The unknown soldier
As part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s First World War centenary programme the collections relating to this period will be conserved, digitised and made available online. My role at the museum is Textile Conservator so I am responsible for the practical care of the textile collections across all seven sites. There are many WW1 objects in the textile collection; most take the form of commemorative or souvenir pieces while others are costumes and accessories.
One of the objects recently conserved for the project is an embroidered panel measuring 43.5cm x 53.5cm maker unknown, it is made from a single piece of royal blue silk satin embroidered with flags and text which reads ‘VICTORY FOR THE ALLIES MALTA PRESENT’ in yellow silk thread using stem stitch. It also features a photograph of a Welsh soldier printed onto a postcard which is slipped inside a frame made from card and covered in painted silk. The frame is tacked to the satin along the bottom and sides with the top edge left open. The flags are made with lines of silk floss which have been laid down to form the coloured sections and secured in a criss-cross, net like fashion and couched using a very fine thread. Thicker, cotton threads are used to define the sections of colour, the flags and poles are made from a coiled paper thread with a cotton core.
When it came to the conservation studio the panel was in a fair condition with some light surface soiling all over and creasing across the silk from being folded around the frame at some point, probably before it came to the museum. It is possible that the panel once had an adhesive backing as the embroidery threads on the reverse appear stiff and flattened. There is also some abrasion to the surface of the embroidery threads and satin floating yarns. The top and bottom edges are frayed and there are several splits in the ground fabric where it has been stitched through.
The conservation treatment began with a surface clean using a micro vacuum to pick up dust and fluff. It was then humidified to remove the creases; we cannot iron historic textiles because the heat and pressure of conventional irons can cause further damage. Instead we use gentle techniques with cold water vapour or in this case, a combination of materials layered up to introduce moisture gradually to the textile giving it time to penetrate the fibres. Once the fibres were relaxed, glass weights were used to hold them in position whilst drying. The photograph was removed during the humidification process to avoid any damage. The next stage was to support the splits in the satin which affect the stability of the textile. Fine silk crepeline was chosen to do this because it is gives a light support but is almost transparent, so even though it covers the reverse you can still see the threads; it was dyed blue to match the colour of the satin. The crepeline was fixed to the textile using a very fine layer of thermoplastic adhesive, which was applied to the dyed crepeline and allowed to dry. The adhesive was then re-activated to bond it to the reverse of the panel using a heated spatula, the bond created is enough to support the textile but not so strong that it cannot be removed in the future if required. The frayed edges were then laid out and secured though to the backing by working a blanket stitch along the edge using a fine polyester thread.
The textile is now back in store but will soon be available to view online and may one day go on display at St Fagans. Keep checking the blog for more updates as the project progresses!
The Soldier in the photograph is yet to be identified if you recognise him please contact the museum via Elen Philips Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History Tel: 029 2057 3432 or on Twitter: @StFagansTextile
A Window into the Industry Collections
This month we have been donated six lamp checks to add to our very comprehensive collection of checks. Lamp checks informed colliery management of who was in work and became vital when rescue services needed to know how many men were actually underground during an incident such as a fire or explosion. Colliery check systems apparently became common during the late nineteenth century and became mandatory in 1913 after an amendment to the 1911 Coal Mines Act. The two lamp checks shown here were manufactured by E. Thomas & Williams at their Cambrian Works in Aberdare in 2013 using original dies owned by the company. The one on the left was produced to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Big Pit operating as a museum.
If you would like to find out more information on check and tokens then check out an article written by our coal curator on Rhagor.
You can also see a selection of checks and tokens from our collection on our online database ‘Images of Industry’.
This ophthalmoscope was used by colliery nurse Sister Iris Evans for checking ears and eyes in Pochin and Oakdale Collieries. After completing her training in 1952 Sister Evans joined the National Coal Board as a nursing officer at Pochin Colliery in 1955. Later she was transferred to Oakdale Colliery. She retired in 1985 finishing her career as Senior Nursing Officer for South Wales Area NCB. During her career she helped out during the Six Bells Colliery disaster in 1960. She also vaccinated many miners at Lady Windsor Colliery during a smallpox outbreak in South Wales in the 1950s.
This large 15 ton piece of coal is now located at Bedwellty Park, Tredegar, and is Grade II listed. It was cut at the Yard Level, Tredegar as a single block with the intention to display it at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was originally 20 tons, however, after a 5 ton piece broke away in transportation it was decided not to transport it to London as it might not survive the journey. It was subsequently set up in the grounds of Bedwellty House. The smaller block of 2 tons (to the left) was cut in 1951 from the same seam as the earlier one. It was exhibited at the Festival of Britain in London, before being placed next to the earlier block in Bedwellty Park.
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exciting developments afoot...
After much discussion and background work, the digital team at Amguefdda Cymru today began on the exciting path of redesigning its website.
As well as being timely (it’s been almost 5 years since our last design iteration *gasp*), there are a number of important factors driving this project, including an ambitious digital strategy to help deliver the redevelopment of St. Fagans National History Museum, as well as a comprehensive review of our institutional structure as a result of the Museums Change Programme.
Areas for development in this project will include providing greater access to online collections, increasing digital participation and also integrating today's social networking activities to encourage participation and sharing.
With these drivers in mind, we’ve been busy beavering away in the background over the last few months, researching audiences, analysing metrics, workshoping stakeholders and talking to our users. Why? Quite simply, we want this project to be as ‘evidence led’ as possible - let’s act on what our users tell us, from how they get to our website, to what they do when they get there.
time to put the user at the centre
From all this background research, we have developed a specific list of objectives that our new redesigned website will seek to provide. In summary these are;
- Reflect first and foremost, the needs and interests of our users
- Be focused on individual museum sites and our knowledge, not our corporate brand
- Remove barriers to our information, including language and structure
- Present a clear and logical navigational structure
- Remove redundant sections and pages
- Present a simple, clean design
- Ensure that there are no dead ends for users - always offer an alternative if no exact content matches their search
- provide fresh and routinely updated material
We are now in a position to take stock of our whole online offer: microsites, domains, social media connections, visiting pages, collections pages, even our in-gallery interfaces, while at the same time rethinking our traditional ‘institutional’ view of what we present online.
Most of you in Museum digital circles will know just how easy it is for websites to evolve through a reflection of internal structures. This is our chance to turn that thinking around and apply fresh perspectives, new ideas and modern technology to a website that really works for those visiting our websites - all based on evidence driven research, of course...
Timescale for all this? 8 months, so check back for updates to how this journey unfolds…
The Participatory Forums
The Informal Learning Forum
Informal Learning in this context refers to learning outside of the school curriculum. The group consists of representatives from organizations across Wales that facilitate adult and family learning. Most members had previous knowledge of the project having participated in workshops during the planning stage. This group have agreed a remit of work which includes; helping to develop a programme of activities that appeals to people of varied background and ability and reviewing gallery content to ensure we provide appropriate interpretive methods for these audiences.
As a result of this Forum a group of adult learners from the Workers Educational Association (WEA) participated in interpretation workshops in July. The workshops provided an opportunity for the group to give their views on items intended for the ‘Wales is’ gallery. Objects studied at close hand included a tailors quilt and artefacts dating from the First World War. The sessions were facilitated by curators working directly with the objects – ensuring that the feedback gleaned has a direct impact on their work.
Museum records largest earthquake in UK since 2008!
The British Geological Survey (BGS) reported a 4.1 magnitude earthquake in the Bristol Channel at 13:21 GMT on 20th February 2014. The event was also recorded on the Museum seismograph in the Evolution of Wales Gallery at National Museum Cardiff.
This is the largest earthquake in the UK since the 5.2 magnitude Market Rasen quake in February 2008.
The earthquake was felt widely across South Wales, Devon, Somerset and western Gloucestershire. Reports to the BGS described “felt like the vibration of a large vehicle passing the building”, “the whole house seemed to move/wobble back and forth a few times”.
The earthquake epicentre is estimated to be 18 km NNW of Ilfracombe at a depth of 3km.
Although the UK is not located on a plate margin, on average 200 – 300 earthquakes a year are recorded in Britain. Most earthquakes are so small they are not felt by people, and can only be picked up by the sensitivity of a seismometer.
The UK is located on the European plate. Tension is built up in the plate as new crust is created at the Mid Atlantic Ridge, and the plate is slowly pushed towards the north-east.
There are several long-active faults in the Bristol Channel which include the Bristol Channel – Bray fault. Once faults form, they create weak zones in the crust that can be reactivated time and time again. Movement occurred along one of these faults as tension in the crust was released.
On average an earthquakes of this size affects mainland Britain once every 2 years.
The largest recorded mainland event is the magnitude 5.4 earthquake on the Lleyn Peninsula in July 1984, where movement occurred along a long-active pre-existing fault.
Rain, rain and more rain
What a very wet and rainy January we had bulb buddies! It felt like it rained nearly every day! But how much rain did we really have compared to average?
Weather Scientists at the Met Office have created this map of the U.K. to show how much rain we had in January. You can have a closer look by following this link.
How did they calculate average rainfall? The Met Office Scientists have been keeping weather records for a very long time! They added up how much rain fell in January for 30 years (from 1981 to 2010) then divided by 30 to calculate how much rain fell on average each year.
Can you see the two different shades of dark blue? Rainfall in these areas was between two and three times the average for January. Can you see the black areas in the south of England and in eastern Scotland? Rainfall in these areas was more than three times the average for January!
Top tip for using this map:
- 100% of average means that the rain was the same as average.
- 200% of average means that there was twice as much rain as average.
Can you find where you live on the map? What colour is the map where you live? How much rain fell in your area? Is it more than average? Or less than average? You may want to ask your teacher to help you answer these questions!
Your questions, my answers:
Gladestry C.I.W. School: Our school was closed on Thursday because of a power cut so our head teacher recorded the results that day. Prof P: We done to your head teacher! I am very glad your head teacher is helping you with your investigation.
St Mellons Church in Wales Primary School: Hello Professor Plant. It has been so windy this week that our thermometer has blown off the wall and broken. We have been using the car thermometer. L, J and L-b. Prof P: Hello L, J and L-b at St Mellons School! I am very sorry to hear that your thermometer is broken, I will email your teacher and arrange to send you a new one. Well done for your quick thinking in using the car thermometer.
Bleasdale CE Primary School: It is very cold and wet. Prof P: I agree BleasdaleSchool!
Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau: Yn anffodus mae ein thermometr wedi torri ar ol cael ei chwythu gan y gwynt mawr yn ystod yr wythnos. Athro’r Ardd: Trueni mawr i glywed hyn Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau. Bydda i’n e-bostio eich athro i drefnu anfon thermomedr newydd atoch chi.
Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): on Wednesday there was a red weather warning but luckily the plants stayed in place. Prof P: I’m very happy to hear that your plants are okay!
Stanford in the Vale Primary School: It is very rainy here but we are not flooded. Prof P: I am very glad to hear that Stanford! What colour is the rainfall map is your area?
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: The heavy gales have caused the rainfall measurements to be unreadable as the measuring vessel was continually disrupted and blown over. Prof P: Gosh it must have been very stormy. Thanks for letting me know, keep up the good work!
Exploring Insect Diversity in Thailand
Work continues in a joint project with colleagues at the Entomology Section of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBGE) in Thailand exploring the diversity of tropical Diptera (flies). The objectives are to learn more about why two mountains in northern Thailand are such hotspots of diversity (the number and variety of species) and why so many endemic species are found there (an endemic species is one entirely confined to a particular locality). We should also learn much about the ecology of different communities of insects living in different forest types occurring at different altitudes. The project was started last January with Malaise traps (a tent-like structure into which insects fly and can be trapped) being set up along an altitude transect on Thailand’s highest mountain Doi Inthanon, and in the summit forests of slightly lower Doi Phahompok. Wichai Srisuka and his staff from QSBGE will empty the contents of the traps every two weeks for a full year and their team of expert technicians will conduct initial sorting and identifications at their laboratories and collection centre not far from the city of Chiang Mai. Some of the initial collections have already been made and many potentially very interesting specimens have been collected. The first consignment of material will be arriving in Cardiff shortly where I will begin the detailed taxonomic work; identifying species that have already been described, and, the more exciting part of recognizing and describing the many completely new species that will undoubtedly be found. I hope to feature some of the new species found in this blog later this year as the work progresses.
Dr Adrian Plant
1st flower records for England and Wales!
Fantastic news bulb buddies, we have our first flower records!
Carnforth North Road Primary School in Lancashire, England were the first school to send in flower records. Their first crocus opened on the 4 February.
Raglan VC Primary School in Monmouthshire, Wales were the first Welsh school to send in flower records. Their first crocus opened on 7 February.
Well done to both these schools for sending in your flower records!
Archbishop Hutton's Primary School in England have also reported that the crocuses that they have planted in the ground have started to flower. Plants in the ground often flower sooner than ones in pots, has anyone else noticed this?
These flower records are much earlier than last year, when the first crocuses were reported on the 1 March. Why do you think this might be?
If we look at the results from the Spring Bulbs Project in previous years, flowering has been earlier in years with higher rainfall, warmer temperatures and more hours of sunshine. Why not have a think about what the weather has been like where you live? Do you think this year’s weather will help your flowers to grow?
Your questions, my answers:
Ysgol Terrig: Our bulbs are now growing above the soil. Prof P: Fantastic new Ysgol Terrig, hopefully it won’t be long until you start to see flowers.
Glyncollen Primary School: we are very exited because are bulbs are going to open soon. next week we are going to measure them. Prof P: Great investigating Glyncollen, have fun with your measuring.
Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): It rained a lot and it was very cold and windy. It has not been minus yet. Prof P: I haven’t recorded a minus temperature in Cardiff either.
Stanford in the Vale Primary School: We have had alot of rain recently but the bulbs continue to grow bigger and bigger. Prof P: It certainly has been very very rainy, I hope you haven’t had any flooding.
Greyfriars RC Primary School: Me and D. are watering the plants really well. We enjoyed it alot. D: I am really enjoying the bulbs. My one is called xdox and pop. It was supposed to be xbox and pop. Thank you enjoyed this week. Prof P: What funny names for your plants! Very imaginative.
Freuchie Primary School: The children were really excited on Monday 27th January when they realised that 40mm of water had been collected over the weekend! Prof P: Wow - that really is a lot of rain!
Woodplumpton St. Anne's Primary School: We are very excited because the first shoots are beginning to appear. It has been very wet but so far the temperature has not dropped below zero. We wonder if this is unusual. Prof P: Great question Woodplumpton! I have had a look back over our weather data for previous years and it looks like this is not that unusual. The average daytime temperature for the month has only dropped below zero once in the 8 years we have been running the Spring Bulbs investigation. This was in December 2011 when there was heavy snow. I do think it has been less cold this January than in previous years. I look forward to receiving the weather data from all the schools so I can compare all the data in my Spring Bulbs Report!
Newport Primary School: Horrible wet weather most of the week. Prof P: The trouble with the rain is that it gets in the way of playtime doesn’t it?
Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): The weather has been cold, wet and windy this week. We have spotted our first shoots peeping through in our pots though. Prof P: It seems like your bulbs don’t mind the wet weather too much.
Chatelherault Primary School: Bad news some people have been pulling out our bulbs but some are growing. And we have had a lot of rain and sun. Prof P: Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that someone has disturbed your bulbs. I hope that the ones that are left will be okay. Sun and rain are the perfect combination to make them grow!
Now that the collections reviews have started in earnest (6 collections down, 14 to go) and things are settling down a bit (ahem...), it is about time to introduce our project partners. Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales is a collaborative project involving many people and organisations. The idea of creating a network of collections (the very philosophy of the Distributed National Collection) would not be possible without partnerships. If we think of the project as a growing plant a number of analogies spring to mind.
The Welsh Museums Federation is instrumental for sowing the seeds of the Linking Collections project; the Federation is the strategic body for sector professionals in Wales and promotes good practice while providing a forum for discussion. Like a spider in her web, the Federation has the links it takes to pull the strings.
The seeds are watered by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund which provided a grant of £100,000 towards the project. These grants fund collections work outside the scope of an organisation’s core resources; in this case for a project manager to pull together collections reviews, data digitisation and online publishing, education resources, a touring exhibition, community engagement and training for museums.
Major nutrients for healthy growth of the little plant, lets say Nitrogen and Phosphorus, are provided by two major partners, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and CYMAL. Amgueddfa Cymru looks after the national collections. Seven museums in different parts of Wales with different themes provide one of the cultural backbones of the nation. Specialist curators from National Museum Cardiff are crucial for the smooth and reliable completion of the collections reviews in the partner museums.
CYMAL are the Welsh Assembly Government's heritage and culture arm; they provide advice and support to the sector in Wales, develop professional standards, manage grant schemes and advise the Minister for Culture and Sport on policy matters. Thanks to support from CYMAL, a number of training courses are going to be run for partner museum curators and volunteers.
And here they come – they have already been mentioned a couple of times: the partner museums. There are 20 of them, and in our little analogy they are the soil in which the plant is growing. I am going to list them all because they deserve it:
And we are not finished: communities are the carbon dioxide each plant needs for photosynthesis, and communities take an increasing interest and get more involved in their local museums. This ranges from amateur collectors organising community-curated displays, to Welsh speakers sharing their knowledge of vernacular terminology, to volunteers helping with identification and curation of museum specimens.
The light for the healthy growth of the plant comes, naturally, from school pupils (particularly from local primary schools), who are increasing better able to utilise their museum, through improved engagement programmes, updated exhibitions and a system of ready-to-use loans boxes with activities and guidance for teachers.
Last but not least, each plant needs someone to look after it, and the gardeners in this case are the members of the steering group. Usually, they prefer to remain modestly in the shadows, but they, too, deserve a mention for their work of seeding and weeding:
Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Natural Sciences, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Diane Gwilt, Keeper of Collections, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Jane Henderson, Senior Lecturer, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University
Dr Hefin Jones, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University
Rachael Rogers, President, Welsh Museums Federation
Mike Wilson, Head of Entomology, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
A healthy plant is growing
Now I am going to sit back and watch the plant grow. Oh no, there is the next collections review to organise, the data to be edited, the annual report to finish, another meeting coming up… However, I will very much enjoy this new growth in the museum landscape. I hope you will enjoy it too.
For any comments, suggestions, or to contribute to this exciting project please get in touch: Facebook - Linking Collections Wales, Twitter - @LinkinCollWales.