Working with the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales

Monday, February 3, 2020

People’s Collection Wales have been working with the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and Victoria Rogers (President) on an exciting new initiative to ensure that new items from museum collections across the country are shared on our website.

In the summer, during the period leading up to the Pride Cymru 2019 event in Cardiff, for example, items were presented by museums relevant to LGBTQI communities. One such item which proved to be really popular was a T-shirt from the Cardiff Dragons , the LGBTI football club in Cardiff. This was contributed by Cardiff Museum along with the story of how the club was formed in the first place.

By working more closely with the sector we are making sure that stories which are rooted deep in our communities continue to be highlighted on the People’s Collection website, and continue to enrich the story of Wales. The latest theme we are looking at along with the Federation is Welsh Working Life and the items are now live on the website, including the photograph of the two gentlemen, Jack Evans and Fredrick Lambourne, coachmen at Tredegar House at the turn of the twentieth century, standing proud in their top hats and long coats. This item was contributed by Tredegar House Museum.

To date, contributions have been sent by Abergavenny Museum, Carmarthenshire County Museum, Rhondda Heritage Park Museum, the Newtown Textile Museum, the Royal Mint Museum, Tredegar House Museum and the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture, and thanks to these contributors we have a range of different items that give an insight into the different types of work and industries in Wales throughout the centuries. You can follow this link to see a collection of contributions from the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales o the Welsh Working Lives theme.

Other museums, such as Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum and Narberth Museum have also recently published items on the website which fall within this theme.

Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum's item – a photograph of 'Owen's Café ' from 1910 – is typical of the many businesses that filled the town of Aberystwyth at the turn of the twentieth century.

From the traditional heavy industries to the world of commerce, and from working life in towns and cities to working life in rural Wales, these exciting contributions highlight the rich legacy that we have in terms of the various industries that have shaped the history of Wales.

Feeding the Imagination

One of the oldest items, and certainly one of the most attractive items to be presented by the museums, are these tie-up pockets in a sampler style from Carmarthenshire County Museum's collection. It is thought that they date from the late eighteenth century. As was traditional with sampler work, the owner would often stitch her name as part of the pattern, as seen here.

Relatively few tie-on embroidered pockets from the 18th-century are by now coming through to museums, so here is an item that certainly contributes to our understanding of our textile and dress heritage. From the 17th century until the latter half of the 19th century, most women had at least one pair of pockets and would use them as you would a handbag today. In most instances, the pockets would normally be worn under the women’s skirts, and there would be openings in the side seams of the skirts so that they could be accessible.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, social habits evolved in such a way that women from every social class were increasingly drawn away from the home, and this coincided with an increase in the popularity of using accessories such as the tie-on pockets. During this period there was also an increase in the flow of people which visited each other’s houses, and also an increase in the exchange of goods; servants would live in with their employers, and many houses would also operate as shops or workshops.

But what about the lovely pockets from Carmarthenshire Museum’s Collection? Given that these were, to all intents and purposes, invisible and would not be seen in public, one might be forgiven for asking why would someone bother to decorate such pockets. However, for women with relatively little privacy in their lives and very little means to buy personal items, using skills and investing care to personalise such intimate objects would surely have brought them a great sense of satisfaction and self expression. We can only imagine the kind of life Mary Davis lived in west Wales towards the end of the eighteenth century, but the pride and care taken to create her tie-on pockets – and to keep them safe – are a testament to how important these pockets were for her.

If you have family items which tell the story of working lives in Wales, you are welcome to contact us: [email protected] or why not go ahead and upload images to our website?

Elena Gruffudd's picture