Amgueddfa Blog

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.

 

To celebrate #SportMW we have been looking at the plants and animals (both living and fossil) in our galleries and collections that perform sporting feats everyday just to stay alive.

Sprinting

Sprinters of the animal world could run rings around Usain Bolt. The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest land mammal, able to reach speeds of around 100 kph (62 mph) but only in short bursts. Their bodies are well adapted for this with a long tail for balance and semi-retractable claws for grip.

Master of the sprint in the skies however is the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). Speeds recorded for this species vary hugely, it is listed in the 2011 Guinness World Records as achieving up to 350 kph (217 mph) during its stoop (swooping dive)! This incredible speed gives it a great advantage when catching its prey (mainly birds) in flight.

Finally, lets not forget the little guys; in 1991 the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana) broke a world record to become the fastest land insect, achieving a speed of 5.4 kph (3.4 mph). Research since then suggests that Australian Tiger Beetles would also be contenders for the title, having been reported to travel at speeds of over 6.5 kph (4 mph)!

Archery

Cone snails are carnivorous marine snails (Conus spp.). These predators use ‘harpoon-like’ darts to inject venom, immobilizing prey such as fish, marine worms or other shells. Whilst the venom of some species is akin to that of a bee sting, others are extremely dangerous to humans, occasionally even fatal!

Weightlifting

A gold medal would have to go to the Dung Beetle (Onthophagus taurus), which, in 2010, was named the world’s strongest insect with estimates suggesting it could move 1,141 times its own body weight. Many of the larger beetles although not as strong may move objects up to 50 times their weight.

If we are talking about weight in general, lets not forget the amazing plant kingdom for producing some whoppers. A species of pine (Pinus coulteri) native to California produces the largest cones in the world. Weighing up to 5 kg, you wouldn’t want these landing on your head, unsurprisingly, it is known as The Widow-maker in California! Or how about the Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica)? This strange looking seed from a palm tree from the Seychelles holds three records - the largest fruit (up to 50 cm long), heaviest mature seed (17.6 kg) and the largest flowers of any palm.

Gymnastics

The animal kingdom contains some of the true masters of aerial gymnastics. Eastern Colobus Monkeys (Colobus guereza) spend much of their time high up in the forest canopy, and are natural gymnasts. They are able to make long leaps, moving from tree to tree with great agility.

Hummingbirds have the fastest wing-beat of any bird. An amazing 200 beats per second has been recorded for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). This allows them to hover and even fly backwards whilst foraging for nectar from flowers.

Football

From looking at fossilized dinosaur footprints we know that some species of dinosaur were fast and agile. Large theropods like T. rex could outrun a professional footballer (running up to 29 kph /18 mph), but smaller, lighter dinosaurs would have been even faster. Shift over Ronaldo!

Marathon

26 miles seems like a long way for our poor legs, but what about the vast distances some animals cover? The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) undertakes one of the world’s longest migrations. They migrate from tropical wintering grounds to summer feeding grounds near the poles, travelling over 5,000 miles a year.

The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) travels huge distances, crossing oceans like the Atlantic, to get from feeding to breeding grounds. This is the largest of all living turtle species; our museum specimen (found washed up in Harlech in 1988) is the largest ever recorded, weighing in at a huge 914 kg!

And finally the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) has the largest wingspan of any living bird, at approximately 3.5 m. As their name suggests they wander a long way and can fly over 10,000 km (about 6,000 miles) on a single feeding trip!

Sailing

Like the sails of a ship, plants are true experts at harnessing the wind to help disperse seeds. The wings on the seeds of Field Maple (Acer campestre) help them to catch the wind, and fly like a helicopter. This means they grow further away from the parent tree and don’t compete with it for light and nutrients. The Javan Cucumber (Alsomitra macrocarpa) produces one of the largest winged seeds in the world with a wingspan of 13 cm helping them to fly just like a glider.

Martial Arts

Plants and animals sure can pack a punch, be it Taekwondo, Judo or Boxing style. Although naturally shy, if the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is cornered they are likely to kick out using their extremely powerful legs. This has led to them being given the title of most dangerous bird! Their powerful legs enable them to sprint at 50 kph (31 mph) and also jump up to 1.5 m.

But its not just the big animals, Bloodworms (Glycera spp.) are marine bristle worms related to earthworms and leeches. They have a long feeding tube (proboscis) that can be half the length of their bodies, and can be extended at great speed! Take that Bruce Lee! They are ambush predators, capturing small shrimp-like crustaceans with the sharp jaws at the proboscis tip.

Finally, the infamous Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This really strong plant can break through concrete and has even been known to grow through the floors of houses. Originally from Japan, it is now common in Britain, especially by rivers.

Long Jump/Triple Jump/Mountain biking

Snow Leopards (Panthera uncia) are fast animals, able to make great leaps over rocky terrain when in pursuit of prey. Records suggest that they can leap as far as 14 metres, ambushing prey from above!

Swimming

From the sprint to synchronized swimming, the natural world is full of swimmers of all abilities. Ichthyosaurs were prehistoric reptiles, shaped like dolphins, which lived in the seas when the dinosaurs were on the land. Their streamlined bodies meant that they could swim up to 40 kph (25 mph).

The Big Mouth Shark (Carcharocles megalodon) swam in our waters 23 to 2.6 million years ago. It was an excellent swimmer and voracious predator and wins the medal for most formidable carnivore to have existed. It was a giant ancestor of the Great White Shark, and grew to 16 m or more in length. It had one of the strongest bites known, 5 times the force of Tyrannosaurus rex’s bite and 10 times the force of the Great White Shark. Eek!

Fencing

Defence is massively important in the natural world, be it to protect your young, impress a partner, or stop you from being eaten! Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were stronger and more heavily built than modern elephants. Their tusks were much bigger too, reaching up to 5 m in length. Mammoths probably used their huge tusks for clearing away ice and snow to find food, to fight with each other, fight off predators, and for display.

The impressive Giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) became extinct after the last ice age and equals the Moose as the largest deer that ever lived. The largest males could have antlers 4 m across, the biggest of any known deer.

You can find amazing feats of daring, skill and grace everywhere in the world around you. Take up a pair of binoculars and check out the peregrines by Cardiff City Hall Clock Tower, or head to Pembrokeshire to see porpoises swimming, or even just check out the fascinating plants and bugs in your back garden. And when you’ve done that, you can come to the museum and try and spot some of the animals and plants from the above in the galleries.