15 April 2015,
Back in February, I blogged about Brinley Rhys Edmunds – a teenager from Barry who was killed in action during the First World War. If you recall, he signed-up when he was under the legal recruitment age, re-enlisted soon after his 18th birthday, but lost his life in battle on 5 September 1918.
In recent weeks – thanks to a well-known genealogy website – I have been corresponding with two of Brinley’s descendants in the United States – one in Seattle, the other in Pennsylvania. As a curator, it’s always a thrill to reunite families with objects once owned by their ancestors. Better still if they in turn provide additional information for our records.
I was so pleased to receive from Brinley’s American relatives a scanned copy of this beautiful photograph of the Edmunds family in about 1905. The photograph shows six year old Brinley (seated) with his elder brother, William, in matching sailor suits, together with their parents, Evan and Christine. I’ve been researching Brinley and his family on-and-off for a number of years. It’s amazing to finally put faces to their names.
Here at St Fagans, we have several objects in the collection associated with Brinley’s wartime experiences, some of which will be on display in our redeveloped galleries in 2017. In addition to the pincushion, next of kin plaque and postcard I mentioned last time, we also have his campaign medals in the collection. The British War Medal and Victory Medal were awarded to him posthumously and sent in an envelope marked ‘On His Majesty’s Service’ to his father in about 1919-20.
He is wearing the medals in the portrait shown here which is currently being prepared for photography by Ruth James, Social History Conservator. The portrait was commissioned by Brinley’s parents after his death and was bequeathed to the Museum in 1989 by Eunice Edmunds, his younger sister. We will be using this image, along with the newly-discovered family photograph in America, in the new displays. Contemporary military voices and experiences will also be included in the gallery interpretation. I’ll be focussing on our exciting co-curation programme with the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme in the next instalment of this blog.
26 March 2015,
I have just begun my fourth week as Principal Curator of Historic Buildings, here at St. Fagans, and this is my first blog post. My background is in archaeology, and more specifically, experimental archaeology.
This type of archaeological investigation tests the theories that have grown out of excavated archaeological evidence. Essentially we try and build something that would leave the same evidence as discovered, if excavated in the future. This challenges our assumptions and raises new questions.
Iron Age Roundhouses
In my time I have built four roundhouses based on the archaeology of Iron Age homes. As the excavated archaeology in many cases is less than 30cm in depth, everything above ground is conjecture derived from the surviving evidence. As you may imagine, trying to figure out the structural details of buildings that haven’t been seen in 2,000 is a challenging yet satisfying task. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to be part of St. Fagans latest experimental projects – the construction of an Iron Age farmhouse based on evidence from Bryn Eryr in Anglesey, and Llys Llywelyn, a medieval Royal Court based on evidence from Llys Rhosyr, again in Angelsey.
As I write the thatching of the farmhouse is underway, and it won’t be long until the building is watertight. This will be a blessed relief, as the prolonged rain this winter has prevented the buildings 1.8m-thick clay walls from drying as quickly as hoped. Yes, the walls are of solid clay – unlike most excavated roundhouses which had wattle and daub or stone walls. Although such buildings were not uncommon, this is the first reconstruction of this kind of under-represented roundhouse.
A Medieval Prince's Court
The two buildings of Llys Llywelyn have reached chest height, and the Museum’s stonemasons are about to start on the window reveals. The court was discovered in Anglesey and excavated between 1992 and 1996. The surviving masonry stands no more than 1m in height. Therefore, like the farmhouse, this too is a replica based on excavated evidence.
Written records from the period, such as ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ state clearly that there was a Royal Hall at this location, and frequented by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth during the first half of the 13th century. What we do not know for certain, however, is what it looked like. This knowledge comes from the comparative analysis of surviving Royal halls built during the same period, as seen at Conwy castle and the Bishop’s Palace in St. Davids.
As I plan to write regular blog posts to keep you informed of the latest developments, I will also aim to re-cap the work that has already been achieved so that you have a clearer understanding of these remarkable buildings, and our attempts at bringing it back to life.
As part of the redevelopment project at St.Fagans National History Museum, we wish to open our doors to volunteers and invite them to work alongside the Preventive Conservation team, helping to care for the collections on open display in the historic houses. There are hundreds of objects on display ranging from furniture, textiles, pottery and agricultural equipment. Providing plenty of opportunities to share a skill or learn something new.
Caring for this site is no mean feat, we currently have 26 furnished properties including a castle. Plus there are 4 new buildings on the way, including a medieval hall and the Vulcan pub! So plenty to keep us busy. The Museum is also open throughout the year and can have up to 700,000 visitors during that time, which means we are kept on our toes making sure everything continues to look good, day in and day out.
This work is a combined effort, involving staff from many different sections, which often goes on behind the scenes unnoticed by visitors. However, we wish to change this and provide opportunities for volunteers to assist us, not only in the care of objects, but also contribute to interpretation and help inform the public.
We are currently refurbishing one of the cottages on site, aiming to provide a comfortable and creative work space for our new collection care volunteers. We hope to start recruiting in May so if you're interested, I'll be posting more updates as the project continues to progress.
17 March 2015,
We’re in the process of preparing objects to go on display in the new galleries that are being built on the site of St Fagans. #makinghistory
As the textile conservator, I have come across three objects that, though they are kept in the textile store, are not exclusively made of textile but have paper components and have botanical specimens attached, neither of which come under my area of expertise. Hence, I’ve roped in my two colleagues, the Senior Conservator Archives and the Senior Conservator Natural Sciences and the three of us will now jointly treat these objects.
Joint projects are always a great opportunity for sharing skills and learning from colleagues so we’re all really looking forward to this!
26 February 2015,
On this day in 1917, Brinley Rhys Edmunds, an 18 year old groom from Barry, joined the army – one teenager among the 272,924 Welshmen who served during the First World War.
At the time, Brinley was living with his parents – Evan Edmunds and his Norwegian wife, Christine Sofia – at 7 Dunraven Street, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Barry Docks. On the 1911 census, his father’s occupation is listed as Railway Engine Driver. From the census, we also learn that he, along with two of his four siblings, was a Welsh speaker.
Brinley’s Record of Service Paper – the form he completed at a Cardiff recruiting office on 26 February 1917 – shows that he was initially assigned to the 59th Training Reserve Battalion. As you can see, the recruiting officer mistakenly noted his name as Brindley, rather than Brinley – an error replicated in all subsequent military records. The Service Paper reveals an intriguing twist to Brinley’s story. It appears that he had enlisted once before, with the 18th Battalion The Welsh Regiment, but was discharged for being underage:
Have you ever served in any branch of His Majesty’s Forces, naval or military? If so, which?
Yes 18 Welch Discharged under age 16-11-15
By my calculations, Brinley was born in November 1898, therefore he would have been 17 years old, or thereabouts, when he was discharged from the 18th Battalion. He probably joined-up at the age of 16, but I have been unable to trace any online documents relating to his time as an underage teenage tommy.
Frustrations aside, we’re fortunate to have several objects in the collection which were donated to the Museum by Brinley’s family in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are among the most powerful and poignant of all the First World War collections in our care. Although undated, the postcard shown here was almost certainly written by Brinley when he served with The Welsh Regiment. In July 1915, the 18th Battalion moved to Prees Heath training camp in Shropshire. This novelty postcard, addressed to Brinley’s parents, includes a set of pull-out images of the camp.
In addition to the postcard, we also have a beautiful pincushion made by Brinley as a gift for his mother. The centre features the insignia of The Welsh Regiment and the motto Gwell Angau na Chywilydd (Better Death than Dishonour). We don’t know where or why Brinley made this pincushion, but it’s possible that he was given the material and beads in kit format to alleviate boredom or to focus his mind.
We recently showed the pincushion and postcard to children whose parents are serving in the Armed Forces today. Both objects will be displayed in the redeveloped galleries here at St Fagans, alongside contemporary responses generated through partnership work with the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme. When asked to consider why Brinley may have made this pincushion for his mother, one young girl suggested it was his way of saying ‘I’m alive, don’t worry.’
Brinley Rhys Edmunds died on 5 September 1918 while serving with the Durham Light Infantry, a matter of weeks before the armistice and his twentieth birthday. He is buried at the Berlin South-Western Cemetery in Germany. With no grave to visit at home, his family preserved and displayed the pincushion under a glass dome. Like all families who lost a relative in the line of duty, Brinley’s parents received a bronze memorial plaque in recognition of his service, inscribed HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR BRINDLEY RYHS EDMUNDS – the error made by the Cardiff recruiting officer compounded by the misspelling of his middle name, Rhys.
Remember, you can now access the Museum's First World War collections online. We'd love to hear from you if you have further information about Brinley Edmunds, or any other person or family represented in the collections.
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