Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

Everlasting flowers in St. Fagans

Luciana Skidmore, 1 September 2022

The act of drying flowers dates back to ancient times. In the past flowers and herbs were dried and utilised for decorative, medicinal and culinary purposes. In Medieval times they were used to repel insects and even conceal unpleasant odours. Drying flowers became a popular hobby and preservation method in the Victorian period in England. For thousands of years flowers have had a symbolic meaning in rituals, passages, religious activities and artistic expression. Dried flowers are now more fashionable than ever due to their everlasting beauty and convenience.

This year thousands of flowers were grown in the gardens of St. Fagans for the purpose of drying. They have been naturally air-dried and beautiful flower arrangements were created by our garden trainees. These are now available to purchase in the Museum store. 

Besides their outstanding and long-lasting beauty dried flower arrangements offer many advantages. They can be used in weddings as bouquets, buttonholes, corsages and centrepieces. Because they are dried, they do not require water. They can be bought months in advance and stored with ease, releasing the pressure of having to care for fresh flowers on the big day. They can also be kept and preserved as memories of such a special day. 

They are perfect for home decoration or gifting.  You can create permanent floral arrangements that will enhance your home without the need to buy fresh flowers every week. Did you know that imported fresh flowers can have 10 times the carbon footprint of flowers grown in the UK? Imported cut flowers are flown thousands of miles in refrigerated airplane holds. When grown in colder climates they need heated greenhouses which generate higher carbon dioxide emissions. Not to mention the use of pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of perfect blooms. Fresh roses in February? Not so rosy for our planet.

The cut flowers grown in St. Fagans gardens have been grown from seeds sown in April in our unheated greenhouses. They were planted outside in May when the weather was warming up and have been growing happily and healthily producing beautiful blooms throughout Summer. No pesticides, fertilizers or harmful chemicals were used in this process. Besides being grown sustainably the flowers also provide a source of nectar for pollinators including bees and butterflies. It is always a great joy to admire the hive of activity in our cut flower bed. 

The flowers are harvested in dry weather when they are partially or fully open. Excess foliage is removed, small bunches of flowers are tied together and hung upside down on bamboo canes or strings in a dark and dry area with good air circulation. The flowers are left to dry for two to three weeks until completely dry. Floral arrangements including bouquets, posies, buttonholes, corsages, floral crowns and wreaths can be created with dried flowers. 

There is a vast number of plants that can be dried and used in floral arrangements. Drying flowers such as lavender and hydrangeas or grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Pampas grass is a great way to get started. The stars of our cut flower garden this year are: Limonium sinuatum, Craspedia globosa, Helipterum roseum, Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’, Limonium suworowii ‘Rat Tail’ and the soft grass Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’. 

If you are coming to St. Fagans National Museum of History, please visit our magnificent gardens and take a look at the beautiful floral arrangements available in the Museum shop. 

 

 

In So Many Words: An Interactive Poetry Display

Rachel Carney, 30 August 2022

What makes you spend time looking at a particular painting? What is it that draws you in? It can be difficult to put these thoughts into words, and that’s where poetry can help.

From 6th September to 6th November there’ll be an interactive poetry display in our ‘Art in Eighteenth Century Britain’ gallery. You’ll be able to read (or listen to) a number of poems written in response to some of the paintings. There’ll also be an invitation for you to have a go at writing a poem of your own…

So, why poetry? You may well ask. Poetry can take us in unexpected directions. It can help us to articulate thoughts and impressions that we weren’t even aware of, to understand our own subconscious response to a work of art. It can help us to engage with art in a different way, seeing it from a fresh perspective.

The poems don’t have to be ‘good’. They don’t even have to look like poems. This is about slowing down and letting a different part of your brain take over – the part of your brain that ponders in ways you may not be aware of, as you look at works of art, translating your thoughts into words.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Each creative response will give us a new interpretation, a new lens through which to see.

The interactive display will include poems written by a diverse group of individuals who took part in a series of writing workshops this summer, alongside poems written by museum visitors. The display forms part of a PhD research project organised by Cardiff-based poet Rachel Carney, funded by the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership.

Listen to the poems on our What’s On page.

Find out more about this research, and how you can help.

You can also read about and take part in a similar project: Art & Words, that took place on Instagram in 2021.

Pride 2022

Zoe Gealy, 6 May 2022

After remembering how to pull together such a big event after such a long break, National Waterfront Museum hosted PRIDE on the weekend 30th  April and Mini PRIDE on 1st May.  It was a huge team effort with staff from Community Engagement and Learning, Events and youth Engagement working in partnership with Swansea PRIDE, Swansea City Council and South Wales Police.  Not to mention our fabulous Front of House, Tech team, Cleaners (there was quite a bit of Glitter!!!), Marketing and Elior (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone – we were all involved a bit).

PRIDE has been the largest ever event at the Waterfront in the past with well over 4000 people attending. We opted this year to focus on being the Community zone for PRIDE with a modest entertainment package, compared to the main stage out on Museum Green which also hosted food stands, merch stalls and drinks vans. 

Inside we had info stands, crafts and community sellers with partners ranging from YMCA Swansea to OXFAM Book swap, Swansea Vikings gay and inclusive rugby team (a popular stand!) Proud councils and Mid and West Wales Fire Service (also strangely popular!) Outside, the GRAFT garden saw a range of fun activities including Circus Skills with Circus Eruption, African drumming, an identity workshop and chalk drawing.  Inside hosted True colours inclusive choir, Mermaids walkabout, Zumba flashmob amongst other things. In the speakers corner we saw a packed out talk and demo lead by Welsh Ballroom, followed by Christopher Anstee’s book launch of his new memoir ‘Polish the Crown’ followed by a thought-provoking Q+A panel discussion, looking at growing up LGBTQ+ and the impact of section 28.

As always, we started the day showing our support as an organisation by joining the parade through town, fortunately the sun shone for us all and the crowds were supportive and very vocal.

The evening showcased The Welsh Ballroom do their thing with their fantastically choreographed, all inclusive, body positive catwalk, with the opportunity for the audience to join in at the end of the show. 

Sunday was all about the little people with another action-packed sparkly day of fun.  There were My Little Pony and Troll Walk Abouts, Crafts and Glitter galore, a packed out Drag Queen Story Hour, What is PRIDE? Q+A for Kids hosted by Good Vibes teens, and culminating in a very fun and very cute mini PRIDE parade through the main hall.

It was such a fantastic weekend, seeing so many familiar faces in REAL LIFE after SO long.  One community partner, on walking into the museum to set up and seeing all of the LGBTQ+ flags and umbrellas had a little cry and said ‘Thank you, I feel like I’ve come home, it’s so nice to feel like I can be me’.

Here’s to 2023…

Sheep Farming In The Past

Meredith Hood - PhD student Zooarchaeology, 22 March 2022

What is my project about? 

Hello! I’m Meredith, a PhD student working at Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru. I am a zooarchaeologist, which means I study animal remains from archaeological sites to find out more about the relationship between humans and animals in the past. So, Lambcam seemed like a great opportunity to share a little bit about my project, and how we can learn about sheep farming in the past! 

For my project, I am studying the animal bones from the site of Llanbedrgoch on Anglesey.  This was an early medieval settlement, occupied from the 5th to 11th centuries AD. Archaeologists recovered over 50,000 pieces of animal bone from Llanbedrgoch, which will provide a really valuable insight into farming practices and diet at this time. You can read about my research in a little more detail here

Image: Volunteers washing animal remains from Llanbedrgoch.

Volunteers washing animal remains from Llanbedrgoch. ©Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales.

 

I am currently recording all the bones into a database and trying to identify what animals they came from. This can be tricky, particularly when the bones are very broken. Sheep bones can also be an extra challenge to identify as they look extremely similar to goat bones!  

Image: Recording animal bones in the bioarchaeology laboratory at Cardiff University.

Recording animal bones in the bioarchaeology laboratory at Cardiff University. (Photo: Meredith Hood)

How can we find about sheep farming in the past?  

Sheep remains can tell us lots of information about how sheep were farmed and used in the past. For example, we can estimate the age at which a sheep died by looking at how worn their teeth are, or whether their bones have fused. Sheep that were kept for a long time as adults may have been used for their wool or milk. 

Image: A modern sheep mandible/jawbone (top) compared to an early medieval fragment of a sheep jawbone from Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey (bottom).

A modern sheep mandible/jawbone (top) compared to an early medieval fragment of a sheep jawbone from Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey (bottom) (Photo: Meredith Hood)

Image: Two sheep humeri (upper arm) bones. The bone on the left is from a juvenile, and the bone on the right is from an adult.

Two sheep humeri (upper arm) bones. The bone on the left is from a juvenile, and the bone on the right is from an adult. (Photo: Meredith Hood) 

We can also look for things such as butchery or burning marks on bones which might tell us that lamb or mutton was eaten. Certain body parts, like the pelvis, can tell us the sex of the sheep, which can suggest whether breeding might have taken place on a site. 

Image: Part of a sheep metatarsal showing black burning marks.

Part of a sheep metatarsal showing black burning marks. (Photo: Meredith Hood)

What do we know about sheep farming in early medieval Wales?  

Unfortunately, animal bones from early medieval Wales haven’t survived very well in the soil. But from archaeological sites where they have survived, it appears that sheep were predominantly being kept for their secondary products like wool and milk.  

Historical texts can also give us some clues. Law texts surviving from the 13th century which have been attributed to Hywel Dda (a 10th century king) describe, for example, how much sheep were worth (‘One Penny is the worth of a lamb whilst it shall be sucking’1) and that ‘fat’ sheep should be given to the king as render payments.   

The large number of bones from Llanbedrgoch is really exciting and should provide us with more information about early medieval Welsh sheep farming, so watch this space! 

Image: Illustration of sheep from the Laws of Hywel Dda, mid-thirteenth century.

Illustration of sheep from the Laws of Hywel Dda, mid-thirteenth century. From: Peniarth MS 28 f. 25 v. (Image: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales, Public Domain)

[1] Owen, A. (1841). Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales. London, p.715

Welcome to Lambcam 2022

Bernice Parker, 11 March 2022

We have over 250 breeding ewes in the flock and we expect over 350 lambs – so this a very busy time of year for the team that care for our sheep. There are experienced staff on hand throughout the day and night once things get going in the lambing shed.

So, what does a normal birth look like? Lambing is an unpredictable business, so it can vary wildly – but here are some of the things you might see:

Labour:

  • Water bag (intact or burst) and mucus hanging out of the back of the sheep before birth.
  • Pair of feet protruding from the ewe’s back end.
  • In early labour, the ewe will be restlessly getting up and down and pawing at the ground.
  • As labour progresses, she will usually get down to push and stay down. Her contractions will get stronger with lots of physical effort visible.
  • She may have her head thrown back, eyes wide and top lip curled back. This all normal and means that birth is hopefully imminent.
  • Normal labour can take anything from 30 minutes to many hours. The farm team try to keep the shed quiet and calm and allow the sheep to lamb naturally where possible. They will only intervene to protect the welfare of the ewe and her lambs.

Birth:

  • If the ewe has lambed naturally – both her and the lamb may lie still for a bit after the lamb is born. It’s been hard work for both of them, and all the lamb needs to be doing at this point is breathing. Ideally without the bag (amniotic sac) over its head.
  • As part of the birth, the bag will normally break and be pulled back off the lamb’s nostrils. Sometimes the farmers may nip in to help this process.
  • Lambs will be born covered in mucus, bits of the bag and sometimes smears of blood. This is all normal – the ewe will lick it clean, which will help stimulate the lamb to breathe and warm it up.
  • Sometimes they come out with a yellow or greenish coating. This is called meconium (first poo) where the lamb has opened its bowels before/during birth.

Newborn lambs:

  • Newborn lambs often twitch/shiver and thrash about. This is normal, and a good way to get the ewe’s attention. It’s also preparation for getting up and walking within minutes of being born. If you are a prey animal rather than a predator you need to be born ready to run (or hidden away in a den/nest).
  • Lambs will also twitch/sneeze repeatedly as they clear the birth fluids from their noses and throats. Sometimes the farmers stick a bit of straw up the lamb’s nostrils to make it sneeze and help this process. They will also pat the lamb, or ‘cycle’ one of its front legs to stimulate the coughing/breathing reflex.
  • If this doesn’t work - sometimes the farmers will swing a lamb by its back legs. This uses centrifugal force to help clear the lamb’s throat and get it to start breathing.
  • Newborn lambs get a squirt of disinfectant spray on their navels. This helps to stop them getting infections from the shed floor through the newly severed umbilicus.

Moving from the lambing shed to the nursery area:

  • After they have given birth, all ewes and their lambs will be moved out of the lambing shed.  
  • The farmers carry lambs by their legs:
    • Because they have much stronger legs, and are much lighter than human babies.
    • It avoids covering the lamb with human scent when they need to bond with their mothers.
    • The kindest way to move a ewe that has just given birth is to get her to follow her lambs. Sheep’s instinct is to run away from humans – not follow them. But they will usually follow their new lambs when the farmers hold them like this.
    • Each new family ges off to a bonding pen to get to know each other and be safe from the action in the lambing shed.
  • Ewes that are less keen to follow their lambs (or ones that just run off after giving birth) are usually yearlings lambing for the first time.
  • The yearlings are also much wilder, as they are less used to being handled with the flock. You might see the farmers use a different technique to move these sheep and their lambs:
    • They will remove the lambs first, so they don’t get trampled.
    • Then catch the ewe – which can still run fast even thugh she has just given birth!
    • They will walk these sheep out with their legs astride the ewe’s shoulders. This the best way to control the sheep and stop it doing a complete runner. (They are NOT sitting on them).
    • The whole family will be reunited in a bonding pen – where everything usually settles down quite quickly as the ewes come around to the idea of motherhood.

You can find out lots more about our sheep at lambing time in these blogs from previous years:

Lambcam 2021 - FAQs:   | National Museum Wales

A guide to lamb presentation - aka ‘what’s going on in there?’ | National Museum Wales