Guest post: A Welsh Servants’ Library from 1815

This guest post is from Dr Melanie Bigold, Reader in English Literature in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University.

The Cardiff Rare Books collection holds many texts which provide both provenance details (that is, information about former owners), as well as various types of evidence of historical use (for example, marginal annotations). Indeed, Cardiff’s collection is notable for the marked-up state of many of the books. Our librarian, Lisa Tallis, recently published an article on some examples from the Salisbury Collection in the Welsh History Review, and I have also written about marginalia in the Restoration Drama Collection.

My current research is on female book ownership between 1660-1820, so I have been revisiting the provenance details of hundreds of books in the Cardiff collection. One of the truly interesting tangential discoveries of research on women owners is that it has led me to the libraries of even more marginalised figures in the history of book ownership: servants and labouring-class individuals. For example, at Alnwick Castle, I discovered that a list mislabelled as one of the Duchess of Northumberland’s libraries was actually that of her servants. In the 1750s, Elizabeth Percy, first Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776), made a list of the 131 books that she made available to her large household. The article about this exciting source is currently available open access here. A list of the 131 titles is also available open access on the Bibliographical Society’s website here.

As a result of the excellent work of rare books cataloguer, Christine Megowan, Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff has recently yielded a similar piece of evidence from 1815. The female owner of the library in question was Frances Ann Grey (née Pryce) (1780-1837), the heiress of Dyffryn House in Glamorgan, Wales. Frances’s father, Thomas Pryce, was a coal merchant who bought the estate in 1759 and christened it Dyffryn, but records for the estate and its various owners go back to the seventh century. Unfortunately, the eighteenth-century house that Frances lived in no longer exists, but the Victorian house and Edwardian gardens still known as Dyffryn House are now managed by the National Trust.

Thomas Pryce had two daughters: Frances, the eldest, born in April 1780, and the younger, Elizabeth, must have been born just over a year later as she is recorded as dying, age 21, in September 1802.[1] Their mother, also named Frances Ann, died in March 1782, age 32, perhaps due to complications in the birth of Elizabeth. Thomas Pryce died in 1789, leaving Frances as his heir. In 1802, Frances married William Booth-Grey (1773-1852) – the second son of George Harry Grey, 5th earl of Stamford, of Dunham Massey, Cheshire. Frances was likely the mechanism for this second son to acquire an estate, as William joined Frances at Dyffryn House and shortly became High Sherriff of Glamorgan. A watercolour portrait of the two is held in the National Trust collections at Dunham Massey and can be viewed here. The couple had no children and the estate passed back to a Pryce kinsman on Frances’s death in 1837.

Inscription: ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’.

Beyond these scraps of information, not much is known about Frances, so it was wonderful to find a trace of her impact on the pages of one of our rare books. Special Collections has a single book that hails from Dyffryn House: a copy of Dr. Goldsmith’s history of Greece: abridged, for the use of Schools (London, 1787). The ink inscription on the front pastedown tells us that the book was ‘Mrs Grey’s’, and that it was ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’. In addition, on the final pastedown is a list of ‘Books in the Housekeeper’s room’, followed by the titles of twenty books, including the Goldsmith tome. In other words, this is a list of the library assembled by Frances for the benefit and entertainment of her servants. The titles include an interesting mix of histories, literature, religion, and reference works.

List of titles.
  1. The Whole Duty of Man [Richard Allestree, first published 1658]
  2. The great importance of a religious life [William Melmoth, first published 1711]
  3. Y Psallwyr [Psalms of David]
  4. Cyngor Gweinidog [William Holmes, The Country Parson’s advice to his parishioners, first published in English in 1742, and translated into Welsh in 1769]
  5. 2 Vol’s of Sermons by Wilson [probably Thomas Wilson, Thirty-three sermons published in Bath in 1791, in 2 volumes]
  6. Answer to all excuses for not attending the Holy Communion [Edward Synge, An answer to all the excuses…, first published 1697]
  7. Select Psalms
  8. On the existence of God [unknown, several possible titles]
  9. One Volume of Blairs Sermons [Hugh Blair, Sermons,first published 1777]
  10. Enfields Speaker [William Enfield, The Speaker, first published 1774]
  11. Salmon’s Gazeeteer [sic] [Thomas Salmon, The Modern Gazetteer,first published 1746]
  12. History of Greece Robertson [William Robertson, The History of Ancient Greece, 1768]
  13. History of Greece Goldsmith [Oliver Goldsmith, The Grecian History, was first published 1774. The abridged version present in the Cardiff collection came out in 1787]
  14. History of England Goldsmith [first published 1764. Perhaps this was the abridgement in 12mo published in 1774]
  15. Barclay’s Dictionary [James Barclay, A Complete and Universal Dictionary, first published 1774]
  16. Guthrie’s Grammar [William Guthrie, A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar, first published 1770]
  17. The practice of true devotion [Robert Nelson, first published 1715]
  18. Nicholl’s [sic] Paraphrase [William Nicholls, A paraphrase on the Psalter or Psalms of David, first published 1707]
  19. Thomson’s Seasons [James Thomson, The Seasons, first published together 1730]
  20. 2 Shenstones Works [William Shenstone, The works in verse and prose, first published 1764]

It is impossible to determine the edition date for many of the titles, but apart from the books of Psalms; The Whole Duty of Man (1658), Richard Allestree’s perennially popular book of practical devotion; and Edward Synge’s An Answer (1697), all of the titles first appeared in the eighteenth century, and many in the latter half of the century. While this suggests a relatively current library, the date of the Goldsmith edition – 1787 – tells us that the books were probably second-hand copies. The other factor to note about our Goldsmith book is that it is small – not much larger than a smartphone. Known as duodecimo (12mo) format, it is similar in size to those found in other servant libraries from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk (a National Trust house) there is a servants’ library of twenty-five books in their own miniature, locked bookcase. These books are all duodecimo. This was a common size for chapbooks, the small and cheap little books sold by travelling pedlars or chapmen. Seen as ephemera, most early examples of these popular books have not survived. Margaret Spufford’s wonderful study, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readers in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1981), is still the definitive history on chapbooks. Sadly, our list does not contain any of the famous old chapbook titles.

Instead, in 1815, it is religious titles that dominate the list (11 of the 20 titles), but there is more variety here than other examples of nineteenth-century servants’ libraries. The Felbrigg servants’ library, for example, is entirely religious (all 25 texts were published by the Religious Tract Society). Frances’s selection, on the other hand, has more in common with the servants’ library at Alnwick Castle. Like the duchess, Frances provided her servants with books of a practical nature; that is, works that could help them learn about the world as well as advance their job prospects. For example, there is a book to help the servants learn to read. The long title of William Enfield’s The Speaker (item 10) explains that it contains ‘miscellaneous pieces, selected from the best English writers… with a view to facilitate the improvement of youth in reading and speaking.’ There are also general knowledge dictionaries and grammars. James Barclay’s ‘Dictionary’ (item 15) is not just a dictionary of words and definitions in the modern sense, but also contained a history of ‘the counties, cities, and market towns in England, Wales, and Scotland’, ‘a sketch of the constitution, government, and trade of England’, and ‘an outline of antient and modern history’. Likewise, Guthrie’s ‘Grammar’ (item 16) provided geographical knowledge about the ‘Land and Water, Continents and Islands’, ‘Climate, Air, Soil, vegetable Productions, Metals, Minerals’, among other things. The Modern Gazetteer (item 11) was another work of geographical and historical knowledge, written by a man who circumnavigated the world with George Anson in the 1740s. These works imparted general knowledge about the world beyond Wales, and as such provided both instruction and entertainment.

For those who had mastered their reading, there was also more ambitious fare in the form of James Thomson’s celebrated long poem, The Seasons (item 19), as well as William Shenstone’s collected works (item 20). Thomson’s paeon to the natural world was ubiquitous in eighteenth-century country house libraries; Shenstone, however, appears less frequently. Nevertheless, he wrote in the same vein as Thomson, with a focus on the countryside, rural life, and sensibility, and the appearance of these two authors suggest an interest (either from Frances or among the servants) for poetry with a connection to the land. They also hint at the preference in Welsh homes for poetry over novels. In my study of women’s libraries in Wales, poetry was almost always more prevalent.

There is also a focus on history which is one of the most popular genres in women’s libraries in the period. In addition to the Cardiff copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s abridged history of Greece (item 13), the list also mentions Goldsmith’s history of England (item 14), and another history of Greece from William Robertson (item 12). Goldsmith’s and Robertson’s Grecian histories were adaptations of the French classic Histoire Ancienne (1730-38) by Charles Rollin. This popular source was translated as well as abridged into many different languages over the course of the eighteenth century. Goldsmith, who was always short of funds and in search of publishing opportunities, produced a novelistic version that does not credit its source, while Robertson, Keeper of the Scottish Records, attempted a more traditional historiography that, in its second edition, credited his source as a French abridgement of Rollin.[2] The appearance of these three histories show that eighteenth-century publishers were responding to and creating a popular history market for readers of all ages and abilities.

However, the most unique aspect of this list is that it contains Welsh-language texts. This is the earliest example I have found of Welsh texts in a country house servants’ library. These include, ‘Y Psallwyr’ (item 3), which is the Welsh translation of the Psalms of David, and ‘Cyngor Gweinidog’ (item 4), a translation of William Holmes’ work, The Country Parson’s Advice to his Parishioners. This tells us that there were Welsh speakers among Frances’ servants, and, perhaps more importantly, that she supported them with their own Welsh-language texts. It likewise reveals the expansion of Welsh-language publishing.

In her study of two English provincial booksellers, Jan Fergus notes that, among the working classes, servants often had the most leisure time and that they tended to be more literate.[3] Frances Grey’s list confirms such literacy for both English and Welsh speaking servants. It also shows the extent to which women like Frances supported the members of her household in improving and extending their reading. Now if only I could find the list of her library. 

[1] Archaeologica Cambrensis (1861), p.110.

[2] Giovanna Ceserani, ‘Narrative, Interpretation, and Plagiarism in Mr. Robertson’s 1778 “History of Ancient Greece”’, Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 3 (2005): 413–36.

[3] Jan Fergus, ‘Provincial Servants’ Reading in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, ed. James Raven, Helen Small, and Naomi Tadmor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 202–25, 204.

Prifysgol Caerdydd yn Lansio Gwasanaeth Digidol Newydd: Casgliadau Arbennig Digidol 

Mae casgliad arbennig o lyfrau cain – gwaith oes yr artist Shirley Jones – yn ganolbwynt ar gyfer gwasanaeth digidol newydd sbon, wedi’i ddatblygu gan staff Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau. 

Mae Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein, sy’n lansio heddiw, yn rhannu casgliadau prin gydag ymchwilwyr, myfyrwyr, ysgolion a’r cyhoedd yn rhad ac am ddim. 

Bydd casgliadau prin ac unigryw i’w gweld ar-lein, rhai am y tro cyntaf erioed

Gyda dros 1,700 o eitemau prin wedi’u cyhoeddi yn barod, mae’r gwasanaeth yn hwyluso mynediad fel erioed o’r blaen, gan ddefnyddio ffotograffau manwl a phrydferth. Mae llawer o’r eitemau sydd i’w canfod ar y gwasaneth yn hynod o brin, ac eraill yn hollol unigryw i’r Brifysgol. 

Meddai’r Archifydd Alison Harvey: “Mae llyfrau Shirley i’w canfod mewn casgliadau preifat – mae’n weithred radical i’w rhannu gyda phawb, ar-lein, am ddim – gwaith oes, sy’n cael ei rannu gyda bendith Shirley.” 

Golwg fanwl ar waith yr artist Shirley Jones, sydd wedi gwneud rhodd o’i gwaith oes i’r Brifysgol

“Mae’n wahanol iawn i sganiau llwyd y dyddiau a fu: dylunwyd y gwasanaeth i gyd-weithio gyda systemau eraill, sy’n cynyddu’r potensial ar gyfer creu deunyddiau dysgu, arddangosfeydd rhithiol, ymchwil a llawer mwy.” 

Bydd Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein yn tyfu wrth i ragor o eitemau gael eu digido, gan greu trysorfa o ddeunydd ymchwil, a chasgliadau nodweddiadol fydd o ddiddordeb i lyfr-bryfaid yng Nghymru a thu hwnt. Ymysg eitemau eraill sydd ar gael am y tro cyntaf ‘mae:  

ffotograffau unigryw o fyfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898  

dyddiaduron nyrs o Ryfel Cartref Sbaen 

cofnodion lliwgar o fywyd myfyrwyr dros y degawdau 

Myfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898

Esboniodd Pennaeth Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau, Alan Vaughan Hughes: “Rydan ni’n falch iawn i fod yn rhan o gyfundrefn IIIF, y Brifysgol gyntaf yng Nghymru i ymuno. Mae’n safon digido arloesol, fydd yn drawsnewidiol ar gyfer ymchwil a dysgu.” 

“Mae hyn gymaint mwy na rhoi lluniau ar y we: trwy IIIF, rydan ni’n rhan o fframwaith ryngwladol sy’n gwneud ein casgliadau yn fwy hygyrch i ymchwilwyr a’r cyhoedd yn fyd-eang.” 

Gallwch bori Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein fan hyn: Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein 

Cardiff University Launches a New Digital Service: Digital Special Collections

A unique collection of handmade books – the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones – is the centrepiece of a brand-new digital service developed by Special Collections and Archives.   

Cardiff University Digital Special Collections, which launches today, is free to use and shares rarely seen treasures with researchers, students, schools and the public, for free.  

Rare and unique items have been made available online for the first time, including the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones

Over 1,700 rare items are already available, photographed in exquisite detail – enabling access like never before to the University’s collections. Many of the items are extremely rare, while others are completely unique to the University.  

Archivist Alison Harvey said: “Shirley’s books are usually in private collections, and it’s quite radical to make them available to everyone, for free, online – a lifetime of work, which we’re sharing with Shirley’s blessing.”    

A detail from Shirley Jones’ collections, viewed through a deep zoom viewer, which lets users explore rare and unique collections in detail

“It’s a long way from the greyscale scans of the past: Digital Special Collections is designed to work with other platforms, to create teaching materials, online exhibitions and more. The potential for future research and impact is immense.”   

Digital Special Collections will continue to grow as more items are digitised, creating a trove of research material and cultural highlights for book-lovers across Wales and beyond. Other items made available for the first time today include 

  • unique photographs of students learning trades at Cardiff Technical School in 1898  
  • handwritten diaries from an intrepid nurse, written during the Spanish Civil War 
  • retro photographs of student life stretching back to the Victorian period 
Cardiff Technical School Students in 1898

Head of Special Collections and Archives, Alan Vaughan Hughes explains: “We’re really proud to be the first University in Wales to adopt the IIIF standard. This framework allows the kind of functionality that will transform how we use collections for teaching and research.  

“This goes way beyond just putting images on the internet: IIIF means that our collections are now part of an international framework and makes them more accessible globally, to researchers and the public.”   

Digital Special Collections can be accessed here: Digital Special Collections   

Taith Hanes Menywod: Canol Dinesig Caerdydd

Rydym yn falch o ddatgan bod taith newydd ar gael, sy’n rhoi golwg ar hanes menywod Canol Dinesig Caerdydd.

Mae Parc Cathays yn gartref i brif Gampws y Brifysgol, yn ogystal â Neuadd y Ddinas, adeiladau’r Llywodraeth a’r Amgueddfa – ardal sy’n gysylltiedig â dynion pwerus hanes y brifddinas.

Map Hanes Menywod gan Frank Duffy, rhan o’r daith y gellid ei lawrlwytho am ddim

Ond edrychwch yn ofalus, a mi welwch bod hanes menywod ym mhobman, yn ffabrig ein gofodau dinesig.

Os ydych chi’n gweithio, astudio neu’n ymweld â Pharc Cathays: lawrlwythwch y daith am ddim, a mynd am dro hamddenol, heb risiau, o amgylch y Canol Dinesig.

Datblygwyd y daith ar y cyd ag Archif Menywod Cymru, sydd wedi creu dwsin o deithiau hanes menywod – o Fangor i’r Barri, gallwch lawrlwytho teithiau am ddim i archwilio hanes menywod ar draws Cymru.

Am fwy o wybodaeth am fersiwn dywysiedig o’r daith hon, dilynwch ni ar twitter am fwy o wybodaeth.

Women’s History Tour: Cardiff Civic Centre

We’re excited to announce that a new self-guided tour is available, giving a glimpse into women’s history in Cardiff’s Civic Centre.

Home to the main University Campus, as well as Government buildings, City Hall and institutions such as National Museum Cardiff, it is an area known for its dazzling white buildings and its association with the ‘great and the good’ of the city’s past – mostly men on plinths with big moustaches.

Women’s History Map by Frank Duffy, part of the downloadable tour

However, look closely, and you’ll see that women’s history is everywhere, woven into the fabric of our public spaces. From activists to scientists, musicians to militant suffragettes – this tour brings together a snapshot of women’s history in Cardiff.

Whether you work, study, or visit at Cathays Park: download the tour for free, and take a leisurely, step-free route around the Civic Centre.

This tour was developed in partnership with Women’s Archive Wales, who have produced twelve women’s history tours – from Bangor to Barry, you can download a tour for free to explore women’s history across Wales.

For information about future guided versions of this tour, please follow us on twitter for more updates.

Diwrnod Menywod mewn STEM: Maria Dawson, graddedig gyntaf Prifysgol Cymru

Y botanydd Maria Dawson oedd y person cyntaf i dderbyn gradd gan Brifysgol Cymru, ym 1896.

Dawson oedd y cyntaf, ar y cyd ag un arall, i dderbyn teitl Doethur y Gwyddorau gan Brifysgol Cymru, a derbyniodd ysgoloriaeth wyddonol i barhau ei hastudiaethau ym maes gwrtaith ac amaeth.

Llun o Maria Dawson, y person cyntaf i raddio o Brifysgol Cymru
Miss Dawson yn derbyn ei Doethuriaeth, o gylchgrawn Coleg Prifysgol Caerdydd, Rhagfyr 1900

Gwobrwyo Graddau Cyntaf Cymru

Ym 1892, ymunodd Dawson a Choleg Prifysgol De Cymru a Sir Fynwy (y sefydliad a ddaeth cyn Prifysgol Caerdydd) i astudio mathemateg, cemeg, sŵoleg a botaneg.

Ar yr adeg honno, doedd dim hawl gan y Coleg i roi graddau, felly byddai’r myfyrwyr yn sefyll arholiadau Prifysgol Llundain fel rheol.

Ym 1893, sefydlwyd Prifysgol Cymru, fyddai’n newid byd addysg Cymru am byth, gyda Cholegau Prifysgol Aberystwyth, Bangor a Chaerdydd yn aelodau. Golygai hyn y gallai Maria Dawson gael gradd gan sefydliad Cymreig.

Perfformiad Academaidd

Roedd Dawson yn fyfyrwraig ddawnus: mi enillodd wobr arddangosfa (ysgoloriaeth) am safon ei harholiad mynediad, a dalodd am ei ffïoedd i gyd – ac enillodd un arall ar ddiwedd y flwyddyn.

Roedd ganddi ddawn wyddonol, gan ennill gwobrau yn ei phedwar pwnc yn ystod ei hail flwyddyn.

Labordy Cemeg ym 1899 yn dangos dynion a merched yn derbyn addysg
Labordy Cemeg yng Nghaerdydd ym 1899 yn dangos dynion a merched yn derbyn addysg

Ymchwil Arloesol

Wedi iddi raddio gyda B.Sc., enillodd wobr o £150 gan Gomisiwn Brenhinol Arddangosfa 1851.

Yn Labordai Botanegol Caergrawnt, fe aeth ati i ymchwilio effeithiau nitrogen ar blanhigion, oedd yn arfer newydd iawn ar y pryd.

Yn ei phapur ‘”Nitragin and the nodules of leguminous plants” ei damcaniaeth oedd na ddylai ychwanegu nitrogen yn ormodol i bridd, ond bod ei ddefnydd mewn pridd gwael yn gallu cynyddu cynaeafau.

Merched Parchus Neuadd Aberdar

Efallai na fyddai Dawson wedi dod i Gaerdydd oni bai am y neuadd breswyl arbennig ar gyfer menywod, Neuadd Aberdâr.

Darlun artist o Neuadd Aberdar fel yr edrychai ym 1895

Roedd ei theulu yn byw yn Llundain – rhy bell iddi ddychwelyd adre bob dydd – a roedd yn annerbyniol yn ôl moesau’r oes i fyfyrwraig ddi-briod fyw ar ei phen ei hun.

Sefydlwyd Neuadd Aberdâr ym 1885, un o’r neuaddau preswyl cyntaf yn y DU i fenywod.

Seremoni Raddio gyntaf Prifysgol Cymru

Clawr wedi ei ddarlunio a llaw, rhifyn cyntaf yr 'University College Magazine', Rhagfyr 1885
Cylchgrawn cyntaf Coleg y Brifysgol, Rhagfyr 1885

Ar yr 22ain o Hydref 1897, ymgasglodd myfyrwyr Prifysgol Cymru yn Neuadd y Parc, neuadd gyngerdd fawr, ar gyfer seremoni raddio gyntaf y sefydliad.

Dyma oedd gan gylchgrawn Coleg Prifysgol De Cymru a Sir Fynwy, cyhoeddiad gan fyfyrwyr, i’w ddweud am yr achlysur arbennig hwn:

“The first to be presented was Miss Maria Dawson, for the degree of B.Sc., and her appearance was the signal for a great outburst of enthusiasm among the audience. The Deputy-Chancellor… gave her the diploma…, and with a… bow… she retired amid deafening cheers.”

Rydym ni’n dathlu Maria heddiw, a’n falch o’n hanes hir o gefnogi ymchwil menywod yn y gwyddorau – cewch weld rhagor o straeon o fenywod sy’n arloesi heddiw fan hyn: Diwrnod Menywod Mewn STEM.

Gallwch ddarllen gwaith Maria Dawson am Nitrogen fan hyn: Maria Dawson, ‘“Nitragin” and the nodules of leguminous plants’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 64, 167-168 (1899)

Women in STEM Day: Meet Maria Dawson, the first graduate of the University of Wales

The University of Wales awarded its first degree, a Bachelor of Science, to botanist Maria Dawson in 1896.

Dawson also jointly holds the title of the first Doctor of Science of the University of Wales, and was granted a prestigious scientific scholarship which funded her pioneering research into agricultural fertilisers.

Photograph of the first graduate of the University of Wales, Maria Dawson
Miss Maria Dawson receiving her D.Sc., published in the University College Magazine in Dec 1900

Degree-awarding powers in Wales

In October 1892, Dawson was admitted to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (the predecessor to Cardiff University) to study mathematics, chemistry, zoology and botany.

At that time, the College did not have degree-awarding powers, and students were prepared for University of London examinations.

However in 1893, whilst Dawson was a student, the history of Welsh education was altered irrevocably with the establishment of the University of Wales.

The university colleges in Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth were its constituent institutions.

Academic Excellence

Dawson was a high achiever from the outset: she won an exhibition (a bursary) at the College’s entrance examinations, which covered her matriculation and lecture fees, and another at the end of her first year.

She excelled in her scientific studies, winning prizes for her performance in all four of her subjects following her second year.

Chemistry Laboratory, c.1899, showing women students
Chemistry Laboratory, c.1899, showing women students

From Botany modules to researching root nodules

After graduating with her B.Sc., Dawson was awarded a £150 research scholarship by Her Majesty’s Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

Her pioneering research, undertaken at the Cambridge Botanical Laboratories, investigated how the addition of nitrogen and nitrates to soil, a new practice at that time, affected crop yields.

In her research paper, ‘”Nitragin” and the nodules of leguminous plants’ published by Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, she concludes:

Adding nitrogen “to soils rich in nitrates” is inadvisable. Adding “a supply of it to soil poor in nitrates results in an increased yield”, however the best results are obtained when “nitrates [are] added to the soil”.

All the single ladies: let’s put you up… in Aberdare Hall

Artist’s impression of Aberdare Hall in the 1890s

Dawson may not have enrolled at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire at all if it were not for the dedicated all-female hall of residence the College offered.

Her family lived in London, too far to return home each day, and it was not considered respectable for a young, unmarried woman to live in lodgings unchaperoned.

Aberdare Hall, set up in 1885, was one of the first higher education residences for women in the UK.

Doff thy caps: the first degree ceremony of the University of Wales

Cover of the hand-written manuscript of the University College Magazine, Dec 1885
Cover of the hand-written manuscript of the University College Magazine, Dec 1885

The first degree ceremony of the University of Wales took place in Cardiff at Park Hall, a large concert hall, on 22 October 1897.

The magazine of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, a student publication, reported on this auspicious occasion:

“The first to be presented was Miss Maria Dawson, for the degree of B.Sc., and her appearance was the signal for a great outburst of enthusiasm among the audience. The Deputy-Chancellor… gave her the diploma…, and with a… bow, she retired amid deafening cheers.”

Today we celebrate Maria Dawson. We’re proud of our long history of supporting women’s research in STEM – you can find more stories of women innovating today here: Women in STEM at Cardiff University.

You can read more of Maria Dawson’s research here: Maria Dawson, ‘“Nitragin” and the nodules of leguminous plants’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 64, 167-168 (1899). Available at

Darn unigryw o hanes Du Cymru ar gael i’w lawrlwytho am y tro cyntaf o Brifysgol Caerdydd


Cyhoeddodd William Hall, caethwas a ddihangodd o America, hanes ei fywyd o Gaerdydd ym 1862.

Mae darn hynod o brin o hanes Du Cymru wedi’i gyhoeddi ar lein am y tro cyntaf.

llaw yn dal pamffled 'Slavery in the United States of America, a Personal Narrative' gan William Hall

Cyhoeddodd William Hall hanes ei fywyd o Stryd Bute ym 1862

Ym 1862, cyhoeddodd William Hall ei “Naratif Bersonol”, sy’n olrhain hanes brawychus ei enedigaeth mewn caethiwed, a’i daith hirfaith o Dennessee i Gaerdydd. Ynddo, mae Hall yn disgrifio cael ei werthu i berchnogion planhigfeydd, yn manylu sut y ceisiodd ddianc caethwasiaeth ar amryw o achlysuron, a’n trafod ei brofiadau yn cwrdd â chaethweision eraill.

Mae’r ddogfen dan ofal Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd, a credir mai dyma un o ddau gopi sydd wedi goroesi yn fyd-eang.

Ysbrydoli’r Genhedlaeth Nesaf o Ymchwilwyr

Mae’n bamffled bychan, bregus – ac o heddiw ‘mlaen, mae ar gael ar lein i unrhyw un ei ddarllen a’i lawrlwytho.

Medd Tracey Stanley, Llyfrgellydd Prifysgol Caerdydd: “Mae’r ddogfen unigryw yma’n rhan mor bwysig o hanes Du Caerdydd, a Chymru, a ro’n ni eisiau ei gwneud ar gael i bawb.”

“’Dyn ni’n dal i ddarganfod mwy am fywyd William Hall – rydym ni’n gobeithio y bydd cyhoeddi’r ddogfen ar lein yn ysbrydoli cenhedlaeth newydd o ymchwilwyr, fydd yn parhau i archwilio hanes pobl Ddu yng Nghymru.”

Rhannu Gweithiau Prin gan Awduron Du

Fe noddwyd y ddogfen yn wreiddiol gan fynychwyr capel Wesleaidd yng Nghaerdydd, sy’n taro goleuni ar y gefnogaeth oedd i’r mudiad Diddymu Caethwasiaeth yn y ddinas ar y pryd.

Oherwydd natur fregus y ddogfen, fe fyddai’n cael ei darllen fel rheol dan amodau arbenigol yng Nghasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau’r Brifysgol. Mae’r cyfnod clo wedi peri sialens i ymchwilwyr sy’n defnyddio llyfrau prin – a mae technoleg ddigidol wedi golygu y gall peth o’r gwaith hwn barhau.

“Mae ein staff wedi bod yn gweithio’n galed i gefnogi myfyrwyr ac ymchwilwyr yn ystod y cyfnod anodd hwn. Yma yng Nghasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau, mae hyn wedi golygu rhoi rhai dogfennau unigryw ar lein, a allai fod yn rhy brin neu fregus i’w hymchwilio yn y cnawd ar hyn o bryd.” meddai Alan Vaughan Hughes, Pennaeth Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd.

“Mae gweithiau hanesyddol gan awduron Du – fel gwaith William Hall – yn haeddu cynulleidfa ehangach, a ‘dyn ni’n falch o allu rhannu’r gwaith hwn gyda phawb trwy’r Internet Archive. Rydym ni hefyd yn ddiolchgar iawn i’r Athro William Jones a Dr David Wyatt am eu gwaith yn ymchwilio a chodi ymwybyddiaeth o’r ddogfen werthfawr hon.”

Gallwch ddarganfod mwy am hanes William Hall, a’r mudiad Diddymu yng Nghaerdydd yn Canu Caeth, a olygwyd gan Daniel G Williams.

Copi llawn o Naratif Bersonol William Hall i’w lawrlwytho:

A unique piece of Wales’ Black history from Cardiff goes online: William Hall’s Slavery Narrative

William Hall, an escaped slave and resident of Cardiff, published his life story from Bute Street in 1862

An extremely rare piece of Wales’ Black history has been published online for the first time.

hand holding a pamphlet named 'Slavery in the United States of America, a Personal Narrative'

William Hall’s ‘Personal Narrative’ – one of two known copies in the world. The other is believed to be in Chicago.

Published on the city’s Bute Street in 1862, William Hall’s “Personal Narrative” is a shocking and graphic account of his birth into slavery in Tennessee, and his arduous journey to Cardiff. Hall describes being sold to various plantation owners, detailing multiple attempts to escape his captors, as well as his encounters with other escaped slaves.

Now held in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives, it is believed to be one of two surviving copies in the world.

Inspiring the next generation of researchers

It is a small, fragile and unassuming pamphlet – and from today, it will be available online for anyone to read and download.

Says Tracey Stanley, Cardiff University Librarian:

“This unique document is such an important part of the Black history of Cardiff, and Wales, and we wanted to make it available to everyone.”

“We’re still discovering more about William Hall and his life thanks to ongoing research. By publishing this work online, we hope to inspire a new generation of researchers who will go on to explore Black history in Wales.”

Sharing rare works by Black authors with a wider audience

The document was originally funded by people attending Cardiff’s Wesleyan chapels, and sheds light on historic support for the anti-slavery movement in the city.

Due to its rare and fragile nature, the pamphlet would normally be handled under specialist conditions at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives. The lockdown period has made accessing rare books a particular challenge for researchers – and digital technology is providing a way for this work to continue.

“Our staff have been working hard to support students and researchers during this difficult lockdown period. Here at Special Collections and Archives, that includes bringing some unique texts online, that may be rare or too fragile to handle.” says Alan Vaughan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.

“Historic works by Black authors – such as William Hall’s work – deserve a wider audience, and we’re proud to be able to share this with the public today through the Internet Archive. We’re also grateful to Professor William Jones and Dr David Wyatt for shedding light on this significant document through their research.”

Discover more about William Hall, and Cardiff’s pro- and anti- abolition movements in Canu Caeth, edited by Daniel G. Williams.

Download William Hall’s ‘Personal Narrative’ in full:

Guest post: Book inscriptions and family history research

Following on from the success of the recent Family History Show at UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre, Dr Lauren O’Hagan shares some of her top tips for using book inscriptions as an entry point into family history research.

Most of us have dusty, old books tucked away in our attics, cupboards or garages that once belonged to our parents, grandparents or distant relatives. These books are an unexpected and useful resource for carrying out genealogical research. Inscriptions provide us with the names and addresses of unknown ancestors, or they can also offer personal information not found elsewhere about their daily lives and hobbies.

Here’s a guide on how you can use book inscriptions in your family history research:

1. Family Bibles
Considered the ‘life blood’ of Christian families, Bibles were once used to record births, deaths, marriages, and significant life events, such as a child’s illness or a son going off to war. Civil registration was not introduced until 1837 (in England and Wales) and was made compulsory in 1874: Bibles are therefore a useful way to trace your family roots without having to trawl through parish records.

2. Birthday Books and Daily Scripture Books
Popularised in the mid-nineteenth century, these gift books contained printed content and blank spaces to record birthdays. Many owners also used them to document deaths, marriages, funerals, christenings, new jobs, moving house and world events. They are an important way to explore a family member’s social networks.

3. Autograph Books and Confession Books
These books shed light on ancestors’ wit, humour and irony because they required owners, and their family and friends, to answer pre-written questions on their personality, tastes and interests, such as: What is your idea of happiness? What are your favourite qualities in a man/woman? Who is your favourite author?

4. Ownership Inscriptions
This is the most basic form of inscription, consisting of the owner’s name, and may also be accompanied by their address and date of inscription. This information can be essential when starting out on the journey into your family history. Sketches, poems, newspaper clippings, comments and even curses to protect books from theft can also appear alongside an ownership inscription, all of which can help make your ancestor come to life as a person.

5. Gift Inscriptions
Books inscribed as presents from one person to another can show links and relationships between people that may be harder to discern from more official records.

6. Author Inscriptions
These inscriptions are often written by the author to the recipient at a book signing or event, and can give an insight into your ancestors’ reading tastes and interests.

7. Prize Inscriptions and Prize Stickers
Awarding books as prizes for attendance and good behaviour was common across schools, Sunday schools and clubs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Books containing prize stickers are a real treasure trove because they contain comprehensive details of the awardee, their address and the specific institution that they attended. This can supply information on their religious denomination, and help focus local archive searches of school and Sunday school records.

8. Bookplates
Bookplates are small, decorative labels used to denote book ownership. Traditionally, bookplates were used only by the upper classes who commissioned artists to custom-design ciphers, rebuses or armorials with heraldic symbols relating to their lineage. These symbols can be identified fairly easily using resources such as the College of Arms database. By the early twentieth century, most bookplates were pictorial and showcased images that reflected anything from an owner’s favourite sport or literary character to their religious or political beliefs. These bookplates offer a whimsical way of discovering the person behind your ancestor’s name.

9. Marginalia
These marks or comments made in the margins of books can give us a sense of our ancestors’ thought process and how they engaged with their books.

10. Booksellers’ and Binders’ Labels
Many books from the Victorian and Edwardian eras feature booksellers’ or binders’ labels, which tell us the specific location that a book was purchased or bound. These labels can often be cross-referenced with the ownership inscription to aid initial census searches.

Hopefully, these handy tips will encourage you to search your house for old books and get starting on your family history research! Enjoy!