Amgueddfa Blog: St Fagans Archive

This is one of our fabulous, weird and wonderful stores at St Fagans National Museum of History. It’s chockablock full of objects. We’re still collecting new things, but we have to be very selective in what we take in. We just don’t have the space!

Store at St Fagans National Museum of History

You can come across all sorts of things in a social history store like this one, from grandfather clocks to prosthetic limbs.

When a colleague of mine first went into this store and was told to ‘mind the mantrap’ she thought it was a joke. It turns out there really was a mantrap lurking at the end of a dark corridor!

For a long time I’ve known that the majority of museum collections are hidden away in storage, that what you see in galleries is only a small portion, but I had no idea to what extent until I started working here.

Of the 5 million objects we have across seven museums ranging from vintage motorcars, moon rock, world famous paintings, Iron Age slave chains, to a public urinal. How many objects are on display?

Only 0.2% of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ collections are on display.

So if there is a specific object you want to see at any of our museums, check that it’s on display first, and if it’s not, you can always make an appointment to view it. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have had funding so we can enhance records and add images for you to view in Collections Online which will be up and running in the autumn. Keep an eye out for behind the scenes store tours with the curators and conservators who look after our collections, these can be really enlightening!

We’re looking after the collections, on your behalf. We hope you enjoy exploring them as much as we do.

People's Postcode Lottery Logo

The collection at St Fagans National Museum of History includes numerous archives relating to the Welsh experience of the First World War. While working with colleagues to produce a digital database to commemorate the centenary of the conflict, I found an intriguing bundle of documents associated with a young soldier with connections to Penarth who died, serving with the Grenadier Guards, exactly 100 years ago today. His name was Oscar Foote and in this blog I have pieced together his last 24 hours from the archives we hold at the Museum.

On the night of 6 July 1917 an exhausted Oscar Foote had just returned from fighting in the trenches of Ypres for some well-earned rest and recuperation in a nearby camp. This camp was well within range of German artillery and on occasions they would shell the area. The morning of 7 July had begun like any other morning for Oscar. He had just put away his shaving kit when shells suddenly started bursting in the vicinity. A shell landed close to Oscar’s hut, creating murderous splinters in its aftermath. One of these splinters caught Oscar in the head and neck. Although his comrades desperately went to his aid, their efforts were in vain. He had been killed instantly. That afternoon, Oscar was buried by his comrades in Canada Farm British Cemetery, near Elverdinghe. A card dated 3 January 1918 includes a photograph of a simple wooden cross marking his resting place. 

The Oscar Foote archives came into the national collection in 1946 – a donation from a Mrs Maillard of Penarth who had been corresponding with him during the War. It appears that Mrs Maillard also donated material to the Imperial War Museum (IWM), possibly in response to the Bond of Sacrifice initiative. More research is needed to unpick how letters addressed to Mrs Maillard from the IWM came into our possession in 1946, but both institutions were actively collecting war memorabilia from soldiers and their families during and immediately after the conflict. Another blog for another day.

The digitisation of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ First World War collection is supported by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme.

The Voices from the Archives series is based on recordings in the Oral History Archive at St Fagans National History Museum. Connected to the agricultural activities, demonstrations and displays at the Museum - they provide an insight into the lives and histories of farming people, the agricultural practices in the past, how they developed into contemporary agriculture.

Lambing in Pembrokeshire, 1984

March is lambing time at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm, the Museum’s working farm. Lambing in the past and present was described by Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire, south west Wales, in a recording made in 1984. Aged 79, he recalled lambing in an interview about his life in farming, but also described how it was being done on a farm in the area in the year of the interview. The following short clips are from the recording.

Pembrokeshire born and bred, Richard James had farmed at Lambston Sutton in the south west of the county. It stood between the large county town of Haverfordwest a few miles to the east, and the coastline of St Bride’s Bay to the west. The lowland coastal areas, warmer climate and lower rainfall made agriculture more diverse than in many other parts of Wales, with the keeping cattle and sheep and the growing of early potatoes and cereal crops. The coastal areas could be exposed to the winds and rain from the Atlantic Ocean though, and weather conditions could strongly influence lambing, to which Richard James refers in the first clip:

 

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

 

When lambing was to take place was decided by when the ewes were put to the rams. Up until then the rams on the farm had to be kept separate from the sheep. It was always a concern that rams might break through a poor fence or hedge and cause lambing to start at the wrong time. Also, a ram of poorer quality or a different breed from another flock could also result in poorer quality lambs and reduced income. After mating, a ewe is pregnant for between 142 and 152 days, approximately five months or slightly shorter.

In this clip, Richard James describes at what time of year lambing took place on a local farm, and how it was being done by a farmer using a former aircraft hangar.

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

The final clip is about working the day and night shifts:

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire

 

The country craft of hedgelaying is being demonstrated at Fagans National History Museum during 2017. Hedgelaying creates a stronger, thicker barrier to keep animals within fields, and provides shelter and shade for them. This year it will be combined with opportunities to try out the craft and the museum provided its first hedge-laying training courses for the public.

Hedgelaying, Pen-y-cae, Brecknockshire, c1936
Hedgelaying, Pen-y-cae, Brecknockshire, c1936

Creating fields and hedges

From the sixteenth century onwards, vast areas of open land were enclosed and turned into fields for agricultural use. Hedges were planted to prevent sheep and cattle from straying, and to separate grassland from crops. Such hedges also provided shelter, a source of food such as berries, and habitat for wildlife and fauna. Hedges were also cheaper than building and maintaining dry-stone walls.

 

The craft of hedge laying

Hedges are maintained by laying. Once the trees had grown to a certain height, they were cut and laid horizontally to form a stock-proof barrier. The cut is not made through the branch in order to allow the tree to re-grow. What is created is effectively a living fence. The work is done during the less busy winter months when there is less foliage and the tree will re-grow.

 

Welsh hedging styles

Methods of laying hedges vary in different parts of Wales. Styles differ according to how the branches are positioned, the use of stakes, and whether binding is used. Hedging is often accompanied by building banks and digging ditches. The hedges being laid this year at St Fagans are in the stake and pleach style from Brecknockshire (Powys).

 

Stages in laying a hedge, stake and pleach style.

Photographs taken in Sennybridge and Cray, Brecknockshire, 1972-73.

 

Photo of hedge cleared of dead wood and unwanted growth
Firstly the hedge is cleared of dead wood and unwanted growth

Photo of branches, known as pleachers, cut at the base of each stem and bent forward. When cut properly, they should continue to grow.
The branches, known as pleachers, are cut at the base of each stem and bent forward. When cut properly, they should continue to grow.

Photo of hedge showing pleachers woven between stakes.
The pleachers woven between the stakes.

Photo of hazel hetherings along the top bind the stakes and pleachers
Hazel hetherings along the top bind the stakes and pleachers

Photo of the hedge is trimmed and shaped to a uniform height and width.
Finally the hedge is trimmed and shaped to a uniform height and width.


 

 

Gareth Beech

Senior Curator: Rural Economy

Historic Properties Section

History and Archaeology Department

A few years ago, while researching the history of St Fagans Castle during the First World War, I came across a number of oral history interviews in the Sound Archive with former tenants of the Plymouth Estate. The recordings were made in the 1970s and 1980s with people who had, for the most part, lived all their lives in St Fagans village. Although very few of the recordings yielded information relevant to my research, they did provide a vivid insight into the workings of the estate during the first half of the twentieth century, when village life revolved around the Castle and its owners the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. With Christmas almost upon us, I thought I'd use my last blogpost of 2016 to share some of the villagers' recollections of Christmas at St Fagans in the early 1900s. Nadolig llawen!

Christmas beast

Alexander ‘Bert’ Warden, born in Cirencester in 1910, moved with his family to St Fagans as a child. In an interview with the Museum in 1979, he remembered distributing meat to the villagers at Christmas:

Penhefyd Farm was the home farm in those days. Of course, the Plymouth people kept cattle there and all the rest of it. At Christmas time, they’d have a beast and it would be slaughtered, cut up into various chunks and each family in the village was allowed so much – I think it was about 5lb for a man, and 3lb for his wife and so much for each child. Now that was delivered around for the villagers by workmen from the estate. I did it myself when I was a boy. That was one of the Christmas boxes from the Plymouth Estate. Also a couple of rabbits – each person had a couple of rabbits and a load of logs. [6020/1]

Mary Ann Dodd, a housemaid for the Plymouth family at the turn of the century, remembered using the Christmas beast to make soup for the villagers. In the early 1960s, at the age of 96 and living at the Grange Home for the Blind in Hereford, she wrote an essay for the Museum about her 30 years working at St Fagans Castle:    

Every Christmas two animals were killed, and her Ladyship told Mrs Cousins to use the heads, legs and offal for soup. This was supervised by the Lady herself and was made in my biggest copper saucepan. It was so big I could almost stand in it. The Housekeeper put in the salt and seasoning, and my Lady was keen on plenty of parsley, and all five kitchen maids and myself prepared the vegetables. We cleaned celery, carrots and leeks. Once they knew that the soup was ready, the village folk came from breakfast time on with jugs and basins and all manner of things and they were all provided with meat and soup. [MS 1293]

Children’s party

Another festive tradition remembered with fondness was the children’s Christmas party. This was held in the Banqueting Hall – a large pavilion in the Castle grounds – before the end of the school term. Jessie Warden (née Mildon), who was born and brought-up in the village, described it as one of the 'perks' of living on the estate:

We were always a jolly lot. Lord Plymouth, every year, gave every child in the whole of the school – there could be a 100, there could be 50 – a Christmas party in the Banqueting Hall. Everything from the jelly to the Christmas presents at five shillings per child was paid by Lord Plymouth. And that was wonderful. It was a real Christmas party paid for by Lord Plymouth. There was a huge Christmas tree with your presents on the tree. Lady Plymouth was usually there and would give to the boys and Lord Plymouth would give to the girls. And they’d have a man with a ladder to get your particular present off the tree. The tree would then go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. [6020/1]

Mari Lwyd

Jessie Warden also recalled her childhood fear of the Mari Lwyd – a seasonal custom practiced without the patronage of the Plymouth Estate:

They had a Mari Lwyd every year. The Mari Lwyd used to come and that was a chap from Pentyrch, and there was one from Ely. There was one from the village, but then when he finished, his relatives in Ely came out in my day. When I was about ten. I can remember the Mari Lwyd. We were always petrified! The responses etc. were always in Welsh. [6020/1]

In 1933 the Museum acquired a Mari Lwyd for the collection from Thomas Davies of Pentyrch who would perform for one week either side of Christmas. At the time, the curator noted that he had been travelling with the Mari for 35 years and had connections with St Fagans. He probably visited the young Jessie Mildon and her family.