Examination of witnesses
(Questions 120 - 139)
MONDAY 26 OCTOBER 1998
and MR COLIN
120. Can we have a copy of that letter?
(Mr Prichard) Yes.
121. Obviously it is not going to be 7.5 million
pounds but what do you anticipate spending to put a museum in
place that will house a collection that will be effectively a
(Mr Ford) I cannot give you an accurate figure because
the decision to go to Swansea is relatively new but the existing
buildings at Swansea, the space already available for us to occupy
should we move into it and share them with Swansea, is four times
the size of the building we closed in Cardiff Bay. The open air
site, which started at 2.5 acres (and might go up to as much as
5.74 if we want it, which we would not in the first instance),
is 25 per cent bigger than the open air space that we had in Cardiff
Bay. So, even if we spend relatively little money, we move into
Heritage buildings rather than a fairly poor quality modernish
70s building with a lot more space and surrounding land there.
It would be possible, though I would not advocate it, to take
the 4.5 millionand I must go back to the fact that the
money we believe we have got for the whole operation is 7.5 million
that is the figure constantly quoted in this letterand
join the two Heritage buildings together at Swansea and make a
substantially effective refurbishment of the galleries they have
got and to put our collections with them. I believe it would be
possible to do that for 4.5 million pounds. I would hope that
the Museum, helped by the Welsh Office and the Heritage Lottery
Fund, will do something substantially better than that but it
will depend on the funding raised. Subject to what you say about
the Assembly and the no absolute guarantee about money promised
by any government, however, we do have 4.5 million there to spend
in Swansea which is already hugely bigger than anything we ever
(Mr Thomas) To clarify that, part of that is Heritage
making up the 4.5 million.
122. So this is dependent on another bid to
(Mr Ford) No. The 4.5 million pounds is the remaining
amount of money from the 7.5 million which is what we have got
for the site. Of course, the Treasury or Assembly could decide
to take it away from us but that is the money which we will have
when we build the new Museum.
123. The Treasurer agrees with that, does he?
(Mr Thomas) Yes. I thought the answer was in respect
of the assumption that you did not get the balance of 3 million.
We might still say we will proceed in Swansea with what is left
with the 4.5 million with some help from Heritage but I was answering
a different question.
124. Can I turn to the collections that were
held at WIMM? What has happened to those? Where are they now?
Are they all at Nantgarw? Have any of them been destroyed.
(Mr Ford) A number of them are still on display at
the Cardiff Docks Gallery at 126 Bute street though it is a very
small gallery. The majority, the largest number of exhibits, have
gone to Nantgarw, including the very many that were never accessible
to anyone before. Reserve and research collections were not accessible
and they are now. We have moved a number of items to the Museum
of Welsh Life, those that were particularly appropriate to this
Museum which gets far more visitors than any other Museum in Walesfor
instance, alongside the Oakdale Miners' Institute you can now
see a coal train with the liveries of many of the coal owners.
We have moved some of the items more appropriate to the Welsh
Slate Museum, an industrial museum on which, by the way, was spent
2.1 million pounds this year with the aid of the Heritage Lottery
Fund. Some transport items have gone down to Barry, to the Wales
Transport Experience, into the Heritage Skills Training Centre.
We have moved a particular water pumping engine to the Hereford
Waterworksthat is the only item that has gone outside Wales
but gone through the good offices of Hyder. Hyder/Welsh Water
are the main sponsors and funders of the Hereford Museum and were
anxious to have that there. BABS has gone down to the Pendine
Museum of Speed; some other engines have gone to Barry, to the
Vale of Glamorgan Railway Society. There is one destroyed exhibit
and that is the Sea Alarm tug, as is well known. That has a very
interesting and rather long history. It was actually acquiredas
my Head of Collections put italmost by accident. When they
were building WIMM they wanted a marine triple expansion engine
and they went to the scrapyards to find one. They found one inside
a boat which was the tugboat Sea Alarm. Basically a tugboat is
a floating platform for a large engine. They decided on the whole
they might just as well bring the boat to Cardiff Bay rather than
merely the engine. This built up some long term problemsfirst
of all, because at the time we acquired the boat the listed walls
of the Oval Basin in which it was destined to float were beginning
to suffer quite bad subsidence. A decision was made backed by
Cadw that the best thing to do was to fill it in so it could not
subside any more. This meant the Sea Alarm was landlocked and
the problem was that, once you wanted to take it out again, there
was very considerable expense involved. It has been very expensive
to look afterthere were 147 of these tugs built very quickly
and very cheaply during the Second World War. It was not designed
for long life and we have had to grit it right down to the base
metal and repaint it with all the various coats of paint on at
least two occasions so we have spent a great deal of money on
conserving it. When it came to having to get it out, the best
estimate we had of the costs of making it seaworthy and getting
it out, cutting the canal, et cetera, were a quarter of a million
pounds. We only wanted the engine; all the people we offered it
to were not interested in spending a quarter of a million pounds.
We could not do it without spending that because we could not
get a licence to take it out to sea. Associated British Ports
at Cardiff Bay and Barry were both asked if they could provide
a home and they both said "No" unless it passed those
tests and that money was spentprobably because one of these
tugs started to sink in one of the locks into Cardiff Dock some
years ago anyway. We are a member of the National Historic Ships
Committee and this agreed that, because there were 60 of these
tugs in existence all over the world, it was not something that
that sort of money should be spent on and none of the museums
could find a home for it. So, yes, we cut that up but we kept
the engine. A long answerI am sorry, but it is a long story.
125. Yes. There has been some public disquiet
about that decision
(Mr Ford) There is a tug boat floating outside Swansea
Maritime Museum which will become part of that Museumif
we move there.
126. It has also been put to us that other boats
have been lost in recent years. Is this the case and in what circumstances
were they lost?
(Mr Ford) Apart from a couple of boats in quite bad
condition which we did write off, two being destroyed in a storm
and one being vandalised, small boats which were not considered
worthy of display (underlining the point about the quality of
our storage) I am not aware of any boats being disposed of in
(Mr Thomas) One ended up in North Wales. It was a
North Wales boat moved from the sites in Cardiff to Caernarfon,
many years ago.
127. I think Mr Edwards has put forward quite
strongly the fact that there has been a lot of public disquiet
about the destruction of the Sea Alarm. I know Mr Ford has spent
some time trying to diminish its importance and justifying its
destruction and keeping of the engines; nevertheless it does seem
to me that to keep the inside of the boat without the outside
is a very poor substitute. This sort of incident really does reflect
very badly on the Museum because actually destroying this boat
did bring home to so many people the consequences of what you
have done with the site of that Museum. It is very disturbing.
(Mr Ford) I am sorry that you feel that. If any exhibit
goes one has to think very carefully. As someone responsible for
National Museum collections for thirty three years you think very
carefully before you do it. Two points I would like to add: the
boat had no connection with Wales at all. It said "Bristol"
in large words on it but it was actually built in Sunderland.
It operated in many ports throughout Britain and it came to Bristol
at the end of its career and, as far as I know, its only connection
with Wales was to come into Barry to be scrapped. Secondly, you
have been asking us about whether we are investing our 7.5 million
pounds wisely, would it have been wise to spend a quarter of a
million plus the cost then of continuing to conserve it and store
it somewhere? My answer was "No".
128. My answer to you is that, if it comes to
you by accident, you do not seem to think it is of much worth.
(Mr Ford) As I have told you, we have sanded and gritted
down and repainted, with all the costs of marine painting, at
least twiceto my knowledge. That is a big expenditure.
Ms Morgan: As you know, this has upset a lot
of people very interested in this field in South Wales. It has
caused a lot of disquiet and upset.
129. You mentioned earlier the sum of 2.2 million
spent on the site at Nantgarw. Is it in operation now?
(Mr Ford) Yes. It has been filled because we have
just completed the move of everything from Cardiff Bay from the
Welsh Industrial Maritime Museum and the other five sites around
Cardiff Bay for temporary storage, some of them with the help
of Cardiff Bay Development Corporation. As part of striking the
deal they wanted us to move out of those anyway but we wanted
to put them into better storage so we have moved everything in
but it is not yet operating as a fully open accessible store.
That will take further months because we have stuffed them all
in pretty quickly on carefully designed and built shelves and
so on. It will never be like a museum. Even when it is operating
properly it will be a place where you keep your reserve and research
collections for people who have special interests to visit. It
will not be telling the story of industrial and maritime Wales.
130. You mentioned the amount of the cost of
the sitethe amount out of the 4.5 million that it has cost.
To bring it up to the standards you want, even as a store not
as an operating museum, how much more is that going to cost?
(Mr Ford) It will all be done within the 3 million
budget I mentioned earlier and we intend to have it finished by
the end of this calendar year.
131. Can you tell us precisely when you decided
to buy it?
(Mr Ford) Yes. When we first realised we would have
to find somewhere to store the collection because we were likely
to have to move out of the site before moving into anywhere else,
we thought the right option was to go for a five years' rental.
We started to explore the possibilities of stores on short term
rental last October. We investigated a number of properties and
came up with the one we most liked. It was the only one really
that satisfied our standards of quality in terms of environmental
control and accessibility, and we then ran into the problem that,
although it had been put onto the market as a possible five year
lease, the owners decided we could only have it for ten years.
When we assessed the cost of renting for ten years we discovered
the cost of buying one was much the same or very similar. We were
shown three other buildings but none of those again satisfied
the requirements of accessibility or quality of environmental
control. We then decided we had better go for the purchase of
a buildingpartly because, of course, that then gave us
a permanent building and we would have this store for ever. On
11 March this year, therefore, getting very close to the date
when we thought we were going to have to close, the project group
here recommended that we should buy Nantgarw and that was what
was accepted on 17 March.
(Mr Prichard) But we did not sign the contract until
(Mr Ford) I have to go back through the Council minutes.
(Mr Prichard) It was June sometime.
(Mr Ford) We could not sign the contract until we
had a contract for the sale of WIMM.
132. So bearing in mind you knew you were going
to have to look for another site, did you look for this site as
a reaction for the sudden requirement to sell for 7.5 million
pounds? Was it not rather a hasty decision? There was no advance
work done. Would it not have been appropriate to go out to public
consultation, for example, on the location of the site at Nantgarw?
(Mr Prichard) The answer is that, ever since I have
been President and ever since Colin has been Director, it has
been an absolute imperative for this Museum to improve its storage
facilities. Before this whole situation arose, we thought we were
going to have to make another bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund
for adequate storage facilities. When this situation arose, we
saw the opportunity of using the move from the WIMM site and part
of the money we used for its sale to accelerate the process of
getting adequate storage facilities for the Museum. I do not think
it is at all fair to say that this was a hasty decision. Storage
facilities do not make the headlines like new industrial management.
They are equally important to a Museum like ourselves; we will
never get anyone to leave us items in our will if we do not have
adequate storage facilities to keep them. What happened on this
occasion was a very pragmatic decision to use part of the money
that suddenly became available for the desperate need for this
133. Did that require Welsh Office approval?
(Mr Prichard) Yes.
(Mr Ford) Any acquisition to the estate requires that.
134. Is the Nantgarw site then just functioning
instead of WIMM or is it intended to be a collection centre for
the whole Museum?
(Mr Ford) It is currently only operating for WIMM
because that was the urgent requirement and the WIMM collections
plus those dotted in the sites around the Bay get very close to
filling it up. As I think I said earlier, when the new Museum
opens in Swansea, a considerable amount of that will go down to
Swansea and that will free up space for all the items that need
storage from our other sites. We were able to buy for the target
price enough land so we could effectively double the size of the
store, if and when it was required.
135. So effectively part of the capital that
was WIMM is being moved, if you like to another part of the Museum
for the requirements of the main part of the Museum?
(Mr Ford) In the long run you could say that but we
would have spent that much money to rent somewhere for the period
if we had spent the money for Cardiff Bay simply on renting a
site. Yes, we could have said "We have not spent the money
anywhere but on the Industrial and Maritime Museum", but
I cannot see it is improper to say, at the end of that period,
that we have actually got a bonus for the rest of the Museum's
136. But can you see that, as a result of those
actions, the feeling in Wales is that the industrial and maritime
heritage of the country is not being taken care of by the National
Museum and that they appear to have a preference for fine arts
and art work and are giving a lesser credence to Wales as a maritime
and industrial heritage?
(Mr Ford) I am sorry if the people of Wales think
that. I find it very difficult to believe because we have, for
the first time in the history of the industrial collections, put
them into really first class storage conditions. Why should we
think that, therefore, somehow proves we are not interested in
the industrial collections? The storage conditions are a lot better
than some of the storage conditions we have in the basement of
this building or at St Fagan's, for instance. It is of great importance
that we give all our collections the highest standards of professional
museum storage and conservation. That is what we do.
137. One last point: you say that the collection
from WIMM will not now be available for the general public to
see, or only occasionally.
(Mr Ford) For a few years. If we had built a new Museum
on the WIMM site it would have been closed for three years. I
cannot tell you how long it is going to take to develop the Museum
at Swansea because it is such a new decision but it is probably
going to be something like three years. Meanwhile collections
are available for those who urgently need to see them and a lot
of the most high profile and popular items are on display in other
138. Just going back to the sites in Cardiff,
in your memorandum you imply that not getting a satisfactory site
in Cardiff was the fault of CBDC; that they offered sites away
from the waterfront, and did not tell you how large the sites
were. Would you suggest that CBDC were not very keen on having
the Industrial Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay?
(Mr Prichard) No. I hope that the words "the
fault of CBDC" do not appear in the memorandum and I do not
consider it was the fault of CBDC. All CBDC can do is to offer
us sites that they think might be suitable for a replacement Industrial
and Maritime Museum that are, for one reason or another, available
on such terms as they are available and that is what the Development
Corporation did. I am absolutely convinced that, if there had
been other, more suitable, sites available they would have offered
those to us. The Development Corporation did all they could to
ensure that any possible site was available to us if we considered
it suitable. What we did in the earlier part of this year was
to have a consultation exercise with everywhere in Wales which
ended up in us comparing sites from various different parts of
Wales. After that exercise, we reached a decision.
139. In relation to that decision, your memorandum
particularly refers to Swansea City Council's enthusiastic support
for WIMM. What comments have you got about Cardiff, then?
(Mr Prichard) At the beginning of the consultation
exercise we distributed to all interested bodies copies of our
consultation document. In most cases, including Cardiff, those
were acknowledged and, in many cases, like Swansea and Gwynned
County Council and various others, we received positive responses
and offers of alternative sitesas we did from the Development
Corporation and the private concerns in the Bay. We received no
relevant offer, it is fair to say, from Cardiff County Council
except, I think, a general expression of support if we were to
locate in their area.
3 See Evidence, page 31. Back