Amgueddfa Cymru

Hafan

The recent Ivor Davies exhibition “Silent Explosion” at National Museum Cardiff sparked an explosive partnership project. The museum’s Learning Department and artist Claire Prosser worked with Albert Primary School in Penarth on an art project inspired by Ivor Davies's work. Ivor Davies grew up in Penarth and went to Albert Primary School as a child, where he witnessed the war and air raids on Cardiff. Some of his early work is based on these experiences.

The year 5 pupils visited the exhibition at the National Museum which reflects some of those childhood experiences, and made sketches and collages. One of the boys had re-drawn Ivor Davies’ drawing of enemy planes being caught in search lights, and added an additional plane. Ivor Davies himself came to visit the school at the end of the day of walks and hand signed this drawing and many others, much to the delight of the pupils.

On walks around Penarth the pupils discussed conservation, death and decay with Senior Preventive Conservator, Christian Baars. It is not easy to conserve art which was created to be ephemeral. The pupils learned how organic objects, and even rock, are not ever-lasting, and instead part of a big circle of life, death and resurrection in new forms.

The role of any museum, in essence, is to preserve objects by halting that circle at a particular point. Whether this is in line with the artist's intentions, and how museums deal with this conundrum, was part of a "Conservation Conversation" at National Museum Cardiff a few weeks back. Museum curators, conservators and artists were involved in the discussion then. Bringing this theme closer to year 5 pupils proved entirely possible, as they enjoyed learning about how museums preserve objects while thinking about how it is really difficult to make anything last for centuries.

This interdisciplinary partnership project was also a joy to work on for staff, most of all the preventive conservator, as it brought together so many aspects of art and science.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

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.

Since September 2015 I have been working with Kate Congdon, Lecturer of ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) at Cardiff and the Vale College. Together we have been working with ESOL students from the college to create learning resources to be used at St Fagans National History Museum as part of the colleges ESOL programme. The resources will provide ESOL students with the opportunity to practice their English abilities whilst learning about the history of Wales.

In September 2015, 200 ESOL students visited St Fagans. The students’ abilities ranged from beginners to those who were nearly fluent. Kate created a questionnaire for the students to choose their top 3 buildings at the Museum. The results of these were split into two groups to reflect the different learners’ levels, lower level and higher level.

Lower Level:

Higher Level:

In December 2015, a small group of students from the lower or entry level visited St Fagans again to act as a focus group for the project. They worked with Kate and I to choose the aspects of the buildings they found most interesting.

More recently, Kate, with information and images provided by the Museum, has designed and developed 2 draft resources for the students to trial, an entry level resource focusing on the St Fagans Castle and a higher level resource focusing on the Rhyd-y-Car Cottages. These were then proof read by myself and members of the curatorial staff team.

On the 17th March I travelled to Cardiff and the Vale College to help Kate trial the resources with her lower level class and one of the higher level groups. I was really impressed with how engaged students from both groups were with the resources. They not only enjoyed the opportunity to learn new words and phrases, but were also fascinated by the histories of the buildings and the people of Wales. From my perspective, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I picked up a few new teaching tips from the ESOL lecturers. I especially liked the use of a mini Welsh rugby ball which was passed around the class as a way for students to know it was their turn to answer questions. The feedback on the resources from the students was very positive and many of them enjoyed the opportunity to discover more about the country they have chosen to call their home.

Kate will be returning to St Fagans in April to meet with myself and Mared McAleavey, Principal Curator: Historic Interiors. We will be discussing the history of the remainder of the buildings that the students chose and the learning activities that can be designed. I am really looking forward to trialling the next set of resources with the students and I’ll be posting updates here in the future. In the mean time you can keep up to date with the work of the Learning, Participation and Interpretation Department by following us on Twitter @StFagans_Learn.

The word treasure can mean a lot of different things.  In Treasures: Adventure in Archaeology we are able to see the historical treasures that have been uncovered from archaeological excavations over the years.  But while the term can be applied widely to things that are important to us it also has a very technical, and legal, meaning.   

In the past it was not uncommon for people to bury their riches or cherished objects for safekeeping in times of trouble or as part of a ritual offerings.  While some of these buried objects were reclaimed by their owners, others were not.  Hundreds or thousands of years later, these objects have been found while ploughing farmland, building houses or by metal detecting.  There have been laws in England and Wales on how to deal with these discoveries for over a thousand years.  Common law defined treasure as anything made out of gold or silver.  It also had to be hidden with the intention of recovering it at a later time.  It was against the law to not report the discovery of potential treasure to the coroner and those not reporting finds could face fines or imprisonment.  In 1996, the Treasure Act was passed and expanded the range of precious metal objects, and any associated objects, protected.
Celc ceiniogau o’r canol oesoedd a ganfuwyd ger Llanandras yn Sir Drefaldwyn. Cyhoeddwyd yn ddiweddarach ei fod yn ‘drysor’.

Celc ceiniogau o’r canol oesoedd a ganfuwyd ger Llanandras yn Sir Drefaldwyn. Cyhoeddwyd yn ddiweddarach ei fod yn ‘drysor’.

In conjunction with the Treasure Act of 1996, the Portable Antiquities Scheme was implemented.  The aims of the PAS are to record important non-treasure archaeological objects and to highlight the importance of proper reporting of finds by the public.  For archaeologists, information doesn’t just come from an object.  The area where it was found, how it laid in the ground, what other objects were with it and other factors provide vital clues in understanding an object.  When things are accidentally discovered and then removed, that context is lost forever.  The hope is that with the PAS in place, those that come across finds will report them quickly, provide as much of the other contextual clues as possible or, better yet, leave them in-situ (in the ground) and call PAS to help excavate them properly.   
 

For more information on the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, you can visit https://finds.org.uk/treasure.

 

 

Often, people announce - with a knowing look in their eye – that Science knows more of the surface of the moon than it does of the deep oceans of our own planet. This platitude is probably vague enough to be considered accurate, but it ignores a salient fact about Earth: a lot more is happening here, especially in the oceans, and even the smallest sample of abyssal mud contains a wealth of life sufficient for years of study. Oceanographic missions are rare because each one produces a superabundance of data and specimens that require decades of work to describe and interpret. The simple problem of man-hours and scarcity of expertise in niche fields is what limits the scope of modern oceanography (and the funding available to it).

Blue-sky thinking

The index case for this problem was that of the Challenger expedition of 1872-76, a sprawling endeavor to “investigate the physical conditions of the deep sea in the great ocean basins” - scarcely has an expedition brief been bolder or more vague – with a navy vessel and a small group of gentleman-scientists headed by Charles Wyville Thomson. Wyville Thomson had headed earlier voyages to chart the waters around the British Isles, discovering life down to depths of 1200 metres; he had become the patriarch of the nascent discipline of oceanography, which – before Challenger – was limited to a hazy understanding that a lot of the oceans were very deep indeed. The vessel set out with a complement of around 250 men of all ranks and stations, weighing anchor in Portsmouth in December 1872 and zigzagging down the Atlantic coast of Europe before striking out towards the Caribbean. She would sail on for almost eighty thousand miles, crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic before swooping down to the sub Antarctic Kerguelen archipelago, circling Australia and the Pacific, and finally passing through the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America on her way home.

A challenging legacy

This, however, is not the end of the story. On her voyage, the Challenger measured depth and temperature and collected biota, samples of living organisms from the sea floor, at 360 stations along the route of her voyage. The vessel was fitted with a fully-equipped laboratory, and vast volumes of specimens, data, and readings were amassed during the three years at sea; sediment samples sealed in meticulously-labelled bottles and countless specimens steeped in alcohol, volumes upon volumes of log-books and charts, water samples, and photographic negatives. There is a limit to the amount of useful scientific study that can be done by half-a-dozen scientists on a ship, so the massed volume of potential information was stored for the journey before being distributed across the country upon the ship’s return, each major grouping of specimens going to an organisation or individual most proficient in the study of that given group. Thus began the process of documentation, interpretation, and publication which follows any respectable scientific endeavour; but from the start it was fraught with difficulty, and the project would outstrip the length of the voyage six fold in terms of years spent upon it.

Tome after tome…

The grandly-titled ‘Report of the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the Years 1873-76’, and its associated texts, started trickling from the presses almost as soon as the ship returned to port, but publication would drag on across fifty volumes and more than 29,500 pages. These shelves of heavy tomes contained the distilled data of the expedition, beautifully illustrated with hand-coloured lithographs depicting the litany of species which described as new to science. Wyville Thomson oversaw the publications, but the stress of the project overwhelmed him and he withdrew in 1881, dying shortly afterwards. His place was taken by John Murray, his friend and fellow oceanographer on the voyage; the Report would not be completed until nineteen years after the Challenger docked, a vast, sprawling and prohibitively expensive manuscript which has yet to be matched in terms of vision, boldness and scope (and quite possibly cost) to this day. In the current climate of meandering austerity and profit-motivated science, it seems inconceivable that such a dedicated blue-skies expedition, and the years of follow-up, could be mounted in the 21st century; modern oceanography exists as a passenger, travelling alongside the oil industry and the world’s navies, everywhere studying the workings of nature through the lens of humanity’s impact upon it.

Echoes of Challenger

Echoes of Challenger appear everywhere in the study of samples from the deep ocean. Besides the heavy, leather-bound volumes that sit in the Mollusca Library at the Museum, the Ted Phorson collection which I’m currently working on contains swathes of sub-millimetre-sized mollusc shells (and other, stranger things) sampled from the North Atlantic by a remote vehicle (R.V.) designated vessel named Challenger, and Phorson himself worked on some of Charles Wyville Thomson’s still-unsorted specimens in the late 1970s, almost a hundred years on from when they were first collected. Modern scientific literature on the fauna of the deep oceans refers frequently to the Challenger Report, as so few works have tackled these organisms at the same level of detail since, and it seems unlikely that the oceanographers of the future will be able to; the days of the explorers are surely long gone. It is easy to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the scientific buccaneers of Challenger and, before it, the Beagle voyage – free from want for time and money, invested not with a desire for the wealth of nature, nor with a noble wish to save the oceans from man’s depredations, but instead willing to cast themselves out into the boundless wastes of the sea in search of the heady drug of knowledge, a pure and stupefying substance that raises one above the clouds, denied to us pragmatic, modern mortals. It is comforting to think of the vast mines of secrets that remain undreamt amid the vastness of the abyss, waiting for the explorers of the far future to uncover. Perhaps it is just as well that the days of the old sojourners are over, for now – after all, they have left the better part of their work undone.