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Linking Collections is a project that unites the natural science collections found in the museums across Wales. Put together these make up a distributed natural history collection for the whole of Wales, forming a part of our shared cultural and scientific heritage.

As part of this project a touring exhibition entitled ‘Stuffed, Pickled & Pinned: 50 Wonders of Nature in Welsh Museums’ has been developed. Formed from a selection of objects and specimens from across the regional museums the exhibition will visit 18 museums over the next three years!

In preparation for the tour the chosen specimens and objects were brought together at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Here the Natural Sciences conservation team prepared them for their three year journey by creating packaging to protect them in transit, minimise the need for handling and, where necessary, provide an easy form of display.

The exhibition contains a very diverse range of natural history specimens and objects with many different packaging and display requirements. For a number of the specimens specific support mounts were made from a conservation grade of inert foam called Plastazote.

For other specimens it was possible to create a display mount that also provides support when in transit. A good example is the puffer fish. This has been mounted on black Plastazote that slides out of a Correx box that opens from the side. For extra support when travelling a thin strip of Plastazote is placed diagonally across the puffer fish and secured to the base with entomology pins.

A pickled (fluid preserved) adder from Llandudno Museum required some creative packaging to protect it when travelling. Two plastic tubs were cut to shape and Plastazote padding placed at each end. The specimen jar is then placed inside and empty space filled with acid free tissue. The plastic tub is then placed tightly within a thick black Plastazote box. 

An option for some of the fossils was to package them so that they could be displayed in their box. Plastazote with cut outs support the specimen and they can be presented as they are or at an angle on a Perspex support.

Old entomology boxes have also been put to good use as a way of creating a display case for collections of small specimens such as eggs and shells.

The Linking Collections Exhibition “Stuffed, Pickled & Pinned; 50 Wonders of Nature in Welsh Museums” opened at Powysland Museum on October 20th 2015. Further information can be found on the People’s Collection Wales website - http://www.peoplescollection.wales/collections/475828

Ruth Murgatroyd, Masters Student in Conservation at Cardiff University

As mentioned in my last blog post staff at Amgueddfa Cymru are working on the Hansen shipping photographic collection to enable this collection to be made fully accessible to researchers and interested parties. I also gave a background to the collection and the work staff and volunteers are doing on it – you can read it here. In this post I’ll explain a bit about the cataloguing process.

We are working at putting each individual negative onto our collections management database (CMS), where details of all the museum’s collections are stored. Each entry will record full details of the name of the ship, the date and place the photograph was taken, and the name of the photographer. This will allow us to do comprehensive searches. It will also include the medium (in many cases gelatin dry plate negatives, with some film negatives). We will also being adding as much historic details of the ship as possible, and one of our volunteers has been working on brief histories of some of the vessels. This collection comprises over 4,500 negatives, so you can appreciate the scale of the work needed to fully catalogue, store and digitise this collection. We have made good progress so far, having added a further 334 negatives since the last blog post, and now have 1,834 records on the system.

As staff are working through the collection we are also re-packing from old glassine bags into modern conservation grade four-flap envelopes specifically designed for the long term housing of glass plate and film negatives. We no longer use glassine bags for storage of photographic collections as under certain conditions, especially if exposed to moisture, the bags can stick to the glass and film negatives causing permanent damage. Therefore, where possible we are re-packing into conservation grade packing. The whole collection is stored in an environmentally controlled photographic store at the National Collections Centre, Nantgarw.

 

Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW

The focus for UK Disability History Month this year is how disability and disabled people have been portrayed in the past and present.

With this in mind, I revisited some objects in the collection at St Fagans which made an appearance on the Welsh Millennium Centre stage last year. These objects had been selected by Mat Fraser to be used in his keynote address at the Museums Association Conference in Cardiff, October 2014. Mat’s ground-breaking performance, Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability was kept in a Box looked at museum collections and how we should reassess the ways we portray - or as in most cases - don’t portray disability.

One of the objects selected by Mat for his show was an early wheelchair, or ‘invalid chair’ as they were once referred to. At first, I was surprised that the chair was among Mat’s choice of objects for the simple reason that there wasn’t much to say about it. I later realised of course, that it was exactly the point he wanted to make.

When we initially received the request to list potential candidates from the Museum’s collections for Mat’s performance, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. The Museum’s classification didn’t include a section on disability so the only way of searching was to systematically trawl through all of the index cards. The few invalid chairs in the St Fagans collection were catalogued under the theme of transport, among various wheeled vehicles, from agricultural carts to bicycles.

The chair was collected by the Museum in 1985 from a house in Cardiff along with other various objects but there was no further information in the file about the donor or its previous owner. So I started to do a bit of research.

It seems that this type of folding invalid chair would have been manufactured from the early 1900s up until the Second World War. It has a cane seat and back, and a wooden frame which means it’s not too heavy to manoeuvre. It was designed with two small wheels at the back so that it could be wheeled up and down stairs by two people without having to lift the chair ‘saving effort and reducing the risk of accident’. [1]

There’s no maker’s name on the chair but it’s very similar to models manufactured by the more well-known specialist makers from London such as John Ward, Tottenham Court Road, and Carters of Great Portland Street. Their products were advertised in newspapers and could be purchased from catalogues. Their ranges included the more expensive bath chairs with leather upholstery to basic chairs such as this example, costing around £3 in the early 1900s.

However, this was still expensive for the majority of the population. In the industrial south Wales valleys during the first half of the twentieth century, many medical aid societies would help with the purchase or loan of wheelchairs and mobility aids.[2] After the First World War the British Red Cross also lent surplus equipment such as bed rests and invalid chairs which could be hired out on a weekly basis – a service which continues today.

Without knowing why or who used this chair, we are still missing a big part of its history. Sadly, this is also true of most disability-related collections in museums. As Mat Fraser noted in his keynote address last year:

‘...but we know nothing about it, and this illustrates so many artefacts to do with disability – they have no notes. Nobody knows anything. So I suppose the only thing I would take from that is to say that when we have artefacts, we need to label them, we need to get the right people to write the right notes to accompany some of these artefacts because conjecture would be very different for every single one of us as to where this came from. And yet, none of us will never know the real truth which exemplifies and illustrates many points.

 

[1] The Concise Home Doctor Encyclopaedia of Good Health Vol 1, p.303

[2] Ben Curtis and Steven Thompson, ‘A Plentiful Crop of Cripples Made by All This Progress’: Artificial Limbs and Working-Class Mutualism in the South Wales Coalfield, 1890-1948’, Social History of Medicine (2014) 27 (4): 708-727.

 

Hello Bulb Buddies,

We are off to a fantastic start this year. With 177 schools and 6,339 pupils taking part in the Spring Bulbs for Schools investigation 2015-16.

Each pupil taking part has planted their Daffodil and Crocus bulb and labelled their pot. Schools have been using the thermometer and rain gauge provided by the project to take weather readings on days they are in school, and have been uploading their findings to the National Museum Wales website.

You can see the findings so far on the Spring Bulbs project webpage

The results for each participating school are illustrated by graphs. The website has been edited this year to include results from previous years. This means that returning schools can easily see how their data compares to previous years!  

Schools in Wales took part in the Edina Trust’s ‘Planting Day Photo Competition’ for the first time this year. We had some lovely photos sent in by participating schools and it was very difficult to choose just five winners. You can see all of the photos on the Spring Bulb project Twitter page: @Professor_Plant

There have been many interesting questions and comments sent in with the weekly data. Please see below for these and my responses.

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies,

Profesor Plant

 

Your questions, my answers:

Stonehouse Primary School: Tuesday was a strange day for weather. It was frosty in the morning but in the afternoon all the children had their coats off because it was so hot. Ysgol Pentrefoelas: Mae hi wedi bod yn gynnes wythnos yma a nin chwarae allan heb ddim cot. Professor Plant: Hello Ysgol Pentrefoelas and Stonehouse Primary. You both noted in the first week of weather records that it had been warm enough to play outside without coats. Aren’t you lucky! Other schools reported lots of rain and frost! It’s interesting that you are both so far apart and that one of you is on the coast (Conwy) and the other is in-land (South Lanarkshire). What strange weather for November! Have you seen that the warm November weather has caused Daffodils to flower in Cornwall! Daffodils flower slightly earlier in Cornwall because it is slightly warmer there, but this variety of Daffodil would usually flower in December and they were a month early! I wonder if our plants will be earlier than usual this year!

School: Hi, I'm unsure as we are recording the amount of rain- do we need to water the plants ourselves? Professor Plant: Hello, thank you for your question. Yes, please do water your plants twice a week if they look like they need it. You won’t need to water them on days where it has rained enough that the soil is moist.

St David's RC Primary School: It was sunny at the start of the week and then the rain came and got heavier and heavier through the week and it was terrible weather for us. We had to stay inside through the rest of the week it was awful weather we had on Wednesday Thursday and Friday. We did not like the weather, did you have good weather where you are or bad weather because we didn't have very good weather it was horrible it was very, very, very boring for us because we had to stay in side for 2 weeks isn't that boring Mr Plant what would you do if you stayed inside for 2 weeks. Professor Plant: Dear St David’s RC Primary, I’m sorry to hear you had such awful weather during the first week of the project. I hope it has improved! I will look at your weather reading now to see! Inside for two weeks! I would probably read lots of books if I had stay indoors that long. There are some things you can read on the Spring Bulbs website. When you are next stuck indoors why not have a look for the ‘Life of a Plant – make your own Origami booklet’ resource on my website!

Severn Primary: We had an INSET day on Monday November 2nd, so we didn't take any readings. It wasn't really 0degrees. Ysgol Mair: On Monday 2nd November we were not in school so have no data but we were not able to record 'no record'. Professor Plant: Dear Severn Primary & Ysgol Mair, I’m sorry you weren’t able to record your inset day. We had a slight blip with the website where the ‘no record’ button wasn’t working. In future please record all days where there are no readings as ‘no record’. Thank you for spotting that readings of 0degrees can affect the results and for letting me know Bulb Buddies!

Betws Primary School: We collected the data for our class. It was warm and sunny at the start of the week. We had a lot of rain on Thursday and Friday. Our bulbs should be happy! Professor Plant: Well done Betws Primary. Keep up the good work.

Castlepark Primary School: P6 were very enthusiastic about keeping track of the temperature and rainfall this week. They felt like real scientists and are ready to show another class how to record the details next week. Professor Plant: Fantastic Castlepark Primary. I’m glad you are learning new skills through the project and that you are having so much fun doing so. You really are Super Scientists!

St. Oswalds V A School: We are worried about having a true reading on a Monday if it has rained over the weekend. Shall we empty the rain gauge Monday morning and take the rainfall measurement as normal? Professor Plant: Hi St Oswalds. That’s a good question, well done for thinking about the effect this has on Monday’s results. The reading on Monday afternoon will include any residual (left over) rain fall from the weekend. Please don’t empty the rain gauge before taking Monday’s reading, as we want the reading to reflect the weather over at least the last 24 hours. Keep up the good work bulb buddies.

Our Lady of Peace Primary School: Hello we had fun planting the bulbs. It wasn't the first time we have planted something. We have planted spider plants in primary 1. Hopefully our plants come up healthy. Good bye. Professor Plant: Hello Our Lady of Peace Primary, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed planting! You sound like experienced gardeners now! Keep up the good work!

Drumpark Primary ASN School: We have had fun taking data. Professor Plant: I’m glad to hear it Drumpark Primary. Keep up the good work!

Biggar Primary School: We are enjoying the experiments. Professor Plant: I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the project Biggar Primary. For more experiment ideas look for ‘Professor Plant’s investigation Ideas’ on the Spring Bulbs website: https://www.museumwales.ac.uk/spring-bulbs/

Maesycoed Primary: A very mild start to the season. Our year group is split into two classes with a different facing outdoor area. We are monitoring the effects the other class experience against our own as we have more sunlight then they do but they are more sheltered. We will let you know if their flowers appear first. Professor Plant: Fantastic experiment Maesycoed Primary! Please do let me know what your findings are and what you learn from them! This also gives you an opportunity to practice averages. As only one reading a day is needed on the Museum website, you could look at the readings taken by each class and work out the average to enter to the website! Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies.

Brisbane Primary School: Our Monday reading is collated over the weekend. We are taking our readings at 2.30pm Mon - Frid. Thank you Professor Plant. Professor Plant: Hello Brisbane Primary, thank you for your up-date. It’s great that you are managing to take your readings at the same time each day, as this helps to ensure a fair experiment. Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies.

 

This month Amgueddfa Cymru acquired an example of a Prestcold ‘Packaway’ domestic fridge. This fridge was made in Swansea in the 1960s, and was bought new by the donor’s mother and used until only 18 months ago. It still works perfectly! The donation also included the original manual along with a recipe book.

These four lamp checks have been added to the collection this month. They are from Britannia, Deep Navigation, Oakdale and Cwm Collieries. Lamp checks (or 'tokens' or 'tallies') were used to let colliery management know who was in work, and were essential in informing rescue services who was underground during an incident such as a fire or explosion. If you would like to know more about colliery checks and token there is an interesting article here on our website. You can also see many more examples from our collection here on our 'Images of Industry' online catalogue. 

Also this month we received a brick to add to the large collection of Welsh manufactured bricks held at the National Collections Centre. It was found in tipped debris on the former Cyfarthfa Willows cinder tip, Merthyr Tydfil. The brick was manufactured at the Cyfarthfa iron & steel works between about 1890-1910.

Finally this month, we acquired a framed aerial photograph of Cefn Hirgoed opencast coal site was taken in the 1960s, and was at one time on display in the opencast office building. The close up view gives you a better idea of what the site once looked like.