Amgueddfa Sir Gâr/ Carmarthenshire Museum – a hidden gem!

Surrounded by glorious parkland, Carmarthenshire County Museum is situated in the former palace of the Bishop of St Davids, Abergwili, however, it is important to note that the museum was once based in the centre of Carmarthen town. Originally established by the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in 1908 to gather and document information relating to the county, the museum (based at No. 4 & 5 Quay Street), was sold to the council in 1839 along with the entirety of its collection.

These contents, largely collected by the Carmarthen Literary and Scientific Institution (est. 1840) and by public donation, range from the bizarre to wonderful. With both local pieces and items from further afield, the current home of Carmarthenshire Museum is also home to a reconstructed traditional Welsh cottage and beautifully preserved chapel from the original construction of the Palace.

Bishop Laud’s Chapel before the fire of 1903
PHOTOGRAPH BY Courtesy of Carmarthenshire Museums via

Open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, you can also plan your trip to coincide with the display of renowned art piece with the National Gallery Masterpiece Tour, however, even if there is not a Rembrandt or Verrocchio on display, you can always pass time by checking out the local history displays including a small cabinet containing ancient Egyptian artefacts!

You might wonder, what links does Carmarthenshire have with ancient Egypt? Well, notable archaeological illustrator Ernest Harold Jones spent most of his life in Carmarthenshire.

Photographic Print of Ernest Harold Jones
PHOTOGRAPH BY unknown circa 1910. Courtesy of the NLW, Aberystwyth

Barnsley born, Harold Jones relocated to Wales at an early age, later going on to teach at the Carmarthen School of Art where his father was the headmaster. Interestingly, Harold himself was also a member of the Antiquarian Society of Carmarthen and it is thought that the items on display were donated to the museum on Quay Street by his sister, Mary Anne Sprike. Ernest Jones, who had worked with famous archaeologist’s including Howard Carter, assisted in documenting, and illustration of scenes and artefacts from Tomb of Siptah. However, upon his untimely death in Luxor during 1911, it is thought that his possessions were shipped back to his sister in Carmarthen.

Display case containing Ancient Egyptian Artefacts supposedly belonging to Ernest Harold Jones.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Jenna-Marie Heard

These possessions including a hand mirror, wooden head rest, faience bowl and a partial gold-gilded cartonnage mask are just a small selection of artefacts on display. It appears some others, namely glass bottles, pottery, and ushabti’s among other funerary goods and some original sketches (including the likes of the Tomb of Siptah), are held in museum storage. Although, I should note that it is unclear if all of these items (both on display and in storage), in fact belonged to Ernest Jones as some Egyptian artefacts, namely pottery, were donated to the museum by the University of Liverpool in 1911.

Most interestingly, I also discovered a hand-written note by Egyptologist-Archaeologist Margaret Murrey in an Antiquarian Scrapbook, now stored in Carmarthenshire Archives, dating to 1912-13 (CAS III). With this, it appears Margaret conducted a series of lectures for the Antiquarian Society in the winter of 1912 and post lecture, translated an inscription, potentially from ushabti’s from the above display or of one in storage. The translation reads “Name of small Ushabti figures Ankh-en-Knonsu”, however, without proper examination, it has been difficult to distinguish to which ushabti this translation belongs.

Translation of ushabti figures by Margaret Murray
PHOTOGRAPH BY Jenna-Marie Heard, courtesy of Carmarthenshire Archives

Even more interesting is the discovery of an Egyptian State Telegram (CDX/433/4), also held by Carmarthenshire Archives. The telegram reads “Tell him to come to Isna on Sunday don't go to El-Mahamid”. It has been confirmed that this telegram was sent from Howard Cater – the famous Archaeologist to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, to Ernest Harold Jones in 1906, but who ‘him’ is remains a mystery. Efforts have been made to contact the Griffith Institute to explore this, however, unfortunately, there are gaps in Carter’s diaries and thus it has been difficult to establish who/ what the telegram was specifically referring, but does cement Jones’ role as a key player in Egyptology during this period!

Egyptian State Telegram sent from Howard Cater to Harold Jones, 1906
PHOTOGRAPH BY Jenna-Marie Heard, courtesy of Carmarthenshire Archives

With this, it is important to note that many community-based/ council-run museums have a vast array of treasures, the joy is seeking them out! So, if you’re in the area and want to get your Egyptology fix, Carmarthenshire Museum is a good place to start!

P.S. It has recently been announced that an Egyptian Exhibition is set to unveil at Carmarthenshire Museum, Summer 2024.

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Jenna-Marie Heard

Jenna (she/ her) is currently employed as an Archives Assistant for a Local Authority, however, her heart still lies with her true passion - Egyptology. She holds a DipHE in Egyptology and Ancient History, and an MA in Archaeology from UWTSD and hopes to continue with her education by pursuing a PhD in Egyptology, focussing on the relationships between Egypt and Cyprus.