Black History at Heritage Sites
Members of the project team met representatives of National Museum Wales at the National Wool Museum in Llandyssul, mid Wales (pictured right). We discussed how National Museum Wales could share hard-to-tell stories at its sites by using the wool museum as a case study. Currently, the museum does not share with the public the story of how weavers from mid-Wales earned their living by making cloth for the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries. The day focussed on how we could introduce this story into the museum's interpretation.
We began the day with a tour of the museum, which tells the story of Wales's woollen industry. The museum is housed in a former woollen mill and has many working machines still in place. At least 90% of its machinery is still in working order and is operated for the public on a regular basis.
The main galleries where the machines are displayed have been designed to have minimal interpretation. The intention was that visitors would engage with museum staff, who would share the story of the site with them. Funding issues, however, means that staff are frequently not present.
Other rooms around the museum display information panels, and include installations representing traditional shops where Welsh woollen cloth would have been sold (pictured right). These rooms tell the story of woollen manufacture in Wales to modern times.
Following the tour we sat down to discuss issues such as how to find historical information on the supply of Welsh cloth for the slave trade and how to present this information in the museum. We discussed various options for presenting the information to schools, which included a comparison of the life of a slave in the Caribbean with that of a factory worker in early industrial Britain.
We decided that what was absent from the museum is the story of where Welsh cloth went after it was sold. There is only one information panel that shares a small part of this story - how Welsh wool clothed soldiers in the First World War. We discussed who else Welsh wool historically clothed, including slaves and prisoners, and considered various methods of interpreting this to the public. The most popular suggestion was to display a map of the world which explained where Welsh woollen cloth went and for what it was used.
We discussed ways forward in incorporating this important part of Welsh history into the museum. These included holding training sessions for staff, providing public talks, and helping with the preparation of new interpretation.
No example of 'Welsh plains', the name for the simple woollen fabric sold for slave clothing, still exists. We know it was a simple flannel-like fabric that was light but robust. It was dyed in several colours, including blue, green, orange and red. Records indicate that green was the most popular colour. Staff at the museum believe that the fabric probably resembled the bolt of grey fabric at the bottom of the picture below.
Feedback from the day was very positive. However, museum staff were unsure of when, if at all, they would be able to incorporate this important part of Welsh history into its public interpretation.