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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.


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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.


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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

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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:

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William Dowsing

A recent library discovery is a copy of Richard Rogers’ Commentary upon the Whole Book of Judges (1615) which was extensively indexed and annotated by the Civil War iconoclast William Dowsing (1596 – 1668).   A devout Puritan, land-owning farmer, and soldier, he had his own library of religious texts – his earliest recorded book purchases were some illegal separatist works printed in the Netherlands and smuggled into England.

In March 1643, at the beginning of the Civil War, Dowsing wrote an angry letter to a local Puritan preacher complaining about the “blasphemous crucifixes, all superstitious pictures and reliques of popery” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – ODNB) he saw around the town and university of Cambridge. Opinions like this must have brought him into favour with the authorities at the time, as he had been appointed Provost-Marshall of the Parliamentary armies in the east of England.

Dowsing was directed by his superior, the Earl of Manchester, to act as ‘Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition’.  In the role he proceeded to carry out a Parliamentary ordinance recorded in the Journal of the House of Commons from 26th August 1643, “concerning the taking away of all superstitious and idolatrous Monuments out of all Collegiate, Cathedral Churches, and other Parish Churches and Chapels”.

He took this undertaking seriously – he and his deputies (all of whom were his own neighbours or relatives) visited the chapels of all sixteen Cambridge colleges, and recorded visits to eighty-two other parishes in Cambridgeshire.  They also visited over 147 parishes in Suffolk.

On these visits they concentrated on levelling chancels, removing altar rails, removing inscriptions on tombs or in glass, and breaking “all representations in glass, wood, or stone of the persons of the Trinity or of the heavenly host” (ODNB).  Later they moved on to organs as well.  He made recordings of most of the actions in a journal (available to read online), including this entry from Peterhouse College chapel, Cambridge:

“1. Peter-House. We went to Peter-house, 1643, December 21, with officers and soldiers, and in the presence of Mr. Hanscott, Mr. Wilson, the President Mr. Francis, Mr. Maxey, and other Fellows, Dec. 20, and 23.  We pulled down two mighty great angells, with wings, and divers other angells, and the 4 Evangelists, and Peter, with his keies on the chappell door and about a hundred chirubims and angells, and divers superstitious letters in gold.”

and the entry for the parish church in Madingley, Cambridgeshire:

“133. March 6 …There was 31 pictures superstitious, and Christ on the cross and two thieves by him, and Christ and the Virgin Mary in another window, a Christ in the steeple window. Ordered the steps to be levelled and 14 cherubim in wood to be taken down…”

Dowsing spent many hours reading and indexing Rogers’ book – 2 hours a night over two months and 16 pages every evening. One annotation on the evils of long hair notes that Judge Popham at Bury Assizes in the late 16th century ordered a member of the Grand Jury to have his hair shorn, since it was a disgrace to Queen Elizabeth!



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Alumni display

Lotus of Hindostan, from Illustrations to Oriental Memoirs by James Forbes,1835.

Over the past century Aberystwyth University has been fortunate to receive a number of important bequests from various sources which have served both to enrich the library collection and to support teaching and scholarship. In the earliest years George Powell of Nanteos gave and bequeathed many books, manuscripts and objets d’art to the College between 1879 and 1882. These items formed the core of the original library and include several rare treasures such as the Warburton edition of Shakespeare, published in 1747, which was used by Samuel Johnson in the preparation of his English Dictionary.

Sir John Rhys collection book plate

Sir John Rhys, first Professor of Welsh at Oxford, left his collection of some 2000 books to us when he died back in 1915 and these items are recognisable by their very distinctive coloured book plates.

The display for the Alumni concentrates on two more recent bequests to the University. John Challinor was on the staff of the Geology Department from 1919, retiring as a Senior Lecturer in 1960. He died in August 1990 at the age of 95 and bequeathed his extensive collection of books relating to geology, botany and topography to the University. There are many valuable books published during the 18th and 19thcenturies, a large proportion are of antiquarian interest and many are key works in the history of geology.

Organic Remains of a Former World by James Parkinson, London, 1804.

Professor Fergus Johnston was on the staff of the History Department from 1934 until his retirement in 1967. He donated some 1500 books relating to history and military studies to the library back in 1986 and the remainder of his collection was passed to us by his widow after his death in 1991. The collection is particularly strong in military affairs from the 19thcentury, including the Napoleonic Wars. Many of these items are now much sought after by book collectors and command extremely high prices.

Pallas Armata : Military Essayes of the Ancient Grecian, Roman, and Modern Art of War. Written in the Years 1670 and 1671 by Sir James Turner.


Bill Hines – Information Services

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by | August 2, 2012 · 3:40 pm

New Displays for July

Hugh Owen Library

On Level D – New rare books display celebrating the work of the Royal Society

Come and see our new display of rare and early works from the Royal Society on Level D, Hugh Owen Library.

These rare jewels of early materials include works by Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and John Evelyn and a splendid illustrated volume by Nehemiah Grew on the early collections of artefacts built up by the Society.

The Royal Society received its Charter from Charles II in the summer of 1662 so we are celebrating 350 years of the Society.

Come along and view our unique collection!

On Level F – The Powell Music Archive – Come and view some of our most interesting manuscripts

The Hugh Owen Library is offering a unique opportunity to view some of the most interesting manuscripts from the George Powell Music Collection.

Two manuscripts and one printed item from this collection are on display on Level F in the Hugh Owen Library:

O Spiritual Pilgrim by Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934)

Trio Sonata Op.2, no.3 by Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713)

Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

The Music Collection itself consists of over three hundred volumes of printed music, together with working scores and manuscript copy letters, including letters from Beethoven, Mozart and Mozart’s widow Constanze. The collection is currently being catalogued in the Hugh Owen Library.

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New Library Displays

Hugh Owen Library

On Level D – Nicolas de Fer – A Royal Cartographer

Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720) was one of the great map makers of the late 17th century, proclaimed as Geographer of the King of Spain and the Dauphin. The Library is fortunate to own a large part of his key work – Les Forces d’Europe, which was originally published between 1690 and 1695 and then reissued in 1705. The full work included maps of fortified towns in France, the Low Countries, Germany and around the Mediterranean along with some views. The maps in our collection were acquired by Professor Rudler and later bequeathed to the Library.


On Level F – The Death of a Prime Minister

On 11 May 1812 the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons. On display are some contemporary accounts of the event and the  subsequent trial of his killer John Bellingham, drawn from the Annual Register and Gentleman’s Magazine for 1812.

Thomas Parry Library

Two Literary Anniversaries

1812 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Joanna Baillie, the Scottish poet and dramatist, who died in 1851. On display we have an early edition of her complete works, published in 1853, and an original letter from our archives.

The poet Robert Browning was born on 7 May 1812 and died on 12 December 1889. On display are some early works by him and also a volume of poems presented to him by Sir John Hanmer, a Victorian politician who represented Shrewsbury and then Flintshire for many years.

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by | May 23, 2012 · 1:25 pm

Exhibitions in January

Aberystwyth – The Great Storm 1938

(the storm 1938 january 2012)

On Level D of Hugh Owen Library

The Storm

In January and February 1938 Aberystwyth was hit by storms which caused significant damage to the Promenade, Pier and University Halls of Residence. This display shows some of the press reports and correspondence relating to events at Alexandra Hall and elsewhere.

Exhibition to mark the bicentenary of Dickens birth in 2012


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

(dickens january 2012)

On Level F of the Hugh Owen Library

Come and take a look at a display of books by and about Charles Dickens to mark the bicentenary of his birth in the Hugh Owen Library.

Aberystwyth University Library holds a number of early copies of novels by Dickens along with the first volume of “All The Year Round” from 1859, including the initial serialisation of “A Tale of Two Cities”. Also on display are George Powell’s copy of the collected letters published by Chapman and Hall in 1880 and Camden Hotten’s 1870 biography.

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December’s Displays

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

A display of books and material by W. M. Thackeray to mark the bicentenary of his birth. Aberystwyth University Library holds a number of early editions of works written by Thackeray and we are also fortunate to own a couple of original objects relating to Thackeray which came as part of the Powell Bequest. There is a copy of an atlas owned by Thackeray while he was at Charterhouse School in 1827, sadly without annotations unlike some of his other school books, and also a later sketch of Cupid along with a short verse. It is unclear how Powell acquired these items, but presumably they came through purchase. “Novels by eminent hands” is from the Brinkley Collection. The Vanity Fair cover displayed here is a facsimile. John Camden Hotten, the notorious publisher, wrote and produced a biography of Thackeray within a few months of his death. The other works on display show Thackeray’s talent as an illustrator.

Polar Exploration

Polar Exploration

A display of books relating to Antarctic exploration in the early part of the 20th century to mark the centenary of the first arrivals at the Pole by Amundsen and Scott in December 1911 and January 1912. Also on display are first editions of books relating to Shackleton’s journeys to the area. The Library holds some parts of the official report of the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition, including the volume by Lyons illustrated here, with a description of blubber stoves, lengthy lists of supplies and a line drawing of the Terra Nova. The photographic work of Herbert Ponting for the expedition was particularly noteworthy. Although Scott was beaten to the Pole by Amundsen and all members of his immediate party perished during the return journey the expedition is still regarded as a classic example of endeavour and spawned some wonderful writing including Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “Worst journey in the world”. Although Shackleton failed to reach the South Pole, his Antarctic Expedition of 1907-9 in the Nimrod earned him a knighthood and is commemorated in “The heart of the Antarctic” shown here . The Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 was a disaster but is still remembered for Shackleton’s heroic rescue of his stranded party from Elephant Island via South Georgia.   Shackleton subsequently wrote about the expedition in “South” published by Heinemann in 1919.

Many thanks to Bill Hines for providing description and text for this blog.

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