Archaeology Day – 14/07/2019

Join the Aberystruth History and Archaeology Society for a day of archaeology at Abergavenny Castle and Museum.

This free event will run from 11am to 4pm on Sunday, 14th July, as part of the Festival of Archaeology.

The south-west tower – the largest remaining part of Abergavenny Castle.

Have a go at:

  • Geophys surveying
  • Total station surveying
  • Archaeology drawing
  • Beaker pottery making
  • Find out about 3D scanning
  • And much more

Using LIDAR equipment to scan the castle walls

Also on hand will be volunteers from Abergavenny Local History Society with a display about the local area and plenty of opportunity for visitors to have their questions answered.

Display by Abergavenny Local History Society

A representative of the Plas Gunter \Mansion orghanisation will be making a presentation about the history and future of this venerable building.

Gunter Mansion, a spectacular 17th centry busilding in Cross Street

Happy birthday to us!

“Where has the time gone?”

Also – “Do you remember …?”

Two of the things most frequently heard at our 6oth birthday celebration last night. It was very well attended by all kinds of people who have been associated with the museum from it’s earliest days right up to date.

Here Barbara Jackson, niece of Alfred and daughter of Ernest – the Jackson brothers who were the driving force behind setting up the museum in the 1950s, is seen with Ken Key, another early supporter, and Frank Olding, ex-curator. And the other photos show current members of Abergavenny Rotary Club, which provided the Jackson brothers with practical support to get the museum off the drawing board and into bricks and mortar.

Frank Olding and Councillor Sheila Woodhouse, Chair of Monmouthshire County Council both made speeches about the museum’s colourful past and it’s promising future, which brought it home to all just how important it is to cling to our collections and make the very best of the resources we still have.

But we don’t just have the collections, lovely though they are. We also have the Castle, our biggest and best artefact, and all the wonderful facilities it offers, whether casually for family games and picnics or more formal use by local organisations

Gwyll Plant, a local organisation that promotes Welsh folk Dancing, enjoys a mass meet-up in the grounds annually and this year they were blessed with spectacular weather.

Abergavenny Arts Festival is only on its second year and we hope it will continue to flourish.

Abergavenny Food Festival is coming up to its 20th anniversary and has held some amazing events here.

Made in Monmouthshire, a collective of local artists and crafters, has a permanent section of the museum shop, much to the delight of visitors who wish to pick up something truly unique to take home.

Here’s to Abergavenny Museum and Castle, wishing we’ll still be here in another 60 years.

Face fungus and fashion

It can’t have escaped your notice that beards are a really big thing fashionwise. The designer stubble of the 00s has been allowed to blossom and expand until our more fashionable young men look like apprentice Dumbledores and assume exciting names like hipster or lumbersexual.

Whatever your personal feelings about facial hair you have to admit that they can make a statement.

But whatever the current fashion, one has to take into account the incredible history attached to beards and their importance in the expression of both masculinity and status.

In Ancient Egyptian times facial hair, in fact hair anywhere, was associated with barbarity and only slaves, invaders, bandits and ne’er-do-wells had beards.

In ancient Greece a beard was the mark of a man until the Macedonian prince Alexander began his rise to fame. He was blond and presumably his beard growing attempts were less than stellar because suddenly being clean shaven became the height of fashion and beards were for oldies and philosophers.

In Roman times beards went in and out of fashion. Julius Caesar was clean shaven, as was his nephew Augustus. Tiberius was hairy but Caligula was so anxious about the state of his body hair that he made it a capital offence to mention goats in his presence. Even if a beard was chosen it had to be a well kept beard and a razor was part of every man’s personal equipment. A fine example is shown below of a ‘novacila’, which looks a bit as though it could, in a pinch, double as a set of brass knuckles.

Slaves were almost always clean shaven, heads as well, because it was easier to keep them clean, but for the well off they could do pretty much as they pleased. Fashion tended to come down from the heights so images of kings or leaders can often hint as the appearance of the upper echelons of society. Normans were clean shaven. this makes it easy to see who is on which side when reading the Bayeux Tapestry.

Here clean-shaven William, with the distinctive cropped hair style of the Normans, accepts an oath from Harold who has shaved his chin but has luxuriant moustaches.

During the Middle Ages steps were undertaken to understand human health and physiology. Everything needed an explanation and by the 16th century it had been decided that facial hair was a form of excreta, that the male essence was extruded in the form of hair and that to hinder its growth by shaving could be injurious to the health of ‘the male organs’. Beards were so tied up with masculinity that when Sir Francis Drake, who as you can see from the picture below had a little pointy goatee, threatened to ‘singe the King of Spain’s beard’ it took on a whole new Defcon level of aggression.

During the 17th century the male population must have suffered considerable emotional turmoil. James 1st and Charles 1st were both bearded but during the Protectorate there was tension between the knowledge that cleanliness was next to godliness, a rejection of vanity in all its forms and the Biblical prohibition of shaving. But Charles II’s return sorted things out and for the last part of the 17th century and all the 18th smooth cheeks and chins were the norm. Apart from in the case of sailors.

During the 18th century British navies, both military and merchant, expanded hugely. Cleanliness was essential but it was very hard to provide hot water for daily shaving. Bearded sailors with long tarry pigtails became a stereotype that continued well into the 19th century. Perhaps it was the great success of the navy in expanding British influence overseas that encouraged the development of the Beard Movement in mid 19th century Britain. Victoria’s accession ushered in a new more austere appearance, especially in public figures. Beards were associated with artists and radicals, untrustworthy, or sailors and soldiers, low. But by the middle of the century, and the adulation heaped upon the moustachioed and bewhiskered soldiers returning from the Crimea, there was a push to encourage men to come to grips with the glories of facial hair.

People even wrote poems about it:

Well, and so you’ve joined “the movement,”
And have laid out lots of cash
In Macassar oil and bear’s grease
Coaching up your pet moustache.
You look just as though your eyebrows
From above had had a slip,
And in falling down had settled
Snugly on your upper lip.
Let me warn you—with the ladies
You’ll be in a pretty pickle;
For you can have no idea
How those horrid things do tickle…

~A Master of Hearts, “To a Youth with a Moustache,” New and Original Valentines, Serious & Satirical, Sublime & Ridiculous, On All the Ordinary Names, Professions, Trades, Etc., 1857

Many methods were used to control facial fungus. The best known is the straight razor, also known as the cut-throat, but as shaving became more of an art form measures were taken to afford the aesthetically inclined a safer shave with more control. The little item shown below is part of our collection.

It doesn’t look at all like the current style of safety razor and there must be a good reason for it to have been superseded but I am unable to look up the manufacturers because the firewall came down with a stern message saying that razors class was weapons!

Instead enjoy this video of 100 years of hair and facial hairstyles.

Guys are lucky because they get to grow mustaches. I wish I could. It’s like having a little pet for your face. ~Anita Wise

Half Term break



If you’re an adult reading this I’m sure you remember how as a child your spirits rose as school holidays drew near. If you’re a school teacher you probably still experience this and ooh boy have you earned it. If you’re a child – hey it’s half term – you have a week off, congratulations.

This week is half term in Monmouthshire and as usual we’re trying to do our best to amuse the kids brought in by their parents.

In the Keep Gallery we have a brand new activity centre to go with our new archaeology display.

There are word searches, quizzes, boxes filled with interesting objects and plenty of materials for drawing, cutting and sticking.

Fancy making yourself a medieval crown? We have the pattern.

A little Roman toy horse? There is a template to cut around and full instructions what to do next.

And for the grown ups or the children who enjoy their history we have further information on the town and displays.

I’ve mentioned our Stuffed Pickled and Pinned exhibition before. What I didn’t mention was that we also have things to make and do associated with the weird and wonderful creatures on display.

We have a ‘feel box’ where – if you’re brave enough – you can slip a hand inside and try to guess what object has been stashed inside.

Do you like beetles? There’s a whole sheet of them to colour in.

Feet? There’s a quiz about the different types of feet that animals have and why they are such different shapes.

Do you like colouring? Use the pens to make something sumptuous and hang it on our wall.

Please remember – Museums aren’t just about learning, they are about fun too. Especially during the school holidays.

Look to the left sidebar and you’ll see our opening times. Hope to see you sometime.

But is it real?

From the time human kind began to view animals as interesting in their own right rather than just dangerous, harmless or edible there have been tall stories about the weird beasts encountered in far off lands. Can you imagine the incredulity that met the stories of an aquatic animal found in the far south of the world that had the body of an otter but the mouth parts and feet of a duck? “Oh and it lays eggs too” the traveller said and everyone laughed and made him buy another round. But of course we now know that the duck billed platypus is a real creature and here is the stuffed example we have on display as part of our Stuffed, Pickled and Pinned exhibition.


But even stuffed examples can’t be relied upon as confirming the existence of a strange beast and nor, in this day of Photoshop, can photographs.

Take this jackalope, for instance.

This spectacular beast has been widely reported as living wild on the prairies of North America. This is a particularly fine specimen, showing the pale colouration assumed during the winter. It has been suggested that this is a composite formed from an arctic hare and a set of small antlers but many people would dispute that. Apparently jackalopes are sighted frequently, especially late at night by men driving their pick-ups home from the pub.

These magnificent examples of the Bathgate breed of sheep have been entertaining motorists on their way to Scotland for the past 8 years. They come in a full range of colours, coincidentally a similar range to animal friendly fur dyes, but the rumours that the farmer has managed to achieve a true tartan are thought to be untrue.

Scotland is one of the most fertile areas for strange beasts. Not only is it the breeding ground for the rarely seen Nessasaurus but sharp eyes may spot this whimsical little beast.

The common or garden Haggis is migratory. Nobody knows where they come from or where they go but they are most frequently seen on or around January 25th.

Wales has its own strange beasts, including the terrifying afanc, which may be akin to the Nessasaurus, the cwn annwn, great white hounds with red ears, and the Palug cat, who never stops grinning.

But our favourite is the dragon – the Common Red Welsh being the most regularly seen on everything from flagpoles to rugby enthusiasts faces. Here is a juvenile, snapped on the slopes of the Deri, just after the annual March first hatching.

See if you can spot one this year.


Disclaimer: Monmouthshire County Council, its members and the curator of Abergavenny Museum are not responsible for this post. Just thought I’d best put that out there. 🙂

Hearts and Flowers

It’s approaching that time of year again when spouses look at the date, mutter an embarrassed imprecation and dash out to the shops for flowers, chocolates, or whatever might gladden the heart of their honey of either sex. But being in Wales we have the opportunity to do it twice!

Oh yes, didn’t you know? 25th January is St Dwynwen’s Day – our own special version of Valentine’s Day – and the cards should be available if you want to rush out and get one.

Dwynwen was one of the many daughters of Brychan Brycheiniog, an early 5th C ruler whose court was at Talgarth, and who is mentioned as being one of the kings who fought against Arthur’s attempts to unify the Britons. Dwywen’s mother was Rigrawst, grand daughter of Macsen Wledig, the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus. Brychan is credited with many wives and up to 28 sons and 36 daughters, many of whom like Dwynwen became saints.

But before embracing a life of piety, Dwynwen fell in love with Prince Maelon. In one version of the tale he treated her with great disrespect, in the other her father refused to allow them to marry and sent Maelon away. Heartbroken Dwynwen prayed to be free of the pain of love. An angel appeared with a potion and when Maelon drank it he was turned into ice.

Dwynwen was startled by this and made three wishes – that Maelon should be thawed out, that God should intercede on behalf of all true lovers and that she shouldn’t have to deal with the whole love and marriage business. Her wishes were granted and she went to a convent on Anglesey and lived a long, devout and useful life. It is not known what happened to Maelon.

St Dwynwen’s Church, Llandwynn, Anglesey.
Photo borrowed from Visit Wales.

It seems a rather grim story to attach to a day devoted to love, lovers and long term partnerships but it’s what we have and is worth celebrating. Perhaps with Welsh wine and a lovespoon?

A new look for the new year



stuffed pickledThis is changeover week at Abergavenny Museum, where one exhibition comes down and a new one goes up. Sometimes it’s an exhibition that we have laboured over ourselves and all the items that go on display are old friends, but this time it’s a display of natural history put together from museums all over the principality.

Stuffed Pickled & Pinned shows an extraordinary range of flora and fauna drawn from 18 small Welsh museums. The exhibits range from the absolutely beautiful to mildly horrific via the inexplicably creepy.

The exhibits have been examined, identified and conserved where necessary by experts from the natural history section of Amgueddfa Cymru.

Sarah Daly who manages the project said:
“Our museums house some amazing natural treasures that help us to understand the world around us and our place in it. These specimens still help us to answer vital questions in modern research. By putting the objects on display at locations across Wales, we hope not only show why these objects are in our museums, but also challenge us all to think about our relationship with nature.
“With a mounted fox’s head, a platypus from Australia, a rare aurochs bone from the Severn estuary and a collection of British birds’ eggs, there are some fascinating stories to tell.”

You can read more about the project at the Welsh Museums blog here.

This touring exhibition is available for viewing at Abergavenny Museum from this weekend.