Amgueddfa Blog

My search for Hetty returned to the Museum. Our records showed that Hetty had volunteered with the British Red Cross Society during the Second World War. A number of items donated by Hetty are held at St Fagans including her nursing uniform, British Red Cross Society Badge and certificates. Unfortunately, no formal service records are held by the British Red Cross from that time. However, a chance finding when clearing out an old filing cabinet in the museum’s attic, revealed so much more!  I came across a folder called ‘Talks by Librarians’. As I glanced through it my heart started to race. There at the back was an old typewritten document entitled ‘A Life Amongst Books’. A quick look at the first page confirmed my suspicions: this was the title of a talk given by Hetty to the Barry Twentieth Century Club!

In it, Hetty describes how important books were to her from an early age:

‘In common with all youngsters my first love was the picture book, and especially if the pictures were in colour, however ethereal, gruesome or gory they might be.’
‘On winter evenings during the first World War, we knitted whilst Father stoked the fire and read to us’.

Later, Hetty explains how, having left school undecided on a career, she became a librarian, quite by accident. She spent a summer at the President of the National Library of Wales’ home, where she successfully prepared a card catalogue of his books, mainly to keep herself amused. At that time the National Library of Wales had newly been considered as a training centre for potential librarians in Wales. Hetty was asked to apply and was successful. As a Pupil-assistant, Hetty learnt the art of Librarianship, with ‘practical experience and theoretical training synchronised’.

Hetty completed her training in 1931 and was enjoying ‘resting on my oars’ when she was invited to apply for the position of Librarian at the National Museum, Cardiff. Hetty and another applicant were interviewed by the Museum Council, and on the 26th June 1931, Hetty was duly appointed Librarian. A job which she adored and felt honoured to serve for the next 39 years.

Trawling through the Museum's Annual Reports and Council Minutes, I found references to Hetty's work in the Library. Hetty was frequently called upon to give lectures. At the 21st Annual Conference of Libraries in Wales, June 1954, she addressed the Reference and Special Libraries Section (Western Group) of the Library Association on ‘Museum Libraries and the Library of the National Museum of Wales’:

“The function of a special and research library such as ours is to serve those who have already been converted to an ardent pursuit of knowledge…”

In another talk she gave in the 1950’s Hetty is quite clear on the role of books and libraries:

“I believe that books are very necessary tools and should be readily available where they are needed most.”
“A library thrives on use – proper use we hope. In any case, most librarians would rather run the risk of ‘wrongful’ use rather than that of [dust and] ‘rust’.”

In the 1950's she was frequently heard on the radio on the Welsh Home Service talking about the Museum. In 1958 Hetty appeared in a BBC Television programme, discussing the Schools Service section of the National Museum of Wales Jubilee film.

She was also active on various committees, serving for example, on the editorial board of the Bibliography of Welsh Poetry (1954-55). She was Chairman of the Wales & Monmouth Branch of the Library Association for 1967 and was their representative on the committee responsible for the 1968 Welsh Books Fair. That year she was also invited to serve on the Editorial Committee of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society.

“In museum life we are deeply conscious of the past, but we remember too that today is tomorrow’s yesterday.  As librarians let us face the challenge of the future with confidence.”

At the end of August 1970, Hetty retired from the Museum, having served a very successful and fulfilling 39 years in the role she adored.

Working at Amgueddfa Cymru’s History and Archaeology department over the last few months has revoked my interest in history… and even my own heritage.

One of the many benefits of working in the department is being able to preview the work by the staff of the museum’s Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project; the project highlights our nation’s treasures. It’s both a delight and eye-opener to see the objects collected by the museum, which hold more value than gold (from which some are made of), as these treasures stir our interest, provide us with knowledge… and can even fill us with pride when acknowledging that their roots lie in Wales.

A few weeks ago, museums across the UK were involved in #TakeOverDay; a day when social media pages were voluntarily taken over by youth community groups and schools.

Saving Treasures gladly took part and had young people to voice what they believed was treasure, then they got to ask the public what they considered as treasure. I know it’s a bit late but I thought I’d have a go at writing this blog to mention mine.

So, what’s my “treasure”?

It’s difficult for me since I’m not what you’d call a “materialistic” person but if you were to put me on the spot I’d have to say one of my top treasures would be... the collection of family photographs.

Why?

It comes down to a combination of my love for photography and my interest in family history.

I began my photographic love affair nearly a decade ago and my relationship with the art form is still as strong as ever after achieving a degree from the University of South Wales last year.

Though the end results from a simple photograph can give us a brief glimpse into the past, the cherished family photograph can give us much more; there’s more feeling towards an old family photograph than there is for an Ansel Adams… or should I dare say a photographic depiction of Wales by David Hurn!

More of these treasured photographs and the stories behind them can be found via my blog: https://merthyrranter.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/the-treasures-that-lie-in-a-biscuit-tin/

It’s usually during LGBT History Month in February that people start producing articles and events around sexual orientation and gender identity heritage. But history should not be restricted to just one month and now as Pride Cymru takes place in Cardiff, it’s a good time to consider LGBT history.

A Story on a Plate

Take for example a plate in the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales, which features an image of two women on horseback set within a landscape. It is just one in thousands of blue and white transfer printed wares so popular in the 19th century and beyond. However this picture is intriguing.

Plate, Glamorgan Pottery, c. 1813-1839

It is called “Ladies of Llangollen” inspired by the story of two women, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby.

When Eleanor and Sarah developed a passion for each other in their native Ireland their families, alarmed by this same-sex attraction, tried to ban them from seeing each other. However, determined to be together, they made an escape in the dead of night but were quickly captured. Persistently Eleanor and Sarah fought for the right to be together until eventually they won and their families allowed them to leave.

They made their way to Wales and eventually set up home in a small cottage in Llangollen where they were to live together for over 50 years.

Growing Fame

Their fame quickly grew and were visited by and corresponded with all manner of people such as Shelley, Byron, Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Wellington, Josiah Wedgewood and Caroline Lamb. Their deaths in 1829 and 1831, respectively, did not end the fascination with this couple and throughout the following centuries their fame has endured - making them probably the most famous lesbian couple in history.

During their lifetimes, the Ladies were adamant they wanted no portraits done.

However when Lady Parker visited in 1829 she got her mother to distract Eleanor and Sarah whilst she made quick sketches of their faces under the table. Eleanor was now quite blind so Lady Parker was able to sketch her full face whilst Sarah is in profile. After the couple’s deaths she worked the faces up into full body poses set within their library and sold copies of the picture to raise money for charity.

Portrait of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, worked from a clandestine sketch made at their Llangollen home. (c) Norena Shopland
Portrait of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, worked from a clandestine sketch made at their Llangollen home.

A Stolen Portrait

Around 1830 James Henry Lynch pirated the picture and produced what was to become the most enduring image of Eleanor and Sarah. It was mass produced and featured on a large range of tourist souvenirs, postcards and the covers of many books.

The 'Lynch' portrait of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, pirated from the earlier 'Library' portrait and distributed on a mass scale. (c) Norena Shopland
The 'Lynch' portrait of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, pirated from the earlier 'Library' portrait and distributed on a mass scale.

The picture Lynch produced was of the two women standing outside dressed in riding habits which both women were known to favour. And it appears at the tail end of a period of public fascination with Eleanor and Sarah’s lives.

The story of the Ladies had reached a wide audience by the late 18th-early 19th century and numerous accounts of their lives were being produced. Even William Wordsworth wrote a poem in 1824 after visiting them. Therefore interest was high when the pottery designs started appearing.

Glamorgan Pottery and the History of the 'Llangollen' plate

The first design shows the women on horseback talking to a man carrying a scythe over his shoulder with some cattle, the town of Llangollen, the River Dee and a highly imaginative Castell Dinas Bran in the background.

'Ladies of Llangollen' blue pattern plate marked with 'BBI' stamp

The earliest date for the design is via a base stamp ‘BB&I’. This refers to Baker, Bevin and Irwin of Glamorgan Pottery and was used c. 1815-25. It went on to become one of Glamorgan Pottery’s most famous pieces and means that the plate was produced during the lifetime of both Eleanor and Sarah. The two women, both avid diary keepers, made no comment so we don’t know if they knew of the plates or if they approved of being fictionalised.

Glamorgan pottery was then taken over by Swansea businessman Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn in 1838 and he continued to produce the design using the Glamorgan, Swansea and Cambrian stamps until around 1840. However it is likely that he was already using the same design at the Cambrian Pottery from around 1825, as there was rivalry between the two potteries and they did use some of the same designs.[1]

The fascinating link here is that the most famous member of Lewis’ family was Amy Dillwyn. Amy, a business woman, ran her father’s spelter works after his death, was also a well-known novelist.

She too was in a same sex relationship. It would be nice to have a flight of fancy and think that Amy, having seen the Glamorgan plate, had some influence in getting her brother to produce it at the Cambrian Pottery but there is no evidence of her involvement.

Detail of blue plate showing an illustration of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler © Norena Shopland
Detail of blue plate showing an illustration of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler © Norena Shopland

Detail of blue plate showing an illustration of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler © Norena Shopland
Detail of blue plate showing an illustration of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler © Norena Shopland

It is not clear whether it was the Glamorgan pottery design which was produced first or another by William Adams of Stoke. This design, also called Ladies of Llangollen, features the two women, again in riding habits, standing looking down at a man who appears to be showing them a large fish. Behind them stand their horses whilst in the distance there are two men in a boat, one punting along, a bridge and on the bank a rustic cottage. The mountain Cadair Berwyn is in the centre.

Adams had produced a pottery series called ‘Native’ in the 1820s and this design was part of that series. Not long after F. and R. Pratt of Fenton, Staffordshire acquired the plates from Adams and reproduced the series between 1880 and 1920 renaming it ‘Pratt’s Native Scenery.’ When Cauldon took over Pratt’s in the 1920s they continued using the design up to c1930s.

There continues to be enormous interest in Eleanor and Sarah - particularly when discussing how we define lesbian relationships from the past. However despite the mass of interest these fictionalised blue and white images are hardly ever mentioned. But at least we know that Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales have this piece in their LGBT collection.

 

NORENA SHOPLAND

Author of Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales to be published by Seren Books, 17th October 2017

Website: http://www.rainbowdragon.org

 

[1] Thanks to Andrew Renton, Keeper of Art,  Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales for clarifying this

This story is inspired by the collections at the National Roman Legion Museum. Bethan Thomas and Jacob Rendle worked with Gritty Realism films to create this short animation.  

As part of the process they looked at Roman archaeology and learned animation techniques. The project was funded by People’s Collection Wales and organised by staff at the National Roman Legion Museum and Newport Communities First education team.

Hanes yn y Teils/Tales in the Tiles from Gritty Realism Productions on Vimeo.

Whilst none of the events in this story are real, it is inspired by some of the real objects the Romans left behind in Caerleon –  2,000 years ago.

For example, we do have evidence that a Roman soldier, a dog and a cat stepped into the clay roof tiles whilst they were being made.

Julius Valens - was a veteran Roman soldier who died aged one hundred! His grave stone can be found in the gallery. As can a soldier’s footprint and the cat shaped roof tile that the Romans put on the front of their houses to ward off evil spirits.

Come and see the animation and these fasinating Roman objects on show at the National Roman Legion Museum until September 2017.

In a matter of days the Carpenters' Fellowship will be at St Fagans ready to erect the timber frame that will sit within the great hall of Llys Llywelyn - our latest development. During the 12th and 13th centuries a small number of these high status aisled-halls were built, and by now an even smaller number survive. The best example is the Bishop's Palace in Hereford where a number of substantial oak posts survive, as well as an impressive semi-circular arch, or brace. For more information, visit:

https://museum.wales/stfagans/buildings/llys-llywellyn/

https://museum.wales/blog/2015-11-09/The-Bishops-Palace-Hereford/

The oak posts for our hall are 300mm (12") thick at their base, and taper towards their tops - as trees naturally do. However, they are easily dwarfed by the posts of another surviving aisled hall, that of Leicester Castle. These were 700mm (28") thick when it was built in 1151. Timbers of this magnitude, and especially those that formed the semi-circular arches have always been hard to come by. The use of such scarce building materials  strongly suggests the high status of the owners. Stone arcading (the term for a series of posts linked by arches) are still a common sight within churches and cathedrals, but wooden ones - like the ones soon to be seen at Llys Llywelyn, may have predated these, and could have been the originators of this style.

From Saturday 26th August The Carpenters' Fellowship will be at St Fagans demonstrating their craft, before begining to erect the timber frame. Why not come and see? For more information, visit:

https://museum.wales/stfagans/whatson/9511/Frame---Carpenters-Fellowship/