Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


In the early 1970s Museum staff set out to record older and retired farmers describing farming in Wales in the first half of the twentieth century, before the large-scale mechanisation and expansion from the 1950s onwards. The recordings are kept in our Sound Archive.

In April 1977 Earnest Thomas Ruell, then aged 76, was interviewed about sheep farming in Radnorshire, mid-Wales, in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born in 1901, he lived at The Pant farm, Llanfihangel Rhydithon, in the hills north east of Llandrindod Wells.  After marrying in 1924 he farmed at Dolyfelin near Knighton for thirty four years.

In this short compilation of selected clips, Thomas Ruell describes lambing time, speaking in the distinctive accent of Radnorshire, one of the most rural Welsh counties, bordering Herefordshire.

The flock comprised 120 ewes and 4 or 5 rams. The breed of sheep was the local Kerry Hill, regarded as excellent mothers. Lambing took place outside, the only space available under cover was by emptying the wainhouse (cart shed) during heavy snow. Treatments for illnesses were limited and often based on local remedies. The flock producing a lambing figure of 125% was considered a good outcome. Female lambs grew into ewes and were kept for just over two years then sold, during which time they would have produced lambs themselves.

Large sheds allow lambing to be a lot less dependent upon weather conditions and the seasons, often starting as early as January. Here at Llwyn-yr-eos farm our ewes were all undercover well before lambing even began. Most flocks and farms now have to be considerably larger in order to be viable. Treatments for illnesses have advanced considerably, most of which can be applied by farmers themselves. Some similarities remain between lambing in the 1920s and the 1930s and the present, though, and a great deal of time, care and attention from the farmer are still fundamental elements for successful lambing today.

If you've been watching lambcam you'll have seen that sometimes our sheep get a little bit of help to give birth from our farm team. So for those of you who might be wondering what's actually going on in there...

As the ewe goes in to labour, her contractions push the lamb towards the outside world. The position of the lamb is known as ‘presentation’.  It affects whether the ewe will be able to manage the birth on her own or might need some help from the shepherd.


  1. Ideal: Head and forelegs first. The most streamlined position – usually no help needed.
  2. One leg back aka ‘Superman’: May need help to push the lamb back and straighten the leg.
  3. Two legs back: Needs help to push the head back and bring the legs forward.
  4. Head Back: Needs help to push the lamb back and bring the head forward.
  5. Backwards: Although the ewe can deliver the lamb herself, there is a risk of the umbilical cord breaking before the head is out. This may result in the lamb drowning before birth.
  6. Breech (bottom first): Help will always be needed to sort this one out.
  7. Multiple mix ups: Twins, triplets and even quads can be no problem to deliver if they come one at a time. But sometimes things get tangled up in there and help is needed!

Thanks to Wynfford the Training Lamb and Flat Eric for their modelling work

Guest blog by St Fagans Youth Forum members - Amy Gifford, Kate Gregory & Beth Ivey-Williams - live from Bryn Eryr!

Hello everyone. We’re the St Fagans Youth Forum and today (12 March) we’re helping to build an Iron Age bread oven at Bryn Eryr. Ian, the Museum’s Interpreter, has been busy researching traditional building methods and the history of bread ovens through time. In this blog, we’ll take you through part one of the process. So if you fancy building your own pizza oven for your garden at home, follow our guide below.

Step 1

Use wooden stakes to mix local ‘clom’ (clay), water and sand to a thick dough. Patience and perseverance essential! Some would say it’s quite therapeutic; a weird kind of stress buster!

Tip from Amy: “Go with your gut instinct. You’ll know when the dough is at the right consistency.”

Step 2

Mix dry sand with water. Use the mixture to build a dome (former) in the centre of the oven base. Ian pre-made the base out of clay and a flat stone. When building the dome, even out the sides for a rounded finish. Don’t use too much water.

Tip from Beth: “You’ll have to get your hands dirty, but it’s just like building a sand castle.”

Step 3

Build-up your dome to a rounded arch.

Tip from Kate: “Keep warm as you work. Your hands will get very cold as you sculpt the wet material.”

Step 4

Smooth off all the sand and cover your dome with strips of damp newspaper. This is a bit like papier mâché.

Step 5

Cover the dome with the clay mixture you prepared earlier in step 1. Let it set for two days.

Step 6

To be continued!



Women's History Month is deeply rooted in the suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  To highlight the need for equality, it was vital to show the contributions that women had made throughout history and continued to make in current times.  In celebration of Women's History Month, and in conjunction with Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology, we take a look at some of the women who helped shape the discipline of archaeology.

Gertrude Bell was born in County Durham in 1868.  She was educated at home and went on the attend Oxford University where she earned a degree in history.  During a trip to Iran, she fell in love with the history and culture of the Middle East.  Becoming fluent in Arabic and Persian, she travelled extensively throughout the region, many times to places few Europeans had ever been.  During her trips, she would also carry out archaeological surveys of ruins and published several books.  Because of her unparalleled knowledge of the Middle East, when the First World War began she took a job with British Intelligence in the Arab Bureau in Cairo.  While there she worked with fellow adventurer and archaeologist T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).  In the post war years Bell became deeply involved in the formation of Iraq and Jordan as independent nations.  She had a close relationship with King Faisal of Iraq and Syria and in 1922 the new government appointed her Director of Antiquities.  In this role, Bell became a passionate supporter of artefacts remaining in their original countries, not in European collections, and to combat this she wrote the Laws of Excavation, which gave protection to archaeological sites in Iraq, and established the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.   Recently a movie, Queen of the Desert, was made of Bell’s life starring Nicole Kidman. 

Gertrude Bell in Iraq in 1909 age 41

Tessa (Verney) Wheeler was born in Johannesburg in 1893.  The family relocated to England and Tessa read history at University College London.  While there she met her future husband, Mortimer Wheeler, who would become a preeminent archaeologist.  After graduating, Tessa move to Cardiff where her husband had taken up the position of Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales.  During their time there, Tessa and Mortimer carried out extensive excavations at Roman sites such as Segontium (Caernarfon) and Y Gaer (Brecon).  Just as they were preparing to begin excavating at Caerleon, Mortimer was appointed Keeper at the London Museum.  Instead of abandoning the project, Tessa took over the excavation.  Early in her career she was often overshadowed by her husband but in later life she was recognised for her fieldwork and the contributions she made to the ‘Wheeler team’.      

Tessa Wheeler at Caerleon amphitheatre

Turkish archaeologist Halet Çambel was a woman of many talents.  Born in Berlin in 1916, she had taken up fencing as a child and became the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics as part of the 1936 Turkish fencing team.  She famously declined an invitation to meet Adolph Hitler.  She then attended the Sorbonne in Paris where she read archaeology and the languages of Hittite, Assyrian and Hebrew.  She spent most of her career excavating in Turkey and spent over 50 years working at Karatepe, a Hittite stronghold.  She created the department of Prehistoric Archaeology at Istanbul University and in 2004 was awarded the Prince Claus Award, which is presented to those “whose cultural actions have a positive impact on the development of their societies.”    

A person doesn’t have to be a trained expert to have an impact on archaeology.  Take for example, Edith Pretty.  Born in 1883, Edith’s family saw the value in education, especially education via travel.  Throughout her many travels, she was able to see archaeological excavations in progress.  Her father also had an interest in archaeology and was given permission to excavate a Cistercian Abbey near their home in Cheshire.  Having inherited money, she bought land in Suffolk and moved there with her husband.  The property held several burial mounds which did not appear to have been excavated.  Edith and her husband often wondered what may lie beneath the mounds but Edith wanted any excavations to be done using the most up to date scientific methods.  In 1937, she contacted the Ipswich Museum and requested the mounds be excavated.  Two years later, the largest of the mounds produced one of the most important archaeological finds, the Sutton Hoo burial.  She gifted the finds to the British Museum where they are on display.   

1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo burial ship by Harold John Phillips

These are but a few of the women who have contributed to archaeology.  For more information, please visit

A number of months ago, I told you that we are currently busy preparing objects for our new galleries.  The most recent one to land on our work table is a Memorial sampler.  It has an embroidered inscription, carried out in cross-stitch using silk thread, which reads: ‘In loving memory of / Elizabeth Morgan, / formerly of Llanishan / who died Dec 6th 1885 / Aged 30 years / and was interred at / Glyn-Taff Cemetery / A Ray of light from God’s own light - / She beamed and made of life the best / She touched the earth and made it bright / She blest us all and went to rest.’

The sampler was donated by the great-grand daughter of Elizabeth Morgan, T. A. Bennett, from Pen-y-Graig, Rhondda. 

Memorial sampler, for Gweithdy, F80.183

The interesting thing about this sampler is that the ground is not textile but is made from card punched through with a gridwork of holes, through which the embroidery is worked.  As it is made from both textile and paper elements this has given us an opportunity to tackle its conservation as a cross-disciplinary project; drawing on our respective expertise in both textile and paper conservation.

Looking at the object in its frame, the senior conservator archives and I could already see that the sampler had been badly mounted in the past, having been adhered directly to a rigid card backing.  This has been partly responsible for causing splits in the card ground as the unevenly applied adhesive restricted its natural expansion and contraction through changes in environmental humidity levels.  Our challenge here will be to devise a method of removing the embroidery from this unsuccessful backing and to come up with a new method of stabilising and mounting it, so that it can be displayed safely.  As we get stuck into the project, we shall give you updates on how the work is progressing.