30 March 2011,
Earlier this year, the Making History events team set themselves a challenge: to create a spectacle for children, all about Tudor life. Specifically, those elements of Tudor life which encite a 'yeeeeeuurgh' from children - and a raised eyebrow from grown-ups. And thus, the concept for Mayday Misrule! was born.
Children's history isn't always easy to interpret, especially since kids are always disproportionately affected by social inequality. Child labour, lack of education or sanitation, are all very tricky subjects which might crop up when we look at the world of the child in the past.
It is, however, an important field to explore, as it addresses human rights, family dynamics, comfort, identity and much more. They are sometimes things which we might think difficult to explain to a young, enquiring mind. But, as Learning Department fave, Teacher Tom says, "Viewing disaster at a distance gives [us] an opportunity to calmly lay down a little philosophical groundwork to prepare for when tragedy strikes closer to home.".
It would be very easy to tell our young visitors that they've "never had it so good" and leave it at that, but we wanted to engage and delight, not make them feel guilty for having Xboxes.
And that is the slightly wordy explanation of why, this week, I find myself phoning up abattoirs looking for pigs' bladders.
During 'Misrule!', there'll be Tudors to be found all over the museum: from surgeons, archers and pipers to cooks, skinners and wise women. I will become Sara the servant: not a massive stretch, but it will involve wearing the wooden corset again, joy of joys! My job will be to show the Tudor sporting life - confirming, as my purple face did after my first-ever 'jog' on Saturday, that I like my sports a little rough, but mostly extinct.
As part of my talk, I will be demonstrating how to make a football using a bladder. It's a traditional skill which outlived the Tudors, as there are plenty of staff here at the Museum who remember playing with a bladder ball. Unfortunately, none of them remember making one: It was a skill that their grandparents had, but did not pass on. When the time came to learn, mass-produced plastic footballs were cheap and readily available, and there was really no need to learn how best to wrap your lips round a dead pig's urethra.
All of which leads on smoothly to the next bit: Health and Safety! The implications are weighing on my mind a bit - not only because the public will be there, but because I don't want to come down with some sort of horrible disease and end up like a porcine version of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The Re-enactors I've spoken to swear by salt water to kill any bacteria, but written information is very thin on the ground. Before I decide on my method for this expermient, then, I'm going to cast my net a bit wider... Dear reader(s): have you any tips at all on procuring, and safely handling, a pig's bladder? Please post them in the comments box!
I will be posting updates as I go about learning these techniques, so I hope you'll look forward to the next installment of Bladderblog!
23 February 2011,
It seems like Skull-Cups are all the rage this month.
The media loves a history-story with a bit of 'ick' to it, and the recently-discovered human remains from Cheddar Gorge struck a chord last week. Reports of our 'cannibalistic' ancestors appeared on the Beeb, the Guardian and even über-cool hangout Boing Boing. The skulls found in Gough's Cave were almost 15,000 years old, and were, according to experts, probably used as ceremonial goblets.
Fast forward around 14,000 years, to 1057CE (or 1057AD, depending on how you take your history). That's when an amazing piece of skull-cup history starts, and right here in Wales.
Far from the media's imagined early-mannibal, drinking blood from his familiar's head; this cup is a piece of Welsh history with refined, aristocratic associations. In fact, the skull was even set in silver by Garrard's of London, and supposedly once sat on the saintly shoulders of one of Wales' most popular men: St Teilo.
The skull, that is, not the cup.
The Mathew family, who lived in South Wales, took on the guardianship of Teilo's Skull just before the Battle of Hastings. By now, it is held in Llandaf Cathedral, and it can be viewed by appointment. I popped down last week to take a few photos of it for this Saturday's Holy Relics!talk.
It is currently sealed behind glass, to prevent the corrosion of the silver parts, and so I hope you'll forgive me for the reflections in my photos! I do like the fact that the curious custodian's shadow turns up in a few of them, like a ghost in a suit!
The skull itself was handed down from generation to generation, carrying with it a tradition which goes back to the early Church and its practices. The body, or even part of the body, of a Saint was seen as a high-status object. Many churches have built their reputations thanks to the presence of bones in their altars, reportedly belonging to important Christians.
The veneration of relics still takes place, as does the exchange of these very sensitive objects. Ebay even has an advisory page on how to buy and sell your relics without commiting the Catholic sin of Simony, which is selling the human remains of a saint. A glance at Interpol's Stolen Art Register (possibly one of the most interesting corners of the web, found here) shows that icons and relics, from many different religions, are still powerful objects which fascinate buyers - scrupulous or otherwise.
Today, I'm writing up my talk for Saturday - it's the point at which I get really excited, but before the information quite settles into a coherent sequence.
Maybe it's time for a cup of tea...
11 February 2011,
There's so much happening at St Fagans tomorrow, I thought I'd just round up for your convenience! Entry to St Fagans: National History Museum is free of charge, as are our events and activities, but you will have to stump up some change for the parking (£3.50). Better still, take the cycle path to Fairwater and follow the railway, or catch the 320 bus from Cardiff Central and you'll be delivered right to our door.
As usual, our craftspeople will be working in the historic buildings: tomorrow, you can catch familiar faces Geraint and Geraint (the miller and clog-maker respectively) demonstrating traditional techniques. You can even take a bag of our 'Melin Bompren' flour home with you (it makes very good blonde-beer bread, I'm told). Our clog-maker is always happy to take orders for his custom-fit, traditional shoes, available in some non-traditional colours, too!
As usual, our agricultural team will be feeding the pigs at 3.30 down at Llwyn yr Eos Farm. There'll be a few special events, too, catering for all sorts of interests:
Celebrating St Teilo's Day (10-1, 2-3) will take place in St Teilo's Church. I will be doing a bit of storytelling, using our beautiful carving of Teilo's story: have a look at it beforehand here, if you like. I will also be doing my best to answer any questions you may have about the wall-paintings, pigments, Tudor sports, or wherever else your curiosity leads you.
Short Stories, Poems and Songs (2-3) will take place in Oriel 1, in the company of writer Paul Burston. Marking the launch of Museums Wales' first-ever go at LBGT history month; performances, readings and song will look at and celebrate what it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Wales today. The Community Dresser display has also been updated by support group Gay Ammanford, showing objects relevant to their lives.
So, something for everyone, or, what's known as: another day in the office at St Fagans!
7 February 2011,
Time, then, for an update! We've got a year full of activities and live displays, all centered around the period between 1500-1700: a must-see for anyone interested in the lives of the Tudors and Stewarts, and the Civil War.
I'll direct you, first, to the St Fagans events list, where you can find out more about each individual event we're holding this year. All events are free of charge, and quite a few of them will be part of our exciting new Creu Hanes/Making History project.
We have been beavering away, working on a very special exhibition to launch the Making History project, and the events will be the cherry on top of a year packed with exciting, user-friendly developments at St Fagans: National History Museum. Some of the best-known historical performers and researchers in the UK will be here throughout the year to bring 1500-1700 to life, in a way that only St Fagans can.
I will post a full list of Making History events in due course, but as a taster, I'll leave you with these images. At the top of the post are the Tudor Group, who will be living in Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf longhouse over Easter, bringing St Teilo's and the surrounding woodland to life. Below, are the Towton Battle boys and their friend, who will be taking part in a gory, smelly and all-round 'orrible festival for children, called Misrule!. We also have Tudor fashion shows, cookery, punishments and much more, coming up. I may as well use this little corner of the web to let you know that there's something very special coming up for anyone interested in the Civil Wars. Keep your eye on this blog and I'll keep you in the loop!
17 November 2010,
Lead by the Centre for Research in Early Music, University of Wales Bangor and Exeter University, this was an attempt to see if the rites of pre-Reformation Wales could be performed in our day today. They were interested to see what kind of questions and problems came up, as well as testing their theories on how Christians worshipped in Tudor Britain. We hope you like the outcome:
You can find more information on the project here.
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