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July 2012

Radio 2 Arts Show - tonight

Posted by Sara Huws on 27 July 2012

Twice in one week? Just a quick post before I succumb to blog fever:

On tuesday, I visited the BBC in Llandaf to talk a bit about my work, and St Fagans in general, for the Radio 2 Arts Show. This week, Penny Smith is standing in for Claudia Winkleman, so it's a good job I decided to forego the nude-coloured-lipstick tribute I had planned. The interview was conducted across the BBC aether - me in front of a box of very compelling lights and buttons, them in a padded room in London - and so I did end up feeling overdressed all the same.

Anyway, we had great fun, even though the question of the Welsh language's perceived lack of vowels did come up, which can sometimes lead to a leap in my blood pressure. I consider it a public service to have tackled that myth with grace and aplomb. Tune in to see if you agree!

Radio 2 Arts Show - 22:00 Friday 27 July

Making blogs while the sun shines

Posted by Sara Huws on 26 July 2012

Reading back over my entries, it seems I only really like posting here when the sun is shining! It's another beautiful day at St Fagans and it seemed only right to fire up the blogging engine and start writing.

You'll find us in a very cheerful mood at the moment: after many months of working collaboratively, we handed in a dossier as thick as a loaf of bara brith to the Heritage Lottery Foundation. They, in turn, pored over it and decided to award St Fagans with a whopping grant of £11.5 million, to fund its redevelopment. We still have a few quid to raise in order to reach our goal, and so the '£1 appeal' was launched last week. Its message? If you've got a pound to spare, then we promise to do something amazing with it!

Our plans for the future, while unbelievably detailed, still seem a bit distant and unreal - but soon enough, you'll start to see the site start to change. The museum, as an entity, will change, too - and we hope you'll come along with us for the ride. We want to open up how we work, and give people from all walks of life a chance to take part in the day-to-day life of the museum.

At the moment, though, it's business as usual.

My Tudor Plant walks went off without a hitch (and by hitch I mean rain and slugs). I was joined by students from England, France, Germany and Japan, as well as a couple of English/Welsh/Spanish families. I was a linguist in a former life and so dredged as much vocabulary as I could from the back of my mind, so that everyone could follow the tour. We tasted and smelled our way around the gardens, where 16th century varieties still grow. We usually discourage people from picking plants while they're here, to leave enough for our furry/feathered residents - but on this occasion, we were allowed to have a nibble here and there. Thankfully, Bernice and Paul from the gardens department have been kind enough to teach me which ones to eat, and which to avoid!

Yesterday, I met with students from Cardiff University yesterday, to talk about how we can use information and objects from excavations to engage the public. We looked at all sorts of things: from the pigments on the church walls to cauldrons and Tudor toilet-seats. This morning, I helped Sian and Ian take eighty-four (we counted) cardboard shields up to the Celtic Village for a painting workshop.

The reason I find myself in the office is because I am preparing a lecture for the Eisteddfod. I'm honoured to be speaking, and want to make sure I show off St Fagans in its best light! The topic of the talk will be murals from the Vale of Glamorgan - reading about all these little fragments has me keen to traipse around a graveyard with my camera pretty soon.

I hope you're enjoying this sunny spell - if you're thinking of coming to see us, then have a look here for our upcoming events. If you're coming by bus, remember that, as well as the number 32, you can now catch a band new shuttle bus, the number 5, which takes you from the steps of the National Museum in Cardiff, right to our front door.

PS: next time there'll be pictures, I promise!

Improve numeracy & get free bulbs for your school!

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 17 July 2012

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales is looking for new schools to be involved in this exciting project and receive free spring bulbs.

Spring Bulbs for Schools (KS2)

Plant bulbs in your school grounds to study climate change. Join this UK wide investigation and improve science and numeracy skills. For more details visit

The application only takes a minute to complete and the project  is FREE to all schools who apply by the 30th July.

Self Assembly of a Victorian Oven

Posted by Phil Tuck on 1 July 2012
The oven on arrival from St. Fagans National History Museum
The oven on arrival from St. Fagans National History Museum
Worse for wear
Worse for wear
Llwyn-yr-Eos Farmhouse at St. Fagans, where the oven was removed for conservation by Phil Tuck
Llwyn-yr-Eos Farmhouse at St. Fagans, where the oven was removed for conservation by Phil Tuck
Fixings and fastenings
Fixings and fastenings
» View full post to see all images

Working for Amgueddfa Cymru as part of the conservation team at the National Collections Centre, Nantgarw, certainly has its challenges. This was definitely the case when we received a request from the Historic Buildings Unit based at St Fagans - National History Museum to help assemble an oven. I assumed this would probably involve a few screws and washers, and just a few hours’ work.

I remember the lorry arriving at Nantgarw with two large pallets on board. One contained burnt, broken and whole pieces of mainly cast iron components from the old oven; the second pallet held the components of the new oven. Even at first glance, there appeared to be far more pieces of the newly cast material. With the help of photographs taken of the old oven before dismantling all the parts were laid out, matching old with new; it took me three days!

The oven had been removed from Llwyn-yr-Eos farmhouse at St Fagans which dates from about 1820. The building had been closed to the public for conservation work to be carried out; this provided an opportunity to replace the late Victorian oven, which was definitely the worse for wear.

After identification came assembly. I decided to start by making two new mild steel inner walls. This was done with the help of Len Howells, the fabricator at Big Pit - National Coal Museum. These would then act as a framework to which I would attach the new oven parts.

The old oven components were fastened together using rivets, large and small, both dome and flat head, and machine screws. As the new oven was made of new cast iron, which is very brittle, I was naturally very apprehensive about using a hammer to carry out any riveting, especially as some of the pieces were only a few millimetres thick. I also took into consideration the fact that they were very costly to produce! I decided to address this problem by manufacturing artificial rivets. This was done by using the lathe to machine the heads of bolts. I ground the cutting tool to the exact shape of the dome required. The flat head rivet was cut using a normal cutting tool.

The bolts now had threads, but with rivet heads. The pieces that needed riveting would be held together by having a clearance hole drilled into the top plate and a tapping hole drilled into the piece to be fastened to it. When a thread needs to be cut in a hole a tool called a tap is used; this process is referred to as “tapping a hole”.

Every component of the new oven came without holes for the relevant fastenings, so measurements of every hole had to be taken from the old pieces, some of which were broken, and transferred to the new. Once this had been done, the dummy rivets were screwed into the tapped holes, the parts were tightened together and the excess thread then cut off.

Turning to the machine screws, I managed to source sufficient examples with slotted countersunk heads and a Whitworth thread. The Whitworth thread was created by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 after standardising a number of contemporary threads and was known as the British Standard Whitworth thread, BSW for short; it was only superseded by the metric thread in the early 1970s. Modern-day machine screws would have been incongruous to the oven, with their hexagonal head slots and metric thread.

Using these fastenings, the new oven was methodically assembled and fully constructed in the workshop at Nantgarw. It was then taken apart and secured onto a pallet, which the Historic Buildings unit then collected. It is now back in place in the farmhouse and has already baked a few loaves!

So a task which I thought might mean a few hours’ work involved the building of an oven comprising 94 separate parts, the drilling and tapping of 132 holes and machining of 88 bolts to look like rivet heads eventually took me five weeks… much for a few hours work!!

Phil Tuck, Conservation Officer, Dept. of Industry, Nantgarw.