“ St. Fagans, Cardiff, South Glamorgan, CF5 6XB. Tel: +44 (0)29 2057 3500. Fax: +44 (0)29 2057 3490. „
Cardiff Museum of Welsh Life (situated in, and known locally as, St Fagan's) is an interesting (mainly outdoor) museum.
There are many attractions within the grounds, including the castle (which is a Tudor manor house,) the village shops (working,) the farmyards (complete with real pigs and sheep,) and the reconstructed houses, workman's institute, chapel, medieval church, and school house. The buildings (excluding the castle, which I believe was already on site,) were painstakingly removed, and then reassembled, brick by brick, in this corner of rural Wales. The Archaeology section of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff has recently been relocated to St. Fagan's.
There are several events throughout the year, as well as the opportunity to watch crafts such as glassmaking and weaving. Local schools often take on the role of Victorian school children for the day (as I did when I was about ten - to the delight of a bus full of Japanese tourists,) and re-enact school conditions of the period. This includes using actual ink pens, and being 'caned' and labelled (with a block of wood hung around your neck) for speaking Welsh.
There's seating dotted about, which is good because of the spread out nature of the museum. It's a good walk, should you want one, to see everything that there is to see. Much of the land is still working farmland, so you have to dodge the occasional quad bike, maintenance vehicle, or tractor. There are lakes/ponds in front of the castle, which have plenty of ducks to watch (yay ducks!)
Hang around a castle in Wales and sooner or later youre bound to spy some ghostly apparition or hear things that go bump in the night, and as you would expect from a city thats been around 2000 years Cardiff has its fair share of spooky stories.
Cardiffs most well known ghost is that of the 2nd Marquess of Bute, who died suddenly one night in his home of Cardiff Castle and whose ghost now haunts the library close to where he died. Tours of Cardiff Castle take place every day, and a short journey North takes you to another of the Marquess' homes, Castel Coch. Also known as the Red Castle, this ancient building is claimed to be haunted by a woman named Dame Griffiths, whose son fell into a dark pool nearby and was never seen again. Her ghost now wanders the woods searching for her lost son.
To increase your ghost hunting chances, however, then a visit to Britains most haunted museum is a must. The Museum of Welsh Life, which has free entry and is only a short distance from the centre of Cardiff, is home to dozens of buildings transported from all over Wales and reconstructed brick by brick in the museum grounds.
Together with the building, however, come the ghosts. One of the first inhabited buildings was Llainfadyn cottage from Rhostryfan. It housed dozens of children from 1762 until the mid twentieth century and visitors to this simple stone-boulder cottage have heard and seen children playing, laughing and crying inside its thick lime-washed walls.
The 18th century Cilewent farmhouse has also been home to bizarre goings on. Upon opening the locked wooden trap to the loft , museum staff were startled to find tiny footprints in the dust covering a series of Welsh wooden chests and several visitors complained of feeling ice cold when entering the building.
Visitors to the Penrhiw Chapel, a white Unitarian chapel from Carmarthenshire, have also been shocked to see the macabre sight of the 'toili', a phantom funeral procession, in which they would recognise friends, family or even themselves.
Such is the wealth of ghostly tales in South Wales that a group dedicated to the investigation of the paranormal has been set up.
The activities of the South Wales Paranormal Research Group include ghost watches, some of which the public can attend, at sites such as Margam Castle and Llancaiach Fawr manor. Many of these sites run ghost tours around Halloween time, but for a year-round ghost tour your best bet is Creepy Cardiff. On this walking tour around Cardiffs civic centre you will discover the tales of ghosts in the National Museum, local pubs and even the alleged burial place of Queen Bodecia.
Check out www.visitcardiff.com for more information about visiting Cardiff.
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-mens 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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Probably the best way to start off this review is to actually say what St Fagans is. Well, it is a village about four miles north of Cardiff, which also lends its name to one of the National Museums of Wales - in this case, the Museum of Welsh Life. As I happened to be in Cardiff on a bit of a jaunt last week, I spent a day at this site (armed with my trusty dooyoo goggles of course!). The Museum of Welsh Life is the oldest open-air museum in Britain (having opened in 1948), and claims to be the most visited heritage attraction in Wales. Occupying an enormous 104 acre site in a wooded valley, it has an assorted collection of buildings (most of which were dismantled from various places all over Wales and re-erected here), together with a couple of archaeological reconstructions, an Elizabethan manor house on its original site, a number of working craft displays and some indoor galleries. The purpose of all this is to show the visitor what life in Wales would have been like over the centuries. - Getting there One of the big pluses of this site is the fact it is so close to a capital city ? although in the middle of the valley you would find that hard to believe! If you are driving, then it will take about 15-20 minutes from city centre, just follow the brown signs for St Fagans out of Cardiff that will lead you to the museum car park. You may find it easier to use public transport, though, and this is surprisingly well catered for (I am used to not being able to visit places through the lack of a car). The 320 bus runs hourly (at 20 minutes past the hour) from stand B of Cardiff Central bus station, and drops you off right outside the entrance gates ? coming back, they run at 50 minutes past the hour just across the road to the entrance (it will cost £2.50 return from the bus station). - What will it cost? The nice people in the Assembly have decreed that everyone should have access to the National Museums of Wales,
so have made entrance completely free. While this is very nice of them and makes for a cheap day out, it unfortunately removes the main source of income for the museum, which is a bit of a problem. For this reason, I would recommend buying a visitor guide - the £1.95 will go towards important conservation work, and the information it contains is actually very useful as you wander around the site. - What is there to do? The main location on the site is the galleries, set in the large entrance building along with the museum shop and restaurant. While it is quite clear that renovation work has gone on to provide good, accessible visitor facilities, it is equally clear that noone has done anything to the displays for a very long time. A lot of them look very dull and outdated, and a lot of visitors seemed to be wandering through with a rather glazed expression on their faces! As there is so much to do on site, I would really say not to bother with anything other than the costume gallery - the display on national dress was the one worthwhile bit here. Leaving the main building, you enter the open-air part of the museum, with a rather large collection of sites and building spread right across the site, and pleasant green walkways leading between them - this is where your guidebook map comes in useful! I would say that visiting the museum involves lots of walking, and while there are plenty of seats spread around, it is worthwhile selecting which parts you want to see and heading directly for them if you have trouble walking around or have young children with you (or if you are just plain lazy). I was recovering from an injured knee at this point, so there was no way I could possible get round everything! One of the main attractions at St Fagans is the manor house - which for some reason they insist on calling a castle. Unfortunately, this was closed for conservation work when I visited, but it should be open again for the main
summer season when schools finish. From the guidebook though, this looks to be a National Trust-ish sort of experience. There are two archaeological-type reconstructions on site which are part of a new development to extend the museum. They have a timber circle, and more interesting for me, an Iron Age village complete with roundhouses and timber palisade. I don't know how much validity these reconstructions have, but they are fun to have a look at nonetheless, and are a bit of a change from the farmhouses that seem to dominate the museum! A number of buildings have craftsmen working in them, offering displays (and sometimes souvenirs) to the public - these are intended to reflect 500 years of traditional skills in Wales. Notable among these displays are the bakery, pottery, blacksmith, miller and tanner. In all other buildings though, there are museum assistants to answer your questions about the items on display and the structures themselves. This site does attract many groups of schoolchildren during term time, so be warned that some areas may be blocked off to other visitors while schools are using them. Other sites include: - bee hives - a post office - early 20th century shops - war memorial - a church - a schoolhouse - a boat house - a coach house - a "house of the future" (currently being developed) A visit takes between 2 hours and a full day, depending on how much you want to see/are prepared to walk. Available visitor facilities are: - café (avoid - bad food and overpriced) - restaurant (not cheap, but the food its much better) - plenty of picnic tables if you take food with you - two shops with a good range of stock - chance to buy items made on site (e.g. pottery, bread) - children's play area - toilets with disabled access Most of the site has wheelchair access, with the exception of the cast
le and castle gardens, which are up several flights of steps. - My opinion St Fagans is really little more than a romanticised nostalgia-fest for older visitors and a place to bring school groups I'm afraid. While it is a cheap and quite enjoyable day out if you are lucky enough to get good weather, I don't feel that I left with a better knowledge of how my ancestors lived, or what Wales was like over the past few centuries. I am somewhat doubtful over how accurate some of these displays actually are (you need to take them with a considerable side serving of salt), and while they have done a good thing by saving so much material from loss, I feel that they lose some of their historical meaning when taken out of context as they are presented here. And of course, there is the inevitable bias towards South Wales. Despite this though, I am glad that I contributed to the costs of the museum, in the hope that modern interpretation practices will eventually filter in... Sorry, but for the time being, if it's an open-air museum you are after, Beamish is much better! - Details Entrance - free Guidebooks - £1.95 Museum of Welsh Life St Fagans South Glamorgan Phone - 029 20573500 Web - www.nmgw.ac.uk
Once again open after foot and mouth St Fagan’s had to shut its doors during the last holidays, as it’s so popular. Opened in 1948 St Fagan’s has become one of Europe’s leading open museums. The museum shows how the people of Wales lived, worked and spent their leisure time over the last five hundred years. The museum stands in the grounds of St Fagan’s Castle a late sixteenth Century Manor House. The parkland is stretched over one hundred acres and has thirty-two buildings which have come from various parts of Wales and been re-erected. The buildings include a school, chapel, a Victorian shop, Celtic village and several workshops showing a blacksmith and a cooper at work. There are large indoor galleries that have exhibitions of costume, daily life and farming implements. Special exhibitions are also held at regular intervals and traditional festivals during the year. Christmas time demonstrates many old trades, card making etc. Native breeds of livestock can be seen in the fields and farmyards and they are quite friendly due to the number of visitors that give them attention my favourites are the pigs but watch your fingers!!! There are cattle, chickens and of course sheep. My kids have been on a number of occasions with the school and they rightfully boasted when I visited last weekend that 180.000 children visited last year. Food is a little bit expensive but there are plenty of picnic areas. A damn good day out for all the family but try and go on a dry day as it does make a difference.
The Museum Of Welsh Life is situated at St Fagans just outside Cardiff. This open air museum features centuries of Welsh tradition's, the different costumes, the culture and the indusrty are shown here. There are over 40 buildings at the museum, they have been brought stone-by-sone and re-built at the museum. You can visit a 2000 year old Celtic village, a 1980's miner's cottage, a pre-war grocery, a Victorian school room, a 1920's farm and they are planning on adding a 1940's prefab. The museum has a whole host of special events, for example, until the end of September, on Tuesdays and Fridays, there are traditional folklore stories, there are also Craft Days, a Children's Festival and loads of other special events. You should phone before you visit, to check what will be happening on the day you plan on going. It costs £5.50 for adults, but under 19's, OAP's and unemployed people can get in free, which makes this a very reasonable day out for a family. Of course your enjoyment will depend largely on the weather, but there is a huge amount to see and do and on a fine day, this is a great way to spend a day.