Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


This follows on from Marsli Owen's blog.

When we decided to do an event called ‘Through the Keyhole’ I thought about the different things I could show people in the historic houses of St Fagans.  I wanted something that linked the past and present, so I chose tea drinking and based myself in the parlour of Kennixton farmhouse.

At Kennixton, the parlour is decorated in the style of the 1750s – you might recognise it as Captain Blamey’s house in the recent Poldark tv serial.  I decided to do the event in costume to help bring the house to life, and laid the table for tea as they would have done in the 18th century.   

Tea has a very exciting history, inspiring fashion, fortune, revolution, and crime.  It was brought to this country in 1657 by Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II.  A bit like the Kate-effect of today it swiftly caught on as a fashionable drink.

Like a lot of popular things, tea was taxed very highly by the government.  Some unscrupulous dealers would try and make tea go further by adulterating it with hawthorn leaves or even dried sheep poo!  To combat the high tax on tea, many people in Wales would have bought their tea from smugglers.  It’s possible the residents of Kennixton got their tea the same way.  It was originally built on the Gower coast so smuggled tea would have been easily available. 

It wasn’t just the Welsh who objected to paying the high tax on tea; the Americans didn’t see why they should pay it either.  They showed their feelings by throwing British tea into Boston harbour - the Boston Tea Party – which kick-started the American War of Independence in 1775.

I loved doing this event and it generated some really interesting conversations with visitors. Just doing some day-to-day activities in the house made it feel much more like a home. But I have to confess I was relieved to get out of the dress at the end of the day - the large skirts and tight sleeves were so restricting.  I finished the day wearing my comfy jeans and enjoying a mug of tea curled up on the sofa!

There will be one last blog next week to follow on by Heulwen, who will be talking about the Prefab.

The youth forum worked extremely hard to get their first publication out in time for the Fragile? exhibition and it looks so wonderful! It contains interviews with artists, responses to the work on show and even an article about Spillers and Vinyl. We were also really lucky to have a great designer on board to work with the forum to create something so gorgeous - so thanks Chipper Designs!

You can pick up your copy of the youth forums magazine (or have a look at the pdf over on the right) at the exhibition and we would love to know what you think about it. Also we would love to know what your favourite fragile thing is, a baby? a cup? a building? let us know on twitter or instagram using #fragilefaves

We have created word clouds based on the most commonly used terms in the responses to two questions on display in the exhibition. Figure 1 shows the feedback to the question "Which object would you recommend to a friend?" and Figure 2 shows the terms used to the query "How do you feel surrounded by so many fragile objects?".

We hope to periodically produce these word clouds; they may show that the most frequently used terms change over time or that they remain the same. Interesting conclusions could be drawn from either. If they change it could be that people will appreciate certain works due to the time of year, the likelihood that they attended an event or changing fashions. If they remain unchanged the conclusion could be drawn that some works resonate strongly with the majority of visitors.

The questions are posed using two methods on the landing of the west wing galleries; as a comments section on the iPad's and a bulletin board with paper and pencils provided to write a response (Figure 3).

These questions were posed to combat the standard "What do you think of the exhibition?". Rather we wanted to create questions which would encourage key concepts of the exhibition: to stimulate curiosity and encourage debate. This (we hope!) will happen through visitors reading the questions and considering their own responses and by seeing the responses of others which are left on display in the space.

Excitingly we have found visitors have taken to this style of questioning; the responses to the question about recommending an object to a friend (on the "bulletin board") have been through text and images with some visitors expanding upon why they like certain works (Figure 4) . In the comments field on the iPad's which asks about personal experience in the exhibition we have been interested to seeing the varying reactions. Such as a visitor on the 5th May who responded: "Scared worried but its lovely" or from the 16th May "I really liked the pull between wanting to touch and not being able to touch. When i stepped into the first installation i was overwhelmed with a child like want to feel and discover for myself.".

Let us know If you have any comments on the exhibition, questions or if there's a subject you'd like to see a future blog post about. By Penelope Hines & Jennifer Dudley

Over the Easter Holiday, we held an activity called ‘Through the Keyhole’ at St Fagans. The idea is for members of the Learning Department to be out in the historic buildings interpreting and discussing the buildings or objects, drawing attention to its history or history closely associated with them. During the week there will be 3 blogs by 3 members of staff that took part in this event.

I left it a bit last minute to decide which Building to use. With this in mind, I decided to go for a building I already know a bit about, Gwalia Stores. I hold formal sessions (with school groups) here so have background knowledge and an idea of the kind of activities I could do, and a costume good to go!

I raided the photo archive and took copies of the building in its original location, and some fresh coffee and coffee beans to weigh and highlight the coffee grinder, but also to bring back some smells to the shop. When open originally, the smells would have hit you as you walked in; dried fruit, teas, tea, coffee, cheese, meats and all sorts of items for sale.

One of the photos that prompted the biggest reaction was the photo of Gorwyl House overlooking Ogmore Vale. It was the house William Llywelyn built for his family when they’d made enough from the shop to move out from above it. The contrast is quite striking between the ‘mansion’ as it was locally called and the rest of the valley’s terraced houses, and its position on the hill mirrors he high social status of the Llywelyn family at the height of Gwalia Stores’ success.

I enjoyed being in the shop and getting the chance to tell its absorbing history, which mirrors that of the Valleys themselves. It was great to talk and imagine how different an experience a weekly shop would have been 100 years ago, how much more social especially.

The staff would also have trained as apprentices for years and would have been a well-respected role, and the shops really were a centre point in the community. There was much reminiscing by visitors, and some even came from Ogmore Vale and remembered the shop in its original location. One lady commented on the gap that’s still there in Ogmore Vale opposite the railway station, after discussing and looking back on the history of the shop, losing these shops and the experience of going there has left gaps in communities all over Wales.

The next blog will be up soon, discussing the event in one of the other historic buildings.

I was just making coffee for the team and when I looked around at everyone beavering away at their desks - and realised just how diverse the work we do is… Take this afternoon as an example:

Kay Hanson, our Peoples Collection Wales Technical Officer is fresh from the launch of a brand new “Learn’ section of the People's Collection Wales website – over six months in the planning, such a milestone is no mean feat. The result is the combination of thousands of assets from the main heritage institutions around Wales as well as content contributed from the public and filters all this data according to what educational purpose you require. Give it a go yourself at:, what will you learn?

Rhodry Viney our Web Officer (and Final Cut Pro guru) is hard at work editing, slicing and generally making good the video he filmed in the field a few weeks ago with our scientists and paleontologists. It'll be ready soon, but in the meantime I’ll give you a clue… it’s big, it’s extinct and it had lots of teeth. (Shhhhh!!)

Chris Owen our Web Manager is working hard on creating exiting new sections for our website, where all the collections content is brought together in the most user-friendly way possible. Not an easy task given we have 7 physical sites, 5 main collecting departments, hundreds of staff and millions of collections… oh yeah, and two languages to consider!

Dave Thorpe, Senior Developer is tweaking his very popular audio guides, developed as a first for Amgueddfa Cymru – for the new exhibition: Chalkie Davies: The NME Years at National Museum Cardiff. The exhibition focuses its interpretation on an audio guide you access through your own mobile device. Given the theme of the gallery is based around photographs captured in the 1970’s, bringing our new mobile era into the mix is very interesting. He’s also fine tuning some super duper interactives in the gallery. But come and visit the show for yourself to witness his handywork first hand!

Myself, I’m the Digital Programmes Manager and have been up to my eyes in fleshing out software/digital briefs for the new galleries in development at St. Fagans. Funded by a HLF grant, the largest ever awarded in Wales, the plans are ambitious and exciting. Not due to open until 2017/18, it's all about planning at this stage so I’m surrounded by spreadsheets, tables and forms - what a good time to stop for a coffee break and to knock out a quick blog post!