Hidden Treasure Trail 6 - The People's Museum In Wales

By Graham Spicer | 15 May 2006
People's Museum logo

Welcome to the Hidden Treasure Trails on Culture24, exploring the hidden treasures of the People’s Museum.

The BBC TV series People’s Museum explores the most fascinating objects on show at museums all over the country and asks the viewer to vote for their favourites - what they would put on display in a museum. A masterful portrait, a scientific first, or perhaps a touching journal? It's up to the people!

Culture24 is revisiting the featured venues and more, taking another look at at some of the amazing artefacts also featured in the People's Museum programme.

We have arranged them into region-by-region trails. Read on to discover some of Wales’s rich collections and surprising finds – we hope it inspires you to get out there and visit them for yourself.

From the valleys to the coast, Snowdonia to the borders, Wales has a rich history and culture, ably represented by its museums and galleries, with a fair few hidden treasures you may not have come across yet.

Merthyr Tdyfil has Rolf Harris’s grandad’s paintings and plenty more besides at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum. Anyone who lived through the 1980s would be hard pressed to forget the ill-fated Sinclair C5, which can be found at Swansea’s acclaimed new Waterfront Museum; visitors can also remember a more successful Welsh product – rugby star Gareth Edwards.

There’s several places to explore Wales’s mining legacy and industries and you may be surprised to know that you don’t have to travel to London for world beating fine art - Wales is home to one of the best collections of impressionist paintings around.

a photograph of a castle set in formal gardens

Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil is a regency castle built in 1825. © Cyfarthfa Castle

First up, Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil is a regency castle built in 1825 and surrounded by 160 acres of landscaped grounds. Its classical interior was extensively restored in the 1990s and as well as its collections of fine art, ceramics, silver and glass, contains some interesting social history displays, including one of the first secret ballot boxes, one of the People's Museum nominations.

A recent chapter in the town’s history is represented by Johnny Owen’s boxing gloves – the local hero was a European champion, nicknamed ‘Matchstick Man’. Tragically, Owen fell into a coma and died after a fight for the world bantamweight title in 1980 against Mexican Lupe Pintor.

Testament to the area’s musical heritage, the castle shows original transcribed sheet music from the Cyfarthfa Band, founded in the 1840s by Robert Crawshay, great grandson of the industrialists who built the Cyfarthfa ironworks and castle.

Rolf Harris’s grandfather George Harris was from Merthyr. The younger Harris donated many of his grandad’s paintings to the museum in 1990.

Shows a photo of the Sinclair C5 electric tricyle displayed in a museum

The Sinclair C5 was an attempt to revolutionise urban transport - but it failed spectacularly. Photo National Waterfront Museum

The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea opened in 2005, looking at the impact the industrial revolution had on Wales and the country’s social history. It’s exhibits and interactive displays have proved an instant hit with the public and the museum was long listed for the 2006 Gulbenkian Prize for Museums and Galleries and its Pen-y-Darren locomotive is up for the vote at the People's Museum.

Gareth Edwards’ name has become synonymous with the glory days of Welsh rugby in the 1970s. The shirt he wore during the 1978 Five Nations Tournament is proudly displayed – this was the year that he retired from the international game, so this shirt is one of the last the inspirational scrum-half wore for his country.

Edwards’ helped to lift the Five Nations trophy several times, an impressive trophy but not quite as rare as the museum’s cup of Welsh gold – it’s the largest object ever made from the metal. Gold was discovered at the Castell Carn Dochan mine in the 1860s and the ceremonial cup was presented to the estate owner by the mining company.

The Hoover Company had a factory in nearby Merthyr Tydfill and it was here that the ill-fated Sinclair C5 was produced. This electric car was launched by Sir Clive Sinclair as an environmentally friendly alternative to the car in 1985 but was a commercial disaster and Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership the same year.

shows a photograph of a man and a child wearing hardhats and peering into a pit lamp

Big Pit won the Gulbenkian Prize in 2005. © Big Pit National Mining Museum of Wales

More museums and heritage sites in Wales with fascinating collections...

Wales’s coalmining traditions can be discovered at the South Wales Miners’ Museum and at Big Pit – National Mining Museum of Wales, which was winner of the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries in 2005.

The National Slate Museum looks at another aspect of mining in Llanberis, north Wales and the National Wool Museum explored another of the country’s historic industries.

Cardiff’s National Museum has a great selection of art with one of Europe’s best collections of impressionist paintings and also contains important archaeology and natural history exhibits.

Monmouth’s Nelson Museum and Local History Centre was founded in 1924 by Lady Llangattock. It includes a large collection of the Admiral’s letters, his fighting sword and, intriguingly, a forgery of his right eye.

Click here to go to the BBC People's Museum website and find out more about the featured objects.

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The Hidden Treasure Trails have been produced for The Campaign for Museums by Culture24 with support from the Foyle Foundation.