Welsh Maritime and Industrial Museums
Many of our wonderful Welsh museums are dedicated to telling the stories of the shoreline communities and the industrial heritage of Wales. Each one has a different story to tell – from slate quarrying to whaling and shipbuilding to shipwrecks.
Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon, South Wales Valleys by beechphotosWhile all of our National Museums tell the story of Wales and the world, four specialise in different areas of our unique industrial heritage.
The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea tells the inspiring story of Welsh industrial, maritime and transport history. Many of the displays are interactive and the exhibitions change regularly. The museum’s events list includes film showings, talks and family craft activities. If you need a break from exploring, there’s a coffee shop to grab a bite to eat and relax.
Slate was one of the biggest industries in North Wales, employing thousands of men at the height of production in the 1800s. Welsh slate was exported all over the world because of its quality. Discover all about the quarries, the workers and the local communities at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis. Activities include slate cutting demonstrations and talks.
Dre-fach Felindre is in the heart of rural Carmarthenshire. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, it’s now hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of the woollen mills which used to dominate the land. Welsh wool was made into traditional Welsh blankets, cloth and flannel, and exported all over the world. Based in the historic former Cambrian Mills , the National Wool Museum has working looms and holds regular demonstrations as well as hosting local craft group events.
Big Pit National Coal Museum is an essential part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site experience. A visit here is a day out in itself as you can explore the pithead baths, view the mining galleries exhibitions and have a brew and a bite to eat in the old canteen overlooking Blaenavon. The highlight is the underground mine tour; led by an experienced former miner, you can find out what it was like to work as a coal miner through the ages.
One of our 2017 ‘Hidden Gem’ award winners, the Llŷn Maritime Museum, is based in a converted church in Nefyn on the Llŷn Peninsula. It’s a great place for families to explore the Llŷn’s maritime heritage – artefacts from local shipwrecks, shipbuilding tools and lots of model ships to look at. The museum also holds regular exhibitions and has many paintings, postcards and photos on display. There’s also a lovely coffee shop inside, perfect for an afternoon out.
Menai Heritage, North Wales by Warren Kovach/Menai HeritageTwo of the bridges across the Menai Strait are Victorian engineering marvels. Thomas Telford (Menai Suspension Bridge) and Robert Stephenson (Britannia Railway Bridge) developed new designs and techniques to cross the dangerous Menai Strait, revolutionising travel and trade with Ireland. At the Heritage Centre, visitors can walk under or over the suspension bridge, discover how the bridges were built and try building their own bridges. Perfect for budding engineers to use their imaginations!
The Museum is appropriately housed in the last remaining slate shed on the harbour. Porthmadog has a long and fascinating seafaring history; the harbour was a key port for exporting our top quality Welsh slate all over the world. The slate travelled down from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog via the nearby Ffestiniog Railway – at first by gravity run slate trains then by steam power. Here you can find out what Porthmadog owes to the sea – the shipbuilding, the communities and shipping slate around the world.
If you fancy a break from the hustle and bustle of Barmouth seafront, pop into this lovely little building and find out about Barmouth’s seaside story. Originally, the Barmouth Sailors’ Institute was a place for sailors to relax while on shore. There was a reading room and a billiards room, plus maps for families to trace their relatives travelling around the world on long voyages. No online maps or GPS tracking in those days! Now restored, it also shows the social history of Barmouth through photos and artefacts.
Wales has its fair share of narrow gauge railways, many of which are still running today, having been rescued and preserved. The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum is based in Tywyn, home of the world’s first preserved railway, the Talyllyn Railway. Around 200 years of British narrow gauge history is here – from track building to signalling, tickets to engines. There are plenty of interactive displays and events for the whole family to enjoy, including a static steam engine to clamber into the cab and ‘drive’!
Milford Haven wasn’t always about huge ships and oil refineries. Visit the Old Custom House, home of the Milford Haven Heritage & Maritime Museum, to discover the history of the town from the Bronze Age to their whaling and fishing industries.
Babs on Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire by Carmarthenshire CouncilPendine Sands in Pembrokeshire is legendary for world speed record attempts. Overlooking the picture-perfect beach is the Museum of Speed – dedicated to telling the history of these thrilling attempts to be the fastest in the world. Their prize exhibit during the summer months is Babs, the car used by J. G. Parry-Thomas as he broke the 1926 world speed record. Unfortunately, he died as he attempted to re-take his record the following year. Babs was buried in the sand until it was rescued and restored many years later.