Tag Archives: history

Guest Post: The Barbiers and the French Army

After completing her work on the Barbier archive, our CUROP intern Katy Stone shares her final, fascinating discoveries about life in the French army at the end of the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century.

For my final blog about the Barbiers I’d like to share some contrasting discoveries about Cardiff-born Georges and Jules Barbier’s experiences of military service with the French Army, revealed through their heartfelt letters written from 1898 to 1904. As shown in a blog by last year’s CUROP student Pip Bartlett, all of the Barbier brothers – due to their dual nationality – completed mandatory national military service with the French Army well before the First World War, with both Georges and Jules subsequently remaining ‘poilus’, or ordinary field soldiers.

Georges Barbier and the comfort of letters in Le Mans

In 1899 Georges Barbier was deployed to the 26th Artillery in Le Mans and many of his letters support Pip’s previous insight that, out of all the family members who went to war, he undoubtedly suffered the loneliest military experience. In one letter dated 3 February 1899, he paints a dark picture of the stark living conditions within his regiment, describing his barracks as a “dirty shack” and expressing gratitude to his brother, Paul Barbier fils, for writing to him – “it is such a blessing to receive letters in this hole”. Georges was clearly unhappy in his regiment and their frequent exchange of letters was not only a source of comfort, but also a channel for escapism. To make things worse, he appears to have found it difficult to fit in with his peers – “all those who sleep in the same room as me are vagabonds, so I have no luck at all”. Hard work was, surprisingly, a blessing in disguise for Georges and I was struck to find him striving for more – “The work is very hard, but that I don’t mind in the least for when I have plenty of work I have not time to worry, which is a very good thing for me”. This eagerness throws light on the mental challenges faced by many soldiers on a daily basis – he was “completely disgusted with life” and would “rather do hard labour than be controlled by a lot of morons who can’t read”.

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Barrack detail from a letter dated 20 Februray 1899

Other letters give an insight into his basic military diet – “I live on bread and cheese and once a week I eat meat, on Sundays”. It was also surprising to learn that Georges had to pay for his military meals out of his own pocket, and that his limited financial means meant there was no spare money for any luxuries – “I find that I eat very little here. I have no appetite, and not only that but I have to pay for everything I eat”. A letter to his mother, Euphémie, dated 31 January 1899 reinforces the daily struggle faced by the majority of his peers – “I was so ashamed to buy for so little that I nearly broke down, when there was a lot that could not do as much”. Life was tough in the French Army and although stress and anxiety may have been accountable for his poor appetite, the demands of the physical work also contributed to his struggles with mental and physical health. In his letters he complains of toothaches, headaches and sore feet, yet despite “suffering a great deal”, he avoids going to see the doctor because he “would have to stop work, not only that but I would be unable to go out in the evening”. Another letter sheds light on his perception of being treated differently to his French peers due to his British identity – “You know I have been very sick and had to get treatment in town because the major refused to recognise me … I believe it’s because I’m English”.

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Insignia of the Soissons Regiment, 1899

Jules Barbier “far from being miserable” at Soissons

Jules Barbier seems to have experienced a far less despondent national service with an infantry in Soissons. He recalls being “received very kindly” at the barracks, and remarks that “there are some nice boys” and “all the officers have been very kind”. In contrast to the discrimination faced by Georges at Le Mans, Jules mentions that his captain remarked “it was very nice of me to come and do my service from England”. This would have no doubt boosted his enthusiasm and spirits, enhancing his military experience and possibly reinforcing his bond with his French heritage. The Barbier Archive gave me the impression that Jules, to some extent at least,  enjoyed his work in the French infantry, often describing his activities in a buoyant tone – “Yesterday I was taught to salute and about different ranks of officers. I was given my rifle, and tomorrow we will exercise”. This is in stark contrast to the more physically demanding and draining responsibilities encountered by Georges.

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Self-portrait of Jules E. Barbier in a letter to his mother, 5 August, 1899

Like Georges, however, Jules often reported that money and food were particularly scant, referring to himself as being “as poor as a church mouse”. In one letter dated 11 February 1899, he feels ashamed for having to borrow 15 francs from a friend, alluding that money was a lingering concern. All his money was solely spent on necessities – “I’m just eating, I’m always hungry”, suggesting that there was no such thing as disposable income in the French Army. Despite having a more positive experience than his brother, Jules’s time in the military was also hampered by illness; “I am in the infirmary. Last bed. I was taken ill with a fever and also with my throat in fact. I have got an abscess there and it is very painful”. But the fact that he was admitted to the infirmary, and a promise that his captain “would come to see me in the hospital”, suggests that the quality of pastoral care was far superior to that experienced by Georges. In one letter Jules announces “I am far from being miserable” and is eager to return to his duties – “Time passes very slowly here in the hospital. I would be pretty eager to go back to the barracks”.

Early colour printing of a barracks scene, 1899

When I embarked on my summer placement with the Barbier Archive at Special Collections and Archives, I did not expect to discover such contrasting personal accounts of life in the French Army through the eyes of the sons of Cardiff. Sometimes harrowing, often spirited, but always heartfelt, this fascinating archive paints a vivid picture of everyday life at a time when the world was on the cusp of one of its most turbulent periods. It has been an absolute indulgence to be able to tease out yet another remarkable story in Cardiff’s history.

 

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International events in the Barbier archive: from the Dreyfus Affair to the Boer Wars

In this guest post, Katy Stone, who has been cataloguing the Barbier archive as part of a CUROP student intern project, keeps us up to date with some more fascinating insights into the Barbier family, and what their archive can tell us about key international events at the end of the nineteenth century.

In this update I’d like to share with you my discoveries about international events as revealed through the eyes of the Barbiers. Over the summer I have delved through boxes of intriguing letters dating from 1898-1904 and these have shed light on various international controversies, tensions and conflicts that shook the world during the family’s time in Cardiff. Of all the Barbier sons, the archive suggests that Georges took the most interest in international current affairs, noting he would “very much like to be more up to date”.

Portrait

Georges Barbier

The Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus

In 1898, Georges often writes about the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal which divided the French Third Republic from 1894 until 1906. The controversy centred on the question of guilt or innocence of a Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of treason for selling military secrets to the Germans in December 1894, but finally pardoned on 19 September 1899. French citizens were torn between those who supported him (Dreyfusards) and those who thought he was a traitor. Georges presents the situation in France as “very bad”. His letters reveal that he clearly supported Dreyfus, referring to those who condemned him as “pigs”, and adding that if Dreyfus’s innocence could be proved, he would not complete his military service, revealing his disgust with the army who took an anti-Dreyfus position. Euphémie Barbier also referred to the scandal in a letter dated 1898, hoping that “spirits will calm, and we won’t have a war”. Isabelle Bornet placed high hopes in the new French President, Émile Loubet, writing in 1899 that “France will soon be rid of this affair which it has suffered for a long time”.

 

The Spanish-American War

Georges also wrote in some detail about the Spanish-American War, fought between America and Spain between 21 April 1898 and 13 August 1898. Hostilities began after an explosion sank the American battleship USS Maine, which was sent to protect US citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana Harbour in Cuba that led to US intervention in the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, which began in February 1895. The conflict ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and the US acquired territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.  I was struck by his personal perception that England supported America simply because they were the “same race and origin”. Considering this, Georges’s support for the Spaniards and his proclamation that “it would be a great pleasure to see them [the Americans] receive a good beating”, surprised me. Perhaps Georges’s support for Spain stems from his European heritage. Euphémie was also supportive of the Spaniards, describing them as “patriotic”, after telling of one civilian who sold everything he had to support the war effort, later receiving an honourary title. Again, her opinions may be biased due to the Barbier family’s European roots.

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Euphémie Bornet

Anglo-French relations preoccupy Paul Barbier fils in his letters dated around 1898. He discusses the Fashoda Incident, which was the climax of imperial territorial disputes between Britain and France in Eastern Africa: “The question of Fashoda seems rather serious, although it is probably less serious than it looks”. I was fascinated by his thoughts about the attitudes of the press in London, and especially the Daily Mail, which he implies was perhaps not the most reliant source of information regarding the conflict and its “apparent gravity“. Later, he states it was obvious there would be war “if England insists on the pure and simple reminder of the Commanding Officer to precede all negotiations”, demanding his father to “ask the Consul in all cases what is my duty in this case, if it is absolutely the same as in the case of war with Germany, i.e. my immediate return to the regiment”. Paul’s offer to step in suggests that he was frustrated by the unwillingness of the Commanding Officer to take a leading role in negotiations. Perhaps to reassure Paul, his mother Euphémie related that his father believed “the Fashoda affair will calm itself”.

Other letters reference the Second Boer War, particularly the Siege of Ladysmith in Natal between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900. The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and the two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire’s influence in South Africa. In a letter of 1900, Marie mentions demonstrations in Cardiff for the relief of Ladysmith, which occurred during nightfall on 28 February 1900, when the siege was lifted. Marie notes somewhat ironically, that “all the young people at the Docks have a break this afternoon”. This perhaps reflects a feeling of antipathy towards those protesting. I would be interested to see how much contemporary documentation exists about this demonstration beyond the Barbier archive, if any.

Circle portrait

Marie Barbier

In short, some material in the Barbier Archive makes compelling reference to international affairs, contributing greatly to our understanding of tensions throughout the period by unveiling contemporary interpretations that may be missed by history textbooks, particularly as perceived in Cardiff. I found the parallels between the reporting on current affairs at the time, and current affairs today including concerns over the neutrality of reporting, particularly interesting. I was most drawn however to the human elements within the text, and the family connections strengthened through these letters as they kept each other up to date with ongoing affairs.

Guest Post: Safeguarding the Adrian Gibson Collection

This guest post is courtesy of first year Architecture student Theodora Stefan, who has been working on the collection of architectural historian Adrian Gibson (d.2006) as part of a CUROP project with the Welsh School of Architecture and Special Collections and Archives.

As a first year architecture student at Cardiff University, I have been studying the complex relationship between photography and architecture. I have been particularly fascinated by the evolution of photography and its recognition as ‘art’ in its own right, and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with the Welsh School of Architecture and the Special Collections and Archives team on a summer research placement, ‘Scoping and Safeguarding the Adrian Gibson Collection’.

Architectural historian Adrian Gibson (1931–2006) was the foremost authority of his time on the study of timber-framed buildings, and his collection of 20,000 photographic slides was donated to Cardiff University in 2017. As well as images of historical timber-framed buildings, there are photos of archaeological digs, and nine A3 portfolios of intricate drawings and notes by Adrian Gibson and Cecil Hewett. For a student, and indeed anyone interested in historic or photographic architecture, this collection provides a truly unique resource.

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However, like most new donations, the descriptive information is minimal and inconsistent, and in some cases lacking entirely. My role is to analyse the collection and create an electronic list of the contents. I have also been tasked with improving the physical storage of the slides, which are currently in random order in metal filing cabinets. Many are dusty and inappropriately packed in acidic paper packages secured with deteriorating elastic bands, jeopardising the sustainability and accessibility of the collection for immediate and future research. Part of my role will also involve repackaging the slides in acid free boxes, thus ensuring their survival, while my list and analysis will provide an essential insight into the contents of the collection for current and future researchers.

Theodora 3Passionate about archaeology as well as vernacular architecture, Adrian Gibson managed to create a truly beautiful and diverse collection. The slides are evidence of his extensive journeys throughout Britain as well as Europe, showcasing his never-ending enthusiasm and desire to travel, analyse and employ a comprehensive recording system. He photographed the finest construction details and facade embellishments as well as creating a visual record of impressive interiors and surviving timber framing systems. At the start of the programme I envisioned that I would primarily work with slides containing information about timber frame buildings mainly from Essex, Sussex and Wales, and was initially completely unaware of the real potential and complexity of the collection.

Theodora image 1

Nevertheless, once I started recording and transferring the metadata I became aware of just how elaborate, comprehensive, and incredibly diverse the collection is, addressing subjects such as Romanesque, Gothic, Classical Revival and English Baroque architecture as well as early medieval and Anglo-Saxon architectural remnants. In addition, I uncovered multiple packages of slides visualising famous megaliths such as Pentre Ifan, Carreg Sampson and Cortan, with many depicting distinct points of interest and view angles of these prehistoric architectural forms.

The collection is stored in five filing cabinets containing up to 4000 slides each. The challenge is to sort out each drawer, copying the metadata written on the packages, counting the slides and ordering the misplaced ones. This is surprisingly a refreshing and intellectually stimulating activity, as each and every package has its own points of interest, and the research process that follows the sorting and the description is something that truly enriches my architectural knowledge.

Last week, for example, I came across multiple packages with technical drawings, sections, plans and elevations of one of the oldest surviving architectural complexes in the UK. The medieval barns located in Cressing Temple, near Braintree in Essex, were once owned by the Knights Templar. This exquisite example of English vernacular architecture was carefully recorded and investigated by Adrian Gibson, offering me an extensive insight into timber framing construction and the assembly process, as well as the geometry of both the Barley and Wheat Barn.

Theodora image 2

By contrast, among many intriguing examples of Romanesque vestiges from France, I came upon the Jumièges Abbey, a mid-7th century monastic assembly that was reconstructed in the 11th century following extensive deterioration caused by Viking raids. The remaining yet majestic stone ruin depicts a former impressive Romanesque abbey held in high regard by the famous William the Conqueror, whose origins can be traced to Normandy. This week, I encountered multiple 17th and 18th century English halls, designed in either Adam or Wren style, as well as a 13th century property, bearing the name of Stokesay, which was once owned by one of the most powerful wool tradesmen of medieval England, Lawrence of Ludlow.

The collection has not only enhanced my architectural knowledge, but also my historical awareness as a result of researching the historical context of these rare architectural examples, which is appropriate, because this form of art is designed to be embraced and integrated in society, leaving us the opportunity to interact with history itself and all its conundrums. With 12,148 slides already completed, I can’t wait to see what I will discover next, since I am only halfway through the recording process. I am sure though that in the weeks to come, I will encounter many more intriguing pieces of architecture that are endowed with a vivid historical past.

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.

On the bilingual wagon.

Well, I don’t know about you but this recent spell of tropical Welsh-weather (three words I’ve never had to string together before) has left me quite parched, and for once I cannot blame the rare books dust. And as is sometimes the case in sunny climes, thoughts may  turn to a cool beer or cider, so whilst I have been sunning my soul amongst the books I’ll confess, boozy thoughts have also been sloshing around my mind, and not just because of the weather…

For I have been sourcing works for a current venture by the Recipes Project, a digital humanities blog arranged by a group of international scholars dedicated to the study of recipes in all their forms – culinary, domestic, medicinal, veterinary and magical. Currently, the project is holding its first Virtual Conversation where, through a series of online events participants can share images, texts, and collections on various social media platforms and join in the conversation about ‘What is a Recipe?’

Of course, we were keen to get involved and I was already aware of recipe related materials in our stacks, such as W. Edmond’s New and easy way of making wines from herbs, fruits and flowers (London, 1767); William Hughes’ The compleat vineyard (London, 1665); William Turner’s (not the artist) Book of wines (1568), interestingly, the first book on wine written in English, and A. Shore’s Practical treatise on brewing (1804).

The Complete Vineyard

Extract from William Hughes’, The compleat vineyard: or, A most excellent way of planting vines, (London, 1665).

Now, I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that our collection is a bit of a lush, for  the collections yielded a very interesting range of recipe-related materials which included: Rembert Dodoens, A new herbal, or Historie of plants, (London, 1619); Kenelm Digby’s Choice and experimented receipts in physick and chirurgery: as also cordial and distilled waters and spirits, perfumes and other curiosities, (London, 1688); John Eliot, The medical pocket-book, (London, 1784); and John Howells’ The whole art of farriery laid open: containing cures for every disorder… including several excellent original recipes for horned cattle and sheep, (Cowbridge, c. 1820).

These materials touched upon such a variety of themes, from cooking  to farming and veterinary care; gardening, medicine, chemistry and science, which in turn begged the question for me too – what exactly is a recipe?

A recipe can be defined as a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish or meal, including a list of the ingredients. It can also refer to something that is likely to lead to a particular outcome, so for example, all these books on wine making could be a recipe (no pun intended!) for disaster at our next office Christmas party. A recipe is also a medical prescription. Historically, the term was first used as an instruction, derived from the Latin recipere, meaning to accept or take. This is why you may notice the symbol Rx on any prescriptions, since doctors usually begin theirs with this abbreviation, and why culinary recipes often begin their instructions with ‘take…’, a style first evinced in De re Coquinaria, a collection of 4th or 5th century Roman recipes where each one begins with the Latin command ‘recipe’.

One of the oldest English works on recipes is The Forme of Cury, cury from the Middle French cuire, cook, (just in case you were thinking about a curry too). Written on a vellum scroll around 1390, it is signed by ‘the chief master cooks of King Richard II’. However, it wasn’t until the advent of printing that books on household management and the preparation of food became increasingly popular, no more so than during the 19th century with the Victorian emphasis on domesticity and respectability.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that we have several examples of household instructors and recipe books within our collections, in English and Welsh.

Cook books

Thomas Thomas, Llyfr coginio a chadw ty (A cooking and housekeeping manual), (Wrexham, 1880); S. Mathews, Y Ty, a’r Teulu (The House, and Family), (Denbigh, 1891).

 

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Biscuit recipes from I. Roberts’ The Young Cook’s Guide; with Practical Observations, (London, 1836).

What did strike me as interesting though, was the linguistic element to some of these works. John Pryse’s Welsh Interpreter, for example, is at first glance a basic Welsh dictionary; on second glance a Welsh phrasebook or guidebook of sorts for those travelling to Wales, yet on closer inspection also serves as a recipe book!

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Recipe section of John Pryse’s, Welsh Interpreter: containing an easy introduction to the Welsh language, (Llanidloes, 185?).

Sandwiched between the ‘useful phrases’ and ‘familiar parables’ is a selection of ‘Useful Receipts – Cyfarwyddiadau Buddiol’, with wines at the top of the list no less, as well as ‘Instructions to make bread’.  What’s going on? Is travel writing the new ingredient in recipe literature? What’s even more intriguing is that this section was ‘extracted’ from what Pryse calls a ‘useful Duoglott Receipt Book’, which incidentally we also have in our collection.

Written by the Independent minister, Evan Evans Nant-y-Glo, the book is actually called A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c &c, so not quite as intoxicating as some of our earlier recipe books, but there’s enough there to sozzle our interest nonetheless. Drunkeness was seen as a growing problem during the 19th century, especially in the rapidly expanding industrial areas where factors like industrialisation, Nonconformity and social improvement led to a growing resistance against the consumption of alcohol.

Initially an anti-spirits movement, The British and Foreign Temperance Society was founded in London in 1831, and the first temperance society in Wales was established at Holywell in 1832. Others soon followed, and by 1835, the movement had taken a total abstinence or teetotal stance. With the impetus of Nonconformity and religious revivalism, teetotalism made significant progress in Wales during the 1830s, a fact reflected in our collections. Moreover, Evan’s Guide was published in 1838, bilingually so as to broaden its appeal amongst the increasing numbers of non-Welsh industrial workers and the temperance movement generally.

It includes interesting techniques for making ginger beer, pop, lemonade, raspberry vinegar, artificial and spruce ale, as well as jellies and wines and cordials to name but a few. There is a segment on yeast and bread, plus a more curative inspired section for ‘The Weak and the Sick – I’r Gwan a’r Claf’. Here, recipes are noted for their medicinal and comforting properties, such as Flour Caudle which requires simply ‘one desert spoon of fine flour’ mixed with water, milk and sugar to be boiled over the fire. It is, apparently, a ‘very nourishing and gentle astringent food. Excellent for babies that have weak bowels’. But before you check your flour stock, other recipes include China Orange Juice, a very ‘useful thing to mix with water in fevers’, French milk porridge, ‘much ordered with toast, for breakfast, to weak persons’, and a simple ‘very agreeable drink’.

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Curative recipes in English and Welsh from Evan Evans’ A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c, (Pontfaen, 1838).

Not such a dry read after all! Indeed, Evan’s temperance recipes serve to highlight just how intricate the study of recipes can be, spreading across subjects and relative themes like history, science, medicine, religion, travel,  even the study of literacy and linguistics.  The debate about recipes is timely indeed, and to quote the Recipes Project, whether you’re a recipes scholar or enthusiast, or indeed a wine or ginger beer lover, there is a place for you in this conversation. And so the moral of this blog post is: off the literary wagon or on it, there’s a recipe that fits. Iechyd da (cheers) everyone!

Dancing in the Stacks

What can I say? Sometimes, when I’m totally alone in the stacks I do a little jig for the sheer joy of being amongst the best company ever, and said books never judge my moves, at least that’s what I thought…

Until I discovered a copy of Anatomical and mechanical lectures upon dancing: wherein rules and institutions for that art are laid down and demonstrated. (London, 1721). Ok, so maybe I should think twice before I twerk.

John Weaver Title Page

John Weaver, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures Upon Dancing, (London, 1721), title page.

This book, I’ll have you know, was written by John Weaver (21 July 1673 – 24 September 1760), an English dancer and choreographer often regarded as the father of English pantomime.

Weaver was born in Shrewsbury where he worked as a dance teacher, like his father, who suggested he go to London and become a ballet master. Working mainly at the Drury Lane Theatre, Weaver soon became a specialist in comic roles and created the first English pantomime ballet, the burlesque Tavern Bilkers (1702). This was his first choreographic work where he incorporated commedia dell’arte characters such as Harlequin and Scaramouche. Scaramouche? As in  ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango’? The very Bohemian one (thank you Freddie), generally a stock clown character of the commedia dell’arte, a particular Italian theatrical form that flourished throughout Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

The role of Scaramouche combined characteristics of the zanni (servant) and the Capitano (masked henchman). Usually attired in black Spanish dress and burlesquing a don, he was often beaten for his boasting and cowardice by Harlequin – another key commedia dell’arte character, known by his chequered costume and his role as the light-hearted and astute servant constantly trying to outwit his master and pursue his own love interest.

Weaver included these two characters in his ballet at a time when dance was generally seen as a form of amusement but for Weaver, the art of dance was something far more substantial and artistic.

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons Comedie Italienne (1862)

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons: Comedie Italienne (1862).

In his celebrated work, The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), he combined themes from classical literature with the dramatic elements that characterised Italian pantomime and English dance, so the story was conveyed through gesture and movement rather than any spoken or sung explanation. Weaver was one of the first choreographers to develop dance so that it performed a dramatic and expressive role rather than a simple comic and decorative one, and because of his attempts to use emotion and plot as opposed to complicated technical and speech methods, he is seen as a huge influence on later choreographers such as Gasparo Angiolini, and in particular the French dancer and ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810). Like Weaver, Noverre would later react against the ornamental function of ballet, believing that dance movement should also reflect its action.

Weaver’s writings on dance are also hugely significant. Published in 1706, Orchesography was the first English translation of the French choreographer Raoul-Auger Feuilllet’s Chorégraphie, and included the most common dance notation system of the time, thereby enabling the introduction of a consistent standard of dance throughout England (something akin to the ‘Macarena’ of the 90s I wonder)? In An Essay Towards the History of Dancing (1712), he documented the history of dance whilst arguing for its recognition as a means of expression and a sign of social accomplishment.

Weaver was also the first dance teacher to insist that dance instructors should have a thorough knowledge of anatomy in order to best use the body as a tool of expression. Hence his Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing were aimed at ‘introducing the Art of dancing among the liberal arts and sciences’, at a time when ‘the Art of Dancing is arrived at so great an Excellence’. A knowledge of anatomy he argues, may ‘not be well relish’d by the Masters in Dancing at first view’, but on further consideration they will come to recognise its great use towards the following discourse on the ‘Proportion and Symmetry of Parts’, and the ‘Mechanical Parts’ of the body, all of which he maintains are the ‘fundamentals of our profession, so they deserve, nay, require, our utmost observation’.

Preface extract, Weaver, Anatomical lectures on dancing

Extract from the preface of John Weaver’s, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing, (London, 1721).

To Weaver, dancing ‘is an elegant, and regular movement, harmonically composed of beautiful Attitudes, and contrasted graceful Postures of the Body, and Parts thereof’.  And if you’re in the mood for a groove then just so you know: ‘motion consists of various Steps, produc’d by the Sinking, Rising, Turning, and Springing of the Body and Limbs’. Make of that what you will the next time you tackle the moonwalk or your Gangnam Style, and if these moves may fail you fear not, for there is plenty of inspiration to be had, as I very pleasantly discovered as I Harlem-shuffled my way over to our Historical Music Collection:

Dance details, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, (London, 1784)

Dance details from 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, with their proper figures as perform’d at the Prince of Wales’s Willis’s Rooms, (London, 1784).

 

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets... (London, 1784)

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets… (London, 1784).

 

With International Dance Day upon us tomorrow (as well as Jean-George Noverre’s birthday), remember what Weaver says as you throw out your best moves, whether it’s the Charleston, the Twist, or the Chicken Dance: ‘Attitude is a posture, or graceful disposition of the body’. And so the moral of this blog-post is, sometimes even the old books can make you lose yourself to dance. Happy dancing people!

Roman History, According to a Roman Historian

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, an M.Litt student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 


Florus_Bust

A bust of the supposed Lucius Annaeus Florus

Lucius Annaeus Florus’s Epitome of Roman History from Romulus to Augustus Caesar was written between the years of 74 and 130AD (these being the years given as Florus’s dates of birth and death). Florus was a Roman historian, and therefore it is not surprising that this work focuses on chronicling Roman history from its birth up until forty-nine years before Florus’s birth (if the title had not given it away already). Tracking down the history of the author is somewhat difficult, as the author varies the name by which he calls himself throughout the text. The copy to which I am referring specifically in this post is the 1714 English translation edition published in London by John Nicholson.

Florus Title Page

Title Page of Lucius Annaeus Florus, His Eptiome of Roman History (London: John Nicholson, 1714)

One of the particularly interesting things about this particular edition of the text are the many engravings that can be found within it. There are 23 plates, each with a number of depictions of the Roman emperors on their respective coins, and one large engraving of some kind of Roman monument.

Although the engraver is not named within the edition, the skill of the engravings suggests it was someone of great talent, whom the title page names only as ‘a curious hand’. Regardless of the engraver’s identity, however, the images themselves are wonderful to look at and make a nice addition to the end of the text.

Florus Engravings

Engravings from the text

The copy that I am discussing specifically is to be found in the Rare Books Collection at PA6386.A2 1714. It is in quite bad shape unfortunately, it’s binding and front page are loose and so it must be handled with extreme care, but it is worth a look.

Florus Broken

The loose title page and lack of front board

The binding is beautiful calf leather, with the remnants of a blind decorative border and raised bands on the spine. Inside, the text is accentuated by ornamental woodcut headbands and initials that contrast nicely with the seriousness of the engravings at the back.

Florus Binding

The remaining binding of the text

But one of the main reasons that I find this text so intriguing is its popularity. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection itself owns more than one copy of this text, at least one of them being in the original Latin. Moreover, the English Short Title Catalogue has record of ten different editions of this text, all between the years of 1619 and 1752. At a time when new editions were only made for the most sought-after works, it is clear that Florus was being widely read in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon digging a little deeper, I have found out that despite its many flaws and inaccuracies, Florus’s Epitome of Roman History was used as a textbook and a central authority on Roman History all the way through the 19th century.

So, if you have the inclination, you might want to pop into Rare Books and have a browse at Roman History from a Roman Historian’s point of view, it may end up being slightly different from the current view on things!

Buzzing in the Stacks

Yes I am, but on this occasion there was a definite fuzzy-humming-buzzing sound which caught my ear, and then my eye as I noticed this book on the shelf:

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, (London, 1608)

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees (London, 1608).

And this got me thinking about the significance of bees and how these tiny yet vital creatures deserve far more prestige.

Ok, here are some quick facts. There are over 250 different types of bee in the UK. Of these, 25 are bumblebees and only 1 is a honeybee. Not sure of your honey from your bumble? Me neither, so I’ll buzz it down for you:

Bumblebees are generally the fat, sorry, fuller and furry type and live in nests with roughly 50-400 other bees. They live in the wild so may well be a familiar sight in your garden or the countryside, and they only make small amounts of a honey-like substance (i.e. nectar) for their own food.

Bumblebee by Richard Holgersson

Bumblebee, by Richard Holgersson.

The honeybee on the other hand, is one of a kind and smaller and slightly slimmer in appearance, more like a wasp. Honeybees live in hives of up to 60,000 bees and are looked after by beekeepers, though wild colonies do exist. Honeybees store a lot more nectar because of their larger colonies and longer life cycles. It is essentially their food supply for the colder months. This nectar is mixed with a bee enzyme and is later fanned by the bees, making it more concentrated.  Both bees are crucial to pollination and both are, sadly, in serious decline.

Honeybee large by Joshua Tree National Park

Honeybee, by Joshua Tree National Park.

In ancient and early modern times, their abundance and importance were widely recognised, particularly with regards to the honeybee. Beekeeping, or Apiculture, if you want to get all technical on me, is the maintenance of honeybee colonies, usually in man-made hives. The production of honey for domestic use is well documented in ancient Egypt, while in Greece, beekeeping was seen as a highly valued and sophisticated industry. The lives of bees and beekeeping are covered in great detail by Aristotle, while the Roman writers Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro and Columella wrote about the art of beekeeping.

Thomas Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608) Table of contents

Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608), table of contents.

Some of their writings formed the basis of Thomas Hill’s A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, the first English manual for beekeepers published in 1568 as an appendage to Hill’s larger work on gardening. His aim was to highlight the benefits of ‘their hony and waxe and how profitable they are for the commonwealth, and how necessary for man’s use’, while his contemporary, Alan Fleming, looked to ‘A Swarme of Bees’ and their behaviour as the perfect example of proper spiritual conduct.

Beekeeping was a common occupation throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Amongst the abundance of popular information contained in contemporary almanacs, advice on aspects of beekeeping is regularly offered. Housekeeping manuals such as such as S. M. Mathew’s Y Tŷ a’r Teulu (The House and Family) (Denbigh, 1891) provided practical instructions on ‘the Care of Bees’ and the best ways to retrieve honey. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject however, is Y Gwenynydd – (The Beekeeper) (or the Apiarist if you still want to be technical about it). Published in 1888, this compact little Welsh book was largely the work of an accomplished beekeeper from Dinas Mawddwy, who was encouraged by his co-author to publish a book on bees for the ‘benefit of our fellow countrymen’, since ‘we did not have one in Welsh’.

Y Gwenynydd, Title page (1888) Salis

Huw Puw Jones & Michael D. Jones, Y Gwenynydd (The Beekeeper), (Bala, 1888).

Could this be the first Welsh-language beekeeping manual that we have in our Salisbury Collection? What a buzz! A unique piece of work it definitely is. In Wales, we are told, there is a saying that ‘the bee is such a skilful creature that it can draw honey from a stone’. While the latter is demystified throughout the book which explains the life-cycle of honeybees and the different species, the types of hives used, how to build them and the best methods to extract honey – the bees’ skill is never underestimated.

Honey Extracor, Y Gwenynydd

Image detail of ‘The Rapid Honey Extractor’ from Y Gwenynydd, (1888).

 

 

This may explain why bees were as much an object of ‘superstition’ as admiration.  It was considered lucky if bees made their home in your roof, or if a strange swarm arrived in your garden or tree, but unlucky if a swarm left.  Bees were believed to take an interest in human affairs, hence it was customary to notify bees of a death in the family. The news would be whispered to the hive, and if they were not notified, another death would soon follow. Turning the hive, or tying a black ribbon to it, thus placing it in mourning also had the same effect, and similar customs were observed for happier occasions such as weddings. Writing about these beliefs, the Welsh cleric and antiquarian, Elias Owen, noted that the ‘culture of bees was once more common than it is, and therefore they were much observed’.

Although they may seem strange to us today, such beliefs point to a past awareness of how fundamental bees were to our daily lives and how we should be more attentive to them, more so now that they are under threat. This is why the efforts of organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pollen8 Cymru, and Professor Baillie and his team at Cardiff University (one of the UK’s first bee-friendly campuses), who are encouraging people to plant more wildflowers to help the bee population and conducting research into the antibacterial properties of honey in the treatment of wounds and the fight against antimicrobial resistance, are so important. Again, this is something that was not lost on our early bee backers. Hill notes the extensive medicinal benefits of honey as a preservative and cleanser, which is good ‘to avail against surfeits’, ‘put away drunkeness’ and to ‘expel humours’, not to mention its ‘profitable’ application to ‘filthy ulcers’; open wounds; ringworm; corns; swellings; ‘dropsie bodies’ (oedema); impostumes (abcesses); earache; dimness of sight and all diseases of the lungs to name just a few. With history and science combined, we can do our bit for the bees and get a very sweet return indeed. And so the moral of this blog post?  Well honey, it’s simple. Read a book, plant a flower, and become a lifeline for British bees.

Potent Ink and Political Satire

Today, I want to talk about cartoons. Come again? Is this librarian a complete Looney Tune? That may well be a matter of opinion, but the subject of this post has certainly got me animated, so by the Power of Greyskull, let’s turn our attention to the renowned cartoonist:

staniforth-signature-salibury

J. M. Staniforth’s signature, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff,Western Mail, 1908)

Joseph Morewood Staniforth was an editorial cartoonist best known for his work in the Western Mail (Cardiff’s daily paper), the Evening Express (Cardiff’s evening paper), and the News of the World (the Sunday paper).

staniforth-portrait-salisbury

Portrait of J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1908).

I initially became aware of him through the work of Professor Chris Williams, who has been diligently documenting and digitising the wartime newspaper cartoons of this unique artist. It seems we have here in Special Collections and Archives possibly the only copy of Football Cartoons & Rhymes compiled by Staniforth and a writer named Idris, and when Chris asked to see it, judging from the title, I presumed he was researching some traditional banter ready for the impending Rugby Six Nations!

let-em-all-come-football-cartoons-and-rhymes-c-1903-salisbury

Rugby cartoon detail from J. M. Staniforth, Football cartoons & rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1903)

However, I was soon to discover just how exceptional Staniforth’s work was, and indeed still is to anyone interested in the social, political, and cultural history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The fourth son of a saw repairer, Staniforth was born in Gloucester on the 16 of May 1863, and later grew up in Cardiff. At 15, he left school to train as a lithographic printer for the daily newspaper the Western Mail, whilst studying art in the evenings at the Cardiff School of Art which was initially established in rooms above the Royal Arcade in Cardiff city centre. Built in 1858, it is the oldest arcade in Cardiff, and, interestingly, the birthplace of our distant relative, Cardiff’s Free Library, set up through voluntary subscriptions above the St. Mary Street entrance to the arcade. But I digress! So back to the school of art, where another soon to be famous artist, the sculptor William Goscombe John was also learning his craft. Originally working with paint, Staniforth soon developed his technique in inks whereby with a fine pen and ink, he would compile his cartoon on paper which was then photographed onto a metal bloc used in the printing process. The Western Mail claimed to be the first regional newspaper to adopt this technique. He began drawing cartoons bearing his tell-tale monogram for the Evening Express and on occasions, for the Western Mail, where his skills as an illustrator were quickly spotted by the Mail’s editor, Henry Lascelles Carr, who swiftly transferred him to the editorial team. Following Carr’s takeover and restyling of the Sunday News of the World in 1893, Staniforth’s cartoons were given prime-place on the front page of every issue. By 1900, his cartoons were a regular feature in the Western Mail.

martyrs-of-the-arena-cartoon-salisbury

‘Martyrs of the Arena’, Cartoons: originally published in the Western Mail: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1910)

The News of the World and the Western Mail were amongst the first newspapers to use cartoons as a means of political and social commentary rather than purely comic distractions. Sir Francis Carruthers Gould is generally regarded as the first cartoonist on a British daily newspaper, drawing as he did for the Pall Mall Gazette from 1888 followed by the Westminster Gazette, and some examples of his work can be seen here in Special Collections. Staniforth, nevertheless, came to the fore just five years later, and by the early 20th century, the News of the World was selling over one million copies every week! Its circulation almost tripled by the time of Staniforth’s death in 1921 and was considered to be the largest in the world. The Western Mail too was a leading regional newspaper, its scope however was far from provincial in its aim, as the self-styled national newspaper of Wales, to report on the key national and international events of the day. Despite its conservative leanings, its readability and tempered journalism attracted a broad readership including Liberals, Nonconformists and Trade-Unionists. Thus, the potential reach of Staniforth’s continuous crop of cartoons was infinite.

cartoons-by-staniforth-salisbury

J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c.1910)

It is estimated that Staniforth drew over fifteen thousand cartoons over the course of his career, which coincided with one of the most tempestuous eras in modern history. 1898 – 1921 was not only a defining time in the history of the South-Wales coalfield and Labour relations, but in imperial and international affairs generally. Major domestic and international events such as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1898, the Boer War, The Great War, and the growing industrial unrest in the coal-fields, were keenly observed on the regular platform provided by Staniforth’s pen.

Viewed in this context,  the scope of his cartoons is even more substantial. Some were published as single volumes, samples of which we are fortunate to hold as part of the Salisbury Library, such as Cartoons of the Boer War (Cardiff, 1902), Cartoons of the Welsh coal strike, April 1st to Sept. 1st, 1898 (Cardiff, 1898), and Cartoons of the Welsh revolt (Cardiff, 1905).

boer-war-cartoon-salisbury

J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons of the Boer War: Vol. II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

And that’s not all folks! Staniforth compiled a collection of nursery rhymes, and drew numerous picture postcards, funny and factual. These too are being digitised by Chris Williams on the sister site – Cartooning the Road to War.

staniforths-nursery-rhymes-salisbury

J. M. Staniforth, Staniforth’s Nursery Rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

Let’s not forget that Staniforth was a trained artist. As a loyal member of the South Wales Art Society since its foundation in 1888, he regularly exhibited work at their annual exhibition, securing his own 3 week showing at a Cardiff gallery in 1916. He designed the costumes for the National Pageant of Wales held in 1909, including the famous dragon-encrusted dress worn by the Marchioness of Bute as ‘Dame Wales’. Staniforth was also commissioned to paint eleven panels depicting various themes from Shakespeare’s plays (the largest of which is 2m high, 1.2m wide) for Howells School for Girls, in Cardiff. These are currently being restored by specialist conservation architects and painters, and will be reinstated at the school in April this year.

SONY DSC

Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at Howells School for Girls, Cardiff, courtesy of Michael Davies of Davies Sutton Architects.

 

restoration-on-romeo-and-juliet

Restoration work being carried out on Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at the workshop of specialist painting conservator, Rachel Howells (courtesy of Michael Davies).

Staniforth’s last cartoon appeared in the News of the World on the 11 of December, 1921. He passed away six days later due to ill-health. Tributes to the man and his work swamped the papers during the following weeks, casting him with the likes of Hogarth, Gillray, Leech and Tenniel. The then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, observed the tremendous loss of ‘one of the most distinguished cartoonists of his generation’. Certainly, there is some weight behind Peter Lord’s assertion that Staniforth was ‘the most important visual commentator on Welsh affairs’. His unique portrayals offer an immediate and acute observation on some of the most historic and radical political and social events of the industrial and pre-war era. While historians may value the printed text over the sketch, visual sources can provide direct access to historical moments, capturing the initial pulsations of key events in our history. As Staniforth himself explained: ‘a good cartoon should be very acceptable… small though it be, it is a power of far reaching effect’. And so the moral of this blog-post is: never underestimate the potential of cartoons. They may be mere fun on the surface, but beneath their inky contours lies something far more meaningful. That’s all folks!

To see more of Staniforth’s work, visit:

http://www.cartoonww1.org/

http://www.roadtowarcartoons.org/

http://www.postwarworldcartoons.org/

 

 

 

 

 

Tall Trees, Ancient History

Working with Special Collections means I’m never short of inspiration. Frankly, it’s hard to move for the stuff. However, recent encouragement has stemmed from much further afield…

… all the way from Offa’s Dyke to be precise. Having read about Robert McBride’s  project of recording and authenticating the ancient trees along this early earthen boundary, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, what an ‘ah-mazing’ job – second only to rummaging through old books (though I should point out that McBride’s efforts are voluntary); secondly, how crucial this work is, today especially.

The history of trees is often overlooked yet they are essential elements of our historical and cultural landscapes. Forests and woodlands were initially seen as forbidding and wild terrain, a symbol of the uncivilized. It is no coincidence that the word ‘savage’ derives from the Latin silva, meaning forest or wood. Since prehistoric times, human advancement hinged on the clearing and consumption of these woods, a recurring process throughout the Roman and Saxon eras, where woodlands were felled to make way for human settlements and pastureland. By the end of the 17th century, with the growing need for industrial fuel and building materials, only around 8% of England and Wales remained covered by forest. Some saw this a sign of progress. For contemporaries a ‘wilderness’ did not refer to a stark wasteland, but rather a dark, untamed wood. See, for example, how definitions of ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ in Edward Phillips’ The New World of Words (London, 1671),  are understood as something ‘wild’ and ungodly!

E. Phillips The New World of Words title pages

Edward Phillips, The New World of Words: or, a General English Dictionary,  (London, 3rd edition, 1671). First published in London in 1658, this was the first folio English dictionary and featured many unusual, foreign and specialist words.

Forest definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Phillips’ definition of a forest, 1671: ‘…abiding place for Deer, or any sort of beasts, that are wild…’

Wood definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Explanation of the term wood, 1671: ‘that signifies mad, or furious.’

Sylva or a Discourse of Forest Trees 1664 1

Title page of John Evelyn’s Sylva: or a Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber (London, 1664)

Nevertheless, attitudes were shifting towards a consideration for conservation and planting. Not necessarily a new development in itself, but with the economic demands of building a Royal Navy, and the growth of iron and glass manufacture, organized attempts at planting were becoming more evident. The work of John Evelyn is indicative of this. Sylva, published in London in 1664 is a study of British trees, designed to promote the planting and repair of the country’s forests and saplings for the ‘Glory of His Kingdom’. ‘Him’ being Charles the II who, incidentally, found sanctuary in an English oak during the final battle of the Civil War.

Change was afoot socially too. Whereas wooded territories were primarily cultivated for wild beasts and deer for hunting purposes, these deer parks and Royal forests were increasingly appreciated for their aesthetic and distinctive qualities. The gentry could distinguish themselves physically and socially in a country house set in a landscaped park, whilst fashionable society could parade itself in the open setting of city parks and gardens. The great tree-lined avenue became a familiar aristocratic feature, and trees were increasingly planted purely for their visual charm.

Austen A Treatise of Fruit Trees illustration detail

Engraving by John Goddard from Ralph Austen’s A treatise of fruit trees: shewing the manner of grafting, planting, pruning and ordering of them in all respects, (Oxford, 2nd edition, 1657), showing the ‘enclosed’ garden as well as gardening tools and a planting plan.

Hence by the eighteenth-century, any landlord worth his salt planted trees on his land. The following notebook for example, lists the different trees planted on an estate in North Wales, details of trees given to tenants, where they were planted and their history.

Trees also held a sacred and magical significance. The Yew, for example, generally understood to be the longest living tree in Britain, is found in most churchyards. Wales appears to have the world’s largest collection of ancient yews. The most famous is the Llangernyw Yew in the grounds of St Dygain’s Church, Conway, North Wales, believed to be over 4,000 years old! The old Welsh saying ‘gorwedd dan yr Ywen’, ‘sleeping under the Yew’, when referring to one’s demise, suggests that they were seen as a symbol of immortality and sanctuary for the dead. The existence of a holy well or spring near such trees also suggests their sacred origins. Ffynnon Digain (St. Digain’s Well) lies about a mile outside of Llangernyw, whilst in Carmarthenshire the Ffynnon Gwenlais yew grows above the source of the Gwenlais stream, and was noted by both Edward Lhuyd in the late seventeenth century, and Richard Fenton in 1804. The Welsh custom of tying rags to the branches of trees growing near a holy well, whereby the rag is ‘offered’ to the Saint or to God as a healing ritual also reflects their sacred qualities.

Moreover, their magical traits are evident in the medieval Welsh poem Cad Goddeu – the Battle of the Trees. Preserved in the 14th century manuscript Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin), the poem refers to Gwydion’s enchantment of the trees of the forest where they rose up as warriors against the forces of Arawn, king of the underworld. ‘Rush, ye chiefs of the wood’, reads one line, while the rest of the poem describes, amongst others, the ‘Alders, at the head of the line’, the Yew at ‘the fore’, and ‘The Ash… exalted most’.  Does this scene Ring any bells? Ring(s) being the operative word! For whilst this particular story inspired Tori Amos’ song, Battle of the Trees, and John Williams’ composition ‘Duel of the Fates’ for Star Wars: Episode 1, I can’t help wondering if Cad Goddeu was also the source of inspiration for the Battle of Isengard in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings?

Cruben yr Ellyll

Image of Cruben yr Ellyll from E. Salisbury’s scrapbook on Meirioneth, c. 19thC

Through all ages then, and worlds, our trees have provided physical emblems of our historic and cultural heritage. Some, like the Pontfadog Oak, where it’s believed the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army before defeating the English at the Battle of Crogen, or the Cruben yr Ellyll,  The Hollow Demon Oak,  where legend has it the body of Hywel Sele was interred by Owain Glyndwr, have a historic worth, while others have been a source of wonder, like the Crooked Oak of Pembrokeshire which inspired the Welsh poet Waldo Williams to pen ‘Y Dderwen Gam’ – ‘The Crooked Oak’. Some have even survived great battles! And so the moral of this blog post is to never underestimate the importance of our ancient trees. They truly are blooming marvelous – pun intended!