Welsh Witterings: St Fagans National Museum of History
Seren and her family visit the St Fagans National Museum of History for the day.
At the weekend I packed the mini-bus full of nappies, children’s clothes, drinks and other essentials before loading my four young daughters in for a trip to St. Fagans National Museum of History.
St Fagans first flung its gates open to the public in 1948 and it was designed to be an open air museum that was by no means formal and untouchable, but alive and relevant . The museum was the dream of Iorwerth C Peate, who originated from Llanbryn-Mair, Machynlleth. He was a was a man with a longing to create a museum for the people of Wales. He had been inspired by learning about a pioneering open-air museum in Skansen, near Stockholm, and wanted to recreate the experience in Wales. His dream became a reality when the Welsh Folk Museum, as it was then, opened on July 1, 1948. When talking about the creation of the museum he said : “[The task] was not to create a museum which preserved the dead past under glass but one which uses the past to link up with the present to provide a strong foundation and a healthy environment for the future of their people.”
This open air museum boasts enviable visitor rates and has a range of exhibitions and events going on to mark it seventieth birthday including St Fagans Ghost Walk and even a class entitled ‘Introduction to Blacksmithing’. Looking at their calendar of events I can see me visiting a few more times this year as the events on offer include everything from food festivals, Halloween nights, through to patchworking classes.
St Fagans Museum is unusual as it is set in the grounds of what is known as St Fagan’s Castle; a 16th-century manor house that after a succession of owners and periods of neglect was renovated and donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth. Today, the castle stands strong and perhaps its donation saved it from a fate of abandonment and eventual dereliction- a fate that has become so many of these fine and sprawling properties. The castle, a Grade I listed building and one of the finest Elizabethan manor houses in Wales, is perhaps one of the highlights of the museum and certainly acts as a great draw for tourists.
They do say that change is necessary for growth and it is certain that during the past seventy years the site of St Fagans museum has seen plenty of change. Indeed, in the last seventy years over fifty original buildings from different locations in Wales and from different historical periods have been re-built in the 100-acre parkland. Each building has been painstakingly reconstructed and is frozen in time which offers a rare opportunity for people to open a door and take a peek into Welsh history.
One of the highlights for my children was the Rhyd-y-car ironworkers’ cottages from Merthyr Tydfil, which were relocated to St Fagans in 1987, in order to show the typical lives of mining communities. My eldest daughter, Harriet enjoyed ‘time-travelling’ along the row of cottages and indeed she was right to say that it is as if you travel through time as you see six homes, including their contents and gardens, change from 1805 to 1985.
There are plenty of places to stop for a picnic or you can choose to enjoy a cup of tea in the new visitor café. We were happy to enjoy our packed lunch in one of the picnic areas and enjoy an ice cream from the on-site sweet shop.
For me the highlight of the visit was seeing the toll house that originally graced South Gate, Aberystwyth. I have seen old photographs of the old toll house, but it was wonderful to see it perfectly preserved at St. Fagans. Originally built in 1771, it was re-constructed at the museum in 1966, I pass its original site of erection every day and seeing it gave me a rare glimpse into the old Aberystwyth as did the Derwen Bakery, which was originally founded in Aberystwyth around the beginning of the 20th Century. It was built in 1900 by Evan Jenkins, a local farmer who decided to start the business for his two daughters, today the Derwen Bakery name thrives at St. Fagans and I can’t help thinking that Aberystwyth was much prettier in the past and much better without the likes of Tesco’s, Morrisons and other chain stores.
It was hard for my husband and the children to tear me away from the display of Liberty Shoes in the outfitters and near impossible for them to coax me out of the old grocery store, as I was simply in love with all the old packaging and displays.
St. Fagans offers a great day out for all the family and it is easy to access. I look forward to visiting again and will be excited to see the eventual re-construction of The Vulcan Hotel. Indeed, the reconstruction of the Vulcan Hotel, originally built on Adam Street in Cardiff in 1853 is one of the museum’s on-going building projects and I can only imagine what a difficult task it must be to deconstruct and reconstruct such a building.
Well, with sticky smiles and tired legs I conclude my children enjoyed their day out at St. Fagans and I came back with a few more ideas about the history of the town I live in.
For opening times and more information on St. Fagans Museum visit their website https://museum.wales/stfagans/