Amgueddfa Blog

Back in May I was very lucky to go to Jamtli museum on a staff exchange trip called Sharing and Learning. The visit was the last of a series of staff exchanges between St Fagans National Museum of History and Jamtli museum. The exchange programme was funded by Erasmus Plus.

Jamtli Museum

Jamtli museum is situated in the city of Östersund, the capital of Jämtland county in the centre of Sweden. The museum is an open air museum similar to St Fagans. Visitors have the opportunity to visit historic buildings as well as galleries exploring Jämtland’s history. In the summer months the historic buildings come to life during Historyland. During this time actors give visitors the opportunity to step back in time to the 18th – 20th Centuries.

Our visit was too early in the year to see Historyland in action but we still had the chance to see the great offer Jamtli has the rest of the year. Myself and my colleague, Heulwen, work in the learning department at St Fagans so our focus was to see what learning opportunities the museum has on offer.

The Galleries

Along with our colleague, Pascal, we started the week with a tour of Jamtli’s indoor galleries. The route down to the galleries provides an opportunity to take a less than traditional method of entering them. At the top of the stairs is a slide in the shape of the Great Lake Monster, Östersund’s equivalent of Loch Ness. Being the big kid I am, I decided to take the fun route down to the galleries. Personally, I think it’s a great way to make the experience of visiting a museum more appealing to children.

The main highlights were the temporary exhibition on hairstyles through the ages, as well as the Sami and Viking exhibitions. All of the exhibitions included some kind of interactivity to encourage children to engage with their history. The exhibitions struck a great balance between the ‘traditional’ museum experience and a more interactive experience.

Up Next…

In the next blog I will focus on the opportunities we had whilst shadowing. Before I go I thought I’d share an image of the horses at Jamtli enjoying the snowy weather in May!

Joseph Dalton Hooker was born 200 years ago on June 30th 1817 at Halesworth, Suffolk. When he was five years old, he would visit the botanical lectures of his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker, who was then Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow. Tutored at home with his brother, Joseph eventually studied botany as part of a medical degree.

In 1839 his father's friend, Sir James Clark Ross, offered Joseph a wonderful opportunity to be assistant surgeon on his expedition to the Antarctic with the Government’s discovery ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. This was the beginning of an extraordinary botanical career spanning the entire Victorian era.

As a result of his many voyages , Hooker wrote seminal works on the floras of many distant lands, including The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage Ships Erebus and Terror in 1839–43 (1844 – 1860), Handbook of the New Zealand Flora (1864) and The Flora of British India (1872 – 1897). But perhaps his best known flora is The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya (1849), which was lavishly illustrated by the eminent Scottish lithographer Walter Hood Fitch (1817 – 1892) and is said to have sparked-off the Victorian craze for Rhododendrons; Amgueddfa Cymru holds 34 lithographs from this classic work in its Botanical Illustrations Collection, two of which we show here.

Joseph Hooker became one of the most important botanists of the 19th century. Together with George Bentham he wrote the seminal book Genera Plantarum (1862 – 1883) which is still one of the most important contributions to plant taxonomy. He was also interested in the geographical distribution of plants, giving birth to the science of phytogeography. He became a close friend of Charles Darwin, whose ideas about the evolution of species and natural selection he heavily promoted. Previously, botany had been regarded as a “gentleman’s pursuit”, but Darwinism opened the door to applying rigorous scientific laws to the subject, and helped raise its status in the eyes of the world.

Joseph Hooker became President of the Royal Society and Director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, and in 1877 was knighted for scientific services to the British Empire. He is now widely regarded as having been instrumental in the birth of the modern science of botany.

Storing and accessing many of the collections housed in the museum can be quite a challenge. Within the natural sciences we have over 4 million objects and specimens that exist in a huge range of materials, sizes and shapes. These range from frozen DNA samples to the full skeleton of a humpback whale!

In a recent project we had to consider how to improve the storage of our collection of large marine fossils of fabulous Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs.  This is a highly important collection but due to the large size, weight and nature of the specimens they are very difficult to store and access easily.

Over 30 years ago the geology team had come up with a clever solution using metal runners mounted on a commercially available heavy duty racking system. However over time this had started to become distorted, and accessing the fossils was becoming hazardous to both museum staff and the fossils themselves. We needed an effective long term replacement…

Fortunately the commercial world now has many more options available and we thus went through the process of obtaining quotes and potential design solutions to the storage of the fossils which ranged from refurbishing the existing racking to using heavy duty pull out shelfs.

In the end we went with the idea of adapting the roller beds used to move pallets along racking systems. Long span shelves covered with these rollers would provide a large surface area to spread loads, and enable easy movement of the fossils on and off the racking via a loading platform or pallet.

With a decision made, the challenge was now to safely remove the fossils off the existing racking, and to find somewhere where they could be temporarily stored – finding space is a huge challenge in an overstuffed museum like ours!

With careful planning space was found and it was time to move the fossils. None of the really big ones had been moved in a very long time so we weren’t sure of how they could be handled or the actual weight of the fossils. So to get started we chose to move one of the biggest and heaviest (i.e. most awkward) specimens, acquired a range of pallet trucks, lifts and dolley skates, and worked through the logistics of how to move this unwieldy specimen safely….

This first fossil was not easy to move and highlighted the key issues we faced in the relocation process. The second one went better, and by the third we had an efficient system going that minimised handling and lifting, reducing risks to both staff and our precious fossils! The temporary holding areas also had limited free space, thus how we subsequently stored and stacked the fossils required further creative thinking.

It took a few days, but all the fossils were safely moved. With the old racking cleared it was now a case of bringing in the contractors to replace the old system with our new shiny racking. Unfortunately this stage took longer than planned but eventually all was sorted and it was a case of moving the fossils all over again…. However the experiences of the initial move resulted in a rapid and efficient return of all the fossils to their new storage racking, with the new roller racking proving excellent for moving the fossils on and off the new units.

The result is we now have the collection in a much more accessible state. This will enable better access for both researchers and visitors but also enable us to put into place digitisation and conservation projects to ensure the long term protection of these historic fossils for science and society as a whole. In the end a job well done by an excellent team!

Over the last few months we have added some interesting objects to the collections. As usual this month I’d like to share with you some of these, to illustrate the range of objects collected for the industry & transport collections at Amgueddfa Cymru.

Illustrated here is a debenture for The Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company, Limited. Dated 6th May 1889. This company was formed in 1884, a few months after liberation of telephone regulations made regional networks feasible for the first time in the UK. It was one of the seven regional telephone companies that covered the UK in the 1880s and early 1890s prior to the National Telephone Co. Ltd. achieving UK-wide dominance. By 1888 the south Wales portion of its network extended from Cardiff and Newport, westwards to Swansea and Llanelli, with some connections to valleys towns – connecting all the major industrial and urban centres of the south Wales coastal belt.

This Western Mail Ltd., Cardiff, employees' Roll of Honour, 1914-1918, was almost certainly displayed in the company’s main offices in Cardiff. It lists the names of 152 men who served during the First World War, with the names of those who died picked out in gold. The roll of honour joins an important collection of objects related to Welsh industry and the First World War. These items plus others from the National collection can be viewed on this online database

We are not sure exactley why this fretwork of 'The Lord's Prayer' was made. It was however, made by Llewelyn Richards, a haulier at Lewis Merthyr Colliery. 

This brass object is a 'Turnip', and was used to protect a miner’s watch whilst he was working underground. It was used at Oakdale Colliery, and was donated along with an MSA self-rescuer, c.1989. Self rescuers such as these are still used at Big Pit National Coal Museum where they are part of the safety equipment given to visitors on the underground tour. These objects were both collected as part of St. Fagans Oakdale Workmen’s Institute re-interpretation project. You can find out more about this here.

We have acquired a few objects relating to the Mathews family. This oval shaped brass twist box has an inscription on the lid that reads ‘D.MATHEWS / GORSEINON 1897’. It belonged to David John Mathews, who was born on 7 July 1891 in Gorseinon. He died on 8 September 1959 of lobar pneumonia following massive pneumoconiosis at the West Wales Isolation Hospital in Upper Tumble. Coal miners were unable to smoke underground for fear of causing an explosion, so many chewed tobacco, and twist boxes such as this one were used to hold this chewing tobacco. They are usually oval in shape, made of brass and have an inscription on the lid (such as this example), although there are variations on this. A large collection of twist boxes can be seen on display at Big Pit National Coal Museum.

Along with the twist box, the Museum was also donated a photograph and newspaper cutting relating to the death of Ifor Mathews who was tragically killed in an accident at Great Mountain Colliery in 1936. Ifor Mathews had played rugby for Neath, Swansea, Carmarthen 'Quins', Llandebie, Penygroes and Cefnithin. The photograph was taken about 1926, and shows him wearing a rugby shirt. Can anyone identify the club?

Finally, this photograph shows a blacksmith with a horse, and dated from the early 20th century. The photograph was probably taken at a slate quarry in north Wales, possibly in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area. Can anyone help confirm or identify the location? 


Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW

There are some objects here at the National Museum Cardiff which hold a special place in the hearts of our visitors. Perhaps most popular of all are the mother and baby mammoth models in our Evolution of Wales gallery. But what is the history of this loveable pair?

The models were made for an exhibition called Mammoths and the Ice Age, which opened in December 1991. The exhibition borrowed spectacular specimens from all over Europe, and focused particularly on animals that are known to have lived in Wales. This included a range of incredible creatures, including woolly rhinoceros, giant deer, hyena, hippopotamus and a cave bear.

Photograph of museum diorama showing bison and other ice age animals

Bertie the Bison was also part of the exhibition!

Photograph of museum diorama showing a woolly rhinoceros and a wolf in the ice age

A wolf and woolly rhinoceros in the Mammoths and the Ice Age exhibition.

But of course, the main attraction was the mammoths themselves. There were real skeletons and full-sized reproductions, but the stars of the show were the lifelike robotic models. The wolves (which can still be seen the Evolution of Wales gallery) were originally robotic too, and the mother was seen to be protecting her calf from the pack of predators.

Photograph of museum diorama showing a mammoth protecting her calf from a pack of wolves

The mammoth and wolf models in Mammoths and the Ice Age

The exhibition also had interactive elements. “Youngsters can play at being a mammoth”, a press preview describes, “by playing a computer game that puts them in the place of a mammoth for a day”.

Mammoths and the Ice Age was wildly popular from the start. A report in the South Wales Echo describes how extra museum attendants were hired "to cope with the crowds" (18/03/1992). In fact, the exhibition proved so well-received it was extended for an extra four months until January 1993.

The exhibition even spawned a spin-off display. Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children was set up in the Main Hall and showcased a selection of artworks created by schoolchildren who’d visited Mammoths and the Ice Age.

Collage of mother and baby mammoths, made by a child

Collage of mother and baby mammoths from Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children

Child's drawing of a mammoth

Drawing of a mammoth from Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children

While the wolves now remain motionless, there’s no stopping the mammoths. It’s a struggle to keep them moving these days, but our team do their best. Since becoming part of Evolution of Wales when it opened in October 1993, they've continued to win admirers young and old. Perhaps it’s their sheer size, jerky robotic movements, or just the pleasant surprise at finding such an adorable scene in the middle of a dark and scary cave. Let's hope they'll be around for many years to come.