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Welsh Folk Musem - A Great Day Out For Free
Museum of Welsh Life (Cardiff)
Member Name: derek-a
Museum of Welsh Life (Cardiff)
Advantages: It's free, plenty to see and do, Educational & fun for the whole family.
Disadvantages: Not good if it's raining.
About five miles west of Cardiff, (intersection 33, M4), first opened in 1948, lies The Welsh Folk Museum, in the quaint village of Saint Fagan's. Claimed to be one of the foremost open-air museums in Europe, it has fifty acres of Welsh cottages and other buildings that have literally been uprooted from their original site stone by stone and reconstructed in the grounds.
Here, one can see how the Welsh used to live from the Middle Ages right up to the present day. Some of the cottages have only two rooms, one on the ground floor with beaten earth under foot, and a crude ladder leading to cramped sleeping quarters in the attic of a thatched roof. Many of these small cottages used to house as many as seventeen or eighteen occupants!
As you visit each exhibit, you are greeted by a friendly attendant, fluent in both Welsh and English, who is only too pleased to discuss the history of each building, how it was constructed and the lifestyle of the occupants.
The early builders of the many of the cottages would probably have been staking a claim on the land that surrounded it. It was his as far as he could throw an axe, and he could work and live on his new land providing he could build his cottage over-night and have smoke pouring out of the chimney by daybreak.
On entering the grounds, via the indoor museum, turn left, and the first cottage to view is Kennixton Farmhouse. A red-coloured, stone-built structure, that stood on the Gower Peninsular in West Glamorgan from 1610 up until 1953, when the museum dismantled it and reconstructed in the grounds. It was coloured red in the belief that it would scare of evil spirits.
A little further down the path is a circular pigsty, several of which still exist in South Wales today. This type of building technique, known as corbelling, has been used since ancient times, not only on pigsties, but also on houses that can still be seen in parts of France and Italy. This particular example was built in Pontypridd around 1800.
The Melin Bompren Corn Mill, dated 1852-53, is a fine example of one of hundreds of mills that used to work in Wales. Inside you can see working machinery grinding raw oats and corn into flour, which is on sale in the museum grounds. To the rear of the building is a working water-wheel, which operates the grinding and lifting machinery inside.
The 'better class' of farmer lived in a long single-story cottage with an array of rooms. There is a beautiful example of one in the grounds. Hendre'r-ywydd Uchaf Farmhouse, built in 1508, was brought from Clwyd in 1962. The animals lived inside with the occupants. This type of cottage was usually built on a slope, so that the animal's waste products could drain away from the living quarters. There was also a belief, that if the cows could see an open fire burning in the hearth, they would produce more milk.
The Tannery, built in the late eighteenth century, was a factory in South Wales where hides were made into leather. The museum's example was one of the last to operate, producing leather for footwear and horses' harnesses. Raw hides were soaked in large pits containing strong bark solutions, that were then scrubbed, dried and rolled flat. The complete process from beginning to end took about eighteen months.
Further into the grounds is an excellent example of a Celtic Iron Age village, consisting of three small circular houses all recreated from excavated remains of actual buildings that were discovered at Conderton, Warwickshire and on a hill-fort at Moel-y-gaer, Clwyd. Quite similar in shape to the North American Indian Teepee, one is quite taken aback at the unexpected spaciousness of these buildings once inside them.
Having been reconstructed in the grounds during the last few years, the Miner's Institute, from Oakdale in Gwent, was an early form of leisure centre come working-men’s club built in 1916, for the Miners and their families. They were a common sight in mining towns and villages throughout Wales, and from the beginning of the twentieth century, many a Saturday night would be spent by the members, playing cards, or listening to local entertainers. The example in the Museum, consists of a library with reading rooms and a auditorium that seated three hundred and fifty people. As mining has declined in South Wales and other forms of entertainment like disco and karioke have taken over, these Workmen's Halls have fallen into disuse or been demolished.
You can be forgiven, as you approach the Gwalia Stores, for thinking you are walking back into the nineteen-twenties. This business was developed in 1880 by William Llewellyn. Inside there are displays of typical twenties' groceries and tobacco in one shop, and ironmongery in the other. The shop was trading right up until 1973 when it closed. It was restructured in the museum in 1991.
There are a row of six, nineteenth-century, terrace houses that portrays life as it was in Merthyr Tydfil, through the ages from 1800 up to 1985. Richard Crawshay, one of the great iron masters, originally built the Rhyd-y-Car Iron-Workers Houses for his iron-ore mine workers. Each house, together with its garden, is displayed in a different stage of modernisation for the years; 1805, 1855, 1895, 1925, 1955 and 1985. Merthyr was the most populous town in Wales. It was here that the first steam locomotive in the world conveyed five wagons, full of steal, to Abercynon; about nine miles to the south.
However, poor old Merthyr Tydfil was never much loved. A novel written by Anthony Trollope describes how a young curate faints when he learns he is to be sent there to work. Also, in the eighteenth century, it was described by Thomas Carlyle as "a vision of hell", when he witnessed men toiling and sweating in the furnaces and coal pits.
Blaenwaun Post Office, built in Dyfed in 1936, is claimed to be the smallest free standing Post Office in the whole of Wales. It was built by a stone mason called Evan Isaac, with the help of his carpenter cousin, David Williams. It was then run by Mr. Issac's daughter and her husband until 1963 when the business was transferred elsewhere. The Post Office Counters Ltd, sponsored the restructuring in the museum.
In all, there are over forty attractions in the museum, including the Tailor's Workshop, Dyfed (1896); Ewenni Pottery, Mid. Glamorgan (1900); the Woollen Mill(1760); and a variety of traditional breeds of livestock. In the indoor section, the Agricultural Gallery; antique farming implements the Costume Gallery with early costume and dress; and the Gallery of Material Culture where many aspects of Welsh social and cultural life is exhibited.
The Welsh Folk museum at St. Fagan's can really provide the whole family with an interesting and full day out, with plenty of nostalgia. You can picnic in the grounds or dine in the museum restaurant. In the museum shop there are a large selection of reading matter on the exhibits.
The entrance fee to the Museum is currently free and the car park costs £2 – so all in all, it makes a cheap and fantastic day out.
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Summary: St Fagan's Museum is always growing so therefore well worth regular visits..
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