St Fagans National History Museum is an open air museum, although not in the same way that Göreme in Turkey is. St Fagans is a museum of Welsh buildings which reflect the way of life in Wales as it was from mediaeval times up to the more recent past. It is set in the 100 acre grounds of St Fagans manor house, which was originally built in the late 16th century. The buildings were moved stone by stone from their original habitats in Wales and then painstakingly reconstructed in the grounds of St Fagans. If you are near Cardiff, do go to this museum for an interesting day out!
I first went there many years ago, and was fascinated with the whole idea of moving buildings in such a way. One of the ones that was most memorable for me was the Woollen Mill, first built in 1760 and later, in the 19th century extended to house ‘modern’ machinery. It is still working today, with all the processing, from the dying of the fleece to the production of traditional shawls and Welsh blankets (carthenni) being carried out in the same building. The water to move the water wheel is pumped from the swimming pool below, which the Earl of Plymouth had built for his family and guests in 1904.
The Earl of Plymouth donated the manor house to the Welsh people in the mid 20th century and so there was space for this kind of open air museum at last.
There is an old farmhouse (Cilewent Farmhouse) which is an example of a long-house in which people resided at one end and animals were housed at the other. This was originally built in 1470 although the timber walls were replaced by stone ones in 1734.
There are traditional old Welsh chapels, a smithy that was only closed as recently as 1963, but was built in the 18th century, a rural Post Office and a more recent addition, the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute.
The Workingmen’s clubs and Workmen’s Institutes were a focal part of life in the south Wales Valleys as there were dances held there, eisteddfodau (competitions where people competed for prizes in singing, dancing, music and poetry), lectures and other types of fair. There would be a library in some (if not all) as the miners believed in self-education, which was encouraged by the Oxford Movement.
There is also a row of six terraced houses from Rhyd-y-Car, Merthyr Tydfil, built by the local ironmaster Richard Crayshaw. Merthyr was one of the foremost iron-producing towns in Wales in the 19th century. The six houses contain furniture and other items which reflect the different periods of history when they were homes and are fascinating insights into the way the iron-workers and their families lived. I am actually staying in a house built around the same time in Bute Town, Rhymney)
Another house which fascinates me still is Kennixton farmhouse which was from the Gower and is typical of its type. The walls are blood-red and it is thought that they were painted this colour to ward off evil spirits.
There are about 40 buildings in the museum and there will be at least one that will interest you. There is of course a café and if the weather is good, the walk around the parkland is very pleasant.
- Castell Coch, Tongwynlais, Cardiff, South Wales (lynnee8.wordpress.com)
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- Bute Town, Upper Rhymney Valley (lynnee8.wordpress.com)