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February 2011
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Lecture Programme

A number of people have mentioned that they miss the monthly lectures. The Committee has been thinking how to accommodate that request whilst mindful of the fact that hiring premises can be costly and that many of our members would prefer not to be out in the evenings. The answer seems to be to hold a lecture in the afternoon, in the office at the Museum, and we have opted for the first Wednesday of the month, at 2pm. Many of our members are retired and so we hope an afternoon slot will encourage a good attendance. We will have a trial period of March through to June but that means we urgently need a volunteer to arrange speakers for May (Memorial Lecture) and June. Please step forward if you can help. Call at the Museum or ring on 01495 211140. Space is limited and so we will need to have an idea of numbers; if you are coming to a lecture please call at the Museum for a ticket or ring to reserve a place. Entry will be £2.

Annual Dinner Success

We had an excellent evening at the Top Hotel in Llanhilleth with good food, good entertainment and lots of chat. Our guest speaker, Curator Don Bearcroft, told of his twenty years with the Museum – an enlightening insight and one which brought back memories for many of us. Enid Dean rounded off the evening with one of her head-scratching quizzes. Our thanks to Don and Enid and, of course, to Roy Pickford for once more organising a successful event.

Coffee Morning Success

The coffee morning at the end of January was well attended. Don Bearcroft had organised a quiz based on ‘Then and Now’ and it caused some puzzlement as well as being very enjoyable. Thanks to Don for giving up his time to compile and hold the quiz, and to everyone else who helped make it a success.  

100 Club – January

No. 56 Rose Smith £25
No. 3 Colin Price £10
No. 90 Graham Webb £5 

Diary Dates

Wednesday 2nd March (lecture topic to be announced) 2pm at the Museum

Saturday 5th March St David’s Day Coffee Morning

Wednesday 6th April ‘Then and Now in Photographs’ by Don Bearcroft 2pm at the Museum

Mid March – late April ‘My Valley House’ an exhibition by the Heritage Lottery Fund  

We have regular coffee mornings. Please call at the Museum for more information.

Fund raising January - £678

Special Thanks

To Vice President Jeanette Fulton who has sent a generous donation of $400 (£232). We are extremely grateful to Mrs Fulton – her donation will certainly be put to good use.

Poet’s Corner

CHANGES by Gordon Rowlands, January 2009

When younger we then cycled freely,
to leave behind our scarred valley,
where streams ran black from industry,
Pedalling over hills to pleasant scenery.

Descending to mighty River Usk,
where clean waters invited us,
to dabble feet or lie in shade,
listening to music that it made.

On Sunday roads in clean fresh air,
jesting, laughing, in good natured fun,
We cycled happy but unaware,
a new industrial revolution had began.

Towns iron and coal had created,
would lose that basic industry,
Then with hills green, waters clean,
see their populations decimated.

The changes we have now seen,
then would have been unbelievable,
Living through our golden days,
with limited means at our disposal.

Then quiet roads were safe routes,
to take our leisure exercise after work,
For shops in towns closed on Sunday,
and factories worked a five day week.

Technology had started to grow,
electronics we had yet to know,
before life would increase its pace,
to put stress on the human race.

But happiness cannot be bought,
Nor wealth give peace of mind,
The best years might have been,
those lived by us and our kind.

Stowe Maries Aerodrome Memorial Fund

Recently it was my privilege to visit the ongoing restoration of the only World War 1 airfield left in Britain, and possibly Europe, at Stow Maries in Essex. Our group from Woodham Ferrers, Essex, comprised people from the Congregational Church (formed in Napoleonic times for a local troop camp) and others from St Mary’s Church (mentioned in the Domesday Book) went to Stow Maries, only 20 minutes drive from Woodham Ferrers. Four aerodromes were formed in this part of Essex in 1916 to combat the Zeppelins and Gotha bombers from Germany who were bombing London and coastal towns.

Don Bearcroft our Curator recently revived memories in the Newsletter of games played in his youth. This visit to the local airfield reminded me of comics in my youth such as Comic Cuts, The Wizard, The Rover and later The Beano, Dandy and Eagle. Stories then were of Biggles and real life World War 1 air aces, McCudden, Mannock, and the infamous German Red Baron together with others revived in recent TV programmes.

Buildings at Stow Maries for the RFC and army are being restored even to windows, using glass which is imported from Russia. The actual fiels will cater for aeroplanes of World War 1 design. In the partly restored building used as a museum are life-sized models in uniform, pictures, models of Zeppelins and memorabilia of RFC and army personnel who flew, built and restored aeroplanes such as the famous Sopwith Camel.

Many young men were trained here to become pilots, tasked to destroy Zeppelins and Gotha bombers intending to bomb London. So many pilots were trained in aerial combat that some were sent to France to strengthen RFC squadrons over there.

Those who were killed in training are buried in the local churchyard, their headstones and graves are being maintained by the War Graves Commission.

During our visit we were reminded that in World War 1 aeroplanes were mainly built of wood and fibre, with engine driven propellers. We visitors were also shown a separate building where the activity was to build ‘one-off’ special cars, some of which have appeared in films. James Bond was mentioned.

Arthur Lewis O.B.E.

Gwent’s Living Churchyard Project

This project aims to increase awareness of churchyards and burial grounds as sites of great value for wildlife. They are also important places for archaeology and history, revealing evidence of the past and documenting the lives of people who have lived and worked in the parish. The project can provide support and advice to local communities to learn more about churchyard wildlife and how to encourage it. The project is encouraging local people to look also at churchyard history and geology, as well as wildlife management. Examples of what this can mean include identifying and managing a wildflower meadow, building a drystone wall, creating a log pile, erecting bird boxes, laying hedgerows and much more. If you want to find out more contact Rebecca Price at Gwent Wildlife Trust on 01600 740358 or look at their website

Channel Tunnel 1880

We all know about the ‘Chunnel’ but did you realise that there had been numerous such proposals in the 19 th century, including by Napoleon. An Act of Parliament in 1875 authorised the Channel Tunnel Company to carry out some trials, as an Anglo-French enterprise, and Welsh miners were an important part of the project. On the English side, the first tunnel to the east of Dover had to be abandoned because of flooding. A new shaft was dug between Dover and Folkestone in the form of a horizontal gallery some 10 feet above high water level. Welsh miners bored 800 feet of tunnel and then a second shaft was sunk which was intended to meet mid-channel with the French pilot tunnel. Although the length of tunnel which was bored has been attributed to Frederick Beaumont, the machine used was actually designed by Thomas English – a rotary boring machine capable of cutting nearly half a mile a month.

The expectation was that the pilot tunnel would be finished by 1886 but the funds needed to complete the 11 mile section to link with the French tunnel were not forthcoming from the Government. This prompted Thomas English to form a new company to take over the work but at about this time there were worries about the military implications of a link with France and the threat of invasion via the tunnel. The project was abandoned and it was very many years before a tunnel to France became a reality.

Fishlock’s Wild Tracks

Some of you may remember that Trevor Fishlock was a guest speaker at our annual dinner some years ago. His book – Fishlock’s Wild Tracks – came out in 1998 and was based on twelve walks in Wales. However, this is no ordinary walking book as it is crammed full of anecdotes about the places he visited and is a book well worth reading again. Take this piece, about a site near Chepstow Racecourse:

“Deep in the woods I came to a large hole which, at first, I thought might be a bomb crater. In fact it was one of a number of holes which remain as a memorial to the strange quest of Dr Orville Ward Owen, a physician from Detroit.. He believed passionately that Shakespeare’s plays were the work of Francis Bacon. To help him prove his theories he built a contraption of spools with a canvas belt a thousand feet long. To this he stuck Elizabethan texts in an attempt to unravel a code he believed they contained. He declared that Bacon’s manuscripts were stored in sixty-six iron boxes, one of which contained Shakespeare’s head, in a cave somewhere near Chepstow.

He was so convincing that he persuaded several people to finance his search and in 1909 dug for months in the cliff caves near Chepstow castle. Finding nothing, he then announced that the boxes lay in the bed of the Wye and persuaded another backer to finance an expedition in 1911 in which a dam was built and engineers struggled for months against floods. The doctor gave up his search and went home to America, but throughout the 1920s his American disciples excavated around the castle. They also dug in the woods, flying the Stars and Stripes over their excavations, in their long and hopeless search for the sixty-six iron chests.”

This book is a little gem – you can pick it off the shelf, dip in, and be sure of finding something of interest.

Museum Matters

Snow caused much disruption before Christmas, but how did we manage in the past?

Snow PictureHeating was by coal fire in a black lead grate; you were burning on one side and freezing on the other. Cooking was done on the open fire of the grate with an oven, the gas stove or on a gas ring. At night homes were illuminated by gas light, often lit before going to bed to take the chill out of the air. Candles were also used, the bed was warmed by a stone hot water bottle or a brick warmed in the oven and wrapped in flannel.

Water pipes were unfrozen by melting snow in a kettle; the boiling water was poured over the tap, the stand pipe and the ground under which the pipe was buried.

Snow would get under the roof eves, this had to be removed as left there it would bring the lath and plaster ceiling down. This was a combined effort by neighbours who formed a chain gang to empty the buckets of snow.

When someone had died in your street the miners would come out with their shovels to clear the roads for the hearse and funeral cortege. When my aunt was born my Grandfather Tom Bevan had to fetch the midwife and accompany her to his home at Pant –y-Pwdyn during a blizzard.

Snow PictureMost people walked to work as it was local, my father told me how he and the men from Cwmtillery because of slack time walked over the mountain to work in the Vipons Collieries in the Varteg. During the winter when it snowed they would each carry a bundle of branches which they stuck in the ground at intervals to help them follow the path home. Before setting out home they would meet at the pit top so that they could travel as a group for safety sake. One day one of the group was not waiting at the pit head, they were told that he had set out on his own. When they got home they were told by concerned relatives that he had not arrived so they duly set out in the snow with others back over the mountain in search of him. It transpired that the man had decided to catch a train from Blaenafon to Pontypool, and via Crumlin High Level, Crumlin Low Level to Abertillery. He was not a very popular man after that!

Snow QueueDuring the school holidays I went with my uncle who was a milkman to collect the churns of milk from the farms around the Abergavenny area. The churns were left at the gates by the farmers, and during the winters snow they were carried to an assembly point on tractors’ by the famers. My uncle would collect them in his milk lorry which was fitted with snow chains.

People queued up to collect their milk from the dairy, we were fortunate as it was at the bottoms it Pant-y-Pwdyn Road where we lived. The bakers stocked up with flour for the winter and again we were fortunate as Harrhy’s Bake House on Hill Street was also quite near.

My Father and Grandfather kept chickens so we had plenty of fresh eggs and meat if we required it . That depended on the fox not getting to them first!

RadioWe made our own entertainment or listened to the wireless (radio). My father used to build his own radios they were powered by 3 batteries, a high-tension, grid-bias and accumulator. The accumulator had to be taken to be charged, hence the reason for a spare.

Schools were closed if the toilets which were outside froze; to ensure this the boys filled them with snow. The free milk froze in the bottle and the milk monitors would bring the crates into the classroom to defrost them in front of the open fires or stoves.

Looking back I remember it was hard but people just got on with life, no one complained that it was someone’s job to clear the snow. Air travel was for only a few. The more we advance the more we become reliant on things that are beyond our control. As is the weather.

Don Bearcroft Curator

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