The Museum

Carmarthenshire County Museum is housed in a building that is a museum in its own right. The collections are set off by their almost unique setting - an old house which has been in continuous use since about 1290, surrounded by lawns, gardens and trees and bordered by a lake which was formerly part of the River Tywi. It was founded as a college and became the Bishop's Palace for the diocese of St David's before taking on a new lease of life as the County Museum about twenty years ago.

700 years ago, when the college was founded, Carmarthen, was a tiny town huddling under the castle walls for protection, with a market in the square outside the gate, where Nott Square is now. The town had narrow tracks leading down to the river and the quay, through which all goods came in and out of the town. They are still there - the two little streets which pass on either side of the Angel Vaults with its medieval window now revealed again - one wide enough to take a cart, the other really only wide enough for two pack horses to pass each other. St Peter's Church was the focal point for the town, and continues to be so ever since.

In 1485 Henry Tudor and Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Dinefwr passed through the area collecting an army on their way to Bosworth and the battle that put the Tudor dynasty and a Welsh king on the throne of England. About 400 years ago Queen Elizabeth I was a very old woman. Just over 100 years ago Queen Victoria's reign was drawing to a close.

The Palace survived all these changes. It is indeed a very fitting setting for a museum.

The historic Bishop's Palace is a fitting setting for a variety of collections. In the inner hall, until the early twentieth century still open to the sky as the cloister around which the college had been built, has several Welsh dressers with a variety of Llanelli and Swansea pottery of the type which is still so popular in many Welsh homes. The elegant 17th and 18th Century galleries have furniture and portraits of the Vaughan and Stepney families, notably one of Madame Bevan which the Friends helped to buy at a country house sale a few years ago. The 20th Century shows a kitchen and living room of the 1940's and displays some of the Museum's important collection of World War I posters together with cases of objects from the different decades. Another gallery houses Penrhiwbeili Farmhouse with its unique collection of furniture and ceramics from the family, where the two groundfloor rooms are easily fitted into the bishop's bedroom. There is a 19th century schoolroom and a clogmaker's workshop, a large collection of apothecary jars from King Morgan's old-established chemist's shop in Carmarthen, gold articles from the Roman gold mines at Dolau Cothi and a large and very important collection of standing stones dating back to pre-historic times. Most of the galleries can be seen by using the link at the bottom of this page. Everywhere there are paintings, prints and artefacts with a Carmarthenshire connection. There are changing displays in the exhibition gallery, some drawn from the museum's collections, some originating from other museums and galleries. The Bishop's Chapel is an integral part of the museum, and its pews are brought into use when large meetings are held, and the shelves in the Bishop's Library house part of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society's collection of books and journals. The Bishop's Pleasure Gardens surround the building, with many fine specimen trees and lawns covered with spring bulbs and younger trees, many planted by the Friends over the years.        

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