Amgueddfa Blog: Historic Photography

The Museums Association Conference of 1948 was held at National Museum Cardiff over five days, running from July 12th to the 16th. All conference meetings were held in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, while an area within the Zoology Department was used as Association Office, Writing Room and Smoke Room.

We know the majority of host duties would have been carried out by Frederick J. North, who was Keeper of Geology and Archibald H. Lee, Museum Secretary, because they are listed on the programme as Honorary Local Secretaries. It is most likely we have them to thank for the ephemera held in the Library, including copies of the programme, associate and staff badges, reception invites, day trip tickets and the official group photograph, taken on the steps of the Museum.

The first day of the conference began with registration, followed by a Council meeting and visit to Cardiff Castle and a reception at the South Wales Institute of Engineers in the evening. The programme states this event as requiring Morning dress code which, during this time period would be a three piece suit for the men, and smart day dresses for the women, or general smart clothing suitable for formal social events.

The second day began with official welcomes by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman R. G. Robinson, and the President of the National Museum Wales, Sir Leonard Twiston-Davies. This was followed by a number of papers read by delegates [all fully listed in the programme], gathering for the official conference photograph, and a Civic Reception at City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor [with refreshments, music and dancing].

1948 was the year that St Fagans National Museum of History was first opened to the public as the St Fagans Folk Museum and to mark this, a visit was arranged for the afternoon of day three. St Fagans Castle, gardens, and grounds had been given to the National Museum Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946 and over the next two years extensive work had been carried out to make it suitable to open to the public. According to the 1950 St Fagans guide book, in the Castle, new central heating, electric lighting, and fire appliances had to be installed along with a tickets office, refreshment room and public amenities. By 1948 our delegates would have had access to the Castle and its newly refurbished historic interiors such as the kitchen with two 16th century fireplaces, the Hall furnished in 17th century style, 17th and 18th century bedrooms and the early 19th century Library. They would also have enjoyed walking the gardens which included a mulberry grove, herb and rose gardens, vinery, fishponds, and flower-house interspersed with bronze sculptures by Sir William Goscombe John. Onsite also were a traditional wood-turner and a basket-maker, creating and selling their wares. The handbook also describes a delightful sounding small tea room with curtains made at the Holywell Textile Mills and watercolour paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn. However, according to a Western Mail clipping, this didn’t open to the public until some weeks later on August 24th. Presumably a room within the Castle itself was used for the delegates’ buffet tea to which they were treated after being greeted by the Curator of St Fagans, Dr Iorwerth Peate.

Interestingly the programme provides times of the train service that ran from Cardiff Central Station to St Fagans. Sadly, the station at St Fagans is no longer there, the service being withdrawn in 1962, although a signal box and level crossing on the line remain.

The Annual General Meeting, Council Meeting and Federation of Officers Meeting  were all held on the next day along with more papers, including one by Mr Duncan Guthrie [of the Arts Council], on the upcoming “Festival of Britain, 1951”. There was also an evening reception in the Museum hosted by the President, and the then Director [Sir Cyril Fox], with refreshments and music by the City of Cardiff High School for Girls Orchestra. The programme states evening dress if possible for this event so it’s a shame we don’t hold any photographs of what would have been a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns.

The final day consisted of further papers in the morning followed by escape and fresh air with visits to the Newport Corporation Museum and the Legionary Museum and Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon during the afternoon.

The September 1948 issue of Museums Journal contains a full report on the conference, with detailed examination of all papers presented and the discussions they generated. It also lists the delegates including those from overseas. The report concludes with thanks to the National Museum Cardiff for the welcome and hospitality accorded to the 240 delegates, with special mention to North and Lee [who would certainly have earned their salaries over those five days!].

The photography department at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales looks after images for all of the seven museum sites including the Archaeology department. That means taking new photographs of archaeological objects, and scanning historical photographs (e.g. prints and slides).

Here’s an example of how both are used.

Segontium Roman Fort, Caernarfon

These photos from the 1920s show the excavations at Segontium led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the then Keeper of Archaeology and later Director of National Museum Wales. They were scanned from glass plates. Here’s a few of the 102 images from this collection:

Black and white photograph of excavations

Cellar in the Headquarters building (praetorium)

Black and white photograph of excavations

Headquarters building (praetorium) during excavations in the 1920s

Black and white photograph of group of people visiting excavations

Sir Mortimer Wheeler (left) showing visiting dignitaries around the site including Lady Lloyd George (front right)

The photographs may be of use to modern archaeologists interpreting the site, but personally I like spotting the shadow of the photographer and his tripod (we’ve all managed to do that haven’t we?) and checking out those fabulous 1920s hats!

Here’s where modern photography comes in. The following images were taken recently of objects from the 1920s excavations.

Roman flagon

Flagon found at Segontium, but produced in Oxfordshire will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History

Stone alter with latin inscription

The Goddess of war must have protected someone in their time of need, in return he vowed to dedicate an altar to her which was found in the strong room of the Headquarters building. It reads: To the goddess Minerva Aurelius Sabinianus, actarius, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

The images are digitally archived so that they’re accessible for use in exhibitions, publications, presentations and online.

 

Some of the finds from Segontium will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History opening in 2018.

You can see more historic photographs here.

Learn more about Segontium Roman Fort on Amgueddfa Cymru’s website or on the Cadw website.

With support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we’re working hard getting our collections online so you can search our object database and see information and images of the collections for yourself.

People's Postcode Lottery Logo

Working at Amgueddfa Cymru’s History and Archaeology department over the last few months has revoked my interest in history… and even my own heritage.

One of the many benefits of working in the department is being able to preview the work by the staff of the museum’s Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project; the project highlights our nation’s treasures. It’s both a delight and eye-opener to see the objects collected by the museum, which hold more value than gold (from which some are made of), as these treasures stir our interest, provide us with knowledge… and can even fill us with pride when acknowledging that their roots lie in Wales.

A few weeks ago, museums across the UK were involved in #TakeOverDay; a day when social media pages were voluntarily taken over by youth community groups and schools.

Saving Treasures gladly took part and had young people to voice what they believed was treasure, then they got to ask the public what they considered as treasure. I know it’s a bit late but I thought I’d have a go at writing this blog to mention mine.

So, what’s my “treasure”?

It’s difficult for me since I’m not what you’d call a “materialistic” person but if you were to put me on the spot I’d have to say one of my top treasures would be... the collection of family photographs.

Why?

It comes down to a combination of my love for photography and my interest in family history.

I began my photographic love affair nearly a decade ago and my relationship with the art form is still as strong as ever after achieving a degree from the University of South Wales last year.

Though the end results from a simple photograph can give us a brief glimpse into the past, the cherished family photograph can give us much more; there’s more feeling towards an old family photograph than there is for an Ansel Adams… or should I dare say a photographic depiction of Wales by David Hurn!

More of these treasured photographs and the stories behind them can be found via my blog: https://merthyrranter.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/the-treasures-that-lie-in-a-biscuit-tin/

Over the last few months we have added some interesting objects to the collections. As usual this month I’d like to share with you some of these, to illustrate the range of objects collected for the industry & transport collections at Amgueddfa Cymru.

Illustrated here is a debenture for The Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company, Limited. Dated 6th May 1889. This company was formed in 1884, a few months after liberation of telephone regulations made regional networks feasible for the first time in the UK. It was one of the seven regional telephone companies that covered the UK in the 1880s and early 1890s prior to the National Telephone Co. Ltd. achieving UK-wide dominance. By 1888 the south Wales portion of its network extended from Cardiff and Newport, westwards to Swansea and Llanelli, with some connections to valleys towns – connecting all the major industrial and urban centres of the south Wales coastal belt.

This Western Mail Ltd., Cardiff, employees' Roll of Honour, 1914-1918, was almost certainly displayed in the company’s main offices in Cardiff. It lists the names of 152 men who served during the First World War, with the names of those who died picked out in gold. The roll of honour joins an important collection of objects related to Welsh industry and the First World War. These items plus others from the National collection can be viewed on this online database

We are not sure exactley why this fretwork of 'The Lord's Prayer' was made. It was however, made by Llewelyn Richards, a haulier at Lewis Merthyr Colliery. 

This brass object is a 'Turnip', and was used to protect a miner’s watch whilst he was working underground. It was used at Oakdale Colliery, and was donated along with an MSA self-rescuer, c.1989. Self rescuers such as these are still used at Big Pit National Coal Museum where they are part of the safety equipment given to visitors on the underground tour. These objects were both collected as part of St. Fagans Oakdale Workmen’s Institute re-interpretation project. You can find out more about this here.

We have acquired a few objects relating to the Mathews family. This oval shaped brass twist box has an inscription on the lid that reads ‘D.MATHEWS / GORSEINON 1897’. It belonged to David John Mathews, who was born on 7 July 1891 in Gorseinon. He died on 8 September 1959 of lobar pneumonia following massive pneumoconiosis at the West Wales Isolation Hospital in Upper Tumble. Coal miners were unable to smoke underground for fear of causing an explosion, so many chewed tobacco, and twist boxes such as this one were used to hold this chewing tobacco. They are usually oval in shape, made of brass and have an inscription on the lid (such as this example), although there are variations on this. A large collection of twist boxes can be seen on display at Big Pit National Coal Museum.

Along with the twist box, the Museum was also donated a photograph and newspaper cutting relating to the death of Ifor Mathews who was tragically killed in an accident at Great Mountain Colliery in 1936. Ifor Mathews had played rugby for Neath, Swansea, Carmarthen 'Quins', Llandebie, Penygroes and Cefnithin. The photograph was taken about 1926, and shows him wearing a rugby shirt. Can anyone identify the club?

Finally, this photograph shows a blacksmith with a horse, and dated from the early 20th century. The photograph was probably taken at a slate quarry in north Wales, possibly in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area. Can anyone help confirm or identify the location? 

   

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

Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball 1967 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball, 1967. G.B. SCOTLAND, Edinburgh. © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is the recipient of an exceptional gift from Magnum photographer David Hurn. Of Welsh descent, Hurn lives and works in Wales and is one of Britain’s most influential documentary photographers. Now, his home country will benefit from his collection of photographs.

David Hurn’s gift is made up of two collections: approximately 1500 of his own photographs that span his sixty-year career as a documentary photographer; and approximately 700 photographs from his private collection which he has compiled throughout the course of his career. Speaking of his gift, Hurn notes, 

“My earliest visual/cultural memories are visiting the museum when I must have been four or five. I remember the naughty statue - Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ - and cases full of stuff that people had donated. Well now I have the chance to repay, something of mine will be there forever, I feel very privileged.”

A definitive edit of a life's work

Over the last two years, Hurn has been selecting photographs from his archive to create a definitive edit of his life’s work.

The collection of approximately 1500 new prints includes work made in Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Arizona, California and New York. It includes some of Hurn’s most celebrated photographs, such as Queen Charlotte’s BallBarbarella and Grosvenor Square.

However, it is his carefully observed photographs of his home country of Wales that are the focus of the collection. Following his generous gift, National Museum Wales is now the institution with the largest holdings of Hurn’s work worldwide.

The Promenade at Tenby 1974 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
G.B. WALES. Tenby. The promenade at the elegant seaside town of Tenby, South Wales. 1974 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

A Collection of Swaps

In addition to his own photographs, the Museum is also acquiring approximately 700 photographs from Hurn’s private collection, which he has amassed over the past sixty years.

Throughout the course of his career, Hurn has swapped photographs with fellow photographers, including many of his Magnum colleagues.

In doing so, he has assembled a significant and diverse collection, which includes leading 20th and 21st century photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Sergio Larrain, Bill Brandt, Martine Franck, Bruce Davidson and Martin Parr, through to emerging photographers such as Bieke Depoorter, Clementine Schneidermann and Diana Markosian.

A selection of works from Hurn’s private collection will be on display for the first time at National Museum Cardiff from 30th September 2017, in Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection of Photography, an exhibition that launches the Museum’s new gallery dedicated to photography. 

Photography Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

National Museum Wales’ existing photography collections are uniquely inter-disciplinary and span subjects including Art, Social and Industrial History and the Natural Sciences.

Importantly it includes some of the earliest photographs taken in Wales by pioneering photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his family. The addition of Hurn’s exceptional donation will transform the Museum’s photography collections and raise the profile of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales as an important centre for photography in the UK. 

Sun City Outdoor group fitness in Sun City Arizona 1980 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
USA. Arizona. Sun City. Outdoor group fitness early in the morning in the retirement Sun City. Ages range from 60 to a 94 year old who had run a 50 secs hundred meters in the Senior Olympics. The sense of fun and community was very infectious. 1980 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

The exhibition at National Museum Cardiff follows an earlier presentation of Hurn’s collection at Photo London, the international photography event held annually at Somerset House in London. Curated by Martin Parr and David Hurn, the Photo London exhibition, David Hurn’s Swaps marks the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos.