Amgueddfa Cymru


Our first public event as part of this project will be this coming Saturday, 27th June 2015, at National Museum Cardiff. We will provide information and raise awareness on the threats faced by cultural heritage. In the afternoon, various speakers will give short, 15-minute talks on a variety of subjects. One of the speakers is Dr Toby Thacker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Cardiff University, School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

Toby will be talking about Verdun in France. This is where the most intense fighting between the French and German armies took place in 1916, and ever since it has been the most iconic event of the First World War for the French. Around the town of Verdun a huge area has been declared as ‘terre sacrée’, or hallowed ground, and left as it was after the battle. This area includes several shattered villages, now deserted, and upwards of thirty different forts, many of which were badly damaged by shell fire from both sides during the conflict.

Some, such as Fort Douamont, are now kept as sites for tourists, school parties, and researchers to visit. The fort itself is mainly underground, but the steel gun turrets projecting above ground show extensive damage from shells and bullets. The earth around them is littered with shell holes, with fragments of metal and barbed wire, and the concrete emplacements are suffering from shell damage, and now from weathering. The whole site poses complex questions about memory, conservation, and heritage. More to come on Saturday!

Accidents happen: we drop our favourite coffee cup in the kitchen and it shatters into a million pieces; parking the car, we misjudge the distance to that bollard and, oops, scratch the car; the faulty television overheats and catches fire. We usually try to protect ourselves against such accidents by assessing the risk, and mitigate against risk to help us avoid accidents. We install smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and emergency stairs to help us get out of a burning building should the worst happen.

Our immediate thought in the event of a disaster is, quite rightly, the preservation of life. But objects that mean something to us are often a victim of disasters, too. This may be the family photographs getting lost in a house fire. Or it could be an entire historic building, which is important to the local or even national history. The very recent fire at Clandon Park House in April 2015 illustrates how quickly an important part of British social and parliamentary history can be destroyed (the Onslow family, whose estates this was, provided three speakers to the House of Commons over the centuries).

What if heritage is destroyed not by accident, but entirely purposefully? In 2013, a construction company in Belize destroyed a Maya pyramid to turn it into gravel for road fill. The pyramid was 2,300 year old – millennia of heritage, memory and civilisation were destroyed, incredibly, because the ancient structure provided a cheap and easy source of building material.

At other times, heritage – monuments, buildings, statues, or even individual objects – are the target of anger. In post-communist Eastern Europe, statues of Stalin or Lenin are being removed as symbols of power of a by-gone era. Palmyra, the prosperous Assyrian city in today’s Syria, has temples 2,200 years old, was first destroyed by the Romans in 273 AD, by the Timurids in 1400, and is now threatened once again with becoming a casualty of war and ideologies.

Whether you agree with the symbols and ideologies of the people who came before you, our own being is born from previous historic events. Our music, stories, architecture, even our state of government would be nothing without the histories that led up to them. To make sense of our modern world we need to remember – remember positive events for the good they are, and negative events so we can avoid dark hours of history repeating themselves. Ultimately, the past informs our present.

In this project, funded by Cardiff University Engagement Seed Funding, we explore the effect of armed conflict on stone surfaces, emergency planning and heritage salvage, strategies for post-conflict remediation, and construction of memories of WWI or post-communist Eastern Europe.

Dr Lisa Mol (Early Career Lecturer, Cardiff University, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences) works on the impact of armed warfare on stone surfaces, which links to heritage conservation and long-term strategies for post-conflict remediation. Lisa asks people to shoot with guns at pieces of building stone to study what happens on impact.

Building on his recently published monograph on the construction of memory of the First World War, and on sites of memory in Eastern Europe, Dr Toby Thacker (Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Cardiff University, School of History, Archaeology and Religion) will cover the contested role of damaged historical sites in the construction of memory.

Dr Christian Baars (Senior Preventive Conservator, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) is a member of the Welsh Government’s Emergency Planning Network Wales; he ensures the long-term preservation of museum collections, has experience working with the emergency services and will highlight the importance of preserving heritage for future generations while addressing the issues of looting and illicit trade in cultural objects.

If you are interested in this subject please follow our blog and come along to one of our events at National Museum Cardiff this summer.

On 7 July 2015, here at St Fagans, students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama will perform a series of 5 operatic arias inspired by the story of St Fagans Castle during the First World War, as part of MAKE AN ARIA.  

Unlike today, early twentieth century Wales was not considered a hotbed for operatic endeavour, musical Wales was associated with male voice choirs, brass bands and eisteddfodau.

One report on the subject of opera from 1910 even went so far as to say:

It has been frequently said that really good music is not appreciated by the people of Wales, for whom erotic musical comedy represents their highest tastes. Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser, 4 February 1910

Another newspaper reported a few years later:

The opera is of the theatre, and Wales still has its prejudice, I do think that Wales misses much by this attitude of aloofness…Wales has no further to go in choral singing. What we have to do now is to launch out, to widen our horizon. Cambrian Daily Leader, 11 April, 1913

However, on the global, cosmopolitan opera scene of the early decades of the century, there was one Welsh name on everyone’s lips, the mezzo-soprano, Madame Leila Megàne, known to her friends and family as Margaret Jones. Born in Bethesda in 1891, later to live in Pwllheli and Caernarfon, her roots were firmly planted in Wales.

She was trained in London and Paris before the First World War and later joined the company of the Grand Opera and toured extensively with them. For the Grand Opera’s production of Samson and Delilah in 1919 a new gown was commissioned for Leila. Before her death she gave the gown and its accessories to St Fagans National History Museum. As seen in the picture, the gown is a vivid orange with elaborate embroidery of purple, red, green and yellow.

The dress was made by Marie Muélle, arguably one of the best theatrical costumiers of the time. It was Muélle who made the iconic Ballets Russes costumes designed by the legendary artist Henri Matisse in 1920.

The New York Times reported in 1915:  

Muélle was known to every singer and every other stage favourite, too, who wants a distinctive Paris costume in which to create a new role. The New York Times, April 25, 1915.

Following the war, Leila returned to Pwllheli to perform at a special victory concert, much to the excitement and delight of the town. According to the newspapers of the time, the residents of Pwllheli were in such admiration of her that they queued eagerly for hours just to shake her hand.

Her professional career which captured the imagination of the world, was unfortunately short lived and soon after the First World War had ended she returned to Wales to live in comparative obscurity.

The bespoke Muélle gown however, remained very special to Leila throughout her life, and when she’d sing at concerts at local venues later in her life, she would always wear the dress whenever she sang arias from Samson and Delilah.

If Leila’s story has whet your appetite for opera, free tickets are now available for MAKE AN ARIA on 7 July 2015. Experimenting with opera and performance in the grounds of St Fagans Castle. An opportunity not to be missed. See What's On for further details.

By Claire Amundson, Learning Volunteer.

After deciding that teaching in schools was not my cup of tea, the question I was left with was, ‘What Now?’

With a background full of education related experience there seemed only one option; museum education. For someone just starting out in the museum sector, volunteering with the Learning and Events teams at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales has been an incredible step on the ladder. More than that, it has been an incredible experience altogether.


Through volunteering I have met new people, some like-minded individuals looking for pastures new and some simply enjoying volunteering in retirement or their spare time. For me, however, volunteering with the learning teams at National Museum Cardiff and St. Fagans has opened up a new world. Through volunteering I have gained an insight into what museum education is and how powerful these informal learning sessions can be for visitors.


In my time as a volunteer I have helped make Iron Age shields, helped to build a Wicker Man, and deliver summer sessions on the Mold Cape and other exhibitions. When the Mold Cape returned to Wales it was a chance to research the Bronze Age period further and ‘dig deeper’ into history I had only touched on previously. I also volunteered on a session on Pop Art, and it was amazing to see how many children had no idea what a CD was and yet hear the stories of parents and grandparents remembering cassettes and vinyl records.


Volunteering has truly made an impact. I have worked with people of all ages and discovered how rewarding it is to work with families in an informal learning heritage setting; something that complimented my earlier experience in formal learning as a teacher and teaching assistant. These experiences helped me towards obtaining the Wordsworth Trust Traineeship in 2014, and expanded on my experience at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.


Now, although still searching for that first break-through role, I have a wealth of experience behind me and memories that will last for years to come!

Yn ei dyddiadur heddiw, cyfeiria @DyddiadurKate fod “Win yn mynd i’r Pentre i help Grace olchi gwithbannau.”

Gorchwyl tymhorol oedd golchi gwrthbannau (blancedi). Tasg gweddol hawdd i ni heddiw â pheiriant golchi wrth law, ond nid felly yng nghyfnod Kate. Yn anffodus, ni ddisgrifiwyd y dasg arbennig hon wrth i Kate drafod prosesau golchi gyda Minwel Tibbot, nôl ym 1970. Fodd bynnag, ceir cyfeiriadau lu yn yr archif sain at y dasg o olchi blancedi, cwrlidau a llenni.

Gan fod gofyn am gymaint o ddŵr i’w golchi, byddai nifer fawr o wragedd mewn ardaloedd gwledig yn golchi’r blancedi yn yr afon, fel yr hen Beti Bwt druan. A pham lai? Roedd hi dipyn haws mynd â’r offer a’r eitemau oedd angen eu golchi i’r afon, yn hytrach na chario bwcedi di-ri o ddŵr i’r tŷ. Wedi cynnau tân i gynhesu’r dŵr, byddai’r blancedi’n cael eu golchi dwywaith mewn dŵr cynnes, gan eu rhwbio’n ofalus gyda sebon golchi. Dodwyd y blancedi yn yr afon i gael gwared ar y sebon, yna’r cam nesaf oedd gwasgu’r dŵr. Roedd angen bôn braich dau berson i wneud hyn, y naill yn gafael ym mhob pen ac yn gwasgu yn groes i’w gilydd. Wedi’r gwasgu, ysgwyd y blancedi i adfer y gweadedd gwlanog a’i rwystro rhag ‘matio’ wrth sychu ar lwyni gerllaw.

Does ryfedd fod angen help ar Grace heddiw ‘ma!