Newt’s, humans and how we lived

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The castle from which St Fagans takes its name

Where you take children often depends on the weather. If it’s fine the great outdoors; if it’s wet – the great indoors. But if the day is going to be a mixture then St Fagans might be your best bet. And if you have no children it’s a great day out anyway.


St Fagans is part of the National Museum of Wales and, consequently, is free to enter. To be found just a few miles north of Cardiff and clearly signposted from the M4, it is easy to find and there is plenty of parking. The downside? Parking will cost you £3.50. A tad expensive on the face of it and you have no option but to pay since there is no nearby parking alternative. (There is a bus which takes about 20 minutes from the middle of Cardiff.) And the parking machines only take coins so come prepared. But the £3.50 allows you to park all day and you could find that you are going to stay there a lot more than an hour or two. When you look at it like that it becomes a better deal.

I went there for the 10am opening one Thursday in term time. By the time it opened there were five coaches parked and about a fifth of the car park was full. If you drive get there early. Three of the coaches were schoolchildren and you could see in the eyes of other visitors what was going through their minds. Get to the areas and buildings before the kids!

A wall painting in St Teilo's


On July 1st, St Fagans become a pensioner; it will be 65 years old. And in those years it has amassed a number of buildings, one of which I remember going into with an uncle when I was kid. Then the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute was a meeting place for the miners. It’s odd seeing it transplanted and I did a double take when I saw it there. It makes you feel rather old when you see a childhood memory being described to primary school age children as part of our past!


One building you must visit is St Teilo’s Church which was thought to have been built as early as the twelfth century. Inside the walls are adorned with brightly painted wall-paintings which is how the church would have looked in the 1530’s just before the dissolution of the monasteries. There are few churches anywhere in the UK that still carry the colour and magnificence that must have been enjoyed by our ancestors.


In all over 40 buildings have been transported from throughout Wales into the 100 plus acres of grounds in which St Fagans Castle still stands. They range from a urinal and a cockpit to a school, a farmhouse and a woollen mill. In addition there is a re-created Celtic village, replicas of a boat house, restaurants, an education centre, shops and four galleries in the main building.

Inside the cockpit. Or slaughterhouse. Or garage


But some buildings are not just there for you to wander through and imagine what life was like when they were occupied. Take the Derwen Bakehouse which once stood in Aberystwyth. Today it is also a business – Turog Bread which will sell you bread and cakes freshly cooked on the premises. One of the kilns from the many Ewenni potteries has been transported here still to be used by potters to create wares for sale to visitors.


the very red, Kennixton Farmhouse

Almost the first building you will see once you leave the main building will be the Kennixton farmhouse from the Gower which dates to about 1610. Distinctive in a bright red, the colour was thought to be important in protecting the house from evil spirits. Originally it was a one-up, one-down house that was added to over the years until it could almost be considered grand. Into the house has been placed Glamorgan furniture of the time plus some reproduction pieces. It still has its raised area for smoking meats. As a farmhouse it had animals and, today, you can see in the grounds animals that would have been common in Wales such as Llanwenog sheep, Welsh Black cows and Welsh pigs.


The price of the toll that has to be paid on crossing the Severn Bridges into Wales is not a new feature. Tolls existed for centuries on many roads and, re-erected here, is the toll booth from Penparcau that all visitors would have gone through if they journeyed from the south into Aberystwyth. It was 6d (5p) to take a carriage through and 2d for a horse whether laden with goods or not. But some things were allowed through free of charge like manure wagons and coaches connected to royalty!


From Denbigh came a cockpit, a round circular building in which cockfighting once took place until banned in 1849. That the building was not torn down for other developments is perhaps due to the fact that it was then used as a slaughterhouse and then a garage.

the tannery- and the newts!


It is the tannery where the newts may be found. The pools into which the animal hides were soaked before being turned into boots, harnesses and so on still survive. And in one water-filled area, a sign indicates that newts have been found. A case surely, of wildlife taking advantage of what man has created and turning it into their own habitat.


I spent almost four hours at St Fagans which included a snack in the restaurant whilst on the ground floor there is a café and a well-frequented shop. I could have spent a lot more time I didn’t investigate the castle as thoroughly as I would have liked or the gardens. It’s not for those who plan to slot a visit in as part of a visit to Cardiff. You need at least half-a-day to do it justice but once visited, you’ll certainly want to return.

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