Amgueddfa Blog

Amgueddfa Cymru helped direct me to a career in heritage by drawing my attention to the possibility of a career in museums at a “career speed dating” event. I would go on to volunteer with National Museum Cardiff, whilst studying.

Volunteering as part of the museum’s preventive conservation team, we carried out a wide range of tasks from repackaging lichen, to carefully carrying jade, cleaning paintings currently on display all the while talking to the public about the importance of preventive conservation and promoting part of the Museum traditionally shielded from view. It could be just a few people or what seemed like hundreds of school children, every day brought a different experience.

Volunteering brought the reality of the sector and a chance to learn new skills and experiences which were invaluable to my understanding of what museums are and who they are for; fulfilling my personal reasons for volunteering.

The volunteer programme was flexible, reflecting my own needs not just its own. The programme allowed me to develop as I wanted and when it came time to end my time volunteering with Amgueddfa Cymru it was natural. I had succeeded in what I wanted to achieve, and I was supported to continue my development beyond the museum, not expected to stay when it was no longer practical.

I will always remember having the opportunity to be part of the preventive conservation team, I am sure the team will not forget my Elmer the Elephant style shirt, immortalised in many presentation slides and pull up banners (see photos). I now work for the Cynon Valley Museum as a Museum Co-ordinator and advocate for museums through EMP Wales (Emerging Museum Professionals) and FOH. 

Follow me on twitter: @TregaskesW @FoHMuseums @EMPCymru @cynonvalleymus

Move over Alexa, Ada the pianola’s back!

‘Alexa, play me a song by the Beatles! Alexa what about something by One Direction! Alexa, play something classical! Beethoven or Mozart. Alexa, Alexa, Alexa you are the must have gadget of the 21st century - but Alexa you don't always get it right?!

This is where I Ada, the Pianola comes in. Let’s travel back over a hundred years in time from 2019 to 1919 when I was in my heyday and see how I performed. I am, the first truly musical piano-playing device in the world. Listen to my specifications. They are quite impressive if I say so myself. I was designed and first made by Edwin Scott Votey in his workshop in Detroit in 1895. So even one hundred years ago I had already been around for nearly twenty five years.

‘What can you do?’ I hear you ask.

Well I can play any number of tunes you request…. Music hall songs, Christmas carols, nocturnes by Chopin to name but a few, and I make no mistakes! I do need a human to work the pedals and load the music scrolls. My sound is generated by the pianolist's feet, and controlled in pitch by a perforated music roll. When my pedals are pressed, I send air up through holes in a roll of paper to press my keys and hey presto I am in action. Sit back and enjoy my performance. With my help, anyone can make music.

‘So you don’t operate alone? ‘you ask.

Well neither do you Alexa, as far as I can see. You need wi-fi, monthly fees, speakers and human instructors.

I was around throughout the 20th century. But will you still be operating in 2119? Who remembers music cassettes and floppy disks now?

Who can tell? Who knows? But I think I am ageless. I can go on for ever.

Want to check me out for yourself?

If so, you will find me in the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute on the top floor in the grand ballroom. Pop in on a Wednesday morning and my volunteers Cheryl and Marie will show you the works. Before too long you too will be singing my praises.

This August we welcomed families from Taff Housing Association in Canton and Herbert Thompson Primary School in Ely (SHEP, the ‘Food and Fun’ School Holiday Enrichment Programme) to St Fagans to join us for a new family cooking and gardening course, as part of the targeted family learning programme supporting the Fusion initiative and our commitments under the Well Being of Future Generations Act. The programme was developed and delivered in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access department and First Campus. Families enjoyed a hands on experience, learning about growing, harvesting and cooking their own healthy food using produce gathered from the St Fagans gardens.

This was a new venture for us, and after working out how best to set up a “pop up” kitchen in one of our learning studios’ and sourcing all the equipment we would need, we were good to go.

The gardens at St Fagans are full of wonderful produce at this time of year – fruit, vegetables and herbs – lots of which are specialist heritage varieties. By enlarge crops are saved and seeds harvested to re plant the following year, as part of ongoing research into heritage varieties. However, the families who took part were lucky enough to spend time exploring the gardens with Juliet Hodgkiss, Senior Gardening Conservator. She showed them around so they could learn about growing and producing food, before harvesting some of the lovely produce on offer to use later in the kitchen. Runner beans, cabbages, shallots and herbs were all gathered and taken back to the class room.

When they returned to the kitchen, Dean Way, lecturer in Hospitality Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University was on hand to take the families through the process of creating a lovely meal, using the produce they had harvested. Here’s what the talented groups cooked, closely following the recipes created by Dean:

Fennel & Cabbage Slaw

½ small cabbage shredded

1 fennel bulb, cut into quarters and grated

1 White Onion, thinly sliced

50g Yoghurt

1 Tb Spoon of White Wine Vinegar

1 Tb Spoon of Caster Sugar

Salt & Pepper to Taste


  1. Half the Cabbage – Half Again and remove the Stalk. Then with a sharp knife thinly cut down into strips (shred down finely)
  2. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters and remove the stalk – then grate on the largest edge of a grater
  3. Peel and thinly slice a white onion
  4. Place all the vegetables in a bowl, then toss well. Stir in the yoghurt, vinegar and sugar to coat the salad, then season with lots of black pepper and a little salt. Any leftovers can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two/three days.
  5. Serve with boiled eggs.


Runner Bean & Tomato Salsa

3 Runner Beans

1 glove of garlic, very finely chopped

1 medium red onion, very finely chopped

1 large beef tomato, very finely chopped

½ Lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

3 pinches of salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

4 Tb spoon of Rapeseed Oil



  1. Peel and finely cut the runner beans and blanch in boiling water for two minutes. Place in bowl of very cold water until chilled and remove.
  2. Crush one garlic bulb and finely chop
  3. Thinly dice one red onion
  4. Thinly chop up one large beef tomato
  5. Cut one lemon in half
  6. Roughly Chop up a small handful of Coriander
  7. Place all the vegetables in a bowl, and then toss well. Stir in ALL ingredients and squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the mix.

Following the practical cooking session Dean took the groups through some eye opening and interesting information on healthy eating, taking a close up look at the food we eat and the levels of saturated fats and sugars hidden in so much of it! Look out for the helpful traffic light labels on the front of food packaging which will help you “see at a glance whether a food is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in fat, saturated fat, sugars or salt”. (NHS online: reference intakes explained)

As this was a pilot we were all very pleased with how the first courses went. Both groups enjoyed their time at St Fagans and shared some lovely feedback with us. Here’s a couple of the highlights:

“Excellent course, really enjoyed it!” (parent)

“The course is very educational and we all enjoyed it.” (child)

“I think it’s a very good and educational course. Something that appeals to both adults and children and starts children thinking about food choices from a very young age.” (parent)

“We got to taste the herbs as we picked them. I really liked the mint- it tasted like chewing gum. In the supermarket herbs are mainly dried and in packets so you can’t smell or touch them.” (child)

“The kids have told me they want to start growing vegetables in their Nan’s garden - I’ve never seen them eat veggies so fast!” (parent)

When asked what the top three things they had enjoyed about the course were, the families said:

“Learning how to slice vegetables, trying new foods, cooking with my Mum.” (child)

“Making fresh food with my daughter, gaining a better understanding of healthy eating and picking fresh veg.” (parent)

“Picking vegetables, cooking and understanding history.” (child)

“Learning all about the fat and sugar intake.” (child)

Now we’ve tested the water, so to speak, we’re looking forward to developing further opportunities next summer. Thanks to all the families for taking part and the partners for helping to make it happen.

Committed to the Well-being of Future Generations Act and our goal of a healthier Wales, Taff Housing Association families recently enjoyed a fun day out at St Fagan National Museum of History. The families enjoyed learning about healthy food choices that could benefit their future health.

There were many exciting things on offer for the families including a tour of the museum gardens –digging out shallots and cutting cabbages – watching a cooking demonstration from a Cardiff Metropolitan University lecturer in Hospitality Management and finishing with a presentation on nutrition. Every child had the opportunity to spend time washing, chopping and cooking produce. For many this was their first experience of creating healthy meals straight from the ground. As Alex, aged 12 said “We got to taste the herbs as we picked them. I really liked the mint- it tasted like chewing gum. In the supermarket herbs are mainly dried and in packets so you can’t smell or touch them.”


Several parents said that they struggle to cook healthy meals on a budget and find it hard to encourage children to eat vegetables. One parent commented, “Free travel was organised for us - getting our five children on several busses across town is easier said than done! The kids have told me they want to start growing vegetables in their Nan’s garden - I’ve never seen them eat veggies so fast!”


A big thank you to St Fagans National Museum of History and Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access team for organising this fantastic opportunity. We are already planning our return visit to the museum, allowing more children the opportunity to learn about healthier living and Welsh culture.

The shrine of St David in St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, was an extremely important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. Two pilgrimages there were worth one to Rome, and thousands of people would have visited before the shrine was destroyed at the Reformation.

Inspired by the ‘Beneath our Feet’ project run by Narberth Museum and Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which is looking at the theme of pilgrimage in Pembrokeshire, Saving Treasures; Telling Stories decided to find out more. What did those long-ago travellers leave behind them?

Pilgrim Objects

Two kinds of objects were commonly associated with pilgrims in the Middle Ages: ampullae, and badges.

Ampullae were little lead scallop-shaped flasks containing holy water that were pinned to clothing or hung around the neck in the belief that they offered spiritual protection. You might expect to find large numbers of them in Pembrokeshire, with its important holy shrine.

It seemed a fair bet that local metal detectorists had found plenty over the years.

But, a search on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database, where over a million detectorist finds are recorded, revealed some surprises.

In fact only SIX examples from Pembrokeshire have been recorded with PAS – a surprisingly small amount! Surely there should be many more?

To compare, we looked at the records for Kent, home of medieval England’s most important pilgrim destination – the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Even here, only 50 pilgrim ampullae have been recorded with PAS, not such a huge number considering the many thousands of people who travelled there.

Contrast this with Lincolnshire, where 232 ampullae have been recorded, the biggest number of any county in Wales and England. Lincoln Cathedral boasted two important shrines (both to saints called Hugh), but this does not explain such a big difference in numbers.

What’s going on?

Confused, we turned to pilgrim badges. These were usually made of lead or pewter and depicted saints, letters and religious scenes and symbols. They were bought at shrines as souvenirs and pinned to clothing.

Surely lots of these cheap objects would have been lost by the visitors to St David’s?

But a search on the PAS database turned up NO examples from Pembrokeshire at all!

Even in St Thomas Becket’s Kent, no more than 11 badges have been recorded with PAS. Greater London has by far the highest number, at 119.

Then we saw that five pilgrim badges had been reported from Swansea, which seemed unusual as there was no important medieval shrine in the town. One of them was a badge of none other than Thomas Becket himself. How had that got there?

It turned out that each one of these badges had been discovered, not in the city itself, but under the sands of Swansea Bay.

Intrigued, we chose a random sample of the London badges and discovered that they had all been found in the River Thames.

We checked the find spots of the ampullae, and sure enough, two had been found on Tenby beach and two others in the coastal village of Manorbier. There was a definite watery theme!

Giving thanks?

In an age when travel was difficult and dangerous, ships were the fastest method of transport, though not necessarily safe.

So it makes sense that pilgrims going on long journeys would travel at least part of the way by water, and would be relieved and thankful when they reached the shore safe and sound. The evidence of all these badges and ampullae dug from the sands and fished from the Thames suggests that returning pilgrims threw them into the water, perhaps as a way of giving thanks for a safe return.