: National Slate Museum

Volunteering at the National Slate Museum

Chloe Ward, Volunteering Co-ordinator, 4 August 2023

What are the volunteering opportunities at the National Slate Museum? 

Getting people involved in volunteering at the National Slate Museum has been a priority since I began my role as Volunteering Co-ordinator here in May 2022. So what opportunities for taking part are there at the Museum?

Blacksmithing placement 
In December 2022 we excitingly welcomed Dai to the museum on a Student Work Placement. Dai was on a Welding and Fabricating college course, which requires students to partake in 20 days of work experience. He worked with Liam, our Blacksmith, in the historic forge in the Gilfach Ddu workshops and over the 20 days learnt how to make a bottle opener, a fire poker, and a pair of tongs. It was great to see his confidence and skills develop over the months he was here!

Skills Development Placements 
Last year we started Skills Development Placements in Llanberis, something that already exists at Cardiff National Museum. They are one day a week of shadowing the front of house team, providing invaluable experience for people who have barriers to work. We piloted the placement over the Winter 2022, and this year Aaron has just started a placement with us. He says he is looking forward to learning about the history and the opportunity to be part of a team. These placements are available almost all year round – please feel free to get in touch for more information.

Rag rug volunteers 
If crafting is your thing, helping us create rugs might be your motivation to volunteer! We have around 3 volunteers weekly in the Chief Engineer’s House, working on making rag rugs for our historic houses. Since they started in May they have had many interesting conversations with our visitors. Many of our visitors talk about how they used to make rag rugs with their grandparents when they were younger, albeit not everyone knows them as rag rugs! They are known by different names across the United Kingdom – we have learnt about 'proddy rugs', 'peg rugs' and many more!

What can we look forward to?  
We’re currently developing a few interesting roles in Llanberis... we will soon be recruiting for an Ambassador Volunteering Role, and a Machine Conservation Volunteering role! We will also be advertising a Heritage Student Work Placement in September for students looking for general experience in the heritage industry. Keep your eyes peeled!

New English Learner Resources for Amgueddfa Cymru

Loveday Williams, Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer, 10 May 2023

Amgueddfa Cymru Museum Wales have been working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, supporting people to integrate into their new communities for many years. 

As part of this work, we have developed partnerships with key organisations such as Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Cymru. They have been working with us over the past year, alongside their ESOL students, to develop new ESOL learner resources designed to support people learning English to explore our museums and galleries. 

The new resources cover the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, the National Slate Museum in Llanberis and the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon. 

The resources have been created by ESOL tutors and tested by ESOL learners. They follow the ESOL curriculum and cover a range of different levels from Entry to Level 2. 

Now that the new resources have been tested, tweaked, and trialed they are ready to download from our website for any ESOL learner or group visiting one of the museums. (See the links above). 

We also have a suite of ESOL resources for St Fagans National Museum of History which were developed in a similar way as part of the HLF funded Creu Hanes Making History Project in 2014. 

We continue to work with our partners and community members to provide meaningful opportunities for people facing barriers to participation in the arts and cultural heritage. 

We learn so much from the people who visit our sites and engage in the learning opportunities we offer. 

Supporting those people who are newly arrived in Wales to settle and integrate into their new communities is a very important area of our work and we hope that these new learner resources help many people on that journey. 

Diolch yn fawr to Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Wales and the ESOL tutors and learners who have contributed to the creation of these new learner resources. 

1 – 4 Fron Haul

Mared McAleavey, 21 July 2020

I can’t believe that 21 years have passed since Fron Haul was officially opened at the National Slate Museum. This was my first project at the Museum, and as someone who grew up in the area, I feel extremely lucky to be associated with Fron Haul. The following is a piece I wrote back in 1999.

Why Fron Haul?

Originally located on the edge of the road in Tanygrisiau; the buildings were chosen because they are typical of the cramped terraces characteristic of the quarrying towns and villages.

When it came to re-erecting and interpreting these houses, we decided to take the lead from the popular and successful Rhyd-y-car terrace. But rather than limit the story to Tanygrisiau, each house not only illustrates different periods, but also depicts different quarrying areas.

‘Golden Age’

The houses are first recorded in the 1861 Census - with the slate industry well on its way to becoming one of the most important industries in Wales and the main employer in Gwynedd. As demand for slate increased, men moved from neighbouring agricultural areas to work in the quarries. In a number of cases quarrymen would stay the working week in the barracks, built near the quarries, returning to their homes for the weekend. With the building of houses near the quarries, many of the families moved to join the breadwinner, forming new and unique communities. As would be expected, Fron Haul’s first inhabitants were quarrymen born in parishes outside Ffestiniog.

However, there weren’t enough houses to meet the demands of the growing workforce. According to the 1871 Census, seven people lived in one of the Fron Haul houses.  As well as the father and mother, there lived a 13 year old daughter, two sons, six and one year old, a 27 year old servant and a 29 year old lodger. Considering the houses originally only had one bedroom, it’s hard to imagine how they managed. In addition to overcrowding, damp was a problem, the water was impure and the sewage system primitive.  It is no wonder that diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis were rife.

The Penrhyn Lockout

Although the quarryman received a reasonably fair wage, there was nothing to protect them from losing their jobs or receiving wage cuts in times of recession. There were periodical strikes and lock-outs, the most prominent being the Penrhyn Lockout - one of the longest running disputes in the industrial history of Britain, extended from November 1900 until November 1903.

Furnishing the house to reflect the poverty and hardship of a family on strike was quite a challenge, especially as the visitor’s eyes are naturally drawn to the oak dresser with its Willow Pattern plates and the lustre jugs; the ornaments on the mantelpiece and pictures on the walls. But there are a few clues – the sign 'Nid oes Bradwr yn y tŷ hwn’(There is no traitor in this house), that was displayed in the windows of everyone still on strike, showing clearly which side they were on. The wives and children would have used the conch-shell on the windowsill as a trumpet to shame the ‘traitors’ as they returned home from the quarry. Upstairs, in the main bedroom the father’s trunk is in the process of being packed as heads to The Tumble, Carmarthenshire. It’s estimated that between 1,400 and 1,600 quarrymen moved to south Wales to work in the coal mines and support their families during the Strike.

End of an Era

The Strike failed in its aim, and the industry declined soon after. The closure of such an influential quarry as Penrhyn for three whole years starved the market of its supply of slate, and merchants turned their sights towards foreign markets for roofing materials.

Quarries gradually closed, with the process reaching its peak between 1969 and 1971 when work came to an end at three of the previous mainstays: Dinorwig, Dorothea and Oakeley.

In less than a century, the slate industry developed, grew, then declined.  The houses have been furnished to reflect this change within the slate industry.

Fron Haul – Drawing on History

Lleucu, 21 June 2020

Lleucu Gwenllian is a freelance artist from Ffestiniog who was commissioned to create a series of drawings to document the 21st birthday of the Fron Haul houses at the National Slate Museum. Here she discusses the experience and her process. You can see more of Lleucu’s work on her instagram account @lleucu_illustration.

At the start of July I had the pleasure of working with the National Slate Museum team to create illustrations of the Fron Haul houses, to celebrate 21 years since moving the houses from Tanygrisiau, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, to the museum in Llanberis.

My favourite part of any project is the opportunity to research and learn more about the subject of the illustration – and this project was particularly close to my heart, as the houses came from the Ffestiniog area. I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about the history of the houses before this project, as I was only a year old when they were moved. The empty hole near the bus stop in Tanygrisiau never struck me as anything more than an integral part of the village.

As part of my research I went over to the site a few times and stood on the bridge which crosses the railway, looking down at where the houses used to be, imagining the lives of the people who used to live there. There’s something quite odd about seeing a small part of your local area in a completely new light.

I was particularly struck by the small objects in the houses in the museum. There was something about them that really caught my imagination, and I found myself picturing their previous owners choosing their trinkets, dusting them, organising and reorganising and so on. I found them similar to a few things from my grandparents’ houses – the ceramic dog reminded me of ones that my grandmother has on her dresser, and the old clock is incredibly similar to my great grandfather’s clock.

As we discussed the project, Cadi mentioned that some of these objects – in particular the Russian dolls and the ‘Gaudy Welsh’ eggcups – tend to disappear each season, as visitors take a fancy to them. I’m sure they must be spellbound by the glimpse they give us into another way of life.

The work itself was quite a challenge – not only because the houses themselves were quite different to what I’m used to drawing, but also because I felt a duty-bound to my area to do my best work. I’m aware that Blaenau sometimes has a bad reputation (unfairly so, in my opinion), but the area is exceptionally beautiful, and I wanted to show that.

Many thanks to the National Slate Museum for this opportunity, particularly to Lowri, Julie and Cadi.

Youth-led projects across the museum are part of the Hands on Heritage initiative, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund's Kick the Dust Grant. Diolch yn fawr to The Fund and all our National Lottery Players - keeping our fingers crossed for you!

Behind the Scenes - Cleaning Work

21 June 2020

Imagine cleaning a house that’s visited by 140,000 people every year. That’s the task facing the cleaning team at the National Slate Museum as they look after Fron Haul, the quarrymen’s houses.

Cleaning in a museum is different to cleaning your home. At home, we clean so that things can look their best. We want things to look clean and shiny, using quick and easy techniques. We want things to look good in the museum too, of course, but there are other considerations when it comes to cleaning, in order to preserve the objects in the long term. This is called preventative conservation.

With so many visitors, coupled with a very dusty site, intensive cleaning – like a kind of spring clean – is needed four times a year. This means closing every house in turn for a whole week, so we can concentrate on the work without being disturbed. We work in a systematic way, one room at a time. It’s important to take pictures before starting the work so we can put everything back in the right place at the end.

We have to be very careful not to damage anything, so we use specialist tools and techniques for different objects.


For slate and wooden floors, we use a vacuum cleaner and brush. Occasionally we mop slate floors with water, but we don’t use modern chemicals. It’s important not to brush the mop against any furniture as the water could cause damage.


Large furniture with flat, smooth surfaces are cleaned using a lint free duster. We use this kind of duster as it doesn’t contain any particles that could scratch the furniture. More ornamental furniture with mouldings are cleaned using a vacuum cleaner and brush. We use a technique called shadow vacuuming – holding the vacuum cleaner close to the brush so that dust is sucked from the air, without touching the object with the nozzle, which could scratch the surface.

Ceramic objects

Ceramic objects such as plates and saucers require more attention. Four times a year we clean them using cotton wool, cotton buds, a tiny amount of water and cleaning liquid. We use a specialist cleaning liquid rather than normal washing up liquid, and we wipe the cotton wool lightly over the ceramic.

Brasses and copper

Brasso may be your best friend when it comes to cleaning at home, but it’s no good for cleaning brasses in a museum! Cleaning means getting rid of dirt and dust, while polishing removes tarnish and creates a shiny surface. Polishing requires using abrasives, so every time you polish, a thin layer of the original surface is lost. Regular polishing can eventually lead to markings and ornamental details being lost.

So, in a museum, a hogs hair brush and vacuum cleaner is the way to go, with a special cloth used to give the objects some shine.

Plastic, frames, and books

We use a soft brush for these objects – a pony hair brush. Once again, we use the shadow vacuuming technique. The covers, front and last pages of books need to be cleaned – this takes time!


Once a year the clocks get to visit St Fagans National Museum of History for a rest. In St Fagans, the inner mechanisms are treated by Amgueddfa Cymru’s conservators.


The process of cleaning and washing textiles can be very damaging. Every time a textile such as a curtain, tablecloth or item of clothing is washed, it is damaged slightly as loose fibres are washed away. To protect textiles, we must avoid washing them if possible, so the best way of cleaning is with a vacuum cleaner. We place a piece of muslin between the textile and the nozzle.

Tin and cast-iron objects

To clean tin and cast-iron objects, we use an old faithful from the garage or workshop – 3 in 1 oil. Rub a thin layer into the object with a lint free duster, and it will look brand new.

Grates and chimney

Yes, the fireplace, or the ‘range’, also needs attention, in the form of a good coat of black lead polish. Two cloths are used, one for rubbing the polish into the range and the other to get the shine. The chimney also needs to be cleaned, once a year. This is necessary from a safety point of view of course, but chimneys are also good breeding grounds for insects which can damage objects. Sometimes birds will nest in chimneys, and nests are perfect homes for insects. The cleaning is done by a local chimney sweep, using a traditional brush and a giant vacuum cleaner.

After the cleaning is done, everything must be put back in place using the photographs taken at the beginning of the work as a reference.