Amgueddfa Blog: St Fagans Archive

The Cardiff 2018 National Eisteddfod Chair is sponsored by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales to the celebrate 70th birthday of St Fagans National Museum of History.

St Fagans has championed crafts in Wales since it opened in 1948, and sponsoring the chair for the National Eisteddfod in 2018 is a fitting celebration, which continues the Museum’s tradition of supporting Welsh craft and makers.

Chris Williams had the honour of designing and making the 2018 Chair. He lives in Pentre and has a workshop and gallery in Ynyshir, Rhondda - he works as a sculptor and is a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

Elements of the chair were made at St Fagans National History Museum in a purpose built building, Gweithdy. This is a brand new sustainable building celebrating the skills of makers past and present - where visitors of all ages can experience traditional craft skills first-hand.

At Gweithdy, Chris demonstrated and shared the process of making the chair with visitors – a first in the history of making the National Eisteddfod chair.

Swipe, or tap the circles below as Chris explains the process of making the iconic Eisteddfod chair:

  • From the Hearth to the Stage

    The 2018 Eisteddfod Chair, through the eyes of its maker

  • The Inspiration

    The 2018 Eisteddfod Chair is inspired by Welsh stick chairs like this one, pictured at Cilewent Farmhouse at St Fagans.

  • Celebrating Welsh Makers

    This Welsh carthen, or blanket, was chosen for its beautiful repeating pattern - becoming the main motif for the chair

  • The rough materials - elm and ash - arriving at the workshop in Pentre

  • I designed the chair in Rhino 3D, so I could have an accurate model. This enabled me to take dimensions, to create jigs and templates for shaping the arms, spindles and legs

  • The seat and back are made from the same elm tree. Sanding the wood reveals the grain, and reveals any defects in the timber that need to be sanded away

  • I shaped the seat with a scorp and cabinet scraper at Gweithdy workshop at St Fagans. It was nice to share this experience of making the chair with the public

  • The seat and back were then engraved using a Co2 laser engraver - thank you to Caerphilly council for letting me use the engraver! The elaborate pattern was inspired by a blanket woven at Esgair Moel woollen mill in the 1960s. The mill (and the blanket) is now at St Fagans museum.

  • The clamping operation was complex and required a number of sash clamps to control the pressure

  • The text on the arms was also engraved with the laser engraver. This was done on a flat piece of ash which was laminated to the curved arms with many, many G clamps

  • Gluing the legs into place

  • Getting closer... The back is mortised into the seat

  • The arms are cut around the back to create a unique join, and glued into place. Then, the spindles are fitted with wedges, to be cleaned when the glue has dried

  • And here's the finished article - the 2018 Eisteddfod chair. Good luck to all the competitors!

The Museums Association Conference of 1948 was held at National Museum Cardiff over five days, running from July 12th to the 16th. All conference meetings were held in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, while an area within the Zoology Department was used as Association Office, Writing Room and Smoke Room.

We know the majority of host duties would have been carried out by Frederick J. North, who was Keeper of Geology and Archibald H. Lee, Museum Secretary, because they are listed on the programme as Honorary Local Secretaries. It is most likely we have them to thank for the ephemera held in the Library, including copies of the programme, associate and staff badges, reception invites, day trip tickets and the official group photograph, taken on the steps of the Museum.

The first day of the conference began with registration, followed by a Council meeting and visit to Cardiff Castle and a reception at the South Wales Institute of Engineers in the evening. The programme states this event as requiring Morning dress code which, during this time period would be a three piece suit for the men, and smart day dresses for the women, or general smart clothing suitable for formal social events.

The second day began with official welcomes by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman R. G. Robinson, and the President of the National Museum Wales, Sir Leonard Twiston-Davies. This was followed by a number of papers read by delegates [all fully listed in the programme], gathering for the official conference photograph, and a Civic Reception at City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor [with refreshments, music and dancing].

1948 was the year that St Fagans National Museum of History was first opened to the public as the St Fagans Folk Museum and to mark this, a visit was arranged for the afternoon of day three. St Fagans Castle, gardens, and grounds had been given to the National Museum Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946 and over the next two years extensive work had been carried out to make it suitable to open to the public. According to the 1950 St Fagans guide book, in the Castle, new central heating, electric lighting, and fire appliances had to be installed along with a tickets office, refreshment room and public amenities. By 1948 our delegates would have had access to the Castle and its newly refurbished historic interiors such as the kitchen with two 16th century fireplaces, the Hall furnished in 17th century style, 17th and 18th century bedrooms and the early 19th century Library. They would also have enjoyed walking the gardens which included a mulberry grove, herb and rose gardens, vinery, fishponds, and flower-house interspersed with bronze sculptures by Sir William Goscombe John. Onsite also were a traditional wood-turner and a basket-maker, creating and selling their wares. The handbook also describes a delightful sounding small tea room with curtains made at the Holywell Textile Mills and watercolour paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn. However, according to a Western Mail clipping, this didn’t open to the public until some weeks later on August 24th. Presumably a room within the Castle itself was used for the delegates’ buffet tea to which they were treated after being greeted by the Curator of St Fagans, Dr Iorwerth Peate.

Interestingly the programme provides times of the train service that ran from Cardiff Central Station to St Fagans. Sadly, the station at St Fagans is no longer there, the service being withdrawn in 1962, although a signal box and level crossing on the line remain.

The Annual General Meeting, Council Meeting and Federation of Officers Meeting  were all held on the next day along with more papers, including one by Mr Duncan Guthrie [of the Arts Council], on the upcoming “Festival of Britain, 1951”. There was also an evening reception in the Museum hosted by the President, and the then Director [Sir Cyril Fox], with refreshments and music by the City of Cardiff High School for Girls Orchestra. The programme states evening dress if possible for this event so it’s a shame we don’t hold any photographs of what would have been a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns.

The final day consisted of further papers in the morning followed by escape and fresh air with visits to the Newport Corporation Museum and the Legionary Museum and Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon during the afternoon.

The September 1948 issue of Museums Journal contains a full report on the conference, with detailed examination of all papers presented and the discussions they generated. It also lists the delegates including those from overseas. The report concludes with thanks to the National Museum Cardiff for the welcome and hospitality accorded to the 240 delegates, with special mention to North and Lee [who would certainly have earned their salaries over those five days!].

Yn ystod y 1970au cynnar aeth staff yr amgueddfa ati i recordio hen ffermwyr yn disgrifio ffermio yng Nghymru ar ddechrau’r ugeinfed ganrif cyn datblygiadau peiriannau ffermio o’r 1950au ymlaen. Mae’r recordiau yn cael ei chadw yn Archif Sain yr amgueddfa.

Yn 1975 holodd John Williams Davies y ffermwr Dan Theophilus am y profiad o ffermio defaid ar ddechrau’r ugeinfed ganrif.

Roedd Dan Theophilus yn byw ar fferm Allt Yr Erw, Rhandirmwyn, pentref yng ngogledd-ddwyrain Sir Gaerfyrddin.

Mae Dan Theophilus yn sôn am ofalu am y defaid adeg ŵyna, yr achosion mae’n meddwl sydd yn arwain at ddefaid yn cael trafferth i ddod ac ŵyn, a’r tywydd gwaethaf ar gyfer y tymor ŵyna.

Dan Theophilus, Allt Yr Erw, Rhandirmwyn

Mae’n dweud sut oedd perswadio defaid i fabwysiadu oen, y perthynas rhwng y ddafad a’r oen a pha mor ffyddlon byddai’r defaid i’r ŵyn ar ôl ŵyna wrth iddo droi’r defaid i’r mynydd.

We often get asked what happens to the lambs from Llwyn-Yr-Eos farm once the lambing season is over.

The lambs are put out to graze in the fields in and around the museum and are regularly on to fresh grass.

We will pick out the best lambs and keep them for breeding at the farm. This year we are looking to keep around 50 of the lambs born here at Llwyn-Yr-Eos farm.

Most of the female lambs go on for breeding stock, and there’s the select few rams that we sell at the pedigree sales as breeding rams.

The other lambs get sold for meat.

 

Where are the lambs sold?

We tend to support the pedigree society sales at Raglan, Llanybydder and Talybont on Usk.

There are also Hill Radnor, Llanwennog and Black Welsh Mountain rare breed sales at Raglan market.

We do sell direct to some butchers and are hoping to tie in with the Museum restaurant at St Fagans so that in the future they will be using the lamb reared here at Llwyn-Yr Eos farm.

The lamb on your plate is anything from 4-12 months old.

 

Voices from the archive - Lambing in Radnorshire

In the early 1970s Museum staff set out to record older and retired farmers describing farming in Wales in the first half of the twentieth century, before the large-scale mechanisation and expansion from the 1950s onwards.

In 1977 James Albert Price was interviewed by John Williams Davies about the lambing process at Tipton farm, Willey, Radnorshire.

The lambs were reared on the farm would be kept for 12 months and sold as yearlings the following March. The best lambs would be picked for breeding and the others sold.

James Albert Price, Tipton farm, 1977

James Price mentions the ewe auctions in Knighton each September selling 10 – 12,000 ewes a day.

The ram lambs would be sold as yearlings in auction at Craven Arms, Leominster and Hereford with three or four ram sales at Craven Arms.

 

Christmas day is less than a week away and for most of us our tree and decorations are up, Christmas cards posted or messages sent via social media, presents purchased, turkey ordered and Christmas pudding made or bought - these are still popular christmas traditions in 2017 but why do we practice many of these rituals?

Decorations

We have decorated our houses at this time of year since Pagan times. Pagans used evergreens to acknowledge the winter solstice and it reminded them that spring was on it's way. Pope Julius I decided on the 25th of December as the birthday of Jesus, and as this date fell within the Pagan celebrations, some of the Pagan traditions were absorbed into the Christian calendar, including decorating with evergreens and particularly holly. For Christians evergreens came to symbolise God's life everlasting and holly came to represent Jesus's crown of thorns at the Crucifixion, and the berries respresented his blood. Other evergreens also had significance: Ivy as a clinging plant symbolised us holding on to God for support; Rosemary was believed to be the Virgin Mary's favourite plant and laurel represented success and especially God's success in conquering the devil. Holly and ivy were also seen to be representative of a man and woman, holly being prickly and masculine, and trailing ivy being feminine. Whichever was brought into the house first indicated which gender would assume the upper hand for the following year! It was unlucky to bring evergreens indooor's before Christmas Eve and remove them before the 12th night.

In rural Wales homes were usually decorated with evergreens in the early hours of Christmas morning to while away the hours before attending the Plygain service at the parish church, which consisted of an early morning service at somewhere between 3am and 6am and in which soloists and groups sang carols. Candles were also made to light the way to the church and to decorate the inside. Pagans used candles as a decoration to represent the sun and Christians to commemorate the presence of Christ. Before the advent of electricity, candles were used to decorate Christmas trees.

Click here to hear “Parti Fronheulog” and others singing “Addewid rasusol Ein Duw”. Recorded by St Fagans National Museum of History (or the Welsh Folk Museum as it was called at the time) in Llanrhaeadr-ym mochnant Vicarage, following the Plygain Supper held there at the beginning of January 1966.

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/738256

Christmas Trees and Other Decorations

There is evidence to suggest that Christmas trees were used as decoration in the U.K. as early as the 1790's and its triangular shape had significance, as it represented the connection between the father, son and holy spirit. Its use became most popular however in Victorian times, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert used a tree to decorate Windsor Castle in 1841, and in 1848 a picture of the family appeared in the London Illustrated News with a decorated tree.

It was in the early 1920's that evergreens were gradually replaced by artificial decorations, predominantly in the industrial areas, towns and cities. Mass produced decorations became cheaper and more readily available. As early as the 1880's shops such as Woolworths began to sell decorations, sweets cakes and ribbons. It was also during the 1920's and 1930's that Christmas presents began to be wrapped.  It was in 1882 that the first electric tree lights appeared in New York, just three years after the introduction of the light bulb.

During the war paper chains became popular as they could be assembled at home and in the 1950's artificial trees became available.

At St Fagans National Museum of History we decorate many of our buildings every year with appropriate decorations according to the age and area of the building. Here are some images.

Although the "Penny Post" was first introduced in 1840 by Rowland Hill, it wasn't until Sir Henry Cole printed a thousand cards for sale at a shilling each in his art shop in London at Christmas time that the idea of sending Chistmas cards emerged as a popular idea. Sending cards became more widespread in 1870 when people could send cards for a halfpenny, as the blossoming of railways made postage cheaper. The Victoria and Albert Museum holds a card sent from Cwrt-yr-Ala in Cardiff in 1844.

Here are some images of Christmas cards from the St Fagans collection

Traditional Christmas Fare

Christmas time wouldn't be complete without the usual over indulgence in rich food. Traditionally the Christmas pudding would be made 5 weeks before Christmas, and in Wales it was customary for all members of the family including children and servants to stir the pudding mixture, often mixed first by the head of the household. In the pudding mixture tokens would be placed such as a a wedding ring; a button; a thimble or a sixpence. If the stirrer found the wedding ring it would foretell the finder's imminent marriage; the finding of a button for a young man would foretell his batchelerhood and the thimble for a young woman an indication of spinsterhood. The sixpence was a symbol of good luck.

Other traditional Welsh foods made at Christmas would be toffee ("cyflaith") made by boiling butter, treacle and sugar to a high temperature and then stretching and rolling the cooling mixture (requiring hard work on the part of the stretcher!). The recipe did vary according to the region. Here's a short film from our archive of this type of toffee being made.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26bDQqRQICY

Merry Christmas!