Category Archives: United Kingdom

St Fagans National Museum: An Open-Air, Living History Museum of Welsh Life

St Fagans

St. Fagans National Museum of History is a living history and open-air museum located outside the city of Cardiff, Wales. According to TripAdvisor, St. Fagans is one of the top ten free attractions in the entire United Kingdom, and in 2011, Which? Magazine named the museum as Favorite Visitor Attraction in the United Kingdom.  What draws so many peopleSt Fagans to St. Fagans?  In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn about the past than by going to a living history museum, and St Fagans is one of the best one that I’ve been to (and as a history buff and teacher, I’ve visited many!).  At St. Fagans, you interact with historical interpreters, dressed in period costume, in order to experience how the Welsh lived, ate, dressed, worked, behaved, worshiped and played, from Celtic times to the present.

 

The museum is made up of more than 40 buildings, from throughout Wales, that have been moved to the site.  You can definitely spend all day at the museum!  Some of my favorites buildings are:

 

  • St Teilo’s Church may seem plain from the outside, but once you step inside, you’ll be blown away! St Fagans National History Museum  The church was built in the 12th or 13th century and shows off how religious structures were once elaborately decorated with brightly colored wall paintings all over. The church was taken apart, moved, and reconstructed at St. Fagans, piece by piece.

 

  • The Abernodwydd Farmhouse is a timber and thatch St Fagans National History Museumfarmhouse that shows how a relatively well-off Welsh family would have lived in the 17th century.

 

 

  • The 1936 post office is made up of two adorable rooms and was originally run by a father, his daughter and her husband. St Fagans National History MuseumDeliveries were made by bicycle, and the counter also served as a wireless (that’s radio) repair shop. The building was moved to St. Fagans in 1992.

 

  • St Fagans National History MuseumThe row of houses for iron-ore miners allows visitors to marvel over how entire families lived in tiny homes consisting of only three rooms!  Visiting each row house shows how living conditions and styles have changed over time, as the contents of each portray a different period of history: 1805, 1855, 1895, 1925, 1955, and 1985.  These row houses will make you appreciate how lucky we are today to have as many things as we do.

 

 

  • The tailor’s workshop, which was originally built in 1896, is stocked as it would have looked in the early 1950’s.  I got a kick out of seeing the fashions of the time and how they were hand-made.

 

 

 

  • St Fagans National History MuseumThe 1880 general store is divided into three sections over two floors.  The store once served as a bakery, ironmongery (place to buy items made of iron), grocery, gentlemen’s outfitters, chemist, and animal feed retailer.  Today it’s still stocked to the brim!

 

 

 

  • The 1771 toll house represents a time when local landowners built private roads (also called turnpikes) andSt Fagans National History Museum charged tolls for their usage. Sound familiar? Local riots caused the eventual banning of toll houses by Parliament in 1864.

 

 

 

 

  • St Fagans Castle was built in the 16th century and later St Fagans National History Museumremodeled in the Victorian Era, as it became part of the Earls of Plymouth’s estate. Some of the mansion’s rooms contain original 16th century features, while others, such as the marvelous Victorian kitchen, contain furnishings from later time periods. In 1947, the family donated the mansion and its estateSt Fagans National History Museum to the National Museum of Wales, who transformed the grounds into St. Fagans National Museum of History.  Behind the castle are a reflecting pond and beautifully manicured gardens that would be perfect for a picnic.

 

 

Take a trip back in time to see these and over 30 other structures at St Fagans National Museum of History. Before going, check their website for special events and programs that are commonly held at the open air museum.

 

Location of St. Fagans

St. Fagans National Museum of History is located just four miles outside of Cardiff.  For specific driving directions, please click on the map below. For satellite navigation purposes use the postcode CF5 6XB.

When I went to St. Fagans, I took the bus from Cardiff.   You have 3 different bus options:

  • Easyway 32A stops in the museum’s main car park
  • Bus 320 stops in St. Fagans village
  • Bus 321 also stops in St. Fagans village

You can obtain more specific bus information by vising the bus system’s website.

 

While in Cardiff, be sure to check out Cardiff Castle: Explore Ten Centuries of History in One Fascinating Destination.

 

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Cardiff Castle: Explore Ten Centuries of History in One Fascinating Destination

Cardiff CastleIf you’re visiting the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, Cardiff Castle should be on your “must-see” list.  The castle is a hit for people of all ages and interests. Children will love exploring the tunnels, the ruined motte and bailey castle, and the wide open spaces. Adults will enjoy touring the magnificent interiors of the Gothic mansion and experiencing what it was like to live in air raid shelters during World War II. The easiest way to visit the castle is to divide it up into three parts, each of which represents a different period of history.

 

The oldest part of the castle is a motte and bailey structure that was originally built by the Norman invaders of England all the way back in the 11th century.  The year is 1066; William the Conqueror wins the Battle of Hastings and establishes himself as king of England. He needs to assert his power over the conquered English and Welsh people, so he Cardiff Castlebuilds a series of castles and fortifications across those lands. In Cardiff, he orders the construction of a wooden motte and bailey castle, which was later converted into a stone structure in the 12th century. The bailey, also called a keep, is located on top of the artificial hill. The lord and his family would live inside, and this keep would serve as a final defensive structure if the bailey was taken by attackers. The bailey is the lower courtyard, surrounded by a wooden palisade (later, a stone wall), where outbuildings, such as stables, kitchens, and storehouses, were located. In Cardiff Castle clock towerthe 1400’s and 1500’s, Cardiff Castle was expanded beyond the motte and bailey to become a full-sized medieval castle with outer curtain walls as a means to prevent Welsh rebellions against the English crown. After the English Civil War, a garrison was established at the castle to protect against an invasion by the Scots. This military presence prevented Cardiff Castle from being destroyed, like many other fortifications, by Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell.  During the early 19th century, the wealthy Marquesses of Bute inherited the castle, and the aristocratic family spent millions of pounds to remodel it into a Gothic fantasy mansion, to conduct archaeological work, to landscape the grounds, and to restore the motte and bailey castle to its 12th century design, which can still be seen today.   Explore these medieval parts of the castle castle by taking a walk around the battlements and by climbing up into the Norman keep to see the ruined interior of the 12-sided structure and to take in the incredible views of the city.

 

Next up on our visit are the opulent interiors of the Gothic mansion. The third Marquess of Bute hired architect William Cardiff CastleBurges to redesign the castle into a stunning Gothic revival mansion. If you only have enough time to take one tour of the mansion, make it the 50 minute guided tour of the castle apartments, Cardiff Castleincluding the Guest Tower, the Arab Room with its incredible ceiling, the Chaucer Room filled with images from the works of the medieval author, the Nursery, the bedrooms full of religious imagery, the Library with its immense collection of books, and the armor-filled, two-story Banqueting Hall. For me, the highlights of this tour were the elaborately decorated, first on-suite bathroom in Cardiff and the gorgeously-mosaiced roof garden with its quirky fountain. The decoration of the mansion’s rooms is so elaborate that Cardiff Castle has been called a “three dimensional passport to fairy kingdoms and realms of gold” and the “most successful of all the fantasy castles of the nineteenth century.” If you have time, you can also take the 30 minute guided tour of the inside of the 150 foot tall clock tower to see the Marquess’ bachelor suite of rooms (which he used before he married), including a bedroom, servant’s room, and fantastical summer and winter smoking rooms.

 

Cardiff Castle air raid tunnels The final stop is a trip down into the tunnels beneath the battlements. Cardiff CastleDuring the Second World War, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters for an estimated 1,800 citizens of Cardiff.  The self-guided tour allows visitors to see recreated bunks, kitchens, toilets, and first aid posts and to experience, through the use of multimedia, what it was like for people to shelter in these tunnels from German bombs being dropped on the city around and above them.

 

A visit to Cardiff Castle is a trip back in time through Welsh and British history that the entire family will enjoy. For more information about the castle and for opening times and special events, visit their website.

 

Cardiff Castle is located on Castle St. in Cardiff.  For specific driving or walking directions, click on the map below.

While in Cardiff, take an easy and fun day trip to St. Fagans National Museum: A Living History Museum of Welsh Life.

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London’s Lesser Known Sites: Time Machines, Rollin’ Royals, and Galloping Guards

London is full of world-class sights and historic palaces fit for a queen, but I’m going to show you several destinations in the British capital that most tourists miss. As an avid anglophile who’s been to London five times, take a trip with me to these four lesser known but equally smashing London attractions.

 

#1 A Time Machine to the Past

You’ve wandered into the home of Huguenot silk weavers, and as you peak around the corners and Dennis Severs House in Londonmeander up the creaky stairs, no matter where you turn, the family always seems to be just out of sight. Wigs and clothing have been tossed onto the back of chairs, and unfinished plates of food have been left on the elaborately set table in the midst of dinner.  With a blob of fresh ink on the paper, someone has stopped writing, mid sentence, a letter to a trusted confidant. In the candle-lit kitchen, a pipe, still emitting the faintest amount of smoke is left, as if the user is just about to return for another puff.

Visitors freely move through the Dennis Severs’ House in silence, allowing them to ponder the sights and smells of each room, piece together the mystery of what they’re witnessing, and wonder if they just stumbled out of a time machine. The house is set up as a “still life drama”, that feels more like you’ve stepped into an Dennis Severs House in London immersive theater experience than a museum. And that’s exactly how Severs wanted it to be. He devoted his entire life to restoring his 19th century home in a way that recreated scenes of Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian life, complete with period furnishings and lack of electricity, to vividly portray how a single, fictional family lived, from rags to riches, over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

As a historian and history teacher, I’ve been to countless museums, and the Dennis Severs’ house is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I don’t say that lightly.

Dennis Severs House in London

Be aware that due to the special nature of their museum experience, the Dennis Severs’ House is only open on certain days of the week at particular times, usually on Sunday afternoons, Mondays at lunch time, and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings.  I highly recommend the Silent Night candlelit tour, held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings.  Check their website for specific opening hours and to book your self-guided experience.

#2 The Other Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade in LondonWe’re all familiar with the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Soldiers in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats marching in precision to the beat of military music, while gaggles of tourists watch, awestruck by all of the royal pageantry. But did you know there’s another changing of the guard in London, one that fewer tourists know about and attend? And this one involves horses!

Every day, no matter what the weather, members of the Queen’s Life Guard ride from their Hyde Park barracks to Horse Guards Parade to take over their Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade in London duties as guards for the royal residences.   The ceremony, with all its pomp and circumstance, takes place daily at 11:00AM.   At this Changing of the Guard, unlike the one at Buckingham Palace, you won’t have a giant iron fence blocking your view, or be jumping up and down in the air in a vain attempt to see over the heads of hundreds of tourists standing in your way. Arrive around 10-15 minutes early, take your place at the ropes, and wait to watch the spectacle to unfold right in front of you.

If you miss the ceremony, you can still see two mounted members of the Queen’s Life Guard on duty from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Whitehall entrance to Horse Guards Parade. At 4:00PM, the cavalry soldiers dismount and remain stationed there until 8:00PM. You’re welcome to take a selfie but don’t get too close!

 

#3 House Hunters Through Time

Geffrye Museum London Do you enjoying peering into the homes of others by watching shows like House Hunters on HGTV and other DIY channels? Then you’ll love the Geffrye Museum of the Home! This unique museum is dedicated to showing how home decor, style, and taste have evolved from the 16th century to the present. You’ll see a chronological sequence of recreated living rooms from Tudor times, through the Victorian Era, to the 1960’s Geffrye Museum London and today. And the museum is set in a restored 19th century almshouse with award-winning, picnic-worthy, period gardens. The Geffrye Museum (closed on Mondays, except for bank holidays) is a fascinating glimpse into the past and a tranquil oasis in a busy urban metropolis.

#4 Transportation Fit for a Queen

Royal Mews London During the summer months, tourists flock to Buckingham Palace to tour what is, perhaps, the most famous residence in the world. Even if you’re not in London during the summer, you can still catch a glimpse of royal life and see how the monarch travels in royal style. The Royal Mews, which house the Queen’s working stables and the royal collection of coaches and state automobiles, are located just adjacent to Buckingham Palace. Visitors can admire the Gold State Coach, ridden in by British monarchs at every coronation since 1821, horse-drawn carriages used in royal weddings, jubilees, state visits, and the State Opening of Parliament, and even classic automobiles which ferry around Queen Elizabeth II. The newest member of the fleet is the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which was first used in 2014 for the Queen’s 80th Royal Mews London birthday and contains wood from Admiral Nelson’s flagship, H.M.S. Victory, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and other palaces and cathedrals Royal Mews London scattered throughout the country. Whether you’re there to see the state coaches or visit

with the magnificent horses, a trip to the Royal Mews makes you feel like a monarch, if only for a short time. You might even catch a glimpse of the daily messenger coach that has been bringing royal mail

between Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Palace since 1843!  Be aware that the Royal Mews are closed on Sundays.

 

Locations

 

The Dennis Severs’ House is located at 18 Folgate St. in the Spitalfields area of London. The closest Tube stop is Liverpool Street. Visit their website to book your tour.  Click on the map for directions.

The Changing of the Life Guard is held daily at Horse Guards Parade at 11:00AM. Horse Guards Parade is located on Whitehall, with the closest Tube station being Charing Cross, on Trafalgar Square. Click on the map for directions.  From Trafalgar Square, walk up Whitehall until you see the two mounted cavalry soldiers. Walk through the arch and into Horse Guards Parade.

The Geffrye Museum is located at 136 Kingsland Rd. in the Hoxton area of London. The easiest way to get there is to take the Overground (marked as orange on subway maps) to the Hoxton Station, which is located immediately behind the museum. Alternatively, you can take the Tube to Liverpool Street Station and then Bus 149 or 242 to the Museum (or walk for 20 minutes).  Click on the map for directions.

The Royal Mews is located on Buckingham Palace Road. Click on the map for directions. With Buckingham Palace in front of you, walk to the left of the palace, past the Queen’s Gallery, and up Buckingham Palace Rd. You’ll walk along the wall that separates the palace gardens from the city and eventually see the Royal Mews on your right.

 

what to do in London

 

 

 

 

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