When I was in school, my Dad used to take half term week as annual leave and we would have a week of adventure. He tells me that the first place on the list each week was the National History Museum at St Fagans. It was always one of my favourite places to visit, as it is just like stepping back in time. There is so much to see there you could easily spend a whole day or more visiting it all. We visited for a couple of hours last week when the munchkin and I took our trip to Cardiff.
St Fagans opened in 1948 and it set in the grounds of an Elizabethan Castle. The museum has moved and rebuilt, brick by brick, over 40 original historic buildings from all over Wales to show how people have lived through the ages.
This is Rhyd-y-car Terrace, which was originally built in Merthyr Tydfil, in the Welsh Valleys, and housed some of the mining community. St Fagans have displayed the houses as they may have been in 1805, 1855, 1895, 1925, 1955 and 1985 – as you wander up the terrace, each house you visit is a later period. I loved this when I was little, especially as the latest house was 1985 – and was just like our house, with all it’s mod-cons! Visiting it now it’s wonderfully retro, and I’m looking forward to taking Frey back when he’s older and telling him that’s how Mummy’s house used to be!
The next building we came across was the Prefab, which opened in the museum in 2001, so not one I remember from my childhood. These houses were built following the Second World War for people who had lost their homes during the bombing. They were manufactured in factories that had been producing aircraft during the War, and one prefab was produced every 12 minutes!
The Gwalia Store is fantastic. Originally from the Ogmore Vale, it stocked tea from China, sugar from the Carribean, and coffee beans from Brazil. The success of the Gwalia Stores made the Llewellyn Family, who owned it, very wealthy. They built their own mansion in 1902 and owned the first car in the area. Sadly the Gwalia shut up shop for the last time in 1973, having lost it’s battle against the supermarkets in Bridgend. In 1991 it opened at the museum, and stocks local cheese, fudge and beer, along with retro kitchenware, and has it’s own tea room.
That was all we had time for on our short visit, but there is also a working farm, traditional craftspeople demonstrating their skills and selling their goods, formal gardens at the castle, a bakehouse, a mill, and even an Iron Age village!
There are events on throughout the year.. and admission is completely free. If you’re ever in South Wales looking for a way to spend the day, I really recommend a visit to St Fagans. I’ll definitely be taking Frey back there to see more.