Our National Museums grab a lot of headlines, but they’re far from the whole story. There are magical, specialist museums all over Wales that tell the tales of our people, places and history. Here are just a few of our little wonders.
Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd
The former home of poet and six-time Eisteddfod winner Hedd Wyn, this traditional Welsh farmhouse is an exploration of his work, an immersive glimpse into Welsh life in the early 20th century and an evocative look at the First World War’s impact on Wales. Hedd Wyn (real name Ellis Evans) tragically died during the conflict, six weeks before his poem Yr Awr won him his final Bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod. The ‘Black Chair’ is now one of many fascinating artefacts on display at Yr Ysgwrn.
Museum of Modern Art, Machynlleth
The Mid Wales market town of Machynlleth has something of a reputation as a bohemian and arty place, thanks to its collection of quirky shops and cafés – and its annual comedy festival. The Museum of Modern Art Machynlleth (or MOMA to its friends), builds on this with a fantastic collection of the best in modern art from across Wales. Seven beautiful galleries host a changing programme of exhibitions, alongside an extensive permanent collection of painting and sculpture. It’s also the venue for the Machynlleth Festival every August, which features performances of everything from jazz and choral singing to chamber music and poetry readings.
Egypt Centre, Swansea
Delve into the fascinating world of ancient Egypt at Swansea University’s Egypt Centre. Celebrating its 20th birthday in 2018, more than 5,000 artefacts make it the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Wales. It’s both a resource for students at Swansea University and an eye-opening attraction for amateur Egyptologists of all ages. You’ll see a staggering range of items, from statues and paintings to intricate jewellery and even a mummified crocodile.
The Judge's Lodging
Take a time-travelling look above and below stairs (as well as behind bars) in this perfectly preserved Victorian building, a combination of courtroom, prison and living quarters. Once the administrative centre for Radnorshire, it provided comfortable accommodation for visiting magistrates in town to try cases. Unlike many living history museums, the Judge’s Lodgings’ ‘hands on’ policy lets you get a real feel for the place. You can sit in the judge’s own chair, read his books and even spend some time in the cells down in the basement (a far cry from the judge’s own grand rooms upstairs).
Lloyd George Museum, Llanystumdwy
Visit the childhood home of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the Lloyd George Museum is restored to how it looked when he lived there between 1864 and 1880. You can see clothing, medals, pictures paintings and documents, including the Treaty of Versailles, alongside a Victorian classroom, Lloyd George’s old desk and a recreated shoemaker’s workshop. There’s also a lovely Victorian cottage garden to relax in, so don’t forget to bring a picnic.
Winding House, Caerphilly
Housed in a striking glass-walled building on the site of the former Elliot Colliery, the Winding House details the industrial history of the Rhymney Valley. The centrepiece is the massive winding engine that once carried workers and coal between the surface and the mine below. This incredible piece of engineering is kept in working order by a team of devoted volunteers and you can even see it in action on the final Saturday of each month. As well as the engine, the Winding House is home to a collection of documents, photographs and objects which illustrate day to day life here in South Wales at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Sir Henry Jones Museum, Abergele
A shoemaker’s son turned Professor of Moral Philosophy, Henry Jones was a passionate supporter of education in Wales and was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Wales. Sir Henry Jones Museum is housed in Henry’s childhood home, a little workman’s cottage in the village of Llangernyw near Abergele. A fascinating treasure trove of artefacts give an immersive insight on what life would have been like for the young Henry and his family. There’s also a changing programme of temporary exhibitions, on other aspects of local history. It’s a small but perfectly formed peek into the past.
Cynon Valley Museum
Indulge your cultural and arty side with a couple of hours in the Cynon Valley Museum, a wonderful, volunteer run community museum. As well as a fascinating insight into the Cynon Valley's history, it has a shop specializing in local and handmade crafts, two exhibition galleries, a café offering homemade cakes and a varied programme of events. Entrance is free, plus there's free parking onsite.