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This post is a synopsis of a Behind the Scenes event I presented on September 30th 2014. It consisted of looking at a “snapshot” of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ activities during the WWI period. Information was obtained through scanning our scrap books, publication archives and photographic collections for the years 1914 to 1918 and extracting interesting items of news concerning  staff and exhibitions.

However, the first thing I did was to warn everyone that in 1914 this is what we looked like….

National Museum Wales building
National Museum Wales building 30th September 1914

We still existed of course, established by Royal Charter back in 1907 but, without a finished building to call our own.

Therefore, during this time while construction of the building was in progress, administration was carried out in offices close by at Park Place and the Kingsway area while exhibitions were held in temporary galleries next door in City Hall.

Temporary Museum in the City Hall
One of many exhibitions held at the "Temporary Museum in the City Hall"

I centred the staff news on three people...

Archibald H. Lee
Archibald H. Lee

Archibald H. Lee, the Museum Secretary, who saw active military service and was decorated with the Military Cross after fighting at Gaza. He returned to work after the war and remained Museum Secretary for 44 years, finally retiring in 1953. He appears in many photographs of special events and royal visits over the years. 

Cyril Mortimer Green
Cyril Mortimer Green

Cyril Mortimer Green, who had been appointed as Botanical Assistant in 1914, but never got to take up his post. He held a Commission in the 3rd Royal Sussex Regiment, went abroad to fight early on in the war and was eventually killed on active duty in November 1917. 
His death is all the more poignant because, not only did never take up his position at Museum, his brother Hugh Mortimer Green had also been killed on active duty in 1915.

Click the link below and scroll down for more information on Cyril and his brother.

http://www.wwwmp.co.uk/ceredigion/aberystwyth-st-david-s-church/

Eleanor Vachell
Eleanor Vachell

Eleanor Vachell, spirited and outstanding amateur botanist who stepped in to take charge of the botany collections, while Cyril Mortimer Green was absent on military duty. She did this, with the help of pupils from Cardiff High School for Girls, whilst also supporting the war effort as one of the ‘Committee Ladies of the Auxiliary Workers Territorial Forces Nursing Association’ at the hospital set up in Howard Gardens, working as both nurse and librarian.

Eleanor was the daughter of Charles Tanfield Vachell [1848-1914], a member of the Cardiff Naturalists Society, serving as its secretary and president for many years, he was also behind the creation of the Cardiff Municipal Museum and was a member of the National Museum Wales council.
    

Eleanor compiled, with her father, the Vachell herbarium that contains 6,705 dried specimens and is one of the most complete herbaria ever collected by a private individual. This is now held here at the Museum along with a very large collection of their own personal library on British floras.

I also looked at the problems faced in the construction of the building due to a lack of basic materials that had been re-allocated for the war effort. The progress must have been excruciatingly slow and all material orders had to apply via license applications to The Ministry of Munitions and the Report for 1917/18 it is stated that work was suspended completely for a time…

Construction of the dome section
Construction of the dome section

Unfortunately it has become necessary to suspend work on the New Building, and an agreement terminating the contract has been entered into with the builders, Messrs J. Willcock & Son. The roof had already been completed and the windows have been filled with oiled canvas so that the structure is now weather proof… Some of the rooms in the New Building are already in use for storage of specimens. NMW Annual Report p. 9

One of the most enjoyable parts of researching this talk was looking at the exhibitions that were held through the war years and there were plenty of them! Because even though the country was at war, the Museum still had an obligation to the public to carry on programming exhibitions and events. Here are just a few of the many exhibitions held at City Hall and for which we hold the original catalogues...

Turner's Welsh Drawings

Open from Oct 26th 1914 to Jan 30th 1915 and visited by over 8,000 people

Exhibition of Modern Belgian Art

Held in 1915 from March 17th to April 15th….visited by over 6,000 people.

Original exhibition catalogues
Original exhibition catalogues

Exhibition of Topographical Prints and Engravings 

An exhibition of Prints and Engravings of places in Wales was opened on July 27th 1915 and closed on October 30th The number of visitors to the exhibition was in excess of 7,000.

 

Lovett Collection of Toys

A unique collection of children’s toys and playthings lent to the Museum by Mr. Edward Lovett, of the Folklore Society. The exhibition was originally intended to close on August 16th 1915 but in view of the interest it aroused, and to give school children an opportunity of visiting it during the whole of their holidays, the date of closing was postponed to September 2nd. The total attendance was 21, 889.

Original material on display
Original material on display

I also found mention of a number of war related exhibitions held at City Hall but for which we do not hold the catalogues…

Exhibitions of Women’s War Work 

A Ministry of Munitions exhibition of photographs illustrating women’s war work during February 1916

Exhibition of Allied War Photographs 

An Exhibition of Allied War Photographs held in 1917 from August 4th to 20thand visited by nearly 4,000 people.

British Battle Photographs [in colour]

An exhibition lent by the Ministry of Information. This was opened in November 1918 closed on the 11th December, and visited by about 3,500 people. 

I concluded the talk by showing two other WWI related items held here in the Library. The first was a volume of military portraits of soldiers from the Welsh Horse Yeomanry. This regiment did not exist before the Great War; it was formed in August 1914 under the administration of the Glamorgan Territorial Force Association and headquartered in Cardiff [Sophia Gardens]. The title page states that the album was presented to Alderman J. Robinson, who was Lord Mayor of Cardiff (1913–1914) and it was donated to the Library on the 27th April 1932 by Councillor R. G. Robinson.

More information on this regiment can be found here: http://www.1914-1918.net/welshhorse.htm

The second item I showed comprised of three albums, most likely put together for promotional purposes by the Italian air craft manufacturer, The Caproni Factory. The factory was founded in 1908 [in Taliedo, near Milan] and during WWI, they developed a series of successful heavy bombers, used by the Italian, French, British and US air forces.

  1. Officine Caproni contains photographs of large Caproni factory spaces [interiors and exteriors].
  2. Aeroplani Caproni contains photographs of many types of Caproni aeroplanes [many with machine guns attached]
  3. Smaller third album [blank cover] contains photographs of Caproni staff groups at work. This album also contains 5 typed sheets of paper listing the aeroplanes and listing technical information; entries are accompanied with phrases like:
    • Easily managed and very useful in attacking infantry
    • Well-armed with 2 - 4 machine guns
    • Purpose built for attacking enemy workshops / enemy ships 

These albums were donated to the Library on 15th February 1926 by “Lord Treowen” [Major-General Ivor Herbert, 1st Lord Treowen] National Museum Wales Treasurer 1907-12, Vice President 1912-17, and President 1917-22.

More information on the Caproni Factory can be found here:

The last item I showed was one of our scrapbooks covering the WWI period. These articles in particular, paint a vivid picture of an exceptional and turbulent period in the history of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Following on from Sioned’s blog about our work with Mat Fraser in 2014 and the anonymous ‘invalid chair’ she found in the collection, in this blog I’ll be discussing another object which featured in Mat’s performance – an 18th century woollen suit from the Llantrisant area.  

Unlike most of the disability-related collections in the Museum, the suit in question comes with a personal story and a file bulging with snippets from local history books. Worn by Hopkin Hopkins – better known as ‘Hopcyn Bach’ [Little Hopcyn] – the frock coat and matching breeches are among the oldest items of clothing in the collection. They were acquired by the Museum in 1920, before it was common practice for curators to document their reasons for accepting artefacts into the collection.

Hopkin Hopkins (1737 - 54) was born with a growth restricting condition. His physical appearance became a source of income for his family. It may seem repugnant to us today, but at the age of 14 he was taken to London by his parents and shown publically for money. Billed as “the wonderful and surprising Little Welchman”, his perceived ‘freakishness’ was a source of entertainment in polite society. In 1751, Hopkin was presented to the Royal Family who gave him a gold watch, an annual pension and ten guineas for each appearance he made at Court.

In the same year, he was also ‘on display’ in Bristol. This vivid account of the visit is taken from a letter sent by John Browning in September 1751:

I am just returned from Bristol where I have seen an extraordinary young man, whose case is very surprising; he is shewn publicly for money, and therefore I send you the printed bill, which is given about to bring company… I went myself to view and examine this extraordinary, and surprising but melancholy subject; a lad entering the 15th year of his age, whose stature is no more than 2 feet and 7 inches, and weight 13 pound, labouring under all the miserable and calamities of old age, being weak and emaciated, his eyes dim, his hearing very bad, his countenance fallen, his voice very low and hollow; his head hanging down before, so that his chin touches his breast, consequently his shoulders are raised and his back rounded not unlike a hump-back, he is weak that he cannot stand without support. [Letter from John Browning to Henry Baker, 12 September 1751. Quoted in Sem Phillips, The History of the Borough of Llantrisant, 1866.]

How did Hopkin feel about being an object of curiosity? We simply don’t know. Although we have numerous descriptions of his body, his voice is missing from the narrative.     

The focus for UK Disability History Month this year is how disability and disabled people have been portrayed in the past and present.

With this in mind, I revisited some objects in the collection at St Fagans which made an appearance on the Welsh Millennium Centre stage last year. These objects had been selected by Mat Fraser to be used in his keynote address at the Museums Association Conference in Cardiff, October 2014. Mat’s ground-breaking performance, Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability was kept in a Box looked at museum collections and how we should reassess the ways we portray - or as in most cases - don’t portray disability.

One of the objects selected by Mat for his show was an early wheelchair, or ‘invalid chair’ as they were once referred to. At first, I was surprised that the chair was among Mat’s choice of objects for the simple reason that there wasn’t much to say about it. I later realised of course, that it was exactly the point he wanted to make.

When we initially received the request to list potential candidates from the Museum’s collections for Mat’s performance, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. The Museum’s classification didn’t include a section on disability so the only way of searching was to systematically trawl through all of the index cards. The few invalid chairs in the St Fagans collection were catalogued under the theme of transport, among various wheeled vehicles, from agricultural carts to bicycles.

The chair was collected by the Museum in 1985 from a house in Cardiff along with other various objects but there was no further information in the file about the donor or its previous owner. So I started to do a bit of research.

It seems that this type of folding invalid chair would have been manufactured from the early 1900s up until the Second World War. It has a cane seat and back, and a wooden frame which means it’s not too heavy to manoeuvre. It was designed with two small wheels at the back so that it could be wheeled up and down stairs by two people without having to lift the chair ‘saving effort and reducing the risk of accident’. [1]

There’s no maker’s name on the chair but it’s very similar to models manufactured by the more well-known specialist makers from London such as John Ward, Tottenham Court Road, and Carters of Great Portland Street. Their products were advertised in newspapers and could be purchased from catalogues. Their ranges included the more expensive bath chairs with leather upholstery to basic chairs such as this example, costing around £3 in the early 1900s.

However, this was still expensive for the majority of the population. In the industrial south Wales valleys during the first half of the twentieth century, many medical aid societies would help with the purchase or loan of wheelchairs and mobility aids.[2] After the First World War the British Red Cross also lent surplus equipment such as bed rests and invalid chairs which could be hired out on a weekly basis – a service which continues today.

Without knowing why or who used this chair, we are still missing a big part of its history. Sadly, this is also true of most disability-related collections in museums. As Mat Fraser noted in his keynote address last year:

‘...but we know nothing about it, and this illustrates so many artefacts to do with disability – they have no notes. Nobody knows anything. So I suppose the only thing I would take from that is to say that when we have artefacts, we need to label them, we need to get the right people to write the right notes to accompany some of these artefacts because conjecture would be very different for every single one of us as to where this came from. And yet, none of us will never know the real truth which exemplifies and illustrates many points.

 

[1] The Concise Home Doctor Encyclopaedia of Good Health Vol 1, p.303

[2] Ben Curtis and Steven Thompson, ‘A Plentiful Crop of Cripples Made by All This Progress’: Artificial Limbs and Working-Class Mutualism in the South Wales Coalfield, 1890-1948’, Social History of Medicine (2014) 27 (4): 708-727.

 

11th December 2015 at the National Museum Cardiff from 10.30am to 3.30pm.

Join us for the Christmas version of this one day conference organized by Amgueddfa Cymru: National Museum Wales, The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and Cardiff University. The theme is ‘Conservators in action’ and will highlight some of the great work done by conservators across Wales.

A good mix of talks is being arranged;

  • Gemma McBader, this years winner of the Pilgrim Trust Student Conservator of the Year Award, will talk about her project 'Significance-led conservation of a 19th century Ethiopian shield'.
  • Helen Baguley on her experiences as a music internship at St Fagans National History Museum.
  • Adam Webster will be exploring the conservation of the Stradling family memorial panels.
  • Ruth Murgatroyd on preparing the specimens for the ‘Stuffed, pickled, pinned’ exhibition for their 3 year tour.
  • Julie McBain will be challenging authenticity in textile conservation.
  • Jane Rutherfoord discusses the uncovering, conservation and significance of the 15th century wall paintings at Llancarfan.
  • Caroline Buttler will be looking at the challenges of conserving, moving and displaying a few tons of fossil tree root!
  • Katie Mortimer Jones will be providing an insight into the way the Natural sciences at AC-NMW integrate the use of social media.

A draft program for the day is;

10:00     Tea/Coffee        
10:30     Intro     
10:40     Katie Mortimer (AC-NMW). Using social media to highlight and promote the work of the natural sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.
11:05     Helen Baguley (Cardiff University). Being an ICON intern: a note on musical instrument conservation.
11:30     Caroline Buttler (AC-NMW). Conservation of the Brymbo Fossil forest.
11:55     BREAK  
12:10     Gemma McBader (University College London). Significance-led conservation of a 19th century Ethiopian shield.
12:35     Adam Webster (AC-NMW). Adventures with Sir Harry Stradlinge and Colyn Dolyphn a Brytaine Pirate; the conservation and restoration of the Stradling Family memorial panels.
13:00     LUNCH 
14:00     Ruth Murgatroyd (Cardiff University) - Packed, padded & pinned: preparing natural science specimens for a three year tour.
14:25     Julia McBain (Cardiff University). Conserving what is real, the challenge of authenticity in textile conservation.
14:50     Jane Rutherfoord (Rutherfoord Conservation Limited). Uncovering, conservation and significance of the 15th century wall paintings at Llancarfan.
15:20     Discussion          
15:40     Short tours are possible, before retiring to the pub!

If you have any queries about the program please contact julian.carter@museumwales.ac.uk. We will be looking to finish by around 3.30pm, with the additional option of some short collection tours afterwards if you wish to stay longer. For those requiring some further refreshment the tours will be followed by a seasonal visit to a local pub.

The cost of the day is £20 which includes lunch (£10 for students). If you wish to join us, please email your booking information before 7 December 2015 and follow it with a cheque or Purchase Order payable to Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales to

Katrina Deering
National Collections Centre
Heol Crochendy
Parc Nantgarw CF15 7QT

Please E-mail any booking queries to katrina.deering@museumwales.ac.uk

Booking information
Name:
Organisation:
E-mail address:
Payment enclosed or to follow: Yes/No     

Students are permitted to pay cash on the day, but must book a place by 7 December 2015. Places are allocated on a first come first served basis.

Please include any dietry requirements with your booking information.

Conservation Matters in Wales conferences are held twice a year in Wales, UK and bring together examples of best practice, case studies and research in conservation and collections care, and provide networking opportunities for conservators and museum, library and archive professionals.

 

 

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories.

Last year staff from Amgueddfa Cymru held an Explore Your Archive event for the first time. It was held in the Oakdale Institute at St. Fagans: National History Museum. We showcased a selection of documents and photographs relating to Wales and the First World War to coincide with the launch of our First World War online catalogue. You can search the catalogue here.

It was a popular event with adults and a number of school parties excited to see original historic archive material, and discuss their history with the staff who look after these collections. The success of last year’s event means that we are organising another one this year. ‘Discovering Wales: History on Your Doorstep’ will be held over two days on 20-21 November in the main hall of National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park. This year the theme will be travel and tourism and we will have a selection of archive material from our collections including photographs, film, postcards, letters and notebooks for you to look at and discuss with members of the team who curate, manage and conserve the archive collections. This year we will also have a series of events for children. Children will be able create their own postcard for display in the Main Hall, or can put on their Sherlock hats and help us to identify unknown names and places from the photographic collections! There will also be an Explore Your Archive trail around the museum.

We hope to see you there. You can find out more about the event here.