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February 2010
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Annual Dinner

Our annual dinner at the Top Hotel was a great success.  MP Dai Davies was the guest speaker and spoke of his hopes for the future as well as reflecting on the past.  Cllr Daniels was unable to attend due to a family commitment but we were very pleased to see our President, Sir Richard Hanbury-Tenison and his wife – their continued support for the Museum is much appreciated.  The meal and after-dinner talk were followed by a quiz and the usual aahs and oohs when the answers were read out – thank you Enid (Dean).  A big thank you goes to Roy Pickfordfor organising the dinner and ensuring the event was a success (even to keeping the snow away).

100 Club January 2010

To be drawn at the February lecture.  The 100 Club is a valuable source of regular income and more members would be appreciated.  It’s just £1 a month with £40 going out in prize money at every monthly draw.  Collecting the money can be a bit awkward at times and so perhaps you could think about paying for the year rather than monthly.  Many thanks.

Archaeology Course

There are three sessions left of the Friday archaeology course being run at the Museum by Frank Olding, this time on the archaeology of Gwent. The cost is £3 per lecture.  Frank is the Heritage Officer for Blaenau Gwent and the Curatorial Advisor to our Museum and those who have heard him before will know that he is a natural communicator with a gift for bringing his subject to life.  More details available at the Museum.                 

Diary Dates

Friday 15th January 2010 First of a series of 6 lectures on An Introduction to the Archaeology of Gwent by Frank Olding.  £3 per lecture or £15 for all 6 sessions.

Wednesday 3rd February 2010Going Down the Pit by John Evans

Wednesday 3rd March 2010A Trip to Ethiopia by Amanda Davies

Lectures start at 7.00pm in the Metropole Theatre, with teas and a chat downstairs in the Museum afterwards. Entry is £2 and the public are most welcome.

Please call at the Museum for more information or watch the Newsletter for coffee mornings and other events.                 

Fund raising January  - £298

The Means Test
(A progression from THE POOR LAW)

When I was a child during the 1920s and 1930s, I remember my father being unemployed until the onset of WW2.  He had very left wing views and was victimised by colliery owners because of his communist beliefs. He was a very kind man and really followed the Christian way of living although not believing in God.  Some very limited help was available but one had to prove rigorously that you needed it. In those days there was someone referred to as '”Uncle”  from Rutland House which I think was a large house in Oak Street.  He was not an uncle at all and I think he was referred to as “Uncle” in a derisory way.

“Uncle” whatever his name had the authority to visit one's house and scrutinise everything.  I remember that when he was expected, my mother hid all the blankets from the beds in an old shed and threw old coats and any old bits of rag on the bed pretending she could not afford proper blankets. In those days a poor person had to be as wily as the authorities. I recollect one visit when the official looked into the pantry and espied a tin of Ovaltine which had been given to my mother by a kind family friend to help build her up after a minor illness. This was pounced on and endless explanations followed. My mother probably was able to keep the Ovaltine but she was much more canny on subsequent visits,   WW2 changed people’s expectations of social justice but regarding social security and benefits has it gone too far the other way?

The Roving reporter

Poet’s Corner


A picture sat there in my hand
The fairest village in the land
In Woodland Terrace as a child
The local shop was Mrs Wilde
The Ivorites and Hanbury Arms
Pubs with all the quaint old charms
Down River Row, Corona Works
And Kibbys where nobody shirks
Jones the Barber and Pools Shop
With early morning paper drop
The Blacksmith’s down in Brewery Row
Sometimes we’d watch the forge aglow
The school, of course, upon the hill
Each day we walked up with a will
Webbs the Brewery making beer
Railway sidings very near
Three bakeries the village had
Yes I remember as a lad.

Dagworth Orville Charters

Book Corner

Pigsties and Paradise – Lady Diarists and the Tour of Wales 1795-1860 by Liz Pitman

‘Pigsties and Paradise’ is based on the diaries of six ladies who toured Wales between 1795 and 1860.  Travel in Wales became popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when train journeys became available for the general public.

The early tourist often wrote travel diaries and Wales became a ‘must’ for these early travellers.  They were intrepid ladies who saw journeying to Wales as an adventure and their diaries are more descriptive than those written by male travellers.

Liz Pitman describes how they saw the country, its scenery, many buildings and monuments and their appreciation of all that Wales had to offer.  In North Wales there were the wild mountains, lakes and waterfalls and in the South the Wye Tour and a gentler landscape.  Tintern Abbey was one of the highlights of the Wye tour; Llanthony was much appreciated as were the castles at Raglan and Caerphilly.

The diarists were also ‘people watchers’ taking delight in the different language and customs e.g. coracle making and fishing and the costumes with their flannel petticoats and tall black hats.  They were also appalled by the poverty that they saw.

Liz Pitman has brought together excerpts from the diaries of these lady travellers which provide a fascinating glimpse into life in 18th and 19th century Wales.  Although the landscape has changed it is still possible to follow in the footsteps of these intrepid ladies and see the remains of ancient buildings and the changes brought about by the industrial revolution.

These diaries are valuable as historical documents revealing aspects of Welsh life.  The writings are enhanced by some fine watercolours, maps and line drawings.
Jean Colwell

Abergavenny Museum

The latest exhibition at Abergavenny Museum, running until 9th May, is a touring exhibition by the National Museum Wales entitled Dinosaurs in Your Garden.  Admission to the Museum is free and it is open in February every Monday to Saturday 11am -1pm and 2pm – 4pm.  From March it is open until 5pm in the week and is also open on Sundays between 2 and 5pm.  As well as the touring exhibition the museum has a number of permanent displays with something for all tastes.

Thomas Powell and St Illtyds

Thomas Powell started as a partner in a Newport timber company but saw great potential in the infant mining industry.  The mines then were small scale levels or adits which worked the outcropping seams of the upper coal measures with only modest capital investment and manual labour.  The extent of this early development is shown clearly on John Prujeans map of 1843.  From these beginnings, with great singlemindedness of purpose and a corresponding lack of scruple, he became the greatest single figure in the South Wales bituminous coal trade.  Later when the demand for steam coal was emerging he achieved a similar supremacy in the Aberdare valley.  He would eventually own over a dozen collieries, was a substantial shareholder in the Taff Vale Railway, the Monmouthshire Canal and Railway, the docks at Penarth and Newport and was a timber merchant and shipowner.  His reputation was unsurpassed in the coal trade and a household word where steam coal was used.  His collieries supplied the coal to power Brunel’s ‘Great Britain’ steamship.  Largely by his own foresight and energy his name and reputation as a hard business man was well known in mining circles. People who knew Powell well described him as a tricky and ruthless man who is alleged to have said “I never make an agreement I could not break or I would not have made it”.  Powell was proud of being a self-made man and on the day prior to his death in 1863 aged 83, he had been at work in his Newport office.  In his later years he had said “My friends were not born before me.  I had nobody who ever gave me anything.  I began the world with very little.  I have been 48 years in the coal trade and I must have made very bad use of my time if I had not made a little”.

It is not widely known that Powell’s first mining venture was in 1810 near the hamlet of St Illtyd within sight of the church.  He had leased land here and it is said that “he and two or three other men went off from Newport with picks and shovels on their backs to start the place”.  His Blaencuffin Colliery venture was successful, producing coal from an upper seam which required transportation down the steep Cwm Cuffin tramroad to Crumlin where it was transhipped by canal boat to Newport for distribution by sea -  sea transport was necessary to Britain due to the inadequacy of the roads especially in winter.

Powell was concerned at the high cost of transport and especially the canal companies’ monopolistic rates, a problem that was soon common to other producers.  The economic consequences of coal transport led J.U.Nef to write “Coal is of all commodities in general use the least valuable in proportion to its bulk.  Costs of transport are inevitably a primary problem in marketing”.  The users of the horse drawn tramways were the producers of iron products and later coal transporters and while initially the tramway discharged to the canal, they soon began extending the tramway to Newport as an alternative to the waterway costs and congestion.  The tramway was single track, narrow gauge and returning empty trams were required to make way for desending fulls.

By 1832 Powell had expanded his business interest to levels in the lower Rhymney Valley in partnership with Thomas Protheroe.  In that year they became partners again in the Blaencuffin Valley by a lease for Blaencuffin Isha Colliery on the opposite side of the valley.  The old problem of high transport costs required them to look for an alternative; they knew that Richard Trevithic had demonstrated a steam locomotive at Penydarren in 1803 and that Samuel Homfray was using a Robert Stephenson locomotive at his Tredegar ironworks in 1829.  This seemed to point the way.  The ‘Cambrian’ newspaper on 31st July 1830 credits Thomas Powell with the first use of a locomotive for coal hauling on the lower valley tramroad.  The locomotive, built by Neath Abbey Foundry, it is reported, drew 50.5 tons from Blaencuffin Isha Colliery, Llanhilleth to his wharf in Newport.  The distance was 30 miles and the round trip took 12 hours although some 3 hours were lost by delays caused by horse drawn wagons.  An earlier report in the ‘Merlin’ newspaper on 27th July 1830 relates the same story and reports that the locomotive was called ‘Hercules’ with ownership attributed to Thomas Protheroe – such are the confusions of partnership.  An examination of the records of the Neath Abbey Foundry reveal that the first locomotive manufactured by the company was in 1830 and was called ‘Speedwell’, built for Thomas Protheroe. ‘Hercules’ was not built until 1831, also for Thomas Protheroe.  In spite of the reporting confusion the key result was that the locomotive “accomplishes in one day, work which took six horses two days to perform, this very considerably reducing transport costs”.

The steam railway locomotive was clearly here to stay and soon required the complete relaying of track to Newport with more substantial rails and to a larger gauge.  The Monmouthshire Canal Company later became the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company, supplying better wagons with a more advanced wheel design.  The canal lost much of its traffic to the railway, the last boat carrying miscellaneous goods on a regular service ran on 9th January 1915 after which the crew joined up and went to France.
Laurence Hale

Museum Matters

The Museum Matters of October 2007 told the story of a lady aged 80 living Kent who had been an evacuee in Abertillery during the Second World War.

In November last year a gentleman Mr. S..E..J. Havill, 330, Christchurch Road, West Parley, Ferndown, Dorset wrote and offered to donate an unusual item to the museum which he had been given when he also was evacuated to Llanhilleth to avoid the blitz in London this is his story.

brickDear Don, Enclosed find my Brick with Accession Form signed and dated. You asked if I still have any recollection of my days spent in Llanhilleth as an evacuee -

I was born in 1927, my Father died in 1933 leaving my mother with 4 children to bring up on a widows pension of 10 shillings (50p) per week. My mother remarried in 1935 and had a further 3 children. My Stepfather was called up in 1939 leaving my mother with 6 children at that time to bring up, the youngest child was born in 1941.

In September 1940 during the bombing of London our house was partially destroyed and we became homeless for a time and had to make use of air raid shelters for temporary accommodation. Needless to say our education was severely disrupted as most of schools were closed. My Mother had no choice in agreeing that myself and two of my Sisters best interest would be served if we were evacuated leaving herself and my eldest sister to look after the two youngest.

One day in October 1940 hundreds of children were labelled and put on a train at Paddington Station not knowing where we were going. It was my longest train journey, I and a number of other boys were off loaded at Llanhilleth Station. I remembered us being lined up on the road outside the station; we were marched along the road and allocated to various homes.

I and another boy was taken to a house named Mysederawyn , it was a large house with two families, Mr & Mrs Seymore and their daughter Mary and Mr Payne and daughter Gwendolene. I believe Mr Payne owned the property, he was an elderly gentleman.

After a short period Mrs Seymore was unable to look after both of us, Peter Richardson (the other boy) went to another accommodation whilst I stayed on and was looked after by Miss Payne and her Father. My two Sisters were billeted at 17, Railway Terrace, Aberbeeg, the home of Mr & Mrs Granger.  I was one of a number of children from Stanhope Senior Boys School, Greenford, Middlesex. We were all used to town life and some of us had never seen the countryside or the mountains of Wales. After a week or so I was well adapted to my new life, I made a friend of the boy next door Seaton Paget (his Father owned the newsagent) and got used to the new disciplines in my new home. My homework was done before play and I attended church twice on Sundays. I was also made to write home on a regular basis. Having got to know the kind people who took us in I spent time exploring the mountains which was a great experience

Whilst my sisters attended the local school, us boys had to make use of the church hall. Apart from our usual lessons we were taught how to appreciate the countryside   and something about the local industries in the area.  It was on an outing to the Risca Brickwork's that I made the Brick which 1 am very happy to donate to the museum.

I remember also a trip I had down the Llanhilleth coal mine; I found this experience a bit frightening especially when we were taken to the coal face

My stay in Llanhilleth ended in March 1941 having passed an examination to a Technical College I was relocated to accommodation in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire to join up with other boys of my new school.

After I left Mysederawyn and the kind people who looked after me, to my surprise they contacted my mother and offered to take my younger sister Alice in. She stayed with Miss Payne and her Father for over a year, when it was safe for her to return home.

1 kept in contact with Miss Payne and her Father till I joined the Royal Navy (FAA) in 1946.

I have never forgotten the kind people of Llanhilleth who took boys like me into their homes and gave us shelter and helped us to forget the air raids we endured in London. Yours very sincerely, Mr S.E.J. Havill,

Bear logoThe brick measures 2.75 x 1.75 x 1 inches, keeping this memento shows how much Mr Havill appreciates his time in our valley and we are grateful to him for donating it to the museum.
Don Bearcroft


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