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December 2011

Mapping Hendre'r Ywydd

Posted by Sara Huws on 22 December 2011

A quick post just to show you this map I've been working on, which is an attempt to explore the 1500s landscape of Llangynhafal and beyond.

You'll find pinpoints to buildings nearby which could have been standing at the same time as our Hendre'r Ywydd. It is an incomplete map, but it will evolve, I hope. To make it, I combined public domain data from Coflein, Ordnance Survey, the St Fagans Archive, google and the North Wales Dendrochronology Project*.

I hope to add more information about the buildings themselves, including photos and dating, as I find it. I should also note that the captions in Welsh will be translated as the map progresses.

You can use the zoom tool to travel outwards from Hendre'r Ywydd's original site:

View Llangynhafal 1510 in a larger map

* Dendrochronology=a fancy term for tree-ring dating.

Tom Sharpe's Antarctic Diary

Posted by John Rowlands on 22 December 2011
Mount Erberus
Mount Erberus
Landing at McMurdo Sound
Landing at McMurdo Sound

Monday 21 November

We've continued to push south, although by a rather round about route to avoid the thickest pack ice, and passed 77o south latitude.

On the western horizon we had an incredible view of the Victoria Land coast of mainland Antarctica and the Transantarctic Mountains. To the south we could see Ross Island and Mount Erebus, the most southerly active volcano on earth.

We eventually broke through into a large area of open water as we entered McMurdo Sound. As we sailed along the west coast of Ross Island, we headed for a small bay at Cape Royds and ran the ship up onto the fast ice - thick sea ice attached to the land. From there it was a short helicopter ride ashore.

A walk of a few hundred metres took us to a sheltered little cove where, protected from the winds by a ridge of glacial moraine, there stood a small wooden building. This was the base hut of Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition of 1907-1909. A major conservation project by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has recently completed work on the hut and its contents, and they've done a magnificent job. Tins of food are still stacked on the shelves, sledges rest on the rafters, clothing and sleeping bags lie on the beds, and crates of supplies are piled against the outside wall. To stand in this hut is awe inspiring.

On this expedition, Shackleton pioneered a route which Scott would later follow through the Transantarctic Mountains, and got within 97 nautical miles of the South Pole. Although he knew he could be the first to reach the South Pole, he turned back. He realised that if they continued they would not have enough food to make it back alive.

Shackleton took several scientists with him, one of whom was a St Fagan's born geologist, T.W. Edgeworth David, then Professor of Geology in Sydney. Based at this hut, David led the first ascent of Mount Erebus, 3795 metres high, and also led another team on a long sledging journey up onto the Polar Plateau to reach the South Magnetic Pole.

We had time to see the hut and take a walk to the most southerly penguin colony in the world, on the coast around Shackleton's hut. The Adelie penguins here provided an extra source of food for the expedition.

Instead of flying back to the ship, I opted to hike back across the fast ice to retrieve some marker flags we had laid out as a walking route in case the weather turned. This is perfectly safe as long as you keep a look out for tide cracks - fissures in the ice caused by tidal movement.

Their dangers were demonstrated when my hiking companion immediately fell into one. Luckily he went down only a couple of feet. It was just as well, as he had the rescue line.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 20 December 2011

Merry Christmas from Professor Plant & Baby Bulb!

Thanks to all the schools that have been recording and sending in their data over the last few months. I look forward to hearing about when the flowers start to grow in the Spring!

Some of you have reported hail and some even snow! See your comments below.

Last week in Cardiff, we had quite a bit of hail. This got me wondering, how exactly are hail stones formed? Derek the Weatherman had the answers. Click here to see his blog and a picture of a giant hail stone that fell near Cardiff in 1968.

Hope you have a fantastic holiday!

Professor Plant

Finding Hendre'r Ywydd

Posted by Sara Huws on 20 December 2011

I have grown very fond of Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf. I can smell wood-smoke in the office and it's got me looking forward to Spring, when I'll hopefully be spending more time there, getting to know the building from the inside out. Even if you have visited St Fagans many times, you may not have stayed a long while in there. It is quite a bare building, partly due to the fact that furniture from its period of construction - the early 1500s - need more TLC than can be provided in an outdoor display, and so are tended to in the galleries. Also, there's no chimney, so it can be quite a troublesome building to work with, and even visit, if the smoke is not behaving as it ought to.

A woman dressed in 1530s style adds spices to a cauldron
The fire behaving nicely at a recent living history demo, with Sally Pointer

It's a timber-framed building, moved here from Denbighshire in the 1960s but lived in, quite comfortably it seems, until 1954. I hope to find out more about the place, and how it was used, by using a variety of skills and sources. After cooking and interpreting in there over the summer, I'm really looking forward to getting my hands dirty and seeing how it works as an Early Tudor household.

Moving headlong into a Tudor way of life at this time of year may be ill-advised (especially since I have no saltfish and this year's attempt at storing apples has been fuzzier than anticipated), so I'm taking the time to pore over sources relating to the building and its original context.

hendre'r ywydd uchaf
Dismantling Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf, c. 1964. The 1500s frame had been left almost unaltered - a corrugated roof, chimney, glass windows and that chap with a cigarette being the most noticable modern additions.

There's so much material to explore. Scholars and local historians have written widely on a range of families, buildings, industries and events from Denbighshire in the Early Modern period. I have on my desk a great big pile of articles, ready to be marked with pink and yellow stripes. But you've got to start somewhere. I decided first to find the building's original location.

broad aerial view of Dyffryn Clwyd
It's somewhere around here...

Hendre'r Ywydd was originally built in the parish of Llangynhafal, near Rhuthun. I am quite familiar with the area, but had never been able to put my finger on the house's original site; remembering instead the high hedges and spaghetti-thin roads of Dyffryn Clwyd. Thankfully, for every building we move, we create an archive of its context and original location. These archives are usually second-to-none:

A numbered technical drawing of a doorway
Numbering a doorway, St Teilo's Church (1985)

Unfortunately, on this occasion, our forebears did not think to leave enough clues in there to allow for easy pinpointing. Rifling through photos of cruck frames, cow stalls and hazel matting, I came across two shadows of evidence. A copy of a copy of a copy of an 1830s tithe map with no scale, and a transparency with no key. Both featured a strip of land which tapered at one end. This was where, in 1508, Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf was built.

Hand-drawn map of Hendre'r Ywydd's original location
Map drawn by member of Ffoulkes family. Hendre'r Ywydd is at the bottom left of the strip of land.

It takes a while to get your eye in, so I google-mapped the parish to see if there were any surviving field systems like the one featured on both maps. Going in cold was a bad idea.

Screengrab of a googlemaps view, showing many fields
I remember when all this were just fields...

I resolved to have another go once I'd chipped away a little more. It was tempting to rely on google maps for place names and postcodes, but our landscape has changed so much, and in fits and starts, since 1500, that the information was of no use for this particular task. Or at least, if the information looked useful, there would be no simple way of checking its veracity. I stared at the shapes on the tracing, trying to memorise the placement of streams, trackways and field systems.

tracing of map showing Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf
Tracing of undated map, showing original location of Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf

In the midst of all these abstract shapes, I called to mind another thread of research I'd been doing, using the Royal Commission's Coflein Database. In trying to build up a bit of context, I've been looking at other surviving houses from the area, reading up on their construction and dating. Coflein supplies you with an OS grid reference for every recorded historic building and monument in Wales. You can look at the Coflein archive for Hendre'r Ywydd here.

I still had in my possession a grab-bag of data. Some abstract shapes, some numbers and some very powerful satellite data courtesy of google and NASA. Thankfully, I didn't have to go far in order to make sense of it. Our library at St Fagans has a cache of Ordnance Survey maps, and the grid reference narrowed it down substantially, as you'd expect. The detail of their maps is mesmerising, and after some careful examination and help from our Curator of Historic Buildings, we pinpointed the location, in amongst a few other houses, confusingly also called Hendre'r Ywydd.

OS detail of Hendre'r Ywydd
Detail, showing Llangynhafal Parish and Hendre'r Ywydd (1956). Here' "Hendre'r Ywydd" is also used as a name for the hamlet itself. Mapping courtesy of Ordnance Survey.

On closer inspection, someone possessing a disregard for conventional, proper, archive-based behaviour been there before us and marked the map with a tiny blob of red ink.

When I had been brought round with some smelling-salts, I applied the information I'd gathered to the satellite map, and was finally able to find that little strip of land. It's still intact, to a degree, and still maintains a tapered side, as we see on the map. The road twists slightly just as it does in the drawings:

Aerial view of Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf's original location
Hendre'r Ywydd, Llangynhafal (1508-1964)

The last thing I wanted to do, after this, was pay it a visit. I find the house replaced with a field of corn. Uninspiring as it may appear, this is where I happily find my feet, as I venture into 1500s Denbighshire.

Google streetview screengrab showing a field of tall crops

You can visit, too, by clicking here:
View Llangynhafal 1510 in a larger map

Tom Sharpe's Antarctic Diary

Posted by John Rowlands on 15 December 2011
The Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Ross Sea pack ice
The Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Ross Sea pack ice

Saturday 19 November

Today began grey, overcast and cold, with light snow falling on the ship. We’ve now been breaking our way through the pack ice of the Ross Sea for three days, picking our way south through whatever open leads or thin ice present themselves.

On the southern horizon, in places, open water shows up as dark reflections on the underside of the cloud - a ‘water sky’. In other places, we see ice blink, where the clouds are brightened by the presence of the sea ice beneath. Our navigation through the pack is aided by satellite positioning; Scott relied upon dead reckoning and the sun to chart his progress.

This afternoon we sighted land for the first time in five days. Away to the west we’ve had our first glimpse of the continent of Antarctica. The faint, white, distant mountains rise to over 3500 metres. Appropriately, one of the first we see, Mount Murchison, is named after a geologist who worked in Wales 180 years ago.

We set course for the mainland, a point called Cape Washington, but the pack ice is too thick, even for our icebreaker. Instead, we’re continuing south, deeper into the Ross Sea, in the hope of breaking out of the pack and into a polynya, which satellite pictures show lies to the south of us.

Sunday 20 November

It’s been slow getting through the pack ice, but we’ve finally made it to Franklin Island, at 76o south.

The ice is thick around the island, but we got within 5 miles of it, so we took the helicopters and landed on the sea ice at the foot of steep black cliffs. From there we hiked about a mile and half south across the ice to a large colony of Emperor penguins at the southeastern end of the island. These are the stars of the movies March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. They walk long distances across the ice to breed, and after the egg is laid it is transferred to the male who then stands on the ice through the severe Antarctic winter holding it on his feet.

The males in the colony huddle together against the cold. The march of the penguins was first observed by Captain Scott on his first expedition. Their chicks are some of the cutest things on the planet and infitinely photogenic. We have a couple of examples of Emperor penguins in our collections in Cardiff, including one presented to us by Lt Teddy Evans of Scott’s last expedition, and that will be in January.

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - last day

Posted by Peter Howlett on 13 December 2011
Adélie Penguin in the Museum's collections
Adélie Penguin in the Museum's collections. The Adélie Penguin is the only other truly Antarctic penguin. It is about half the size of the Emperor Penguin and weighs between 4 and 6 kg. Adélie Penguins look as though they are being affected by the climate change happening around the Antarctic Peninsula. Adélies only occur where there is plenty of pack-ice in the sea. As the peninsula has warmed there is now less pack-ice in the height of the summer and the Adélie Penguins appear to be moving further south to stay with the pack-ice.

This morning I presented my last talk to the Fisheries Department which was about the methods of collecting and identifying polychaetes. It seemed to go down reasonably well and then I handed back my key and left for the last time.

My samples are now officially with the Post Office hopefully to be on their way back to the UK shortly. As for me my journey back starts at 5am tomorrow morning. It will already be daylight then and will be the last time I see daylight at that time of the morning for a few months to come. Arrival back in the UK is likely to be a bit of a shock for me I think as there is currently around 8 or 9 hours less daylight there each day than here and the weather is now decidedly wetter and colder. Shortest day is fast approaching in the UK with longest day due here next week. Ah well.

Several weeks ago I pointed out that my challenge would be to still be finding new animals on Day 28. By my calculations that would actually be today so I failed there as there has been no new sampling since Friday which was Day 25. However, as I did have a new worm that day, from my final site, I think that’s pretty good going!

My sampling here has gone well and I’m really pleased with the variety of animals I have been able to collect. I’m looking forward to being able to spend some time looking at them in more detail in the New Year. I’ve enjoyed my time here and had an amazing opportunity to visit a place and see things that many others won’t get a chance to and I appreciate how lucky I’ve been.

I know that some of the people I’ve meet here have also been reading this blog and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved for all of the help I’ve had getting out here and during my stay, from loaning me cars to get around to coming out on the shores with me or taking me diving to get more samples. This trip wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without all of your help.  

The Shallow Marine Surveys Group, whose survey work I piggy-backed to go diving, do a fantastic job out here with their dive surveys, mostly as volunteers with a few grants to help with costs and the Fisheries Department allowed me free run of their lab at all hours.

Not least of course I must thank the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and National Museum Wales who have funded and supported this visit.

Thank you all!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - day 26-28

Posted by Peter Howlett on 12 December 2011
Teal Creek
Photo 1: Teal Creek
Camilla Creek
Photo 2: Camilla Creek
Photo 3: A paddleworm
Photo 3: The result of 4 weeks collecting
» View full post to see all images

My directions turned out to be accurate and easy to follow and I arrived at Teal Creek in plenty of time for the tide. The biggest problem I had was deciding where to stop along the creek. At the time I arrived the tide still had a way to go out so it was difficult to know how much ground would be uncovered. I made my decision and walked out into the small inlet off the creek (photo 1). The area was very soft but the depth of the mud varied and I didn’t venture too far into deeper areas, wary of getting stuck. As I dug around I was surprised to find the same new ragworm that I had found at Sand Bay the previous day, having not found it at any site before and now two in a row. There were also many of the bamboo worms that seem to dominate the shores here.

I left the creek shortly before actual low tide in order to give myself time to get over to Camilla Creek where low tide would be in just over 2 hours time. The tide hadn’t gone down much for a while so I didn’t think I would be missing anything new being uncovered.  As I drove out past the previous choices I had had for stopping in the area I realised that the earlier bays had much larger areas of mud flat exposed and I thought maybe I had made a mistake in my choice of sampling site. However, on reflection, the water had retreated to the far side of the creek from these bays and that would have left me with no access to water across the mud which is essential during the collecting, so I probably did make the right choice after all.

Camilla Creek was reached fairly quickly with some expanses of mud flat already exposed. It was a much larger, wider creek (photo 2) than Teal but the shore itself seemed more gravelly leading down to it. I quickly realised that although the approach was easier, the mud itself was softer and deeper and probably not to be ventured too far into without additional company for safety and better sampling gear than what now felt like a very short pair of wellies. After extricating myself from the mud I skirted around the edge of the water level in the small bay sampling different spots and finding quite a variety of different mud, sand and hard areas to try.

Eventually it was time to leave for the journey back. This time I kept the window tightly shut and arrived back slightly less dusty than the previous night. There was at least one new worm for my list from the samples in the form of another different paddleworm (photo 3).

Saturday saw the last of the formaldehyde to alcohol changing where possible. The later samples would all have to stay in formaldehyde though as they needed to stay in that fluid for at least a few days to make sure they were properly ‘fixed’ before being moved to alcohol. That will now be done after both I and they arrive back in Cardiff. This was then followed by several hours of painstakingly sealing and taping around the lid of each pot and then sealing them into bags in order to reduce the risk of any fluid leakage during transport. As there were around 200 pots to do this took a while! The photo shows all of the pots at various stages of packing.

This morning (Sunday) saw a few more hours of sealing and packing until I had 7 boxes of packed samples ready for posting tomorrow (I can’t bring them back on the plane with me sadly).
There had been plans to do a last shore dive locally this afternoon but unfortunately the wind has scuppered our plans, blowing strongly all day. As it would have been a shallow site with entry off the shore, the windy conditions would have made getting in and out of the water difficult, conditions underwater uncomfortable and visibility poor, so an obvious decision was made. Still disappointing though as everyone had told me what a lovely dive it was going to be!

Tomorrow’s plan includes my final talk at the Fisheries Department in the morning followed by getting those parcels on their way and then getting my own packing started. Only one more day left here!

christmas decorations part two.

Posted by Sian Lile-Pastore on 9 December 2011

In my last post I mentioned that I would be running a drop in arts and crafts session on the 17th december in Oriel 1, St Fagans: National History Museum. We will be taking inspiration from 1950s decorations, and to get some good ideas I went around the site with my camera the other day and took these photos.

Do you have anything similar at home? don't forget to let me know your memories of Christmas decorations in your house when you were growing up too!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - day 25

Posted by Peter Howlett on 9 December 2011
Sand Bay
Photo 1: Sand Bay, Port Harriet
Photo 2: the new Nereid worm
Paddle worm
Photo 3: a large paddleworm
Falklands map
Photo 4: Location of Port Harriet

Wow, what a glorious day! It’s a bank holiday here but unlike most in the UK, a bank holiday with fantastic weather. The temperature is 18degC, that may not sound that high but it feels very warm and the burn factor is quite high. It’s been strange driving along listening to the radio reporting the weather in the UK which I hear is particularly bad right now. I am very thankful for being where I am!

This morning’s sampling site was Sand Bay, near Port Harriet, about a half hour drive out of Stanley. The bay opens out quickly to a wide area of sand (photo 1). The sand varies quite widely across the bay from very coarse to fine, sometimes with gravel or rocks and in other places just sand. The animals themselves also seemed to change accordingly so it was worth dotting my sampling sites around the bay.

Although at first this bay didn’t seem that much different to several of the other sites I’ve been to, a couple of the samples turned up some very different animals.

The most interesting was in a patch of the ‘solid’ sand, no stones but with some layers of old plant material as you dug down. Burrowing into those layers were a different sort of ragworm to any of those I’ve seen in any of my other samples, with striking red and white colours along its body (photo 2). I spent a while collecting several of these as they were obviously a different species to those I already had.

There was also a different type of paddleworm, the longest yet (photo 3), from one of the other sample spots. I only found one of these though.

By the time the tide turned, I had a large collection of pots from the different sites around the bay and a few animals that I already knew would be new to my list. As I wanted to get some photos of the ragworm with its colours I decided to go back into Stanley to the Fisheries lab rather than head straight out towards Darwin. I wasn’t that far away and it was worth the time. After a quick photo session I then got back on the road again, back out past where I had already been that morning and on to Darwin which would be nearly a 2 hour drive.

As it was such a warm and dry day I had the window open slightly but wasn’t prepared for just how much dust was created driving along the gravel roads. It was only when I arrived here at Darwin that I realised that the car, both inside as well as out, and myself, were coated in the dust.

I have been given instructions on how to get to the two creeks I want to sample tomorrow and hopefully they will also provide some interesting finds to end the week.

Your Questions & comments

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 8 December 2011

Questions from schools taking part in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation

Woodplumpton Primary School
Q: We heard on the radio that someone had seen crocus bulbs that had begun to grow. They said it was very early and a sign of global warming. We were very interested and talked about how we probably would not have taken any notice if we weren't part of the project. We were also a bit worried because there is no sign of life with our bulbs!

Ans: I'm delighted to hear that you are discussing global warming and linking it to the bulbs you are growing in your school and the reports you hear on the radio. Global warming can seem like something far awar and remote, but by studying our wildlife and flowers carefully we can see that it is happening in our gardens and very relevant to us all. Don't worry about your bulbs, they shouldn't be coming up yet. Thanks Prof. P.

Bishop Childs C.I.W Primary. Q:How are we doing? Ans: You are doing really well Bishop Childs - keep up the good work! Prof P.

Ysgol Bro Cinmeirch. Pawb yn mwynhau! Falch i clywed! Athro'r Ardd.

Stanford in the Vale Primary School
Third week....crazy week of observations...warm,cold, warmer!

Woodplumpton Primary School
Q: We are very surprised at how little rain we are getting and are a bit worried about the bulbs getting enough water. Ans: If the soil becomes very dry please water them. Thanks Prof. P

Sherwood Primary School
We have just had a terrential downpour just before we sent the records - that is why Friday's rain may seem high!

Westwood CP School
Very mild since started recording. It won't be long before the crocuses start pushing through! Ans: They should start to appear in January. Prof. P

Sherwood Primary School
School was shut on Wednesday for the National Strike, so Thursday's rainfall results may be inflated. We planted a few spare daffs and they have begun to shoot! The children are excited! Ans: Wow this is early - many flowers are appearing across the country. Prof P.


  • National Museum Cardiff

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  • St Fagans National History Museum

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  • National Slate Museum

    National Slate Museum

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    National Waterfront Museum

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