What else can be found in the Archives?

Here are a few of the wonderful, and sometimes slightly weird, documents that are held in the Archives. From performing dogs to coded love letters and from death and disease to riots and remedies. You never know what you might find!

Interesting documents in the Archives

The Rebecca Riots

The Rebecca Riots had begun in 1839 but returned to West Wales in 1845 with renewed violence. The Riots were an expression of the intense discontent and hatred felt amongst the rural population of West Wales for the social changes they were experiencing. They perceived a breakdown in the traditional social structure and way of life with extra pressures on land and economy, enclosures, high rents and tollgates adding to the cost of making a living. A series of bad harvests followed by an industrial depression ensured that, by 1842, many people in West Wales were enduring great poverty with the place of last resort being the workhouse. 'Rebecca’, the peoples’ champion, sprang into action and violent attacks on symbols of this new society such as the tollgates, gatekeepers, unpopular magistrates and workhouses occurred. The attackers were dressed as women and called themselves 'Rebecca and her daughters’.



The extract shown here is part of an account by Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn of his encounter with Rebecca Rioters at Pontardulais Toll Gate. There was a crowd of 100-150, on horseback and dressed as women. Following a violent clash that is vividly described in the extracts, seven prisoners were captured, including John Hughes a 24 year old farmer’s son. His trial took seven weeks and he was sentenced to 20 years transportation. Rebecca followers returned to the tollgate after the first incident and the toll keeper, a woman aged 75, was shot and died as she returned to the toll cottage to gather her belongings.

Love in the Archives

This hand-drawn coded letter, was found within the Bryn Diogel Lodge minute book, 1879-1890. It is not known exactly how old the letter is or why it was written in the Bryn Diogel Lodge minute book, but it is a truly remarkable discovery nonetheless.

The minute book is of a temperance society, and includes minutes and poems. Temperance societies promoted abstention from alcohol, and members took a pledge of teetotalism. This society held its meetings at Rhiwlas Chapel, Caernarfonshire.


The letter was written by William Weightman to his ‘dearest’ Fanny and he declares his undying love and devotion to her, as well as his intentions to horsewhip Bill Robirson, a possible rival for her affections.

The love letter is made up of symbols, numbers and letters; not unlike the language used in modern day text messaging.  Amongst others, William used drawings of eyes to represent ‘I’, a sketch of a fan followed by the letter E for ‘Fanny’, the letter W followed by a picture of a hen to stand for ‘when’ and the letter H followed by the figure 8 for ‘hate’.

The letter can be roughly translated to read as:

My dearest Fanny
I am writing these few lines to tell you that I cannot live any longer without you.  I worship you always.  I think you are a beauty and the nicest girl I ever saw and I adore you.  Oh exquisite Fanny, do not despise me for loving you so well.  I shall be broken-hearted if you desert me.  Can you meet me on Monday night, when I will take you to the Star Music Hall.  I hate that Bill Robirson, who is hanging after you and I intend to horsewhip him when I see him I shall be delighted to hear from you at once.  Do not let my suit be fruitless.  Reply by next post to
Your loving
William Weightman

Portable Theatres

The Ebley Theatre was a wooden shuttered structure with a canvas roof and collapsible, removable seats which was transported from town to town by horse drawn wagons. Ebley’s Theatre visited many parts of Wales including Dowlais (1883), Maesteg (1896) and Bridgend (1906), where the theatre was assembled in the market place, and Wrexham, Hay, Pontycymer, Senghenydd and Caerphilly. The whole family took part in the performances and the audience was treated to 3 hours of entertainment for threepence. The actors and actresses had other duties other than simply performing. The men had to assemble and dismantle the theatre, according to strict rules, in each location whilst the women repaired costumes and drapes. The theatre stayed in a town for between two and six months performing a different play every night. Those performing in the show stayed in local lodgings but Mr Ebley’s accommodation consisted of a sleeping van and living van which travelled with him. The vans were finished with figured glass, polished wood and brasswork and as the theatre was electric powered, a gas engine generator would also be towed along.

To perform in a town the Ebleys required a license from the local magistrates for which they needed supporting references regarding their moral character. The chapels often regarded the Portable Theatre as a bad influence and threatened members with excommunication if they attended a performance. (Edward) Ted Ebley, however, refused to put up with bad behaviour and it was reported in one performance that he left the stage to bang the heads of two brawlers together and then returned to his part in the play!

Performances were often given in aid of a local patron’s chosen charity thus promoting the Theatre owner as being of a charitable disposition. The patron would attend the opening night and be presented with a pure silk handbill advertising the current play.

As with many theatres The First World War brought an end to Travelling Theatre. Ebley’s Olympic Theatre was in Aberkenfig at the outbreak of war and all the male members of the cast left to join the war. Edward (Ted) Ebley and his son were left to dismantle the Theatre alone. The Theatre was then towed to Cwmavon where it was rented to the Caerau Coliseum Company and opened as a cinema. In 1916 it closed and then reopened under the Ebley name. In 1927 the Olympic Cinema opened in Depot Road showing silent films and converted to sound in 1932. In 1970 it became The Olympic Bingo Hall and in 1980 Edward (Ted) Ebley sold the building. Thus ended a fascinating family link with a long gone form of entertainment.

18th Century Cures

The religious turbulence of the late seventeeth century lead many Quakers to emigrate from Britain to America. One of those who left for the New World was William Dillwyn, who settled in Pennsylvania.  His grandson, also William Dillwyn, lived in Burlington, West Jersey, until his return to Britain during the American War of Independence.

The Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man’s Almanack for 1768 kept by William Dillwyn contains a fascinating raft of detailed information including recipes, private accounts, public revenues, property, lists of his furniture, plate, books and family muniments and history. As well as recipes for rat poison and killing bed bugs, William also records a remedy for a violent cold. The recipe lists the ingredients together with a method for brewing the potion, and instructions about the dosage.

Don't try this at home!

More interesting documents in the Archives

Letters Home

This photograph of Harry Dobson was put up by the Cambrian Combine Workmen and friends as a token of their esteem for his 'Supreme Sacrifice for Democracy'. Harry Dobson was one of the many Welshmen who joined the International Brigages to fight against the rise of fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He was killed at the battle of Ebro River in July 1938, just over a year after he had arrived in Spain. 

The Archives also hold one of his letters sent from Spain in 1937. His letter records that the postal service is not reliable, but that 'this is only to be expected as things cannot run smoothly in a war'. He initially asks that nothing be sent, but then relents and agrees to a packet of woodbines being included with the next letter sent to him.

The response to the Spanish Civil War, as well as the active participation of people from Wales in the International Brigages, is well documented in the collections held in the Archives and ranges from letters and photographs to memoirs, handbills, cartoons, and the records of various organisations and their reponse to the conflict.     

Death in Swansea

Amongst the Local Archive Collections is this account book for John Walters of Swansea, undertaker. The accounts cover 1865 to 1872, which includes the outbreak of cholera between July and October 1866. The first death attributed to cholera is that of John Fox, who died aged 40 in July; the last is Ellen Cummins, aged 30, who lived at 3 Ann Street. In four months over 150 people are recorded as having died from cholera.

As well as recording the everyday business of making coffins and the costs involved, the account book provides a wealth of information about life in Swansea in the mid-nineteenth century. Detail can be extracted about people of all walks of life, and the entries usually record the name, address and age of the deceased together with information about what was entailed in the undertakers work. For example one of the entries for August 1866 is for an unknown woman thought to be in her twenties who was found drowned, Cardiff Arms, Strand, and the undertaker's costs include the grave and the conveyance. This simple affair is a stark contrast to the arrangements for Caroline Elizabeth Vivian, wife of Henry Hussey Vivian, who died in January 1868. The accounts cover one and a half pages, listing items such as a coffin with a two inch mattress and satin lining, as well as black silk velvet and an inscription. The funeral procession included hearse with four horses and other coaches, and Caroline Elizabeth Vivian was finally laid to rest in the large family vault at St Paul's Sketty.


Whilst there where many products for sale in Pembroke Dock Co-operative Society store, the thing that catches the eye is the poster for its Chocolate Club.

Although co-operative societies are primarily known for the periodical payment of the dividend to their members some societies were more creative in their savings schemes, and clubs were organised that focussed around particular seasons or products, such as Christmas club at Pontycymmer and a chocolate club at Pembroke Dock. 

This photograph advertising a co-operative society chocolate club appears to be a rare survivor, but documents relating to a Women's Guild chocolate club can be found at Walsall Local History Centre.

Student Fun - 1930s Style

This is the front cover of the Swansea University Rag magazine, 1933. The magazine contains a wide selection of advertisements (some for firms which are still trading in Swansea today, such as Eddershaws who offer 'Everything for the home'), together with cartoons, prose and verse.

The Archives hold student magazines from the start of the university in the 1920s, and they are a wonderful way of finding out more about student life in Swansea.

Swansea & Mumbles Railway

The Archives recently worked with Dr Jonathan Dunnage, Department of History and Classics, in delivering a postgraduate module that focused on the archives of the Swansea and Mumbles Railway. As well as a co-authored report and individual presentations, the students created a website ‘to raise awareness and inform you of The Swansea & Mumbles Railway collection’. The website examines the history of the railway, the types of archival material that the collection includes, and potential research questions. As the students say, hopefully you will be encouraged ‘to explore some of the material for yourself’.

History of Swansea University Students' Union

Singleton Park Campus - Aerial View

The Archives has recently assisted Dr Louise Miskell, Department of History and Classics, in delivering a research project module on the history of Swansea University Students’ Union.

The students worked on the Student Union records deposited at the Archives, producing a leaflet, banner and website.


The website gives a decade by decade survey of student union activities since the 1920s through to the present day. Do have a look at what they have done and leave a comment.

Prize for Students' Union History

Find out about the research undertaken by Sion Durham, as part of his second year for a new course, ‘Researching and Re-telling the Past: Swansea Student Union History Project’.

In this film Sion describes the unique history of Swansea University Students' Union and how he was able to explore its history through countless sources which are in the Archives.

Rush Rhees project wins prize

An academic whose research involved visiting the Richard Burton Archives has won a prize in the national Tell us Your Story competition, organised by Archives Wales. Entrants had to describe their experience using archives, and explain how it helped them with their project.

Christian Erbacher from the University of Bergen in Norway visited the Richard Burton Archives to use the Rush Rhees collection. Rhees was a philosopher, principally known as a student, friend and literary executor of the philosopher Wittgenstein. Rhees taught philosophy at Swansea University from 1940 to 1966. Christian said: “I have been travelling a thousand miles to the Richard Burton Archives, and it was worth the effort. Each time I open a new folder it is as if I set a foot on a new land.”