News from the Cardiff Library Case (2)

The Truth about Cardiff Central Library’s

Special Collections
SUMMARY: This document demonstrates the following:

Cardiff over a period of some 100 years built up a major, comprehensive reference library, which by 1932 ranked fifth among the municipal reference libraries of Great Britain.

In common with any other library of substance, Cardiff Central Library has a number of special collections. It is such collections that mark out a library and give it its unique ‘flavour’. They are, in other words, the ‘jewels in the crown’.

These ‘jewels’, with their great historical significance and educational / economic / visitor-attraction potential, are the very books Cardiff Council now proposes to sell as ‘surplus library stock’.

These special collections have not been used extensively during the past twenty years because they have not been catalogued and promoted during that period. To counter this argument, Council spokespersons state that ‘many of these items are listed in standard reference catalogues’. In fact only 180 out of the 18,000 items in these special collections – one per cent! – are listed in the standard reference catalogues named by the Council.

Cardiff Council claims that, following the decision at the beginning of the twentieth century to locate the National Library at Aberystwyth, ‘Cardiff was left with a major collection but inadequate resources to maintain it’. On the contrary, it can be shown conclusively that Cardiff continued to develop its special collections, and the facilities for their use, well into the 20th century.

All the books in the Central Library’s special collections, whatever their language or content, are of ‘Welsh or local interest’ because of the history of those collections and their provenance. Is not the collection of Impressionist paintings in the National Museum of Wales a ‘Welsh’ collection, despite the artists being French? Selling the ‘non-Welsh’ books in Cardiff’s special collections will destroy important national heritage collections and demote Cardiff City’s library provision to being little more than a provincial, ‘local studies’ collection rather than one fit for a European capital.

As the Appendix to this document shows, nearly all the books in Cardiff Central Library’s special collections were presented/bequeathed by benefactors, or placed there on deposit, or purchased by public subscription. Even if no formal covenants are attached to some of these items, the clear intent of the benefactors was that these books be retained long-term in Cardiff for the educational and cultural benefit of its citizens and the nation, and not be treated as ‘windfall’ revenue. Given the high proportion of donated and deposited items in the special collections, it is quite likely that the Council has no legal right to sell a significant number of the books it intends to auction at Bonhams.

In his written reply to one of the three public questions at the Cardiff Council meeting of 25 September 2008 regarding the disposal of the special collections at Cardiff Central Library, Cllr Nigel Howells (the Executive Member for Sport, Leisure and Culture), made the following, rather disparaging remarks, regarding those special collections:

“It should be noted that these are not items that make up a valuable or important collection in their own right (such as those held by other institutions such as the British Library or the Bodleian Library); they are, in fact, an ad hoc collection of printed works. They are by no means a comprehensive collection in any sense of the word.”

This a very disturbing and misleading statement which shows a remarkable ignorance on the part of Cllr Howells and his advisors regarding research and reference libraries such as the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and – dare one say! – Cardiff Central Library. It also displays a particularly breathtaking ignorance of the nature and significance of such special collections, and of the history and holdings of the library which has been entrusted to their care.

To begin with, it is not appropriate to compare Cardiff Central Library with the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library, since the latter are both ‘legal deposit’ libraries, two of a small handful of libraries in Britain which receive free copies of all books published in the UK – the other ‘legal deposit’ libraries in Britain are the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland and Cambridge University Library,

The true comparison for Cardiff Central Library is with the large municipal libraries of Britain, such as those of Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. In addition to their lending libraries of more ‘popular’ materials, these public libraries – not to mention the libraries of much smaller county towns – have substantial numbers of books that may only be consulted in the library. Such reference libraries divide into two main sections:
1. General Reference Library

Firstly there is the general reference library, built up gradually over the years as a comprehensive collection of works on a wide range of subjects. Admittedly, the reference library at Cardiff Central Library is not as large as that of Glasgow, say, but it was (and hopefully still is!) one of the most significant and comprehensive municipal reference libraries, not only in Wales but in the whole of Britain.

Cardiff was the first town in Wales to open a public lending library. That was in 1862. Within two years a reference library had been established, with a nucleus of 49 books. By 1932 that reference library had grown to 160,000 volumes, and was by then ranked fifth among the municipal reference libraries of Great Britain. Regular acquisitions were made over the following half century, which meant that at the time of the move from the Old Library in the Hayes in the late 1980s, Cardiff Central Library was still regarded as a major and comprehensive reference library.
When the Central Library moved twenty years ago (to the building which has just been demolished!), the disastrous decision was taken to dispose of the card catalogue which indexed the library’s collections, in order to make everyone use the new electronic catalogue. It was a disastrous step because a significant number of items in the reference library were not included on that electronic catalogue at the time and for many years afterward – indeed many thousands of such items remain uncatalogued in stores to this day.
It is a well-known fact among librarians and antiquarian booksellers that there has been a quiet ‘downgrading’ of Cardiff Central Library as a reference library since the move in the late 1980s. Some of the less ‘lucrative’ collections have been deposited in other libraries and many items have found their way into the hands of booksellers. However, unless there has been a large-scale secretive disposal of stock since the move from the Old Library in the Hayes, the majority of that great and comprehensive reference library should still remain somewhere in the Central Library!
2. Special Collections

The second feature of all libraries of substance and standing is that they have a number of special collections, which are kept as distinct units within the reference library. Many of these originated as the private libraries of prominent individuals; other such collections began life as the libraries of institutions or learned societies; others are thematic collections, often created because of some particular local interest on the part of an individual or group.
Because of the piecemeal way in which such special collections are acquired, they are by their very nature ‘ad hoc’. In that sense the special collections of the British Library and the Bodleian Library are as ‘ad hoc’ as those of Cardiff Central Library! However each individual special collection is usually far from being ‘ad hoc’, since most were put together very deliberately – this again is as true of those in Cardiff Central Library as it is of those in the British Library or the Bodleian.
Whereas many of the volumes found in a ‘general’ reference library will be common to any number of other libraries, it is these ‘special collections’ (as the term suggests) which help mark out a library and give it its rank. They allow specialist and often unique research to take place in that library. In addition, these special collections frequently reflect aspects of local identity because they have been formed by particular citizens, and as such are a crucial part of each city’s heritage. They are, in other words, the ‘jewels in the crown’ of that library.
Cardiff Central Library has a number of special collections, many of them either donated by individuals or purchased by public subscription. The most important of these is its collection of Welsh books, pamphlets, prints and maps, which is second only to that of the National Library of Wales – or at least that was the case until the late 1980s, since it is difficult to assess the extent of the Central Library’s current holdings of Welsh material, as so much is still not on the library’s electronic catalogue.
However there are also at the Central Library a number of special collections of ‘non-Welsh’ materials, which contribute significantly to its status as a major research library. Among these are its major collections of early printed books, of rare Bibles, of atlases and of early English drama texts, together with its extensive collections of books renowned for their fine bindings and/or illustrations. It is these ‘jewels in the crown’ which are to be sold by auction at Bonhams over the next few years as ‘surplus library stock’. In 1932, this ‘surplus stock’ was described as follows:
“[In addition to the Welsh collection,] there are a number of other special collections, nearly all of which have originated from gifts made from time to time. Amongst them are a collection of incunabula from the early printing presses of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, and the Low Countries; early editions of the classics; a collection of English books printed before the year 1640, and later seventeenth century English literature; an English Drama Collection; sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian, French, Spanish, and Dutch books, Emblem books, and other Early Illustrated books; books illustrated by Cruikshank, and other nineteenth century English illustrated books; books printed at the Kelmscott, Doves, and other modern presses; a collection of early children’s books and early educational literature; contemporary French Revolutionary literature; a collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century music, which it is hoped to develop into a comprehensive music reference collection; a theatre collection, a collection of Quaker literature, and other smaller collections.”

These are the so-called ‘ad hoc collection of printed works’ referred to by Cllr Howells. Far from being a ‘lame-duck’, miscellaneous collection of books, these special collections are in fact culturally coherent and well-designed, many of them acquired very deliberately, through gifts and public subscription, by enlightened librarians, businessmen, academics and councillors. It is rather ironic to see the present custodians of Cardiff Central Library describing in such disparaging terms those very collections which contributed significantly to that library being described in the mid-twentieth century as ‘one of the great cultural institutions of Wales’.
Special collections of this kind are by their very nature little used by the public at large. Cllr Howells says that these special collections ‘have seldom been consulted over the last 20 years and are not considered to be “popular” stock by Cardiff library users’. The same could be said of the Book of Aneirin! Rare books are not kept to be borrowed by the general public as holiday reading! For reasons of conservation and security, their use in libraries is restricted and closely monitored.

The ‘popular’ aspect of such books is their educational value, promoted through public exhibitions and increasingly through websites, together with the marketing and prestige value they afford the library and the city in which there are found. The way other great city libraries market their heritage collections of rare books stands in stark contrast to the disdainful and neglectful way Cardiff Council seems to regard the treasures of its library. See for example the website of Glasgow’s public library:
It is also worth emphasising, that even if a rare book is held in other libraries or has been digitised and made available electronically, there is still an intrinsic value in the individual copy held in each library. It is important to remember that all copies of pre-1800 books are ‘unique’ copies in various ways, because of the nature of printing and binding in that early period. Therefore, each copy of an edition may need to be consulted from time to time by specialists engaged in detailed research work on the text of that book or its binding. Furthermore, however many digital or facsimile copies are available, there is still great prestige gained from owning an ‘original’. There are plenty of facsimile copies of the Book of Aneirin available for ‘popular’ use: is it owning the original which gives prestige to Cardiff Central Library.

Four further points should be emphasised in the light of various comments by Cllr Howells and other Council spokespersons:

1. Cataloguing and access

In response to claims that problems of cataloguing and access have led to the decline in the use of Cardiff’s special collections, Cllr Howells states that ‘many of these items are listed in standard reference catalogues (for example Wing and Pollard and Redgrave’s short title catalogue which are well known research tools for academics and researchers)’. It is true that Cardiff is noted as a location for certain items that are included in such standard reference catalogues – which, of course, draws attention to Cardiff as an important repository for rare books. However, the British Library’s on-line ‘English Short Title Catalogue’ of books published pre-1801 (a catalogue which incorporates the Wing and Pollard & Redgrave catalogues) only lists 180 items as being at Cardiff – in other words only 180 of the 18,000 rare books in question are included in the standard catalogues referred to by Cllr Howells. It is hard to describe this number as ‘many of these items’ by any stretch of the imagination!

2. ‘Inadequate resources’

It is implied in the Executive report of January 2007 that Cardiff Central Library’s special collections were acquired as a result of Cardiff’s aspiration to become the home of the National Library of Wales, and that when the decision was made at the beginning of the twentieth century to locate the National Library at Aberystwyth, ‘Cardiff was left with a major collection but inadequate resources to maintain it’. This is very misleading. Cardiff was a pioneer of the public library movement long before the campaign for a Welsh national library began in earnest; and as the Appendix to this document clearly demonstrates, Cardiff Central Library continued its vigorous policy of adding to its reference library and special collections well into the twentieth century, because of its desire to be a major city library in a key demographic location for much of the Welsh populace. Indeed, far from the collections being inadequately resourced during the first half of the twentieth century, 1923 saw a special ‘Research Room’ opened at the Central Library, 1925 saw a bindery established for the repair and restoration of rare books and manuscripts, and in 1931 the library was recognised by the Master of the Rolls as an official repository for public records.

3. ‘Welsh/local interest’ v. European city of learning

Much has been made of the fact that the library’s Welsh-language books and those books judged to be of Welsh or local interest are to be retained. This is obviously to be welcomed. However, one matter of great concern is that the Council’s definition of ‘Welsh/local interest’ appears to be very narrow, since it seems to be rejecting ‘provenance’ as one of the criteria for a book being of ‘Welsh/local interest’. As will be seen in the Appendix to this document, very many of the books in the Central Library’s special collections were owned and donated by significant figures in the public life of Cardiff/Wales. In addition, by selling the ‘non-Welsh’ books in its special collections, the Council is actually splitting up important Welsh collections: for example, at least two of the early editions of Shakespeare plays to be sold in the first auction at Bonhams come from the ‘Wooding Collection’, the library of a major Welsh book collector of the late nineteenth century, whose manuscripts and Welsh-language books will be retained, but whose English books will be sold – thus destroying irreparably a significant collection in the history of Welsh culture. Ironically, of course, although Cardiff Central Library has a very important collection of Welsh books, copies of many of them are to be found in other libraries in Cardiff and in other parts of Wales, whereas many of the English and European rare books the Council intends selling are the only copies of that book in Wales, and sometimes in Britain. If the capital city of Wales wishes to be an international city of learning and culture, it is imperative, therefore, that these rare English and European books remain in Cardiff. By selling off its significant collections of early atlases, its seventeeth century Civil War tracts, its substantial collection of Restoration drama, etc., etc., the Council is selling part of the cultural heritage of Wales and the very collections which make Cardiff Central Library a library of European stature. Without them, it will be reduced to being little better than a ‘local studies’ library in a provincial town.

4. Donations, deposits and ownership

Cllr Howells has repeatedly said that no books gifted to Cardiff Central Library will be sold, although he sometimes adds the caveat, ‘no items with gift covenants’. As will be seen in the Appendix to this document, the vast majority of the books to be sold were donated to the library, or deposited there, either by individuals or by public subscription. There may not be formal covenants attached to some of these items; however the spirit and context in which they were given implies that the donors’ intentions were that these books be retained in the Central Library for the long-term educational and cultural benefit of Cardiff, its citizens and the nation, and not sold off as ‘windfall’ revenue. The Council certainly has no moral right to sell such donations. Can it demonstrate in black and white that it has the legal right to sell these special collections; that there are no covenants attached to the books that are to be sold; and that none of the deposited books are being sent to auction?


c/o 13 Wyndham St., Tongwynlais, Cardiff, CF15 7LN

4 October 2008


Cardiff Central Library: Details of the Acquisition of Special Collections

A booklet published by Cardiff Public Libraries Committee in 1932 contains a long list of important items and special collections obtained by donation, deposit and purchase, together with the dates of acquisition. The following list is shortened version of that original list, which omits most of the references to the acquisition of manuscripts, prints, photographs, etc. Prefacing the original list was the following paragraph:

“The extent to which the library is indebted to a long succession of benefactors is shown in the following list. Generous gifts of books and manuscripts, or liberal subscriptions to funds, have enabled the Committee to acquire, from time to time, important collections, with the result that the library now possesses large collections of Welsh manuscripts, deeds, and documents, rare books, maps, and prints, and other special groups made up largely from private sources.”

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the benefactors listed below, and their descendants, to the act of cultural vandalism currently being perpetrated by Cardiff Council!


A collection of works on agriculture, numbering 210 volumes, presented by Mr C. W. David. Some of the books formed part of the library of the Cardiff Farmers’ Club in 1842.

Judge Falconer, of Usk, presented 2,000 volumes.


Publications to the value of about £160 received from the Trustees of the British Museum.
A series of books and maps relating to the Survey of Western Palestine, presented by the Marquess of Bute.


The “Tonn” library was acquired, consisting of 7,000 printed volumes and 100 manuscripts. £350 was subscribed towards defraying the cost.

Mr H. M. Thompson presented a number of scientific works from the library of Professor Kitchen Parker.

The whole of the Welsh manuscripts in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps were purchased. Subscriptions towards the purchase amounted to £1,897, including £1,000 given by the Marquess of Bute and £500 by Mr John Cory.


An autograph sonnet by William Wordsworth, written in connection with the re-building of St Mary’s Church, Cardiff, 1842, purchased and presented by Lord Tredegar.

The Scott Collection, comprising over 2,000 items in Welsh or relating to Wales, given by Mr William Scott.

185 volumes of Record Office Publications received from H. M. Stationery Office.


67 examples of books printed before the year 1500, purchased and presented by Mr John Cory.
A collection of emblem books, examples of rare continental presses, and early editions of Italian classical writers, purchased from a fund contributed by a body of subscribers.
The Wooding Library, containing over 5,000 volumes, including many rare Welsh books, purchased.
855 duplicates from the Ashbee and other collections, presented by the Trustees of the British Museum.

A copy of the first Welsh Testament, 1567, bequeathed by the Very Rev. David Howell., Dean of St Davids.

2,000 volumes in Welsh, and relating to Wales, collected by “Dafydd Morganwg” (D. Watkin Jones), purchased for the library by Sir W. T. Lewis (Lord Merthyr).

Books and MSS. of David Williams, founder of the Royal Literary Fund, acquired.


In connection with the Bible Tercentenary Exhibition, a fund was set up, and with the subscriptions a number of rare and valuable editions of the Bible purchased.

A collection (consisting of eight manuscripts […], 189 volumes and pamphlets, and 22 maps, plans, and charts) was presented by Mr Illtyd Nichol, of the Ham.
Mr T. H. Thomas presented 509 volumes, mainly from the library of his father, the Rev. Thomas Thomas, D.D., of Pontypool College.

Mr H. Jenkins Davies, of Totton, Hants., presented 34 manuscripts, 209 volumes, and 454 pamphlets, mainly Welsh, from the library of his father, the Rev. D. H. Davies, Vicar of Cenarth.

46 volumes relating to Ireland, and 42 relating to Gujarati and other Oriental languages, were received from Professor Littledale.

A set of the publications of the International Chalcographical Society, with other works on early engraving, were presented by Professor Claude Thompson.

644 volumes and 423 pamphlets received from the trustees of the British Museum, from duplicates in that institution.


For the purchase of rare items in the collection made by Mr Robert Drane, of Cardiff, the sum of £124 5s. 0d. was subscribed. Included in the books purchased were some rare Marprelate Tracts.


A series of eight early Cardiff Theatre Bills, dated 1818 to 1869, were received from Mr F. Milnes, of Cardiff,

The famous collection of Welsh manuscripts made by Thomas Johnes of Hafod, known as the Hafod Collection, was purchased for the Library. The cost was defrayed by Mr Edgar Edwards, of Highmead, Ely.

A Cruikshank collection, consisting of 400 volumes and 300 prints, made by Mr Henry G. C. Allgood, was purchased by Sir William Seager and presented.

760 items from the library of Miss Metford, of Dinas Powis, including a number of works relating to the Society of Friends, were presented by Alderman H. M. Thompson.
From Mr T. Francis Howell, on behalf of the executors of Mr James Howell, was received eight editions of the English Bible, dating from 1540 to 1738, and a Tyndale New Testament, 1552.


Mr Bonner Morgan presented a collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century music, numbering 52 MS. volumes, 160 printed works, and 200 songs. The music was collected by Sir Herbert Mackworth, of Gnoll Castle, Neath, and among the manuscripts are 10 scores of early Italian operas.

From the sale of Singleton Abbey, Swansea, some important items were acquired, including a sixteenth century manuscript in the hand of Llewellyn Sion of Llangewydd. […] Other important items are The Book of Simwnt Vychan, with armorial bearings in colour, two Civil War tracts – “The Welsh Foot Post” and “A Declaration by Sir Thomas Middleton in 1644,” – three volumes of ecclesiastical seals made by Miss B. Hewlett in 1826-7, and eleven volumes of music, supplementing the gift of early music by Mr Bonner Morgan.

Mrs Treharne, of Pentre, gave 220 volumes, of which over 100 were early law books.
A further collection of 300 volumes from the library of Miss Metford, supplementing the gift made by Alderman H. M. Thompson, were received from Mr R. E. Reynolds.

A Theological library, 484 volumes, collected by a clergyman of the Church of England, was presented by Captain and Mrs Griffiths.


A number of manuscripts and early printed books, formerly at the Hertfordshire County Museum, were acquired.


Sir Henry Webb, Llwynarthan, presented 100 volumes illustrating English and foreign bookbinding from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

200 volumes and three local manuscripts, registers under the Turnpike Acts, dated 1764 to 1843, given by Mr Edgar David, Fairwater.


A further collection numbering 210 volumes, including examples of incunabula, early sixteenth century works, and series of early and modern bindings, from Sir Henry Webb, Llwynarthan.

The bequest under the will of Mr T. H. Thomas, “Arlunydd Pengarn,” of manuscripts, correspondence, books, and prints received.

The Aylward collection of music, which formed a valuable nucleus for a musical reference library, purchased.

Mrs H. M. Thompson gave 73 items for the special collection of Children’s Books, and a further 42 items received from Mr E. S. Tregelles.

The number of separate issues of the “Eikon Basilike” (The King’s Book), made up to 39 by the gift of Mr F. F. Madan, of seven issues.


Dr Katherine R. Drinkwater presented 112 volumes of the publications of the New Sydenham Society.
80 items added to the early educational works and children’s books by gift from Mrs G. Carslake Thompson.


Dr Erie Evans gave 263 volumes, medical works, and contemporary books.

170 volumes received from the Dean and Chapter of Llandaff Cathedral.


Mr Lloyd Richards placed on deposit his drama collection, including some rare Craig items and two theatrical masks.


Part One see

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Klaus Graf (2008, 9. Oktober). News from the Cardiff Library Case (2). Archivalia. Abgerufen am 2. März 2024, von

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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