Amgueddfa Blog

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.

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.

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.

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.


Elizabeth Harriet Edwards, known to family and friends as Hetty, was Librarian at the National Museum of Wales from 1931 until her retirement in 1970. She is our longest serving Librarian, racking up a whopping 39 years’ service.

The National Museum’s Annual Report for 1969/70 records the Museum Council thanking her for her work;

‘Miss E H Edwards has served as Librarian for 39 years. During this period the Library has become one of the most important special libraries in Wales, now containing more than 80,000 books.  She has served as Chairman of the Welsh Branch of the Library Association, and is President-elect of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society.’

We knew very little about her. There are just occasional remarks as above in the Museum’s Annual Reports and small pieces of information about lectures she’d given and broadcasts she’d made. I was tasked with discovering more about Hetty; from where did she hail, what sort of person was she and when did she die?

Rummaging through the Museum’s records and other sources of information I discovered that Hetty had lived in 22 Plas y Delyn, Lisvane and was made a Fellow of the Library Association in 1930. She must have had a keen interest in Natural History as she was a member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society for many years, including standing as vice president during 1973/4.

My search then took me to a donation record at the National Library of Wales. According to the NLW catalogue, The Gwenfron Moss Papers had been donated by Gwenfron Moss and Hettie Edwards, Cardiff, in July 1984. Although the spelling was different, surely this was our Hetty Edwards? Further examination of the records brought me to an entry in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography for Gwenfron Moss;

‘She [Gwenfron Moss] decided to leave Coed-poeth and to live with her adopted sister, Miss Hetty Edwards.’

This was my ‘Eureka!’ moment. Hetty and Gwenfron were sisters! Now I had information about where Gwenfron came from and possibly Hetty, the date when Gwenfron died and the fact that Hetty died a fortnight later. The entry also mentioned that Gwenfron had been a deacon at the Welsh Congregational Church in Minnie Street in Cardiff. This snippet of information gave me an idea of where to look next. Would they be able to help me in my search for Hetty?

Our new exhibition, “Agatha Christie: A Life in Photographs,” shows rarely-seen photographs, letters and personal belongings from the most widely published author of all time. But did you know that the Queen of Crime had strong connections to Wales?

Agatha’s only child, Rosalind, married a Welsh man called Hubert Prichard. They lived at a house called Pwllywrach, just outside the village of Colwinston, Vale of Glamorgan. Their son Mathew was brought up there. As a doting grandmother, Agatha visited regularly to see her daughter and only grandchild and became very fond of Wales. There is a family photograph album in the exhibition with a picture of Agatha at Pwllywrach. There’s also an album showing the press cuttings about her daughter’s marriage in the show.

Wales also featured in Agatha’s writing. In 1967, she published “Endless Night” – a story set on a road outside Cardiff and inspired by a local legend. A first edition and a notebook of her ideas for the story are both in the exhibition, as well as her typewriter.

The exhibition has been kindly supported by the Colwinston Trust, named after the village where Agatha’s daughter lived. Established in 1995, the Trust distributes grants to UK Registered Charities working in the areas of opera, music and the visual arts. Funding is primarily directed towards the support of activity that benefits Wales. The Trust’s main income is royalties from the London production of “The Mousetrap,” the murder mystery written by Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie: A Life in Photgraphs, is on display until 3 September 2017 and admission is free.