Blog posts by year and month February 2012

Posts (78)

  1. The Story of Wales features a number of historic sites in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service. As part of the celebrations to mark the transmission of the series, all Cadw directly managed sites will be included in the free entry programme on St David's Day,...

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  2. The people of Wales have always been proud of their history. Long ago that history would have been recorded and passed down - normally in an oral and poetic manner - by the bards and storytellers of the nation. In more modern times it has been the duty of professional historians to write and tell the history of Wales. Historian John Davies Wales has been lucky in that over the years there have been dozens of highly gifted and capable historians, people only too ready to record their views of the nation's past. Many have been academics, some have been professional writers, some what can be euphemistically and best termed 'peoples historians'. The one thing they all have in common is the ability to tell a damned good story - and working to Rudyard Kipling's old adage that history would be a lot better remembered if it could be told through the medium of good stories, that is a crucial element. Any look, no matter how brief, at the historians of Wales has to begin with JE Lloyd. Born in 1861 and from 1899 professor of history at Bangor University, his finest work was surely A History Of Wales From The Earliest Times To The Edwardian Conquest. The book was the first comprehensive study of medieval Wales and Lloyd went on to produce another masterpiece on the life of Owain Glyndwr. He also worked as consultant editor on The Dictionary Of Welsh Biography. The other name that immediately springs to mind when considering Welsh historians is the redoubtable Gwyn Alf Williams. Born at Dowlais in 1925, he lectured at Aberystwyth and Cardiff before, in 1985, becoming a television writer and presenter. He wrote numerous books on topics such as the Merthyr rising and, in 1985, a work that was probably his best, When Was Wales? A Marxist who, in later life, joined Plaid Cymru, Gwyn Alf was fired by a huge passion for his native land. He loved the dramatic moments, both in his writing and in his TV presentations. He will always be remembered for his part in co-presenting, with Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, the series The Dragon Has Two Tongues, a powerful and dramatic statement about Wales and its past. Gwyn Alf Williams died in 1985. There are so many other historians of note. Two women historians who, over the years have produced a whole string of well-researched and informative texts, are Catrin Stevens and Deirdre Beddoe. Stevens' Welsh Courting Customs is a classic of its kind and is still in print nearly 20 years after publication. Deirdre Beddoe has written extensively about womens history, producing works such as Discovering Women's History and finding time to edit books such as Parachutes And Petticoats, a compilation of womens remembrances of life during World War.Two. John Davies is probably the premier Welsh historian working and writing today. After studying at Oxford, he taught at Aberystwyth before retiring to Cardiff. He was commissioned to write The History Of Wales by Penguin and was pleasantly surprised when he found that the book would be published in both English and Welsh. It was, for many years, the standard history of the country, with a revised edition produced in 2007. Dai Smith, currently chair of the Arts Council of Wales, is another historian of note. Born in the Rhondda, he was professor in the history of Wales at Cardiff before moving into the media and becoming editor of BBC Radio Wales and head of English language programmes. Over the years he has produced numerous detailed and well-written studies of various aspects of Welsh life, including The Fed, a history of the South Wales Miners' Union. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas Current historians and writers are many and varied. They include people such as Stephanie Ward, Chris Williams and HV Bowen. Gomer Press recently published A New History Of Wales, edited by Bowen and featuring the views of many of the historians quoted here. They were originally published as a series of articles in the Western Mail and offer a new and, in many cases, different view of Wales - which is exactly what you would expect from some of the country's finest historians. The public face of history, however, often rests on the presenters of any particular programme rather than the research brains behind it. People like Gwyn Alf Williams, who can write and present, are few and far between. And the Welsh have not been backward in providing good quality presenters who can catch and hold the nation's interest. Perhaps Wynford Vaughan-Thomas was at the forefront of the move to popularize Welsh history but he has been followed by many fine TV and radio presenters. Huw Edwards and John Humphrys are possibly the best known public faces. They are men who are interested in the history of their nation and are happy to pass on that interest to the general public. There are undoubtedly many more fine historians of note and people will probably take exception to those quoted above. "What about...?" they will say. Good. Any discussion of the men and women who have made our history fascinating and compelling can only be for the good of the nation and the subject. Read Huw Edwards' article explaining why he wanted to be involved with the new BBC Wales history series The Story of Wales. The Story of Wales continues on Thursday 1 March at 9pm on BBC One Wales. If you missed the first episode you can watch it on the BBC iPlayer. Let us know your thoughts on The Story of Wales. Join our BBC Wales History Twitter group, visit our Story of Wales Facebook page or simply leave a comment below. Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login. Need some assistance? Read about BBC iD, or get some help with registering.

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  3. This Sunday's episode of BBC Radio 4's Poetry Workshop was recorded at Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre, and features a number of local Welsh poets. The radio series Poetry Workshop explores the pleasures of both writing and reading poems. In each episode poet Ruth Padel leads a workshop with a g...

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  4. As you will all know, Thursday 1 March is St David's Day, and we shall be celebrating with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' annual St David's Day Concert at St David's Hall. There were a lot of saints in that sentence. Both my bachelors and masters papers were on the work of the composer and violist Rebecca Clarke, and so I was pleased to see that our programme for this concert has a decidedly feminine edge. Indeed, it is quite a celebration of Welsh women with music by composers Grace Williams and Morfydd Owen, and performances by the lovely Catrin Finch (who, may I add, always has fabulous handbags and concert clothes) and Cardiff born soprano, Rosemary Joshua. I always find it inspiring to read about women who made their way in the musical world in the days when its 'old boys club' nature was not questioned and it would appear that Wales produced more than its fair share of these trailblazing for the sisterhood ladies! Morfydd Owen was not a name I was familiar with, so I went for a little nosy online to see what I could find out (and no, I didn't use Wikipedia). Morfydd was something of a pianistic wunderkind, before turning her attentions to composition. She was a student at Cardiff University before continuing her studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London, where she later became a member of staff. Unfortunately, she died tragically young (not even 30) and so perhaps she never got to fulfill her potential entirely. She was also exceptionally beautiful! I'm looking forward to discovering her work Threnody On The Passing Of Branwen; you never know what an unknown work will bring and this work is laden with medieval story overtones - I love a good story. I rather like the work by Williams that we will play - her Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes. We've played it quite a number of times before and it's light and fun. I would very much like to hear some of her song settings with orchestra someday though. I've played the Concierto de Aranjuez many times (or the Orange Juice Concerto - go on say Aranjuez in your best accent, it definitely sounds a bit like orange juice), but never with harp solo. I really liked Catrin's recording of the Goldberg Variations though, another work definitely not for harp, so I'm convinced this will work too! My native Ireland may be the land of saints and scholars, but Wales is most definitely the land of song, and rounding off the concert will be a rousing rendition of favourite Welsh songs and hymns. Led by the voices of a mass primary schools choir it should be a fitting celebration for this saint's day. Additionally, with the Triple Crown sitting all shiny in the trophy cabinet, you all have extra reasons for singing doubly loud this St David's Day...not that I'm bitter about the rugby at all! For further information about the Orchestra's St David's Day gala concert, or to book tickets, call the St David's Hall Box Office on 029 2087 8444.

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  5. The science and art of the National Botanic Garden of Wales are taking centre stage in China at the Wales Week celebrations. An exhibition at Nanshan Botanic Garden in Chongqing - entitled 'Barcode Wales: Beyond the Visible' features images and artwork illustrating the project to DNA barcod...

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  6. Escape Into The Park, Wales' biggest dance festival and one of the biggest in the UK, won't take place in 2012, it has been announced. DJ playing Escape Into The Park Organisers of Escape, which is held annually in Swansea's Singleton Park, have said that their reasoning has been dict...

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  7. Whatever the weather any time between now and 31 March will be good for sowing the seeds of inspiration in Natur Cymru's nature writing competition. Up for grabs this year are over £1,000 of prizes including a place on the nature writing course at Tŷ Newydd (Lloyd George's old home) and £500 ...

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  8. We were blessed with some lovely weather over the weekend with plenty of sunshine and spring-like temperatures. Yesterday St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan recorded nearly 9 hours of sunshine! While in Hawarden, Flintshire the temperature exceeded 13 Celsius, which is more like April than F...

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  9. Huw Edwards spoke to BBC Wales History about why he wanted to be involved in the new history series, The Story of Wales, which starts tonight at 9pm on BBC One Wales. When BBC Wales suggested my name for this series, it really was a dream come true. No self-respecting Welsh broadcaster woul...

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  10. It used to be the best kept secret beach in Wales, but after visiting Barafundle at the weekend, it seems that the secret is out. Some years ago, the Welsh Tourist Board used a picture of Barafundle with its deserted golden sands, sweeping coastline and sparkling blue sea as part of its campaign to lure visitors to Wales. I can remember seeing a poster greeting arriving passengers at Cardiff Wales Airport showing Barafundle in all its glory. But there was no mention of where this idyllic beach was, which somehow added to the allure. And then if you did happen to discover its identity, it was quite an adventure trying to find the place, with a conspicuous absence of any road signs to get you there. I also remember interviewing someone quite high up in the Wales Tourist Board or 'Bwrdd Croeso' as it was also known and them admitting (off camera) that there was an inherent dilemma in trying to promote Wales. Barafundle beach from the steps looking down. You have to carefully balance the fact that places like Barafundle (and much of the Welsh countryside), are beautiful and enticing because there aren't too many visitors trampling up and down the mountains, beaches or moorlands. Then again, you can't have it all ways and a thriving tourist economy is after all, essential to rural Wales. But back to Barafundle, the National Trust now own much of the Castlemartin coastline, including the car park at Stackpole Quay from where the path meanders up some steep steps, across a couple of fields to the stone wall above the beach. That's where you get your first glimpse of Barafundle and it's still a stunning spot. The children ran wild across the sand, writing their names on it with pieces of driftwood then running back up the steps to see their artwork from above. We couldn't resist also proudly writing the score from the weekend's rugby match on the sand! This stretch of coastline is a haven for ravens and the much rarer choughs (of which there are only around 500 breeding pairs in the whole of the UK) and it's because of the choughs that the area has SPA status (Special Protection Area). During breeding season, painted red stones mark areas near the cliff edge where walkers mustn't tread, in case they disturb the nests. There was a steady stream of walkers and families out for the afternoon roaming across the beach, enjoying a rare bit of sunshine. A pile of rubbish at the bottom of Barafundle in Pembrokeshire. But it was sad to see a big pile of rubbish at the bottom of the steps, the first thing people saw arriving at the beach. As we left, a man walked past with a small rucksack on his back, the rest of his family already heading back up the steps. As he passed us, he dropped a plastic bag, bulging with rubbish including glass bottles on the sand, before greeting us with a cheerful 'afternoon' and heading home without a care in the world. I found this genuinely shocking. What kind of person thinks this is a perfectly okay thing to do? And who exactly did he think would be by later to collect his rubbish? Maybe I've reached a 'certain age' when I start ranting about litter louts, but it's just wrong on so many levels and definitely not something you could put on a poster promoting tourism.

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