Translation of Issue 50 pages 28-31 Y Tywyddiadur – yn cofnodi tywydd a ffenoleg yng Nghymru (rhan 1)
Y Tywyddiadur – recording the weather and phenology in Wales (part 1)
Y Tywyddiadur is an exciting database of historical and contemporary data on the weather and phenology of Wales. It is part of the Llên Natur project which records and celebrates the relationship between people and the natural environment. In this article, the first of two, DUNCAN BROWN and TWM ELIAS describe the different types of information sources available and discuss how their research, which is based on data already gathered, is beginning to demonstrate the relevance of this information to wider studies of the environment and climate change.
Y Tywyddiadur is an interactive database tracing the weather and phenology of Wales over the last three centuries and is part of Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd’s Llên Natur project (www.llennatur.com). The Llên Natur project was launched in 2009 to gather information and comments on all aspects of nature and the environment in Welsh. It includes entries on species, phenology, the weather, pictures, names of species and habitats, literature, place names, folklore and the relationship between people and the natural world around them in general. The project has already been recognised as a commendable example of Folk Science.
The sources are very varied and include historical printed material e.g. journals, books, newspapers etc, and previously unpublished materials such as diaries, manuscripts, letters, and postcards as well as oral contributions.
Creating y Tywyddiadur
Following the launch of Llên Natur it became clear that there was a wealth of historical information available concerning the weather and phenology of Wales that could be an important research resource. In 2012 these various information elements were brought together under the heading ‘Y Tywyddiadur’, with the intention of creating a searchable website open to anyone who wished to use it. It also became clear that the social and interdisciplinary context of the data could enrich and contribute to our understanding in several fields.
It is now recognised that by making a great deal of previously inaccessible data available to researchers, Y Tywyddiadur, with over 86,000 dated entries (January 2014), is increasing our knowledge about weather patterns and climate development over the past three centuries. This brings Welsh language sources into the mainstream of information and research into climate in Wales and Europe.
The topic of this piece (the first of two) is to present just the Welsh language sources, but it must be emphasised that Y Tywyddiadur is a comprehensive multilingual database, and presents all entries in their original language. Currently 37% of the entries are in Welsh, 63% in English, with a few in French or Breton. In the second piece more detailed case studies will be presented.
Contribution to climate research
With a few exceptions, measurable meteorological records dating from before the 20th century are becoming more scarce and dispersed and even more so in the case of records before 1854 when the first national meteorological service was established for the British Isles. This means that if we wish to understand and create models to describe weather patterns and climate development before that time, adequate data that can be applied to fill the gap is needed.
The annual rings in trees and some types of sea shells can provide us with useful information regarding changes from year to year over a very long period, but often this data cannot tell us much about the variations within one year. This is where descriptive data, recording daily patterns of weather and seasons, can be useful: data such as diaries and logbooks from ships and schools. Records about extreme weather are equally important and stories about such events are also to be found in newspapers and periodicals. And it is not unusual to come across poetry commemorating certain events – a tradition which takes us back to the Middle Ages in some cases.
It was decided that any environmental record which had a date and location merited inclusion, as it stood, into Y Tywyddiadur. Of course, in the absence of a standard method of recording, it must be considered that the diarists’ personal perceptions, from whatever class, at various periods and in different areas, could have influenced the record. Care must be taken not to misinterpret words and idioms from various dialects or to mis-transcribe words from the original script, and there has to be awareness of errors in dating that can arise in some cases, as the calendars of Britain and Europe fluctuated between the Julian and Gregorian systems, which are not only different with regard to dates (up to 11 days difference) but also vary between years.
It is up to users to interpret the evidence for their own purposes and to be aware of these hazards. However, by comparing the records of several different people of the same event on the same date we can judge to some extent the ‘accuracy’ of any individual record.
Welsh language Diaries – we are lucky in Wales that we have a long tradition of keeping diaries. However, very few Welsh language ones have so far been published, at least ones which have environmental content. Exceptions are, for instance, the diaries of Defi Lango (1) and DO Jones, Padog (2).
It became clear early in the development of the Llên Natur project that there was a wealth of original diaries to be found among the dusty possessions in the bedrooms and dressers of old Welsh homes. One element of the Llên Natur project is make owners aware of the value of these diaries, and to encourage them to allow volunteers to upload the environmental content to the website and preserve the original in an appropriate archive in due course.
The remarkable thing about these diaries (around 15 substantial Welsh diaries have been inputted into Y Tywyddiadur as well as many smaller ones), particularly those from the 19th century, is their very existence when one considers the deficiencies and Englishness of the formal education system throughout Britain, and the general illiteracy of the common people. As far as it is known there are no surviving 19th century diaries in any other Celtic languages, and in England they tend to be confined to the privileged classes, with most of the ones referring to weather, nature and phenology belonging to cultured Church Vicars – some containing extremely valuable and thorough environmental records.
The impression is that it was mainly ordinary but cultured farmers, learned in the scriptures or deeply rooted in their rural communities, who kept diaries in Welsh. Among the most noted diaries of Y Tywyddiadur are ones written by the following; Edward Evans (Parsele, Llanedryn, Pembrokeshire, 1851–1871); William Jones (Moelfre, Aberdaron, 1858–1896); Ioan Brothen, Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth (1886-1937); John Jones (Crowrach, Bwlchtocyn, Llŷn, 1922–1954) and DO Jones (Padog, Dyffryn Conwy, 1934–1955+).
The tendency among all other sections of society (be they Welsh-speakers or not) was to fall in with the British spirit of the age and write in English, even learned Welsh diarists such as Eben Fardd and the naturalist TG Walker, the headmaster of Ysgol Henblas, Llangristiolus, Anglesey (1941–1971). But we cannot be too certain of this as there are many diaries left to examine in Wales’ archives, not to mention the ones gathering dust in their original homes.
Why would it be that Wales’ farmers would record their seasonal activities, the day’s weather, the arrival of the cuckoo and so on in Welsh? The answer lies in our history:
• The Welsh language Nonconformist Revival (18th Century)
• Griffith Jones, Llanddowror’s, Circulating Schools which meant that Wales was one of the most literate countries in Europe by the 1770s
• Thomas Charles of Bala’s Sunday Schools from the late 18th Century which provided the Welsh with the ability to write as well as read.
This gave rise to a population which had great respect for Welsh culture and formal education, which continues to this day. The diarist would benefit greatly from the discipline of writing and recording as well as ensuring that he had a body of important information to hand for his daily work – from the exact time that the boar visited the sow to a better understanding of the weather and the seasons upon which his life depended so greatly.
Letters and written messages – letters are another important source for Y Tywyddiadur. The most renowned Welsh letter writers were probably the Morris family of Anglesey(3) in the 18th century. In contrast to the pattern in the next century the abundance of letters by the Morris family are bilingual in the sense that they switch between Welsh and English seemingly at random.
Messages written on the back of postcards are another important source. The postcard as a genre in effect spans the 20th century. They first emerged at the end of the Victorian age and their demise is foreseen during the early 21st century with the increase in mobile phone use and other social media. One of the main unacknowledged purposes of postcards is recording the weather, but Welsh ones are scarce among the host of English cards.
Newspapers and other publications – newspapers can provide original and contemporary information about weather events, particularly the extreme or the unusual. Until recently it was impossible to search easily through the vast content of these papers, be they local or national, for specific records – one had to make do with browsing randomly in archives across Wales and beyond. But the process has now been revolutionised with online services based on scanning pages and automatic digital transcripts, as is seen on the National Library website (1810-1919) (4).
Some extreme events, such as the Royal Charter storm of 1858, or the big snow of 1947, gave rise to articles, reminiscences and academic research published years and even decades later. Such events proved to be popular topics for local poets as well, and there are many examples in the ‘Library’ on Llên Natur’s website.
Work to be done
At present, the amazing variety of names and terms, both standard and dialectal, and their different historical spelling in all languages, means that it is difficult to use one search term, such as ‘glaw’, to find all relevant entries describing such weather; what about gwlaw, bwrw, smwclaw, pistillio, or rain, rayne, shower and so on? The intention is to develop a ‘dictionary of synonyms’ and a list of relevant conceptual search words. From a lexicographic perspective, the language and phraseology of the database is a resource in its own right.
One crucial question is whether historical data as held in Y Tywyddiadur will be able to provide us with measurable results that will benefit climate change studies. Work is already underway to calibrate the different data sets e.g. to see if there is consistency between the weather records in the diaries of William Bulkeley in north Anglesey in the mid 18th century and other data from the same period such as meteorological records from ships off the nearby coast, annual rings in beams from contemporary buildings in the area and the rings in sea shells e.g. the black clam (Arctica islandica). These different data sets will identify criteria for each other and if successful the calibration work will inform the development of research methodology into other periods not only here in Wales but in other areas where similar data is available. “People’s Science” in England used similar large scale voluntary work to record sailing ships to the same end.
Call for diaries
If you know of any diaries, old or new, and any other materials which contain environmental entries with dates and locations, please let us know (www.llennatur.com), and remember that we are also looking for volunteers to input such data into Y Tywyddiadur.
Duncan Brown was a nature reserve warden with the Countryside Council for Wales and before that with the Nature Conservancy Council. Since retiring he has focused on ways of looking at the natural world through local sources and through a historical perspective. He is the editor of the Llên Natur Project for Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd.
Twm Elias is a lecturer and organises courses at Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park Study Centre. He is involved with many environmental / community projects; including Cynefin a Chymuned and Llên Natur.
1. Perlau’r Pridd – Dyddiaduron Defi Lango, Ed.Goronwy Evans (2009)
2. DO Jones, occasionally in Yr Odyn, papur bro Dyffryn Conwy (1976 – 2014)
3. The Morris Letters, H Davies (1907)
4. Papurau Newydd Cymru Arlein (www.llgc.org.uk)