17 December 2014,
After months of behind the scenes activity - rummaging in stores, researching, documenting, conserving and digitising - Amgueddfa Cymru's First World War catalogue is now online. At the moment, the catalogue includes over 500 records - archives, photographs and objects from the collections housed here at St Fagans. New records will be uploaded over the next few weeks, including some fantastic additions from the industry collections. We'll keep you posted.
I can't tell you how much this project has meant to me and my colleagues. It may sound corny, but we really do feel emotionally connected to the people whose lives are commemorated in the collections. From Walter Stinson's delicate beadwork jewellery, to Brinley Rhys Edmunds and his typo-ridden memorial plaque, these stories have captured our imagination. To us, Walter and Brinley are no longer anonymous names on file.
Talking of files, it hasn't been easy to pull-together our First World War collections. When curators speak of "newly-discovered" or "hidden" objects, please don't think that museums are full of misplaced or lost items - there are no "dusty vaults" here! The issue is usually a lack of documentation - the information stored on file which helps us to locate and interpret the collections in our care. Collecting methodologies have changed over the years, so too standards in documentation.
Many objects featured in the database were originally catalogued according to their function, making it difficult for present-day curators to draw-out their First World War significance. A classic example being a set of prosthetic arm attachments used by John Williams of Penrhyncoch. These were found in the medical collections, catalogued in 1966 under "orthopaedic equipment". By chance, I was looking at the accession file a few months ago and found a scribbled note saying "wounded in one arm during WW1". If only the curator had asked more questions at the time, especially given that John Williams himself donated the arm attachments to the Museum!
Thankfully, accession files are never closed indefinitely. New research and the reassessment of collections through community partnerships means that we're constantly editing and tweaking our records. So, if you knew a John Williams from Penrhyncoch who lost an arm during the First World War, please do get in touch.
28 November 2014,
The 14th October 2014 was the 101st anniversary of the Universal Colliery disaster at Senghenydd. 440 people were killed in this disaster on the 14th October 1913. It is still the worst mining disaster in the U.K. Last year on the centennial of the disaster a Welsh National Memorial to all mine disasters was unveiled on the site of the pit head. The memorial can be seen on the front of this memorial service programme acquired recently.
You can read an article on this disaster on our website. It is also possible to view all the objects from our collections that relate to this disaster on our ‘Images of Industry’ online database. Check it all out here
This interesting autograph book was donated this month. The book contains autographs, inscriptions and drawings connected with the South Wales Miners Federation, and most date to 1926. There are also some inscriptions relating to the Spanish Civil War. The photograph here shows the main inscription on the inside of the front cover.
This month also saw the launch of our First World War online database. It currently contains all objects and documents from the social & cultural history collections. It will soon include all our WW1 related objects from the industry collections as well. The site can be viewed here
To complement the launch of this database, staff from across Amgueddfa Cymru were involved in an ‘Explore Your Archives’ event held at the Oakdale Institute at St. Fagans: National History Museum. This event was an opportunity to show some original documents and photographs to members of the public, and promote the work we do in looking after these important collections.
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW
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
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW
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