Tag Archives: Cathays Park

Guest Post: Barbier Archive Launch

This guest post is courtesy of Katy Stone, an undergaduate with the School of Modern Languages who is currently working through the fascinating Barbier family archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.


Following a year of study abroad at l’Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My responsibility during the eight weeks is to pursue the efforts made by Pip Bartlett, last year’s CUROP student, in scoping the Barbier archive under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University. So far this has involved organising, archiving and describing materials from the archive, using my language skills to translate and interpret the sources. I have been cataloguing the information into a spreadsheet for future researchers. Thus far, I have completed boxes 1898, 1903 and 1904, which have revealed fascinating details about this period.

Soon after commencing my placement, I participated in the official launch of the archive and unveiling of a special commemorative plaque in honour of Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, a Barbier family member, on Wednesday 6th June, the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I thought it would be fitting to offer an account of the event for my first blog post.

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The afternoon of celebration took place at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park. The Special Collections team had put together a small exhibition about the history of the Barbier family, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis and the archive. The display showcased some treasures of the rich and extensive archive, including a framed letter from Prime Minister David Lloyd George discussing Belgian refugees in Cardiff.

Guests included members of the Franco-Welsh Barbier family, some of whom had come specially from France to attend the events. It was clear to me that for many of them, some of whom had not met for many years, the event was an opportunity for a family reunion. Owing to the family’s bicultural identity, in some cases, I witnessed first-time meetings between those based in France and relatives who hailed from Paris and elsewhere in France, with others coming from UK destinations such as Devon and Marlborough, Wiltshire.

I found the introductory presentations by Hanna Diamond and Alan Hughes extremely illuminating. They highlighted the extraordinary range of materials in the archive including an abundance of diaries, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. I was particularly struck by the significant extent to which the 19th century Frenchman influenced Cardiff’s society through his involvement with local cultural societies like ‘La Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff’, and his personal commitment to preserving the Welsh language. As a consequence, it is clear that the archive boasts an important array of sources on social history. I would be curious to mobilise the archive to discover more about what life was like for people in Victorian Cardiff during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Mrs. Delphine Isaaman, granddaughter of Paul Barbier who donated the archive to the University along with her cousin Paul Barbier, also spoke about how her interest in her family’s story grew after finding family documents. This led to her spending around a decade researching in order to fill in the gaps, and resulted in the development of the archive. Delphine had actually stored and catalogued much of the archive before it arrived in Cardiff University Special Collections. In her talk, she shared tales from the archive, such as tips from other family members on bringing up babies, much to the amusement of the audience. This particular story demonstrated Hanna Diamond’s earlier statement that “the archive holds vast research potential for people working on the role of women in World War One”.

06.06.18 mh Barbier Jacques Guelis Archive Launch 29

To celebrate the life of Paul Barbier’s nephew, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, the talks were followed by a swift relocation to his birthplace at 3 Museum Place, at the heart of the University campus. During the Second World War, de Guélis played a crucial role as a spy in the secretive Special Operations Executive due to his Franco-British background. A Blue Plaque to honour his remarkable achievements was unveiled by Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, together with Claudine Ripert Landler, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom. As a historian and a linguist, it was thrilling to see the war hero’s efforts formally recognised, and the pure elation upon the faces of those who came to witness it. Thanks to the former spy’s bilingualism, he was able to go unnoticed behind enemy lines, fighting with the French Resistance on the ground and contributing to the liberation of Nazi-occupied France. For me the event therefore highlighted the value and importance of learning foreign languages. One monolingual member of the Barbier family who I talked to teased that he was envious of his sibling’s bilingualism. I am optimistic that the plaque will promote Jacque’s story, and I hope that it might inspire others to engage in learning a language.

After the emotions of the plaque unveiling, the afternoon closed with a drinks reception in the foyer of the School of Modern Languages, at 66 Park Place. This was a final chance to exchange with the family and other interested parties. It was a valuable opportunity to get to know the family, and I even managed to practise my French with some relatives from Paris! I very much look forward to conducting oral interviews with Hanna Diamond to capture the life stories of Paul and Mary Barbier in July. Flowers were also laid on Jacques grave in Cathays Cemetery by his cousin and the Friends of Cathays Cemetery, a touching tribute to the brave man and a moving end to such a special day.

Barbier relative at Cathays

Overall, it was a humbling experience, and a pleasure to finally put some faces to names. I look forward to immersing myself in the project, with the ambition to help unlock the incredible story of this French Cardiff family and especially their role in Cardiff during the Victorian era.

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Oh for books sake! Big spiders and Bibliomania

I know what you’re thinking – only my third post and I’m talking book crazy! Well, working in Special Collections it was bound to happen sooner or later, though I’d be lying if I blamed my current state of mind on the awesome collections here; I’ve always been mad about books.

So enthused in fact, that not even the huge spider in our Research Reserve could deter me from one of my rummaging sessions (he was scrunched up dead, but I was still petrified!) which, incidentally,  led to another where the following titles also jumped out at me:

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Books on Bibliomania in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Bibliomania describes the ‘passionate enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books’, and was first coined by the physician John Ferriar in 1809. In a poem he dedicated to his friend, The Bibliomania: An Epistle to Richard Heber Esq’, Ferriar describes Heber as ‘the hapless man, who feels the book disease’, whose ‘anxious’ eyes scans the catalogues of book auctions to ‘snatch obscurest names from endless night’. Heber was an English book collector and one of the founding members of the Roxburghe Club, an exclusive bibliophilic and publishing society for like-minded book lovers and collectors. (Note: do not confuse bibliomania with bibliophilia which is not as bad as it sounds, merely the great love of books!).  Incidentally, another founding member, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, published Bibliomania: or Book Madness in 1809, a sumptuously illustrated work set as a series of dialogues on the history of book collecting. It’s interesting that the notion of Bibliomania is seen as some kind of folly or affliction. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the budding culture of reading brought about by the growth of print and literacy was often described as some sort of endemic. Reading-fever, or even reading-lust was one aspect of this, characterised by the compulsive reading of one book after another.

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Portrait of Dic Aberdaron from Hanes bywyd y diweddar Richard Robert Jones, neu Dic Aberdaron (Caernarfon, 1844)

This brings to mind the famous Welsh linguist Richard Robert Jones, or Dic Aberdaron, reputed to have mastered fourteen languages through his constant consumption of books. His patron, William Roscoe, describes how ‘His clothing consisted of several coarse and ragged vestments, the spaces between which were filled with books, surrounding him in successive layers so that he was literally a walking library… Absorbed in his studies, he had continually a book in his hand’.

So whilst trying to work out if I am bibliomanic or bibliophilic, I started thinking about other eminent book enthusiasts and, either way, I’m in good company! John Dee, the Elizabethan scientist and astrological advisor to Elizabeth I, we know was an avid accumulator of books, amassing one of the largest private libraries during the 16th century. Sadly, most of his collection was dispersed or stolen during his own lifetime, but Special Collections is fortunate to hold his copy of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra gen[t]iles . Naturally, Dee was bereft at the loss, and we get a sense of his deep devotion to books from his dreams. In one, which he recorded in his diary, he ‘dremed that I was deade… and … the Lord Thresoror was com to my howse to burn my bokes’. On August the 6th, 1597, Dee relates how:

‘On this night I had the vision … of many bokes in my dreame, and among the rest was one great volume thik in large quarto, new printed, on the first page whereof as a title in great letters was printed ‘Notus in Judaea Deus’. Many other bokes me-thowght I saw new printed, of very strange arguments’.

He too encountered an eight-legged beast, writing on the 2 of September: ‘the spider at ten of the clock at night suddenly on my desk, … a most rare one in bygnes and length of feet’. You know you’re in trouble when you can see their feet! I truly sympathise Dr Dee, on both counts.

And what about our very own Enoch Salisbury? His hunger for book collecting began with a gift, an 1824 Welsh edition of Robinson Crusoe, and developed over the next sixty years into a compilation of over 13,000 works worthy of a national collection, a genuine prospect at that time.

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Just some of the books in the Salisbury Library

 

 

In 1886, financial troubles forced Salisbury to sell his collection which was ingeniously acquired by Cardiff University thanks to the foresight of its Registrar Ivor James. In a letter to James, Salisbury outlines his ‘one hope… that the same public feeling which carried it away to Cardiff, may lead to its perfection… for the use of a National Library’.  When the concept for a National Museum and Library for Wales was being considered, Cardiff was a serious contender, offering both the Salisbury Library and the collected works at Cardiff Public Library to be housed in a joint museum and library at Cathays Park.

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Plan of Cathays Park and site for the National Library in Memorial of the Corporation of Cardiff, (Cardiff, 1905)

The Public Library collection was also compiled through several worthy deposits made by keen collectors. David Lewis Wooding (1828 -1891) was one. A shopkeeper and keen book collector, his library contained over 5,000 volumes which he donated. Another collection incorporated was the Tonn library in 1891, which belonged to the Rees family of Llandovery. This consisted of 7,000 printed volumes and 100 manuscripts, and even the Cardiff coal owner John Cory purchased 67 incunabula which he too presented to the Library.

Nevertheless, Cardiff’s vision for a cultural institution was scuppered by another Victorian bibliomaniac, Sir John Williams. He had been buying whole collections for his own private library since the 1870s, and in 1898 struck literary gold when he acquired the Peniarth Manuscripts, which he donated to the proposed library in 1907, on condition that it be built at Aberystwyth. With nuggets like the Black Book of Carmarthen, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Book of Taliesin, Cardiff was inevitably outdone, for the library at least.

As fate would have it, Cardiff University now houses the Cardiff Rare Books alongside Salisbury’s Library, forming a unique collection of national interest which, over the years, has morphed from one compendium to another, each carrying their own unique story. These collections and subsequently, Special Collections, would not exist if it weren’t for Bibliomania. So the moral of this post is, whether you’re bibliomanic, bibliophilic, even arachnophobic, it matters not; there is always an exquisite method in a madness for books, as seen in Daniel Jubb’s Bookcase.