One of Wales’ most popular attractions, the living heritage museum can be found in the grounds of St Fagans Castle and Gardens, a Grade I listed Elizabethan manor house in the village of St Fagans, to the west of Cardiff. A medieval castle was based on the site, but by 1536 the original castle was in ruins.
The 16th-century manor house is thought to have been built by either a Dr John Gibbon or Nicholas Herbert, who bought it from him in 1586. Following a period during the First World War where it was used as a convalescent hospital, St Fagans Castle was donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1947.
Over a period of fifty years, there have been at least fifty original buildings re-erected throughout the 100-acre parkland, giving a taste of life in Wales throughout history. There is a mock Tudor merchant’s house, farm, school, chapel and Workmen’s Institute.
St Fagans is now very much a hands on heritage experience with native breeds of livestock, demonstrations of farming tasks and a variety of trained craftspeople showing off their skills, including blacksmiths, bakers and even clogmakers. There is a weaver operating in a woolen mill and a miller producing flour in the 19th century corn mill.
Visitors can try their hand at traditional Welsh crafts in Gweithdy, a gallery doubling as a workshop celebrating the skills of local people across the history of Wales. Other galleries throughout the site draw on the museum’s extensive archive to show local life throughout history, from Iron Age cooking to Italian coffee machines from the 1920s.
The gardens at St Fagans are regularly voted to be some of the best in Wales. There are both elegant formal gardens in the castle grounds, or alternatively there are also cottage gardens that help provide food for working families throughout the village’s history. Native breeds of livestock live in the fields and farmyards, and farming task demonstrations take place for visitors throughout the day.
Adding to the living history already at the museum, people can now also experience an exciting new high ropes course. Nestled among the beech trees, people can climb, swing, balance and wobble their way through the course, seeing the sights of St Fagans from an elevated position, before taking the fun zip line back to the ground. There are eighteen obstacles presenting challenges for varying levels of ability, including a balance beam, zig zag bridge and cargo net.
This museum holds a special place in the hearts of the Welsh people as it is a people’s museum, publicly owned, where visitors can explore history together through the lens of everyday lives. St Fagans was the winner of the 2019 UK Art Fund Museum of the Year.
The museum’s slogan “Don’t just visit history, be part of it!” says it all.