Amgueddfa Blog: Museums

We are currently recruiting housekeeping volunteers at St.Fagans to help look after the displays in the historic houses and Castle. This is a new scheme that is open to anyone who would like to get involved and learn more about traditional housekeeping techniques. Many of which still have a use today, such as using natural herbs and flowers to repel moths from precious woollen jumpers.


With your help we would also like to enhance the interpretation of the buildings by putting more of the collections on display and reintroduce traditional crafts to create replica items, such as rag rugs, baskets and wicker carpet beaters.


Training will be provided, so no previous experience is required, all we ask in return is a few hours of your time a week.  This is a pilot project, so even if the days currently on offer are not suitable please do still get in contact and register your interest.


As part of the project we have converted one of the cottages at Llwyn yr Eos farm into a base for housekeeping volunteers, with studios and a comfortable place to relax.


If you are interested in becoming a housekeeping volunteer please follow this link and we look forward to hearing from you.

This follows on from Marsli Owen's blog.

When we decided to do an event called ‘Through the Keyhole’ I thought about the different things I could show people in the historic houses of St Fagans.  I wanted something that linked the past and present, so I chose tea drinking and based myself in the parlour of Kennixton farmhouse.

At Kennixton, the parlour is decorated in the style of the 1750s – you might recognise it as Captain Blamey’s house in the recent Poldark tv serial.  I decided to do the event in costume to help bring the house to life, and laid the table for tea as they would have done in the 18th century.   

Tea has a very exciting history, inspiring fashion, fortune, revolution, and crime.  It was brought to this country in 1657 by Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II.  A bit like the Kate-effect of today it swiftly caught on as a fashionable drink.

Like a lot of popular things, tea was taxed very highly by the government.  Some unscrupulous dealers would try and make tea go further by adulterating it with hawthorn leaves or even dried sheep poo!  To combat the high tax on tea, many people in Wales would have bought their tea from smugglers.  It’s possible the residents of Kennixton got their tea the same way.  It was originally built on the Gower coast so smuggled tea would have been easily available. 

It wasn’t just the Welsh who objected to paying the high tax on tea; the Americans didn’t see why they should pay it either.  They showed their feelings by throwing British tea into Boston harbour - the Boston Tea Party – which kick-started the American War of Independence in 1775.

I loved doing this event and it generated some really interesting conversations with visitors. Just doing some day-to-day activities in the house made it feel much more like a home. But I have to confess I was relieved to get out of the dress at the end of the day - the large skirts and tight sleeves were so restricting.  I finished the day wearing my comfy jeans and enjoying a mug of tea curled up on the sofa!

There will be one last blog next week to follow on by Heulwen, who will be talking about the Prefab.

‘Drown’d in drowsy sleep, of nothing he takes keep’. These were the words that William Goscombe John chose to accompany his sculpture Morpheus when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1891.

The caption was taken from the 16th century poem The Fairie Queene by Edmund Spenser, although it is not a direct quotation. This epic allegorical poem follows the journey of several Arthurian knights as they battle their way through a mythical fairyland.

Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, plays a small role in The Fairie Queene. He is called upon to help the black sorcerer Archimago trap Redcrosse, one of the Christian knights. He does this by conjuring up a false dream of love and lust to fool Redcrosse into believing that his lover Una has been ‘sporting’ with another knight. This leads to Redcrosse abandoning her and continuing his quest alone.

In this sculpture Morpheus is shown asleep - or perhaps softly stirring from sleep, his arms stretched languidly above his head. Apart from this, John makes no other reference to the narrative of The Fairie Queene and it is not clear why he would have chosen to depict a figure who plays a relatively small role in the story, and in Greek mythology.

We might say that the mythological theme was a pretext for depicting a nubile male nude. Alternatively, we might see it as a statement about the role of the figurative sculptor. In mythology, Morpheus had one great power: he could mimic the human form, and trick people into seeing physical bodies that are not really there.

Stephanie Roberts and Penelope Hines 

Why are we concerned with boxes whose lids don’t close properly?

This is not just curators and conservators being pernickety; we really do have very good reasons to make sure that every closed box stays shut.

Museum collections contain a lot of valuable things that are easily perishable. Swords are made to be tough, but - believe it or not - even swords are not indestructible.

Iron rusts when it gets wet. Iron also rusts because of moisture in the atmosphere. Other metals can corrode in much the same way. If we are not careful we would end up with merely a bag of rust!

Therefore, we store all manner of sensitive objects (including cannonballs!) in what we call “micro-environments”. While many of our stores and galleries are air-conditioned, the humidity in the air is often too high to prevent these delicate objects from rusting.

Micro-environments are boxes or plastic pouches that contain one or several objects, plus a chemical that regulates the humidity within the box or pouch. This chemical is silica gel – if you have ever bought an electrical item the packaging probably contained a little sachet saying “Do not eat!”. The little granules in this sachet are silica gel. It is very widely used to keep things dry. Including in museums.

Once we have packaged our objects with silica gel we do not want moisture from the atmosphere to get into the box; that’s why we make sure the box closes properly. Only then will the objects be safe and dry, and ready for display or study.

To read more about our collections care work, go to our Preventive Conservation blog.

Again this month, a number of interesting objects have been added to the industry & transport collections. The photograph below was taken on 22nd July 1926, and shows a group of 29 slate quarrymen. The location is unknown, but it was probably taken at either Dinorwig or Penrhyn slate quarry. If you are able to help identify where the photograph was taken, or recognise any of the men we would love to hear from you.

These three ceramic pieces were designed and made by the artist George Thompson, a potter resident in Amlwch, Angelsey. They are inspired by the Parys Mountain copper mines.

Ceramic plaque with red ocre slip and copper glaze.

Ceramic pot with stand made from pink crank clay with graphite and copper glaze.

 

Ceramic dish with graphite, red ochre and orange ochre slip.


The photograph below shows the remains of a Cornish beam-engine house and chimney stack at Parys copper mine, Anglesey, 1964.

 

This is a diorama of Parys mountain copper mine from the museum’s collections. It was made about 1967 for display in the industry galleries at Cathays Park.

 

This medal commemorates the cutting of the first sod of the King’s Dock, Swansea. On the 20th July 1904 the Royal Yacht Victoria & Albert arrived in Swansea Bay. The yacht arrived at the Prince of Wales Dock where King Edward VII and Queen Alexandre disembarked. The dock was named ‘Kings Dock’ in his honour. After the ceremony the King and Queen rode through the streets of Swansea in an open top carriage. The Dock was official opened on the 20th November 1909. It covers 72 acres (29 ha), and is still in use today, being the main dock of the Port of Swansea.

 

Photograph showing congested shipping (both sail and steam) at King's Dock about 1910. Not long after the dock was opened. 

 

The view below shows the King’s Dock. It was taken by the photographer John Eurof Martin and dates to the mid-20th century.

Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
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