St Teilo’s Church
ExArc 2013 Conference
It's been a while since I last blogged from St Fagans - there's been a glitch in the matrix and we still haven't quite got to the bottom of it. But we'll get there.
That's one way of apologising that there won't be any pictures with this post. Anyway, onwards:
This week, Museum Wales and Cardiff University will be hosting the annual ExArc conference. ExArc, in this context, refers to Experimental Archaeology; a hands-on approach to learning about the past, which looks at the 'how?' of history, as well as the 'when?'.
ExArcers' work is in raw materials, painstaking detail and learning from mistakes as well as triumphs. The research they take part in can range from bronze-casting or iron-smelting using rudimentary tools; to recreating underwear or researching the practicalities of life in the past.
I have been lucky enough to learn a lot from ExArcers over the last few years, and so am very proud that St Fagans will feature in their visit down to Cardiff. We're known here for our hands-on approach, and I suspect we could learn an awful lot from these trailblazers!
While the conference is completely full, you can follow the discussion online using the hashtag #eauk2013.
The twitter stream is already full of interesting people, travelling here from all around as I type. If you're planning to attend, please do come and say hello. You will know me by my, erm, museum name badge?
Open Doors: A Tour of St Teilo's Original Wall-paintings
We have a limited amount of places left on a very special event - and I thought I'd give you loyal readers first dibs!
I will be taking a small group behind the scenes to look at some very fragile, very rare fragments of Tudor-era wall-paintings. Painted around 1500, they were moved to the museum when we moved St Teilo's Church from Pontarddulais. You can see replicas of these paintings on the walls of the reconstructed church today. If you've ever wondered what the originals look like, then this is the workshop for you!
A few have been on display in the past, but this tour will provide unprecedented access to the paintings in their dormant state, as well as a chance to learn how, and why, we removed them.
The tour takes place on the 25th of September. The morning session will look at St Teilo's as it stands today, running from 11:00 to 13:00. The afternoon session will take you into the stores, and will take place between 14:00 and 16:00. Numbers are very limited so booking is essential. Phone (029) 20 57 35 29 to claim your place!
Radio 2 Arts Show - tonight
Twice in one week? Just a quick post before I succumb to blog fever:
On tuesday, I visited the BBC in Llandaf to talk a bit about my work, and St Fagans in general, for the Radio 2 Arts Show. This week, Penny Smith is standing in for Claudia Winkleman, so it's a good job I decided to forego the nude-coloured-lipstick tribute I had planned. The interview was conducted across the BBC aether - me in front of a box of very compelling lights and buttons, them in a padded room in London - and so I did end up feeling overdressed all the same.
Anyway, we had great fun, even though the question of the Welsh language's perceived lack of vowels did come up, which can sometimes lead to a leap in my blood pressure. I consider it a public service to have tackled that myth with grace and aplomb. Tune in to see if you agree!
Making blogs while the sun shines
Reading back over my entries, it seems I only really like posting here when the sun is shining! It's another beautiful day at St Fagans and it seemed only right to fire up the blogging engine and start writing.
You'll find us in a very cheerful mood at the moment: after many months of working collaboratively, we handed in a dossier as thick as a loaf of bara brith to the Heritage Lottery Foundation. They, in turn, pored over it and decided to award St Fagans with a whopping grant of £11.5 million, to fund its redevelopment. We still have a few quid to raise in order to reach our goal, and so the '£1 appeal' was launched last week. Its message? If you've got a pound to spare, then we promise to do something amazing with it!
Our plans for the future, while unbelievably detailed, still seem a bit distant and unreal - but soon enough, you'll start to see the site start to change. The museum, as an entity, will change, too - and we hope you'll come along with us for the ride. We want to open up how we work, and give people from all walks of life a chance to take part in the day-to-day life of the museum.
At the moment, though, it's business as usual.
My Tudor Plant walks went off without a hitch (and by hitch I mean rain and slugs). I was joined by students from England, France, Germany and Japan, as well as a couple of English/Welsh/Spanish families. I was a linguist in a former life and so dredged as much vocabulary as I could from the back of my mind, so that everyone could follow the tour. We tasted and smelled our way around the gardens, where 16th century varieties still grow. We usually discourage people from picking plants while they're here, to leave enough for our furry/feathered residents - but on this occasion, we were allowed to have a nibble here and there. Thankfully, Bernice and Paul from the gardens department have been kind enough to teach me which ones to eat, and which to avoid!
Yesterday, I met with students from Cardiff University yesterday, to talk about how we can use information and objects from excavations to engage the public. We looked at all sorts of things: from the pigments on the church walls to cauldrons and Tudor toilet-seats. This morning, I helped Sian and Ian take eighty-four (we counted) cardboard shields up to the Celtic Village for a painting workshop.
The reason I find myself in the office is because I am preparing a lecture for the Eisteddfod. I'm honoured to be speaking, and want to make sure I show off St Fagans in its best light! The topic of the talk will be murals from the Vale of Glamorgan - reading about all these little fragments has me keen to traipse around a graveyard with my camera pretty soon.
I hope you're enjoying this sunny spell - if you're thinking of coming to see us, then have a look here for our upcoming events. If you're coming by bus, remember that, as well as the number 32, you can now catch a band new shuttle bus, the number 5, which takes you from the steps of the National Museum in Cardiff, right to our front door.
PS: next time there'll be pictures, I promise!
Brick by Brick (stone by stone)
Fans of craftspeople, rejoice!
Our very own Haverfordwest House has been given a TV special: 'Brick by Brick' with Dan Cruickshank, which plays out on BBC2 at 9pm tonight (9.30 on BBC2 Wales).
The project has been a slow-burner, not least because the building, when removed from its original location in Haverfordwest, lacked a fourth retaining wall. If you've ever wondered how on earth we do what we do at St Fagans, then this is the programme for you. Follow the link below for a flavour of what's to come:
The building is in the last stages of drying out, which means we'll have to wait a little while longer to furnish it permanently. To satisfy your curiosity, however, we're holding a preview opening this weekend, between 10 and 5. I'll keep you posted about our progress - in the meantime, if you've got any questions about the building, or the show, leave 'em here for me in the comments!
Mapping Hendre'r Ywydd
A quick post just to show you this map I've been working on, which is an attempt to explore the 1500s landscape of Llangynhafal and beyond.
You'll find pinpoints to buildings nearby which could have been standing at the same time as our Hendre'r Ywydd. It is an incomplete map, but it will evolve, I hope. To make it, I combined public domain data from Coflein, Ordnance Survey, the St Fagans Archive, google and the North Wales Dendrochronology Project*.
I hope to add more information about the buildings themselves, including photos and dating, as I find it. I should also note that the captions in Welsh will be translated as the map progresses.
You can use the zoom tool to travel outwards from Hendre'r Ywydd's original site:
View Llangynhafal 1510 in a larger map
* Dendrochronology=a fancy term for tree-ring dating.
Finding Hendre'r Ywydd
I have grown very fond of Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf. I can smell wood-smoke in the office and it's got me looking forward to Spring, when I'll hopefully be spending more time there, getting to know the building from the inside out. Even if you have visited St Fagans many times, you may not have stayed a long while in there. It is quite a bare building, partly due to the fact that furniture from its period of construction - the early 1500s - need more TLC than can be provided in an outdoor display, and so are tended to in the galleries. Also, there's no chimney, so it can be quite a troublesome building to work with, and even visit, if the smoke is not behaving as it ought to.
It's a timber-framed building, moved here from Denbighshire in the 1960s but lived in, quite comfortably it seems, until 1954. I hope to find out more about the place, and how it was used, by using a variety of skills and sources. After cooking and interpreting in there over the summer, I'm really looking forward to getting my hands dirty and seeing how it works as an Early Tudor household.
Moving headlong into a Tudor way of life at this time of year may be ill-advised (especially since I have no saltfish and this year's attempt at storing apples has been fuzzier than anticipated), so I'm taking the time to pore over sources relating to the building and its original context.
There's so much material to explore. Scholars and local historians have written widely on a range of families, buildings, industries and events from Denbighshire in the Early Modern period. I have on my desk a great big pile of articles, ready to be marked with pink and yellow stripes. But you've got to start somewhere. I decided first to find the building's original location.
Hendre'r Ywydd was originally built in the parish of Llangynhafal, near Rhuthun. I am quite familiar with the area, but had never been able to put my finger on the house's original site; remembering instead the high hedges and spaghetti-thin roads of Dyffryn Clwyd. Thankfully, for every building we move, we create an archive of its context and original location. These archives are usually second-to-none:
Unfortunately, on this occasion, our forebears did not think to leave enough clues in there to allow for easy pinpointing. Rifling through photos of cruck frames, cow stalls and hazel matting, I came across two shadows of evidence. A copy of a copy of a copy of an 1830s tithe map with no scale, and a transparency with no key. Both featured a strip of land which tapered at one end. This was where, in 1508, Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf was built.
It takes a while to get your eye in, so I google-mapped the parish to see if there were any surviving field systems like the one featured on both maps. Going in cold was a bad idea.
I resolved to have another go once I'd chipped away a little more. It was tempting to rely on google maps for place names and postcodes, but our landscape has changed so much, and in fits and starts, since 1500, that the information was of no use for this particular task. Or at least, if the information looked useful, there would be no simple way of checking its veracity. I stared at the shapes on the tracing, trying to memorise the placement of streams, trackways and field systems.
In the midst of all these abstract shapes, I called to mind another thread of research I'd been doing, using the Royal Commission's Coflein Database. In trying to build up a bit of context, I've been looking at other surviving houses from the area, reading up on their construction and dating. Coflein supplies you with an OS grid reference for every recorded historic building and monument in Wales. You can look at the Coflein archive for Hendre'r Ywydd here.
I still had in my possession a grab-bag of data. Some abstract shapes, some numbers and some very powerful satellite data courtesy of google and NASA. Thankfully, I didn't have to go far in order to make sense of it. Our library at St Fagans has a cache of Ordnance Survey maps, and the grid reference narrowed it down substantially, as you'd expect. The detail of their maps is mesmerising, and after some careful examination and help from our Curator of Historic Buildings, we pinpointed the location, in amongst a few other houses, confusingly also called Hendre'r Ywydd.
On closer inspection, someone possessing a disregard for conventional, proper, archive-based behaviour been there before us and marked the map with a tiny blob of red ink.
When I had been brought round with some smelling-salts, I applied the information I'd gathered to the satellite map, and was finally able to find that little strip of land. It's still intact, to a degree, and still maintains a tapered side, as we see on the map. The road twists slightly just as it does in the drawings:
The last thing I wanted to do, after this, was pay it a visit. I find the house replaced with a field of corn. Uninspiring as it may appear, this is where I happily find my feet, as I venture into 1500s Denbighshire.
You can visit, too, by clicking here:
View Llangynhafal 1510 in a larger map
What a season it's been. Thanks to the presence of the 'Making History 1500-1700' exhibition, we've been able to push the boat out a little bit for our Tudor and Stuart events, aided by a small army (and an actual Regiment) of re-enactors, social historians and volunteers.
We've been visited by pipers, skinners, barber-surgeons, nurses, herbalists, musketeers, pikemen, a Tudor beauty expert, an Elizabethan noblewoman and her maid, timber trebuchet-testers, longbowmen, feasters, revellers, rebels, preachers and even children suffering from plague! Some had never been to St Fagans before, and so I hope we'll see them again. I'm absolutely shattered but delighted to have learned so much during such a busy time of year.
My favourite sessions of the season were 'Tudor Tastes', in which social historians Sally Pointer, Suzanne Churchill and I tried out some bona fide 1500s recipes, on the hearth in Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf. We ate very well but I must admit I'm glad we didn't get round to cooking the Turnip Pudding this time around.
Close second to our 'Tudor Tastes' session were my foray into sporting history, exploring all sorts of extinct and frankly lethal sport with young people from Wales, Poland, Germany and France. The sessions were simultaneously translated into three languages - having been a linguist in a previous life, I was amazed at how we managed to share so much with each other as a group. Unfortunately, my Welsh wrestling demonstration skills weren't quite up to scratch; but helpfully, the pig's bladder ball gave us plenty to talk about.
There are so many other sessions I'd love to put on my podium - but there's not a lot of time to dwell on them. This afternoon, we prepare to start the whole process again, as we fill the calendar for 2012 and 2013. I've got a few ideas up my sleeve - I'll let you know if they make the grade!
The Battle of St Fagans
We welcomed the English Civil War Society last weekend, to explore the Battle of St Fagans, which took place near the museum in 1649. They brought with them not only a fair amount of weaponry (as you'd expect), but an amazing number of skills and objects to demonstrate. I think a list would be a bit boring, so here are some photo higlights from the week-end. Thanks to Alcwyn for taking the photos, I was busy protecting the church from reforming zealots!
Just a quick post to say thanks very much to all who attended the #deddfuno debate, both in person and online! We had a great day, a refreshing debate and a chance to share new theories and research with a wider audience. If you'd like to catch up, you can find quotes from the day here.
Historian Nia Powell gave us plenty to mull over, as well as some very provocative propositions, and our multi-party panel was happy to get stuck in to the difficult topics which which they'd been presented. What could have been yet another debate along the same old lines was given a lease of new life.
You have until the end of the month to come and see the document itself, at the Making History 1500-1700 Exhibition. I'll let you know in due course what will be replacing the document. The only clue I'll give you now is that it might be something to do with this.
St Teilo’s Church