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From a Welsh Galileo to Somali culture, this is the heritage that shaped Wales; From the Welshman who observed the moon at the same time as Galileo to the family who were the first to provide the Royal Navy with steam coal, Wales is awash with lost stories of historical achievement. Nowamajor investment will help uncover the country's lesser-known legends.

Byline: Aled Blake reports

GALILEO GALILEI may have been more familiar with the moon than most of his contemporaries, but he had probably never heard of Carmarthenshire. So, in all likelihood, he would have been unaware that, as he gazed into the heavens, his activities were being emulated by the distinguished scholar Sir William Lower at his family home in Trefenty.

Sir William worked closely with Thomas Harriott, who, in 1609, produced the UK's first telescope - just a year after Galileo did the same.

And Wales' contribution to the embryonic space race didn't end there.

In the 1850s, Swansea's John Dillwyn Llewellyn took one of the earliest photographs of the moon from the Penllergaer Observatory - which he built for his daughter's 16th birthday.

A couple of decades later came the birth of celestial photography, by Denbigh-born Isaac Roberts - arguably the most important contribution to science by a man named Isaac since a certain Mr Newton sat underneath an apple tree.

The technique, which captured star clusters and nebulae and detailed interstellar gas clouds and galaxies, was pioneered in 1888.

With his technology, Roberts was the first person to identify the spiral shape of the Andromeda Nebula - Earth's neighbouring galaxy.

But Denbigh was not only the home to pioneering scientists such as Isaac Roberts.

From being a residence for royal princes to a refuge for a Royalist garrison during the Civil War - in fact Denbych translates as small fortress - the small market town has had a colourful history dating back before the Normans.

The town is first mentioned in records in the years following the Norman Conquest when it became a border town guarding the approach to the Hiraethog Hills and Snowdonia.

The town has a history of esteemed residents. One of many Denbigh men who were well regarded during the Tudor and Stuart period included Humphrey Llwyd, who produced the first painted map of Wales, while Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a Denbigh resident was one of the first Europeans to map the territories of Eastern Africa, including the Congo.

Tales such as Henry's and Humphreys' are well placed to receive the muchneeded oxygen of publicity from a pounds 175,000 investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support four projects across the country, designed to celebrate inventions, industry and cultures that have had a significant impact on shaping modern life in Wales today.

Since 1995, the HLF has awarded more than pounds 190m to 1,700 projects in Wales.

Dan Clayton Jones, the fund's chairman, said: "Wales has a rich and varied past but there's still so much more to discover.

"These small grants will enable communities to find out more about the history on their doorstep and unearth the bigger stories about their area and the country as a whole.

"There are fascinating stories about Wales' contribution to the oldest science, astronomy, our early heritage in North Wales, the impact of Somali immigration on Cardiff's growth as a city, and the missing link in Cardiff's chain of heritage sites.

"Through innovative workshops, exhibitions, digital archiving, talks and volunteer training the projects will educate, engage, challenge and enthuse people to share the stories of our past and preserve them for the future.

"This is what HLF grants are all about and we are delighted to support such a wide range of projects"

The Astro Cymru project, which falls in the International Year of Astronomy, will benefit from a pounds 50,000 HLF grant, to mark 400 years of astronomy in Wales.

Being run through the Share Initiative, the scheme will celebrate Wales' contribution to astronomy through school heritage workshops, inter-generational learning events, lifelong learning programmes and a touring exhibition in Swansea, Cardiff, Brecon and Welshpool.

With the help of volunteers Astro Cymru will research the lives of 20 Welsh astronomers, create an Astronomical Society resource room in Swansea and provide the first translation of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr (Astronomy and Astronomers) - a rare Welsh volume on astronomy.

The project, which has been supported by organisations including Powysland Museum, Swansea Astronomical Society, Ysgol Penmaes in Brecon and the University of Glamorgan, will also develop a web-based virtual reconstruction of the Penllergaer Observatory for a dedicated Astro Cymru website and createaDVDto document the research and enable it to be shared and reach global audiences.

The Astro Cymru is the biggest of the four grants handed out by the HLF.

A council-run scheme to extend the involvement of Denbigh's community in its heritage has been awarded a pounds 40,700 grant.

The money will fund a part-time project officer to encourage participation and recruit volunteers. These will be trained as community guides and will assist in the creation of a local digital archive for community access.

Medwyn Jones, the council's town clerk, said: "Much is known about aspects of Denbigh's heritage that remain physically visible today but there's little knowledge about the earlier local heritage before the Normans.

"We want to make sure this information is easily accessible for schools and community groups so they can explore the deep roots of today's Welsh culture."

The cash will also fund more than 40 public lectures on Denbigh before the Normans, ranging from human history to local geology.

The findings from the lectures and the guides will be documented in a bilingual Denbigh book, school resource boxes and on three public information panels to inform the local community and visitors alike.

And while North Wales has its fair share of historical nuggets, the same is true in the South.

The impact that the Irish had on building Cardiff Docks has been well documented over the years, but little is known about the role Somali immigration played in Cardiff's physical and cultural growth as a city.

Cardiff has been home to Somali people for four generations or more and has the largest British-born Somali population in the UK, estimated to be around 6,000.

The first young men arrived in Cardiff after 1869, during its height as an international port, to work in the city's docks with the hope of a better standard of living.

There was a further influx of Somali soldiers who fought for Britain in both World Wars and later from those seeking refuge from the civil war in the late 1980s.

And the community will forever be associated with one of the more tragic episodes in recent Welsh history.

The last man to be hanged under capital punishment laws in Wales was a Somali man from Cardiff. Tragically, it was found in 1998 that he was innocent of the crime of murder.

With the support of a pounds 41,700 HLF grant, the life stories of four generations of the Somali community will now be told.

The funding will enable the Somali Integration Society (SIS) to explore, capture and conserve their unique heritage, while educating and increasing public understanding of the Somali community in Wales.

Twenty volunteers will be trained in oral history, film, interview and recording techniques.

They aim to carry out 20 interviews spanning four generations of the community detailing their journeys from Somalia, their own culture and heritage and their life experiences since coming to Wales.

Ibrahim Harpi, from the Somali Integration Society, said: "People are unaware of the contribution that the Somali community has made to Cardiff and the story of the Somali community is dying out with the elders.

"We want to record their stories now before it's too late so we can document how the different nationalities and cultures of Tiger Bay shaped modern Cardiff."

The volunteers will take part in presentations, talks and exhibitions and 1,000 DVDs will be produced of the interviews for distribution to schools, youth groups, community groups, libraries and archives in Wales. An online teacher resource pack will also be created and will make a valuable contribution to the curriculum.

The cash will play a key role in revealing how the Somali community shaped the development of southern Cardiff; a further pounds 42,100 will reveal the missing link connecting the city to the coal-producing Valleys to the north.

Insole Court is a hidden gem behind the residential streets of Llandaff, but now the story of the family who resided at the grade II listed mansion will be revealed.

In 1932, Insole Court estate was acquired by compulsory purchase to make way for transport developments into the city - what is now Western Avenue. Residential streets that were developed on the land still bear the name Insole.

The Insoles were the first to supply the Royal Navy with steam-coal, and they bunkered Robert Falcon Scott's fatal voyage to the South Pole.

In 1874, Insole Court adopted a gothic revival style to emulate the favoured design of the leader of local society, Lord Bute, whose architect William Burges had begun building the extraordinary clock tower at Cardiff Castle.

The Insole family also donated generously to the restoration of Llandaff Cathedral between 1843 and 1869.

The grant will help the Friends of Insole Court research and share the house's history with the local community, focusing on the Insole family's transition over three generations from rural artisans to property-owning gentry - a transition that parallels Cardiff's growth from a small town to internationally renowned port.

The grant will fund the employment of a development officer who will work closely with local volunteers and seven local schools and develop links with other heritage sites in the Valleys and South Wales.

Volunteers will be trained to provide guided tours of the site and a designated learning area is planned including exhibitions and computer-based activities, along with portable interpretation material and an archive.

The aim is to establish Insole Court as part of a heritage trail along with the Rhondda Heritage Park and Big Pit within a year.

John Prior-Morris, chairman of the Friends of the Insole Court, said: "We are fortunate to have intact and in public ownership this mansion which had its birth at the very start of the story that saw Cardiff grow from a modest town on the river crossing to the greatest coal-exporting town in the world, paving the way for its modern role as the newest and fastest growing European capital city.

"Insole Court is an icon of Cardiff's Victorian and Edwardian history and we hope this marks its rebirth as an important and valued piece of our heritage."

Secret stories that the funding will uncover

Wales' moon heritage

Isaac Roberts, from Denbigh, pioneered celestial photography in 1888, becoming the first man to capture still images of interstellar gas clouds, galaxies, star clusters and nebulae.

Penllergaer Observatory was originally built as a present for John Dillwyn Llewellyn's 16th birthday - but in the 1850s became the setting for one of the first photographs of the moon.

Sir William Lower was one of the first people to use a telescope to observe the moon - he did so from Carmarthenshire around the same time as Galileo 400 years ago.

Tales of Denbigh

One of the first Europeans to chart the territories of Eastern Africa, including the Congo, was Sir Henry Morton Stanley - a resident of Denbigh

The first painted map of Wales ever produced was compiled by Humphrey Llwyd, who lived in Denbigh during the Tudor period

Cardiff's four generations of Somali heritage

Cardiff's 6,000-strong British-born Somali population is the largest anywhere in the UK.

The first groups started to arrive in 1869, but there was a further influx from soldiers who fought for Britain in both World Wars.

More arrived in the late 1980s as civil war took hold of the east African state.

Wales' last victim of capital punishment was a member of Cardiff's Somali community.

Mahmood Hussein Mattan, who was convicted in 1952, and reprieved, posthumously in 1998.

Insole's historical footprint

The future of the house was threatened in 1932, when it was included as part of a compulsory purchase order to make way for what would later become Western Avenue in Cardiff.

The Insole family of coal barons were the first to supply steam-coal to the Royal Navy.


HISTORY MAN: Dan Clayton Jones, right, helps Insole Court, left, and Wales' astronomers shine
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 25, 2009
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