed proposals for a storm warning system were accepted by the Board of Trade in December 1859 and implemented in September the following year. As Peter Moore notes, “FitzRoy’s storm cones were to be a vital new weapon in the battle against shipwreck.”
While Captain Taylor had done his upmost to save his ship, passengers and crew from certain disaster, the same could not unfortunately be said of Lieutenant Atkinson, the commander of the Rothsay Castle which was shipwrecked off Penmon on August 17, 1831. Unlike the Royal Charter the Rothsay Castle was not a sea-worthy vessel, having being built in 1816 for use on the river Clyde. By 1831, it was an ageing ship with rotting timbers, pumps that did not work, no buckets and no means, such as flares or lights, of alerting others if it was in distress. Delayed by the weather, by an eagerness to get as many passengers on board as possible and by a gentleman’s desire to have his carriage hoisted onto the ship, the Rothsay Castle left Liverpool at midday, two hours later than planned and heading into increasingly dangerous tides. By the time it was in open sea, the weather had again taken a turn for the worse, with the steam packet struggling to make headway to Beaumaris.
As the weather worsened and the ship began taking on water, the passengers made several requests to the captain, who had retired to his cabin for a two-hour lunch, to turn back. The captain, who had emerged from his long lunch drunk and abusive, refused, insisting that there was no danger and that “he was not one that turned back.” By 10pm the Rothsay Castle had reached the Great Orme’s Head, having travelled 36 miles in ten hours. As it approached the Menai Strait the ship was in serious difficulties, taking on more water, struggling against strong waves and with its pumps failing to pump the water leaking into the ship. Despite this, as they reached the Menai Strait the passengers were relieved, believing that the worse was behind them and that they would soon be docking at Beaumaris. Tragically this was not to be the case.
As they entered the Menai Strait, the ship hit Dutchman’s Bank, a sandbank off the coast of Penmon. This was followed by a series of further collisions as the Rothsay Castle travelled a mile further down Dutchman’s Bank. The captain, having once again emerged from his cabin was heard giving “confused and contradictory orders” to his crew. Following this series of collisions the Rothsay Castle broke up, its iron funnel and main-mast falling first, taking Lieutenant Atkinson to his death with them and causing heavy damage to the side of the ship. Of the estimated 150 passengers and crew on board, only 21 were saved.
Like the Royal Charter, the Rothsay Castle shipwreck also left a literary legacy, becoming the subject of a number of odes at the Beaumaris Eisteddfod the following year. It also left a more lasting legacy – the establishment of the Penmon Lifeboat Station in 1832 and the construction of the Trwyn Du Lighthouse, which was built in 1838.
Dr Douglas Jones
Published Collections Projects Manager
Adshead, Joseph – A Circumstantial Narrative of the Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet, on her passage from Liverpool to Beaumaris, Aug. 17, 1891 (London, 1833)
A & J. K. – Wreck of the Royal Charter Steam Clipper on her passage from Australia to Liverpool, October 26th 1859 (Dublin, 1860)
Bransby, James Hews – A Narrative of the Dreadful Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet in Beaumaris Bay, during the night of Wednesday, August 17, 1831, in a letter to a friend (Caernarfon, 1832)
Dickens, Charles – The Uncommercial Traveller (Oxford, 2015)
Jones, Ivor Wynne – Shipwrecks of North Wales (Newton Abbot, 1973)
Jones, T. Llew – Ofnadwy Nos (Llandysul, 1971)
McKee, Alexander – The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter (London, 1986)
Moore, Peter – The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future (London, 2015)
 McKee, Alexander – The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter (London, 1986), p. 50.
Earlier this year the Library was successful at auction in buying the 1915 war diaries of Major Roundel Tristram Toke, o/c A Company, 1st Battalion, The Welsh Regiment. After a brief description of the battalion leaving Agra in India, convoy to England and transport to France, one diary covers the whole of 1915. The other is a slightly re-written version, ending in August with Toke’s transfer as o/c 6th Bn Bedfordshire Reg., but with added explanatory notes, maps etc. The highlight of the diaries are Toke’s vivid description of the battalion’s posting on the Ypres Salient, including the Second Battle of Ypres, April-May.
At the beginning of February 1915, the battalion took over French support trenches at Zillebeke, on the southern flank of the salient. Thankfully the weather was cold:
5th February. … The trenches were full of dead French soldiers, many of them only partially buried. One mans hand stuck out of the side of the communication trench. Our men used to shake the hand each time they went in and out of the trench. In one dug-out there was a dead Frenchman lying at the back partially frozen. At least he appeared quite fresh, although he must have been dead for some time. …
On 18 February “[a]t about 8.a.m. I discovered that I was being fired at by a sniper who could evidently see right down my trench. He was a deadly shot, and the casualties increased rapidly, the men mostly being hit in the head and killed outright.” After one officer and 12 men had been killed and 13 wounded, including receiving two bullets himself through his cap and one in the shoulder – “extremely painful” – Toke abandoned 50 yards of trench and turned all hands to building a traverse across the trench, during which another four were killed. Later the same day:
During the afternoon a R.E. [Royal Engineers] officer came down to know why I had withdrawn from a portion of my trench. I explained the situation to him and he said he was going to look at my traverse – he was extremely rude – I warned him not to look over the top – in three minutes I was told he was dead having stood up and looked over the top contrary to my instructions. …
This was far from Toke’s only experience of a sniper. In April the 1st Welsh moved to trenches at the outermost edge of the salient. This was an active sector and although the Second Battle of Ypres officially started on 22 April 1915, with a gas attack on French and Algerian positions in the north of the salient, Toke writes that the battle “roughly began about the 17th April”, coinciding with the 1st Welsh’s arrival:
16th April. Went up to Zonnebeke to see the new trenches. They are situated right in the apex of the salient. A very dangerous spot, as one can be fired on from three sides.
17th April. Marched up to the trenches. The Germans were shelling Ypres very heavily as we came through and all the roads leading through and round it. The big attack on hill 60 began at 7.p.m. just as we were clear of Ypres. We opened a terrific bombardment from every available gun to which the Germans quickly replied, sending over some very heavy stuff. We got very badly shelled on the road between Ypres and Potije [Potijze] one shell bursting right in the middle of the Battalion inflicting numerous casualties. …
18th April. Made a combined attack at dawn on the Birdcage, the name given to the house I was fired at from last night owing to its being covered over with wire netting as a protection against bombs [grenades]. The bombers of my Co’y under 2/Lieut Bryan and Lt Newington advanced from our trench while Torkington and Warren Davis with their bombers advanced from their trenches on the right. The Germans were in a very strong position in an old cellar and the attack was a ghastly failure, nearly the whole of our parties being killed or wounded. …
19th April. The Germans started blowing my trenches to pieces with a Minenwerfer or big trench mortar, throwing a bomb about 4 feet in length filled with H.E. The concussion was terrific and several dug-outs fell in. My communication trench was completely demolished and a large portion of the trench right in the apex completely blown in, sandbags and bricks from ruined houses being blown sky high. …
20th April. … Captain Playfair killed in my trench. He was an artillery officer and came down to observe. His O.P. [observation post] was a loophole in the parapet through which the Germans were continually sending bullets as they had spotted it. Consequently I blocked it up and posted a sentry there. I told Playfair not to remove the sandbags under any pretext. Within five minutes of leaving him he was dead. He removed the sandbags and was shot through the head at once. …
Evidently nobody had told Playfair that snipers don’t play fair. The same day the Brigade Major, the first staff officer Toke had seen in the trenches, was killed by a sniper in a neighbouring company’s trench after looking over the top. And so on and so on, day after day.
The diary also describes the effects of gas (25 April), Toke taking command of the battalion (14 May), the Battle of Bellewaarde (24-25 May), which effectively concluded the Second Battle of Ypres, Toke taking temporary command of the 84th Brigade (10 June), and being granted the temporary rank of Lt-Col (14 June). On 23 August, Major (temp. Lt-Col) Toke took command of the 6th (Service) Bn Bedfordshire Regiment, which was stationed on the front at Bienville, southwest of Arras, about 45 miles south of Ypres. The diary continues to record the daily grind on this also ‘active’ sector until the end of the year.
Toke survived the war. According to the index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, he married in 1922, registered the birth of a son in 1924 and a daughter in 1927, and died in 1957. Toke was a professional soldier, and had previously served in British contingents in the Boxer Rebellion, 1900, and the Russo-Japanese War, 1905-1907; his diaries and photographs from this period are at Duke University, USA. The 1st Bn Welsh Regiment war diary for 1915 is at PRO: WO 95/2277/4. It may be the battalion’s official record of service, but is likely to be bloodless in comparison.
This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
One Friday afternoon, in a small school in the Teifi valley, a young boy was invited to the big children’s class to hear the headmaster read a piece of a story. The story was an exciting one. It spoke of a dark and stormy night and of a lonely tollgate in the country. The gatekeeper heard the sound of horseshoes approaching in the distance, and the rider calling ‘gate’. After venturing out to the gate, the rider handed him something – a parcel wrapped in a cloak – before riding off into the darkness. And what was in the parcel? The gatekeeper saw after returning to the house – a baby.
The young boy listening to this story was non-other than T Llew Jones. For some reason, he didn’t hear more of the story, but it left a deep impression on his imagination for a long time. Later, he learnt that the story was Y Golud Gwell 4557 (1910) by Anthropos (Robert Davies Rowland; 1853?-1944), but not before he’d written his own version and published it as Un Noson Dywyll (1973).
Excitement, romance, intrigue – these are the corner stones of the story mentioned above. These are also the cornerstones that feature often in T Llew’s children’s literature – in his poetry and his prose. This is the gentleman who used historical and semi-historical figures like the pirates Harry Morgan and Barti Ddu, and the highwayman, Twm Siôn Cati as his raw material. This is also the gentleman who created legends from his own life, with the poachers of Pentre-cwrt, the ‘Pishyn Padis’ gypsies and the adventures of the Cilie poets all a part of one larger colourful saga, which he used to entertain audiences of children and adults alike.
It’s easy to romanticise T Llew. He was a romanticist. In some ways, that honourable and heroic title bestowed upon T Llew – ‘Brenin Llenyddiaeth Plant Cymru’ (King of Welsh Children’s Literature) is just as romantic. But, bestowing such a title upon him highlights the magnitude of his contribution to the field.
In the period following the Second World War, the Welsh publishing industry was in a sorry state. In 1950, of the 100 books published in Welsh, only 13 were publications for children. Alun R Edwards, a librarian from Ceredigion, was all too aware of this crisis. In September 1951, he organised the first of a series of conferences during the 1950s in Cilgwyn near Newcastle Emlyn, with the intention of encouraging budding writers to create Welsh reading material for children. 48 teachers from the old Cardiganshire were invited to this special conference, and in their midst was T Llew – a young poet and headmaster of Tre-groes at the time.
In his biography, Yr Hedyn Mwstard (1980), Alun R Edwards refers to T Llew as ‘y pysgodyn mwyaf a ddaliwyd gan y Cilgwyn’ (the biggest fish caught by the Cilgwyn). He wrote these words at the end of his career, when T Llew had already claimed his place as one of Wales’ foremost children’s authors. T Llew died nearly three decades later in 2009, and between then and the first Cilgwyn conference in 1951, he published around 50 volumes – most of them for children.
As a teacher – in Tre-groes (1951-1957) and Coed-y-bryn (1958-1976) – T Llew was aware of the need to entice children to read, and the importance of exciting material which would educate and entertain. His stories Trysor y Môr-landron (1960), Corn Pistol a Chwip (1969) and Cri’r Dylluan (1974), which take pieces of Welsh history and turn them into adventures full of heroes and villains, belong to this category. His poetry for children – which was published in Penillion y Plant (1965) a Cerddi Newydd i Blant (1973) – venture out of the classroom to the great outdoors, and attempt to open the reader’s eyes to the wonder of the world around them.
In an interview for the magazine Llais Llyfrau in 1968, T Llew said that he felt “mai’r hyn oedd eisiau fwyaf ar blant Cymru oedd arwyr” (what Welsh children needed most was heroes). Heroes are created at a time of need. And in the Welsh speaking Wales of the twentieth century, there was a need for an author like T Llew Jones in children’s literature.
To celebrate Libraries Week the National Library hosted a Welsh language Translate-a-thon for students at Aberystwyth University hoping to pursue a career as translators. The goal was to translate existing English Wikipedia articles about famous writers into Welsh. The event was part of a wider WiciLlên project, funded by the Welsh Government and aimed at improving online access to Welsh language information and data about literature and the Welsh bibliography.
Students translating content into Welsh during the event
The National Library of Wales’ National Wikimedian helps the library support and contribute to Wikipedia. The Welsh language Wikipedia has been the focus of this work since collaboration began in 2015. The Library and its main funder, the Welsh Government have recognised the importance of this hub of Welsh language knowledge in building a sustainable and thriving future for the Welsh language – Welsh Wicipedia is already the most viewed Welsh website and now has over 100,000 articles. However there is still lots of work to do in order to give access to ‘all knowledge’ in Welsh.
The Library has been working with the Professional Translation Studies course at Aberystwyth University for several years, building on the idea that using Wicipedia’s content translation tool for perfecting translation means students can actively contribute to the improvement of freely available Welsh language content whilst studying, giving real value to their assignments.
One of the articles translated during the event
Coarse leader Mandi Morse says: “We are delighted to be able to take advantage of the Wikipedia platform while teaching the postgraduate Professional Translation Studies course. It gives our students great experiences as they develop their translation skills, giving them the opportunity to practice translating all kinds of subjects and contexts. Wikipedia is certainly extremely useful and enriches our provision”
12 students attended the event at the National Library, and 9 new articles were created. In many cases, making information about these people available in Welsh for the first time. New articles include German novelist Gerhart Hauptmann, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1912 and English Children’s author Joan Aiken. You can find a full list of articles created here.
We hope to facilitate similar events in the future in order to support the improvement of Welsh language content online and to encourage Welsh Universities to think about how they can do the same.
An answer to almost any question is now only a few taps of your touchscreen away, or you can speak directly to your device. Ask Google ‘what do libraries do’ and it will tell you (with the help of Wikipedia) that ‘in addition to providing materials, [they] also provide the services of librarians who are experts at finding and at interpreting information needs.’
Surprisingly, perhaps, there is no mention of books. Some would prefer to see other activities or services mentioned; at the National Library of Wales, for example, we ‘collect, preserve and give access to all kinds and forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh and other Celtic peoples’. Most importantly, however, Google and Wikipedia’s definition of the role of the library is as valid today as it was in the pre-digital world of the twentieth century.
The theme of this year’s ‘Libraries Week’ is ‘Celebrating Libraries in a Digital World’ and it is an opportunity to highlight how libraries use new technologies to improve and extend their activities and services. With examples from the National Library of Wales, here are eight ways in which digital technology is enabling us to fulfil our mission more effectively today.
1. Widening access
For over twenty years, the National Library of Wales has been digitising collections to give access to them beyond our building in Aberystwyth. Over 5 million items have been digitised so far, including newspapers and journals, maps, manuscripts, artworks and photographs. You can browse highlights from the Library’s collections under the Discover tab on our website or view a list of our digital resources.
Among the Library’s most popular online resources are the Welsh Newspapers website, which gives access to over 1.1 million pages of newspapers published between 1805 and 1919, and its sister website Welsh Journals, which has 1.4 million pages of journals and periodicals. The popularity of these resources is due in large part to users being able to search their content – an enhanced level of access made possible by using software to read printed text and produce searchable text files as well as capturing images of pages.
2. Discover more
The Library’s entire holdings, both physical and digital, can be searched online using our online Catalogue, allowing you to find out quickly whether it can be found in the collections.
If you’re among the millions of people who are within a single day’s travel to and from Aberystwyth, you can use the Catalogue to request access to items on-site. If not, then you can request copies to be sent to you, use the Catalogue to compile lists of sources, or filter your results only to display those that are available online.
3. Opening new fields of research
Methods and formats of digital capture and data creation are enabling researchers to ask new questions and make discoveries that would have previously been virtually impossible.
On the Welsh Newspapers and Welsh Journals websites, for example, a vast amount of text can be searched in a matter of seconds. Duncan Brown, one of the founders of the ecological project Llên Natur, has used the resource to find historical references to the nightingale song, and to the fish brwyniad Conwy (smelt or sparling in English) being caught in the River Conwy after wet weather.
In 2015, ‘ghostly faces‘ were found on the pages of the 13th century manuscript, The Black Book of Carmarthen. They are believed to have been erased in the 16th century until they were discovered by Professor Paul Russell from the University of Cambridge and PhD student Myriah Williams with the use of image analysis techniques.
Research is probably the most exciting area in which Library’s use of digital technology is making an impact.
4. Opportunities to collaborate
Digital developments have led to opportunities for collaboration within Wales and internationally, working with other organisations to deliver shared resources and to improve our service to users.
To commemorate the centenary of the First World War, a project funded by Jisc brought together primary sources from the collections of 11 libraries, special collections and archives across Wales to be digitised and presented on the Cymru1914 website.
The Cynefin project led by the Archives and Records Council Wales saw the digitisation of tithe maps, most of which were held at the National Library but some in other archives in Wales and England, and related apportionment records held and digitised by The National Archives in Kew, to a single Places of Wales online resource.
Between September 2017 and February 2019, we worked in partnership with 12 other cultural heritage institutions across Europe to bring together collections on the Europeana digital platform to tell the story of ‘the Rise of Literacy’. Having selected materials for the project, individuals from the partner organisations worked together to discuss their shared history and to present the collections with digital exhibitions, blogs and galleries.
Most recently, we have been working with The National Library of Scotland, The Hathi Trust in the United States, The British Library, The University of Glasgow and RLUK as part of an AHRC-funded project to explore the possibility of creating a global catalogue of digitised texts that would enable organisations to plan their digitisation programmes and strategies jointly, and researchers to search digitised tests from a single point of access.
5. Enabling participation
Recent advances in digital technology have enabled users to create, enrich and interpret of cultural heritage in new ways. Participation gives opportunities to develop new skills, promote social cohesion and contribute to the health and well-being of participants.
Following the success of the Cynefin Tithe Map project and collaboration with the Wales for Peace project to transcribe the Welsh National Book of Remembrance, we have developed crowd.library.wales, a crowdsourcing platform to deliver projects that allow users to participate in the work of the Library by transcribing and annotating the Library’s digital collections. These projects include the transcription of First World War Tribunal Records, tagging Gwilym Livingstone Evans’s photographs of the community of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and transcribing the diaries of the Welsh artist Kyffin Williams.
Since the appointment of a Wikipedian in Residence in 2015, the Library has had a successful partnership with Wikimedia UK and, with the support of the Welsh Language Unit of Welsh Government, delivered four thematic projects (WiciPop, Wici-Iechyd, WiciPobl and the current WiciLlên project) to increase digital content available in the Welsh language. In keeping with the ethos of Wikimedia projects, these projects have a strong element of participation, inviting both new and experienced Wikipedians to get involved in the initiative and to attend editathons, translatathons or a hackathon.
People’s Collection Wales delivers digitisation training to community groups, projects and organisations so that they can digitise and share their own collections and stories online. Launched in 2010, People’s Collection Wales has delivered training to hundreds of groups throughout Wales and beyond, and gives access to over 120,000 objects on the website.
6. Sharing and promoting collections
Digital collections can be shared on various platforms simultaneously, where they can be presented in various contexts and reach different audiences. The National Library of Wales’s collections can be found on Art UK, People’s Collection Wales, Europeana, Wikicommons and Flickr Commons. Many of these images are available to re-use under open licences.
Using social media – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram – we take collections directly to users, where they can help to share and promote our digital collections. As well as promoting our collections to the world, we engage with users in discussion using these channels.
7. Augmented reality
Digital technologies are used to enhance visitor experience to the Library building. Using the Smartify app, you can access additional information about items that are displayed in the Library’s exhibitions. Smartify was used as part of the National Library of Wales’s exhibition at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst this year.
Using the Google Expeditions virtual reality platform, you can also take a virtual tour of the Library. Developed especially for use in education, the Library expedition takes you behind the scenes as well as to public spaces, presenting information about the Library and our collections.
8. Preservation for future generations
Ensuring long-term access to the record of today’s culture to future generations is one of the great challenges of the digital world as libraries deal with questions around storage, copyright and digital rights management, multiple and obsolete formats, information that can only be accessed using specific software and devices, not to mention information continuously evolving or disappearing from the World Wide Web. The National Library of Wales is the only library in Wales that has ‘legal deposit’ status, which allows specific libraries to collect and preserve electronic publications and to archive websites so that users can access digital publications and study the history of Web.
The tasks of collecting, preserving and giving access to knowledge continues, and the question is not whether there is a role for libraries in a digital world, but how do we continue to reach standards of service that not only make the most of opportunities these technologies offer, but ensure that future generations have free and unrestricted access to knowledge that has been digitised or is not yet available in digital form. To celebrate libraries in a digital world is to declare the importance of their role in society today and for years to come.
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.