“Venereal Diseases Cause More Casualties than War”: A Grim Magic Lantern Show…

We present another blog about slides digitized during the recent From Darkness into Light project.

Newly digitized and now available online, this curious collection of magic lantern slides (ADX/1262) starts with images of flowers and sculptures but quickly gets down to its principal theme which involves the horrors of syphilis.

It seems probable this magic lantern show was created during, or just after, the period of the First World War by or on behalf of the Medical Officer of Health for Cardiganshire – a post then occupied by Dr L. Meredith Davies. The slide show would have originally been accompanied by a lecture (now lost). When discovered the slides were wrapped in newspaper from 1919.

Although syphilis had been known for many centuries it was a particular problem in wartime. It was a major cause of lost man-hours during the First World War, and there were well-based fears that men who contracted syphilis would bring it home to their wives, and pass it to both the wife and through her to their unborn children.

By the time of the First World War syphilis was finally curable, but the treatments available were still significantly toxic. Until the early twentieth century most treatments were based on mercury which had terrible side-effects on the patient, but in the early years of the twentieth century a German chemist called Paul Erlich developed a drug which actually cured the disease. For this tremendous achievement he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1908. The drug, which in its commercial form was known as Salvarsan was not without complications however, being arsenic-based, and requiring long periods of sustained treatment to take effect. The slides in the magic lantern show demonstrate a wide range of the nasty symptoms and effects of syphilis including a condition known as ‘General Paralysis of the Insane’ which had only recently been identified as being caused by syphilis.

Unless further research reveals the answer, we can only speculate on the proposed audience for these images, drawn from a wide variety of sources. A cursory search of the digitized Aberystwyth Observer and Cambrian News for 1917 – 1919 does not suggest an audience, but given the nature of the slideshow this is perhaps unsurprising!

The slides themselves are a fascinating mixture: there are photographs of (unidentified, and not, I think, local) victims, tinted slides of ‘the wonders of nature’, two slides apparently indicative of the dangers of drinking in pubs…

… several slides apparently illustrative of healthy young people (a water polo match, a ladies’ bicycling race, a dance)…

… and many slides containing handwritten quotations and statistics relating to syphilis and venereal disease generally.

What this collection does appear to show is that someone in early twentieth century Cardiganshire thought it desirable and necessary to provide a detailed and informative explanation of the social and medical problem of syphilis and the necessity of professional treatment if it was diagnosed.

Perhaps the medical authorities were concerned that men returning from the war brought with them more than memories. Unfortunately our collection of the papers of Cardiganshire Medical Officer of Health has very few surviving documents from this period which might throw light on the matter.

More information about comparable collections and about any of the ‘stock’ images used would be very welcome, please!


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From Darkness into Light

We present the first blog about From Darkness into Light by the Project Officer, Dr. Andrew Cusworth. We are very grateful to him for his excellent work on this project to digitize our slides collections.

Thanks to Nigel Callaghan of Technoleg Taliesin, we are now able to incorporate images into our online catalogue. This is only the beginning; we hope it will lead to many more digitized images being available on-line.

Over the past few weeks, I have been working in Ceredigion Archives to digitize a large tranche of the Archive’s collection of photographic slides. The purpose and motive behind the work is a simple one: to make the slide collections more accessible to people. Of current photographic media, the slide suffers perhaps the most from its inconvenience – slides consume time, effort, and money in their creation, storage space, and require specialist equipment for their viewing; it is rather paradoxical that a format once highly valued for being visible to an audience on a screen – be that the family or a hall full of people listening to a talk – is now so difficult to view or share.

The work involves a range of activities: identifying images that might be relevant to the Archive’s remit, ensuring that their catalogue record matches them correctly, gently cleaning the slides, scanning them, organizing the digital files, and, finally, web-mounting the new digital images in the Archive’s catalogue.

As much of this work is essentially practical in nature, it leaves some mental space to consider the collections at hand, their history, medium, and content. Some of them are miniature in nature – ADX/1207 is a collection of just four rather disparate slides taken in the August of 1960; others, such as ADX/1489 (on which more soon!), are altogether more substantial. ADX/1362 provides a visual record of a local carnival in 1976, with images taken in a now obsolete amateur photographic format that represent snippets of a personal experience of an event; LIB/78 provides a glimpse into a more professionalised approach, in which the technical details about the image such as the light levels, exposure time, and lens aperture are recorded on each slide’s mounting card.


A group of children dressed as playing cards in a carnival in Aberystwyth, 1976.

The first slide collection that I scanned was that of Godfrey Hill (MUS/227), a local urban and industrial historian who gave presentations on these topics to local clubs and societies. His photographs are, for the most part, of architectural and industrial details: specific buildings and their features, electricity cabinets, even services access covers are among his regular subjects. However, occasionally, his images, either deliberately or accidentally, capture other things – people peering into the windows of a shop that has now vanished, the blurred image of a passing car now long out of production, or the efforts to clean up a flood in a street; as such, they capture a little of the life of the architecture and material culture that they so often record. This, then, is perhaps additional result of the project, and indeed of making any document more accessible by sharing it with a wider audience online: to allow people to look for the things that interest them, and to find shared meaning in collections of images that were, after all, originally intended to be shared on a screen in front of an audience.


Flooding on Cambrian Street, 1967

[Dr. Andrew Cusworth]

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Cocoa and the working woman

Do you remember cocoa ? It was what we drank before drinking chocolate stole the limelight. I’ve noticed that “hot chocolate” nowadays represents that which is cosy and comforting and maybe even ‘hygge’.

But I’m on a one-woman crusade to revive the splendour which is cocoa.

Our amazing weekly blog about the First World War in Cardiganshire leads us to explore the newspapers of the day, including lovely old advertisements. One method the advertisers of the day employed was to have a series of different ads on the same theme, and my favourite is for Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa (yes, other brands are available).


The Rowntree’s Cocoa ads formed a series about Women Workers, and there were at least nine different advertisements printed in regional papers in the autumn and winter of 1916.  The ads included a nurse, a post-woman, a munitions worker, a railway worker, and a clippy ( or ‘bus conductress’ ).

It was a clever bit of advertising. An engraving of an attractive young woman in the uniform of her profession – and shown preparing or brandishing a cup of cocoa – was accompanied by her commentary on the benefits of cocoa in the context of her work.  Whilst the adverts tapped into the fact that suddenly women were doing ‘men’s’ jobs,  the text often suggested how demanding the women found the work  and how determined they were to succeed. And how very possible this was when fortified by cocoa.

The strapline was ‘A cup of Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa makes a biscuit into a meal’. This too was clever. Although formal rationing was not introduced until 1917, food shortages were occurring by 1916, and the combination of an exhausting working day and low wages might mean that a woman wouldn’t find time to eat satisfactorily. The idea that a cup of cocoa and a biscuit was a nourishing replacement for a full meal must have been attractive to many.


Here’s the ‘commentary’ from the clippy; we have to imagine her working on a mechanized omnibus or tram in a busy town or city.

‘How are you getting on Alice?’ he said. ‘Fine’ I replied but I was feeling a bit tired though I didn’t want to own to it. What with pushing past people standing inside and climbing up top, I can  tell you it does take it out of one a bit. ‘Women don’t eat enough’ he said ‘ why don’t you take a cup of cocoa? – it turns a biscuit into a meal.’ But somehow I wouldn’t, just because it was his idea and not mine. One night I came in extra wet and cold and there was his Rowntree’s Cocoa steaming in the jug and it had such a lovely fragrance that I drank the whole lot up. ’Hullo’ he said when he came in ‘where’s my cocoa?’. Then I had to own up that I had drunk it , but I didn’t care a bit, for I was feeling so fresh and happy . I wouldn’t go without my Rowntree’s Cocoa now for anything – night and morning.

Great, isn’t it ? This young woman won’t be told what’s good for her by the mysterious ‘he’, yet is left feeling so positive under the benign effects of cocoa that she’s willing to concede ‘he’ was right. The same teasing challenge to a patriarchal society pervades the other advertisements too.


The cocoa-drink of these adverts appears to be water-based. Cocoa powder and sugar to taste were combined into a paste with hot water or milk, and then boiling water was added to make the drink. Other versions include the use of evaporated or condensed milk to add milkiness and sweetness.

I’ve replaced my daily hot chocolate with cocoa.  I have it with soya milk, unsweetened, and the resulting drink is austere. I’m equally fond of cow and goat milk though and the natural sweetness of these makes a more traditionally palatable drink – sugar to taste!  My local café has kindly started stocking cocoa for my benefit, and apparently other customers are beginning to express enthusiasm for it too.  So why not try cocoa yourself – either for old times’ sake or as a new experience, and share the pleasure of the thoroughly modern working woman and the enigmatic ‘he’?



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Gogerddan Pudding Update

My mother and I ate the Gogerddan Christmas Pudding on Christmas Day. I steamed it for a couple of hours to make sure it was well heated through, turned it out, rushed into the garden for a fresh sprig of holly, heated some brandy, set fire to the pudding (and the holly- whoops!) and served it up. We ate it with Jersey double cream. It was very nice – dark, fruity and not too heavy. My only criticism would be the mixed peel – I bought a brand which had a rather nasty acidic taste to my way of thinking, and although it didn’t spoil the taste of the pudding too much, it wasn’t as nice as peel I’ve acquired in previous years. If I have another go I’ll try to buy the large pieces of peel and chop them up myself. They’re usually delicious.

My mother found the lucky threepenny bit (what a surprise!)


I still have a second pudding and am going to keep it for a while to see how it matures. Meanwhile, we have discovered another copy of the Gogerddan Pudding recipe in a newly catalogued manuscript recipe book. It has identical ingredients but a slightly different description of the process. We’re working on the identity of the owner now. The recipe book contains several interesting recipes which we’re hoping to try in the near future…

Very many thanks to everyone for their comments and observations!


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The Gogerddan Christmas Pudding

It was with some excitement that we recently received the recipe for the Christmas Puddings served by the Pryse family at the great Cardiganshire estate house Gogerddan (now part of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at the University of Aberystwyth).


The pudding recipe (and one for Eggs Mornay!) signed by Sir Lewes Thomas Loveden Pryse of Gogerddan (1864-1946)

As it’s that time of year when a Christmas Pudding is needed, I decided to give it a go.
First, the quantities were rather generous, so I halved them. I used suet from a packet rather than shredded straight from the carcase of a beast, and I’m afraid I didn’t cut each one of my raisins in half as instructed (maybe raisins were bigger then?) The ‘nice breadcrumbs’ came from a local baker’s shop where they are sold in bags.


Pudding ingredients

The recipe was remarkably easy – combine all the dry ingredients, add the eggs and brandy and boil for eight hours. What, EIGHT HOURS? Yes. I had to take a day off work to get it done.

[Click images to enlarge]

I made two large puddings, one in a traditional pudding basin and one in a round pudding mould. I steamed the puddings rather than boiling them. I topped up the saucepans with boiling water every hour.


The pudding finished


The results look and smell fine. The puddings are surprisingly dark given that the colour must all come from the fruit. Inside each pudding is a silver threepenny bit – one from 1918 and one from 1936 which is coincidentally the year my mother was born. My old mum and I will be eating one of the puddings on Christmas Day – so I really hope it’s a winner! I’ll let you know…


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Brown Cake



Source of recipe

This cake comes from the Aberystwyth 1917 War Hints and Recipes . It’s an odd recipe because, although it contains no eggs (easily available in 1917 Aberystwyth, surely?), it does contain vast quantities of spices and orange peel (!) which would have to be imported by ships endangered by the German submarine blockade, so I’m not sure how it helped the war effort.

The raising agents are baking soda and cream of tartar ( baking powder provides a modern equivalent ) mixed with buttermilk or ‘sweet ‘( i.e. new ) milk. This is a combination used today in making scones.

The quantities of spice are phenomenal – an ounce of cinnamon, an ounce of ground ginger and a whole nutmeg! I was nonplussed about the orange peel and used candied peel instead – surely the recipe couldn’t call for orange peel? The orange zest is lovely but the white pith inside is horribly bitter.

brown-cake-1917-texture-2The cake took two hours to cook at about 180° for the first hour and 160° for the second hour. The outside was very solid but the inside was nicely cooked. I found this cake overwhelmingly spicy but tried it on members of Ceredigion Local History Forum, and no-one said it was horrible. I suspect it may keep well if placed in an airtight tin.

Miss Marshall, who donated this recipe, may have been Ethel, the ‘clerk and telegraphist’ who was presumably working for the Post Office . She was originally from Barnsley, Yorkshire and appears in the 1911 census living in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth.




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