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February 2016
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Diary Dates

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

Saturday 27th FebruaryOfficial Opening Ceremony – the Welsh Chapel Window

Saturday 19th MarchCoffee Morning – this will have an Easter theme so bring along your Easter Bonnet! We will also start the children’s Easter Egg Hunt that day – an event which will carry on through the Easter period

January 100 Club

No. 78             Jennifer Tuck              £20
No. 33             Jean Colwell                £10
No. 59             Mike Purchase             £5

Fundraising January - £286

Annual Subscription - £6 now due

Museum News 

As you can see from the diary, on Saturday 27th February we are holding a ceremony to mark the formal opening of the Welsh Chapel Window display.  Those who read this Newsletter regularly will know of the huge effort it took to secure the window and then arrange for its conservation and display.  The ceremony will be an opportunity to thank all those involved in its acquisition and conservation and we hope as many of our members as possible will also come along.  More information will be available at the museum.

Technicolour Ebbw

The following article was published in the South Wales Gazette on 8th December 1961.

The River Ebbw at Aberbeeg was bright orange one day and a bluey sludge the next, Dr. J Walters Bowen, Abertillery Council’s Medical Officer of Health told the Public Health Committee on Monday.

“It reminds me of technicolour,” said Dr. Bowen.

He sa id it would be advisable to have a detailed analysis of water in the Ebbw Fawr and in the Ebbw Fach to find out if it was toxic or noxious to human beings.

A thick, dense smog with a very nasty smell formed over the river on foggy nights, but not when it was fine.  This was because the river temperature was higher than the air temperature.

“I get very hot under the collar about this pollution,” added Dr. Bowen.

Councillor Mrs F Protheroe said it was “terrible” waiting at the bus stop on Aberbeeg Bridge.  “People from other parts wonder what is happening,” she said.

Councillor R J Clarke said that on Saturdays and Sundays, people at Glandwr had to close their windows because of the smell.

The Committee agreed to allow the doctor to carry out the necessary tests.

Editor’s note

I’m sure many of us can remember when the Ebbw through Abertillery was black and smelly. What a pleasure now to see it clean and supporting wildlife.

Epitaph to a Watchmaker

This can be seen at Lydford Church on Dartmoor. It isn’t local but it is interesting to read and is quite a bit different from most of the epitaphs that are written.

“Here lies in horizontal position                                   
The outside case of                                                 
George Routleigh, Watchmaker                                      
Whose abilities in that line were an honour         
To his profession                                                  
Integrity was the mainspring                                       
And prudence the regulator                                             
Of all the actions of his life.                                     
Humane, generous and liberal                                         
His hand never stopped                                                  
Till he had relieved distress.                                               
So nicely regulated were all his motions                                 
That he never went wrong                                                  
Except when set agoing                                             
By people                                                                    
Who did not know                                                              
His key                                                                        
Even then he was easily                                                   
Set right again                                                                       
He had the art of disposing his time                                  
So well                                                                             
That his hours glided away                                                    
In one continual round                                                       
Of pleasure and delight                                                   
Till an unlucky minute put a period to                                     
His existence.                                                                   
He departed this life                                                              
Nov. 14, 1802                                                                     
Aged 57                                                                                  
Wound up                                                                               
In hopes of being taken in hand                                      
By his Maker                                                                       
And of being thoroughly cleaned, repaired                               
And set agoing                                                                  
In the world to come”.

The epitaph to George Routleigh was written with affection – a far cry from the epitaph on Robert Thompson Crawshay’s massive tombstone (at Vaynor near Merthyr) and which says

God forgive me

There are some amusing epitaphs such as the one to Sir John Strange (1696-1754)

“Here lies an honest lawyer
That is Strange”

Please let us know if you have seen any unusual local epitaphs.

Local Voices

Mr Arthur Lewis O.B.E., a former President of the Museum, now lives in Chelmsford but still enjoys reading the museum’s monthly Newsletter.  He wrote recently to say that reading in the national newspapers in January about the bombing in Jakarta, he was reminded of the many occasions he and his wife stayed there on their way to and from a coal mine in Borneo - ‘Fajar Bomi Sakti’ - which is now the biggest mining company in Indonesia.  Mr Lewis also sent a copy of a note of thanks from a Mr R Saunders to whom he had given a copy of our Newsletter with an article about the Bevin Boys, Mr Saunders having been just such a miner.  Mr Saumders clearly enjoyed the Newsletter and it is good to know that our museum publication is appreciated beyond our immediate locality.

The Royal British Legion

The following article and poem were written by Ex Cpl Geoff Nash RAMC, Standard Bearer R.B.L. Abertillery.

As standard bearer for The Royal British Legion branch Abertillery, I have had the honour to represent Abertillery at the repatriation of our service personnel at Wotton Bassett and Brize Norton.  I travelled about one hundred times to these locations to show support to the families, a round trip was about 150 miles in wind, rain, snow and sunshine.  The number of standards varied between 20 to 40 and I made friends and kept in touch with a lot of them. Also the locals were very supportive to us, and the families and friends.  I’m 75 years old and hope we will not have to do this again.  I also represented Abertillery RBL when Princess Anne conferred the Royal to Wootton Basset.

“Wootton Bassett”

The standard bearers come from miles around
Their standards show that we are proud.               
To show the families, in their sorrow                      
That we will be there, for them tomorrow.
The bell tolls, to attention we stand.                         
In rain and snow our standards in hands.
The cortege starts down the street.                          
The standards dip down to the feet.                                     
To show respect to heroes all.                                            
And pray, they are the last to fall.
But then, the words we all fear.                                   
Another family has lost someone dear.                               
So once again, we have to go                                            
To somewhere we have come to know.

The Odeon (and more) at Newport 

Have you been to Newport recently?  It has changed a great deal and hopefully the new retail development at Friar’s Walk will help bring back some prosperity to the town.  I remember shopping trips to Newport on the train as a child, and as a teenager going to Stow Hill Baths – indoors and warm! I have in my mind that I met a lady there who had competed in one of the Olympics but maybe time is playing tricks with my memory and the lady swimmer wasn’t quite in that league.  Fast forward to the seventies when I was living in Cwmbran and I recall sometimes going to the Odeon Cinema in Bridge Street.  The Odeon closed in 2008 and there is now a Travelodge in its place. 

Having been to the Odeon cinema, I was interested to come across an article with an account of a very grand building – the Victoria Assembly Rooms, later The Lyceum – which preceded the rather less grand Odeon.  The Assembly Rooms were completed in 1867 – it was an enormous building that could seat 2500 and still have room enough for two circus rings.  There were swimming and Turkish baths in the basement, a reading room and a chamber for the County Court.  The entrance façade included 6 imposing stone columns and a statue of Queen Victoria.  The venue was popular and prominent people such as Charles Dickens, reading from ‘Pickwick Papers’, appeared there.  In 1883 the building was refurbished and reopened as The Royal Victoria Theatre. It underwent another transformation following a serious fire, after which it reopened as The Lyceum.  Although the seating capacity was reduced by about a thousand, it still attracted leading names such as Sarah Bernhardt and Houdini.  Houdini put on a one week show in 1905, both in the Lyceum and outside, his tricks including an escape from a cell at Newport Police Station.  Houdini returned in 1913 when his exploits included a leap, manacled, into the River Usk from Newport Bridge.  The spectacle attracted an audience of thousands and caused chaos in the town.  As cinema became more popular, audiences at the Lyceum dwindled and it was eventually converted to a cinema although it still hosted the odd pantomime. The Lyceum closed in 1961 and was subsequently demolished to make way for the Odeon. I don’t remember the imposing building which housed the Lyceum but did I perhaps see a pantomime there as a child?  Do you remember the Lyceum?                                                           
Jen Price

More about the cars!

Last month I wrote about my father's Lanchester car-Betsy Blue- remembered from my childhood and towed away to the scrapyard when I was four.

My father's next car was what today would be called a 'convertible' but without any of today's sophistication or gizmos. My memory is of a young man bringing this car to the house to show my father and my father deciding there and then that this was the car for him and £200-00 cash changing hands. My father was as pleased as punch!  This 'convertible' didn't have a specific name as 'Betsy Blue' had but I do remember my father sometimes referring to it as 'the old jalopy'.

And old it certainly was. This car was like something out of a 1930's film. It was jet black, with a soft, foldable top made of distinctive, khaki coloured canvas. It had smooth, leather seats and could take two in the front and three in the back- which is where my sister and I would sit on our Sunday afternoon outings.

Once inside the car, the solid, metal supports for the soft top were plain to see. This soft top was held in place by means of two large, turnable screws which were tightened by hand into receivers at the edge of the windscreen.

Occasionally the wind would get between the edge of the windscreen and the soft top, the screws would work loose, the soft top would slowly rise and blow back causing much consternation for my parents who would hastily reach up and  grapple with the screws to pull the rising top back down into position.

The day dawned however - maybe the speed was greater or the wind more fierce - when the soft top blew back too quickly for my parents to catch it, tore in a few places then refused to budge from its now folded- down position leaving us no option but to drive home with our family exposed to the elements for all to see. This being mid November and a cold, dull, blustery day, my sister and I cringed with embarrassment at this turn of events, hiding ourselves under the car rug on the back seat while my parents stoically focussed their gaze ahead seemingly oblivious to people's incredulous stares as we motored by!

The 'old jalopy' also had a large, round, rather quirky windscreen wiper switch. It was supposed to automatically work the wipers but had long since ceased to function. If there was a hint of rain my mother would change places with my sister or I and one of us would perch on the edge of the front passenger seat- no seat belts then - and proceed to catch hold of the wiper switch and turn it back and forth which in turn worked the wipers to and fro. We lived in dread of heavy rain as this almost always resulted in stinging hands and wrists but at least my father could still see where he was going!

When my baby brother arrived in 1955, the 'old jalopy' was sold on - no car baby seats then either- and my father purchased a dark navy shooting brake. More about this next time!   
Kath Taylor

Museum Matters

Abertillery the Beginnings

Hill Farms were on or near the mountain tops their names today reminding us of our welsh connections, The “Gwrhyd", "Gwastad-Ffynonau", "Glynmawr-Uchaf" and "Llanerch Padarn" are but a few, Edmund Jones of the in 1779 wrote his "Geographical, Historical and Religious Account of the parish of Aberystruth", there were, he states thirty stone houses in the Tillery valley and the crops raised, Oats, rye, barley and wheat were grown, together with suitable root crops. Cattle were reared and Welsh mountain sheep found pasture on the windswept hilltops among the silver birch and conifers which grew near the tree line at about 1000 feet.

The hill farmers had known of the existence of the Mynydd Islwyn seams and they used the coal for their own fires and sold it at the markets.

In 1837 the first industry other than coal mining was established when William Webb built a brewery at Aberbeeg, at the junction of the two Ebbw rivers. This used malt produced locally, supplemented by supplies from Breconshire and Eastern Monmouthshire, brought by canal to Gilwern and via Black Rock and the Ebbw valley by horse and cart. The demand for drink of the iron workers at Nantyglo, Ebbw Vale and Beaufort formed the basis of this industry, the firm prospered buying land in the surrounding area (Webb’s land markers can still be seen on the mountains).

The rural image came to an end when firstly in 1824 a tramroad was built from Aberbeeg to Nantyglo for the transport of iron and coal. This passed through Six Bells and Abertillery, and almost immediately levels were driven into both the Red Ash and Mynydd Islwyn seams at Cwm Nant-y-groes, Cwm Llwydre, Rhiw Park and Gelligrug. New pockets of population settled at these points and some of the oldest houses are still grouped in these places.

Early in the 19th century several Dame Schools existed sited at Pant -y -Pwdyn, Aberbeeg and Glandwr.                   

When I was a small boy my mother took me with her to pay the rent, the landlord told me that the house where we lived No 75 Pant-y-Pwdyn used to be a Dame School. He then produced a Farthing telling me to buy myself a ¼ of sweets with it!!! (Don Bearcroft)

A letter written by the Rev James Hughes, rector of St Illtyd on August 24th 1847 states; when dealing with the outlook and character of his parishioners he comments, "In secular knowledge the Welsh are doubtless more ignorant than the English, but in knowledge of the Scriptures the former are undoubtedly before the latter. I have met with Welsh cottagers capable of arguing on the most abstruse theological points, and taking them on the whole they are very well acquainted with the Bible The workpeople are very kind to each other and will help each other in times of distress to an extent that would scarcely be believed of them, which characterises the Welsh portion more than any other."
The hillsides were steep and heavily wooded, there were two rivers which converged on the valley floor, raw materials to produce tin were on hand wood to make charcoal to fuel the furnaces and water for power in the works. In 1846, a member of the Conway(1) family of Pontypool together with his partners opened the Abertillery Tin Works on the banks of the Ebbw Fach, near the mouth of the Tillery stream (Aber), and abutting the tramline from Nantyglo, from which it obtained its raw material. The wood was ran down the steep sides of the Arael Mountain to the furnaces, Leats were made collecting the waters of the Ebbw and the Tillery into a pond known as the Forge Pond. This was used to power a huge water wheel, which worked the leather bellows to produce the air draught and other machinery used in the works. Soon it employed over 100 people.

Coal eventually superseded charcoal as fuel for the furnaces; the iron was changed for a better quality that could be rolled more easily. The bars supplied to a required size were first cut by a strong shears, and then placed in the mill furnaces, after they reached the right temperature they were rolled into thin sheets and cleaned by washing them in sulphuric acid. The sheets were then cold rolled, to give them a good surface, annealed to soften the metal and finally dipped into molten tin for a thin coating of tin to prevent rusting.

The first settlement in Abertillery grew up around the Tin works on a hill overlooking the works called "The Twmp. The Royal Oak Public House at its centre was used by Anglicans as a meeting place when the weather was too bad to travel to the Parish Church of St, Peter’s in Blaina.
As I reported in last May’s museum matters it was now that the Welsh Calvinistic Chapel was built. The round stained glass window in the Bear Logomuseum was part of this chapel so when you look at it ponder on the people who raised the money to build it, their way of life and the fact that most were Welsh speaking, there was an influx of immigrants at this time which has been likened to the Welsh Klondike. 
Don Bearcroft, curator


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