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Museum Matters

Carmarthen Town Museum & Art Gallery

2005's Antiquarian Exhibition was a pleasure as it was a chance to work with amazing objects rarely on display now. Putting together our new gallery in Carmarthen Library brings back similar feelings. You realise once more how remarkably fortunate we are to have such fantastic items in the collection; again thanks to the Antiquarian Society and other generous donors. Pop down to the exhibition room in the library to find our new Carmarthen room. Some things will be familiar from past visits to the old Heritage Centre, but there is a lot of new material, and objects not seen for a while, too. The shop and pub signs are wonderful and you can't fail to miss the Columbia Press, once so much a feature of the main hall in Abergwili. My personal favourites have to be the old brass imperial weights and measures. Could be a question there for next February, Quizmaster Lloyd! 

Picture showing the maritime influences which have shaped Carmarthen.

Gavin Evans
Summer 2006


Carmarthenshire County Museum's new look

The Open Day in June 2004 marked the reopening of the Museum and launched our new look. Visitors to the museum tell us that they like the improved museum. It had been apparent for some time that the museum desperately needed refreshing, as the building, displays and cases were beginning to look tired and tatty. Putting in a lift and other building improvements meant closing the building to the public. This gave us a perfect opportunity to improve the entire building and our displays, and we knew that we had to take advantage of it. We began by getting together to discuss how we should display the collections and the building and then took our next step, writing an interpretation plan. As we worked on this plan, we realised that all areas of the museums needed to be improved and we wanted to make some new displays and open up new rooms. We also decided that some key exhibits should be moved.

Our aim was to provide a museum that would tell the story of Carmarthenshire, its history, landscape and environment and the people who have lived here. We decided to arrange the displays so that visitors walking around the building could follow a time line. The story now begins with the Making of Carmarthenshire, which looks at the landscape and environment of the county. It finishes in our Twentieth Century Carmarthenshire Gallery. Of course, there are some favourite things, such as the Picton Monument, which cannot be dovetailed into a chronological trail but even this has been moved to a new location! There is still a great deal of work to be carried out to complete the new displays and our new Discovering and Exploring (Clore) Room, Galleries of Rural and Welsh Life and the old Bishops' Kitchen and Scullery are scheduled to open in the New Year.

All of this has cost money. Carmarthenshire County Council has paid for access improvements, such as the lift, and funding has also come from other sources. Dr. George Arbour Stephens' bequest was instrumental in attracting grant aid by providing match funding and for completing our re-displays. Grants have been received from The Clore Foundation towards the Exploring and Discovering Room and the Welsh Assembly Government towards installing our new, high quality temporary exhibition gallery. Completing the galleries and renovating the Kitchen and Scullery will be carried out with the help of a grant from Objective One and Carmarthenshire County Council's Rural Services and Thematic Fund. The help of the Friends has been vital. Thursday volunteers have catalogued many items, and the Friends have also helped us plan our new look, purchase important objects and supported our applications for grants. Many members also responded to our SOS for help as we approached the Open Day.

This project was hard work for all involved but we think it was worthwhile, we hope you do too.

Ann Dorsett.
County Museums Officer.

Rebecca Evans enjoying the new Clore Exploration Room for children.

Rebecca is the daughter of our curator, Gavin..
She particularly likes one of the new displays, the Roman kitchen.

Spring Bank Holiday reopening for the Museum

The museum will be open to the public again on 29th May. The last few months have seen major improvements - we now have a lift which connects the ground and first floor galleries - and we have begun further exciting changes, some of which you can see immediately the museum reopens. In all we will gain a new temporary exhibition gallery upstairs, an exploration room for children on the ground floor and some new exhibition spaces and displays, too.

A grant from CyMAL:Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales has made possible the new temporary exhibition gallery. It will be to a high standard to allow the County Museum to borrow items from the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. The Clore Foundation grant will create a better exploration room for children, with hands-on activities, and it will also double as a formal teaching space for school groups. The County Council, the Arbour Stephens Bequest and the Council of Museums in Wales have funded the rest of the changes

The new lift is situated in what we believe was once the palace's cloister walk. This meant that a small archaeological investigation was required. This was a rare opportunity, as ironically, because the palace has been lived in since the late 13th century, no actual excavation of this historic site has ever been carried out. No medieval floor levels were discovered, although one short length of wall foundation may be medieval. In recompense, we did discover a horse pendant that would have been fitted to harness and probably of 13th century date. The pendant is lozenge shaped, made of copper alloy, but its surface is decorated in a chequerboard of gold and perhaps silver. Going by medieval fashion we can expect that this pattern is part of someone's coat-of-arms, a medieval bishop perhaps?

Your financial support has enabled the museum to acquire some excellent new objects for the collections. In November, two rare 19th-century Eisteddfod medals were bought at auction for 841 and a John Petts painting 'Red Structure' was acquired at auction in March for 700. A small, silver medieval brooch found at Whitland was declared Treasure and was purchased for 250. We are now awaiting valuations on two more medieval rings, both gold and a second silver brooch, this time from Kidwelly. These purchases would be very difficult without your help and in all cases you bought them outright on behalf of the museum.

Gavin Evans April 2004

Silver gilt Eisteddfod medal 1823. The inscription suggests that the medal was awarded at Carmarthen to John Tegid for his winning poems of strict meter verse on the subject of Sir Gruffydd Nicholas and the family of Dynevor. The reverse is engraved with an image of a castle, possibly Carmarthen.

Engraved silver Eisteddfod medal 1829. The inscription refers to the poem 'The Deserted Village' by Oliver Goldsmith. The medal was awarded by Archdeacon Thomas Beynon who was vicar of Llandyfeisant and a major influence on the revival of Welsh cultural traditions in the 19th century.

13th - 14th century silver annular brooch from Whitland

Museum Innovation

Life-long Learning? Social Inclusion? Terms which are earnestly discussed in the museum world as much as anywhere else these days. And thanks to an Innovation Grant from the Council of Museums in Wales, Carmarthenshire County Museum is taking its own few, new tentative steps forward. 

There are a number of school pupils in Carmarthenshire who have dropped out of mainstream education. The County Museum, with its collections, is a fantastic resource. Together with craftspeople, living history presenters and supporting activities, and working with home tutors, we have devised a package to encourage these pupils to look at history and geography in a new and creative way, and hopefully encourage them back into school. I say we, but I have to say that all the hard work of organising and delivering the scheme has been done by Stephanie Marks and Lyn Russell from Glan-y-Mr School to who we are very grateful. 

The Scheme has been running since March and I am pleased to say that, to date, the pupils have thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Abergwili. Future sessions will be organised through the coming Autumn Term.

September 2002

This year the Young Archaeologists Club celebrates its 30th birthday. It also saw the County Museum do its bit to promote the club for the first time by taking part in National Archaeology Day on Saturday, 20th July. Together with Archaeoleg Cambria Archaeology (Dyfed Archaeological Trust), we organised an open day in Abergwili.

There was a full programme with quizzes, a colouring competition and talks about archaeology and artefacts. The ever-popular Neil Richardson worked his usual ceramic magic by helping the children produce their own medieval floor tiles. Cambria also brought along their computerised database so that visitors could investigate the history of their locality - something which was very popular with the adults. Also a number of interesting finds from back gardens, including a range of coins, were brought along for identification by the experts.

It attracted 59 children (and 63 adults!) and is one which we can hopefully build on for future years. In addition, some of the children expressed interest in a more regular programme tied in with the Young Archaeologists Club, so there may be further developments in this direction, too. Thank you to the Friends for helping fund the day!

December 2002

National Archaeology Day 2003

National Archaeology Day on Saturday, July 19 2003, was a great success. This is the second year we and Cambria Archaeology have run this event together. Needless to say, this year was bigger and better than the last, and Cambria's excavation at Carmarthen Castle was a huge additional bonus.

The morning was heart-stopping as hardly anybody appeared. It turns out that it had been advertised in the press as an afternoon event only. And so it proved after lunch: 175 visitors went through the museum doors, while others simply took part in the activities outside.

Included in the day were Paul Watkins of Llys Brenhinol, who demonstrated medieval arms and armour, Ray Caple who recounted the siege of Dryslwyn Castle, drawing on his experience of the 1980s excavations, while traditional technology was demonstrated by Helen Campbell (baskets) and Simon Hedger (wood turning). In addition there were Cambria Archaeology's historic sites and monuments database, quizzes, competitions and talks on archaeology. Most popular with children was the 'excavation' in the grounds. As a messy, hands-on introduction to 'digging', it was a major draw - no surprises there. Always a source of inspiration and enthusiasm, Geraint Bevan of the Schools Advisory Service was the prime mover behind setting up the 'dig'. Geraint has been a great advocate for the Museums Service for many years. He was closely involved in the production of our Victorian Education pack and the World War 2 bomb shelter and continues to arrange teacher training days at Abergwili.

Everybody involved worked extremely hard to make the day successful. Of the Friends, I would like to thank Chris Bolton for his help with preparations in the morning and Paul Bolton for diving in to help visitors wash finds from the Castle excavation. Thanks also to Gwyneth and David Grindrod for the loan of their gazebo; it certainly prevented Owain Glyndwr (Paul Watkins) from rusting up during a sudden heavy downpour. Luckily, there was no lightning. The Friends also supported the day financially by picking up Simon Hedger's fee. Thank you.

"Fire & Light"

An art and science exhibition inspired by the Swansea copper industry will be opening at Abergwili on September 12. Further details will be posted to you in due course.

Temporary closure of the Museum

We have decided to close the museum between 10th November 2003 and 28th February 2004. This is to allow the construction of the new public lift and improvements to the WCs in line with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. Your committee is seeking alternative venues for Friends events which have been booked for this period.

However, opportunities in adversity. The closure will allow us to carry out some well-needed minor maintenance, and finish off the new rural life gallery.

Come and Play

We've long recognised the need for a space for family activities and early years teaching. That space has now been created with the transfer of the dairy display into the new rural life gallery. We now have to fill this new space, in a fun way. Obvious inclusions will be the video microscope, objects for visitors to handle, art materials, jig-saws, puzzles and quizzes.

Thank you

You have a new committee and a number of 'old' faces have stood down. On behalf of the museum, I would like to thank Jenny Anscombe, and especially Arwyn and Celia Price for many years of sitting on the committee and supporting the Friends activities and events in so many ways.

Gavin Evans September 2003
Photographs of the Archaeology Day

Throughout the summer of 2003 the National Museum & Gallery in Cardiff had an exhibition of paintings which the Fund had helped to buy over the years. Immediately opposite the entrance, in pride of place, were the two paintings of Llangennech House, loaned by our museum. It was very gratifying to see that among the list of contributors towards their purchase was the Friends.

The half-term "Big Draw" was again very popular, with 141 visitors over two days. Penny Prileszk inspired everyone to produce excellent work, which was then put on display.

The photographs show the pleasure of both children and adults at the event, which Friends were pleased to fund.


The Children's Gallery

The old dairy gallery has been converted into a "hands-on" room for use by young visitors to the museum. It is a large sunny room with computers and tables for various activities. Much of the "Big Draw" took place in it.

December 2003