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Review of locomotive replica amid slave trade links branded “wokeness getting out of control”

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A decision to review a replica of the first steam-powered locomotive in Wales over claims it was linked to the slave trade has been branded “utterly preposterous” by the Welsh Conservatives.

The National Museum Wales could relabel Richard Trevithick’s locomotive, which was used in the first steam-powered rail journey in 1804, to highlight slave trade links.

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Officials at the Museum admitted there were no direct links between the Trevithick locomotive and the slave trade, but they said the use of the invention is “rooted in colonialism and racism.”

The museum has confirmed the Trevithick replica, which is on display in the Waterfront Museum in Swansea, would be subject to the Charter for Decolonising audit.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Culture, Tom Giffard MS, said: “Threatening to relabel a replica locomotive created by someone who had no direct links to the slave trade is utterly preposterous.

“This is just another example of wokeness getting out of control, and it appears that the museum has well and truly lost the plot if they go ahead with this.

“Fantastic pieces of work such as Richard Trevithick’s locomotive, which was used in the first steam-powered rail journey, should be celebrated – not punished.”

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(Lead image: Wikimedia / Oxyman / Creative Commons)

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Museums

Dream role for Egypt Centre’s new head

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A childhood visit to a museum not only triggered Ken Griffin’s lifelong passion for Egyptology, it has also led to him landing his perfect job.

He has just been appointed curator of the Swansea University’s award-winning Egypt Centre and is now in charge of its unique collection of antiquities.

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Belfast-born Dr Griffin says he was captivated by Egyptology after a trip to Ulster Museum when he was six.

“They have a mummy on display called Takabuti, and I used to get my dad to take me there every Sunday. I wanted to know more about the country, and I finally went there on my 16th birthday. That really cemented the idea of doing Egyptology, I was totally obsessed,” he said.

Dr Griffin started volunteering at the museum while he was a first year Egyptology student back in October 2000. After finishing his degree, he went on to become a Saturday workshop assistant while studying for his MA and PhD in Egyptology.

After a spell as a lecturer, he hit the headlines when he discovered a depiction associated with the pharaoh Hatshepsut – one of just five women to have ruled ancient Egypt – on object he had taken out of the storeroom for a handling session.

He said: “This job is fantastic and often there are discoveries every day. We have about 6,000 objects in total, but we only have room for about a third of our collection to be on display. I have seen every object but often you see something you haven’t spotted before; particularly as new technology becomes available.”

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Dr Ken Griffin in the Ulster Museum alongside the mummy Takabuti, the exhibit that triggered his interest in Egyptology. (Image: Swansea University)

Back in 2020, three of the museum’s mummified animals were examined using X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates high-resolution 3D images. The process provided unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives – and deaths – more than 2,000 years ago.

During his time at the museum Dr Griffin has been actively involved in teaching Egyptology through the University’s adult education programme and he is passionate about ensuring the museum’s collection is as accessible as possible.

Next month he will oversee the installation of a new display case which will also create a temporary exhibition space to be used by Swansea University students.

Already a favourite destination for schools, the museum hosts regular workshops and events but when the pandemic forced it to close its doors, Dr Griffin set up virtual courses via zoom.

“We weren’t open to the public at all for 18 months and the gift shop and schools are usually our main source of income. But the online teaching really took off and over the two years we were able to bring in £50,000 of essential funds through that.

“They will definitely continue. Some of the online courses have been attended by 180 people whereas if I held them here it would be a maximum of 15. It has been an unbelievable success.

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“Attendees have come from more than 50 countries in six continents – we haven’t had anyone join us from Antarctica yet!”

Dr Griffin also emphasised the continuation of the museum’s traditional activities, assisted by its band of more than 100 dedicated volunteers, and his desire to get more students, in particular, through its doors.

Another of his long-term aim is for the Centre to twin with a museum in Egypt to exchange ideas and knowledge.

He added: “I first came here as student and I have really been part of the Egypt Centre ever since, it is a very special place. I wake up and look forward to coming to work every single day. It is always exciting.

“It is very rare for a curator of Egyptology post to come up so to get this job really does show that dreams can come true.”

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Lead image: Dr Ken Griffin among exhibits in the storeroom of Swansea University’s Egypt Centre. (Image: Swansea University)

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Museums

University’s Egypt Centre in running for top museum award

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Swansea University’s Egypt Centre has been shortlisted for the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award, it was announced today.

Charity Kids in Museums has run a prestigious annual award for 16 years, recognising the most family friendly heritage sites in the UK. It is the only museum award to be judged by families.

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From late March to early June, families across the UK voted for their favourite heritage attraction on the Kids in Museums website. A panel of experts then whittled down hundreds of nominations to a shortlist of 16 heritage attractions.

The Egypt Centre is vying against four other museums in the Best Small Museum category.

Curator Dr Ken Griffin said: “We are thrilled to have been nominated. Since the museum opened its doors to the public in 1998, we have had a strong focus on families and young people. This includes family activities such as mummifying our dummy mummy, handling of real Egyptian antiquities, and playing the ancient board game Senet.

“To be in the running for this award recognises all the hard work undertaken by staff and our wonderful volunteers!”

The Egypt Centre is Wales’ only museum dedicated to Egyptian antiquities and houses around 6,000 objects in its collection. With a small team of staff and more than 100 enthusiastic volunteers, including Young Volunteers who run the Museum every Saturday, it boasts a popular schools programme and a variety of events, including workshops, talks and family activities.

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Over the summer holidays, the museum will be visited by undercover family judges who will assess the shortlisted museums against the Kids in Museums Manifesto. Their experiences will decide a winner for each award category and an overall winner of the Family Friendly Museum Award 2022.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in October.

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Art

Carmarthenshire Museum reopens for National Gallery painting exhibition

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It will be the first time the museum has been open to the public since 2020 when it closed for phase one of improvement, funded by Carmarthenshire County Council.

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People will be able to visit from Saturday to see Jean-Siméon Chardin’s ‘The House of Cards’, a painting from the National Gallery’s masterpiece collection, which was painted by the 18th century French artist in around 1740–1.

Carmarthenshire Museum was chosen by the National Gallery as one of only three museums in the UK to exhibit part of its collection.

The museum, in Abergwili, re-opens following completion of the first phase of restoration by Carmarthenshire County Council which has invested significantly to create a better environment for museum collections.  

The expansive programme of phased works includes roof repairs, two new galleries, re-building of the chimneys and decorative stonework.

Phase one involved making the historic landmark building watertight, installing a new roof, restoring stonework on the front of the building, repairing over 100 windows, restoring the iconic lantern window over the museum’s central hall and the distinctive carved stone porch – both legacies of the building’s past as the palace of the Bishops of St Davids.

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The museum also has a new shop to showcase gifts inspired by the museum collections and regional crafts and will open next week.

The museum entrance has also been adapted and is fully accessible with a gentle ramp and a power assisted outer door. Other sensitive modernisations have also been carried out.

Phase two of the ongoing restoration works is well underway and involves upgrading two galleries on the ground floor.  

This work, funded by Welsh Government, is expected to be completed by Easter.

The final phase will focus on smaller projects throughout the museum and the park and will get underway later this year.

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During the museum’s closure, the surrounding Bishop’s Park has also undergone a transformation under the management of the Tywi Gateway Trust, featuring accessible pathways, landscaping, interpretation, and planting after the council granted £300,000 towards the cost of developing disused outbuildings into a vibrant visitor centre and café within the museum grounds. 

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said: “A huge amount of restoration work has been already done and is continuing at Carmarthenshire Museum, and we are working towards a completion date later this year.

“We are pleased that we have been able to complete phase one of these works just in time to host this magnificent painting as part of the National Gallery’s Masterpiece Tour.

“We wanted to be able to welcome visitors back as soon as was possible so we kindly ask our visitors to bear with us as we complete the rest of the phased restoration works that are underway at the museum. Investing in our museums and engaging in cultural activity has a demonstrable positive impact on starting well, living well and ageing well.

“Our museums are the family photobook of the history of our county, documenting where we’ve come from and helping to shape the unique cultural identity of our future generations.”

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(Lead. image: Carmarthenshire Council)

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