Amgueddfa Blog: Volunteering

August is the most fragrant month here in St. Fagans gardens as we just finished trimming back and harvesting our lavender shrubs. We prune them at this time of the year to remove old flowers and give them a chance to grow new foliage before the Autumn/Winter months.

A well known favourite the lavender has a unique and distinguishable fragrance that is grown for ornamental, aromatic, medicinal and culinary purposes. They are sun loving plants and require a well drained soil.

Lavender is such a versatile plant suiting different garden styles and pleasing the most varied tastes. In St. Fagans you can find hundreds of plants of different species. You will see them in our herb garden, surrounding the fountain in the Dutch Garden, dotted amongst perennials in flower borders, as lavender hedges by the greenhouse and  complimenting the romantic style of the Rosery. A true aromatic heaven!

Lavandula is a genus of 47 known species, here you can find the well known Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, the beautiful white flowers of the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Edelweiss’ and one of my favourites the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’. This particular species is a hybrid cross between the Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and the Lavandula latifolia (Portuguese lavender). They are larger, more robust and have longer stalks with bluish purple flower heads making them perfect for cut flowers.

Lavender is also a wonderful culinary ingredient. Most varieties can be used in cooking, however the Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ is more widely used. They taste great in cakes, scones, jams and as a tea. Add 1 tsp. of dried lavender flowers to a cup of water, let it steep for 10 minutes and enjoy! It’s perfect for calming the mind and helping you drift into dreamland.

When harvested most of our flowers are dried in our potting shed and used to create lavender bags, beautiful dried flower arrangements and other products that can be seasonally found in the Museum store. We also use them in our historic buildings as decoration and inside mattresses to repel insects as they would have done years ago.

Amgueddfa Cymru helped direct me to a career in heritage by drawing my attention to the possibility of a career in museums at a “career speed dating” event. I would go on to volunteer with National Museum Cardiff, whilst studying.

Volunteering as part of the museum’s preventive conservation team, we carried out a wide range of tasks from repackaging lichen, to carefully carrying jade, cleaning paintings currently on display all the while talking to the public about the importance of preventive conservation and promoting part of the Museum traditionally shielded from view. It could be just a few people or what seemed like hundreds of school children, every day brought a different experience.

Volunteering brought the reality of the sector and a chance to learn new skills and experiences which were invaluable to my understanding of what museums are and who they are for; fulfilling my personal reasons for volunteering.

The volunteer programme was flexible, reflecting my own needs not just its own. The programme allowed me to develop as I wanted and when it came time to end my time volunteering with Amgueddfa Cymru it was natural. I had succeeded in what I wanted to achieve, and I was supported to continue my development beyond the museum, not expected to stay when it was no longer practical.

I will always remember having the opportunity to be part of the preventive conservation team, I am sure the team will not forget my Elmer the Elephant style shirt, immortalised in many presentation slides and pull up banners (see photos). I now work for the Cynon Valley Museum as a Museum Co-ordinator and advocate for museums through EMP Wales (Emerging Museum Professionals) and FOH. 

Follow me on twitter: @TregaskesW @FoHMuseums @EMPCymru @cynonvalleymus

Move over Alexa, Ada the pianola’s back!

‘Alexa, play me a song by the Beatles! Alexa what about something by One Direction! Alexa, play something classical! Beethoven or Mozart. Alexa, Alexa, Alexa you are the must have gadget of the 21st century - but Alexa you don't always get it right?!

This is where I Ada, the Pianola comes in. Let’s travel back over a hundred years in time from 2019 to 1919 when I was in my heyday and see how I performed. I am, the first truly musical piano-playing device in the world. Listen to my specifications. They are quite impressive if I say so myself. I was designed and first made by Edwin Scott Votey in his workshop in Detroit in 1895. So even one hundred years ago I had already been around for nearly twenty five years.

‘What can you do?’ I hear you ask.

Well I can play any number of tunes you request…. Music hall songs, Christmas carols, nocturnes by Chopin to name but a few, and I make no mistakes! I do need a human to work the pedals and load the music scrolls. My sound is generated by the pianolist's feet, and controlled in pitch by a perforated music roll. When my pedals are pressed, I send air up through holes in a roll of paper to press my keys and hey presto I am in action. Sit back and enjoy my performance. With my help, anyone can make music.

‘So you don’t operate alone? ‘you ask.

Well neither do you Alexa, as far as I can see. You need wi-fi, monthly fees, speakers and human instructors.

I was around throughout the 20th century. But will you still be operating in 2119? Who remembers music cassettes and floppy disks now?

Who can tell? Who knows? But I think I am ageless. I can go on for ever.

Want to check me out for yourself?

If so, you will find me in the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute on the top floor in the grand ballroom. Pop in on a Wednesday morning and my volunteers Cheryl and Marie will show you the works. Before too long you too will be singing my praises.

This is a community project led by volunteers from Dre-fach Felindre Gardening Club in conjunction with the National Wool Museum and involving the local primary school’s Eco group. The main aim is to provide a sustainable attractive garden using plants that traditionally have been used for their natural dyes. The plant materials are harvested and used in the end of season workshops.

Early in 2019, the Natural Dye Garden Group was approached by Dr Nicol, of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University, regarding the Economic Botany Collection. This is held in National Museum Cardiff.

Dr Nicol had met with the group some time previously to help explore how this collection of 3,500 specimens might support the public’s understanding and valuing of biodiversity. These specimens were wide ranging but only included one specimen of dye plant material from the UK.

The Museum asked if the Natural Dye Garden Group could provide a contribution to the Economic Botany Collection to expand the range of dye plants held. We were delighted to be able to help.

Every year plant materials from the Natural Dye Garden are harvested and stored for use in the natural dye workshops. From this resource it was possible to provide 13 specimens, labelled and boxed for the Economic Botany Collection.

Additionally, another box was prepared of corresponding dyed samples of wool fibre. In all, 20 colours were included, as examples of colour modifications were added such as yellow from weld overdyed with blue from woad to make green.

These boxes have significantly expanded the natural dye plant selection of the Economic Botany Collection and have all been grown on the National Wool Museum site here in West Wales.

Shwmae! My name is Adelle, and I’m a PhD student at Cardiff University studying Iron Age mortuary practice in southwest Britain. I’m going to tell you about my amazing experience and some things I learned volunteering as part of the excavation team of the now-famous Iron Age chariot burial in Pembrokeshire. I’ll start from the beginning…

I thought I’d gotten a nice tan during the initial excavation in 2018, but it was only dirt. *Sigh*

The Story

I received an email in the spring of 2018 inviting me to help with an excavation of what was thought to be an Iron Age hoard discovered in a farmer’s field somewhere in Pembrokeshire. I had dreamt of the day I’d get to excavate anything Iron Age, as my passion for Welsh prehistory inspired me to move from my home in rural Kentucky (USA) to study at Cardiff. I had no idea that this opportunity would lead to the most rewarding, enriching, and educational experiences of my life.

The dig site was in a beautiful field near the entrance to a spectacular Iron Age promontory fort that was previously unknown. The thought that there is still so much left to discover about the prehistory of Wales left me buzzing with inspiration and wonder. I had never been to this farm in Pembrokeshire but it somehow felt warm and familiar, like an old friend; it felt like coming home after a very long journey.

Left to right: Chariot burial volunteers Tiffany Treadway, Felicity Sage (Dyfed Archaeological Trust), Owen Lazzari, Adelle Bricking (me!), and Michael Legge enjoying the beautiful scenery and each other’s’ company after a long day of work.

 

 

The initial excavation was…hot, to put it mildly! The clay we were digging baked in the sun as temperatures climbed to 32 degrees. The archaeology didn’t quite make sense as we searched for the rest of the “hoard”. And then, Mark Lewis, the curator at the National Roman Legion Museum at Caerleon (and whom I am pretty sure is actually a Time Lord from Gallifrey), uncovered the top of a massive iron tyre. This was no hoard—it was a chariot burial. The first one found outside of Yorkshire and Edinburgh; here in Wales. The whole team stopped and gathered around the tyre. We stood there in silence in a mutual understanding that everything we thought we knew about the Iron Age in Wales was about to change. Some of us grabbed onto each other in fear of falling off the face of the earth as our worlds turned upside down! 

The excavation team gathered around the tyre in silent agreement that this is the coolest thing that any of us have ever experienced.

A chariot burial was beyond our timescale, and we needed the help of skilled conservators to ensure the survival of the 2,000 year-old metalwork. It was a long year until we were able to go back to uncover the chariot. With a bigger team, more time, more rainfall and more volunteers, we successfully uncovered the first chariot burial in Wales this spring. I sometimes go down to the Archaeology Conservation Laboratory at National Museum Cardiff to say hello to the chariot pieces and wish them luck as they embark on their new journey towards restoration! Louise Mumford, our archaeological conservator, is like a wizard bringing ancient and long-forgotten objects back to their former glory.

What I Learned

I learned more about archaeology during that excavation than I ever could have imagined. The combined knowledge of these archaeologists that I have long admired was mind-boggling, and I tried my best to soak in every delicious morsel of free expertise. I had read some of their books; these men and women had been teaching me since before I left Kentucky. As we discussed practice during work and theory over dinner, I felt myself becoming much more confident as an archaeologist.

Some of the dig team from Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and I carefully excavating the chariot under the shelter during the second excavation season.

Aside from growing as a researcher, I gained a much greater understanding for the public’s perception of archaeology. The archaeology of Wales is not a niche interest for academics—as heritage, it belongs to everyone, and people are very often as enthusiastic about it as I am. For example, one of my favourite aspects of the excavation was spending time with the farmer who owns the land and his family. It was heart-warming to see their interest in not just the things we were digging up, but how we were doing it. To have our field of work understood and appreciated for the (sometimes painfully slow) process that it is, was rewarding.

After the chariot was excavated and all the parts safely lifted. A circular ring ditch with an entrance surrounded the chariot burial.

This satisfying combination of archaeological practice and public engagement has inspired me to continue volunteering at the museum for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru). Without PAS, this excavation wouldn’t have happened, and this significant part Wales’ story would have remained untold. PAS is giving an invaluable gift to the people of Wales by documenting their material heritage and making it easily accessible to everyone. I am honoured to be a part of it, and I feel better equipped to use my own research to give back to the public.

Get involved!

I encourage everyone to volunteer for archaeological excavations. It’s one thing to see beautiful ancient objects behind glass cases, or 2D images in a book, but to be there as the earth gives way and the object is reborn from it, is nothing short of magical. It’s dirty, often laborious, but the friendships made, the knowledge gained, and the magical sense of discovery is worth every drop of sweat as we rediscover lost memories from our ancient past.

Me (right) recording Mark Lewis (left) as he prepares to help lift the tyres during the second excavation season. If digging isn’t your thing, there’s lots of other jobs to do at an excavation, including photography and recording video footage.

I hope to see some new faces at future excavations. Iechyd da!