Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


A lot of progress has been made since my last blog post. The thatching has been completed and the final stages of landscaping are underway. An earthen bank has been built around the two roundhouses, replicating the formidable defences of the original site at Bryn Eryr Farm in Anglesey. A turf-roofed shelter has been built behind the houses, which is to be used as an outdoor workshop as well as an additional educational facility. Its walls are of clom (a mixture of clay, subsoil and aggregate) just like the roundhouses, but its turf roof represents another roofing material arguably as old as thatching itself. A cobbled surface has been created outside the front of the roundhouses, again, reminiscent of the original site.

Recently, my work has focussed on furnishing the interior of the houses. The larger of the two houses will remain fairly empty (other than a hearth and a wooden bench that circumnavigates its inner perimeter) so that it can be used as a classroom and demonstration area. The smaller house has been dressed to display Iron Age life. Within are some of the furnishings expected of any Iron Age house: a hearth for warmth, a bed for sleeping, a loom for weaving clothing and blankets – along with wooden chests to store them in, and a cauldron for cooking food. Nearly all of the items on display are based on period examples that have managed to survive 2000 years of time. For instance, the cauldron is a replica of a well-preserved copper and iron cooking pot from Llyn Cerrig Bach – only 25km away from the Bryn Eryr site. The iron fire-dogs are simplified replicas of the Capel Garmon fire-dog which was discovered not far away in Denbighshire. The wooden bowls are replicas of those found at the Breiddin hillfort in Montgomeryshire, and the quern stones (for grinding corn into flour) are replicas of ones found within the Bryn Eryr roundhouses themselves. We have a full wood-working tool-kit based on examples from hillforts such as Tre’r Ceiri and Castell Henllys. Even the blankets on the bed have been faithfully copied from surviving scraps of textile.

Now that the house has been faithfully dressed with period furnishings, we can use the space to demonstrate what life was like within a roundhouse. Furthermore, with the aid of craftspeople, re-enactors and volunteers, we can contribute to a deeper understanding of life in the Iron Age, and help turn this house into a home.

We have almost 50 historic buildings here at St Fagans, and most of us staff here have clear favourites. I find I have more than one categories of favourites - the one with my favourite story, the house I’d most like to live in today, and so on. For a spotlight tour I needed to consider all this, pick my favourites, and take visitors on a tour of my chosen buildings.

After thinking, and changing my mind a few times, I made a decision. I chose the Tollhouse with its connections to rich and fascinating political and social history, Nantwallter which has a great story attached, and Llainfadyn which is originally from Rhostryfan, not far from where I grew up in North Wales. I also noticed that they seemed to be linked, and not only by their period of interpretation.

Nantwallter is built from clom, a mix of clay, straw and fine aggregate packed in layers. As the house was being dismantled, a piece of newspaper was found. On the paper was an advert for a ship called the Halton Castle which was to sail on the 25th of April to Patagonia, y ‘wladdychfa Gymreig’, to establish a Welsh settlement in Argentina in 1865. This ship didn’t sail, however the more famous Mimosa sailed instead. It’s an amazing thing to come across. I can’t help wondering if this scrap of paper took them away for a moment to faraway lands, from their lives in West Wales, before they filled the gap in the wall.

Next stop was Llainfadyn, a quarry man’s house from Rhostryfan on the edge of Snowdonia. This was a chance to talk about the quarries and bring North Wales down to St Fagans. There are also plenty of great slate features and furniture inside. I’d recently been walking near where the house is from originally, so I showed some photos of the area, and wondered maybe if that was the view the quarry worker would have seen. The family who lived there later emigrated to America to work in the quarries of Vermont as the industry in Wales began to wane towards the end of the 19th Century. 

The Tollhouse from Aberystwyth represents a turbulent past, and is a chance to tell the story of inequality and tension in the 1840s. Farmers had to pay extortionate tolls several times on a single journey. This was too much on top of tax and rent, and the tithe to a church they didn’t belong to so tension mounted, and Rebecca and her rioters attacked tollhouses such as this. Workhouses were also attacked, and the gap grew between the landed gentry and the farmers. Being inside made you think of the keepers of the tollhouses, and where might they stand. The leaders of these riots were punished severely, some being transported to Australia.

What stirred my imagination, was seeing the familiar stories and histories, settings and daily lives of the people and circumstances attached to them, when looking closer, being catapulted into the big picture, and the other side of the world. The story of the farmers linking in with social injustices of the 19th century, and the political activism and reform tied with it. But also, the contrast between the familiar homes from familiar parts of Wales, that have far reaching connections with countries and continents all over the world. Did they keep a little piece of ‘home’, this familiar ‘home’ now represented at St Fagans, with them – on the shores of their new worlds at the journey’s end?

How many of you, like me, find yourselves turning to tried and tested recipes? They’re often dishes that have been handed down through my family, they’re comforting and remind me of my childhood.

The archive at St Fagans has a large collection of recipes, the vast majority of them passed down from generation to generation. The information has been gathered through questionnaires, letters and handwritten recipes. But the bulk of the collection was the work undertaken by Minwel Tibbott. When she started at the Museum in 1969, the study of traditional foods was a very new research field. Minwel realised very early on that the information would not be found in books. She travelled all over Wales in order to interview, record and film the older generation of women, many of them in their eighties. They recalled the dishes prepared by their mothers, and their memories harked back to the end of the 1800s.

As part of St Fagans Food Festival this year, which will be held on the weekend of the 5th and 6th of September, we’re asking for your help to add to this collection. As you settle down this evening to watch the new series of the Great British Bake Off, take a moment to think of your signature bake. What time-honoured family recipe would you share? How do you adapt traditional dishes? Do you have a dog-eared, but well-loved family recipe book, covered with additional notes and food stains? We’d love to find out what the dishes remind you of? Which ones are reserved for special occasions?

Tweet images and memories to @archifSFarchive, or bring them along to Oakdale Workmen’s Institute during the Food Festival and we’ll scan them. If they’re not written, as is the case with so many family favourites, you can tell us on the day.

For the latest on this project, follow tweets by @archifSFarchive and @SF_Ystafelloedd and the hashtags #FoodFestival #Recipes.

The first ever National Meadows Day is tomorrow, Saturday 4th July. You may have noticed National Museum Cardiff now has an Urban Meadow on the east side by the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre. It gives us a fantastic new outdoor learning space where just a lawn used to be. Check out our programme of events based around the meadow in What's On.

Our Urban Meadow with the bee hives on the roof is a positive approach by the museum to increase pollinators within Cardiff and are funded entirely through landfill tax. Meadows on our other museum sites help pollinators throughout Wales. With a no dig, no chemical policy, as well as introducing plants and seeds from Flora Locale recommended suppliers, we are following sustainable principles. 

Children have used the Urban Meadow to start investigating the natural world, children who may not otherwise have visited a museum. The next event is ‘Family Fun in the Meadow’ on Saturday 11th July: Help our OPAL scientist to survey the bug life in our urban meadow and learn to be a botanical illustrator. See the What’s On guide for further information

You can find further information and links to events for National Meadow Day on the Plantlife webpages

Also you can follow the Twitter hashtag: #magnificentmeadowsday

By Sally Whyman and Kath Slade

We would like to offer volunteers the opportunity to get involved in caring for the museum collections on open display in the historic houses. We have a huge number of objects, including items made from pottery, glass, textiles, paper, wood and leather, all of which need constant care and repair.

We plan to use traditional housekeeping techniques as well as modern conservation methods to help keep our collection looking good.  No previous experience is required, all training will be provided.

New facilities are also being created for our housekeeping volunteers, providing a comfortable area to work as well as relax.

If you are interested in joining us, please follow this link to the application form and we look forward to hearing from you.
This is a pilot project so even if the initial days we offer are not suitable, please still register your interest as more opportunities will arise in the future.