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Death and Cake: Death at St. Fagans.










What is a Death Cafe?

In simple terms, a Death Cafe is an event where people meet, eat cake and discuss death. It is an informal get-together and an opportunity to talk about themes that are not often discussed, rather than a grief support or counselling session.

"to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives."

The Death Cafe movement was founded in 2011 by Jon Underwood. The first Death Cafe (in the UK) was held at Jon Underwood's home in Hackney. It was facilitated by Sue Barsky Reid, Jon's mother.

"As of today, we have offered 7333 Death Cafes in 61 countries since September 2011. If 10 people came to each one that would be 73330 participants. We've established both that there are people who are keen to talk about death and that many are passionate enough to organise their own Death Cafe."

You can read more about Death Cafe and its history on their website: https://deathcafe.com/what/

I was invited to host the first ever Death Cafe Inspired Event at St Fagans National Museum of History. 

The focus of this Death Cafe inspired event was to explore mourning practices and how people are remembered in different culturesA huge thank you to Curator Elen Phillips and Youth Engagement Officer Sarah Younan for facilitating this event and letting ramble about death! 

'Life Is...' - Death


We visited the Death section of the new 'Life Is...' gallery. 'Life Is...' is one of three new galleries at
St. Fagans National Museum. This particular gallery showcases every day objects and the history behind them.

The Death section lets visitors discover people across time have dealt with death and remembered their loved ones. It houses many objects including a stone coffin, burial remains, mourning clothing, a horse-drawn hearse and a children's glassette. 

Sin-eating & Singing: A Welsh Funeral.

A funeral at Llansteffan - Peoples Collection Wales


From Ty Corff to Sin-eating, I'll be exploring death, burial and mourning customs/ traditions relating to Wales. Although some of these will seem alien to us, these customs were an important part of the death and funeral process.

Ty Corff, Gwlynos, and the Funeral 

In rural Wales, the death of a local person was formally announced by the bell of the parish church.

During the hours following the death, the 'Diweddu' took place at 'Ty Corff'. This was the washing and preparing of the body before it was placed in the coffin.

When the body was placed in the coffin, certain steps were taken that were thought to prevent decay and the influence of evil. A pewter plate filled with salt was placed on the chest of the deceased. In Betws-y-coed, a piece of green sod, wrapped in paper was used instead of salt. By this time, the coffin would have been moved into the family home. Members of the deceased family and neighbours volunteered to sit up each night in the room in which the body rested. This was known as 'Gwylio'r Corff.'

“Get up, you old sow, you are drunk.” - The Manslaughter of Selina Jones.






On the night of 12th of August 1872, Selina Jones was found dead at her home at Newcastle Hill. It was suspected that her death was caused by series of falls she had earlier that evening but over the days that followed something very different was uncovered.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the early life of both Thomas and Selina Jones. What little we know has been drawn from census records, court records, and newspaper articles. 

The first record of the family living in Bridgend is the baptism record of their eldest daughter Esther Ann. Esther Ann was baptised at Nolton Church on the 1st of March 1861. At this time the Jones family were living at School Court.

By the time of the 1861 Census, the family were living at Phillips Court. Thomas lived there with his wife, Selina and their children: Henry and Esther Ann.

The Census record also shows that the Jones family shared their house with another family, the Davies'. These were: Esther Davies, Alfred Davies, and their two children. Both Thomas, Selina and Esther Davies are all listed as 'Hawkers.'

The 1871 Census tells us that the Jones family were now living at Newcastle Hill. Here Thomas and Selina lived with their children: Henry, Esther Ann, David, Shadrach, and Rosana. At this time, Thomas' mother, Ann, aged 79 was also living with the family.  Again, Thomas and Selina are listed as 'Hawkers.'

"People of the Poorest and Dirtiest Class." - Caepantywyll.

Girl in a graveyard, Bruce Davidson - 1965.
















Many of you will recognise this photograph taken by American photographer Bruce Davidson in 1965. Part of the 'Welsh Miners' series, it is one of many taken during his tour of the South Wales Coalfield with poet Horace Jones. Images from Davidson's 'Welsh Miner' series can be found here.

A few months ago, while on Twitter, I came across a thread of photographers keen to discover where the above photograph was taken. I suggested researching the names of the headstone that the young girl is stood next to. Those names were 'Sarah' and 'Roger Christopher.'

From the information on the headstone, I managed to trace the location of the burial ground to Capel Bethlehem, Caepantywyll.

Unfortunately, not much is known about Caepantywyll. What little we know has been drawn from census records, sanitary reports, and newspaper articles. I've decided to focus on the period when those named on the headstone were in their prime. 
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