Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

Nearing the four-month mark since I stepped into National Museum Wales for the first day of my Professional Training Year (PTY) placement from Cardiff University, my goal of achieving new experiences in the world of marine invertebrate research is definitely underway. This is now taking form in the way of the Magelonidae, the shovelhead worms, a family of polychaetes with many unanswered questions hovering around them in regards to their ecology, taxonomy and behaviour.

Through starting with live observations in the museum lab in July of Magelona alleni, a rather chunky species of magelonid, my project has developed into some exciting discoveries regarding not only the feeding of these amazing worms, but also how they poo, hence the title of the blog post! As boring as worm defecation sounds, this is not the case when you watch how these amazing animals decide to actually get rid of their dinner (there will be more about the details of this in my next blog post when we have finished working on this interesting behaviour).

These findings have led me down a road of using many new techniques to be able to present my work in a professional and scientific manner. This includes scientific drawing using a camera lucida attachment on a microscope, photography in the way of time-lapse captures, film and image stacking, image editing, reviewing relevant literature, statistical analysis, dissection and SEM (scanning electron microscopy) to name but a few.

In addition to these skills I have learnt much about day to day tasks the museum carries out, including learning methods of curation for an impressive collection of marine invertebrates, holding over 750,000 specimens and having the opportunity to partake in sampling trips to collect more animals for the further development of my project and other projects around the museum. I have also settled into the role of tank maintenance for not only the shovelhead worms, but also some of our resident anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, sea potatoes and prawns. I have even tried my hand at outreach on one of the museum’s stands during the evening event ‘After Dark at the Museum’ with Cardiff University, which saw nearly 2000 people (mainly families) enjoy a hands on experience.

One crucial advantage that I feel I have obtained over these last few months is that I am starting to enjoy a great appreciation for the diversity of life in our seas, from the very tiny, such as organisms like diatoms and foraminiferans to the impressively large, like the young humpback whale skeleton on display in the museum, which I get the pleasure of walking past most days. All in all, my experiences so far have been beyond valuable and who knows what the next few months of research here will bring.

Find out more about how I got on when I first started at the museum

Archibald H. Lee was the first Secretary appointed to National Museum Wales in 1909 and held the post for 44 years. His professional life began in 1899 when he entered the service of the Cardiff Corporation as a junior clerk in the old Town-hall on St Mary Street. During this time he would have worked on the City’s case for the establishment of a National Museum, so it must have been gratifying for him to join the fledgling staff of the new Museum.

After a few quietly productive years, the outbreak of WWI saw a large number of staff leave the museum for military service and Lee was no exception. He commanded a company of the 5th Welch Regiment and was awarded the Military Cross after the Battle of Gaza.

After the war, Lee resumed his position as Secretary and the Library holds a great number of photographs showing him at the forefront of important events and gatherings. In 1927 the new building at Cathays Park was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary and Lee lead the Royal party up the steps to officially knock on the door with the ceremonial staff.

He established a life time bond with the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society when he joined in 1909, going on to hold the posts of Honourable Secretary, Council Member, President [1931-2] and finally Honourable Member in 1954. Some highlights during these years were helping to organize and celebrate the Society’s Diamond Jubilee, contributing an article titled Museums in Cardiff for the Society Transactions [1932] and being awarded the Honorary Degree of M.A. by the University of Wales [1937].

During WWII, he was an active member of the 16th Glamorgan Home Guard ‘National Museum Wales Section’. The Museum suffered some damage through enemy air raids on Cardiff and extensive precautions were implemented to protect the collections. These involved the transfer of important specimens to the basement strong room, sandbagging of sculptural and bulky exhibits, the protecting of all glass cases and windows with gummed strips, and night time ‘fire-watch’ duties, all of which  Lee would most likely have been involved in.

In 1953 Lee retired as Secretary with a civic luncheon held in his honour and the award of an O.B. E [Officer of the British Empire].

He passed away in 1970, aged 87 years.

 

Halloween Traditions

Halloween is fast approaching and no doubt that many children across Wales will be deciding on what scary character they’d like to dress up as, sweets will be purchased for trick or treating and pumpkins carved. Some of these traditions we’ve adopted from our American friends, but in this blog I’d like to give a flavour of other ways that this time of year was marked in the Welsh calendar, some of which you’ll be able to see at our St Fagans Halloween event on 29 - 31 of October.

Harvest and Winter’s Eve marked the period in the calendar where the last of the major agricultural tasks had come to an end, particularly bringing in the harvest before the winter time and marked the end of the old Celtic year referred to as Nos Calan Gaeaf or ‘the eve of the winter kalend’ which signified the end of summer and the beginning of winter. To mark this a feast was often held to thank neighbours for their help with the harvest, music and food would be provided. Calan Gaeaf was also associated with the slaughter of farm animals for the winter. It was on Nos Calan Gaeaf or All-Hallows Eve that the strangest things were said to occur. Not only were spirits said to roam freely but it was believed that the ghosts of the dead were to be seen at midnight on every stile. In different parts of Wales these ghosts took on different characters but two of the most common were the ladi wen [white lady], and mainly in North Wales the tail-less black sow [hwch ddu gwta] and was associated with lighting bonfires after dark, as the fire died down they feared the appearance of the black sow and would chant verses such as:

Adref, adref am y cynta’, Hwch Ddu Gwta a gipio’r ola’

Be sure you are the first at home, the tail-less black sow is sure to roam.

And also

Hwch Ddu Gwta a Ladi Wen heb ddim pen

Hwch Ddu Gwta a gipio’r ola’

Hwch Ddu Gwta nos G’langaea

Lladron yn dwad tan weu sana.

The black sow and headless white lady,

Will try and catch the last to leave,

Thieves abound knitting stockings,

Beware the tail-less black sow on winter’s eve.

Superstitions

Much superstition was also attributed to this time of year especially in a fortune telling capacity. The main questions to be answered were who was to be married and who was to meet an untimely death. The types of fortune telling practices depended on the area. In Montgomeryshire they created a mash of nine ingredients which included potatoes, carrots, turnips, peas, parsnips, leeks, pepper and salt and mixed with milk and in the centre was placed a wedding ring. Each participant would try a bit of the mash and if they were lucky enough to find the ring it would indicate an imminent marriage! You will be able to see this custom demonstrated at the Abernodwydd Farmhouse during the Halloween nights at St Fagans next week.

Another fortune telling was peeling an apple without breaking the skin and thrown over the shoulder. The letter created would indicate the initial of your future spouse. In the Llandysul area three bowls would be filled. One with soil, one with water containing sediment and one with clean water. The participant would be blindfolded and would be asked to touch one of the bowls. The first prophesised death before marriage, the second a troubled marriage and the third a successful marriage. Games were also played such as apple bobbing or the more dangerous version was trying to grab a dangling apple with your teeth which also had a candle attached!

Frightening objects in the collection

Also during our Halloween nights several more sinister objects from our collection will be on display. One of these is a charm doll from Belgium from the Lovett collection, collected by Edward Lovett (1852-1933) who had a fascination for charms – lucky or otherwise. It’s a doll made of wax and could be used to hurt people by having pins and sharp object inserted into it. By melting the wax doll slowly in a chimney, it could even bring about someone’s painful lingering death.

A Witchcraft bottle with a charm inside will also be on display. It’s never been opened and it’s thought that bottles such as this were placed inside walls and buildings to guard against evil spirits.

Ghost Stories from the Oral History Archive

Many thousands of people have been recorded by the staff at St Fagans over the years and among these recordings are ghostly stories and experiences remembered by interviewees or told to them by past generations. Some of these have been put on People’s Collection Wales. Click on the links below and listen to a selection. The lady in the second clip remembers talk of the Hwch Ddu Gwta or Tail-less Black Sow as mentioned above. Below is also an image of The Conjuror, Evan Griffiths talked about in the third clip.   

McClaren Colliery Ghost 

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/606763

Hwch Ddu Gwta   

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/606778

Y Crinjar/ The Conjuror

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/606781

 

 

Local shops in the St.Fagans area are probably wondering why their stock of swedes have been running so low lately!  Before the pumpkin, made popular by the American love of the festival, we had the humble swede. Although smaller, with its gnarled appearance and hairy roots, it did the job well and was traditionally carved and used as a lantern just like a pumpkin today.

The flesh of a swede is harder than a pumpkin so a bit more effort had to be put into removing it. After a little experimentation, the kitchen utensil of choice turned out to be the apple corer.   A scary face could then be easily carved with a knife.

What to do with all that swede! Traditionally it would have been thrown into the cooking pot, but an alternative recipe comes from Poland.  A swede tastes like radish when eaten raw. Sliced very thinly, seasoned with salt and pepper then mixed with chopped spring onion, parsley and a drop of olive oil, it makes a very light and refreshing salad. A phrase I've never applied to a swede before!

A big thank you to our conservation volunteers who worked so hard to recreate our traditional Jack O’ Lanterns. 31 were made in all, so if you're coming along to our spooktacular Halloween festival this year, keep an eye out for them, they are likely to jump out and scare you at any time.

Happy Halloween everyone

Hi, it’s me Mike, volunteer curator with The Wallich working on a new exhibition called ‘Who Decides: Making Connections with Contemporary Art’. The old exhibition that was in the gallery has come down, it’s totally empty now.

 

The last exhibition has all been taken out and the gallery is eerily empty

So we are going to start this new exhibition; with new art, photos and films that you won’t have seen before. You can see some of my favourite pieces. I really hope you enjoy this new exhibition.

We've been busy choosing work for the new exhibition

 ‘Who Decides: Making Connections with Contemporary Art’ opens on October 26th 2017. More information here and here