One of the ways we recognise the efforts of our volunteers each year is to organise a special day out. A couple of weeks ago the team went on a trip to Wales (unsurprisingly, since our Welsh colleagues, Rob Davies, Volunteer Coordinator and Rhiannon Watkinson, will never miss an opportunity to head down the M4!)
This year we took our volunteers to St Fagans National History Museum, just outside Cardiff, in order to explore hundreds of years of Welsh history. Another reason for choosing to visit St Fagans is that, like us, they are going through a major HLF redevelopment and we thought it would be a great chance to see another museum that is on the same journey as MERL.
We headed off nice and early and there was an audible cheer from the almost exclusively Welsh staff members as we crossed over the Severn Bridge! After a slight hiccup with a large coach and a small lane we arrived at St Fagans to be met by Gareth the Senior Curator for Rural Economy. We were extremely lucky to be given a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the museum’s stores by Gareth; taking in amazing furniture such as Eisteddfod chairs, Welsh dressers, and some very impressive harps. Unsurprisingly, the volunteers were very excited about the collection of tools and agricultural equipment in the store; flails, shepherd’s crooks and even a candle making stick all went down a treat with our group and we enjoyed being able to compare St Fagans impressive hoard of tools to our own at MERL.
Next for the group came a well-deserved lunch and bit of free time where some of us explored the wonderful Rhyd-y-Car Ironworkers’ Houses which show what home life was like in Merthyr Tydfil from 1805 to 1985. Seeing the gradual change in the houses was absolutely fascinating; moving from the dark interiors of the early homes to the bright pastel décor of one of the 20th Century properties. We were also very taken with an authentic outside loo!
After lunch one of Gareth’s colleagues, Daffyd, showed us an aspect of the redevelopment which was hugely exciting: Llys Rhosyr, one of the courts of the Princes of Gwynedd. This court is currently in the process of construction but from the site you could get a real sense of the large scale of the project. Daffyd told us of the plans they have for the new structure as a place where school children can stay overnight and our volunteers have already decided a trip to stay in the court of a Welsh Prince is a must for a future volunteer trip!
Finally we went to see St Teilo’s Church which was originally erected in stages from around 1100 to 1520 and moved stone by stone to St Fagans over a 20 year period. There were gasps as we entered the church and saw the beautiful paintings that adorn every wall of the building. It was also particularly special as earlier in the day during our visit to the store we saw some of the original wall art which had been removed from the church and is now being conserved. It was a real spectacle and didn’t fail to impress a single one of our group.
We all had a fantastic day and can’t recommend St Fagans highly enough. It is so important for all of us at MERL to show how much we appreciate our volunteers and as museums are a shared passion for both volunteers and staff what better way than a trip to one to say thank you.