Amgueddfa Blog

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.

The shrine of St David in St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, was an extremely important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. Two pilgrimages there were worth one to Rome, and thousands of people would have visited before the shrine was destroyed at the Reformation.

Inspired by the ‘Beneath our Feet’ project run by Narberth Museum and Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which is looking at the theme of pilgrimage in Pembrokeshire, Saving Treasures; Telling Stories decided to find out more. What did those long-ago travellers leave behind them?

Pilgrim Objects

Two kinds of objects were commonly associated with pilgrims in the Middle Ages: ampullae, and badges.

Ampullae were little lead scallop-shaped flasks containing holy water that were pinned to clothing or hung around the neck in the belief that they offered spiritual protection. You might expect to find large numbers of them in Pembrokeshire, with its important holy shrine.

It seemed a fair bet that local metal detectorists had found plenty over the years.

But, a search on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database, where over a million detectorist finds are recorded, revealed some surprises.

In fact only SIX examples from Pembrokeshire have been recorded with PAS – a surprisingly small amount! Surely there should be many more?

To compare, we looked at the records for Kent, home of medieval England’s most important pilgrim destination – the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Even here, only 50 pilgrim ampullae have been recorded with PAS, not such a huge number considering the many thousands of people who travelled there.

Contrast this with Lincolnshire, where 232 ampullae have been recorded, the biggest number of any county in Wales and England. Lincoln Cathedral boasted two important shrines (both to saints called Hugh), but this does not explain such a big difference in numbers.

What’s going on?

Confused, we turned to pilgrim badges. These were usually made of lead or pewter and depicted saints, letters and religious scenes and symbols. They were bought at shrines as souvenirs and pinned to clothing.

Surely lots of these cheap objects would have been lost by the visitors to St David’s?

But a search on the PAS database turned up NO examples from Pembrokeshire at all!

Even in St Thomas Becket’s Kent, no more than 11 badges have been recorded with PAS. Greater London has by far the highest number, at 119.

Then we saw that five pilgrim badges had been reported from Swansea, which seemed unusual as there was no important medieval shrine in the town. One of them was a badge of none other than Thomas Becket himself. How had that got there?

It turned out that each one of these badges had been discovered, not in the city itself, but under the sands of Swansea Bay.

Intrigued, we chose a random sample of the London badges and discovered that they had all been found in the River Thames.

We checked the find spots of the ampullae, and sure enough, two had been found on Tenby beach and two others in the coastal village of Manorbier. There was a definite watery theme!

Giving thanks?

In an age when travel was difficult and dangerous, ships were the fastest method of transport, though not necessarily safe.

So it makes sense that pilgrims going on long journeys would travel at least part of the way by water, and would be relieved and thankful when they reached the shore safe and sound. The evidence of all these badges and ampullae dug from the sands and fished from the Thames suggests that returning pilgrims threw them into the water, perhaps as a way of giving thanks for a safe return.

Sleepovers at Llys Llywelyn

We are excited to launch our sleepover programme at Llys Llywelyn this summer.

Llys Llywelyn is a recreation of a Royal Court of the Princes of Gwynedd used during the 13th century. It is based on the surviving remains of Llys Rhosyr in the south-western corner of Anglesey.

Schools have the opportunity to stay at the hall for our Llys Llywelyn sleepovers, which are running from April until October. During the day the group will take part in a in a role play workshop to find out more about life in the Court of Llywelyn. In the evening the group will be able to explore St Fagans after hours, play medieval games and sleep under the painted eves of this magnificent building.

The package includes an hour long workshop, self-facilitated evening activities, evening meal, hot chocolate, breakfast and overnight accommodation.

Looking for funding to attend a Llys Llywelyn sleepover? Schools can apply to the Go and See grant for funding to visit cultural organisations.

Classroom Resources

As well as the exciting Llys Llywelyn we have also launched a package of classroom resources to help teach the Age of the Princes.

We have worked in partnership with National Library Wales, Cadw and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales to create the resources. The Age of the Princes resources are split into 6 themes to explore, with suggested classroom activities for up to 5 lessons per theme. The themes include:
Overview, Evidence, Every Day Life, Castles and Courts, Welsh Rulers, and Conquest of Wales. All the resources use collections from each of the partner organisations to bring to life the Age of the Princes.

If you visit the Snakes exhibition at National Museum Cardiff (open till 15 September), you will see a 16th century book from the Library collections.

 

This unusual book is known as Hortus Sanitatis (although it is also written as Ortus Sanitatis) which roughly translates to ‘The Garden of Health’ in Latin. It is an early example of a herbal, a book containing descriptions of plants, along with how to prepare and use them as medicinal remedies.

 

It started life in 1485 as a German ‘Herbarius’, also called the Gart der Gesundheit, before an extended version, translated into Latin, was published in 1491. Unlike the German version, the new Latin version didn't just focus on plants, but also included remedies involving animals, birds, fish and minerals.

 

Over the next 50 years the book was published in many more editions and languages. As well as new Latin and German editions, it was also translated into Dutch and English (although often in shortened versions). The English edition is called the Noble lyfe & natures of man, of bestes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes, and was produced around 1527. All these editions indicate just how popular this book was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Perhaps it saw so many reprints because unlike most herbals of the period, it covered more than just plants. But by the 1530s it was being replaced by the herbals of the 'German Fathers of Botany', Bock, Brunfels, and Fuchs.

 

Our copy of Hortus Sanitatis is one of the Latin editions published in Strasburg in 1517 by Reinhard Beck. The full title is Ortus sanitatis de herbis et plantis. De animalibus et reptilibus. De avibus et volatilibus. De piscibus et natatilibus. De lapidibus et in terre venis nascentibus. Urinis et earum speciebus.

 

It has no known author, as was common with herbals of this period, and is heavily illustrated. The illustrations, along with the purchase of the paper for printing, would have been the most expensive part of producing the book, and so were re-used from other works. Unusually for the period, many of the woodcuts are coloured.

 

Our copy of this book is from the Willoughby Gardner Library, but also has a bookplate identifying it as part of the former collection of Charles Butler. Charles Butler, Esq. [1821-1910] was an English politician and collector. He held a very extensive and valuable library at Warren Wood, Hatfield, which was sold off at Sotheby’s in 1911.

 

It’s most likely that Willoughby Gardner purchased the book from that sale, either directly or indirectly from a rare books seller. He regularly purchased books from famous libraries, and so would have been well aware of such a significant auction.

 

The title page of the book also gives us a clue to a much earlier owner. Written in ink are the words ‘Monasterii Montis S. Georgii 1659’, indicating that it might have formerly been in the possession of a monastery in Austria.

 

The monastery of St. Georgenberg was founded on the site of a hermitage, near Stans, and held an extensive library. In the 17th century the abbot decided to reorganise it and give the books new marks of ownership, written on the first and last folios, and usually dated (most often in 1652, 1659, and 1661).

 

In 1850 the monastery sold a number of books from their library in order to raise money, and many of them have since ended up in public collections in the UK. It is quite likely that Charles Butler acquired Hortus Sanitatis from that sale.

 

 

Further reading;

Anderson, Frank J. An illustrated history of the herbals. New York, Columbia University Press, 1977

Arber, Agnes. Herbals: their origin and evolution, 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986

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.