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Llys Rhosyr: revealing the past

Dafydd Wiliam, 22 April 2015

Our 13th century Royal hall is moving forward at quite a pace. At the minute work focusses on the window reveals of the smaller of the two structures, currently known as ‘Building B’. This building could have been the Royal bed chamber (for other contemporary examples feature a chamber and hall within close proximity to each other), but equally it could have been the kitchen, (which would also have been in close proximity to the hall, for who would want to feast on cold food?).

The window reveals are typically Romanesque in style. They are very narrow on the outside, but widen considerably on the inside, in order to maximise the light coming through. The reason for their narrowness is two-fold: small windows are more easily defended and hence were a common feature of more fortified structures such as castles; secondly, as glass for glazing was not always available their size was kept to a minimum in order to reduce the amount of cold air coming in. They will be capped by a level stone lintel, but likewise they could have been capped with an arch – as both methods were common at this time. Wooden shutters will be installed and closed at night, so that visiting schoolchildren will be warm when sleeping over.

Off-site work has begun on saw-milling oak boughs into timber for the roof trusses. Getting a long square-edged timber out of a log takes some considerable skill. The large band-saw can only cut straight lines, therefore the log has to be positioned correctly before every pass. It has to be adjusted up and down, as well as from side to side, because one cut at the wrong angle would negatively impact the following cuts, and render the timber unusable.

The narrow windows of the Llys.

The narrow windows of the Llys.

Builder finishing the reveal and checking his work.

Mike finishing the reveal and checking his work.

The wooden bolt that will bar the door.

The wooden bolt that will bar the door.

Oak boughs ready for the sawmill.

Oak boughs ready for the sawmill.

Sawn timbers ready to be transformed into trusses.

Sawn timbers ready to be transformed into trusses.

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Update - Brinley the boy soldier

Elen Phillips, 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 pincushionnext 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.

 

 

 

Studio portrait of the Edmunds family in about 1905. The father stands behind his wife and two children.

Studio photograph of the Edmunds family in about 1905. Brinley Rhys Edmunds is seated next to his mother. Courtesy of M. Baskin.

Victory Medal and British War Medal awarded to Brinley Rhys Edmunds.

Victory Medal and British War Medal awarded to Brinley Rhys Edmunds.

Ruth James, Social History Conservator, surface cleaning Brinley's portrait for photography. She is using a vacuum and a bush.

Ruth James, Social History Conservator, surface cleaning Brinley's portrait.

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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.

Spelt thatching a roof
Thatching the Iron Age roundhouses - almost there!
Thatched reconstructed roundhouses
Finishing the thatchwork on the Iron Age roundhouses
Llys Rhosyr being built
Work on Llys Rhosyr is continuing
Craftsmen working on a stone building
Work on the window reveals starts, using traditional stonemasonry techniques
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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.

Preventive conservation and collection care. Our objects come in all shapes and sizes and range of materials.

Volunteer project. Rag rugs, from the collection, being used as inspiration to help recreate authentic rugs for the historic houses.

Some of the largest objects we care for at St.Fagans belong to the agricultural collection.

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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!

Portfolio consisting of paper, botanical specimen and textile