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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
New museum breaks with tradition
By Nick Parry
BBC Wales News website

Click here to look inside the new National Waterfront Museum

Wales' 33.5m National Waterfront Museum opens officially on Monday. Among the fascinating facts picked up from a sneak preview, the BBC News website found out about a Hollywood star's link with shipping heritage.

"From the very beginning we wanted to build a museum for people who don't do museums."

And with that project leader Dr Richard Bevins begins our tour.

It is two-and-half years since the first foundation stone was laid and more than three years since funding was secured, and he is clearly excited that from next week the building will finally be open to the public.

"We wanted to break away from the traditional maritime and industrial museum," he added.

"We wanted to look at the impact industrialisation had on the people of Wales. We are trying to break the mould and tell stories right up to the present day."

Dr Richard Bevins
It's not having gadgets for gadgets' sake - the technology allows us to get the real stories
Dr Richard Bevins

Use is made of real life artefacts, archive footage and photographs, 2-D graphic panels, video diaries and various and often ingenious interactive computer displays.

The aim was to cover almost every imaginable aspect of Wales' industrial and social history.

There are large areas given over to the early copper and steel works.

Wales' maritime heritage is brought to life - including a detailed scale model of the 1865 steam ship Zeta which gave a certain Swansea-born Hollywood actress her middle name.

More modern industries are also represented, including animation and the companies behind such children's favourites as Super Ted.

Ordinary people

Politicians Aneurin Bevan and David Lloyd George plus sports stars Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Gareth Edwards are among the figures in an interactive hall of fame which will be added to by votes from visitors.

Ordinary people doing ordinary things have also contributed through video diaries - whether football fans adding their take on the history of the Football Association of Wales or women recounting their experiences of the suffragette movement.

Lloyd George Exhibit
Lloyd George is one of those to make the hall of fame

The effect of some of the displays is a bit like exploring the past through stories your grandmother might have told... and the anecdotes stay with you.

Did you know many moons ago most people could afford to eat meat only on the weekend, so pawnbrokers did a roaring trade taking in false teeth on a Monday which would be redeemed again on a Friday?

Dr Bevins insisted that such an approach was not dumbing down, but about making the museum accessible to as many visitors as possible.

"It's not having gadgets for gadgets' sake - the technology allows us to get the real stories."

A whole wing of the building is given over to the traditional large machinery you may expect to find in an industrial museum - including a working replica of the first steam locomotive in Wales.

Each exhibit is fully bilingual and signed for those with hearing difficulties.

The museum has been built with funding from Swansea Council, the Welsh Assembly Government and a variety of its agencies plus 11m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) - the largest grant it has awarded in Wales.

Modern slant for waterfront museum
18 Nov 04 |  South West Wales
Disabled groups' fury at access
07 Jan 05 |  South West Wales
Museum opening countdown
23 Jun 04 |  South West Wales

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