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Visit to National Collections Centre: 28th October 2019

A visit to Amgueddfa Cymru’s Collection Centre on the Treforest Industrial Estate is always a rewarding experience.  This was the third visit organised for the Friends by Roger Gagg and the third I have been on.  The Centre holds so much, over half-a-million objects – roughly 12% of Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection.  So each visit is a new experience.

We started with an introductory talk by Diane Gwilt, Keeper of Collections Services and the Site Manager.  She gave a brief history of the Centre from its founding in 1998 as a place to store objects from the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay.  It expanded considerably in 2006 when it began to store collections from other Amgueddfa Cymru sites and now has eleven staff concerned with conservation and management of the collections.
We were then split up into three groups to get a taste of the collections and the work that goes on at the Centre.

My group went first to see some of the 250 ship models held by the Museum and learn more about them from David Jenkins, former Principal Curator at the National Waterfront Museum.   The one that most interested me was a model of a sailing ship, the Mary Evans, which was built in 1867 and which carried coal to Valparaiso in Chile until the 1890s when it ended up as a hulk in Rio de Janiero.  What was intriguing was that it was built in Montgomeryshire, an apparently land-locked county.  However, it had a port at Derwen Las, a village on the River Dyfi, which flourished in the 1800s.  The coming of the railways to the area in the 1860s, though, changed the course the river so cutting off Derwen Las from sea and ending its role as a port.
Ship model
              Model of the Mary Evans

Next, we had a talk from Jenny Griffiths, the conservator at the Centre.  She spoke about some of the objects she had been involved in conserving.  These included the fat-fryer that is now in the Life Is Gallery at St Fagans and a model of Oakdale Colliery which was made by schoolchildren from the local primary school in the early 1970s which will go to Big Pit. 

The object that she is working on at present is an iron bell which used by the Foyle Tryfan Slate Company from 1837 to 1873 to warn about imminent blasting operations.  It was acquired by the Museum this year in a sorry state, being severely corroded.  Jenny explained how she had removed the corrosion by scraping and polishing and then applied a protective layer to maintain its present appearance, ready for it to become part of the collection at National Slate Museum.
Jenny Griffiths Talk
Jenny Griffiths talking about the conservation of the quarry bell
Our final visit was to see some of the industrial photographs held at the Centre.  They were selected by Mark Etheridge, Industry and Transport Curator, and they ranged from photographs taken by the Dillwyn-Llewelyns of Penllergare which are some of the earliest taken in Wales to modern aerial photographs of major building projects such as the Cardiff Barrage and the second Severn Crossing.  He explained that the industrial collection is just one of a number of photographic collections held by the Museum.  Those primarily acquired for their artistic merit form part of the National Museum Cardiff collection, whilst those primarily relating to social history are at St Fagans.  A large part of the industrial collection has been digitised and can be seen on the website on the Collections Online page.

Many thanks to Roger Gagg for organising such a fascinating insight into the work that goes on at the National Collections Centre

Diane Davies
Mark Etheridge Talk
Mark Etheridge talking about photographs from the industrial collection



Elgar and Hellens


In June of this year a visit to the Elgar Museum and Hellens Manor House was organised for the Friends and this proved to be so popular that a repeat visit was arranged for October 3rd. Thus it was on a chilly morning that a full coach left from Cardiff and, although the weather remained dull throughout the day with heavy rain in the afternoon, it did not spoil the enjoyment of what was a most interesting and informative day.

We were fortunate to be accompanied on the trip by Geraint Lewis, who in March had given an excellent talk to the Friends entitled Elgar and the Hidden Enigmas.  That talk concentrated on the Enigma Variations but during our journey on the coach Geraint gave a commentary based on his wide knowledge of the composer’s life and other works.

The Elgar Museum consists of two separate buildings, The Firs at Broadheath, which is the house in which Elgar was born, and a purpose-built Information Centre.  On arrival we were served coffee and biscuits and enjoyed another excellent talk, this time from an enthusiastic member of staff, who gave us further information about the family.




The Firs

The Elgar Museum, The Firs, Broadheath

Broadheath remained very dear to Elgar throughout his life, although he only actually lived there until he was two, when the family moved to Worcester. However, his mother wanted a country upbringing for her children and they spent their Summer holidays on a farm near Broadheath.  It was a pleasure to walk through the rooms of the cottage, which contain so many of the composer’s personal possessions – manuscripts, letters, photographs, musical instruments and one of his treasured bicycles on which he explored the nearby Malvern Hills.

It was Elgar’s daughter Carice to whom he confided his wish to be remembered in the place he loved best.  After his death in 1934 she persuaded the corporation of Worcester to purchase the cottage which was later acquired by the National Trust.  It was Carice who recalled her father’s love of and connection to the Worcestershire countryside.  She wrote that it meant, ‘everything to him’. He was, ‘imbued with the very spirit and essence of the county. … From his walking, driving and cycling there was very little of the county he did not know’.


Elgar statue

Edward Elgar by Jemma Pearson made in 2007 to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth

From Broadheath we travelled towards Ledbury to visit the very fine medieval manor of Hellens.  Before our tour we enjoyed a very welcome lunch which had been cooked and served by members of the catering staff.  This consisted of delicious quiches, new potatoes and a variety of imaginative salads all created from locally grown produce.  With the perennial favourite dessert of fruit crumble we considered ourselves well prepared for the rest of our day.

The first building of the manor dates from 1180 and in the centuries following the house was owned by several different families and was much altered and extended.  We were divided into two groups and our guides led us through the many rooms containing fine paintings and furniture reflecting the changing styles of the ages.
Hellens Manor House

Hellens Manor House near Ledbury and its formal garden (below)


Among many interesting anecdotes was the sad story of Hetty Walwyn, a daughter of the house, who in the 18th century eloped with a local lad and was eventually abandoned. On her return home she was confined to her room for 30 years and her mournful ghost is said to wander Hellens making it one of England’s ‘most haunted’ houses.

Unfortunately, time and rain prevented us from seeing much of the gardens, but we returned home agreeing that it had been a day of fascinating contrasts.  Many thanks are due to Richard and Trix for arranging such a memorable programme.

Diana Wilson

The Formal Garden at Hellens
Note: photgraphs are from the first trip in June 2019



Visit to Nantgarw China Works and Museum

Friends Visit on Tuesday 27th August 2019

A group of the Friends had the opportunity to see the various aspects of the Nantgarw China Works amd Museum.  In his introduction, Charles Fountain, Director of Nantgarw China Works and Museum, mentioned that we were the largest group of visitors that the site had played host to.  The site is both a Museum for Nantgarw Porcelain and, once again after a gap of two hundred years, a producer of porcelain, .  He explained that the Works receives no public subsidies or grants and is run by volunteers. Money comes from visitors to the site to visit the Museum and teashop and from the sales of commission porcelain pieces that the Works now produces.

As a Museum for Nantgarw Porcelain, it is currently hosting an exhibition, Coming Home, which celebrates the manufacture of Nantgarw porcelain in its brief production period of four years from 1813 and the exhibition includes twenty-three pieces from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection as well as other important pieces from public and private collections.

First of all. Charles told the story of William Billingsley, its founder.  In the course of his career, he set up, and was financially ruined by, a series or factories he set up across England before he came to Nantgarw where he set up the works in 1813 and for the next four years produced the finest porcelain the world has ever seen.  His soft-paste porcelain was fine-grained, pure white and translucent whatever the thickness of the piece made. 
Blue Plaque
Nantgarw's Blue Plaque

Charles Fountain talking to Friends

   Friends listening to Charles Fountain giving a talk on the history of the Works                                                                                    

He went on to tell about the recent revival of porcelain making at Nantgarw.  By using the latest scientific technology, they have been able to recreate the secret formula that William Billingsley carried to his grave.  They are now therefore now making cups to commission – each one is hand-crafted, so probably as expensive, in today’s terms, as Billingsley’s porcelain was in his day.

Unfortunately, its firing required precise temperature control, which was impossible in the kilns of the time, and his wastage rate from the firing was nearly 90%.  It was not economically viable and, inevitably, the business ran into financial difficulties so that after four years production stopped.  Sufficient had been produced that a further two years were spent decorating the pieces for customers before the works closed for good in 1819 (thus the exhibition to commemorate the anniversary).

We were then split into three groups.  Each had a guided tour of the Exhibition with David, who pointed out some of the most interesting exhibits.



Reconstructed kiln
Then there was a chance to see the historic old factory and kilns, which are designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, before visiting Sally Stubbings, the artist-in-residence, who is making the new porcelain pieces. She took us through the stages of  how Nantgarw porcelain was and is made.  First the clay is poured into moulds, removed and allowed to harden and dry. This results in an incredible 15% shrinkage of the piece without causing any damage or distortion to the shape of the cup, which even she found amazing.  Then came firing and glazing before the white porcelain piece was turned over for decoration according to the wishes of the commissioner.

The third aspect was the history of the works between these two periods of porcelain manufacture.  For most of that time three generations of the Pardoe family produced everyday objects such as clay pipes and tiles. 
Artist in residence
Reconstruction of one of the three kilns on the site
There was an irony in that these objects of mass production proved extremely profitable for nearly 100 years in stark contrast to the fine porcelain that William Billingsley produced for such a short period.
Sally Stubbings, artist-in-residence, explaining to us how moulds are used to create the cup  and handles from the liquid slip

In addition, we were treated to morning coffee and afternoon tea as well as a tasty buffet lunch.

Many thanks must go to Gwen Williams who organised the trip.  At the end she spoke on behalf of us all of our appreciation of the care and efforts of David Fountain and the volunteer staff who had made the visit such an illuminating and enjoyable experience.

Diane Davies




Friends Day Out in Worcester
Visit to Royal Worcester Museum and Worcester Cathedral: Tuesday 6th August 2019

Our last coach trip of 2019 was to Worcester.  An almost fully booked coach set off early and reached Worcester without trouble around 10:00am.  Our first port of call was the Royal Worcester Museum.  Here we treated to a wonderful talk by Jane Tudge on the history of porcelain making in Worcester from its beginnings in 1751.  In addition, we had the opportunity to handle some of the items in the collection and hear sound bites from audio recordings of workers talking about their experiences.  
Royal Worcester Museum

Royal Worcester Museum
Worcester Cathedral Nave

Porcelain production ceased in Worcester in the late 1970s and in 2008 the company itself went into administration.  Fortunately, by then a Trust had been set up to create a Museum which was given ownership of all the historic pieces thus safeguarding them from sale by the administrators.

Then there was an opportunity to visit the Museum galleries to see the collection.  So we were able to explore Galleries showing the Museum’s extensive holdings of Royal Worcester Porcelain with one gallery devoted to the Georgian period when it all started, one devoted to the Victorian period and a third gallery showing pieces up to the closure of the works.                              


After lunch we assembled at Worcester Cathedral for a guided tour. We were split into four groups each with our own guide.  The Cathedral was built between 1084 and 1504 and thus has examples of every style of English architecture from Norman to perpendicular. 
Nave of Worcester Cathedral


The cathedral is famous for its Norman crypt and early 12th century Chapter House.  In addition it houses the tomb of King John as well as a chapel with the tomb of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII.  Arthur's early death at the age of fifteen meant that his younger brother Henry acceded to the throne when Henry VII died in 1509.   Our guide pointed out aspects of Prince Arthur's Chapel that suggest it was built off site in pieces and reassembled because it would appear to be facing the wrong way and also certain decorative features had to be broken off in order for the chapel to fit.  As well as these sights, a stained-glass window dedicated to Edward Elgar was pointed out.
Worcester Cathedral Choir
Many thanks to Peter Davies for organising such an interesting and informative visit.

Diane Davies
  Friends in the Choir of Worcester Cathedral listening to our guide


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