Exhibition: Neighbourly Devils

Hugh Evans, Y Tylwyth Teg, (Liverpool, 1935. Illustration of the fairies stealing a baby, by T. J. Bond.

Don’t miss your last chance to see Neighbourly Devils, our exhibition on fairies and folklore in Wales! The exhibition will remain in Special Collections and Archives until 31 March, and can also be viewed online


What exactly did the Puritan Charles Edwards mean in 1677 when he referred to the enchanting ‘devils’ who appeared as a ‘visible troop’ throughout Wales? Widely known as Y Tylwyth Teg (“the Fair Family”), or Bendith eu Mamau (“Their Mother’s Blessing”), colourful tales and frequent sightings of the fairies spread fear across the land.

This exhibition draws on Special Collections and Archives’ magnificent range of printed material from the 15th to the 20th centuries, from early dictionaries to poetry, from contemporary folklore accounts to modern artistic works. It reveals many of the spiritual and demonic beliefs surrounding the history of the fairies, or ‘neighbourly devils’, in Wales.

​Are you brave enough?

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Guest post: In search of a scientist – and a suffragist?

This guest post comes from Sue James, a History teacher at Sutton High School, Greater London, who has been researching the life and career of one of their former students, Alice Embleton. As well as attending Sutton High, Alice was one of the first women to study sciences at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. As part of our celebrations for International Women’s Day 2018, we’d like to share her story.


ALICE LAURA EMBLETON c. 1876-1960

I came across Alice Embleton’s name quite by accident. It was on one of the honours boards here at Sutton High School, but this particular one had been covered over by a stage curtain. With the curtain pinned back on an inset day, Alice’s name was clear to see, and next to it was written: 1900 winner of the 1851 Exhibition Science Research Scholarship. Spurred on by the support of our Biology Department, and knowing that Alice may make an inspirational story for current students in an upcoming school science assembly, I started my research.

Honours board at Sutton High School

Our school magazines, which date from 1895, have been digitised so it was quite easy to make a start, and her name appeared a number of times in the early editions. Alice was cited as being at Aberystwyth University, but the archivist there told me that this was a mistake, and that she was at Cardiff instead.  I was not too surprised at the error, as the school register records that Alice had left Sutton High early, at the age of 15, due to ‘pecuniary reasons’. It is a measure of the academic prowess that Alice showed that the school followed her progress, even if they did not always get the details right.

The archivist at Cardiff University was also enthusiastic about Alice. She quickly found out that Alice was one of the first cohort of women studying for a science degree; there were 5 women and 16 men on her course between the years 1895 and 1899. Alice won scholarships which paid for the course, and graduated with a Baccalaureus in Scientia, first class.

Alice Embleton’s entry in Sutton High School’s admissions register.

This degree was just the start of Alice’s academic success. The archivist at Aberystwyth had affirmed that Alice was an interesting subject and she also pointed me in the direction of Welsh Newspapers Online. There were several references to Alice, and it became apparent that she had won a number of awards and scholarships in the scientific world. There were also references to her achievements being considered ‘firsts for a woman’, which made it very exciting. I knew I was on to a scientist of note, perhaps even a trailblazer.

Awarded in 1900, The Great Exhibition Science Research Scholarship granted Alice £150 a year for two years, unusually extended to three. She used the money to work at the Balfour laboratory at Newnham College, Cambridge, followed by a further period of study at the Sorbonne. She was the first foreigner and the first woman to study under Professor Marchal. In 1904, Alice won the Mackinnon studentship of the Royal Society for research into Biological Sciences, which was described as a ‘unique distinction for a woman’. There is also a reference to Alice being sub-editor of the Zoological Record, and working at the South Kensington Museum, before furthering her research in Scandinavia.

Alice’s focus, and the reason for all the awards, was her research into pesticides to help increase crop production. Welsh Newspapers Online pointed to Alice having a link to the prestigious Linnean Society in Burlington House in London.

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 26 June 1903, p. 5.

She was among the first women to be admitted to the society and, in 1911, became its first female speaker. Her paper was entitled: ‘Anatomy and Development of a Hymeropterous Parasite of a Scaly Insect (Lecanium Hemisphoericum)’. The archivist at the Linnean Society was very helpful and sent me copies of Alice’s correspondence with the Society, a link that lasted from 1905 until 1917, when she resigned.

At this point I had enough information for an assembly in honour of Alice, but there then appeared a twist in the story. The 1911 census showed that Alice was a visitor at the home of Alderman Charles Wray and his daughter Cecilia, in Fairfield House, Barnsley. Alice gave her occupation as working in cancer research, while Cecilia had described herself as ‘getting votes for women’. This had been crossed out, presumably by the enumerator, and replaced with ‘no occupation, private means’. The evidence seemed to indicate that Cecilia was a suffragist and provided the possibility that Alice was too. The L.S.E. Women’s Library has a photograph of a group of women entitled ‘Campaigners for Women’s Suffrage in Barnsley, January 20th1910’. An ‘A.J. Embleton’ is in the line-up with C. Wray. Although J is recorded  as a middle initial, rather than the L that appears in school records, it is reasonable to deduce that this is our Alice, especially as her connection with Cecilia was strong. The two appeared again in the 1939 census, and the Barnsley Chronicle of July 31st 1909 recorded a meeting of the Barnsley Women’s Suffrage Society, in which secretary Cecilia Wray presided over the passing of a resolution moved by ‘Miss Embleton’. Additionally, the L.S.E. has some correspondence between Celia Wray and Alick Embleton and Vera (Jack) Holme, the chauffeur of Emmeline Pankhurst, which strengthens the case for Alice being a suffragist.

Miss AJ Embleton, Miss O Royston, Miss C Wray, Miss M Fielden and Miss E Ford, photographed outside the offices of the Barnsley Chronicle, 20 January 1910.

How amazing that a hidden name on an honours board could lead to a tale of scientific excellence and a timely connection with women’s suffrage. Alice could have been a forgotten student, but instead she has become an inspiration and a personification of at least part of our school’s motto: ‘Fortiter, Fideliter, Feliciter’ (bravely, faithfully, happily). She did feature in the science assembly, and there is now a proposal to rename the school biology prize, ‘The Alice Embleton Biology Prize’.

Guest Post: ‘sweet airs, that give delight’

The following guest post is by Jacob MacKenzie, an English Literature MA student who is working on the Project Management module. As part of this module, and working with our magnificent collections here at Special Collections and Archives, Jacob has chosen his main ‘treasures’ from our collections which he deems especially worthy of showcasing in a series of blogs. These have been paired together because of their complementary, and contradictory qualities. Here, Jacob discusses his first set of items and his reasons behind their pairing:

Pair 1 – ‘sweet airs, that give delight’

Shakespeare is a literary figure who finds himself rather centralised within the canon, with good reason too. His plays have been performed, enjoyed, and firmly cemented in the public’s imagination since they were first written. With this in mind, a Shakespeare text seems an ideal way to begin my series of ‘treasures’ found within Special Collections and Archives, but with an interesting twist – the text is not written by Shakespeare. The play in question is a John Dryden and William D’Avenant adaptation of The Tempest, written 50 years after the original.

Dryden Tempest 2

John Dryden, The tempest, or The enchanted island : A comedy: as it is now acted at His Highness the Duke of York’s Theatre, (London, 1676), title page. Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

The second item was written a century afterwards, and is a musical score composed by Henry Purcell, designed to accompany the adapted play. Both texts play a critical role in exploring the culture of co-textuality, and in augmenting each other – as well as being archetypal examples of their rich textual histories. Since this project is founded in co-texts, it seems apt for these to open this series.

Tempest Music 1

Henry Purcell, The Music in the Tempest, (London, c. 1760s), title page. Historical Music Collection.

Treasure 1: John Dryden, The tempest, or The enchanted island : A comedy: as it is now acted at His Highness the Duke of York’s Theatre (1676).

The first item selected is an adapted play by John Dryden (co-author); William D’Avenant (co-author); William Shakespeare (source text author); and Thomas Shadwell (revisions and alterations author). This is a rewriting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by John Dryden and William D’Avenant and this particular version has consistent adaptations to dialogue, whilst keeping the basic bones of the original plot. The most divergent addition is that of a number of siblings to the original character. These include a sister for Miranda called Dorinda who has never seen a man aside from Prospero (much like Miranda), a man called Hippolito who falls in love with Dorinda, a sister for Caliban, and a girlfriend for Ariel called Milcha. This particular copy is bound in full red morocco leather by Riviere & Son with their stamp in gilt on front turn-in, lettered in gilt on spine. It is in exceedingly good condition for a text of its age and still maintains the ripped page bottoms from its production. It also has a price written in pencil in the inside front cover.

This pair could be of particular interest to researchers of Shakespeare texts and the cultural reactions to them, in regards to the comparisons and contrasts between the source text and the adaptations. Whilst a performance would garner more appeal and  give a new cultural life to the texts in the public sphere, as the Dryden adaptation has fallen from the general public periphery. Moreover, with the emphasis of Shakespeare in the Secondary School national curriculum, this pair would be ideal for exploring the impact of Shakespeare in the literary world.

Dryden Tempest 1

Dryden, The tempest, or The enchanted island, (1676), page detail.

I chose this play as the first ‘treasure’ for two reasons. Firstly, as a Shakespeare play, it represents a vital part of the literary canon. The importance of its relation to the canon comes down to the perception and reception of it, as it remains an item which the public link intrinsically with literature, and a text which still inspires much debate in the academic world. The idea of a university archive presenting a particular Shakespeare text may seem predictable (and with reason, as the canon remains critically acclaimed and worthy of exhibition). However, and this brings me to my second reason; this is not a play authored by Shakespeare himself, but a revised version by John Dryden and William D’Avenant.  The inter-textuality, to be clear, is what I find to be so deeply stimulating about this text. Whilst being an isolated text in its own right, it also has a rich inter-textual history with the original and represents a cultural response to the original play. In addition, the item has revisions and alterations which evokes a sense of a constant and unending co-textuality. It is, in my opinion, an item which represents the very heart of literary revisionism and inter-textuality in a micro-cosmic manner.

‘Treasure’ 2: Henry Purcell, The music in the Tempest (1786).

This ‘treasure’ is a musical score created to accompany Dryden and D’Avenant’s play, The tempest, or The enchanted island : A comedy. The score consists of several pieces from the second act onwards. Two of them are specifically for Ariel’s scenes, suggesting a certain ethereality to the intended sound. The music was written with multiple lines of harmonies and melodies, indicating that several instruments may have been required for its original performances, possibly played in an orchestral style.  This particular score was printed for Messrs. Longman and Broderip, and sold at their Music-Shops, in Cheapside at the Hay-Market, Paper dimensions: 332 x 233 mm. With a pasted label over imprint, partly visible: ‘LEIGH and SOTHEBY’S, Booksellers, in York-Street, / […] following Music-shops, Messrs. BIRCHALL / […] and Mr. BREMNER’S, in the’., Half-bound in calf leather over marbled paper-covered boards; pasted cover label in gilt: ‘THE TEMPEST’., from the BBC Music Library in the Historical Music Collection at Special Collections and Archives, with the stamp of the BBC, as well as the pencil annotations on front pastedown: ‘Mrs. Edw. Charrington’ and flyleaf: ‘12.2.82. P. Wood Ret. Music Librarian’, and the manuscript annotations on flyleaf: ‘J. Nicholls. 1793’ and at head of title page: ‘Mrs. Nicholls 7th June 1786’. It could prove particularly fruitful for researchers into inter-textuality in Shakespeare, music students, with the potential for cross-university or school projects, as well as musical history scholars.

Tempest Music 2

Purcell, The Music in the Tempest, (c. 1760s), composition detail. Historical Music Collection.

This particular ‘treasure’ was selected in conjunction with the first due to the continuing theme of its deeply intertextual nature. As a text, it is written for performance alongside another text –the adapted play The tempest, or The enchanted island: A comedy. When combined the two texts inform, augment, and illuminate each other. It is even more interesting in the esoteric nature of it as the physical composition of it is to include singing parts of Milcha – a character which only exists in the D’Avenant/Dryden adaptation. The addition of lyrics in the score accentuates a deeper textual layer to the texts and their intertextuality. They were written a century apart, but produced to be performed in unison. In this literal pairing, it only seems fitting that what history has split into two separate ages, formats and authors, should be brought back together as was originally intended.

You can listen to a sample of music from  Purcell’s The Music in the Tempest, adapted by Jacob, here:

Eat, Drink, and be Fairy!

I know it’s been a while since my last post, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’ve dropped off the face of the stacks – always a potential hazard given my ladder climbing skills. However fear not, the ladder is still in one piece. The real reason for my online silence of late is not because I have been trapped under an avalanche of books or lost in the valley of incunabula, I have, rather… been away with the fairies.

‘Tis true! While it may not be quite a year and a day since my last post, for the last couple of months I have been caught up in my own little fairy circle, combing the collections for materials for this year’s  Autumn Exhibition’:

What the devil is all this about then, you may ask? Well, it’s less about the devil and more about those ambiguous beings who are often tarred with the same brimstone brush – the fairies, or the ‘tylwyth teg’ (the fair family) as they are commonly known in Wales.

In south Wales the common term for the fairies is Bendith eu Mamau (Their Mothers’ Blessing), so-called because of their blessing, or bringing good luck to those whom they favoured or showed them kindness. If they were offended or mistreated by humans then they would inflict various punishments, some quite severe, and they reputedly stole new born babies from their cradles and replaced them with their own ugly offspring known as changelings.

Fairies stealing a baby

Hugh Evans, Y Tylwyth Teg, (Liverpool, 1935. Illustration of the fairies stealing a baby, by T. J. Bond.

Fairies were believed to be secretive people who lived in caves, hollows, or ‘sepulchral mounds’, with supernatural powers that enabled them to hear what was spoken in the air and whisk people away on otherworld adventures. The popular belief was that the fairies had whisked the clergyman and poet Ellis Wynne (1671-1734) to the top of Moelfre Mountain and taken him on a supernatural journey through the world. This belief was expressed by the Bard himself, who described how they ‘lifted me on [to their] shoulders, like [a] knight; and away we went like the wind over houses and territories, towns and kingdoms, and seas and mountains’.

This supernatural stigma and secretive lifestyle no doubt stemmed from their somewhat shady origins. Some believed they were the souls of Druids who, not being able to enter heaven and too good to be cast into hell, were condemned to exist in limbo. Scottish fairy-lore also sees the fairies as followers of the devil who tried to get into heaven when they saw hell, but found the gates locked and so they settled in the mounds between heaven and hell.

Interestingly, in Welsh folklore Gwyn ap Nudd, a mythical and slightly magical figure from medieval Welsh literature, is regarded as the King of the Fairies and ruler of Annwn – the ‘otherworld’. Indeed, many Welsh observers believed fairies to be spirits or demons with supernatural powers. The Puritan Charles Edwards (1628-1691) describes them as neighbourly ‘devils’ who appeared as a ‘visible troop’ to drag people away to their merriments, while Edmund Jones (1703-1793) was also convinced that fairies were ‘evil Spirits belonging to the Kingdom of Darkness’, while others regarded them as apparitions or spirits of the dead  who were conjured by magical practitioners or cunning-folk.

These themes, and many more are explored in our current exhibition – Neighbourly Devils which runs until the end of March 2018. Ok, I’ll admit this may not be quite the jolly-festive post you were expecting at this time of year, but fear not, I have it on good authority (that of the Reverend and antiquarian Elias Owen, 1833-1899 to be precise), that no evil spirit can appear on Christmas Eve.

Besides, there is another jingle to these fairy bells, for these mischievous folk were also very fond of a good old knees up and a sing-song, and not just for Christmas. They were known to have an enchanting, musical voice that was designed to steal people away with them. This so happened to a farmer’s daughter named Shui Rhys, who was so captivated by the fairies who ‘talked to her in a language to beautiful to be repeated’, that she was eventually ‘carried off’ with them, never to be seen again.  Tales of fairy circles and their love of dancing and colourful dress are rife in Welsh folklore. Edmund Jones the ‘Old Prophet’ of Pontypool, recorded many instances where fairies were seen dancing and prancing about in their unique attire.  Rees John Rosser, for example, heard fine music coming from near his barn and saw a large company come into the floor of the barn with striped clothes, ‘and there danced to their music’, while a young girl of Trevethin on hearing their pleasant music went to dance with them, and described how they were dressed in ‘blue and green aprons’.

Goblins 02

Wirt Sikes, British Goblins: Welsh folklore, fairy mythology, legends and traditions, (London, 1880), illustration of Shui Rhys and the fairies, by T. H. THomas.

Such good fairy cheer does indeed put me in mind of other Welsh Christmas and New Year traditions, such as the plygain – the traditional carol service sung at dawn on Christmas morning, while in the run-up to the service people would gather to decorate the house and sing and dance to harp music. Or the Mari Llwyd (strangely, I know, but listen up) since this famous New Year custom which was prevalent in south Wales, involves a horse’s skull draped in a white sheet and decorated with ribbons and bells which is then carried by a group of men around the local area where they seek to gain entry into the houses through the medium of song or rhyme. The householder is expected to deny entry, also through song, and so this repartee continues until the Mari Llwyd is granted entry and the group are given food and drink. Such was one way to ‘see the Old Year out and the New Year in’. Others marked the occasion, very much like the tylwyth teg, by singing and dancing all night, some by drinking and feasting – some things never change eh?! Staying with the singing for just a note longer, yet another tradition which has since died out was that of the Apple Gift, where children would go from door to door on New Year’s Day bearing apples or oranges curiously decorated, and singing good wishes for the New Year in the hope of receiving some monetary gifts.

IMG_4407

Wirt Sikes, British Goblins, (1880). New Year Apple gift, illustration by T. H. Thomas.

And just as the fairies appreciated a little food or drink left out for their visits, I mean who doesn’t (yes, we know that mince pie and shot of whisky is not really meant for Santa), these customs were often designed to ensure a little good luck for the coming year, as well as having a good old jig! And so the moral of this blog post is, well, it’s quite simple really – eat, drink, and remember to be fairy responsible.

So from all of us here at Special Collections and Archives, a fairy Merry Christmas and a Happy New Apple to you all.

 

Ligatus Summer School 2017

I have been fascinated by books as physical objects ever since I was a student in the MLIS programme at UCLA, where I somehow got a job making archival boxes and doing simple book repairs in the Library Conservation Center. It was in the conservation lab that I encountered my first 400-year-old book, and it is largely because of that experience that I decided to specialise in rare books librarianship. For several years, I have wanted to enrol in Professor Nicholas Pickwoad‘s course on European Bookbindings, 1450-1830, which he offers every year through various different programmes including Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and London Rare Books School. Earlier this month, I finally had the opportunity to enrol in his course through Ligatus Summer School, and it was every bit as exciting (and exhausting) as I’d hoped.

Norwich_Cathedral_Library

The library at Norwich Cathedral.

This year’s summer school was hosted by the Norwich Cathedral Library, and consisted of lectures in the mornings, followed by hands-on sessions looking at examples of different binding structures in the afternoons. Two of the afternoons were spent in the cathedral library itself, and during the rest of the week we visited the libraries of Blickling Estate, Holkham Estate, and Felbrigg Hall. It was a real treat to be able to go behind the scenes of these historic properties and examine portions of their book collections in detail.

Blickling_long_gallery

Sir Richard Ellys (1682-1742) moved his library from London to Blickling Hall in Norwich in the 1740s.

The first day of the course included the usual round of introductions: who we are, where we come from, and why we’re on the course. Out of twelve students on the course, I was surprised to learn that I was one of just two librarians; all of the other students were book and paper conservators. While I enjoyed the chance to meet people from different backgrounds, I was somewhat disappointed that my own profession was not better represented. Because rare book stacks are not generally open for browsing, the library catalogue (or sometimes a particularly knowledgeable librarian) is the only avenue for researchers to find items that are relevant to their research. Unless cataloguers are able to describe bindings and other types of material evidence with the same level of accuracy and detail that we devote to bibliography, we are failing to provide researchers with an important means of accessing our collections. As it becomes possible for anyone with an internet connection to view a digitised version of the British Library or Bayerische Staatsbibliothek‘s copy of a particular text or edition, it is the unique characteristics (like bindings) of individual copies of books that will attract researchers into special collections reading rooms.

battered_books

Damaged books can reveal structural details that would not otherwise be visible.

Until quite recently, most of the literature on the history of bookbinding has focussed almost exclusively on decorative features such as tooling, exotic leathers, and colourful onlays rather than on the underlying structures. In other words, bindings are analysed as works of art rather than archaeological artifacts. Professor Pickwoad, on the other hand, emphasises the importance of identifying and cataloguing binding structures as evidence of when and where a book was bound, by whom, and for what purpose.

We looked at quite a lot of very beautiful books, but in many ways it was the ugly, battered ones that were the most interesting. It was the books whose endpapers were peeling and whose leather covers were torn that allowed us to see what materials the binder had chosen for the sewing supports and spine linings, and where he (or she) had cut corners to save time and money.

The purpose of a binding is to hold a book’s pages together and protect them against wear. During the Middle Ages, books were tremendously expensive luxury items, and binders took great pains to ensure that such a significant investment was well protected. With the advent of the printing press, books were produced in much larger numbers and at a fraction of the cost, and binders found numerous inventive ways to keep up with the demand for large numbers of reasonably-priced books, usually at the expense of structural integrity.

cartonnage_covers

These books look similar from the outside, but each one’s structure is slightly different.

Over the course of the week, we looked at each of the steps in binding a book, from assembling the endleaves, to sewing the bookblock, rounding and backing, sewing the endbands, attaching the boards, trimming the edges, covering the book, and finally finishing. With each step, we looked at how the techniques and materials used varied across regions, time periods, and price points. It was fascinating to see how books that looked almost identical on the surface revealed a multitude of different structures underneath, which could be traced to different times and places.

Prior to the industrial age, it was not uncommon for books to be sold without bindings or in cheap, temporary bindings, and for customers to have them rebound according to their taste and budget. Because bindings were often selected by the purchaser rather than the bookseller, they can tell us whether the reader was wealthy or poor, ostentatious or subdued, local or foreign. Over a book’s lifetime, it may be rebound because the old binding was worn or damaged, or because the owner wanted to dress it up a little. Some wealthy book collectors had their entire libraries rebound and decorated in a uniform style. By looking at a book’s underlying structure as well as its decorations, it is sometimes possible to find elements of earlier bindings which can tell us when and where the book was being read, and by whom.

unbound_sheets

Nicholas Pickwoad shows the class an Early Modern book that remains an unbound pile of hastily folded sheets.

Professor Pickwoad gives his students an enormous amount of information to absorb (for example, the leather preferred by Oxford bookbinders was often especially dark in colour, and they often tooled patterns of cross-hatching on their board edges near the spine; French binders often attached their boards by lacing the sewing slips through three holes instead of two; German binders often put especially sharp creases on the fore-edge extensions of their parchment bindings), but after a week of looking at dozens of examples, it was all beginning to sink in. As a rare materials cataloguer, I have always tried to include at least a brief description of each book’s binding–if nothing else, knowing what a book looks like makes it easier for library staff to find it on the shelf. Now, this course has given me the knowledge and vocabulary to describe not only what a book looks like, but how it was made. More importantly though, it has given me a new appreciation for the importance of bindings as artifacts that can help us to understand the movement of goods, people, and ideas throughout history. My hope is that by including better descriptions of bindings in the library’s catalogue, I can help to open up new avenues of research rooted in the archaeology of the book.

table_of_books

One of my classmates takes advantage of a tea break to record details of some of the books at Holkham Estate.

Guest post: Conserving Edward Thomas’ herbarium

The following post comes from Pamela Murray, an MSc Conservation Practice Student at Cardiff University and conservation volunteer at Glamorgan Archives. She has been working on the Edward Thomas Conservation project as a student conservator thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscript Conservation Trust


Leaves and flowers are generally removed from archives or books collection, as this organic material encourages pests, stains paper and can be poisonous, but when they have been pressed between pages for over a century, a different approach must be considered. Herbarium collections can add value and depth to an archive, and can offer a new angle for research. Earlier this year, a herbarium collection of about 20 different plants was found within the Special Collections’ Edward Thomas archive. These pressed flowers and leaves were found in three different notebooks dated between 1895-1896, which had been selected to be conserved thanks to generous funding by the NMCT. Nature, and specifically the Welsh countryside, is known to be a major inspiration for Edward Thomas’ works.

Edward Thomas’ poem Thaw, 1916.

Part of the conservation activity funded by the NMCT grant included hinging the pressed plants with Japanese tissue to micro-chamber board, and encapsulating it, which would give support to the plant and protect it from exterior factors – mainly humidity and pests.  Part of any conservator’s job is to do huge amounts of research. I was very curious about herbariums, and came across many research papers warning of previous treatments that could be hazardous.

Previous treatments

It was common practice, as recently as the 1980s, to treat herbariums with mercury chloride as a disinfectant against pests. It would be applied in one of two ways – soaked, or brushed on with ethanol. Mercury chloride, although once used against syphilis, is extremely poisonous. It can reduce into metallic mercury, which is liquid at room temperature and can vaporise. Mercury vapour can build up to harmful levels when samples of treated plants are kept in boxes or between pages, and the vapour is highly poisonous if inhaled. The World Health Organisation has classified mercury as “extremely hazardous Class 1A”. The emission of mercury vapour from herbariums can be an occupational health hazard for collection workers and researchers.

How do  you know if the collection has been previously treated with mercury chloride?

There are a few ways to test for the presence of mercury chloride. Working in collaboration between Glamorgan Archives, Special Collections and Archives, and Cardiff University Conservation Department, we decided to use the Conservation department’s portable XRF. An XRF is an X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometer that determines what elements are present. It is a non-invasive technique, which is appropriate for rare collections and heritage objects.

A flower sample resting on the pXRF.

To explain briefly, the X-ray beam affects the atom, which releases a burst of energy that is characteristic of a specific element. This produces a graph which can be analysed. Under the guidance of PhD candidate Chris Wilkins, we tested all the samples. Luckily none of the samples came up with a positive reading for mercury chloride. We also looked for arsenic and lead, other common historical biocides that are classified as hazardous. All of the readings indicated that mercury, arsenic and lead were absent.

Graph of trace elements from pXRF.

Benefits of testing

Knowing that the herbarium has been tested ensures a safe working environment for archive workers and researchers. It also informs the storage plan for the herbarium. If samples were contaminated, then a form of ventilation would be required to ensure vapour ratios are within UK health and safety regulations. Testing the samples has improved the collection’s accessibility for readers and researchers, and allows further information to be uncovered. Sampling DNA, or categorising the plants would give us a fuller image of Edward Thomas’ landscape in the late 1800s.

Samples that have been hinged with Japanese tissue on MicroChamber board, before encapsulation.

The herbarium has been encapsulated, and remains between the pages of Edward Thomas notebooks. If you are interested in Edward Thomas’ notes, poetry or the plants that took his interest, they can all be found and explored safely in Special Collections and Archives.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 3

The third and final day of the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections group conference looked at Sale and Disposal: the unfortunate reality that libraries and collectors must sometimes part with their treasured collections, and how to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

Anastasia Tennant, a policy advisor for Collections and Cultural Property with Arts Council England, started the day with a presentation on Export controls on, and tax incentives available for the acquisition of, manuscripts, archives, and books. Since the 1910s, the United Kingdom has allowed the heirs of wealthy estates to offset a portion of their inheritance taxes by transferring cultural assets of significant value into public ownership. This tax exemption was originally intended for buildings and paintings, but from the 1950s onward, it could also be applied to literary archives, books, and manuscripts. In the 1960s, the regulations were revised to allow cultural assets to be allocated to regional museums, leading to a gradual increase in the proportion of archives that have been donated in recent years. More recently, the Cultural Gifts Scheme has allowed significant donations to offset other types of taxes as well. Because many libraries, archives, and museums rely heavily on donations to build their collections, tax incentives like these can encourage potential donors to give to local institutions instead of selling items of cultural value to raise capital to pay taxes.

By alleviating the financial burden of passing on valuable works of art, the exemption has prevented the loss of significant pieces of cultural heritage to overseas buyers. Since WWII, the United Kingdom has also had export controls designed to prevent capital from leaving the country. These procedures state that the directors of national institutions have the right to refuse an export license for works of art over a certain monetary value. In cases where an export license is refused, the owner must be presented with an offer to buy the item at a fair market price. If no institution is able to raise the funds to make an offer, it is possible that the item may still end up being sold overseas, but the hope is that a larger percentage of significant cultural artifacts will remain within the UK’s borders.

The second presentation by Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute was a harrowing tale of the Law Society’s decision in 2012 to sell off the Mendham Collection. The Mendham Collection was formed in the early 19th century by Joseph Mendham, a clergyman who spent the later years of his life as a prolific controversialist and polemicist. In response to the Catholic Emancipation acts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he used his personal fortune to assemble a library (which he annotated heavily) of manuscripts, incunabula, and printed books in support of his anti-Catholic  arguments. Ironically, in the process he built up a library that was particularly rich in both Protestant and Catholic history and theology.

In 1869, Sophia Mendham gave the bulk of her father-in-law’s collection to the Law Society, expressing a wish that the books be kept together as the “Mendham Collection”. A century later, the collection was placed on deposit with Canterbury Cathedral library where it was much used by students and faculty across two local universities. In the 1990s, the British Library awarded a grant to have the collection catalogued on the condition that no material would be dispersed at a later date. Although it was Canterbury Cathedral who assented to the terms of the grant, the Law Society seemed very proud of the achievement, and a print catalogue of the collection was published in 1994.

In April 2012, however, the library became aware that the Law Society planned to withdraw certain items with the longer-term goal of selling them. After unsuccessful attempts to communicate directly with the Law Society to prevent the sale, a campaign was launched and a task force assembled to preserve the collection. They gathered letters of support, set up an online petition, attracted media coverage, sought legal advice, and even offered to buy the collection from the Law Society, but in June 2013, the collection was split into 142 different lots and sold at auction by Sotheby’s. Another sale of 338 lots took place at Bloomsbury’s the following year.

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Alixe Bovey points to a timeline of the Law Society’s decision to break up and sell the Mendham Collection.

Bovey speculated that the Law Society’s eagerness to sell may have been motivated by a significant downturn in the society’s finances in 2011. The society’s Annual Report for that year show a net deficit of £65.7m, compared with a £56.9m surplus the previous year. In the end, the actual revenue generated by the sale was approximately £1.6m.

Although still pained by the breaking up of the collection despite the best efforts of the library and its supporters, Bovey reflected on the bibliophile community’s willingness to come together in support of the collection, and the effectiveness of social media and other forms of publicity in preventing other bibliographic disasters like the proposed sale of Shakespeare folios from the Senate House Library in London. She also stressed the importance of cataloguing, noting that the 1994 print catalogue is now the sole surviving monument of the collection as a whole.

The final speaker of the conference was Margaret Lane Ford, speaking both as a representative of Christie’s auction house and as a member of the Bibliographical Society to offer a bookseller’s perspective on the dispersal of library collections. The Bibliographical Society recognises that weeding and disposal are necessary and appropriate parts of a responsible collection management policy, but that the decision to dispose of a collection should be made in an open and transparent manner, following careful thought and consultation.

To that end, the Bibliographical Society has a Libraries at Risk policy and subcommittee to help libraries who are faced with the prospect of selling a collection. The subcommittee can offer advice on whether it is possible or desirable to save the collection, raise the profile of the collection at risk, campaign to save the collection, or, failing that, help to find a new home for it.

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Margaret Lane Ford presents some practical advice on dispersal from the book trade.

Collections may be sold in various ways, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. En bloc sales keep collections intact, but often make it difficult to find a buyer. Individual items may be offered for private sale, which can be discreet and move quickly, but can be perceived as secretive or underhanded, resulting in damage to the institution’s reputation. Collections may be sold at auction where there is the potential for items to sell above the estimated price, but also the risk that they will sell for less.

Booksellers can offer advice on how to achieve the best possible outcome from the sale and on handling publicity, an area in which few librarians have experience or expertise. Following the painful history of the Mendham Collection, Ford was eager to remind  conference delegates that booksellers are the mechanism, not the catalyst for dispersal, and that they only become involved after the decision to sell has already been made. If a collection must be sold, library staff should not be afraid to make use of the knowledge and experience of members of the antiquarian book trade.

Following Ford’s presentation, there were a few announcements, a round of thanks to the speakers and the conference organisers, and then all that remained was to say goodbye to my colleagues and make the journey back home to Cardiff. Although this year’s conference presentations were filled with as many cautionary tales as success stories, I came away with lots of ideas for how to improve preservation and security for the collections in my care.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 2

Picking up from last week’s post, here’s what happened on day 2 of the CILIP RBSCG Annual Study Conference.

The theme for day 2 of the conference was Theft and Vandalism. The first presentation of the day by Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian at Maynooth University, described the process of relocating the Otway-Maurice Collection from its original home in St Canice’s cathedral in Kilkenny to Maynooth University library in Dublin.

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St Canice’s Cathedral, where the Otway-Maurice collection was housed prior to 2011.

The collection was founded in 1683 with a bequest from Bishop Thomas Otway, and significantly expanded in the 18th century with another bequest from Bishop Edward Maurice. The collection consists of more than 3000 volumes, including 4 incunabula and 300 pre-1600 titles. Since its inception, the collection had been housed in the 14th century cathedral in Kilkenny, on open shelves in a room which was frequently used for parish events. An initial assessment of the collection revealed that the relative humidity in the room reached as high as 75%, encouraging mould growth and an infestation of silverfish.

In 2001, the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland approached Maynooth University in Dublin about taking over custodianship of the collection due to growing concerns over the physical deterioration and security risks to the collection. In exchange for a long-term loan of the books, Maynooth university agreed to pay for the transportation, conservation, cataloguing, and general custodianship of the books, while the cathedral would retain legal ownership.

Before the books could be moved, they were fully inventoried, frozen (to kill the silverfish), cleaned, and in some cases, repaired. The collection was then catalogued to a basic level, with more detailed cataloguing taking place as resources become available. The collection’s new storage area is maintained at 17 degrees and 45% relative humidity, and there are security systems in place. Although this was a very expensive process, the university felt that it was a worthwhile investment in order to gain ready access to the collection for its students and faculty. Since moving to its new home, the collection has been heavily used for teaching, research, and exhibitions.

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Dr Anke Timmerman speaks about how booksellers and libraries can work together to prevent theft.

The second presentation by Anke Timmerman, Library Liaison from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA). Dr Timmermann’s addressed the issue of theft more directly by describing the the ways that antiquarian booksellers can work with libraries to prevent or respond to theft and vandalism.

Researching provenance (or ownership history) is an important part of the antiquarian book trade. The ability to trace a particular copy of a book to a particular owner has the potential to greatly enhance its value, but it can also reveal that an item may not have been obtained legally. For this reason, the ABA has created guidelines which are designed to make theft (especially from libraries) and the sale of stolen books more difficult.

According to these guidelines, ABA members are expected to do due diligence in researching the provenance of high-value items, confirming that the seller acquired the item legally, and that it was imported or exported legally. If material is suspected to have been stolen, booksellers must conduct research into the book’s provenance, contact the book’s legitimate owner, and cooperate fully with law enforcement to return the stolen material and apprehend those responsible.

Conversely, libraries are expected to do their part to protect their collections against theft and vandalism by establishing and following procedures which minimise opportunities for theft by staff and users, ensuring that rare materials are used under supervision, cataloguing and recording unique identifying features, applying unique and indelible marks of ownership to collections materials, and indelibly cancelling those markings if an item is deaccessioned. Libraries are expected to keep a record of all disposals, and to retain sufficient information to enable subsequent identification of their particular copy of the book.

In the event that a book is stolen, it is important to report the theft as soon as possible. Historically, cultural institutions have been reluctant to admit when items have been stolen for fear that it would damage their reputations and drive away prospective donors, but many cultural heritage professionals now recognise that remaining silent about theft only makes it easier to sell the stolen property. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) maintains a register of stolen books, and the Art Loss Register includes books, manuscripts, and fragments thereof valued at £300 or more.

The third speaker, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, picked up where Dr. Timmerman’s presentation left off, describing some of the security measures in place at the British Library and describing how three particular book thieves were caught and convicted. Conference delegates were asked not to share the details of these investigations on social media, but all three examples held chilling similiarities. In every case, the thief was a frequent visitor to the library, well known to library staff and trusted by them. None of the thieves had any prior criminal convictions, and yet all of them did irreparable damage to unique historical artifacts.

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A few of the British Library’s procedures to detect loss, damage, and theft.

As a government body, the British Library views investigating and prosecuting theft as part of its obligation to use public funds responsibly. They always prosecute where the evidence allows, and they always pursue staff disciplinary action where applicable. Collection security appears in their Strategic Risk Register, and there are a number of policies in place both to minimise the risk of theft or loss by members of the public and their own staff.

Although some of the British Library’s security measures are beyond the reach of smaller institutions due to insufficient equipment or staffing, there are certain principles that can be applied by libraries of any size: taking a pro-active approach to security by performing regular collection audits, tracking the movement of items, and identifying high-risk items enables libraries to identify and investigate missing items quickly. Consistent and uniform application of security procedures for staff and readers alike reduces the opportunities for theft, and clear ownership markings ensure that stolen items can be easily identified and returned to their rightful owners.

The final speaker of the day, Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist at Lambeth Palace Library, told the story of a major theft of around 1400 early printed items in 1974, nearly all of which were returned in 2011. The story involved an unusual stipulation in the thief’s will, some particularly inspired detective work involving an old, long-since superseded print catalogue of the library’s collection, and the discovery of a locked trapdoor into a hidden loft. The story is welldocumented elsewhere, but the take-away lessons for conference delegates focused on the importance of retaining print catalogues as historical snapshots of the collection, and the need to work with the media to ensure that coverage focused on the restoration of the books rather than poor security and the subsequent cover-up of the loss.

One point which particularly struck me was the fact that the actions of one opportunistic thief were able to change our perception of the historical record. The thief had targeted items which he believed to have the highest resale value. Given the interests of book collectors today, these were primarily on secular topics. In removing those items, the thief drastically changed the overall character of the collection by obscuring the personal interests of the previous archbishops who had bequeathed their personal collections to the library. The idea that a single opportunistic thief could have such a significant impact on our understanding of the past was a sobering thought.

Following a break for lunch, conference delegates split into groups for visits to three different libraries around Brighton. I visited the Keep, a facility shared by the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections, and the University of Sussex Special Collections. Built between 2011 and 2013, this facility is divided into a Repository Block which provides more than six miles of shelving in purpose-built, climate-controlled storage. The Repository Block occupies three floors, and each floor’s temperature and humidity is adjusted to the optimal conditions for the type of materials stored there.

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The conservation lab at the Keep, with UV-filtered windows overlooking an area of green roof.

The People Block is organised so that all of the public areas are on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. These areas include a small exhibition space, reading rooms with computer terminal access, microform readers, and a selection of print reference books, meeting rooms, a group research area, an oral history room with recording facilities, and three multifunction rooms which can be used for school classes, student groups, workshops, receptions, and other events. The upper floor of the People Block houses the staff offices, conservation lab, digitisation studio, and additional space for volunteers, students, and community groups to assist with the Keep’s preservation work. As the icing on the cake, the entire facility is designed to be as sustainable as possible, with green roofs, rainwater catchments, low-energy light fittings, thick walls, super-insulation, and passive solar design for thermal efficiency, and a biomass plant in a nearby (but not adjoining) building to reduce fire risk.

At the end of our tour, we were treated to a display of materials from the different collections housed at the Keep, including the Mass Observation Archive and the personal papers of Lord Richard Attenborough, Rudyard Kipling, and Leonard Woolf.

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The Royal Pavilion, built for George IV as a seaside pleasure palace.

After our site visits, the last outing for the day was a tour and drinks reception at the Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside getaway for King George IV. A delightfully odd mashup of English, Indian, and Chinese architectural styles, the exterior of the building is covered with spires and onion domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, and the interior was designed in imitation of a Chinese palace. Of course, none of the architects, interior decorators, or tradesmen who worked on the pavilion had ever actually been to India or China, so the rooms are filled with oddities like murals of flowering bamboo with vine-like curving stalks, or decorative columns topped by ornately carved dragons with the wings and head of a Welsh dragon, and the curling, serpent-like body of a Chinese dragon.

After the reception, it was back to the University of Sussex for dinner and a bit more socialising before the third and final day of the conference.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 1

Last week, I attended the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) RBSCG (Rare Books and Special Collections Group) Annual Study Conference hosted by the University of Sussex. The theme of this year’s conference was “Collections at Risk,” with each day of the conference focusing on Preservation and Conservation, Theft and Vandalism, or Sale and Disposal. I enjoy conferences in general since they give me the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, but this year’s conference was especially practical. There was so much useful information, in fact, that I’ve had to divide my conference notes between three blog posts. For this post, I’m going to focus on day 1: Preservation and Conservation.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Consultant Archivist on the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Her presentation, entitled Using the UNESCO brand to protect collections, gave a brief overview of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, which seeks to facilitate preservation, access, and awareness of documentary heritage. This programme centres around the belief that documentary heritage is key to our national (or international) identity; that documentary heritage belongs to all, and should therefore be accessible to all. A key element of the programme is the Register for items or collections of outstanding national or international significance.

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Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan offers some tips on getting managers and donors to engage with preservation strategy.

She spoke briefly about the application procedure and criteria for selection, and in more detail about the benefits of having collection items recognised on the UNESCO Register. Acceptance onto the register does not carry any monetary reward, but it does offer an external validation of the significance of an institution’s collections. Thanks to UNESCO’s name recognition with the general public (including managers, accountants, donors, and other non-librarians), it can lend support to funding applications and bring added footfall to exhibitions and events.

Even for those institutions whose collections might not meet the criteria for “outstanding significance,” the Memory of the World project also issues recommendations and guidelines for preserving documentary heritage. Building these guidelines into project plans can also strengthen funding applications.

The second and fourth speakers, Stacey Anderson, Media Archivist at Plymouth City Council, and Will Prentice, Head of Technical Services for Sound & Vision at the British Library, both discussed ongoing projects to preserve and digitise audiovisual media in their collections, and to encourage other institutions and private individuals to do the same. Stacey Anderson described the unique challenges of preserving audiovisual media: not only do the materials themselves deteriorate rapidly, the technology (analogue or digital) to play them rapidly becomes obsolete and therefore difficult to find and maintain. Each different format has slightly different storage requirements in terms of optimal temperature and relative humidity, so it is important for curators to understand and identify each of the formats in their collections.

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Ten regional hubs will provide training on digitisation and preservation.

Will Prentice described the British Library’s Save Our Sounds project, which originated from a survey of cultural heritage professionals which revealed that while roughly 50% of us have audiovisual media in our collections, more than 70% of us responded that we had no formal training on audiovisual materials, and did not feel confident in our capacity to care for audio collections. To remedy this situation, the Save Our Sounds project aims to set up ten regional hubs which will offer training to cultural heritage professionals and the general public on digitisation and preservation. Each of these hubs will contribute digital copies of 5,000 sound recordings for posting on the British Library’s website. By making these recordings freely available to the public, the project hopes to demonstrate both the value and the fragility of sound archives.

The third speaker of the day was Emma Dodson, the Divisional Manager at Harwell Document Restoration Services. Rather than listen passively to her presentatioin, conference delegates were asked to imagine that a water leak (the most common type of disaster in UK libraries) had been found in their department, and to discuss the order in which they would perform a set of tasks including isolating the electrical supply, consulting the library’s disaster plan, evacuating reading room areas, setting up a salvage area for drying books, and removing or otherwise protecting books in areas adjacent to the leak. We were given tools for calculating the volume of damage materials we could salvage on our own, and for deciding when to call in professional help. We all hoped that we would never need to make use of this knowledge, but exercises like this one are designed to reduce the amount of time that it takes us to go from panicked flailing to useful, directed action.

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Environmental monitoring and control is vital to preserving documents.

The final speaker was Sarah Bashir, Preservation Manager at Lambeth Palace Library. Sarah’s presentation, aptly titled Preventive Conservation: what to do when you have no money, gave an excellent overview of the chief causes of damage to library collections (temperature, relative humidity, light, pests, dust and pollutants, and poor handling), with suggestions for easy, low-cost ways of monitoring conditions and mitigating threats.

By the end of the day, I was filled with new ideas for extending the useful lifespan of our collections. After a pleasant dinner catching up with colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference, I was ready to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Guest Post: Paul E E Barbier and the wider Cardiff Community

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.

Paul E E Barbier was a respected member of staff at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire (now Cardiff University), as well as being a recognised name within the wider community in Cardiff. After moving there in 1883 with his family, he made a concerted effort to become involved with local cultural societies and in particular was interested in the conservation of the Welsh language. The archive testifies to his sustained commitment to Welsh throughout his time in the Welsh capital.

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Photograph of Paul E E Barbier, courtesy of Delphine Isaaman.

He also sought to foster the relationship between Britain and France. According to an article from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise (March 1909), no one ‘laboured more arduously, in his own sphere, than Professor Barbier to bring about a better understanding between England and France’. In 1906, he co-founded the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff alongside Max Wideman and W.E Thomas, two other Francophiles residing in Cardiff. The society looked to ‘strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries’ and continues to have an extensive programme of lectures (in French) and social events. I have met John Martin, the society’s current treasurer, who has provided me with a history of the society (which of course mentions Paul Barbier) and a programme of upcoming events. The society’s website can be found here: http://www.francais-a-cardiff.org.uk/index.html

I have also found evidence in the archive that Paul E E Barbier was a member of the Société Nationale des Professeurs de Français en Grande-Bretagne (SNPF). Founded in 1881, the society still exists to promote French culture, as well as the teaching of the French language. Through his public lectures and contributions to the press gathered in the archive, Barbier also promoted the Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements signed in 1904 which settled a number of controversial matters and sought to bring an end to antagonisms between Great Britain and France. In an obituary from the South Wales Echo dated 26th September 1921, I learnt that the secretary of King Edward VII sent Paul Barbier a letter of thanks in the name of the King for his public spirit. I’ve searched the archive for this letter, unfortunately without success so far, but it would be great to see it!

As well as speaking and writing perfect English along with his native French, Professor Barbier had a keen interest in the Welsh language. From 1897 he was on the committee for the National Eisteddfodd, the annual festival held in a different Welsh town or city each year. As mentioned in my last blog post, I have found the Welsh Newspapers Online website very useful in obtaining information about Paul E E Barbier. One article for The Western Mail (7th July 1899) entitled ‘Mons. P Barbier on the Eisteddfodd’ explains that he contributed to a series of short newspaper articles about the National Eisteddfodd. In the same article, Paul Barbier asserts that ‘the Welsh nation owes its spirit of culture to the Eisteddfodd’.

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Western Mail, 7th July 1899.

I understand that during the late 1800s very little attention was paid to the Welsh language in Cardiff, nonetheless it seems that Paul E E Barbier devoted his time and attention to the study of the language. Throughout the archive I have found evidence of Welsh being used. It is apparent in exercise books and letters from Paul E E Barbier. When the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire first opened, there was no option to study Welsh. However, Paul E E Barbier’s son, Paul E A Barbier, studied for a MA in French and Welsh – this suggests that Paul E E Barbier might have had something to do with the pioneering of Welsh studies. Evidence from newspaper articles explain that Barbier delivered lectures about Welsh language and culture.  An article from The South Wales Echo (2nd February 1899) gives an account of his lecture ‘My Impressions of Wales and Welshmen’. According to the article, there ‘was a full attendance’ and the lecture ‘was full of humour and literary charm’.  The article also cites a wonderful quote from the lecture, in which Paul E E Barbier says ‘if French were the language of men, German of soldiers, Spanish of God’s Saints, Italian of women and English of men, surely Welsh was that of angels!’.