Over half-term we visited St Fagans National History Museum. It is an open-air museum in Cardiff chronicling the historical lifestyle, culture, and architecture of the Welsh people. Set in the grounds of St Fagans Castle, an Elizabethan manor house, the 100-acre parkland is now home to over forty original buildings, moved from various parts of Wales and re-erected to show how the people of Wales lived at various times in history. The museum was started in 1946 following the donation of the castle and lands by the Earl of Plymouth to the people of Wales. It opened its doors to the public in 1948, under the name of the Welsh Folk Museum.
The Museum shows how the people of Wales lived, worked and spent their leisure time over the last five hundred years, and the buildings reflect that; there are farmhouses, mills, worker’s cottages, shops, a school, a chapel and church, tannery, cockpit and Workman’s institute among many others.
Each building is furnished at a particular point in time, and many have their own gardens which have been planted to be historically correct as well. Outside each building there is an information board explaining where the building originated from, its history and in most cases pictures of it in its original location, which really brings their history alive. Inside each furnished house, the fires were lit, and a guide was on hand to chat about the buildings and the museum in general. The photos below are the exterior and interior of Nant Wallter Cottage; built out of Clom (clay or mud mixed with straw, earth and small stones, and built in layers) dated 1770, and furnished as the home of a farm labourer at the end of the 18th century.
This small late-medieval house shown below was originally sited in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. and is dated around 1580. It is thought to have been home to a trader, and the guide inside told us that it was in fact grand for its time as it contained an early toilet, which was a hole in a seat with a lid (to the left of the ladder) dropping straight outside!
The School house was built in 1880, and was originally located in Maestir, Lampeter. It is arranged as it was in 1900 when Miss Rachel Ann Thomas was headteacher, and includes an assortment of desks for pupils of different ages, from five to fourteen, all of whom were taught in the single classroom. The kids were horrified when they spotted the canes, they truly cannot believe that teachers used to hit children with them!
One of our favourite buildings was the Gwalia Stores. The shop has been shown as it would have been in the late 1920s, fitted with mahogany shelving, counters and bins by Parnalls of Bristol. Next to the stores was a portrait gallery where you can dress up in period costume and have your photograph taken in a vintage style (if you have children who are compliant – which ours declined to be!).
The museum holds displays of traditional crafts with a working blacksmith forge, a pottery, a weaver, miller, and clog maker. It also includes two working water mills: one flour mill and one wool mill. Part of the site includes a small working farm which concentrates on preserving local Welsh native breeds of livestock. Produce from the museum’s bakery and flour mill is available for sale.
The indoor galleries housing exhibitions of costume, daily life and farming implements were closed when we visited – the museum has been granted a large lottery grant and is currently revamping its exhibition buildings. They are also currently working on the construction of an Iron Age farmstead from Anglesey, and Llys Rhosyr, a thirteenth-century court of the princes of Gwynedd, both reconstructions based on archaeological findings. The plans suggest the place will be even more remarkable, once the new building work is finished. We were able to visit the Iron Age roundhouse which is currently only accessible on weekends, due to building work in the week.
The final part of our visit was looking around the Manor House itself. The whole of the museum is free entry, including the Manor which we thought was amazing, considering what a wonderful place it is and how much there is to see. You can easily spend the whole day here, we must have spent 4 hours +, and that was in the rain and with the inside exhibitions closed. It really is a fascinating day out, and we will definitely be visiting again.