Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

Work was carried out in September 2019 to repair, clean and paint the symbolic Headgear at Big Pit. Watch a timelapse film of the process!

The Headgear requires restoration to prevent damage and corrosion. The work ensures visitors can continue to explore an authentic and unique underground experience and that Big Pit carries on telling the important story of how the coal industry shaped communities, society and the industrial world.

If you're wondering how it all works, then we made this film about the headgear for the 'Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions' exhibition.

The project was supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a restoration grant from The Association for Industrial Archaeology.

Noson Bluo / Noson Bufio

Mae cyfoeth o draddodiadau yn gysylltiedig â’r Nadolig yng Nghymru; rhai a erys yn boblogaidd hyd heddiw, a rhai sydd wedi mynd yn brinach gydag amser.

Roedd y Noson Bluo (neu "blufio") yn achlysur cymdeithasol pwysig iawn mewn llawer ardal cyn y Nadolig yn y gorffennol.  Rhyw wythnos cyn y dathlu, byddai’r gymuned yn ymuno i bluo ac i baratoi’r gwyddau a’r twrcwns a fu’n tewhau dros yr Hydref i’w gwerthu cyn y diwrnod mawr.  Byddai rhai yn dechrau ben bore ac yn dod â’r gwaith i ben erbyn yr hwyr tra byddai eraill yn cymryd mantais o dawelwch yr oriau tywyll ac yn bwrw ati i bluo drwy’r nos a thacluso popeth yn oriau man y bore cyn dechrau ar dasgau’r diwrnod i ddod.

Roedd yr achlysur yn gyfle i deuluoedd ac i ffrindiau dreulio amser gyda’i gilydd.  Er bod y gwaith yn galed, roedd digon o sbort a sbri i’w gael i’r criw o amgylch y tân yn y gegin, neu o amgylch y gwresogydd mewn sied y tu allan, wrth sgwrsio, dweud jôcs, adrodd straeon, chwarae gemau llafar a chanu ambell i gân.  Dyma ychydig yn rhagor am y digwyddiad arbennig hwn gan ddau o siaradwyr yr Archif Sain:

Pluo yn Sir Drefaldwyn

Ganwyd Catherine Sydney Roberts yn Y Gardden, Llanerfyl, yn 1900.  Roedd yn un o 14 o blant.  Bu’n byw yn ardal Llanerfyl erioed.  Roedd yn wraig hynod ddiwylliedig ac fe’i holwyd gan Minwel Tibbott yn 1972 am fwydydd ar fferm fechan yn ystod cyfnod troad yr 20fed ganrif: 

Catherine Sydney Roberts, 1972

“Noson bluo, oedd hi’n noson fawr iawn.  Pluo gwydda te.  Fyddan ni wrthi drwy’r nos, dros nos oeddan ni’n neud.  Mi fydda na gymdeithas neilltuol a mi fyddan ni’n mynd er mwyn cael y gymdeithas ‘ddoch chi, te.  Yn ista ar y meincia, odd y dynion i gyd, a rownd bowt, a dwy lantarn neu dair yn hongian o’r llofft.  O, roedd hi’n gynnes reit yna achos oedd na gymaint o fobol a’r lanteri ‘ma, oen nhw’n cynhesu chi.  Ac erbyn y bore oeddan ni wedi gorffen y cwbwl a gallu glanhau fyny.  Doedd neb yn gwbod fod neb wedi bod yn pluo noson gynt bron te.  Hwyl anfarwol, adrodd rhyw hen benillion a … Hwyl anfarwol, noson pluo, ynte.”

Plufio yn Sir Benfro

Ganwyd Clifford Thomas yn 1905 mewn tyddyn bach o’r enw Bryn y Banc ym mhentref Mesur-y-Dorth, ger Croes-goch, Sir Benfro.  Aeth i’r ysgol yng Nghroes-goch i ddechrau ac yna i Ysgol Sir Tyddewi am flwyddyn.  Roedd yn sgwrsiwr heb ei ail ac fe’i holwyd gan Delyth James yn 1972 am arferion y Nadolig a'r Flwyddyn Newydd.

Dyma rai o’i atgofion yntau am y Noson Blufio:

Clifford Thomas, 1972

“Odd plufio yn dod ryw wythnos cyn Nadolig.  Gwydde a chwïed a twrcis.  Casglu wedyn, o, ryw ddwsin o fenywod i blufio o’r pentrefi a chwedyn, yng ngwaith i odd lladd y gwydde a’r twrcis a’u cario nhw iddyn nhw fel na bod nhw’n gorffod dod allan o’r pluf.  Odd stafell arbennig mâs, a yn yr ystafell honno on nhw’n plufio.  On ni’n gorffod gofalu bod heaters yndi’r noson cyn hynny, oil heaters fel bod y lle wedi’i dwymo ar eu cyfer nhw, a lampie pryd hynny, lantarne, oil lamps, i oleuo iddyn nhw oherwydd ch’mod, tua’r Nadolig yna ma’r tywydd yn dywyll iawn.   Ma’r dydd yn dywyll.  Dechre tua wyth i hanner awr wedi wyth, hyd wedd hi mlân bump o’r gloch, pump, chweech o’r gloch.  Gorffen wedyn.  Dod i ben â’r cyfan erbyn hynny.  A yn y blynydde cynta, odd na glanhau giblets ymlân, ar ôl hynny wedyn.  Wedi iddyn nhw ddod fewn a châl ‘u te, on nhw’n dechre ar y busnes hwn.  Pryd hynny on nhw’n câl ‘u gwerthu ar wahân i’r gwydde.  Swllt y pâr, swllt y set:  pen, dwy droed, afu a’r galon a’r lasog.”

Often, when writing a book on one subject, you come across fascinating information which cannot be included because it strays too far from the original remit. Such was the case when writing The Curious Case of the Eisteddfod Baton (Wordcatcher Publishing) a fascinating story about a Welsh gold conductor’s baton, housed at Parc Howard Museum, Llanelli. The baton had was given to the National Eisteddfod by William Pritchard Morgan, the ‘Gold King of Wales’ who had given other gifts of Welsh gold, including two now in Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.

The Welsh Gold King

In 1888 William Pritchard Morgan was enjoying mass popularity and success. The millionaire ‘King’ had come a long way from his modest origins at Usk in 1844 where he was born, the son of William Morgan, an influential Wesleyan preacher. They were not rich, the family house consisted of just a back parlour, kitchen with pantry, and three bedrooms for the six family members and a servant. When Morgan was eight his father died from a chill caught while tramping around the country preaching - his will included old carpets and pans, an old piano, about twenty books, a German clock but nothing of silver or gold, and no money. The assessor valued his possessions at just £84 when the average yearly wage for a teacher was around £81.

As soon as he was old enough Morgan was articled to work for Newport lawyer Robert James Cathcart but he did not stay to complete his articles. Apparently he and Cathcart had a ‘lively quarrel’ when Morgan had taken exception to something Cathcart had said to him. Without further ado young Morgan put on his hat and took himself off, but worried about the reception he would receive at home for abandoning his job he decided instead to run away to Australia.

Having sold his watch and law books Morgan proceeded to Liverpool where he embarked for Australia and new opportunities offered by the second largest gold rush in the world – the first having been in California a decade previously. 

Some twenty years later Morgan was back in Wales - now a multimillionaire through his enormously successful legal practice and investments in gold mines. Fascinated by the myriad reports that gold had been found in Wales he bought a mansion on a mountain in Dolgellau - and began digging.

He was not the first to have done so. The Little Gold Rush of North Wales in the 1860s saw huge amounts of money made and lost, all widely reported in the British and colonial press. Morgan, along with half the world, avidly followed the developments until the small gold rush petered out at the end of the decade.

Convinced he could succeed where others had failed Morgan, by force of both his personality and his money, set about transforming the mining of gold in Wales. Shortly after taking over the Gwynfynydd mine in Dolgellau in 1887 Morgan’s faith was vindicated when he hit a large pocket of gold. So fabulous was this discovery that he declared to the whole of Britain there was enough gold in Wales to pay off the national debt. His mine, he said, was going be one of the richest in the world - and as there were fifty other sites in North Wales there was every reason to believe that gold would be found in huge quantities. ‘Gallant Little Wales’ was going to be enormously wealthy.

Morgan’s announcements sent the national press into frenzy. Story after story appeared and every development at Gwynfynydd was enthusiastically reported which in turn brought any array of visitors, from royalty to hordes of sailors who hiked up the mountain on their days off. Morgan became a celebrity and with his new found fame pursued his passion for politics, controversially being elected MP for Merthyr - a huge endorsement of his liberal beliefs and his fight for working class people.

As a celebrity and politician Morgan loved to use his gold. He had specially commissioned pieces presented to leading figures of the day, such as ‘A History and Geography of Wales for the Young’ bound in gold for The Princess of Wales; a paperweight made of a solid piece of gold ore for the Prince of Wales; and a medal and a gold covered album of pictures of Corwen presented to Queen Victoria, commemorating her 1889 visit to Wales. While the whereabouts of these objects are unknown, three of Morgan’s gifts are in Welsh museums: the Eisteddfod baton at Parc Howard, Llanelli (for more on this see The Curious Case of the Eisteddfod Baton (Wordcatcher Publishing)); the Stanley Medal; and the Clara Novello Davies’ baton both – the last two now housed at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.

The Stanley Medal

The Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS) most prestigious award is a gold medal and two are awarded every year, each requiring the approval of the Queen. In 1873 they had presented one to Henry Morton Stanley for finding Dr Livingston; but seventeen years later Stanley carried out an act so universally acknowledged as pure heroism, that the Society wanted to honour him again. However, they had already given him their highest award so what were they to do? In the end they gave him a second gold ‘unofficial’ medal – which is why it does not appear in their annual record of awards.

In 1890, five years after the killing of General Gordon in the revolt against British rule in Egypt, Emin Pasha, then the Governor of Egyptian Sudan, had become trapped during an outbreak of fighting and his plight became world news. It was Stanley who led the controversial Emin Pasha Relief Expedition (1886-89), one of the last major European expeditions into the interior of Africa, where he succeeded in rescuing Pasha. It was in recognition of this bravery that the medal was commissioned - and having sought the advice of the Medal Department of the British Museum the design was entrusted to Elinor Halle.[1]

Elinor Hallé (1856-1926) was a sculptor, inventor and daughter of the conductor and founder of the Hallé Orchestra. She had been a student at London’s Slade School of Art, which in 1871 was the first public art school to admit women on the same terms as men. She had been one of the Slade Girls - a group of women ‘responsible for a large number of the cast medals produced during the revival in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s … now shadowy figures about whom little is known.’[2]

At the time of commission for the Stanley honour, Elinor was a respected medal designer and her medal of Cardinal Newman had won top prize at the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition.

photograph of a gold medal with the portrait of man's head in profile
photograph of the reverse of the gold medal showing a female figure in a helmet sat on the bank of a river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
©Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

On the Stanley medal Elinor etched an image of him modelled from Hurbert von Herkomer’s portrait and numerous photographs taken before his departure for Egypt. Around the edges run the inscription ‘H M Stanley Presented by the Royal Geographical Society MDCCCXC.’

On the reverse, a semi-nude female figure representative of Africa is featured. She wears a helmet in the design of an elephant’s head and her foot is upon a crocodile. She holds two jars from which the water of Africa’s two great rivers flows out, inspired by Stanley’s mapping of the central African lakes and the Congo River. In the background are mountains and the sun setting behind a forest. The inscription reads Congo/ Nile/ Rvwenzori[3]/1887-1889 and is signed by Elinor Hallé at the bottom.

When it appeared, Herbert A. Grueber, of the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum wrote, ‘I consider it one of the best medals of modern times.’[4] An opinion, he added, that was shared with all his colleagues in the department.

At a huge meeting in the Royal Albert Hall, London on 5 May 1890 the Prince of Wales presented Stanley with the Royal Geographical Society medal of ‘British gold’ while other papers simply referred to it as a gold medal.[5] It is not known how William Pritchard Morgan first became involved but he had been a member of the RGS since 1883[6] and given Stanley was Welsh, Morgan probably recognised a good marketing opportunity. Various papers reported that the gold was ‘given for the express purposes’ of making the medal, indicating that it was a gift.

Bronze versions of the medal were also presented to members (some posthumously) of the Expedition, but Stanley’s African staff just received a silver star.

Over time the medals were sold and some bronze examples can be seen in various museums such as the V&A, the Fitzwilliam and others. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales bought a bronze example and Stanley’s Welsh gold medal from Christie’s on 25 March 1986.[7]

Clara Novello Davies’ baton

Black and white picture of the conductor Clara Novello Davies
The other Welsh gold gift of William Pritchard Morgan in Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is an 18-carat gold conductor’s baton.

Morgan had presented it to Clara Novello Davies, a famous singer and conductor and mother of Ivor Novello.

On 7 December 1900, Clara’s world famous ‘Royal Welsh Ladies’ Choir’ gave a concert at the Palace Theatre, London and that night Morgan presented Clara with the baton as a token of appreciation for the work she had done for music in Wales.[8] Three years later she accidentally left it in a cab. It remained lost for twenty-seven years until Scotland Yard telephoned one day to say that a gold baton had come into their possession with her name engraved on it and returned it to her.[9] What had become of it for twenty-seven years is not known; but once returned to her Clara used it for the rest of her life. After her death it was presented to the museum by her son Ivor Novello. The baton is currently in the stores and cannot be viewed by the public.

photograph of a gold conductor’s baton
A close-up view of the gold conductor's baton

 

 
 
 
 
©Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

While there are a number of other objects made of Welsh gold in the museum, these are the only two which were gifts of William Pritchard Morgan, the ‘Welsh Gold King.’ 

 

[1] Belfast News-Letter Mr Stanley in London (6 May 1890)

[2] Attwood, Philip. ‘The Slade Girls’ British Numismatic Society. Vol. 56 1986 p148-177 Accessed online https://www.britnumsoc.org/publications/Digital%20BNJ/pdfs/1986_BNJ_56_10.pdf

[3] Rwenzori, a spectacular mountain range. The name was given by Stanley from a native word meaning ‘rain maker’

[4] Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography Geographical Notes Vol. 12, No. 5 (May, 1890), p 287

[5] South Wales Daily News Reception to Mr Stanley (6 May 1890)

[6] My thanks to David McNeil of the RGS for this information

[7] Thanks to Alastair Willis, Senior Curator: Numismatics and the Welsh Economy, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for this information

[8] Western Mail Royal Welsh Ladies Choir (11 Dec. 1900)

[9] Lancashire Evening Post Baton Found After 27 Years (13 Oct. 1931)

 

In the mid-1960s Play School was one of the few programmes available for pre-school children.  In the middle of every show, you were transported through one of three windows, leaving the studio for somewhere exciting in the real world. I loved the programme and remember watching it at home on our rented black and white television. One day they showed us the Natural History Museum in London and the huge skeleton of an extinct creature – a Diplodocus.  This was the first time I had ever heard of fossils or dinosaurs, and I was amazed by what I was seeing.

A year or two later, my parents took me on a trip to London and the one thing I wanted to see was the Diplodocus.  Dippy did not disappoint and I spent all my pocket money on two postcards to stick into my scrapbook.

Fifty years on those old postcards are reunited with Dippy in Cardiff.  I wish I could say that seeing Dippy inspired me to become a palaeontologist, but back then I had no idea that was even possible. However, my visit did spark a lifelong interest in the natural world which led to me eventually becoming a palaeontologist at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales.  I work on fossil bryozoans, small colonial marine animals – less obviously spectacular than dinosaurs but (I think) equally as fascinating.   Even so, I will always have an affection for Dippy.

Dr Caroline Buttler

Head of Palaeontology

A photo of Caroline Buttler's scrapbook
Dr Caroline Buttler with her scrapbook in National Museum Cardiff's main hall with Dippy in the background
Bryozoans

At first glance, The Tomlin Archive helps us to explore the life of John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954), one of the most highly-respected shell collectors of his time. Alongside Tomlin's extensive shell collection, his correspondence archive holds documents he sent, received and collected, dating from the early 1800’s through to the mid 1900’s. They provide an in-depth look into Tomlin’s life, along with the lives of those he knew.

John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954)

One letter remains to me, a volunteer helping to record the archive, particularly poignant. The letter in question was written by Professor Dr. Phil Franz Alfred Schilder, a malacologist from Naumburg in Germany.

Schilder wrote the letter to Tomlin on July 11th, 1946. Within this letter, Schilder describes his anxieties surrounding his German heritage in a post-WW2 world, fearing ‘whether any Englishman ever will take notice of any German’ again, because of his nation’s ‘unbelievable barbarism’. Schilder further shares his assumption that Tomlin had been killed in the German bombings of the English South East Coast and Hastings, before it was revealed that the destruction of the English Coast had been falsely exaggerated by Nazi Germany’s official records. This helps us to understand a little more about what life was like for German citizens living in Nazi Germany during the War; Schilder felt very much a victim of Hitlerism, not just through being lied to by figures of authority, but a victim too in the tense and intolerant political and social climate Hitler created in Nazi Germany. Schilder, having a half-Jewish wife, describes their suffering under the Gestapo, living a constant struggle to prevent his wife from being taken to a concentration camp, and being treated himself as a ‘“suspicious subject”’ in Germany.

Schilder describes how he lost his job, Assistant Director of a Biological Institute, for ‘political reasons’ in 1942, and that he only regained his position once the War had ended. Once appointed Professor of Zoology at the University of Halle in November 1945, he delivered a course of lectures, but Schilder reveals how, in the bombings of Germany during the conflict, he lost all of his property. He also describes how his statistical paper on the development of Prosobranch Gastropods during geological times, was ‘destroyed by bomb shells at Frankfurt’. Losing all of his research and property seems, to Schilder, the end of Tomlin’s and his relationship: ‘I can hardly think to see you once more’, and he regretfully states he is sorry to be cut off from a country he spent many ‘fine holidays’ with ‘noble-minded scientific friends’ in.

Schilder can be seen sat on the left in this photograph, also part of the Tomlin Archive collection. ‘June 1932, on downs near Falmer’

This letter’s tone is overwhelmingly one of pain and loss. The Second World War was a truly catastrophic event that claimed millions of lives, and in this letter we are able to understand how the conflict ripped apart the lives of survivors too. It destroyed Schilder’s livelihood, years of pain-staking work, his career, and even many friendships he once had. This letter may first and foremost provide an insight into Schilder’s life, but it also tells us so much more about the unforgiving and intolerant social climate created by Hitler which still exists, in part, to this day, the vast number of victims that were affected, and the sheer scale of destruction and loss it had on so many lives.

 

Transcription of the letter dicussed from F. A. Schilder to J. R. le B. Tomlin:

Naumburg, Germany

July 11 th, 1946.

Dear Tomlin,

Several weeks ago, I wrote to Mr. Winckworth and to Mr. Blok, wondering whether any Englishman ever will take notice of any German, even if he knows that he was far more a victim of Hitlerism than responsible for the unbelievable barbarism of his nation. I did not write to yourself, because I could hardly think you still alive after the stories concerning the total destruction of the English South East coast by the German artillery across the Channel.

Now I learned from an extremely kind answer of Mr. Blok, that the destruction of Hastings was a lie as well as all the other official German records during the war, and that you are well at St. Leonards as before. I was very glad to learn that you are evidently staying in your fine home, in which I enjoyed your and Mrs Tomlin’s kind hospitality several times; and that you recovered from your long life’s first illness just now and visit the British Museum as before. I congratulate you to your recovering, and hope that your illness was not caused, though indirectly, by the events of the war.

I suppose that you know, from my letter to Mr. Winckworth, our personal fate during these last years - - the bloodstained harvest of “Kultur” (as Mr. Blok characterizes them in a very fine way), for a similar letter of mine to Mrs. van Benthem Jutting seems to circulate among my scientific friends in the Netherlands. As Mrs. Schilder is “halfcast jewish”, we had rather to suffer under the Gestapo, and I could hardly prevent her to be taken off into a concentration camp. But on the other side, by the same reason to be a “suspicious subject” I was not obliged to join the army, and possibly to be killed for a government which brought only mischief upon ourselves and upon many friends of ours both in Germany and abroad.

Now, since the American troops occupied Naumburg on my very birthday, last year, all danger both from the Allied Air Force-shells and from the Nazis is over, and we feel much more secure under the Soviet Government than we ever did under the German one during the last twelve years. I have become Assistant Director of our Biological Institute once more - - I had lost this position since 1942 by political reasons - -, and besides I was appointed honorary professor of zoology at the university of Halle, where I now deliver a course of lectures, since November 1945. But we have lost all our property, so that I can hardly think to see you once more, even if travelling to England would be permitted in future - - and I am really sorry to be cut off from a country, in which I spent so fine holidays among noble-minded scientific friends.

During the war, I published a lot of papers on Cypraeacea, even in Tripolis and in Stockholm, but the printing of a big statistical paper on the development of Prosobranch Gastropods during geological times was destroyed by bomb shells at Frankfurt. I wonder, when special scientific MSS. Will be printed again in Germany. I shall send you separate copies of all my papers as soon as such mails will be allowed.

I should be very glad to learn from yourself that you escaped the greatest catastrophe of the white race, and that you recovered fully from your recent illness.

Please tell my kind regards to Mrs. Tomlin.

Yours sincerely

F. A. Schilder