IMPROVING ACCESS TO NMGW'S INDUSTRIAL COLLECTIONS
A DOCUMENT FOR CONSULTATION
1.0 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The National Museums & Galleries of Wales (NMGW) is one of eighteen institutions in the UK grant-aided by Government to develop and care for national collections of museum material. Its mission statement has been expressed, in shorthand, as "Showing More Museum Treasures to More People". It has been refining and developing the management of its industrial collections over a period of some years, giving a high priority to material illustrating work-related activity in Wales, to give present and future generations a better understanding of Wales' social and economic development through the ages.
Following the closure of the Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum (WIMM), an opportunity exists to reconsider the nature of a replacement museum which will form part of NMGW's strategy for displaying its industrial collections. This process will be carried out in consultation with interested bodies and individuals throughout Wales, and it is hoped to develop new partnerships to safeguard and share Wales' industrial heritage.
In this document, views are sought on the focus for future collecting, and on the strategy for display and public access to the present industrial collections. These are quite diverse, but centre on industries that have been described as 'special' to Wales. While celebrating the achievements of the past, this strategy also looks to the future, interpreting 'industry' in its widest sense.
This paper describes access to the reserve/research collections and to the display collections. The latter follows a four-part approach:
- Industry in context
- The influence of industry on Welsh life and Culture
- Partnerships and the relevance of Wales' industrial history to the present and future
- The 'Gateway' museum of Wales, the world's first industrial nation
Views are sought on several aspects of this approach.
2.1 National Museums & Galleries of Wales
The National Museum of Wales, established by Royal Charter in 1907, was re-named the National Museums & Galleries of Wales (NMGW) in 1995, to reflect the diversity of its sites throughout Wales. A shorthand version of its mission statement is 'Showing More Treasures to More People', an expression of a real desire to give greater access to the Museum's collections and to use them to the full as invaluable resources for lifelong learning.
Over 800,000 visitors a year come through NMGW's doors; another 120,000 schoolchildren use the educational loan collections in their own schools, and many thousands more visit touring exhibitions organised in partnership with other museums and galleries or items from the collections which it has loaned to them. Increasingly, new technology - the Internet and CD Roms - is providing even greater opportunities to share NMGW's collections with interested 'virtual' visitors of all ages.
NMGW is one of eighteen institutions in the UK grant-aided by Government to develop and care for national collections of museum material. It is presently reviewing the management of its industrial collections - the closure of the Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay has provided an opportunity to consider the exact nature of its replacement, and the most effective ways of making all NMGW's industrial collections (not just those previously on public view) as accessible as possible.
2.2 Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum Cardiff Bay
The Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum (WIMM), which opened in 1977, was designed to form part of a larger, phased development. Because of lack of funding and changes in plans for this part of the Bay over the intervening years, developments were limited to the purchase of a triangle of land nearby and the "Q Shed" building, where educational activities took place, together with the acquisition of 126, Bute St and the leasing for a decade of a station building as a railway gallery. The WIMM building, despite the best efforts of its skilled and dedicated staff, was not large or flexible enough to meet the needs of a modern museum in an international setting.
It was NMGW's intention to create a new industrial museum to replace WIMM as part of the new Wales Millennium Centre, using the proceeds from the sale of WIMM. Unfortunately, support for this project was turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and plans had to be re-drawn.
This initial disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that the opportunity now existed to reconsider the nature of the replacement museum, in consultation with interested bodies and individuals throughout Wales, and to develop new partnerships to safeguard and share Wales' industrial heritage.
2.3 NMGW Sites
The location of several of the museums and galleries operated by NMGW is determined by history or geography. For example, the two museums of Roman archaeology are situated in important Roman sites.
This principle extends to the two industrial museums presently operated by NMGW, namely the Welsh Slate Museum Llanberis (WSM) in the Dinorwic slate quarry (which closed commercially in 1969), and the Museum of the Welsh Woollen Industry (MWWI) in Dre-fach Felindre, the heart of the woollen mills of the Teifi Valley in south west Wales. This mill has never closed having been in constant operation for nearly 100 years.
Other museums with an industrial element or connections are the Museum of Welsh Life St Fagans (MWL), the National Museum & Gallery Cardiff (NMGC) and, following the closure of the Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum, a presence in Cardiff Bay in 126 Bute Street (126). This was the premises of a ships' chandlery and now houses displays relating to Cardiff's maritime history.
2.4 Collections Policies
NMGW's collecting activity is guided by policies approved by its governing body, namely the Council. These policies are regularly reviewed; one which is currently under scrutiny is entitled 'Wales at Work'. We are aiming to give a higher strategic priority to the acquisition and management of material illustrating work-related activity in Wales, so that present and future generations gain a better understanding of Wales' social and economic development throughout the ages. This is in line with the Museum's Charter which calls upon it to advance education through 'the complete illustration of the geology, mineralogy, zoology, botany, ethnography, archaeology, art, history and special industries of Wales'. Other policies, looking at all areas covered by the Museum's Charter, will be reviewed at a later date. Work activity in a domestic context will be included under one of these headings.
2.5 Collections for Research and Display
In common with all other museums, the bulk of the 7.5 million or so items in NMGW's collections are not on display. This is as true of its industrial collections as of other areas, for not everything the Museum collects is of display quality. Most of the objects that any museum collects are destined not for display but rather to form part of the reserve or research collections, the definitive three-dimensional archive of the past. It will always be impossible to put all of a museum's collections on display; a reserve collection is necessary in order to fully record and understand the subject, to provide the raw data for future scholarly research, to answer enquiries from any interested individual or body, and to provide a context for all Museum displays, which of necessity are highly selective in how much they can present.
3.0 THE INDUSTRIAL COLLECTIONS
3.1 A major part of the 'Wales at Work' policy will deal with industrial material, of which the maritime and transport collections are significant parts. (Other sections of that policy refer to rural work activities such as agriculture and crafts and are not discussed here.) The transport and export overseas of both raw materials, such as coal, and finished products, such as rails and tinplate, have long been an integral part of Welsh industrial history. Advances and achievements in the allied fields of technology, civil engineering, maritime endeavour and social history are important parts of all these stories.
3.2 NMGW's existing industrial collections have been built up over many years. Items in the past were often added in response to the need to safeguard fast-disappearing examples of technology, many related to heavy industry. Several of the major Welsh industries depended more on manpower than on machines in the past, with the result that the millions of men who worked in the coal-mines are represented - and can only be represented - in the three-dimensional record, by little more than picks and shovels, jacks and safety lamps. Because of such factors, NMGW's industry collection (like ones in other institutions) is more heavily biased towards representing examples of technology than to illustrating the history of industry and society in Wales.
3.3 NMGW has, up to now, concentrated on collecting material relating to traditional heavy industries, and has relatively little material in its collections dating from the last seventy years. NMGW will henceforth devote time and resources to addressing this deficiency, and, in particular, will aim to keep abreast of contemporary developments through the monitoring of change and active collecting based on those changes. Examples of material which will be collected include motor components, consumer electronics, office machines and technology. Space and money mean we cannot collect everything. Therefore, we must choose themes which together will allow our children and grandchildren to understand the late twentieth century as we now seek to understand the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and earlier periods.
NMGW proposes to move the emphasis of its collecting activity to items relating to industry in Wales in the twentieth - and, later, the twenty-first centuries.
Do you have any suggestions as to specific areas of industrial activity on which NMGW might focus?
4.0 ACCESS AND DISPLAY
4.1 Collections Centre
NMGW believes that it should make as many as possible of its collections accessible to the greatest possible number of people, whether they are academic researchers or interested members of the public. To this end, NMGW will be concentrating its undisplayed industrial collections in a new Collections Centre with good public access, situated on the outskirts of Cardiff. Relocating those collections is a major exercise, with the physical move alone taking some four months. At the end of the exercise, however, the Museum will, for the first time, have integrated the storage of nearly all its industrial collections at one site, under excellent conditions, and where they can be more easily accessed. In time, the Museum hopes to add to this Centre by relocating other parts of its reserve collections there, where they too can be made far more accessible than at present.
NMGW proposes to bring industrial collections which are not on display or on loan into a Collections Centre, where they will be available to the public, together with supporting information and staff.
In your view, is this a positive development?
Would you anticipate making use of the Centre yourself?
NMGW's policy for the display and animation of its industrial collections across Wales is guided by the principles set out in the 1995 Strategic Plan for the display of all of its collections, entitled 'Showing More Museum Treasures to More People'. This will be accomplished through enhanced displays and demonstrations at its own museums; the WSM project, largely funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, can be considered the first such development. Loaning material to other museums and institutions across Wales and further afield is another way in which NMGW makes its collections more widely available.
The outline that follows maps a four-part approach to the display of industry across Wales in museums operated by NMGW and others. While it focuses on WSM, MWWI, MWL, NMGC and the proposed 'Gateway' museum of Wales as an industrial nation, it also includes Big Pit and other museums and heritage partners.
4.2.1 Industry in context
NMGW museums are already becoming much more than simply 'industrial' museums demonstrating mechanical and engineering principles and celebrating technological achievements: they display industries in their wider contexts of geology, geography, social and cultural history. At WSM, in the heart of the slate mines and quarries of north Wales, not only are the historic and traditional industrial methods of the extraction, transport, dressing and export of slate described and demonstrated in the quarry workshops themselves, but they are all explained within the geological context that gave rise to these activities and the social and cultural history that they shaped.
Significant pockets of wealth in west Wales were derived from the woollen industry and MWWI plots the processes involved from sheep to shawl. Again, geography has influenced the development of this industry - which has had a very significant impact on the social and cultural history of the region and on the economic development of Wales.
Big Pit Mining Museum in Torfaen is one of the three mining museums recognised as being of UK importance, as a mine maintained in working condition which offers a real underground experience to some 100,000 visitors a year. The Trustees of Big Pit recently asked NMGW if the site can become part of NMGW and the Museum has agreed that it will attempt to make this a reality, subject to discussions which are currently being held. Big Pit has recently been successful in obtaining Development Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund grant to safeguard and develop the site, and some of NMGW's industrial collections are likely to be relocated there. If acquired, Big Pit would, with WSM and MWWI, form an industrial triangle.
Thus, in WSM, MWWI and Big Pit, NMGW would operate three working industrial museums in authentic contexts where staff demonstrate the former manual techniques and practices of some of today's mechanised industries: especially the quarrying and dressing of slate, the spinning and weaving of wool and the mining and transport of coal.
It is not always practical to show industry in its most natural context, but this is something NMGW aspires to wherever possible.
Do you support this approach, or do you have different views?
4.2.2 The influence of industry on Welsh Life and Culture
Industrial history also has a part to play in other contexts. NMGC is often perceived as interpreting the arts and sciences as separate, academic disciplines; MWL similarly has been seen as a museum solely for rural life and industries. While it will not always be appropriate, for a variety of reasons, to place didactically instructive displays of industrial processes or engineering achievements into these museums, it is nonetheless important that the relevance of industry to people's lives, the influence of industry on their culture and the impact of industry on the bio-diversity of their country are all woven into those displays. Many of these aspects could be addressed in the concepts for our new "Gateway" museum.
The Museum of Welsh Life was established at St Fagans in 1948 to bring together representations of rural life and the rural industries of all of Wales on a site accessible to as many people as possible. Over the past fifteen years, this museum has begun to embrace elements of village life as well as the way of life in the valleys and smaller industrial communities found throughout the landscape of Wales.
The heavy industries which drew people from the hills to communities such as Llanberis or Blaenafon can never be demonstrated at MWL alongside such traditional rural industries of agriculture, tanning, baking and blacksmithing. It is the shadows cast by these heavy industries - the wealth they generated for some, the poverty and ill health they engendered in others, and the enriching influences this life had on Welsh communities, language and culture - which will increasingly be reflected and explained.
For example, the rise and decline of both the iron and coal industries had a huge impact on Welsh life, and the terrace of iron workers' (and later coal miners') houses from Rhyd-y-car was the first 'industrial' display to be introduced to MWL in 1987. It is now the most popular of all MWL's exhibits at the site. Workmen's institutes were focal points in the life of these communities and the opening of the Oakdale Institute has proved another significant success.
Looking at the twentieth century the principle is much the same. We cannot recreate the Laura Ashley factory but we can reflect its presence and its influence. We can also demonstrate many of the domestic products of the film, television and electronics industries: Superted showing on a Sony television in a 1980s setting, for example.
The integration of industrial history with the science and humanity displays at other NMGW museums will also continue, so that visitors can understand the significant impact of Welsh industry on the economy of the United Kingdom, as well as on the heritage of Wales. Whilst enjoyment of our fine collections for their own sake is not to be decried, it is important that their relevance and significance, as the prizes of an industrial nation, are understood. Thus visitors will not only enjoy the Impressionist paintings at NMGC but will also learn how two young Welsh women were in a position to collect modern art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Margaret and Gwendoline Davies were grand-daughters of an extraordinary entrepreneur who rose from humble roots to build railways, sink coalmines and create Barry docks in order to break Cardiff's dominance; his grand-daughters showed similar flair in investing in what was, at the time, outrageously modern art!
NMGW believes that Wales' industrial history has an important part to play in the interpretation and understanding of other collections.
Do you agree?
Would you like to comment further?
4.2.3 Partnerships and the relevance of Wales' industrial history to the present and future
NMGW is, clearly, not the only repository of Wales' industrial heritage and already works with those museums and heritage bodies of Wales who share this responsibility, such as the Council for Museums in Wales; the National Trust (including the Industrial Trust); Cadw; and the National Library of Wales. NMGW has items on loan to most museums in Wales (and many in the rest of the UK) and actively shares knowledge and expertise with fellow professionals. There is ample room to develop further and more widely these partnerships and NMGW is anxious to do this and to develop new alliances with a broader scope.
Industry is a huge story in Wales, in terms of the variety of industries, their geographical spread and their span in time - from 3500 BC or before to the present day and into the future.
It is also an extraordinary story, with many world 'firsts' claimed by Wales: the world price of copper was controlled from Swansea from the late eighteenth century to the 1870s; Wales was the first nation in the world to have more people working in industry than in agriculture; the first steam locomotive in the world was built and operated in Wales; the ironworks along the Heads of the Valleys dominated the world trade in iron rails between the 1830s and the 1860s; Merthyr Tydfil was home to the Cyfarthfa and Dowlais works, the largest ironworks of their period in the world; Cardiff was twice home to the largest docks in the world, first in 1839 and then in 1908.
NMGW cannot possibly cover all these facts, figures and concepts on its own! Developing stronger partnerships with museums and other 'heritage' bodies, particularly within Wales but also across the UK, is crucial.
Of increasing value, as we look back at the twentieth and forward to the twenty-first centuries, will be partnerships with contemporary industries and their research and development departments. WIMM's 'Century of Motoring', whose centrepiece was an 'exploded' car made up of components now made in Wales, is one example of how we already work with modern industry to bring its products and processes into our museum displays. Another is the looms at MWWI, which are still worked commercially; there are plans to add 'finishing' to the operation.
Discussions on collaborative projects with a variety of traditional and modern industries are welcomed.
NMGW would like to develop partnerships with other museums, heritage bodies and modern businesses throughout Wales, particularly to co-ordinate our approach to collecting twentieth and twenty-first century items relating to industry.
Do you think that there should be a co-ordinated approach to collecting
- in Wales?
- in the UK?
Is this something NMGW should lead, in your view?
4.2.4 The 'Gateway' museum of Wales, the world's first industrial nation
NMGW is developing the concept of a 'Gateway' museum of industrial history. Cardiff Bay is the favoured site as it is appropriate both historically and geographically. By 1880 Cardiff was acknowledged as the coal metropolis of the world and is today the country's capital city, home of the Assembly and the centre of the area of greatest population in Wales.
This new museum will explain the world significance of Welsh industry, from its domination of the iron and other metal mining and smelting industries, via the explosive post-1860 boom of coal, to today's electronics, automotive component, media/television and tourism industries, for example. It will be a museum for all of Wales, telling the proud story of Wales' industrial evolution and achievements to Wales and the world.
A "Gateway" museum, such as that described, could introduce visitors to other relevant collections within Wales and beyond, in addition to those held by NMGW.
Would you welcome such a concept?
If you represent a museum or similar body, would you wish to work with us in developing a new museum to introduce industry and related topics across NMGW, other museums and historic sites, as an educational resource for the people of Wales and beyond?
A footfall of two million visitors to Cardiff Bay has been predicted, making Cardiff, for historical, operational and commercial reasons, arguably the best waterfront site for this museum. Should we fail to acquire the site we are presently pursuing, adjoining the remains of the West Bute Dock (Oval Basin), then there are other waterfronts in south Wales with worthy claims to be considered as locations for such a museum. It is premature to raise expectations, but we would wish to discuss approaches to displaying these collections with other possible partners. Some have older and more diverse industrial histories than Cardiff; some have lively museums with whom NMGW might seek partnership.
If it proves impossible to locate the new museum in Cardiff Bay, a number of criteria will be used in assessing possible alternative locations:
- a population base large enough to support a year- roundmuseum operation;
- a catchment area which could offer a minimum of 100,000 visitors a year;
- local support, ideally including a local authority wishing to become involved in operating the museum;
- a "critical mass" of other heritage and museum attractions;
- a significant role in Wales' industrial history;
- a waterfront (maritime, estuary, etc) location.
Wherever it is built, this museum will draw visitors from all over the world, as it links the industrial histories of Wales to those of the wider world. It was from the slate and coal communities of north and south Wales that families emigrated to the east cost of America, for example, to help found the coal mines and ironworks of Pennsylvania and Ohio and the slate quarries of Vermont and Quebec. It will also direct visitors to sites and museums across Wales where industrial endeavours are described in greater depth in authentic settings.
Given that there are certain criteria to be fulfilled in deciding upon a suitable location for a new National Museum, do you have a view on this?
5.0 NEXT STEPS
5.1 In the Short Term
While plans to build the new museum are being finalised, it is important that the industrial collections, whether latterly on view to the public at WIMM itself or in store, are made as accessible as possible to students, researchers and members of the public.
As is the case with all NMGW's collections, a number of items from the industrial collections are already on loan to different museums and heritage attractions throughout Wales, including, for example, Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr; Pontypridd Cultural and Heritage Centre; Porthmadog Maritime Museum; Ceredigion Museum; Big Pit Mining Museum; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Society and the Swansea Maritime and Industrial Museum. Where a request for a loan means that an item will be well cared for and more accessible than it would otherwise be, NMGW is generally happy to agree.
On 18th April the galleries at 126 Bute St re-opened to the public. They are open six days a week and the curatorial and documentation staff will continue to work at that site for the time being. We are anxious to retain a presence in Cardiff Bay and to display those of NMGW's maritime collections which are relevant to Cardiff and other industrial ports of south east Wales.
Following the closure of WIMM, several items from the transport collection will be re-located to MWL, once home to some of those items. Some will be displayed at the re-developed WSM in Llanberis, and others at such locations as the Wales Transport Experience in Barry and the Waterworks Museum in Hereford (for historical reasons, the Museum is supported by Welsh Water; it is the only loan destination for our industrial material outside Wales at present.)
Perhaps most significantly, the new Collections Centre will provide the opportunity - for the first time - to bring NMGW's undisplayed industrial collections together in one location where they can be seen more easily and in better conditions than ever before.
5.2 Medium - longer term plans
All the elements of this strategy are interdependent and, while the Collections Centre is the most immediate, the 'Gateway' museum is the most important in the longer term. It is this museum which will pull all these strands together, presenting in one place an overview of the long history of industry that extends all over Wales, and putting it into its world-wide context.
Wales was an industrial world leader long before the extraordinary coal boom of the 1860s, and we can be proud of those achievements. It is incumbent on NMGW to ensure that the story told in its museums does not end with the decline of the traditional coal, iron, copper, woollen and fishing industries, but supports and reflects contemporary practice and reaches out into new areas, from art to geology, drawing in other museums and heritage attractions across Wales and looking to the present and future of industry in Wales.
As Wales moves forward into a new era, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales look forward to working within the new democratic structures, and to working with partners throughout Wales - and perhaps beyond - to safeguard Wales' unique industrial heritage for all our visitors, for today's children and for future generations.
If you have any further views on issues relating to this document, please let us have your comments by the end of September 1998.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this draft strategy. We welcome your views. We will be analysing the results of this consultation and producing a report based on the results during the next 3 months and will be announcing conclusions drawn shortly afterwards.
Please address your comments to Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF1 3NP.