So much of the debate and discussion among archaeologists regarding the display of ‘the dead’ in museums has focused on human remains. In previous posts, I’ve tried to highlight how misleading this can be, as for example, in my discussion of Leeds Museum.
Another case study in this regard relates to my ongoing research in the Vale of Llangollen as part of Project Eliseg and the Past in its Place project; how do museums operate to display the dead in cenotaphic ways?
In the Llangollen Museum is one such example, the display of the memorial slabs, originally on display in a three-sided tomb in the churchyard of St Collen, close by to the east. They were retrieved and persist in their commemorative capacity in the museum setting.
The memorials in question are to Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler: the famous Ladies of Llangollen. These ladies lived together and were a ‘phenomenon’ in the early 19th century as patrons of artists and minor literary figures in their own right.
Now, these memorials, fixed to the wall of the former library, fixed to the wall on the stairs up to the gallery, bring the Ladies into the museum space in a prominent position for all to see.
Now this is not only cenotaphic remembrance of the Ladies, it is also part of their distributed remembrance. I say this because the Ladies are memorialised through the entire landscape of the Vale, but particularly through the house and gardens at their former residence of Plas Newydd. This is therefore an antiquarian landscape.
Now there are many traces of death and the dead in Llangollen Museum, including the Pillar of Eliseg’s replica.