Amgueddfa Blog: St Fagans Archive

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.

 

 

We met in the Museum’s car park, not quite knowing what to expect. Our 50+ Group had been asked if we fancied cataloguing more than a thousand books from the library at the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute as part of the re-interpretation of the building and all four of us had been intrigued by the request.

Sioned greeted us with a warm welcome and we were taken to the library in the ‘new’ building to meet Richard, the librarian. And so began five extremely enjoyable Thursdays.

The books had been packed into boxes and our task was to fill the spreadsheets with name, author and publication date. We noted the condition of the book and if it had come from another library or institute (e.g. Nantymoel or Aberkenfig).

Delving into each box, not knowing what we might discover, was like plunging into a box of chocolates. Mining and engineering books were obviously very popular in Lewis Merthyr Library – were they borrowed by young men keen to further their careers? There were many books on mathematics, science and architecture – all well-used according to the date stamps on page three. And then there were novels by popular authors like Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens – read and enjoyed in a time before television and computers. A few books, with risqué titles, were obviously well-thumbed and our work stopped as we contemplated why they appeared to be more popular than ‘Advanced Algebra’ or ‘Modern Mechanics’.

It was a fascinating insight into a random selection of books, some dating back to the 1870s, and we are so grateful to the Museum for including us in this work. Richard was on hand to answer questions and solve mysteries – why did so many Welsh preachers write books about themselves? Who bought them? And who decided to write ‘The Life of the White Ant’ (and did anyone ever read it)?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our five days ‘work’, have learnt new skills, met lovely people and, also, become better acquainted after visiting all of the eateries in the Museum for lunch. If there’s any more volunteering on offer – please put our names on this list.

The re-interpretation of Oakdale Workmen’s Institute is supported by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme.

I’m finding it hard to believe that the St Fagans Food Festival will be soon upon us – where has the year gone? Last year, we asked you to tweet your favourite family recipes to us. We had an amazing response, thanks again to all who took part, enabling us to create a lovely exhibition at Oakdale Workmen’s Institute over the Festival weekend.

As part of this year’s Festival, we’re launching a digital version of Welsh Fare, a collection of traditional recipes collected by Minwel Tibbott. When she started at the Museum in 1969, the study of traditional foods was a very new research field. She realised very early on that the information would not be found in books and she travelled all over Wales in order to interview, record and film the older generation of women. They recalled the dishes prepared by their mothers, and their memories harked back to the end of the 1880s.

With the digital version, not only can you read the recipes, but also hear the women explain the processes and see them prepare the dishes. We’re also keen to add to this collection, and as the Great British Bake Off fever grabs us once again, we’re asking you to share with us your favourite family recipes. We’d also like to add to our images of people feasting - people enjoying your showstoppers, a family celebration or a gathering of friends.

Tweet recipes, images and information to @archifSFarchive or post them on the St Fagans Facebook page using the hashtag #Ryseitiau #FoodFestival. Another option is to bring them along to Oakdale Workmen’s Institute during the Food Festival and we’ll scan them. All the recipes and photos, as well as last year’s collection will be uploaded on to the People’s Collection Wales.

For the latest on this project, follow tweets by @archifSFarchive and @SF_Ystafelloedd and the hashtags #Ryseitiau #Food Festival #WelshFare #AmserBwyd.