Amgueddfa Blog: Historic Photography

It’s really important that we continue to stay at home and stay safe here in Wales. During this Whitsun week many of you are getting creative and camping in the garden or enjoying a staycation in the caravan on the drive. Some of you might be reminded of camping or caravanning trips to the Urdd Eisteddfod over the years, or to some of your favourite holiday spots along our coast. So, to help us all with a little holiday nostalgia as we stay at home, here’s Ian Smith, Curator at the National Waterfront Museum with a little of the history behind this picture:

This image was taken about 1951 and features the Dodds family who lived in Cardiff. Mr Dodds commissioned the caravan in 1950 to be built and fitted out by Louis Blow & Co in Canton, Cardiff. The van cost £600.00 which was a small fortune in those days. The family toured all over South Wales, eventually though the van was left permanently on a farmer’s field near Newport in Pembrokeshire. There, the family had all their summer holidays until 2009.

The family planned the layout and it included such things as a special cupboard top that the baby’s carry cot would fit perfectly; a fold down double bed for Mother and Father and a sliding oak dividing screen which effectively formed two bedrooms. There was a small kitchen with a gas stove and a sink with a footpump tap to provide washing water. Drinking water had to be colleced in big aluminium containers – a good job for the children if they needed tiring out. The awning doubled the size of the living space and provided an area to keep things dry.

In 2009 the museum was offered the caravan by Michael Dodds, then in his 70s. Mike is the older boy at the back of the group in the picture. The caravan is on display in St Fagans National Museum of History in the ‘Life Is …’ Gallery.

The dinosaur skeleton we know and love as Dippy, has an interesting history. But we know these fossils were first called Diplodocus, right? Well, no probably not….

We’ve heard about how ‘Dippy’ came to London in 1905 – a plaster cast of the original fossil bones kept in the Carnegie Museum Pittsburgh. And thanks to palaeontologists, we can picture it as a living animal browsing in Jurassic forests 145-150 million years ago – seeing off predators with its whip-like tail.

But what about the middle of the story? Where did these fossils come from?

AC-NMW

In 1898 thanks to the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest people in the world. He was busy giving away money for libraries and museums. Hearing about the discovery of huge dinosaurs in the American West he said something like ‘Get us one of those!’, sending a Carnegie Museum team to find a “most colossal animal”.

So, in 1899 in the last days of the American Old West, a Diplodocus skeleton was discovered at Sheep Creek, Albany County on the plains of Wyoming, USA. It happened to be the 4th of July, Independence Day, which prompted the Carnegie team to give the fossil its first nickname - ‘The Star Spangled Dinosaur’. Predictably though, this new species was later published as Diplodocus carnegii.

The dig site would have looked very similar to this one at the nearby Bone Cabin Quarry one year earlier.

To set the scene, these late 1800's photographs are from other parts of Albany County, Wyoming (via Wikimedia Commons).

Dippy’s first name, “Unkche ghila”.

But what about the original people of the plains, the Native Americans? Wouldn’t they have found dinosaur fossils before the European settlers? In her book “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” Adrienne Mayor shows that indeed they did. They visualised the fossils’ original forms as Giant Lizards, Thunder Birds, and Water Monsters, and several of the famous dinosaur collectors had Native American guides. This book shows that Native American ideas about fossils were perceptive of the geological processes involved such as extinction, volcanoes, and sea level change.

( “Clear”, Lakota people, 1900. Heyn & Matzen

The original people of the plains where Diplodocus fossils are found are the Lakota Sioux. James LaPointe of the Lakota people was born in 1893, and recalls a legend he heard as a boy:

“The Sioux called these creatures “Unkche ghila”, roughly comparable to dinosaurs; these oddly shaped animals moved across the land in great numbers and then disappeared. The massive bones of these now extinct creatures can be found in the badlands south and east of the Black Hills. It is not clear when the unkche ghila went extinct, but Sioux geology maintains they were still around when the Black Hills rose from the earth.” From James R. Walker , 1983. ‘Lakota Myth’.

So, via Adrienne Mayor, I’ll give the last word here to the US National Park Service:

“The stories and legends told by American Indians offer a unique perspective into the traditional spiritual significance of fossils and offer an exceptional opportunity to illustrate the interconnectedness of humans and nature.” Jason Kenworthy and Vincent Santucci, “A Preliminary Inventory of National Park Service Paleontological Resources in Cultural Resource Contexts.”

Continuing the international year of the periodic table of chemical elements, for September we have chosen carbon, the element which – in coal - has arguably had the most influence on the shaping of the built landscape and culture in Wales.

The Welsh Coalfields

For around 150 years the coal industry has dominated the industrial, political and social history of Wales. Between 1801 and 1911 the population of Wales quadrupled from 587,000 to 2,400,000. This was almost entirely due to the effects of coal mining: either directly through the creation of colliery jobs or through industries reliant on coal as a fuel (eg. steel-making).

There are two major coalfields in Wales, one in the north-east of the country and one in the south.  North Wales produced mostly high volatile, medium to strong caking coal, and the coalfield has a long history of production. By 1913, it was producing around 3,000,000 tons per annum but went into a slow decline afterwards. The last colliery in the area, Point of Ayr, closed in 1996.

The south Wales coalfield is more extensive than that of north Wales.  It forms an elongated syncline basin extending from Pontypool in the east to Ammanford in the west, with a detached portion in Pembrokeshire. The total area covers some 1,000 square miles.

The south Wales coalfield is famous for its variety of coal types, ranging from gas and coking bituminous coals, steam coals, dry steam coals and anthracite. They had a wide range of uses: domestic, steam raising, gas and coke production and the smelting of copper, iron and steel.

Loose jointed and friable roof conditions were more commonplace in south Wales than other UK coalfields which resulted in numerous accidents from falls of roof and sides. The deeper seams are also very ‘fiery’ leading to numerous disasters. Between 1850 and 1920, one third of all mining deaths in the UK occurred in Wales. Between 1890 and 1913 alone there were 27 major UK mining disasters, thirteen of which occurred in south Wales including the 1913 explosion at the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd where 439 men died – the largest loss of life in a UK mining disaster.  North Wales was largely free of major disasters but, in 1934, an explosion at Gresford Colliery killed two hundred and sixty-six men, the third worst disaster in Welsh mining history.

South Wales steam and anthracite coal differ from other coal seams due to the presence of numerous partings (‘slips’) which lie at an angle of about 45 degrees between floor and roof.  This made the coal relatively easy to work as the coal fell in large blocks.  However this large coal was coated with fine dust which was the prime cause of pneumoconiosis, a disease which was more prevalent in south Wales than all other UK coalfields. In 1962, 40.7% of all south Wales miners were suffering from the disease.

A close relationship grew up between coal mining and the local community.  Villages were virtually single occupation communities. In Glamorgan and Monmouthshire half of all adult male workers were directly involved in the coal industry, while in places such as the Rhondda and Maesteg, the proportion could be as high as 75%.

Because of the peculiar geology and geography, south Wales was slow to unionise. However, following the humiliating defeat after the 1898 coal strike, there arose a need for unity and in 1914 the South Wales Federation became the largest single trade union with almost 200,000 members.

From the early 1920s until WW2, the Welsh coalfields suffered a prolonged industrial recession due to the changeover to oil by shipping and the development of foreign coalfields. The numbers of miners fell from 270,000 to 130,000. The industry was nationalised following the war and experienced tremendous changes with the introduction of new techniques and equipment. There was now a greater emphasis on safety, but the coalfields were still dangerous places. In 1960, 45 men died in Six Bells Colliery, 31 died in Cambrian Colliery in 1965 and, perhaps most tragically of all, 144 people died when a tip collapsed on Aberfan, including 116 children.

By the 1980s the threat of mass pit closures arose. In March 1984 the last major strike began and continued for twelve months. Following the defeat of the National Union of Mineworkers, mines began to close on a regular basis. By the mid-1990s, there were more Welsh mining museums than working deep mines.  The last deep mine, Tower Colliery, closed in January 2008. One of the most important influences on Welsh social, industrial and political life has now vanished.

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.

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