Amgueddfa Cymru


This week’s Youth Forum again made me think about museums and what they can do, and how they should be, in a different way.

While looking at art from the First World War had at times been a sensory overload, this time we were trying to understand what it would be like to come to a museum without one specific sense fully intact. How to make museum exhibits more accessible for the partially sighted?

Having always gone to museums with my sight in (near enough) tip top condition, I and probably others tended to presume it was a pretty necessary requirement. If I had trouble seeing the paintings/sculptures/artefacts, then I don’t think I’d want to go. Because if seeing is believing, and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to be learning about, then surely I wouldn’t learn very much and would end up feeling quite left out, even though this obviously shouldn’t be the case.

And it doesn’t have to be! The paintings and sculptures that we looked up were a bit of a mix, ones that more well-known and some that were completely new. Among the ideas that we came up with, for example, involved the painting Bad News, by James Tissot, incorporating the playing of military marching music alongside the painting to evoke the solemnity and sorrow of leaving your family to go off and fight in another corner of the world.

Similarly, for Entrance to Cardiff Docks by Lionel Walden, lighting effects could imitate the lights of the port and the surrounding buildings, with sound effects of ships coming into port, water slapping against the quay, sailors shouting to each other. We could have smells to add to the experience (although maybe not the fish!). Instead of rough sailors accompanying Manet’s San Maggiore by Twilight, it would be the gentle, joyful peel of Italian church bells.

In front of a painting of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Thomas Apperly and Edward Hamilton by Pompeo Batoni there could be a table with the objects and chairs laid out exactly as they are in the picture, as if the subjects had just finished the sitting and left only a few moments ago. David Nash’s intriguing sculpture Multi-Cut Column could have smaller imitations made of it, that people could actually pass around and touch, something rarely allowed in any exhibit. 

I realise there would be some technical issues in making sure it wasn’t distracting or taking away from the other exhibits, and that maybe not all these ideas will actually become a finished product, but I hope that at least some of them do work out. Because who wouldn’t want to experience this? It might be a bit like theatre, the art being brought to life, stepping into the painting. While I’m definitely thankful I’m not visually impaired in any way, I’m also thankful I took the time to try and understand the experience of those who are. 

  • Our next Audio Description Tour will take place on the 8th of December will be of our Natural History Collections.

‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’ is the first Community Archaeology project funded by the HLF project Saving Treasures; Telling Stories. Run by Swansea Museum, the project is inspired by a collection of finds made by a local metal detectorist on Swansea Bay, which has also been acquired for the museum by Saving Treasures.

Blades and Badges

It includes some mysterious items, such as a Bronze Age tool with a curved blade which has had archaeologists scratching their heads. Ideas about its purpose range from opening shellfish, to scraping seaweed off nets or rocks, to carving bowls.

Amongst the other items found on the bay are a number of medieval pilgrim badges, including one brought back from the important shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Pilgrim badges are usually made of lead or pewter and were often bought at shrines as a souvenir and worn on the pilgrim’s hat or cloak.

It is thought that those found in Swansea Bay were probably thrown into the sea by pilgrims returning to south Wales by boat as a thank offering for their safe return. It seems like a curiously pagan thing for a medieval Christian to do, but it’s similar to the modern practice of throwing coins in wells, which is itself a survival of an ancient religious ritual.

The Archaeology of the Bay

The new collection is just a tiny fraction of the objects discovered on the bay, which has a rich and varied – as well as sensitive – archaeology. This includes fragments of Bronze Age trackways and prehistoric forests, Roman brooches, ceramics, shipwrecks and the remains of World War Two bombs.

Community Involvement

Each one has a tale to tell and together they are helping archaeologists build the story of human activity in the bay over thousands of years. Helping to interpret the finds, their significance for the history of Swansea Bay and for the people of modern Swansea are representatives from Swansea community groups, including the Red Café youth group, the Dylan Thomas Centre’s Young Writers Squad, Community First families and the Young Archaeologist Club.

The project’s first activity, a Big Beachcomb, took place on the bay itself on Saturday 17th September, but to find out about that you will have to wait for the next blog in this series…..


Mae’n swyddogol – peidiwch da chi â bod heb ddilledyn melfed yr hydref hwn! Dyma farn rhai o gylchgronau mwyaf dylanwadol y byd ffasiwn ar hyn o bryd. Ond er y chwiw presennol am bopeth melfed, mae’r defnydd moethus hwn wedi bod yn rhan o gwpwrdd dillad y genedl ers canrifoedd lawer.

Yn hanesyddol, fe ystyrir melfed fel dynodydd cyfoeth a statws – ffaith sy’n cael ei amlygu yng nghasgliadau gwisgoedd a thecstiliau yr Amgueddfa. Mae’r casgliadau hyn yn cynnwys gwrthrychau fu unwaith yn eiddo i rai o feistri tir enwocaf Cymru – teuluoedd cefnog, fel y Morganiaid o Dŷ Tredegar, a oedd yn addurno eu tai ac yn gwisgo defnyddiau costus i ddatgan eu cyfoeth i’r byd.

Ymhlith yr eitemau sydd ar gof a chadw yn yr Amgueddfa mae siaced felfed lliw eirin tywyll a wnaed yn 1770 ar gyfer Syr Watkin Williams-Wynn, y Pedwerydd Barwnig. Wedi ei eni yn 1749 ar ’stâd Wynnstay, ger Rhiwabon, roedd Syr Watkin yn adnabyddus fel un o noddwyr amlycaf y celfyddydau yng Nghymru. Yn ogystal â phrynu darnau o gelf, crochenwaith a dodrefn gan gynllunwyr mawr y dydd, roedd hefyd yn hoff o wario ar ddillad.

Pan oedd yn 19 mlwydd oed, aeth Syr Watkin ar Daith Fawr o Ewrop – rhan annatod o lwybr bywyd bonheddwr ifanc yn y cyfnod hwn. Rhwng Mehefin 1768 a Chwefror y flwyddyn ganlynol, bu’n crwydro Ffrainc, Y Swistir a’r Eidal. Mae llyfrau cyfrifon ’stâd Wynnstay yn dangos iddo wario £220 ar ddillad yn ystod y daith. Prynodd wisgoedd ym Mharis, siwt felfed blodeuog yn Lyon a llathenni o felfed gan sidanwr yn Turin.

Mae’n bosibl mai’r felfed hwn a ddefnyddiwyd i wneud y siaced sydd erbyn hyn ym meddiant yr Amgueddfa. Nid siaced bob dydd mo hon – mae hi wedi ei theilwra’n gywrain a’i brodio gydag edafedd sidan, rhubanau a secwinau aur. Mae’n debyg mai teiliwr yn Llundain fu’n gyfrifol am ei thorri a’i gwnïo. Roedd teilwriaid ffasiynol y cyfnod yn cyflogi nifer o frodwyr proffesiynol i addurno eu gwaith – dynion, nid menywod, oedd y rhain.

Yn 1770 cynhaliwyd parti chwedlonol yn Wynnstay i nodi penblwydd Syr Watkin yn 21 oed. Tybed ai’r gôt felfed oedd amdano’r noson honno? Daeth 15,000 i’r dathliad a thri llond coets o gogyddion o Lundain. Ar y fwydlen roedd 30 bustach, 50 mochyn, 50 llo, 18 oen, 37 twrci a llu o ddanteithion eraill. Does ryfedd i Syr Watkin fagu cryn dipyn o bwysau erbyn diwedd ei oes!

Display for Unknown Wales at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd / National Museum Cardiff

The Unknown Wales event is this Saturday 8 October 2016 – now in its 6th year. People are invited to National Museum Cardiff’s Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre to listen to talks celebrating Welsh wildlife. For the first time, we have created a small display in the Museum’s galleries to complement these talks.

Our Natural Science curators chose the specimens on display from the millions available in the Museum’s collections. The collections are diverse, including pressed plants, fossils, taxidermy animals, fluid-preserved worms, pinned insects, and more. Look out for the Unknown Wales display case at the top of the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff.

At Unknown Wales this year, eight speakers will tell us about their research into garden birds, Pine Martens, limpets, fungi, coal tip invertebrates, and the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. Finally, we are pleased to welcome Professor Mike Benton who will bring last year’s big discovery, the new Welsh Dinosaur, back to life for us. Listen back to the BBC Wales Science Cafe preview of the event:

Book a place at the Unknown Wales day this Saturday 8 October, 10am - 4pm (free entry):


Here's a round-up of what happened at Unknown Wales 2015.


Nothing lasts forever, not even in your favourite museum. The job of the conservator is to preserve the national collection but decay is all around us. Sometimes it feels like being a surgeon on an intensive care unit. Fortunately we do have a lot of science and technology to help us.

I have recently written about how we refurbished a collection store because corrosive gases being emitted from wooden cupboards caused some metal objects to show early signs of decay. In this blog I want to walk you through the science and analysis behind this project.

Iron rusts, every kid knows that. Leave a nail out in the garden and within weeks, days perhaps, you will notice it develops a lovely orange colour; given enough time, some moisture and oxygen it will eventually become flaky, friable and disintegrate. What happens when iron rusts? Iron atoms react with oxygen and water molecules, leading to oxidation of iron. The result are hydrated iron oxides, a small family of minerals commonly called rust.

Rusting iron has long been a bane of humanity. The Forth Bridge has to be repainted over and over again because it didn’t it would rust and collapse into the Firth below. The same is true of our own Menai Suspension Bridge here in Wales. Wales was the place for the invention of a rust-proofing process for household products made of iron. In the late 17th Century, Thomas Allgood of Pontypool developed a coating for iron involving the use of an oil varnish and heat. This process was called ‘japanning’, as a European imitation of Asian lacquerwork. Pontypool Museum has lots of information about these old local industries on its website so please visit there if you would like to know more.

The National Museum in Cardiff has a collection of Welsh japanned ware which was largely acquired during the early years of the National Museum. Many of these objects do not consist of iron alone: lead, tin, copper and zinc all feature in varying proportions in different parts of some of the objects. Complicated parts, such as handles and bases, were parts made from softer metals or alloys. We can find out what materials an object is made of using a completely non-invasive technology called X-ray Fluorescence (XRF). XRF directs X-rays towards an object and analyses the X-rays that bounce back. As different elements have their own, unique X-ray fluorescence which the instrument can identify and even use to quantify the elemental composition of objects without having to take a physical sample.

The problem for the museum conservator is that many of these metals, too, corrode under certain circumstances. In the case of the objects which were subject to the previous blog the corrosion of parts with a high lead component was accelerated by the high organic acid concentration within the old storage cupboards. A number of analytical tests exist for identifying and quantifying organic acids in air; we used small discs with an absorbent material that were exposed to the air in the store (both inside and outside of the cabinets) and later analysed in the lab. The results of this test showed that the concentration of acetic acid was 623µg/m3 (250ppb) inside the cabinets and 19µg/m3 (8ppb) in the store, and the concentration of formic acid 304µg/m3 (159ppb) inside the cabinets and 10µg/m3 (5ppb) in the store.

We know that both acetic and formic acids are emitted by wood, and both acids can react with various metals to produce, in some cases, some impressive corrosion products. Clearly, the concentrations of both acids were higher inside the storage furniture than in the store itself, giving us a massive clue that the problem was caused by the cabinets and not air pollution entering the store through the air conditioning system. The fresh air supply into the store, on the other hand, kept the concentration of pollutants low in the store itself.

Corrosion and decay comes in many forms, and we also use other technologies to help us identify corrosion products. Of these more in a future blog. In the meantime we are continuing to eliminate the sources of corrosive substances from the museum to help preserve the national collection.

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