Amgueddfa Cymru

Hafan

I actually visited the Mametz Wood exhibition twice. The first time was the official opening, but as I didn’t see anyone that I knew, I spent most of the time hovering at the back during the speeches and the opera recital (which sounded beautiful, but as I know nothing about opera it went over my head a bit), while feeling spectacularly under-dressed next to all the soldiers in their shiny, smart uniforms.

I enjoyed the exhibition itself very much. The work we had done in youth forum had provided helpful context which meant I could appreciate what I was seeing a whole lot more; the Christopher Williams painting was of course a highlight, as was the World War One stretcher and a pistol owned by Siegfried Sassoon, who had fought at the battle.

It was also great to see the work of the very talented Margaret Williams, who I hadn’t heard of before I joined the youth forum, showcased alongside her male counterparts. However, due to the fact that it was an opening, it was very crowded, and being too British to ask people to move slightly aside I missed some of the exhibits. 

I decided to go back a few days later, and this turned out to be a very good idea. This time, there were old music hall and war songs playing quietly in the background. Combined with the ghostly sketches of soldiers, surrounded by their old possessions, it really made you feel as though you had stepped back in time, which surely is a sign a museum has done its job.

It also seems to enhance the sense of the futility of it all. I was surrounded by images and descriptions communicating the brutality, violence and bloodshed, the enormous sacrifice, and in the end, this was all that was left. A pipe, some faded documents, the stretcher rather than the people it had carried, a few old songs, and a collective national sense of loss. It was hard not to feel emotional. All this suffering may have created beautiful art, but the suffering itself hadn’t been worth it at all. 

There was also a video screen showing an actor reading a section of In Parenthesis, originally by David Jones, now adapted for a new opera. Whether it was because of the skill of the actor (whose name escapes me) or all the things I’d just seen and felt, I found I didn’t need to put the headphones on to understand what he was trying to say. 

So, to conclude. War’s Hell: The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art is well worth a visit. And next time I get invited to an exhibition opening, go with a friend and make more of an effort than just jeans and a jumper.  

Don't worry no violence was involved.  It was the turn of Llainfadyn this week, our quarrymen’s cottage from Gwynedd, to receive a clean and make over from our Historic Interior and Conservation Volunteer team.  It was a big task so thanks to everyone involved. This included stripping the beds and giving everything including the feather mattresses a good airing and beating to remove a winters worth of dust and dirt.  As long as the textiles are strong enough this is still a very effective method of removing grime without the aid of modern appliances.

We also held a competition between a modern broom and a traditional one made from hazel twigs (that all important witches’ accessory at Halloween).  To help protect the collections on display it's important we try and reduce the amount of dust and dirt being brought into the houses by our thousands of visitors each year.  Our first line of defence to achieve this is the cobbles outside, these help dislodge the grit and dirt from peoples' shoes before they even enter the building, but for these to work the cobbles need to be clean and not clogged up with dirt. So one of our first important tasks was to clean the stones outside.

So which broom won?  The traditional of course, with its long twiggy brush it was the best at dislodging the dirt from between the cobbles.   This job would certainly have been an everyday task for most households in the past.

Our second line of defence to keep the dust down is the rag rug, often found in cottages of this period.  These were made from scraps of material or worn out clothes and blankets, so as well as providing much needed comfort and colour they were great at trapping dirt.  They could then be picked up, taken outside and beaten with a carpet beater to remove the grime.  We are currently making one for Llainfadyn, unfortunately the odd hail storm meant that Jane and Emma had to find seats by the open fire to carry on their work. 

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last blog about interviewing Mel and Rhona Rees, former landlords of the Vulcan pub. Our aim with the Vulcan project over the next few months is to capture the experiences and memories of the people who knew the Vulcan, with the interviews eventually being displayed in one of the redeveloped galleries.

Since the last interview, we’ve been out again hearing about a very different aspect of the Vulcan’s story and history, the pub’s closure and the campaign to save it. The Vulcan was due to close in June 2009 to make way for a multi-story car park and flats which resulted in the formation of the ‘Save the Vulcan Campaign’.

To capture the story, Dafydd Wiliam and I interviewed Rachel Cable, the ‘Save the Vulcan’ campaign manager. We met Rachel at the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay, where 7 years ago, around 50 campaigners presented a petition with over 5,000 signatures to save the pub to Assembly Members.

Among the famous names to back the 5,000-signature petition were James Dean Bradfield, of Manic Street Preachers, actor Rhys Ifans and sports presenter John Inverdale.

Rachel spoke about her first visit to the pub in Adamsdown and how she fell in love with its old fashioned décor and friendly punters and landlady. To Rachel and many others, this was a pub that needed to be saved. As part of the campaign they started a petition, made an application to CADW to get the Vulcan listed, designed and sold Save the Vulcan t-shirts and organised events at the pub such as literary nights and even a Star Treck party!

Rachel also spoke of the huge success of the Save the Vulcan blog and facebook page which helped attract support and also resulted in wider media attention. 

Due the determination and hard work of the campaigners an agreement was reached in 2009 for the Vulcan to remain open for a further three years. The campaign continued during these years, but unfortunately they were to lose the battle, and the last order was called on Friday 4th May, 2012.

You’ll have to wait until the new galleries open to watch the final interview, but until then keep an eye out for more blogs about recording the voices of the Vulcan!

If you or somebody you know have stories or objects related to the Vulcan, we’d love to hear from you – please leave a message in the comments box below.

The Vulcan Hotel is one of the museum's on-going building projects. Read more here.

Sorry about the awful pun in the title. But, yes, it's that time of year, the sun is out, spring's officially here and it's getting warmer. Fantastic you may say, but for our Conservators and Volunteers a new battle is about to begin!  As well as our lovely lambs and piglets, less desirable creatures are stirring. These are the insect pests, such as moths, carpet beetles and woodworm that if left unchecked would quite happily eat our museum and its collections!

This week the volunteer conservation team were introduced to the enemy, in the natural world these insects perform an essential task, but in the confines of our historic houses, or anyone's home in fact, they can cause untold damage especially to items made from wool, fur, feathers, leather, paper and wood.

We have decided to go for a two pronged attack. The first is to re-introduce traditional deterrent methods.  Last year we worked with the gardening team collecting and drying a range of aromatic plants such as Tansy, Wormwood, Rue, Rosemary and Lavender traditionally used to deter insects.  From the selection grown in our gardens we have created the extremely potent St.Fagans blend.

Now we are devising ways to deploy our deterrent in sufficient quantities that might have an effect.  For this we found tights ideal for the task!  Yes, that's correct tights. These are especially useful for items of clothes hung up on display, they enable us to place the aromatic plants in the more inaccessible areas of a garment, such as down sleeves!

The second method of attack is of course good old fashioned housekeeping. Spring is the time to open up the house after a long winter and give everything a good clean, or in our case a good beating.

The National Waterfront Museum’s current exhibition “Forget me not: Postcards from the First World War” features a fantastic selection of various postcards from the industry & transport, and social & cultural history collections of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. An estimated 272,000 Welshmen served in the First World War, and at the height of the conflict a staggering 19,000 mail sacks a day were sent back to Britain from the front. As well as displaying a wide variety of different types of postcards, the exhibition also showcases some personal stories.

 

One of these personal stories relates to Evan William Jones, a slate quarryman from Pendyffryn, Dinorwig. Evan was born in about 1891, and when he enlisted was married to Laura with one daughter. He was initially exempted from military service on the grounds of 'exceptional domestic position', and this exemption lasted until 29th September 1916. He then enlisted in the 1/4th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment on 25th October 1916, where he was a Private with the Reg No. 242727. His Unit Register Card notes his occupation as ‘Slate Quarryman’. On 19th March 1919 he was transferred to the Army Reserve. At the end of the war he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

 

Amongst the collection relating to Evan Jones’ First World War service are his ‘Certificate of Exemption’, ‘Unit Register Card’, and a ‘Field Service Post Card’. Along with these are eight postcards, one a studio portrait of Evan probably taken before he left for service, and five showing men in military uniform, along with three postcards sent by Evan to his family. There is also a good luck card sent from ‘Evan to my mother’. Most of these are on display in the current exhibition.

 

Evan W. Jones survived the war, but was later involved in an accident at Dinorwig Quarry when a crane overturned and fell on him, resulting in a fracture of his skull. He died at the Quarry Hospital on 1st December, 1924. The exhibition features a memorial poster printed with a poem (of ten verses) written in Welsh by Elias Hughes (Myfyrian), and containing a photograph of Evan W. Jones in the centre.

 

Dinorwig Quarry hospital was opened in 1860. General surgery was still practiced there till the 1940s when it became a first aid centre. It closed in 1962, and was later restored and opened as a visitors centre in 1970 as part of the Padarn Lake Country Park. The hospital is situated very close to the National Slate Museum at Llanberis.

 

“Forget me not: Postcards from the First World War” runs until the 19th June 2016 at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

 

To discover more about First World War collection at Amgueddfa Cymru view this online catalogue.