WHELF’s Treasures

The Archives and Special Collections of the WHELF Libraries contain many rich and varied treasures. Here are just a few examples from these precious collections:

Cardiff Metropolitan University Special Collections

English Pottery by Bernard Rackham and Herbert Read

The image shows a publisher’s proof of the book English Pottery by Bernard Rackham and Herbert Read, first published in 1924. This publisher’s proof is marked in coloured pencil and these markings appear to indicate which parts of the book were written by which author. The proof sits within The Rackham Collection: a collection of over 70 books written or edited by Bernard Rackham (Keeper of the Department of Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1914-38), along with books from his personal collection and associated ephemera such as letters and notebooks, donated to Cardiff School of Art and Design by the Rackham family over a six year period from 2002 to 2008.

Side by Side by Gilbert and George

Side by Side is the first artists’ book by British conceptual duo, “the sculptors” Gilbert & George. They state in their introduction to the book that: “These chapters together represent a contemporary sculpture novel. It is based on plans, intentions and experience. The form being abstract air brushes and the expression pure sculpture…” The library’s copy, held in the growing Artists’ Books Collection, is no. 398 of a limited edition of 600 signed and numbered copies.

Aberystwyth University Special Collections

William Warburton’s Shakespeare

The Special Collections department houses a copy of William Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare published in 1747, in eight volumes. This was used by Samuel Johnson in the preparation of his Dictionary (1755) and his own edition of Shakespeare (1765). Johnson employed amanuenses who copied material from the volumes and there are also a few notes in his own hand. Volume six comes from another set, owned by Edward Walpole and annotated by Styan Thirlby, which was lent to Johnson when he was working on his own Shakespeare edition. The volumes later passed through the library collections of George Steevens and Richard Heber before purchase by George Powell of Nanteos in 1862. His collection was later bequeathed to the University.

Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

The Lampeter Bible

The Lampeter Bible in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives is a remarkable manuscript for many reasons. It is signed by the scribe, who not only gave his own name, ‘G. of Fécamp’, but also the date, 1279, and the name of his patron, Abbot Jacobus (James) of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives (Diocese of Sées) in Normandy.

The Konrad Gesner, Historia Animalium (Zurich 1575)

Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was arguably the greatest naturalist of his age. Between 1551 and 1558, Gesner published a four-volume masterwork, the History of Animals. His work was possible in a large part due to the web of correspondence he established with leading naturalists throughout Europe who, in addition to their ideas, sent him plants, animals and gems. At a time of extreme religious tension Gesner maintained friendships on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide. Gesner’s extensive use of illustration was unusual for the period. The beautiful woodcuts were produced by the artist Lucas Schan of Strasbourg.

Jan van der Straat, Venationes ferarum, auium, piscium pugnae bestiariorum & mutuae bestiarum. (Antwerp, 1630)

Flemish Renaissance artist Jan van der Straat worked for most of his life in Italy as a designer of cartoons for tapestries. From 1553 to 1571 he was employed by Cosimo de’Medici to design a series of lavish representations of hunting, fowling and fishing for the adornment of twenty rooms in the Palace of Peggio-a-Cajano. The Venationes magnificently commemorates these designs (and others) depicting the traditional hunting methods of the renaissance with fanciful subjects of Eastern origin. The engravers of this work were trained by Peter Paul Rubens.

Bangor University Archives & Special Collections

Bangor Pontifical

The Bangor Pontifical Project was an initiative of Bangor University’s 125th Anniversary Celebrations in 2009 which represented a collaboration between the University and Bangor Cathedral. The project enabled a hidden and precious treasure of medieval Bangor – the Bangor Pontifical – to be made universally accessible via a state-of-the art permanent high resolution website. The Bangor Pontifical is an exceptional manuscript, being the only complete liturgical manuscript known to survive from the medieval diocese of Bangor, and one of just two extant books from medieval Wales as a whole to contain substantial plainchant notation. The Pontifical is owned by the Dean and Chapter of Bangor Cathedral and it is still brought to the Cathedral for special occasions, although it is now kept for safety in Bangor University Archive.

Extent of Anglesey and Caernarvon

The first two sections of this manuscript, the Extent of Anglesey and Caernarvon were compiled by John de Delves,the deputy-justice of north Wales, in 1352. The manuscript is regarded as one of the most important sources for the economic and social history of medieval Gwynedd. It provides a detailed description of the rents and services which were due to the ruler or lord from his tenants.

Hedd Wyn manuscripts

A collection of poems, 1906-17, which were composed by Hedd Wyn for entry in Eisteddfod competitions. In particular, there are early versions of the winning ode in the Birkenhead Eisteddfod, Yr Arwr, which won him the Chair at the Birkenhead Eisteddfod following his death on the battlefield in Flanders in the Great War, and the recently discovered letter “Rhiwle yn Ffrainc” written in 1917. This letter provides a poet’s view of the life ‘behind the line’ and yet heroically does not reveal the actual horrors of the trenches, but focuses on the few small moments of beauty that the poet finds to contemplate and share with the reader.

The National Library of Wales

Black Book of Carmarthen

The Black Book of Carmarthen, so called because of the colour of its binding and its connection with the Priory of St John the Evangelist and Teulyddog, Carmarthen, is now thought by modern scholars to be the work of a single scribe writing at different periods of his life before and about the year 1250. This makes it one of the earliest surviving manuscripts written solely in the Welsh language. It was designated one of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’ by William Forbes Skene (1809-92), although he believed it to have been written much earlier in the twelfth century.

Hengwrt Chaucer

The ‘Hengwrt Chaucer’ is undoubtedly one of the greatest treasures of the National Library of Wales and one of the best known outside Wales. It is one of the most important texts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s work to come down to us, and its importance has recently been magnified by the identification of its scribe as Adam Pinkhurst, one of Chaucer’s London-based associates. The manuscript may have been written at the end of the fourteenth century.

Boston manuscript

The Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda is a small Welsh manuscript dating from the second half of the fourteenth century, and contains the Dyfed version of native Welsh law. As the first medieval manuscript in the Welsh language to appear at public auction since 1923, it is one of the most important of recent accessions to the manuscript collections of the National Library of Wales.
[Image: Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda]

Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR)

Dante – map from the Atlases collection

In 1302 the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, was permanently banished from his beloved Florence, the city of his birth. Forced to spend the rest of his life in political exile, Dante travelled throughout Italy wandering from city to city. Any scholar hoping to follow in Dante’s footsteps would do well to study these beautiful hand-coloured maps, produced in 1892 by the English artist Mary Hensman. The maps were produced in London by Charles Robert Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft as coloured photolithographs.

Sangorski & Sutcliffe

Special Collections at Cardiff University also has a large number of exceptional bindings by some of the leading craftsmen of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including several outstanding examples from the famed London firm of Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the epitome of the book arts for the period. Formed by Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe in 1901, this bindery was best known for producing elaborate bindings inlaid with gold and encrusted with precious stones.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

In addition to their major private press books and fine bindings, Cardiff University also holds a range of modern illuminated manuscripts. This beautiful copy of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was written out and hand-illuminated by Sidney Farnsworth in 1910. Farnsworth was a painter, sculptor and illuminator, and also the author of a “how-to guide” for people wishing to learn the craft, Illumination and its Development in the Present Day.

Swansea University Richard Burton Archives

Image reproduced by courtesy of the Cooperative Group

The Richard Burton Archives is the corporate memory and archive repository of Swansea University and holds material of local, regional, national and international significance. The collections have strengths in the South Wales Coalfield (particularly records of miners and the organisations they were involved in such as trade unions), industrial and business records, Welsh writing in English, and the University. It is the home of the archives of the actor Richard Burton.
The South Wales Coalfield Collection is an internationally important research resource. The Collection provides a unique picture of life in the coalfield valleys during the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, concentrating on the workers themselves and the organisations they created. It contains records of trade unions, notably the National Union of Mineworkers (South Wales Area), miners’ institutes, co-operative societies and individuals connected with the mining community. During the 1920s industrial unrest occurred in South Wales, with the mining communities being particularly hard hit by the strikes of 1921 and 1926. This photograph depicts the supportive relationship between co-operative societies, with gifts being sent by members of the London Co-operative Society to their fellow co-operators in Dowlais.

The focus of the literary collections at the Richard Burton Archives are Welsh Writers in English. These included the papers of the renowned cultural critic and writer Raymond Williams (1921–1988). The collection consists of manuscripts and typescripts of novels, dramatic works, poetry and academic writings; correspondence; published reviews, lectures and articles. The notebooks are particularly important as Raymond Williams jotted down initial ideas for later development. His publications, such as ‘Culture and Society’ (1958), ‘The Long Revolution’ (1961), and his other critical writings ‘challenged conventional boundaries of thought and their academic compartmentalization’ (Dai Smith, ‘Williams, Raymond Henry (1921–1988)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39847, accessed 24 Aug 2015])and Raymond Williams saw a unity between his non-fiction and fiction work, such as ‘Border Country’ (1960).


The Local Archive Collections are particularly varied and include the records of many local businesses. The metallurgical industries in the area are well represented, particularly copper, tinplate and steel. These patents were issued to Sir Henry Hussey Vivian, politician and industrialist (1821-1894), for his innovations in the manufacture of copper in the United Kingdom, and are accompanied by patents issued in Austria, Hungary, France, Germany, and Canada.

It has been suggested that he was largely responsible for the expansion and diversification of Vivian & Sons, and that his influence was key to Swansea becoming ‘the metallurgical centre of the world’.