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Saturday, August 07, 2010

BACK IN TIME. St Fagan's National History Museum

St. Fagan's:  workshop

St. Fagan's (Sain Fagan, in Welsh)  is the most visited heritage attraction in Wales.  It shows how people lived, worked and spent their leisure time through the ages in Wales so for me, it was also a good insight into how my great grandparents, and father lived during the late 1800äs and early 1900's.  As well, I was thrilled to find one part of it that is a Celtic Village, showing how people lived 2000 yrs ago.  This was valuable research for my work-in-progress novel Dragons in the Sky.

Iron Age Village

We spent almost 4 hours of walking about on the first visit and returned the second day as I'd originally missed the Celtic Village part.  The visit starts with St Fagans Castle (from 1580) one of the finest Elizabethan manor houses in Wales.  It had been occupied by Lord Plymouth and some of the farm houses displayed would have been his tenant farmers such as the big Kennixton Farmhouse built in 1610, a big red structure.  The red walls the colour of the berries of the rowan tree in the garden were thought to protect the house from evil spirits.  The house and farm of the Llwn-yr-eos farm have existed since 1820.  The people who lived there were tenants of the Plymouth estate and supplied the castle with food.

The site also has shops, blacksmiths, tanneries, potters and every sort of structure an old time village would have. I was fascinated by the round thatch-roofed cock fighting ring, obviously one of the village's sources of entertainment.  One of the general stores that opened in 1880 was considered to be 'the Harrods of the Valley'.

The village contains a group of worker's houses, a church, a chapel once used by Unitarians and an impressive Oakdale Workman's Institute.  There's a row of thatch-roofed cottages showing the transition of homes from the distant past right up to a prefab post war cottage.

Each day various trades people are on site demonstrating. We watched the blacksmith at work.  As well there is an extensive indoor display with a lot of interactive things for kids, including trying on period costumes.
(notice the bamboo cane on the table)

One building that particularly interested me was the school house which must have been just like the one my dad first started school in.  I always wondered why he didn't speak much Welsh and the reason was explained to me that in those days, just like the residential schools in Canada, they were forbidden to speak Welsh by the English and if they did, they must stand in a corner with a rope knotted around their neck (the so-called Welsh knot).  There was a cane and strap displayed on the desks and I recall Dad saying how he'd get his hands wrapped with the cane because he was left handed and not allowed to write with the left hand.  Sometimes they'd tie their left hands behind them.  Now days kids in Wales can go to Welsh school and it is impressive how many people now are actually speaking the language (adults and children).  This language is one of the oldest earth languages, even older than Gaelic, so it is good they have revived it though it's certainly a difficult language to decipher!

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