28 October 2014,
During October we were fortunate to be donated this interesting gunpowder bag used at Curtis's and Harvey Ltd.’s gunpowder factory in Glynneath. Their monogram can be seen on the front of the cotton bag. It was used by the donor's great grandmother Elizabeth Thomas. She left school aged about 14 to work on a farm, but later began work at this gunpowder factory during the First World War. This timely donation allowed us to put this object on display at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea in the exhibition “Working for Victory: Welsh Industry and the First World War” which runs until 15th March 2015.
This month we purchased three share certificates to add to our important collection of Welsh share certificates.
The first is for five £100 shares for The Abercwmeiddaw Slate Quarry Company Limited and is dated 1898. It was a Liverpool based company registered in 1876 to acquire the slate quarry of the same name at Corris which had been opened in the 1840s. The company operated as a middle size quarry (in 1882 it employed 188 men producing 4,000 tons of slate) until it was wound up in 1905 as the Welsh trade declined. A new company of similar name was formed in 1911 and reopened the quarry on a smaller scale, until ceasing to exist in 1938.
The second certificate is for one £50 share in the Pen-y-Bryn Slate Company Limited, and is dated 1882. Registered in 1881 to acquire slate quarries at Nantlle that originated in the eighteenth century and which had been worked on some scale since the 1830s. The company was a typical mid-sized concern, operating four quarry pits serviced by Blondins in typical Nantlle style. In 1883 it employed 240 men and produced 5,000 tons of slate. The company failed in 1887 and the quarry closed until 1895 when it was reopened on a smaller scale until the 1940s.
The final certificate is printed on vellum and is a £50 share in the Blaenavon Iron & Coal Company, and is dated 8 September 1836. This company was an early joint stock company (with an enormous capital of £40,000) established to acquire the iron works and collieries from the Hill family and their partners. The new company considerably expanded the works and began a new works at Forgeside, built many houses, and introduced steam locomotives, making the works one of the leading UK iron producers. It became a limited liability concern in 1864.
On 26th August 1892 at explosion at Parc Slip Colliery killed 112 men and boys. This new accession is one of two booklets of letters for the Tondu Explosion Relief (Cardiff) Fund which would have been sent out to raise money for the relief fund. They are dated Town Hall, Cardiff 3rd September 1892.
We have a small collection of objects and photographs relating to this disaster including a commemorative mug which can be seen here
This brick was manufactured at one of the Hedley Brothers collieries, probably in the Bryncoch area. It was recovered from the building known as St. Peters Schoolroom on Brecon Road, Pontardawe. Amgueddfa Cymru holds the Welsh national collection of bricks, and this is an important addition.
The final object this month is a colliery official’s yardstick (also known as Deputy's stick). It was used by the last N.C.B. Manager at Big Pit before it closed as a working mine in 1979. A yardstick was carried by officials as an aid in the process of testing for gas. Before about 1960 there was a hole at the top of the stick into which the deputy could fit the hook of his lamp in order to raise it into the roof to test gas. More recently a special sampling valve could be fitted onto the ferrule at the other end of the stick in order that gas samples could be taken using a sampling bulb which is then injected into a Garforth type safety lamp.
Curator: Industry & Transport
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27 October 2014,
What is an aria? That was the question posed by Music Theatre Wales Director, Michael McCarthy to kick-off this very exciting collaborative project. The Make an Aria scheme is a partnership between Music Theatre Wales (MTW) and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) giving young composers an opportunity to have-a-go at opera. This time, they are using St Fagans Castle and the Museum’s collections as their inspiration. A group of composers from RWCMD teamed with creative writers will ‘make an aria’ from scratch.
So where do you start? A speed-dating session was a good way to establish the best creative match for composer and writer. When everyone was paired-up, curator Elen Phillips gave an introduction to the material for the arias – the story of St Fagans Castle during the Great War.
The Windsor-Clive family of St Fagans Castle were at the centre of events during these turbulent years; Lord Windsor as chairman of the Welsh Army Corps and Lady Windsor as President of the Red Cross Society in Glamorgan. Grief-stricken by the loss of their youngest son, Archer, who was killed in action, they opened the Castle grounds to set-up a hospital run by volunteer nurses or VADs.
The stories were brought alive by looking at objects from the Museum’s collections; a nurses’ uniform from the hospital, a delicate necklace made by one of the wounded soldiers and a field-communion set used on the battlefield. At this point we were joined by members of the Armed Forces community, the 203 Welsh Field Hospital Medics who gave us a completely new take on some of these objects and stories. It just proves that working collaboratively can bring some unexpected and rewarding results. We will continue to work with the Armed Forces in co-curating some of the exhibits in the new galleries at St Fagans but that’s another blog for another day.
We then led the composers and writers on a tour of the Castle and grounds; the old site of the WW1 hospital, the Italian garden where the soldiers recuperated and the greenhouses where the land girls may have worked. Any of these locations could be the setting to perform the arias in the summer of 2015. I think that everyone left with their heads bubbling with ideas. All we can do now is wait.
23 October 2014,
Last month we were given a fascinating insight into the life of Fanny Eaton, one of the models for John Everett Millais’ Jephthah (1867), which is currently on display in our Art in Victorian Britain gallery. Fanny is the figure at the far right of the painting, standing just before a curtain and wearing a yellow hood.
We were delighted to hear from Brian Eaton, Fanny’s great-grandson, who came with his wife Mary to see the painting. They first became interested in Fanny while researching their family tree, and since then have done a considerable amount of research into her personal history.
At the same time curators and art historians have become increasingly fascinated by Fanny, particularly following the exhibition Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900 at Manchester and Birmingham Art Galleries in 2005-6, and the accompanying catalogue written by the show’s curator Jan Marsh.
Fanny was born in Jamaica in 1835 but by 1851 was working as a servant in London where she lived with her mother Matilda Foster. Within a few years had begun to model for several Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists including Frederick Sandys, Albert Moore and Rebecca Solomon, probably to earn extra income. Her striking features made her a popular choice with 19th century artists. Dante Gabriel Rossetti compared her to the Pre-Raphaelite ‘stunner’ Jane Morris.
The earliest studies of Fanny that we know of are pencil studies drawn in 1859 by Simeon Solomon. These were used as studies for his Mother of Moses, now in the collection of Delaware Art Museum, US. When this painting was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1860, a reviewer for the Athenaeum thought her features represented 'an exagerated Jewish type’.1
This is one of the interesting things about Fanny. As Jan Marsh has pointed out in Black Victorians, although originally from Jamaica, she was described in her day as being of ‘mixed race’ and artists of the time used her distinctive features to represent a variety of different ethnicities or ‘types’. This is perhaps what attracted Millais to use her in Jephthah.
Jephthah seems to be the last painting to feature Fanny, although there may be more that are not yet identified. Brian and Mary Eaton are continuing with their research, and are particularly interested in finding out about Fanny’s early childhood in Jamaica and the circumstances that led to her moving to London with her mother.
We are grateful to Brian and Mary for sharing their findings, and hope that much more information about Fanny will come to light!
1. 19 May 1860, pages 688-90. Source: Simeon Solomon Research Archive
29 September 2014,
Amongst the new collections we have received in September is this unusual miniature miner’s dial. This is a compass-like instrument used underground for the surveying of passages and seams. The engraved plate on the lid of the box of this example shows that it was presented to Mr. W. Meredith by the workmen of Tylecoch Colliery on Sept. 12th 1881. The manufacturer is unknown.
We have been donated two twist boxes this month. These twist boxes were used by miners to carry their chewing tobacco. They were not allowed to smoke underground due to the risk of explosions. The one on the left even contains some original tobacco! Both examples belonged to ancestors of the donor and were both used in south Wales collieries. Twist boxes are fairly common mining related objects. An excellent display can be seen in our galleries in the old pit head baths at Big Pit: National Mining Museum.
This photograph was donated along with the two twist boxes and is a souvenir of the stay in strike at Parc Colliery. The donor’s grandfather is one of the men in the photograph.
Finally the certificate below was issued by the Monmouthshire Education Authority to Abraham Evans in 1945.
Curator: Industry & Transport
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3 September 2014,
Amongst the new collections we have received in August was a collection of two ship models and six watercolours. The models and paintings are all by Mr Tony Jackson who was apprenticed to Sir William Reardon Smith & Sons in 1951. The two models are of the BP tanker British Sovereign, and a Liberty Ship. The six watercolours show the Orient City, Homer City, Devon City, Fresno City, Graig and Graigfelen. The photograph below shows Tony Jackson in his uniform aged 15. The next two show the ship model of the British Sovereign ship model and a painting of the Graig.
This photograph is one of three we received showing the basilica and copper mines at El Cobre, Cuba, taken in February this year. These mines were important as a source of ore to Welsh smelting works. We recently acquired a share certificate relating to the Royal Copper Mines of Cobre which you can see in my March blog.
We have been donated a history of the Ely Brewery called ‘Beer and the Brewery’. This has been compiled by an ex-employee of the brewery who was an apprentice fitter and then fitter there from 1949 - 1962. This month we have also received 35 copies of the Ely Brewery house magazine ‘Mild and Bitter’. The image shows a front page from a 1956 edition.
We have purchased two interesting handbills for the collection. One is for the St. George’s SS Co. Ltd., and dates to 1910. The other is for a cruise along the Cardigan coast in 1968.
This Sharp 'Font Writer' Personal Word Processor (Model FW-710 UM) was purchased by the donor to be used during her university course. The word processor was manufactured by Sharp Electronics (UK) Ltd. at Wrexham in about 1995.
Curator: Industry & Transport
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