Amgueddfa Blog: Historic Photography

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.

 

The Voices from the Archives series is based on recordings in the Oral History Archive at St Fagans National History Museum. Connected to the agricultural activities, demonstrations and displays at the Museum - they provide an insight into the lives and histories of farming people, the agricultural practices in the past, how they developed into contemporary agriculture.

Lambing in Pembrokeshire, 1984

March is lambing time at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm, the Museum’s working farm. Lambing in the past and present was described by Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire, south west Wales, in a recording made in 1984. Aged 79, he recalled lambing in an interview about his life in farming, but also described how it was being done on a farm in the area in the year of the interview. The following short clips are from the recording.

Pembrokeshire born and bred, Richard James had farmed at Lambston Sutton in the south west of the county. It stood between the large county town of Haverfordwest a few miles to the east, and the coastline of St Bride’s Bay to the west. The lowland coastal areas, warmer climate and lower rainfall made agriculture more diverse than in many other parts of Wales, with the keeping cattle and sheep and the growing of early potatoes and cereal crops. The coastal areas could be exposed to the winds and rain from the Atlantic Ocean though, and weather conditions could strongly influence lambing, to which Richard James refers in the first clip:

 

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

 

When lambing was to take place was decided by when the ewes were put to the rams. Up until then the rams on the farm had to be kept separate from the sheep. It was always a concern that rams might break through a poor fence or hedge and cause lambing to start at the wrong time. Also, a ram of poorer quality or a different breed from another flock could also result in poorer quality lambs and reduced income. After mating, a ewe is pregnant for between 142 and 152 days, approximately five months or slightly shorter.

In this clip, Richard James describes at what time of year lambing took place on a local farm, and how it was being done by a farmer using a former aircraft hangar.

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

The final clip is about working the day and night shifts:

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire