The League of Nations Visit to Aberystwyth

Between 20 June and 29 July 2016 a display will be mounted in the Hugh Owen Library, Aberystwyth University, to commemorate the visit of the International Federation of League of Nations Societies to Aberystwyth 90 years ago. Dresden was to have been the venue as part of the celebrations to mark Germany’s admission as a member of the League of Nations. This had been agreed at Locarno in October 1925, but at a special meeting in March 1926 to confirm Germany’s position, objectioLeague of Nationsns were raised that resulted in delaying the decision. This made it difficult for the Federation to meet at Dresden and there was the real possibility that the congress would not be held at all that year.

One of the leaders, and main financial backer, of the League of Nations Societies in Wales and Great Britain was David Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, grandson of the famous David Davies, Llandinam, and brother of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, Gregynog. As well as being a businessman and philanthropist, he was also President of Aberystwyth University, and in order to save the 1926 congress he offered Aberystwyth as an alternative venue. His offer was accepted, and following three months of preparations by Aberystwyth Corporation, University officials and the ready cooperation of the residents of Aberystwyth and surrounding areas, a successful congress was held between 29 June and 3 July 1926.

The list of places that the Federation visited before and after 1926 shows that Aberystwyth – and Wales – was in very good company: 1919 Paris. 1919 London. 1919 Brussels. 1920 Milan. 1920 Geneva. 1922 Prague. 1923 Vienna. 1924 Lyon. 1925 Warsaw. 1926 Aberystwyth. 1927 Berlin. 1928 The Hague. 1928 Prague. 1929 Madrid. 1934 Brussels. 1936 Geneva.

The Hugh Owen Library is open between 8.30 and 5.30 Monday to Friday during the vacation.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The world can take your material possessions, even your life, but never your education; it is with you endlessly!

On March 8th 2016 the former Lily Newton Room on Level E of the Hugh Owen Library was renamed the Iris de Freitas room. But who was Iris de Freitas and why was the room named after her?

Our story starts with two emails, both received on April 21st 2015. One from Helen Palmer, the Ceredigion County Archivist and the second from Dr Eva De Visscher, from the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), following a Facebook post from an alumni. Received less than two hours apart, these emails told of a postcard that had been spotted on a popular online auction website. It was a postcard with a photographic portrait of a young black woman. On the reverse there was a handwritten note which read “With love and in memory of an enjoyable session, Iris 1922-23”. The only other information on the card was the name and address of the photographer, one H.H. Davies of Pier Street in Aberystwyth.

De Freitas_Iris

This young woman turned out to be Iris de Freitas, not only the Vice-President of the Students’ Representative Council and the President of the Women’s Sectional Council but a woman who became the first female lawyer in the Caribbean.

Yet on the day that we bought that postcard (without even having to dip into DARO’s newly-established Archives Acquisition Fund) we knew none of this. Our research would follow Iris from British Guiana and back to the Caribbean via Toronto and Aberystwyth, teasing out information, piece by piece, from that lone sentence on the back of a 94-year old postcard.

But how did we begin to piece the story together? It started with the robes. The robes that the young woman in the picture was wearing, and particularly the crest on the ‘scarf’, are distinctive and marked her out as a possible President of a society, the Joint Debates Union (a fact spotted by one of our eagle-eyed former students who posted the picture on the University’s Alumni Facebook page).

Luck was also on our side in that the inscription on the back of the postcard was dated. This allowed us to examine the University’s collections to help determine who the young woman in the photograph was.

Our first port of call was The Dragon, The Magazine of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. In Volume XLV from November 1922 we spotted not only a picture of Iris but the very same picture that was on the postcard. But it was the caption under the photograph that gave us our first proof as to her identity. It reads: “Miss Iris De Freitas B.A. Vice-President S.R.C.” So not the Literary and Debating Society or Joint Debates Union, as first thought, but certainly presidential!

Once we had confirmed that she was a student, we hoped that a student record card would be held in the University archive. Again our luck held. Student record card No. 8004 shows us that Iris De Freitas of 1 Lombard Street, Georgetown, Demerara, enrolled at Aberystwyth in 1919 to study the Arts. We made an educated guess that if she studied here in Aberystwyth then it was likely that she would have lived here too. Once again, the archive did not let us down. Her application for accommodation in Alexandra Hall revealed more information about her. Iris was born on the 29th October 1896 and her father was M. G. de Freitas, a Merchant in British Guiana. Yet the most intriguing item on her accommodation application was that the last school she attended was the University of Toronto, which she left on the 5th December 1918.

de Freitas_hall entrance form

The University of Toronto were able to provide us with some basic information about her time there. She arrived in September of 1918 and withdrew in December of the same year, arriving in Aberystwyth, as we have seen, in the first month of 1919. Her reasons for going to Toronto and subsequently leaving after only three months, remain, for the moment, a mystery.

Pleased though we were with what we found out about Iris and her University career, it is her activities subsequent to her time here at Aberystwyth that really excited us. Thanks to the work of Joan Brathwaite and her book Women and the Law, which includes a section on “Some Firsts for Women in the Law”, we know that on the 18th September 1929 Iris was admitted as the first woman to practice law in the Caribbean. Not only that, but research conducted by Drs. Susan and Brian Davies using a variety of online sources revealed, among other things, that Iris was the first female prosecutor of a murder trial in the Caribbean, and that she had followed her brother, Stanley, into the legal profession.

Obviously we were delighted with these findings and this led to the decision to honour Iris by naming a room in the Hugh Owen Library after her. We hope, though, that Iris’s story does not end there. We have little information on her life and career from 1929 to her death in 1989 but recent contact with various members of the extended de Freitas family is already proving to be a fruitful avenue for further information on one of our most ground-breaking and distinguished alumna.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Work Continues on the Flora Collection

British Flowering Plants Title Page

We have recently catalogued a lavishly illustrated four-volume, limited edition, of British Flowering Plants. The book contains 300 full-page coloured plates reproduced from drawings by Mrs. Henry Perrin (Ida Southwell Robins Perrin). Pictured here, and, we hope, giving some indication of how accomplished and attractive the drawings are, is The Common Yew.

The Common Yew


British Flowering Plants Edition Statement


The plates are accompanied by an Introduction and extensive descriptive notes by Professor George Simonds Boulger, F.L.S. Published by august bookselling firm, Bernard Quaritch, in 1914, this set is number 526 of an edition limited to 1000 copies and remains in its original white buckram binding. Formerly belonging to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, details of this beautiful set of books can be found here.


Buchanan Title Page

From the other side of the world, and at the other end of the spectrum in terms of condition, comes The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand illustrated by John Buchanan, F.L.S. Although the initial extent of the work was to be five parts, this title was finally completed in six parts contained within three volumes. It was published in Wellington, New Zealand, between 1878 and 1880. Gutta percha bindings are prone to perishing and this one, unfortunately, is no exception. We collated the book and happily all of the 64 leaves of plates are present and intact (if now loose from their binding!).

Buchanan Image

These three fragile folio volumes are now housed in, what I would guess is, a relatively contemporaneous and wonderfully entitled “Instantaneous Binder”. This too is now showing significant signs of wear. This copy was formerly in the possession of the Imperial Bureau of Plant Genetics and details and can be found in the library catalogue here.

Buchanan Instantenous Binding

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Son of a preacher man, Thomas Charles Edwards, first Principal of University College of Wales, Aberystwyth

As an AberForward trainee, I have been tasked with conducting research into the university’s Institutional Archive, a collection of papers and photographs dating from as far back as 1824. One example of the resources contained in the Institutional Archive is the collection of correspondencePicture - T. C. Edwards - 1 from the first two Principals of the College. For the past week, I have been reading through the letters of the first Principal, which provide an insight into events in the College’s early years, from the point of view of the man in charge.

That man was Thomas Charles Edwards, a Calvinistic Methodist minister and preacher who in 1872 was elected the first Principal of Aberystwyth College, the first University College in Wales. The College had a shaky start, facing many trials in the decades following its foundation, and Edwards’ personal responses to these can be traced through his correspondence from that period.

One striking example can be found in a letter dated 30th of June, 1883, which hints that the very survival of the college may be in doubt. T. C. Edwards shows his resolve to push on “as if it [the college] were destined to survive its present difficulties.”

Letter - 30 June, 1883 - extract 1At this time, student morale was at an all-time low with some inclined to go to Liverpool or Owen’s college (Manchester), believing that those who remained in Aberystwyth would “languish and die slowly.” Understandably, most of the Principal’s letter concerns the question of how best to convince the students, and the rest of the country, that this was not the case.

Letter - 30 June, 1883 - extract 2

Letter - 30 June, 1883 - extract 3

Surprisingly, despite his steadfastness in rallying the College during these hard times, the Principal himself was considered one of the greatest causes of difficulty for the institution. This was apparently due to the demands placed on his time by his commitment to preaching. Again, we can get a sense of Edwards’ personal feelings on this matter in the correspondence, from a letter he wrote on the 10th of October, 1884. From reading the letter, it is clear that, at that time, the Principal felt inclined, albeit reluctantly, to offer his resignation to the College Council. One member of the Council was pushing to have ministers excluded from occupying the post of Principal and the Cambrian News had even published an article on the subject, claiming that his preaching had been the greatest difficulty that the College had had to contend with. However, in the event, we know that the Principal was not forced to resign on this occasion and went on to hold the post of Principal until 1891 when he resigned voluntarily, partly for health reasons and partly to follow in his father’s footsteps as head of Bala theological College.Letter - 10 Oct, 1884 - extract 1

Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Archives

Never Judge a Book By Its Covers!

Whilst cataloguing books from the Old College Library we came upon a couple of pamphlets which, as you can see from the pictures below, might not have warranted a second glance. Stained, frayed at the edges, and faded by the years, they could have easily been overlooked. Appearances can be deceptive though, and a closer inspection of these two fragile books revealed their true worth.

Uncle TomIt would appear that they are one of the two earliest translations into Welsh of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This abridged translation by Y Lefiad (a pseudonym of William Williams) was published in Abertawy in 1853 just one year after the very first printing in Boston.  They are scarce items and from our preliminary research we have only been able to locate one other copy and that is just of Volume Two.
These are rare and important works then. They may be a little frayed around the edges but as Shakespeare reminds us in The Merchant of Venice, “not all that glisters is gold”, and their worth is reflected by the fact that they are now housed safely in the Rare Book Room of the Hugh Owen Library.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Library, Rare Books

Thomas Gywnn Jones 1871-1949

We have recently catalogued a small collection of Irish-Gaelic books that were donated to the University by T. Gwynn Jones, a former member of the Welsh Department at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and holder of the Gregynog Chair of Welsh Literature from 1919 until his retirement in 1937. The collection reflects Jones’s interest in Celtic languages and his long-standing affinity with Ireland, cemented by three visits there in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

There were some really interesting finds amongst the collection including this 1922 edition of what we understand to be the first (partial) translation of Don Quixote into any Celtic language by Peadar Ua Laoghaire (Peter O’Leary).

Don Quixote T.G.J.

Also in the collection is a signed 1943 edition of: Danta eagsamla agus beanla cunta onta ag Dubglas de h-ide (Miscellaneous poems translated into English by Douglas Hyde). Hyde was the first President of Ireland, serving between 1938 and 1945 and there are a number of his books in the collection.
Other titles from the T. Gwynn Jones collection include:

Oċt sgéalta ó Ċoillte Máġaċ. An Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn; do scríoḃ ó ḃéal Tomáis Uí Ċaṫasaiġ.

Aḃráin ġráḋa ċúige Ċonnaċt / ar n-a gcruinniuġaḋ agus ar n-a ḃfoillsiuġaḋ de’n ċéad uair le Duḃglas De h-Íde (an Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn) ; ar n-a gcur amaċ anois arís agus tuilleaḋ aḃrán leó.

An gráḋ agus an ġruaim / Seosaṁ mac Grianna do scríoḃ.

Sgealta a fili na Romha

T.G.J. SignatureFurther titles from the collection can be found by searching for T. Gwynn Jones in Primo and looking for: T Jones (Thomas Gwynn), 1871-1949 former owner, in the listings. Look out for his signature in the books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Library, Rare Books

The Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Y Wladfa, Patagonia


On 28th May 1865 the Mimosa, with 153 Welsh people on board, sailed from Liverpool for Argentina, arriving at the Nueva Bay, where Puerto Madryn is today, on 28th July. Puerto Madryn had been named after the home of Love Jones-Parry from Pen Llŷn who had travelled with Lewis Jones to Patagonia in 1862 to assess the suitability of the land for a settlement. Following a favourable report (far too favourable a report according to some) by Lewis Jones a number of Welsh people had been persuaded to settle there. This was a part of the large migration from Wales during the nineteenth century when thousands left the country in an attempt to escape poverty, oppressive landlords and obtain freedom of worship.

After overcoming their initial disappointment with the quality of the land, the families endeavoured to settle in their new country, and through hard work establishing a network of irrigation canals, they succeeded in transforming a barren country into productive land. The good relationships that had existed from the beginning between the Welsh and the native Tehuelche Indians had also been vital to their success.

The settlers quickly established townships in the country: Rawson (1865), Trelew (1871), Gaiman (1875) and Dolavon (1880), and by the mid 1880s the majority of the land of the Chubut Valley had been irrigated and was producing wheat of the finest quality that won gold medals at international exhibitions in Paris and Chicago.

In 1885 the settlers wanted to move further west and establish stronger settlements inland and were granted permission by the Argentinian government to explore the land towards the Andes. In November the group, or Rifleros as they were called, reached a fertile area which they named Cwm Hyfryd (Pleasant Valley). On 16th October 1888 the region was officially established, and as the population grew, so did the towns of Esquel and Trevelin. (See map)

The period of large migration from Wales had come to an end by 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, but by that time it has been estimated that nearly 2,500 Welsh people had settled there and that about 4,000 people of Welsh descent were living in Chubut.

Shortly after their arrival in 1865 the first settlers had sworn allegiance to Argentina, and despite maintaining a close relationship with Wales, many now considered themselves to be Argentinians. But despite this they were determined to preserve the Welsh language along with other traditions that they had brought with them from Wales. Much of their social life centred around the chapels that had been built in the towns as well as the rural areas, and many of the eisteddfodau that they had established in the Chubut Valley, Puerto Madryn and the Andes remain popular to this day, with special emphasis on Eisteddfod yr Ifanc (the Young People’s Eisteddfod) which is held in September, and Eisteddfod y Wladfa which is held in Trelew on the last weekend in October.

Between the 1920s and 1960s contact between Wales and Patagonia had waned, with the Second World War an important factor, but the centenary celebrations of 1965 rekindled interest between the two countries with an increase in the number of people from Wales visiting Y Wladfa and a number coming from Patagonia to Wales in search of their roots. In 1997, under the leadership of Robert Owen Jones, a programme of teaching Welsh was implemented that enabled teachers from Wales to teach in some of the schools in Chubut.

This year’s 150th anniversary of the first settlement is another opportunity to bring the two countries together to celebrate the relationship and connections that remain as strong as ever. But it isn’t only those who have links with Wales and Patagonia that have become interested in the settlement’s history.

Bruno DerrickBruno Derrick was a student in the Department of History and Welsh History, at Aberystwyth University between 1982 and 1985. In 1987 he joined The National Archives, initially at Chancery Lane before moving to Kew in 1993. He worked in a number of departments, including Record Copying and E-Access and as a Reader Adviser in Advice & Records Knowledge, before becoming Records Specialist, Maritime and Transport. As part of his work Bruno was invited by the Welsh community in Chubut to attend two International Conferences in 2004 and 2006 on the Settlement of Patagonia (you can hear his 2010 address, Bara brith on the Pampas – the Welsh in Patagonia, on the National Archives website). Bruno Derrick died suddenly in December 2012 and his family has donated his collection of material on Patagonia to the Hugh Owen Library in his memory, and apart from the Welsh language books all the items in the current display on Level D of the Hugh Owen Library are from that donation.

Information regarding The National Archives’ display commemorating the Welsh settlement in Patagonia may be seen on their blog:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Felix Mendelssohn

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born in Hamburg 1809, became one of the most influential composers and conductors of the early Romantic period. A talented pianist and organist he is also regarded by some as one of the most brilliant and skilled composers of classical music. Some critics go so far as to name him the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mendelssohn appeared destined for a fascinating career from an extremely early age, being recognised by tutors and parents alike as a musical prodigy. His composing and pianist skills quickly grew and he began to achieve great acclaim across Germany. This in turn ignited a spark and revived the work of other composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the English miniaturist James Warren Childe (1778–1862), 1839.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the English miniaturist James Warren Childe (1778–1862), 1839.

Mendelssohn’s fame was not however confined to the people of Germany, as many of his major works such as the Scottish Symphony and the overture The Hebrides debuted in Britain, which he visited ten times during his life. The 1830s and early 1840s heralded years of increasing popularity for Mendelssohn. In 1842 he even performed private concerts for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who both greatly admired his work. The following year he founded one of the most prestigious music institutions in Germany – the Leipzig Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig). His work included numerous symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano and chamber music, most notably of which, his Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His Songs Without Words are regarded as his most famous solo piano compositions.

Mendelssohn’s final years of life were sadly ones of great tragedy. Between 1835 and 1847 the loss of his father, mother and sister generated a tremendously depressive state of mind which saw his health deteriorate rapidly. He passed away later in 1847. It is widely believed that the height of his success had yet to be achieved, with events of his later life labelling him ‘the tortured artist’.

 His Letters

Through the generosity and kind donations of Sir Hugh Owen and George Powell, Aberystwyth University now owns a selection of letters and scores, composed by Mendelssohn himself. The letters span from 1832 – 1847, covering a large portion of his life, and have given birth to new and previously unknown information concerning several features of his activities and career.

Mendelssohn letter No. 1 - entailing social engagements in Paris (1832).

Mendelssohn letter No. 1 – entailing social engagements in Paris (1832).

The university holds seventeen letters in total, which had been written to a variety of correspondents. Social engagements, concert life, his own creative work, as well as requests and recommendations, are but some of the areas discussed. In 2014 the letters underwent a restoration thanks to a generous grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and CyMAL. This in turn has enabled accessibility for future generations to study and research.


Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Archives

Professor Hermann Ethé

As we noted in this blog on 11 December 2013, material from the Hugh Owen Archives and Special Collections were digitised last year and included in the Welsh Experience of the First World War project based at the National Library of Wales: This year we shall be adding to our Special Collections website articles that place these materials in their historical context.


Ethé (on the left with beard) with other members of staff of the University College of Wales Aberystwyth.

The first article concerning Professor Hermann Ethé, Professor of Oriental Languages at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth at the start of the First World War, and the local campaign to have him removed from the University, is now on the Special Collections pages:

We are very grateful to Christopher T. Husbands, Emeritus Reader at the London School of Economics and Political Sociology, for allowing us to reproduce the Hermann Ethé section from his much larger study, German-/Austrian-origin Professors of German in British universities during the First World War: the lessons of four case studies.

Hermann Ethe plaque

Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Archives, First World War

Iceland’s Grey Goose Laws


Title page of the 1829 publication

The ‘Grágás’ is the name given to a collection of laws dating from the Icelandic Commonwealth period (between 980 and 1262).  These were originally oral laws, a third of which would be recited at each annual meeting of the Alþingi – the Iceland national parliament – over a three year period.  In 1117 were they written down,  but by the Middle Ages they still only existed in two (sometimes contradictory) manuscript fragments.  The laws of the Icelandic Commonwealth were being described as the ‘Grey Goose Laws’  by the 16th century – possibly because the original manuscripts were written with goose-feather quills or bound in goose skin.

The complete laws can be categorised into six main sections:

  • Christian Laws
  • Assembly Procedures
  • Treatment of Homicide
  • The Wergild Ring List
  • The Lawspeaker’s Section
  • The Law Council Section

At Aberystwyth we have an early complete volume of the Grágás laws, published (not on anything goose-related) in 1829 with an introduction and notes by the Danish lawyer and academic J.F.W. Schlegel (1765-1836).  Schlegel was a professor of jurisprudence at Copenhagen University from 1800, and was the first person in Denmark to study and then teach the philosophy of Kant (in relation to natural law).

This volume also includes a bookplate that tells us a little about its provenance:




This tells us that the volume was previously in the private library of Friedrich August Ferdinand Breymann (1798-1863), Supreme Court Judge of Wolfenbüttel in Germany.  When he died, this volume, along with over 4700 others, were bequeathed to the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel.



Frontispiece of the 1829 publication.


Leave a comment

Filed under Aberystwyth University, Rare Books