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Historic Welsh ballads online for a new global audience

06 August 2010

Historic news once sung on street corners is now being captured online in a new virtual resource.

4,000 ballads from 18th and 19th century Wales are going online on a website run by Cardiff University and the National Library of Wales.

The songs document the important issues of their day, such as workers’ rights and crime, as well as local festivals and village gossip.

Funded by a £66,000 grant from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the independent body for technology innovation in colleges and universities, the project has completed a network of digital resources giving access to these precious documents.

Academic editor of the Welsh Ballads project, Dr Wyn James of Cardiff University’s School of Welsh, commented: "Ballads were the ‘daily newspapers’ for the poor throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, and were sold cheaply and widely at markets, fairs, and villages; they communicated news on local matters and overseas events of the day.

"We have selected around 15,000 pages of rare Welsh and English language ballads and have now made them available for audiences around the world to study and enjoy."

The launch, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales at Ebbw Vale, was hosted by the President of the National Library, Mr Dafydd Wigley, on Thursday 5th August.Ben Showers, programme manager at JISC, said: "The Welsh Ballads project puts in place the final piece of a national jigsaw of digitised ballads. Adding to the ballad collections of England and Scotland this new archive will help make this a unique and indispensible resource for researchers, students and interested members of the public.

"This project is part of JISC’s continued work to enhance collections of significance, and ensure that resources are not left in isolation, but brought together for the benefit of research, teaching and learning for everyone."

Digitisation of the ballads collections was carried out in Cardiff University’s Information Services Directorate and the National Library of Wales.

"With the funding from JISC we are able to put ballads studies in Wales on the world map, comparable with the best of other ballads projects in Britain and America," said Janet Peters, Director of University Libraries at Cardiff. "Two rare ballads collections are now available from one website at Cardiff, jointly linked with a full catalogue and scanned pages at the National Library."

Cardiff University also intends to make a small selection of sung audio recordings of some rare Welsh ballads available via its website later in the year.


Recordings of the ballads being sung are also going online- there’s a pilot here called 'Mesur Wyth Awr - Eight Hours Bill' which is about Mabon, the miners' leader, and efforts to gain an eight hour working day.

For further information contact:

  • Dr Wyn James, Reader at the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, 029 20874843.
  • Mr Peter Keelan, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Information Services, Cardiff University, 029 20875678.
  • Maike Bohn, JISC PR manager, 07879 880198,

Pictures of the ballads are available from Stephen Rouse, Public Relations Office, Cardiff University, 02920 875596

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Joint Information Services Committee

JISC ( ) inspires UK colleges and universities in the innovative use of digital technologies, helping to maintain the UK's position as a global leader in education.