While cataloguing the main Brogyntyn Estate and Family Records, I encountered a small number of documents which showed evidence of fire damage. Now, over ten years later, I have discovered the reason why. Letters and documents in the Longueville solicitors’ collection have revealed that Brogyntyn Hall was extensively damaged by a blaze on 14 March 1874.
….the present mansion contains valuable manuscripts, books, and works of art, whose loss would he irreparable. When, therefore, the news was spread that the mansion was in flames, considerable excitement prevailed in Oswestry and the neighbourhood, and before the night was over large numbers of people from places as far off as Chirk, and even from Wrexham it is said, had made their way to Brogyntyn. The fire was discovered about a quarter past four by Mr Shingler, the head gardener, who was in the garden and saw smoke issuing from the roof, round the kitchen chimney stack. Of course the alarm was given at once, and preparations were made to deal with the flames in the most effective way. A mounted messenger was despatched for the Oswestry engines, and a staff of men belonging to the house and estate was at once collected on the roof…….
Once the fire was extinguished, steps were taken to repair the devastation and insurance claims were submitted via the solicitors. The reconstruction, plastering and interior decoration were estimated at £1800. Alterations and additions to Brogyntyn Hall had already been ongoing prior to the fire. An architect’s bill from 1873-1874 showed payments to Mr Carrington on account of plumbers’ work, J. Vaughan for masonry and W.N. Lacon for ironmongery. Naturally the fire damage to the house must have caused further headaches to its owners. A letter by Benjamin Ferrey, the architect, dated 26 February 1875, reflected his exasperation with his aristocratic clients:
I have not seen either Mr or Mrs Gore yet and I hear of so many changes in what they propose to do at Brogyntyn this year that I am puzzled. About a month since, I was desired to prepare drawings for the smoking room, gun room, conservatory and basement offices. Now Pryce writes to me that he hears nothing more is to be done about them but the work is to be confined to the internal fitting…..I have desired Pryce to get in every bill connected with the works as I find orders are given without my knowledge….
From 1875 to the present day, it seems to be a universal experience that nothing ever goes smoothly when you get the builders in!
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.
The National Library of Wales is home to some of the key surviving manuscripts that contain some of the most influential texts in Welsh mythology.
These include the White Book of Rhydderch, within which we find the earliest version of the Mabinogi – the best-known tales in Welsh mythology.
Authors turning to Welsh history and mythology for their inspiration is nothing new. Just as Welsh coal powered the industrial revolution, our mythology has been mined by authors and has powered the boiler-rooms of some of the most popular fantasy series in the world.
The most high-profile of these is the Lord of the Rings, in which Wales has influenced everything from the Elven language, romantic unions between warriors and Otherworldly fair maidens, swords of destiny, and frequent journeys underground into Annwn-like subterranean regions.
The Harry Potter series, too, is full of parallels with Welsh mythology. I was particularly struck by the scene where the evil Lord Voldemort is resurrected from a cauldron in a plotline not too dissimilar to that of the Pair Dadeni, the Renaissance Cauldron, in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi.
The influence of Welsh mythology has stretched beyond the western world too – the Korean massive multiplayer game Mabinogi, which is based on the legends of the same name, has around 500,000 players.
The most high profile and lucrative fantasy series at the moment is, of course, Game of Thrones. The eight and final TV series has just concluded with more than 38 million watching the first episode. Two more books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, are still forthcoming and a number of spin-off films and series are no doubt in the offing.
There are a number of parallels between the Game of Thrones series and Welsh mythology and history, but here are a few that struck me while watching and reading.
Perhaps one of the most striking theme in the series is that of being under siege from an invading ‘other’ – in the case of Game of Thrones, the white walkers from ‘beyond the Wall’.
The closest analogue to this tale might be the walls built by the Romans to separate them from the Picts. But it also has parallels with how the coming of the Anglo-Saxon to Britain, which was portrayed as a punishment by God in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.
Most notably, the Britons in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tale had left themselves open to attack by acting immorally and quarrelling amongst themselves.
This is mirrored in how the different Houses in George RR Martin’s series weaken themselves during the War of the Five Kings, raping and pillaging as they go, not realising that a greater threat is on the doorstep of Westeros.
There are also parallels to British history in the way the ‘First Men’ who speak the ‘Old Tongue’ and worship Old Gods populate the peripheral parts of Westeros.
Meanwhile, the Andals from Essos, who have brought their ‘Common Tongue’ with them, have taken over much of the more fruitful, sunny and prosperous parts of the landmass.
‘My Kingdom for a dragon!’
George RR Martin has also confirmed that there are strong parallels between the plot of Games of Thrones and the 15th-century Wars of the Roses, in which Wales played a large part.
As with Game of Thrones’ Joffrey Baratheon, the Wars of the Roses included younger heirs to the throne – the Princes in the Tower – who were probably murdered so that another – Richard III – could seize the throne.
The role of Pembroke-born Henry VII, banished across the sea but out to seize the throne for himself, is taken up by Daenerys Targaryen.
As well as being of Welsh descent Henry VII landed in Wales and recruited military reinforcements there before marching to victory at Bosworth Field.
How are yew?
Trees such as the oak and yew were sacred to the Celts, as they are to the First Men who still worship the Old Gods in Game of Thrones.
It’s no coincidence either than the Weirwoods in the Godswood in Game of Thrones are white with red leaves. These are the colour of the supernatural in Welsh mythology.
When Pwyll comes across a pack of hounds at the very beginning of the Mabinogi – the Dogs of Annwn – they’re white with red ears.
The animal and tree-worshipping Children of the Forest mentioned often in Game of Thrones also have clear parallels with the Tylwyth Teg of Welsh mythology.
Incestuous sexual relationships, rape, and people turning into animals – Game of Thrones has all three in spades.
George RR Martin has however had a hard time topping the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.
After Gilfaethwy rapes his uncle’s servant, the powerful sorcerer turns him and his brother Gwydion into a pair of mating animals, first a stag and hind deer, then a sow and board, and finally a wolf and she wolf.
The two brothers mate as all three animals and have three sons, Hyddwn, Hychddwn and Bleiddwn (Stag-man, Tall-piglet, and Wolf-man).
In Game of Thrones, Joffrey is born of an incestuous relationship between his mother and uncle. Several characters can also take over the bodies of nearby animals.
There are continuous references throughout the Game of Thrones books and TV series to a war that happened in the past that installed Robert Baratheon as king.
The spark that set the war off was Rhaegar Targaryen’s (Daenarys’ brother) kidnapping of Edward Stark’s sister and Robert’s significant other, Lyanna.
Robert and Ned go after her, and this causes a civil war than brings down the Targaryen’s.
Some have pointed to Helen of Troy as the obvious inspiration – the face that launched a thousand ships.
But there’s a very strong similarity to the story of Branwen ferch Llŷr in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi.
Her mistreatment by the Irish King Matholwch sets off a war with Britain. Her brothers, King of the Britons Bendigeidfran and Efinisen, set off to save her.
As with Game of Thrones, there’s a very high body count. All the main characters are dead by the end of this war between Britain and Ireland, including Matholwch, Bendigeidfran, Efnisien, and Branwen.
What’s in a name?
A number of the characters in Game of Thrones have Welsh names which give some clue to their character or fate.
One of the most obvious is ‘Tyrion’ – whose name isn’t far from the Welsh word ‘Tirion’ meaning ‘considerate’.
The dwarf, although he can be cruel, is also one of the more sympathetic characters in the series owing to his own mistreatment.
However, the character of Bran Stark is the most obvious example of George RR Martin drawing inspiration from Welsh legend.
There are obvious parallels with the mythological figure of Bran, or Bendigeidfran as he’s known in the Mabinogi.
Bran in Game of Thrones develops psychic powers after being thrown out of the upper window of a castle and losing the use of is legs.
Bendigeidfran’s weak spot is also his legs and his own powers only grow stronger after he’s ‘killed’ with a spear to the foot.
Like Bran is carried around Westeros by Hodor, the Bran of Welsh mythology is carried around Britain before being buried on the White Hill (now the site of the Tower of London).
Game of Thrones is probably best known for the sheer amounts of gore and that too owes something of a debt to Welsh mythology.
Ramsey Bolton (played by Welshman Iwan Rheon) has a penchant for dismemberment that is very similar to Bendigeidfran’s villainous half-brother Efnisien.
The psychotic Efnisien likes nothing more than cutting ears and lips, crushing people’s heads with his bare hands, and burning small children alive.
Welsh history has also seen its share of violence. Some have pointed out the parallels between the Red Wedding, in which the Starks and the Tullys are butchered during a wedding hosted by Lord Walder Frey, and the Christmas Day massacre at Abergavenny Castle in 1175.
Them, the Norman Baron named William de Braose invited the Welsh chieftain named Seisyll ap Dyfnwal to a feast at his castle, before locking the doors and massacring him and his men.
It’s notable of course that while many people in Wales are familiar with these tales second hand from Tolkien, Martin and Rowling, but don’t realise their origins are Welsh.
There’s a lot of work to be done in Wales to get to know our own history and mythology. That’s why I wrote my third novel, Dadeni, in order to introduce many people in Wales to our own mythology.
If you haven’t done so already, visit the National Library or pick up a book about Wales’ history and mythology.
Who knows, it may inspire you to write the next Game of Thrones!
Here’s Oscar Seager one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteers talking about his experience working on the Drake Sound Archive Collection.
Since volunteering in the Screen and Sound department of the National Library of Wales on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project from February of this year, I have listened to numerous different audio clips on the Drake Sound Archive. These clips, while mainly focusing on business-related topics as they took place in the Cardiff Business Club, surprised me on the variety of talks that took place.
Many clips that I have listened to were recorded in 1998. However, more recently, many clips have moved to the 21st century. The topics that were mainly covered in this period were in relation to the Euro and the concerns that people faced in uniting under a single currency in terms of trade. However, other clips covered other topics that gave an interesting insight into things that I would never have come across in my academic studies in my History course including filmmaking (which was surprisingly discussed by Richard Attenborough) or the more random discussions such as the benefits of alcohol upon the body (discussed by Dr Thomas Stuttaford). While I had a fundamental understanding of what was being discussed in any clip, to be able to listen to a professional in that line of work discuss it is of significance to me.
However, it is not simply the fact that these clips are interesting that make my involvement in the UOSH feel worthwhile but also that these tapes have no longer been set aside but are now being made available in the British Library catalogue for others to listen to, truly unlocking our sound heritage for everyone to take full advantage of! Seeing my own work appearing on the library catalogue brought about a moment of pride and accomplishment to me as I was actively contributing to a historiography and also gaining valuable experience for my MA in Archive Administration at the same.
Exactly 50 years ago on July 1st 1969, Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales in Caernarfon Castle. The investiture was controversial and led to widespread protests. Conversely, it was also widely supported and championed by the Secretary of State for Wales, George Thomas.
Rhodri Evans, who has been researching the radical response to the investiture as part of a PhD at Aberystwyth University has curated a small exhibition on the subject in the Library’s Summers Room.
The exhibition will run until Friday July 5th, and will include material from the Library’s print, archival and screen and sound collections.
National Assembly for Wales Archive and the Welsh Political Archive
The first signing of the Treaty of Versailles happened 100 years ago today in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles near Paris. Although the fighting in World War I had finished with the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918, it took 6 months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to agree the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty outlined the terms of the peace between Germany and the Allied Powers.
In this video, learn more about the Peace Conference and the negotiations that formed the Treaty of Versailles with our expert, Rob Phillips who will lead you through original documents that shed light on the fraught discussions.
The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was one of the Big Three who shaped the Treaty of Versailles, and you can learn more about him in our digital David Lloyd George exhibition.
You can also read the letters of his personal secretary at the time, Frances Stevenson, sent from the Paris Peace Conference to her family. They give insight not only into the goings on at the Conference, but to the thought of David Lloyd George himself. She writes that he thought the treaty was a ‘terrible document’, he of course felt strongly that Germany should not be punished too harshly.
An important gift, which recently came into the Library’s possession, was the Roese Collection, a valuable and comprehensive collection of contemporary Welsh art. Many of the items from this iconic collection can be viewed within the Collecting Contemporary exhibition here at the National Library. Within this blog Caryl and Dr Herbert Roese who kindly donated these works to the Library, give us an insight into the how this iconic collection evolved. Next Wednesday, on July 3rd at 1 pm, Caryl Roese will be giving a lunchtime talk at the Library’s Drwm on this important collection. A warm welcome to all. Free admission via ticket. Tickets available via the Library’s website: https://bit.ly/2J4G8s3 or by phone: 01970 632 548.
Being from South Wales, we were first introduced to Welsh Paintings per se by the Polish artist Josef Herman who I knew as a child in Ystradgynlais. He drew attention to the Coal Mining era between 1944-55.
In the 1960s we developed a serious interest in collecting paintings. In the 1970s, we decided to concentrate on purchasing abstract works by Welsh artists, some of whom were already well known, such as Ceri Richards. It was also important for us where possible to meet and talk to the individual artists about their work. Many long lasting friendships grew out of these meetings.
The first painting we acquired was one of Ernest Zobole’s Landscapes, i.e.No.2 of 1978, which we saw in his studio at Penrhys Road, Ystrad Rhondda, and we were later able to purchase two further works by the artist namely Painting about a Landscape (1997) and Ystrad and People No.10 (1961).
We were introduced to Ivor Davies by way of the Washington Gallery, Penarth. Over time we bought a number of his works, e.g. Mabon (1997), Natur a Meithrin/Nature and Culture (1983), and were presented with a gift namely Ivor’s View through a window (1969).
Glenys Cour’s style of painting appealed to us enormously leading to our purchase of Celtic Landscape (2001) at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff. We visited the artist many times at her home in the Mumbles, where we also acquired the work Celtic Stone (1998/99). During an exhibition at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, celebrating the poetry of Vernon Watkins i.e. Taliesin and the Mockers, we acquired Glenys’s paper collage I stood erect at the birth of rivers. It was illustrated in the artist’s same titled book and on the cover of the 2004 Dylan Thomas Festival brochure.
Another Welsh artist who invited us to his studio to view his work was Iwan Bala. As a result, we purchased the wonderful Omphalos (1999). It was inspired by the artist’s stay in Zimbabwe, something we had in common.
It is also worth mentioning the names of some other painters in the collection and the titles of their works: Keith Bayliss Visiting Angel, Gwenllian Beynon Hapus, Anthony Evans Cae Melyn & Brain, Ruth Jen Evans Tir Terfyn, Neal Howells Black Puck, Bert Isaac (several created in 2001-2003), Mary Lloyd-Jones Hen Waith Cwmystwyth, Islwyn Watkins (several created in 2001 and earlier) to name only a few.
We believe that we should all support our own modern Welsh artists, which explains our choice of mostly abstract works.
Wales is often described as the country of song. But where did our musical tradition begin, and how did it develop?
Our new exhibition Record: Folk, Protest and Pop’ explores the musical tradition of Wales throughout the centuries – from the crwth to Catatonia – using various items from The Welsh Music Archive and Screen and Sound Archive.
Nia Mai Daniel from the Welsh Music Archive tells us more …
Although Wales is known as ‘The Land of Song’, we don’t have a great memory of early musical works. The folk tradition is an oral tradition, with harpists and balladeers travelling around the country, entertaining people in markets and public houses, and committing the melodies to memory.
By the eighteenth century folk melodies were recorded on paper, and many notable collectors compiled these at a later date; it is thanks to the tireless work of individuals such as Nansi Richards, J Lloyd Williams and Meredydd Evans that our folk tradition was saved and protected.
The establishment of the Welsh Folk Song Society in 1906 and the revival in the folk tradition in the 1970s, when folk singing coexisted with popular music, have also contributed to preserving the tradition.
One of the main figures in the evolution of music in Wales was Meredydd Evans, or Merêd, who spent his life contributing to Welsh life and culture as a collector, historian, musician, editor, nationalist and passionate campaigner for the Welsh language.
Merêd and his wife Phyllis Kinney collected songs which had been in danger of disappearing, and believed that the tradition could not grow and adapt without giving life to these songs which he discovered in old manuscripts and musical scores.
As well as his work as a collector, Merêd was also a gifted performer, recording an important collection of songs for the Folkway Records label in New York in 1954. For a decade from 1963 he was head of BBC Wales’ light entertainment, where he worked tirelessly to create popular Welsh light entertainment programmes.
“It’s about time we have more extreme singing in Wales today, more screams and wild drums…” were the words of a member of the first Welsh rock band, Y Blew, which formed in 1967.
The Wales of the 60s and 70s was a country that saw political agitation as well as musical ferment. Folk and pop music became tremendously popular, and the first Welsh language record label, Sain, was established in 1969. But what pushed Welsh music onwards was the ‘protest’ song. Rather than composing love songs, these young Welsh artists would take their guitars to the local pub and sing satirical and political songs.
By the 1980s a new group of bands and record labels emerged, ones that created a very different sound compared to the pop music usually heard from the country’s stages and radio waves. Groups such as Anhrefn, Datblygu, Llwybr Llaethog and Y Cyrff were experimental and revolutionary.
During the 1990s many Welsh language groups and individuals started to produce work in English as well as in Welsh such as Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The breakthrough into the English language music scene led to a growing interest in Welsh language culture and music across the world.
By the late 1990s and early twenty-first century the Welsh language was expressed through a variety of styles, from hip hop, reggae and ska, and returning back to its traditional folk roots.
Today, the music scene in Wales is alive and well, with an abundance of talented artists writing, recording and performing in Welsh, and more independent record labels than ever before working to release Welsh records.
This week, the National Library commemorates 110 years since the birth of Mansel Thomas, one of Wales’s consummate composers and musicians. Born on 12 June 1909 in the Rhondda, he made his mark as an influential musician. He worked for the BBC for thirty years with the recently-formed BBC Welsh Orchestra and as the Head of Music for BBC Wales. This is an opportunity for us to celebrate his life and his notable contribution to music in Wales on what would have been his birthday.
An exhibition of some of the work of Mansel Thomas from the Library’s collections will be on display in the Summer’s Room to accompany a talk by Terence Gilmore-James on the man himself on 12 June 2019. The exhibition will include:
Music workbook compiled during the period 1918-1925, with the earliest pieces copied with the help of his father, Theophilus Thomas. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, J1/1)
A volume containing the full score of the cantata ‘God is our hope and strength’ with words from the 46th Psalm, submitted as part of his B.Mus. degree from Durham University, . ]. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, J1/60)
The wining composition for composing Six unison songs with simple accompaniment suitable for infants’ schools at The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales Aberafan-Port Talbot, 1932. (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru – cyfansoddiadau a beirniadaethau, 1932/39)
Manuscript score of ‘To Daffodils (Cennin Aur)’, composed in the mid/late 1920s especially for the newly-formed Pendyrus Male Choir. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, M1/1)
Vocal score of the anthem ‘Blest are the pure in heart’, composed by Mansel Thomas ‘For Terence and Grace on the Occasion of their Wedding’, 1965. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, P2/14)
Orchestral score ‘God bless the Prince of Wales’ by Brinley Richards, arranged and orchestrated by Mansel Thomas for ‘For the Investiture of HRH The Prince of Wales, Caernarvon, July 1969’. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, M4/2i)
Preliminary sketches of a vocal score for ‘Requiem’ composed by Mansel Thomas. Also, some related letters from Megan Thomas, the composer’s wife, to Ian Parrott, discussing the printing of the first movement. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, P2/18; UW Aberystwyth Department of Music Archives, 18/2)
The vocal score of ‘Mass for mixed voices’ in five movements and an arrangement for solo voice and string orchestra of ‘Wrth fynd efo Deio i Dowyn’, 1943. (Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts, P2/17; T2/11.)
The Mansel Thomas Music Manuscripts have recently been cataloged as part of the Welsh Music Archive Program. You can view the archive descriptions here. Further information about his life and work is available on the National Library blog (Welsh only).
The Peniarth Manuscripts form one of the most important collections held by the National Library of Wales. Its 560 manuscripts date from the 11th Century onward and contain some of the most important and iconic Welsh literary works in existence, including stories from the Mabinogion, the Book of Taliesin and the earliest copies of the ancient Laws books of Wales. In 2010 the collection was included in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register, further underlining its importance as a national treasure.
The collection has of course been catalogued and digitisation of the entire collection is currently underway. So now seemed like a good time to explore the potential of linked data in order to better understand and explore the makeup of the collection.
At the National Library of Wales we have now converted collection Metadata to Wikidata for a number of collections including paintings and printed material. This has lead to an enrichment of data and easy access to tools for querying and visualizing the collections. Creating Wikidata for each of the Peniarth manuscripts would result in similar advantages, but first the existing metadata would have to be cleaned and refined before being mapped to entities within Wikidata. Some mappings were easy, for example metadata tags for parchment and paper were easily matched to the relevant Wikidata entities. Dates and measurements simply needed formatting in a particular way in order to add them to Wikidata, and the QuickStatements (QS) upload tool contains detailed instructions on how to do this.
Much of the data already existed in set data fields making mappings fairly straight forward. However the metadata for many manuscripts also included a text based description of the item, which in many cases included additional information such as the names of scribes and people whose works are represented within the manuscript (authors). Extracting this data was more difficult. By filtering searches for specific sentence structures and/or certain keywords it was possible to semi automate the extraction of this data, but it also required manual checking to avoid mistakes. Once the names, works, subjects and genres were extracted they then had to be matched to Wikidata items. If these items did not yet have a Wikidata item, they were created whenever possible using data from other sources.
The ontology for describing manuscripts on Wikidata is still being tweaked, so in order to properly separate and describe both the scribe/copyist of a work and the authors of works included in a manuscript it was necessary to create a new property on Wikidata, which can now be used to describe the scribe, calligrapher or copyist of a manuscript work.
Once the data was prepared in a spreadsheet it was uploaded to Wikidata in stages using the Quickstatements tool. We also uploaded sample images of the 100 or so manuscripts which have already been digitised to Wikimedia Commons. Since the implementation of structured data on Commons any upload which links to the relevant item on Wikidata it now pulls in much of the relevant descriptive data automatically, meaning there is a lot less work involved in preparing a batch upload of images than in days gone by. Since the National Library uses IIIF technology to display its digital assets, we also included persistent id’s to our image viewer and links to IIIF manifests in our Wikidata upload.
Once the data is uploaded it can immediately be queried and explored using the Wikidata SPARQL Query Service. This tool has a suit of visualisation options, but there are a number of other useful visualisation tools which can be used in conjunction with a sparql query without the need for any coding knowledge, such as the Wikidata Visualisation suit and RAWGraphs.
In many cases it is technically possible to retrieve the same data from standard Metadata as you can from the linked data – it’s just that we don’t have the tools to easily do so. For example we could easily list manuscripts from smallest to largest, or oldest to youngest, or perhaps explore the relationship between the size of a manuscript and the date it was created.
Interestingly, this query clearly shows a trend of increasing size in the manuscripts over time and it also seems to point to a trend towards producing manuscripts of similar sizes at different periods in time.
We can also easily analyze data about the language of the works in the collection. It’s worth remembering that many works contain texts in more than one language, but we know that 43% of items contain Welsh language text whilst 33% contain English and 19% contain Latin.
Whilst this is definitely useful, the extra information extracted from text descriptions in the metadata begins to enrich and add further value to the data, allowing us to perform new queries on the data. For example we can attempt to break down the collection by genre and main subject for the first time. This of course is only as accurate as the original data, and in some cases the variety of content within a single manuscript makes it impossible to apply an overarching content type, but in terms of research and discoverability, the data certainly provides new insight. For example, we can identify all manuscripts which contain correspondence, and then see who the main subject of those correspondence are, and because Wikidata is linked data we could then access biographical data about those people.
Many of the manuscripts in the Peniarth collection include copies or partial copies of other notable works, in fact some of the manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts in the same collection. Using Wikidatas ‘Exemplar of’ property it was possible to connect the manuscripts to data items for the works they contained. Again, I suspect the original metadata does not identify all the works included in the manuscripts so the results of any query will not be exhaustive but they will represent all of the current data in our catalogue.
We can see from the visualisation the no fewer than 22 manuscripts contain text from the codification of Welsh Law by Hywel Dda, 21 manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts in the collection and 12 are exemplars of various printed books.
Using the newly created Scribe property on Wikidata we have been able to link data for each manuscript to the data items for every scribe mentioned in the metadata. Three scribes stand out as the most prolific, with their hand writing appearing in dozens of Manuscripts. Two of the three, Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt and W.W.E Wynne of Peniarth once owned much of the collection and did much to annotate and copy the texts. The third, John Jones, was a well known collector and scribe, and is credited with copying many texts which might otherwise have been lost forever. By exploring which scribes contributed to which manuscripts we can identify connection between otherwise unconnected individuals.
Finally, it’s important to underline the fact that Wikidata doesn’t just allow us to explore individual collections in new ways, it acts as a hub, joining collections together in an ever expanding web of cultural heritage data. We have added a lot of data for people in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography for example, and a simple query now allows us to identify all of those who contributed to the Peniarth collection.
In the same way, we can link to collections in other institutions, many of whom are also beginning to add their collections to Wikidata. Oxford University is one such institution and this means that manuscripts of Welsh interest at Jesus College like the Book of the Anchorite of Llanddewi Brefi and the Red Book of Hergest are now connected through linked data to the copies of those manuscripts in the Peniarth Collection.
As more and more collections are added to this huge linked open network we will increasingly be able to reconcile, explore and make sense of our combined cultural heritage, which for hundreds of years has existed in closed silos. By applying new technology and Open licensing, cultural institutions can now breath new life into old data, and reach a wider audience than ever before.
Almanacs were the favourite reading material of monoglot Welsh speakers right from the 17th century!
Affordable literatures, such as the almanac, were particularly popular with the lower classes, which made up most of Wales’ population. Between c. 1545 and 1801, the population of Wales saw a staggering increase – in fact, it more than doubled. Most of these people were monoglot Welsh speakers.
But what exactly is an almanac, and what made it such a favourite?
The defining feature of an almanac is its annual calendar, and in this sense, its history predates the printing press by several millennia. The near East produced texts considered to be almanacs as long ago as 500BC. However, it was only after the development of printing that almanacs truly began to gain popularity.
The first printed almanac was produced in Europe in 1457. Yearly almanacs were printed in England from the late 16th century and these became bestsellers during the succeeding century. The first Welsh-language almanac was soon to follow.
It is with Thomas Jones (1648-1713), a tailor’s son from Tre’r Ddôl near Corwen, that the story of the Welsh almanac begins.
In 1679, when he was 18-years-old, Jones was granted a royal patent for writing and publishing an annual Welsh-language almanac. These were published in London, under the title ‘Newyddion Oddiwrth y Ser’ (‘News From the Stars’).
Jones’ almanacs were between 20 and 24 leaves in length. They contained, along with the typical yearly calendar, material that was directed at their intended readership.
The first Welsh almanacs featured:
Weather forecasts and moon phases
Lists of markets and fairs
Astronomical guides and readings
Welsh-language reading guides
Samples of Welsh literature and poetry
A chronology of historical events
Jones’ almanacs were useful resources for the poor Welsh, particularly farmers; consider, for example, their environmental and weather related content. Astrological features also fulfilled the folk’s superstitious beliefs. Jones was a known supporter of amateur Welsh writers and he gave them a printed platform through his almanac.
Thomas Jones’ almanac remained one of a kind until 1695, when the Printing Act (which had restricted book-publishing to London, Oxford and Cambridge) came to an end. From then on, the printing industry spread throughout England and Wales, resulting in an increase in the number of Welsh almanac titles. Their contents, however, strayed little from Jones’ original format.
The Welsh almanac stands apart from its European cousins. Their contents varied from the medical lore of England’s medieval almanacs to the administrative organisation of France; as featured in the French ‘Royal Almanac’, founded in 1683. That the Italian ‘Barbanera’ (first published in 1762) is today included in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ Register gives a clear indication of an almanac’s value.
The Welsh almanac is certainly no exception. It is a valuable resource, not only in terms of literary, vernacular, and social history, but also as a work of great heritage significance.
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.