Welsh manuscripts: the John Glyn Davies collection

LUL MS 132 detail
Liverpool University Library MS 132

Famous in Wales for his children’s poems based on sea-shanties he heard in his youth, John Glyn Davies (1870 – 1953) was a key figure in the Celtic Studies Department at the University of Liverpool.  After working for various shipping companies, including the Rathbone Brothers and Henry Tate and Sons, he took up a position as Librarian in the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, where he was instrumental in bringing together the collections that would later form the nucleus of the National Library of Wales.  In 1907, he left Aberystwyth for Liverpool, where he became friends with Librarian and Gypsiologist John Sampson, and was appointed as Lecturer in Welsh in 1908.  When Professor Kuno Meyer retired in 1920, Davies became Head of the Celtic Studies Department, and remained in this post until his retirement in 1936.

Over the years, Davies collected a number of Welsh manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries and, in 1950, donated a collection of these manuscripts to the University of Liverpool.  The larger part of this collection is formed of manuscript poems from the 18th century, most of which are written in the popular cywydd form and several of which have some connection with the prominent Wynn family of Maesyneuadd in Gwynedd.

LUL MS 132 margin
Liverpool University Library MS 132 margin

LUL MS 132, Cywydd Marwnad Ellis Prys (1730), is a manuscript copy of Tomos Prys’ poem with an English note inscribed in the margin from the transcriber, Jack Owen, to William Wynne of Maesyneuadd.

This same Mr. Wynne is very possibly also the subject of LUL MS 134, a comic tribute to a small furore surrounding ‘Mr. Wynne o Vaesyneuadd’ and his quilt, written circa 1751.

LUL MS 134 crop
Liverpool University Library MS 134

A notable inclusion in this sequence is a manuscript poem by Evan Evans on the death of his contemporary, William Wynne of Llangynhafal (son of William Wynne of Maesyneuadd), who was a cleric, antiquarian and poet.  In LUL MS 135, Cywydd Marwnad y Parchedig Mr. Wm. Wynne (ca.1750), Evans addresses Wynne as “a poet and excellent Welshman, and a friend” (“bardd a chymreigydd godidog, a chyfaill”).  Evans, who wrote under the bardic pseudonyms ‘Ieuan Brydydd Hir’ or ‘Ieuan Fardd’, was a notable poet and scholar of Welsh manuscripts who, along with figures such as William Wynne, was instrumental in promoting the literary and antiquarian renaissance in Wales in the 18th century.

LUL MS 136 address
Liverpool University Library MS 136 address

Among the non-poetical items collected by Davies is a handwritten letter from one William Jones, a settler in “Welsh Prairie,” Pennsylvania, to his niece (LUL MS 136).  Written in 1813, this letter gives a wonderful insight into the lives of Welsh settlers in 19th century America, telling of their journey across the Atlantic to New York and overland to their new home in Pennsylvania, with many references to the trials of Job! 

These manuscripts, along with many others acquired by the university or donated by various collectors, form part of the LUL MS sequence which is currently being re-catalogued.

Text by Angharad Gwilym.


Welsh Biography Online: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s2-DAVI-GLY-1870.html
[accessed July 2013]

A Guide to the Manuscript Collections in Liverpool University Library
(Liverpool University Press, 1962)