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February 2015
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A Sense of Place

Why is our Museum so important? Think how Abertillery has changed in your lifetime, and in your parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes. The Museum records and explains those changes as well as conserving items and documents relating to the history of the area. It gives a sense of place to those who were born or live in Abertillery, or otherwise have links with the town. The Museum plays a valuable role in our community but in order to keep going it needs a regular supply of funds, members and volunteers.

Funding means regular fund-raising efforts. You can help by coming along to our coffee mornings and other events and bringing along a friend or family member. We have an interesting programme for the next three months as you will see later in this Newsletter so please try and join us.


Some people have asked why bother joining the Society, what will they gain from it? Well, we could offer, for example, a number of free coffees and a discount in our shop as do some other Museum Societies. But, and it’s a very big but, their subscriptions are much higher than ours. Our subscription is just £6 per year – that’s less than 12p a week. If you join our Society you will have priority invitations to some special events but the main benefit is that you yourself will know that you are making a commitment to the Museum and its role in the community. Also, of course, the subscriptions help boost our funds. Our membership numbers have fallen in recent years. Please be sure to renew your membership (subscriptions for 2015 are now due) and if you could try and persuade a friend or relative to join, that would be great.


A number of our regular volunteers have sadly passed away or suffered health problems this last year and we need more people to help. There is a wide range of jobs needing to be done in the Museum display area, in the office, and in the café and shop. Most of our volunteers are members but you don’t have to be a member. Are you interested? Can you spare a couple of hours most weeks? Perhaps you know someone who might be interested? Please call at or ring the Museum and our Chairman, Peggy Bearcroft, will be pleased to talk to you.

Diary Dates

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

Saturday 7th February Winter Memories Coffee Morning £1

Saturday 28th FebruarySt David’s Day Coffee Morning with poems and music £1

Saturday 28th March Operatic Reminiscences Coffee Morning £1

Monday 13th April - Annual Dinner (Lunch) details to be announced

Saturday 25th April – Holiday Postcard Quiz Coffee Morning £1

Get Well Soon

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Mrs Mary Coles. We hope she will soon be up and about.

Wartime Factoriesand More

Newport Gun Factory was built on a former allotment site off Corporation Road (later the site of the Pirelli factory). Construction started in April 1940 and the first gun was manufactured in January 1941, reflecting the urgent need for armaments. By December 1943 some 10,000 guns had been made, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns as well as shell cases, spare parts, gun barrels and couplings. A Ministry of Information film was made there as was the film ‘Night Shift’. A portrait of one of the women workers, Ruby Loftus, was painted by Dame Laura Knight and is held by the Imperial War Museum.  

Wartime Factory Woman

Rogerstone Aircraft Factory. In 1939 the Northern Aluminium Company built a new factory and the De Havilland aircraft company built a small factory nearby. The aircraft company produced wings for the Hurricane fighter plane, using aluminium produced at the nearby aluminium factory. The two sites employed 9000 people and employees were bussed in from a number of towns including Abertillery. Three German bombs were dropped on Rogerstone during the war and because of the importance of the factories, hundreds of crude-oil burning stoves were placed along the main road and lit at night to make a smoke screen, The black greasy fumes were very unpleasant for anyone who had to venture out at night.

Chepstow RAF Base – part of the Racecourse was used as a n RAF base from 1941. It was protected mainly by the Home Guard and was used to store and maintain aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and North American P51 Mustangs, as an outpost of St Athan. It had only a grass runway and additional aircraft accommodation for bombers was created at Oakgrove on the opposite side of the road, accessed by stopping the traffic to allow the aircraft to cross.

Local Voices

Bring back the independent traders to our valley towns!

Many years ago in the early 1960s my daughter wanted a record player for Christmas. This was duly purchased from Stibbs, the local independent radio and television shop in Somerset Street. Do you remember it? Well, on Christmas morning we found that the record player wouldn’t work. Mr Stibbs came to the house and put it right at about 9am on Christmas morning. Would that happen today with our multi-national firms?
The Roving Reporter 


Following on from the above report you may be interested to read the following piece which appeared in the South Wales Gazette on 31 st March 1950.

Yes…it is here; not in its perfection, because Television perfection will be unattainable in this area until we fit into the national scheme of development…but, nevertheless, it is here. And it has come to us – and this is the most interesting thing of all – in that part of the urban area which has the strongest links with ancient times…the peak of the Llanhilleth Mountain where the Old Church has stood, they say, from the dawn of Christianity in Britain.

The Ancient and the Modern blending in a miracle.

The achievement has rewarded the skill, enterprise and patience of the Abertillery radio engineer Mr Stibbs – and it is only fair that I should add that he had warned me that Television in these parts must, inevitably, leave a great deal to be desired.

The answer to that is – that it works. And, in my opinion, Mr Stibbs has rendered a public service by installing a Television set on the Llanhilleth Mountain and inviting us all to go and see it. You will find details on page 7.

The paper goes on to bemoan a rise in the local rates and concludes thus.

It is a sobering thought that the Romans, who had a settlement where Television has come in Abertillery, had better roads than the postman uses to take the rate demand to my home.

Progress has indeed passed us by in the things that matter most.  

Poetry Corner


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
William Henry Davies

Book Review

The Female Tommies – The Frontline Women of the First World War by Elizabeth Shipton.

Many books have been written about the First World War and doubtless there will be many more over the next four years, telling the stories of heroism, sacrifice and defeat.

This is a story of some of the women who served on the front line, often under dangerous and deplorable conditions. The war served as a catalyst for change in almost every walk of life but particularly in the lives of women and nowhere more than in the military services which until then had been completely male dominated.

Women worked in factories and on the land, replacing men who had volunteered to fight. Many saw it as a way of obtaining more freedom and became nurses and ambulance drivers hoping to serve in France and Belgium. At first the British Authorities were reluctant to let women near the front but the French and other European countries were more welcoming.

Newly qualified doctors used it as a means of gaining more practical experience. There are personal accounts of many of these women and their experiences. The war also saw the beginnings of the Women’s Services and by 1918 those in high office realised how much women had to offer.

This story is well written and includes many personal accounts. Anyone with an interest in World War 1 will be interested in the extraordinary and dangerous situations these women faced.
Jean Colwell

Silver Paper

The following piece appeared in the South Wales Gazette in November 1939.

That silver paper which you often get – you know, it’s got a score or more of uses, and you’ll find it in cigarette and tobacco packets and on chocolates …

Don’t throw it away because it still hasn’t outlived its usefulness. Save it up, and when you’ve got a fair quantity send it to Abertillery & District Hospital. There they know how to turn it into hard cash – and the hospital can do with a little of that at all times.

So don’t forget….Send all your silver paper to Abertillery & District Hospital, Aberbeeg.

Abertillery Museum Society 1964

In October 1964 the Museum organised its first exhibition. The exhibition was held at the Gas Showrooms and was opened by Mr W.J. Collett, Newport Borough Librarian. The exhibition was held over five days and displayed a wide range of exhibits from the Museum collection including Roman pottery, a Tudor doorway, tools used in Crawshay Bailey’s Nantyglo ironworks, snuff boxes, old clocks, and oil lamps. The exhibition was open to the general public and was also visited by school parties. There was an essay competition for the children on the subject “Why Abertillery needs a museum”. Prizes were donated by The Gazette and Mr Bryant Newsagent.. Over 1300 people visited the exhibition and membership of the Museum Society rose to 76.

What Was On In October 1964?

Abertillery Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society were presenting “ Valley of Song” at The Metropole Theatre. Described as a musical romance and written by Ivor Novello, do you remember going to see this show?

100 Club January

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


Mr Jack Morgan was a regular visitor to the Museum and we were sorry to hear that he passed away recently.



In 1096, a Norman knight called Godefroy Baynard accused another, William, Count d'Eu, of treason. He declared the Count had conspired against the king, the count denied it. The king William Rufus was curious, he had both noblemen brought to Salisbury to find out which was telling the truth. There, in a field, before both king and court, the knights fought a bloody single combat, man against man. In the end the Count d'Eu was defeated. The king gave orders that the wounded knight should have his balls cut off and his eyes poked out. The unfortunate count's squire, William of Aldor, was whipped and hanged. Thus ended England's first trial by combat a judicial tradition imported from the continent by William Rufus's conquering father in 1066, and a forefather of the modern European duel. Ritualised and witnessed trial by combat originated among the ancient Germanic peoples in the centuries after Christ. It was a favourite among the pagans of Scandinavia who developed 'the girdle duel'. Two combatants would be taken to a lonely island, stripped of their clothing, strapped together at the chest, given a knife each and, on command, allowed to hack at each other in a bloody frenzy until one died or gave quarter

Over the years this form of monomachia developed into trial by combat or a trial by battle, a procedure established in AD 501 by Gundebald King of Burgundy. He believed that since God determined the outcome of battles, he could also decide lesser disputes. Gundebald pulled together the existing Celtic, Germanic and Roman traditions into one called Lex Burgundiorum. Personal disputes between two individuals could be resolved by public combat to the death, overseen by judges and witnesses. The theory was that God would protect the innocent and condemn the guilty. St Augustine wrote: “During the combat, God awaits, the heavens open, and he defends the party who he sees is right”. For many defendants, it was a welcome alternative to the more customary trial by ordeal where their fate was decided by how effectively God chose to heal a hand burned by a hot poker or scalded by boiling water.

Strict rules governed a trial by combat, combatants were shaved and oiled in a ceremony of purification. They entered a fenced-off enclosure known as the lists, the accuser coming from the south, the defendant from the north. Judges, high officials and clerics watched from specially constructed seats. They would also swear they had no amulets, potions or magic charms about their person. The challenger would throw down a glove or gauntlet which his opponent would pick up to show he accepted the challenge. Then they would fight, noble combatants on horseback with swords and commoners on foot with wooden staves; this providential justice was open to all sinners, high or low.

One of the weirdest trials by combat was also one of the last to take place in 1400, a French knight Chevalier Maquer killed his friend Aubrey de Montdidier and secretly buried the body. There were no witnesses save the dead man's dog, a large greyhound called Verbaux. The clever hound guided one of his late master's friends to the burial spot and scratched at the ground to uncover the body. Suspicions arose when the dog repeatedly attacked Maquer. The king was petitioned and he ruled that God would decide if Maquer was guilty in a trial by combat with the dog. So, the knight was buried half up to his waist, armed with a stick and a shield, a procedure used occasionally for rare combats between men and women. The dog did not hesitate: he clamped his teeth around Maquer's throat and the petrified knight, screaming for his life, promised to confess the moment the hound was taken from him. Maquer's neck, thus saved from the jaws of a dog, was later stretched by the noose of a gibbet.

I In 1819 a man Abraham Thornton claimed his right to trial by combat after being accused of murdering a young girl Mary Ashford. The Court of Appeal ruled that, under the law Thornton did have such a right and because there was no one to fight on the girl's behalf, he was freed. Parliament closed the loophole and on March 22 that year, trial by combat in Britain was no more.

The Modern European duel emerged during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The idea of honour distinguished the duel from mere single combat. Duelling between British officers was encouraged; they used the pistol much earlier than their continental colleagues. British army regulations made it a specific offence for an officer to fail to defend the honour of his regiment, a rule which was widely interpreted as not only sanctioning duelling but insisting upon it. Officers who refused a challenge were ostracised, forced out of the regiment or at worst actually court-martialled for breaching the Articles of War.

Don Bearcroft Curator

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