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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!

 

 

I volunteer one day per week with National Museum Cardiff’s Preventive Conservation team who is responsible for the care of the museum’s collections.

So what constitutes a typical day in the life of a Preventive Conservation volunteer? Typical is not a word that you can really use because it is pretty rare that we’ll be doing the same thing two weeks in a row. Looking after museum collections involves many diverse jobs.

My first ever task as a volunteer was to replace the silica gel in some of the object storage boxes in one of the Archaeology stores. Each of the plastic boxes contains a unique object. The silica gel keeps the object dry, which prevents metals corroding, for example helmets and swords. It’s pretty exciting to work in a museum store, see different parts of the past and know that you had a hand in preserving objects for the future.

What else has this volunteer done? Spot checking for pests in the Entomology store was a pretty strange experience. We look over the insect collections for signs of pest damage. Yes, the dead insects in the store are at risk of being eating by live insects! It really gives this sense of awe and then sadness when you see beautiful insects, both large and small, that you’d never imagined you’d see in real life and then you spot parts where they’ve been eaten by a pest. Looking over the collection regularly, and spotting pest activity early, means that specimens are not damaged by pests.

Most recently we’ve been moving some of the silver and jade objects in an Art store into new storage cases. If you ever get the chance to do this let me give you some advice; don’t think about the value of the objects you’re moving. If you do then you will be nervous. Instead focus on how amazing these objects are and how you’re helping to continue their story by making sure they are stored correctly. The museum objects will stick around a while longer because of your help.

In closing I only have this to say; if you ever get the opportunity to volunteer at a museum you should do it. It may end up giving you some of the best experiences of your life. That’s what it did for me.

Stefan Jarvis.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here. 

While I enjoy going to the Youth Forum very much, I have to say a once-in-a-lifetime experience was not what I was expecting when I turned up last week. But there we were, in the art conservation room, a few feet away from an original Van Gogh, out of its frame on the next table, having just come back from being loaned to an American museum. I could have actually touched it (and I was quite tempted, though of course I didn’t).

Now, I’m not exactly an art aficionado, as you can properly tell by the way I haven’t included the name of the painting because I don’t know it, but I have to say it was pretty amazing. 

However, the focus of the meeting was actually the imposing ‘The Welsh at Mametz Wood’ by war artist Christopher Williams, which is going to be part of a new exhibition focusing on the First World War battle at Mametz in a few months time.

This is a battle where hundreds of men from the Welsh Division were killed in July 1916, and thousands more were injured, something that the painting certainly doesn’t shy away from. It’s big, bloody, and quite brutal. While war sketches of poppies blooming among the trenches and beleaguered soldiers limping through mud evoke the tragedy of the slaughter that took place, they arguably don’t capture the fighting itself, but the aftermath, the few moments of calm in a four-year storm.

Christopher Williams (1873-1934), The Welsh Division at Mametz Wood, 1916 © National Museum of Wales

Williams’ painting does the opposite. The desperate struggle of the hand-to-hand slaughter was immediately obvious. It felt almost claustrophobic, the way the soldiers were almost piling on top of each other, climbing over their fallen comrades to try and take out the machine gunner. It was certainly a world away, as we discussed, from the posters bearing Lord Kitchener encouraging young men to enlist. We also talked about the way the painting is quite beautifully composed, almost in a Renaissance style.

It was hard to look at, but at the same time it was something you wanted to look at. 

After this, we went to the archives to look at some sketches made by Williams and other artists while at the trenches. I was about to get goosebumps fro the second time that evening - one of them still had mud from the trenches staining the edges!

In any other context, 100 year old mud probably wouldn’t have been very exciting, but this mud is so strongly linked in people’s minds with images of the First World War.

Think of the trenches, and you think of mud. People slept, ate and died surrounded by this mud; it seems to be inextricably bound up with the nightmare of having to live and fight in that environment, and made looking at the sketches even more powerful.

Another document we looked at was a sort of manual given to recruits of the Royal Welsh Division, containing poems, stories and pictures that the soldiers would have submitted themselves. It was touching to see one of the ways they would have injected moments of humour into their lives as soldiers, and also their own perspectives on their experiences. All in all, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this exhibition comes together, and learning more about Mametz, a part of the war and hadn’t even heard of until a couple of weeks ago. 

 

Holly Morgan Davies, 

National Museum Cardiff Youth Forum

 

 

Here at St Fagans, many of our curators have been travelling the length and breadth of Wales co- producing audio-visual content for the new galleries.

Last week, my colleague Dafydd Wiliam and I began work on a new and exciting task, this time a little closer to home, a stone throw away in Tremorfa.

Over the next few months, our focus will be the Vulcan pub. We’ll be conducting oral histories with former customers and landlords of the former Adamsdown pub, recording and filming their experiences and memories. The completed interviews will be edited into a short film which will be displayed in one of the redeveloped galleries. But also we hope these memories will give us as curators, a clearer picture of life at the Vulcan, its culture and its community.

Our first interviewees were Rhona and Mel Rees, landlords of the Vulcan pub between 1983 and 1985. From the very beginning, it was clear that they were extremely fond of the pub and its customers, and that they thoroughly enjoyed their time there. They described the pub as their living room, and the words cosy, friendly, and fun, were said regularly. They had plenty of amusing and comic tales from the pub to tell, but they also touched on deeper themes, such as raising a family in a pub and also the economic side of things and the decline of the trade. All in all it was an eye-opening interview, and we learnt so much about their daily lives as landlords of the Vulcan in the 80’s.

My personal highlight of the interview was a story about a prank played on Mel’s 50th birthday involving a kissogram visiting the Vulcan, but I won’t give too much away now!

Mel and Rhona truly captured the atmosphere and character of the pub and its people, and I can’t wait to go out again to meet and interview the people who knew this very special pub.

If you or somebody you know have stories or objects related to the Vulcan, we’d love to hear from you – please leave a message in the comments box below.

#MakingHistory #CreuHanes

Next month Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff will close after almost 108 years of providing mental health services in the capital.

To mark this end of an era, members of the Whitchurch Hospital Historical Society have turned a disused ward into a pop-up museum. For one week only, members of the public, former patients and staff are invited beyond the Hospital’s imposing – some would say forbidding – red brick façade to explore its history from 1908 to the present-day.

An autograph book in cloth

Here at St Fagans, we have a tablecloth in the collection which was made at the Hospital in 1917. It was donated to the Museum in 2014 by the costume designer, Ray Holman, who had bought it at a Cardiff antiques shop in the early 1980s. At first glance, this white cotton tablecloth with a crocheted border looks, quite frankly, a little dull. But this rather unassuming textile hides a multitude of secrets. Look closely and you’ll see faint signatures embroidered in white thread across the entire surface of the cloth – the names of British and American soldiers who were receiving treatment at Whitchurch in 1917.

Military hospital

During the First World War, the Cardiff City Mental Hospital (as Whitchurch was then called) was ceded to the military and became known as the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital (1915 - 1919). Civilian psychiatric patients were moved to other institutions, while injured soldiers requiring orthopaedic treatment occupied their beds. In 1917, 450 beds were allocated for soldiers with mental health conditions.   

The signatures embroidered on the tablecloth include two important figures in the history of psychiatric care in Wales – Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Goodall and Matron Florence Raynes. Goodall, an eminent psychiatrist who trained at Guy’s Hospital in London, was appointed the first Medical Superintendent of Whitchurch in 1906, two years before the Hospital opened. He was awarded a CBE in 1919 for his pioneering treatment of shell shock. Florence Raynes was also a trailblazer in her own right. She was the first sister to have overall responsibility for the entire, male and female, nursing staff.

If you get a chance to visit Whitchurch Hospital this week, please do go. It’s a fascinating exhibition in the most powerful of settings.

With thanks to Gwawr Faulconbridge, Whitchurch Hospital Historical Society, Dr Ian Beech, and to Ray Holman for his generous donation.

End of an Era, Whitchurch Hosptial, 7 - 11 March 2016

The tablecloth will be on display at the Hospital on 11 March, 10am - 1pm