Category Archives: Archives

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

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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.

 

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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: http://cymru1914.org/. This year we shall be adding to our Special Collections website articles that place these materials in their historical context.

hermann-ethe-pic

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: http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/collections/special-collections/ww1/.

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

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Information Services Advent Calendar

December saw the launch of the Information Services Advent calendar. For each day until the 24th of December we revealed an image from our special collections and University’s archive material, some of which had a Christmas theme! The calendar highlighted our vast range of collections such as A book of Christmas carols with illustrations published in 1846:

Image from  A book of Christmas carols, illuminated from ancient manuscripts in the British Museum published by Joseph Cundall of London, c. 1846. Held by Information Services in the Appleton Collection. http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/collections/appleton

Held by Information Services in the Appleton Collection. http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/collections/appleton

and old photos from 1907 of Shakespearian dramatics at the Christmas college play:Shakespearian dramatics

This was a new venture for us, and we’re pleased with the result and feedback we’ve received about the calendar. Please share your thoughts too if you wish. You can view the complete calendar here: http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/collections/special-collections/advent/

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Launch of the Welsh experience of the First World War digital archive

On Thursday 28 November the digital archive, The Welsh Experience of the First World War, was launched at The College Merthyr Tydfil by John Griffiths AM, Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport and Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government Minister for Education and Skills.

The Welsh Experience of the First World War was developed as a collaborative initiative led by The National Library of Wales, in partnership with the Archives and Special Collections of Aberystwyth University; Bangor University; Cardiff University; Swansea University; the University of Wales Trinity St David; BBC Cymru Wales, The People’s Collection, Wales, and archives and local records offices that are part of ARCW, and the Archives and Records Council of Wales. The project was funded by a grant from the Jisc e-Content programme as part of their work in support of education and research, and through support from the partner organisations.

Elgan Davies (Aberystwyth University), Elizabeth Bennett (Swansea University), Sian Williams (South Wales Miners' Library) and Professor Lorna Hughes (National Library of Wales)

Elgan Davies (Aberystwyth University), Elizabeth Bennett (Swansea University), Sian Williams (South Wales Miners’ Library) and Professor Lorna Hughes (National Library of Wales)

As part of the launch Dr Paul O’Leary of the Department of History and Welsh History, Aberystwyth University, spoke of how he had used the resource to prepare an online exhibition, ‘The First World War and the Industrial Valleys’. Dr O’Leary has said, “It would have taken many years in the archives to find these resources and bring them together in a way that demonstrates the impact of the First World War on south Wales. Having the digital archive freely available will be of tremendous benefit for research and teaching”.

Dr Paul O’Leary (Department of History and Welsh History, Aberystwyth University)

Dr Paul O’Leary (Department of History and Welsh History, Aberystwyth University)

Material from the Hugh Owen Archives and Special Collections that have been digitised includes The Dragon (1914-1918); Y Wawr (1913-1917); the Ifor Leslie Evans papers; In Ruhleben Camp; material relating to Professor Hermann Ethé; and photographs of military training and lists of casualties and honours.

During 2014 we intend placing on our Special Collections website articles that place these materials in their historical context.

http://cymru1914.org/

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