My favorite room
Griff Rhys Jones

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 41, Winter 2014

Page 20

My favorite room
Griff Rhys Jones

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 41, Winter 2014

Page 20

My favorite room
Griff Rhys Jones

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 41, Winter 2014

Page 20

Griff Rhys Jones embraces his Welsh heritage at St Fagans Museum – as well as the austerity of country living

When I was about eight I went to stay with my godmother in Cardiff – I was born there but my family moved to England when I was a baby – and she took me on a kind of cultural tour of south Wales. One of the places we visited was St Fagans, the Welsh National History Museum. I've been back there since to film for a documentary about Wales, but my wife Jo had never been. Earlier this year we were on the way to our farm in West Wales, where we've restored several traditional buildings, and I said: "We must stop at St Fagans."

It's the kind of museum that used to be popular as a way of preserving buildings that were under threat. Nowadays conservationists prefer to keep them in situ if possible, but back then buildings were moved and gathered in a parkland environment. St Fagans has about 20 or 30 splendid examples of Welsh vernacular buildings – a chapel, a little mill, a row of shops and several farmhouses.

I'm not a 'favorite' person, I have different favorites on different days, but I would thoroughly recommend the rooms in the farmhouses, if possible on a quiet day to get the atmosphere. The ceilings are very low, they are very dark and on this particular April day there were fires burning in the hearths. They contain some very beautiful furniture, like a wonderful oak settle with a bed built into it, a Welsh dresser, and several 'stick' chairs made of willow or elm. To me they are unique works of folk art.

Within Wales each village produced furniture of a very individual kind and farmers collected it for a particular purpose. A dresser was to display luster ware as a show of worldly wealth, and luster jugs were hung from the ceilings to reflect the glow of the firelight. Although cottages at the time must have been pretty overcrowded and dirty, the rooms at St Fagans are sparse and clean. They are utterly to my taste – a Protestant taste that I grew up with and which appreciates the simple structural form of things. This furniture was made with great care, but without great precision because of the limited tools available.

The sense of peace and monkish austerity allows you to stand in these rooms with nothing demanded of you. I'm sure they were full of clutter in real life, but the way they have been presented at St Fagans is like going into the simplest chapel and thinking: "This a place of perfect peace."

Insufficiently Welsh by Griff Rhys Jones is published by Parthian Books.

St Fagans, The National History Museum of Wales. Cardiff; museumwales.ac.uk

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