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January 2015
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Happy New Year

We wish all our members and readers a happy and healthy 2015. We face a demanding year for the Museum. We have lost several of our regular volunteers over the last year, and fund-raising is likely to prove ever more difficult. We have a wonderful community resource in our Museum, please do what you can to help. If you or someone you know can spare time to serve as a volunteer, please call in and chat to Peggy Bearcroft. Even if you can only spare a couple of hours each week, your help would be appreciated. And please don’t forget that membership subscriptions for 2015 are due - £6.

Coffee Mornings & Annual Dinner

The programme for the forthcoming year will be discussed at the next Committee meeting. There will be coffee mornings and there will be an annual dinner so keep calling at the Museum for an update. More details to follow in February,s Newsletter. If you have any fund-raising ideas please put them forward.

Fundraising December

The Christmas Fayre was successful – it was an experiment to hold it the same time as Winterfest but it worked well and the event raised £465. Thanks to all those who helped, especially our volunteers – few in number but you did a sterling job.

If you have visited the Museum in recent months you will know that we have a couple of large glass jars inviting donations towards the cost of the mural in Ash’s shop. In December we emptied the jars and were thrilled to find that £497 had been donated – that’s just about half the sum we need so thank you, everyone.

100 Club December

No.21 Ron Selway £25
No. 135 Jean Cummins £10
No. 80 Margaret Cook £5

Get Well Soon!

Mrs Enid Dean was unwell over Christmas but is back on her feet again and we send her our best wishes for a full recovery.  

Wanted – Bookshelves or cases

Preferably tall and 2ft wide, please. Please call the Museum if you can help with this.

Diary Dates

Coffee mornings

Annual Dinner

Special Exhibitions

Call at the Museum for an update. More in next month’s Newsletter.


Some of you will already know that Steve Taylor died recently, aged 65. A former newsreader and reporter he gave the Museum Society an entertaining talk a couple of years ago.

New Heritage Centre

Llanhilleth Heritage Centre, based at Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute, was launched last month. The Centre, established by Llanhilleth Heritage Society, is documenting the history of Llanhilleth, Aberbeeg, Brynithel and Swyffryd. The archive contains photographs, documents and digital stories relating to the heritage of the communities. The collection of material is ongoing. The centre is open every Tuesday between 2 and 4pm. For more information look at the website:

Local Voices

Great Continental Train Journeys

Have you been watching this series on television? Well, many years ago, my friend and I in our 20s went on a similar journey (definitely pre-Eurotunnel). We picked up our train in London, travelled to the coast, crossed the Channel and when we got to Paris we boarded the continental train to Italy. We were very unseasoned travellers but we found our bunks and the train travelled through the night. Early in the morning (about 6a.m.) the train attendant woke us to see the wonderful snow-clad Alps. We eventually arrived at Milan where we caught a rural train to our seaside resort of Riccione. Our fellow passengers on the continental train were obviously well-seasoned travellers. They produced lovely refreshments, tinned fruit, cream and other nice goodies – my friend and I only had cheese sandwiches!

Preparing for our return journey two weeks later we thought we knew the ropes and went shopping in a supermarket. Not knowing Italian we picked up a tin with a picture of a cow on it, assuming it to be a tin of cream to accompany our fruit but when we opened it to pour over our tined fruit we found it was a tin of stewed meat.
The Roving Reporter


When I was a child attending primary school anti-litter was not a priority. Soft packet ‘Woodbine’ cigarettes were very cheap. The empty packet was more often than not discarded in the gutter. We children would run around trying to find empty packets. When one was found, we stamped our feet on it and recited “Willy Willy Woodbine give me good luck, finding money in the muck”. Willy Woodbine never gave me that sort of luck.
The Roving Reporter

The Bitter End

As with so many of our sayings, this has a nautical origin. The bitt is a post for fastening the rope on a ship and so when you reach the bitter end it means the rope is all played out.

Iron Houses

Houses can be made of all sorts of materials and homes clad in corrugated sheeting are not uncommon, but iron? Well if you visit the Black Country Living Museum near Dudley – formerly a major iron-making centre - you can see a remnant of just such a house. A concrete base was laid and the walls built up from iron kerbs using a series of iron plates about two feet square. The plates were bolted together, a brick chimney was built inside, and a slate roof was bolted on. Internally, timbers and asbestos sheets made up the internal walls and the intervening space was insulated with slag wool. The outside of the house was painted with old-fashioned linseed oil gloss paint. Only two pairs of these houses were built at Dudley because they proved to cost twice as much as conventional housing, but about 600 were built elsewhere in the country. This was in the 1920s when there was a major drive to tackle overcrowding and to clear slums.

Poetry Corner

Cwm by Dagworth Orville Charters

The early morning colliers, to Marine would go
Out of dusty coaches, the colliers would flow
Off to start another day, working in the mine
Greeting fellow workmates, Hey Boy, you’re looking fine
The village now was stirring, breakfast on the plate
Mam would always call you, to stop you being late.

On the way to Duffryn School, children could be seen
The happy wandering choir, to Germany had been
Penny was the coalman, and Kibby’s grocer shop
Soccer and rugby played, with tip as a backdrop
The Workman’s and the Riverside, both were famous clubs
Beer always cheaper than the local pubs
Youngsters short of money, sometimes tok a trip
Knocking coal from off the slag, up upon the tip
The Cwm that I remember, the valley spirit strong.

Jack Frost

Who was Jack Frost? We know he visits us regularly in winter but what is the story behind this mythical character? His roots may originate from Anglo-Saxon and Norse winter customs. Jack Frost is the personification of frost, ice, snow, sleet and freezing cold weather, a variant of Old Man Winter (who himself could also be an older name for Father Christmas or the old English God Woden) held responsible for frosty weather, for nipping the toes in such weather, colouring the foliage in autumn and leaving fernlike patterns on cold windows in winter. In some versions he is a playful but benign character, in others he is depicted as a cruel spirit who kills his victims by covering them in snow if he is provoked.

The origin of the myth is difficult to uncover as throughout history, different cultures have traditionally personified the seasons and characters such as Jack Frost and Old Man Winter are symbolically credited for the incoming storms and chill of winter. Man’s fascination with weather has been ingrained in storytelling, religion and mythology for centuries.

Jack Frost by Hannah F Gould (1789-1865)

The Frost looked forth one still, clear night,
And whispered, "Now I shall be out of sight;
So, through the valley, and over the height,
In silence I'll take my way.
I will not go on like that blustering train,
The wind and the snow, the hail and the rain,
That make such a bustle and noise in vain,
But I'll be as busy as they!"

So he flew to the mountain, and powdered its crest;
He lit on the trees, and their boughs he drest
With diamonds and pearls; and over the breast
Of the quivering lake he spread
A coat of mail, that it need not fear
The downward point of many a spear
That he hung on its margin, far and near,
Where a rock could rear its head.

He went to the windows of those who slept,
And over each pane, like a fairy, crept;
Wherever he breathed, wherever he stepped,
By the light of the morn were seen
Most beautiful things; there were flowers and trees;
There were bevies of birds and swarms of bees;
There were cities with temples and towers; and these
All pictured in silvery sheen!

But he did one thing that was hardly fair -
He peeped in the cupboard, and finding there
That all had forgotten for him to prepare -
"Now, just to set them a-thinking,

I'll bite this basket of fruit," said he,
"This costly pitcher I'll burst in three;
And the glass of water they've left for me
Shall 'tchick' to tell them I'm drinking!"

Penguin Books

Just to continue the ‘cold’ theme on this page of the Newsletter! In 1935, if you wanted to read a good book, you needed either a lot of money or a library card. Cheap paperbacks were available but their poor production generally tended to mirror the quality between the covers.

Penguin paperbacks were the brainchild of Allen Lane, then a director of The Bodley Head. After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, he found himself on a platform at Exeter railway station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London but found only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels.

Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores.

He also wanted a ‘dignified but flippant’ symbol for his new business. His secretary suggested a penguin and another employee was sent to London Zoo to make some sketches.

Some eighty years later Penguin is still one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

Mistle Thrush

Yes the mistle thrush eats mistle berries and that practice was how it came by its name. But did you know that holly berries are its first choice and that if a pair of mistle thrushes find a berry-laden holly tree, they will vigorously fend off other birds in an attempt to keep the holly berries for themselves.

Your Memories and Stories

Your contributions resonate with those who live in or who came from the Abertillery area and are much appreciated by our readers. Please let us have your memories of winters past. You can drop something off at the Museum or contact me, Jen Price, on 01633 4828521. Many thanks.


In order to usher in a new year in the history of the museum, I decided to look into the history of New Year celebrations. We celebrate the advent of the New Year on 1 st January but this has not always been the case. Although mostly a secular festival now, there are links between the New Year celebrations and Christian heritage and ritual.

The date in the Christian calendar that fits most closely with New Year’s Day is the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, which according to Jewish tradition occurred eight days after the birth of Christ. Luke 2:21 similarly states that, “on the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus”. In the General Roman Calendar, the 1 st January feast was called “The Circumcision of the Lord and the Octave of the Nativity” from 1568 to 1960. Pope John XXIII’s calendar revisions in 1960 renamed the feast as simply the Octave of the Nativity (the eighth day after the birth of Christ). In 1962 it was further revised and the feast was renamed “the solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God and the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord”.

The Church of England has maintained the relationship between the feast day and the circumcision. The Book of Common Prayer since 1662 celebrates the first of January as the Circumcision of Christ. In 2000, the General Synod of the Church of England published its Common Worship , a series of books outlining its rituals and forms of worship. This lists the first day of January as “The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus Christ”. The Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in Canada has combined the religious and secular nature of the festival by giving it the name " The Octave Day of Christmas, and the Circumcision of Our Lord, being New Year's Day".

However, the New Year has been celebrated for millennia, including for centuries before the birth of Christ. The earliest recorded festivities in honour of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. Babylon was located in central southern Mesopotamia (which is modern day Iraq). For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

The early Roman calendar also designated the start of the new year as occurring in March. This was because the calendar only contained 10 months and 304 days and March was the first month. That the new year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September to December, our ninth to twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh to tenth months (septem is Latin for "seven," octo is "eight," novem is "nine," and decem is "ten.")

The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.)

As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honour the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation); Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.

In many countries, New Year’s celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. Revellers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes-symbolising their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere. In Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries. The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favour of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.

Happy New Year, Richard Gilson, Deputy Curator.

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