Category Archives: Helen Price-Saunders

Cracking the Code

One of the hurdles cataloguers encounter in deciphering inscriptions in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection is the combination of languages which might appear, both in the actual text of inscriptions and in the names of people and places. Throw some occasionally idiosyncratic handwriting into the equation, and remember that spelling was far from being fixed before the end of the eighteenth century, and the result can sometimes be a challenge.


This unassuming volume bears a most perplexing inscription.

One such inscription came to light recently, and caused some bewilderment. It appeared on the front endpaper of A Defence of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (London, 1700). The edition is not particularly rare or otherwise remarkable; there are three copies in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection alone.

The handwriting is unusually neat, with the letters carefully written separately rather than joined up, but the words seemed to make no sense at first glance: “Ryvmnorgu Pbyg ure obbæ ; Ebiynaq Cneel ; Naar Pbyg”.

The Cardiff books originally came from a wide variety of sources, and, as one might expect, many of the inscriptions are in English. Rather fewer are in Latin, and there are also some in Welsh or in a combination of two or more of these languages. An inscription might, for instance, be in English or Latin but include a Welsh place name such as the name of a farm or house.


This inscription on the front endpaper confounded English and Welsh speakers alike.

With this in mind, at first it was thought that this might be Welsh: in particular, there is the ending of the first word, -gu, which is a familiar Welsh suffix, and there are several occurrences of “y”, a commonly used vowel in Welsh. Welsh speakers in the department however were fairly sure that this was no Welsh they had ever come across, and the third person to have a look thought it was more likely to be in code – but how to work it out?

Hastily adding the ability to solve anagrams and crossword puzzles and play Scrabble and the like to the cataloguers’ skillset, I made a note of the inscription and took it home to see if inspiration would strike.

Substitution ciphers, in which letters are substituted for other letters, have a long history. This variety is known as a Caesar cipher, because Julius Caesar is said (by Suetonius) to have used one in his private correspondence, although he did not invent it. In his version letters were shifted three places (so A = D, etc.). There are many variations, and if you are dealing with a piece of English prose there are some clues to help: the letter E, for instance, is the letter which occurs most frequently in English, and there are certain sequences of letters and commonly recurring words which you would or would not expect to find in English. In this case we did not know whether English was the language, and of course an inscription in a book is not the same as a prose passage.  Thinking along those lines was however the key to spotting the pattern here, as one phrase which does often appear in lower case book inscriptions is “his book” following a proper name, which fitted the number of letters at the end of the first line. I experimented with “his book”, which didn’t quite work, but looked promising enough, and so I thought I would be a bit more radical and try “her book” instead.

ure obbæ = her book

This produced enough to be able to see what the first name might be and to work out the code =

Ryvmnorgu = E—-be-h  = Elizabeth

The code is a simple Caesar cipher, which today would be what is known as ROT13, in which the alphabet is rotated 13 places so that the top half of the alphabet is interchangeable with the bottom half:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

On seeing the two halves of the alphabet lined up this way, it became apparent that we had all mis-read the letter “x” as “æ”. Using this code to decipher the inscription, we have:

Elizabeth Colt her book

Rowland Parry

Anne Colt

These three names are mentioned in “The Baronetage of England” (page 522, Volume 2, 1771):


“Anne Dutton Colt … died unmarried; and [her sister] Elizabeth, married to the rev. Mr. Rowland Parry, of Letton in Herefordshire”.

Anne and Elizabeth were the daughters of the former MP for Leominster, John Dutton Colt of Dutton House, Leominster (1643-1722), whose career at a troubled time in English politics included a spell of imprisonment. Elizabeth died in 1736 according to a memorial plaque in the church at Letton, and her husband the Rev. Rowland Parry died in 1761. It seems fitting that A Defence of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England should have belonged to a minister’s wife, and the names are unusual enough in combination to feel that we can tentatively identify them with these three.

It seems likely that our coded inscription was a light-hearted piece of fun, and it was entertaining to be able to decode the message at a distance of three hundred years. Clearly this kind of cipher is not a very secure way in which to communicate!

We’ve solved one of this book’s enigmas, but another remains shrouded in mystery: someone has stabbed through the entire text block of the book, leaving a 10-15mm slash through both covers and every single page! We are left to wonder who might have vented their anger on this poor volume and why.


This unfortunate book has been stabbed through from cover to cover.

An Claidheamh Soluis : Cardiff Free Library and the Irish revival


Among publications which were in the old Cardiff Free Library and have come to light recently are several original issues of An Claidheamh Soluis (“The sword of light”), the weekly newspaper of the Gaelic League. It was established in 1899, and had some distinguished editors – Eoin Mac Neill and Padraig Pearse being the first. Our copies come from the years 1912-1913, so they immediately predate some important years in both Irish and European history.  Many of the contributors and the people who feature in the newspaper went on to take part in the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent events.

Most of the text is in Irish, with some articles and most of the advertisements being in English, and although the copies have suffered a little from the passage of time  they are still mostly in good condition. The newspaper was printed on good quality paper for its time, and is illustrated throughout with photographs and cartoons.  This picture of Edwardian ladies practising their shooting is actually of English women (with a suggestion that Irish women should follow their example):


As with all old newspapers and periodicals the advertisements are another great window on a vanished world: there are many relating to tobacco, for instance (one even claims to be selling Irish-grown tobacco).  The Gaelic League was active in promoting Irish business and developed a trade mark which could be displayed to encourage support of home industries, especially Irish-speaking ones:  claideam3

Cardiff’s officialdom was not traditionally very positive about the Welsh language in the early 20th century – and indeed later – so it is amusing to note that the wrapper which arrived from Dublin fully addressed in Welsh was “corrected” to English by the Cardiff Post Office:claideam5 It is also interesting to note the broad interests of the public library at the time, including reaching out to make connections with other “Celtic” countries and to develop its own collections of material in the sister languages of Welsh.

This paper is a welcome addition to the collection of the Salisbury Library, and is an important source of Irish social history, despite being incomplete. We have a number of other, more recent, Irish language newspapers which will be added to our collection in the coming months.

A disappointed bibliographer: the revenge of Ifano Jones

As a rule, libraries do not encourage people to write on books. With the passage of time, however, marginalia and other personal annotations become more interesting and can sometimes shed light on past events.

In Cardiff University’s Salisbury Library there are three copies of “The Bible in Wales”, a publication brought out in a limited edition of six hundred copies by the Libraries Committee of Cardiff Corporation in 1906 in connection with its successful, and thoroughly researched, exhibition of Bibles. No author’s name appears on the title page, but in the preface John Ballinger, then the chief librarian at Cardiff and subsequently first librarian of the National Library of Wales, claims responsibility, acknowledging the help of various assistants including James Ifano Jones who, he says, “collated and arranged” the “materials” for the bibliography. That, at least, is what the printed version of the book says! We recently noticed that one of our copies is heavily annotated in ink by its previous owner, Ifano Jones himself:


It is not too difficult to read between the lines here. Sir John Ballinger, as he later became, had worked his way up from becoming a library assistant in the Cardiff Public Library at 15, librarian of Doncaster at 20 and returning to Cardiff in 1884 as chief librarian at the age of 24 (library careers were rather different then!) He was not a Welsh speaker, but he generally gets the credit for building up an impressive Welsh library in Cardiff (as well as the beginning of the rare books collection now at the University). A famous catalogue of the Welsh collection was published in 1898, and subsequent works including this volume in 1906 all must have helped his cause once the decision had been made to found a National Library of Wales. Cardiff, of course, originally expected that the National Library would be there, and John Ballinger would surely have been expected to be appointed. The decision to put the National Library in Aberystwyth instead did not change the situation: Ballinger was duly appointed, and took up his post in 1909.

It has long been thought that Ifano Jones felt that he did not receive due recognition for his work. His own background was in printing, and he had a thorough knowledge of the history of the Welsh printing industry. Unlike Ballinger, he was a Welsh speaker, deeply involved in Welsh cultural life. He was appointed as an assistant in the public library, with special responsibility for the Welsh collections: possibly he felt that Ballinger took the credit for much of what he had done. Ifano Jones was not appointed National Librarian, nor did he become chief librarian at Cardiff when Ballinger left for Aberystwyth, but he did succeed in being known as “The Welsh Librarian, Cardiff”, which is how he appears on the title-page of his “History of printing and printers in Wales …” (1925), still a standard work.

Interestingly, as well as exacting posthumous revenge on Ballinger by leaving us his thoughts in ink, Jones has attached a clipping about himself from The Western Mail, dated 20 January 1909. The newspaper story gives his work at Cardiff the prominence which he clearly felt was his due, and the date is significant, as this was the very month in which John Ballinger took up his appointment as National Librarian. One cannot help wondering whether Ifano Jones himself was the source of the newspaper story.


A woman in science: Eleanor Ormerod and her sketchbook

An unusual volume in the Border Counties Collection of E.R.G. Salisbury held at Cardiff throws interesting light on the youth and early education of Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901), a 19th century entomologist.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Eleanor was a renowned expert on the turnip fly and other agricultural pests: she became a consultant at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, and an examiner at the University of Edinburgh. She was awarded medals by the University of Moscow and was the first woman granted an honorary LL.D. at Edinburgh. Eleanor Ormerod grew up at Sedbury Park in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, one of a family of ten children of the antiquarian George Ormerod (1785-1873). George Ormerod is chiefly remembered as a historian of Cheshire, and it probably for this reason that a volume of plates of sketches made by the Ormerod family is to be found among the books collected by Salisbury, Cheshire being one of the main counties represented in his Border Counties Collection.

Despite her later fame as a scientific expert, Eleanor had been privately educated at home with her sisters, and she was largely self-taught in her field. Her education included painting lessons from the pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt. The illustrations in this volume are attractive landscapes and local scenes from both sides of the River Wye near Chepstow and around her home at Sedbury Park.

"SW view of Penhow or St. Maur Castle in Monmouthshire" (1852)

There are twenty illustrations by various members of the family: the mother Sarah and sisters Susan Mary and Georgiana, and four by Eleanor herself. The sketches are dated between 1834 and 1852. According to an anecdote related of Eleanor, her interest in insects was ignited on 12 March 1852 when a rosy-winged locust was caught at Chepstow: possibly she lost interest in sketching local landmarks after this date!

This is a charming volume from a little-known part of the Salisbury Collection, and it shines some light on the private education and background of a woman who was a pioneer  in a scientific field.

"Offa's Dyke in its ascent towards its termination on the Sedbury Cliffs and the shore of the Severn Estuary"

The plain man’s pathway to Heaven, or, The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?

Among the older Welsh books in the Salisbury Collection at Cardiff we have the two seventeenth century editions of “Llwybr hyffordd yn cyfarwyddo yr anghyfarwydd i’r nefoedd” by the Puritan Arthur Dent (d. 1607), originally published in English as “The plain man’s pathway to heaven” in 1601.  When I first came across this title I was struck at once by the author’s name being the same as that of the hapless main character of Douglas Adams’ “The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”, and indeed, the similarity of the title. I filed the information away in the recesses of my memory, used the catalogue record whenever I wanted an example to explain the display of a uniform title for a translated work, and thought that one day I would look into it further. As is the way with such things, others got there before me, as you can read here on the h2g2 online guide (“The guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything”).

The site’s article mentions Douglas Adams’ interview of March 1987, in which he said that he had been contacted by someone with a research interest in the period. The (unnamed) researcher had jumped to the same conclusion, pushing it further by finding many parallels in the respective texts. Adams stated that he had never heard of the book or of its author Arthur Dent, so the similarity really is a pure coincidence.  Both works, as article and interview point out, are a version of the “Everyman” story, the innocent in a strange world which may or may not be a version of our own world which must be explained to him. (Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the best-known later example of this popular genre).

The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” has not, as far as I am aware, been translated into Welsh, but “The plain man’s pathway to heaven” was, first appearing in 1630 and again in 1682. It is one of several translations of religious works made by Robert Llwyd, Vicar of Chirk (1565-1655), intended to improve Welsh devotional life by making suitable books available in the Welsh language. While there are a number of locations  for the 2nd edition of 1682, the 1st Welsh edition of 1630 is rarer (it is also held at the National Library of Wales, the British Library, and Bangor University Library). As was usual with Welsh books before the lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695, it was printed in London. The printer, Nicholas Okes (d. 1645), is better known for his editions of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, including his1st Quarto of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Othello.

The copy at Cardiff formerly belonged to Victorian Bible collector James Dix of Bristol (and is inscribed many times over with the name of an earlier owner, Ellis Powell, 1740). While the title-page is worn, the book is otherwise in good condition.

Testament Newydd 1567

Ar y 7fed o Hydref 1567 cyhoeddwyd llyfr pwysig yn hanes y Beibl ac yn sgîl hynny yr iaith Gymraeg: Testament Newydd William Salesbury a’r Esgob Richard Davies. Yn 1563 y pasiwyd y Ddeddf a fynnodd gael cyfieithiadau o’r Ysgrythyrau a’r Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin yn Gymraeg ble bynnag yr oedd yr iaith yn arferedig: heb y Beibl yn Gymraeg, byddai hanes yr iaith wedi bod yn wahanol iawn.

Un o wŷr y Dadeni a’r Diwygiad oedd William Salesbury, yn ysgolhaig gyda’i syniadau ei hun am darddiad geiriau a’r orgraff. Yn y diwedd fe ffraeodd Salesbury a Davies ar faterion ieithyddol. Cam tuag at y Beibl cyfan yn Gymraeg oedd y Testament Newydd 1567 i fod, ond yn y pen draw yr Esgob William Morgan gafodd y fraint o gyflwyno’r Beibl cyfan yn 1588.

Yr oedd rheolau llym ynghylch argraffu hyd at 1695, felly nid yng Nghymru ond yn Llundain a baratowyd y Testament Newydd i’r wasg. Argraffwyd y llyfr gan Humphrey Toy, argraffydd o dras Cymreig yn St. Paul’s Churchyard, Llundain, gyda Salesbury yn symud mewn i’w dŷ er mwyn goruchwilio’r gwaith. Yn y rhagymadrodd, y mae Davies yn tynnu sylw at y ffaith bod yr iaith Gymraeg yn iaith estron yno:

hwn yw’r Testament cyntaf a fu irioet yn Gymraeg yn, a’r printwyr eb ddyall ungair erioed or iaith, ac am hyny yn an hawdd yddynt ddeall y Copi yn iawn” (“This is the first Testament there ever was in Welsh, and the printers have never understood one word of the language, and so it is difficult for them to understand the Copy correctly”.)

Cyffrous felly yw cyhoeddi ein bod wedi darganfod copi o’r Testament Newydd 1567 ymhlith rhoddion diweddar, ac mor agos at benblwydd ei gyhoeddi ar y 7fed o Hydref!

[A recent acquisition, William Salesbury’s Welsh New Testament, a significant publication in the history of the Welsh language. It was printed in London by printers who spoke no Welsh but were supervised by Salesbury. It was published on 7th October 1567]

The Tennyson Collection

The Tennyson Collection was bought for the library of the then University College, Cardiff in 1936, from the estate of Cyril Brett, who was Professor of English here and a collector of Tennysoniana. Although it is not a new acquisition, along with some other rare material it escaped the retrospective cataloguing projects of the 1980s and 1990s, and  has only recently been added to the Voyager catalogue. There are 416 items in the collection, including all the pre-1900 editions of the major poems showing how the poet constantly revised work even after publication.  

Tennyson’s immense popularity inspired many illustrators including Millais and Rossetti: there are some beautiful examples in the collection in SCOLAR. The final part of the collection being catalogued this summer consists of a number of Tennyson’s poems set to music, which were popular Victorian “parlour pieces”.