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February 2017
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Diary Dates

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

Saturday 4th FebruaryCoffee Morning The Origins of Christmas Cards
Please call at the museum for updates.

January 100 Club

No.20              Judith Williams            £20
No.67              Sharon Saunders       £10
No.2                Dermis Osiand             £5

We could do with having more people sign up for our 100 Club.  Please encourage family and friends to join.

Fundraising December 2016 and January 2017  £913

The above figure includes £429 raised at the Christmas Fayre – thank you everyone.

Coffee Morning 4th February

With Christmas just behind us, we are going to look at the Origins of Christmas Cards with a short presentation and then an opportunity to look at some of the wonderful old cards in our museum archive store.  This promises to be a real treat so please come along and bring a friend. £1 entry includes tea/coffee and cake.

Our Museum Archives

Ash’s shop has provided us with a wealth of artifacts and they keep coming.  The latest donations comprise two plates inscribed “A Present from Crumlin”.

Plate from Crumlin

Crumlin was evidently a popular place to visit and you will see that the plate has a floral decoration – no viaduct. Abertillery was also a visitor destination.  There is always something new to be spotted in the museum and the other week I noticed, in one of the cases alongside the Bon Marche display, a small dark brown leather purse, in perfect condition and with gilt flowers embossed on it along with the words “A Present from Abertillery”.

Local Voices

Abertillery town centre late fifties

Some of our readers have photographic memories and so I am hoping someone can fill the gaps in my memory of the shops at the top (Foundry Bridge) end of town in the late fifties.

Coming down Tillery Street towards the bridge I can remember Goodwin’s butchers on one side and a bakery on the corner.  That was the place to get a tasty cake or fresh loaf or, if yeast was needed for a school cookery lesson, a small square of fresh yeast wrapped in waxed paper.  Diagonally opposite was the Post Office, a large building compared with post offices today.  Moving on down from the Post Office was a sweet shop with shelves full of bottles of sweets which you bought by the quarter more often than not.  They were served in little white paper bags – who else remembers eating things like pineapple chunks or pear drops with a bit of the paper bag stuck to the sweet?

On the opposite side I think there was a newsagent and a butcher.
A little further down and there was a grocer’s – was it Home and Colonial or Liptons?  I think they sat opposite each other. Anyway, I remember the rows of glass fronted biscuit boxes so that you could pick and mix your biscuit selection. Again, these were served in a paper bag as were eggs.  However did people get eggs home in one piece?

I can also remember the Coop, particularly the record booths upstairs, but that’s about it for the top end of town even though I walked through it regularly.
Jen Price


Well done to our volunteers who look after the café and kitchen.  The museum was subject to an unannounced spot check recently by environmental health officers from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.  We are pleased to report that the museum came through with flying colours and we can now display our official notice of a 5 star rating for hygiene.

Why not pop in for a cuppa and a chat, or hot toast – just the thing these cold mornings.

Reminder – fees due

Just a gentle reminder for our members to renew their membership of the Museum Society - £6, and that renewal fees may also be due from some of our Vice-Presidents - £25.  Thank you very much.  

From the Archives

Here are some entries from the Log Book for Cwmtillery Junior Boys’ School.

Dec 11 1936 An issue of boots was made today from the sum given as a gift by Lord Portal.

(There were regular entries over the years relating to the issue of boots to needy children).

Dec 14 1936 Very inclement weather, torrential rain and very high wind, caused a drop in the school attendance to 63%. The inside walls and desks were in an extremely wet condition on account of the unavoidable drift and also the sudden thaw.

(Again, there were regular references to poor attendance levels in wet or snowy weather. Was that because the children didn’t have appropriate clothing?)

Nov 23 1937 Very heavy snow fell and the attendance was affected. There are also several cases of scarlet fever about.

Dec 3 1937 The names of 84 boys whose parents are out of work were sent to the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and ‘Morning Post’. They will receive a Xmas gift from a fund organised by these papers.

19 Jan 1938 Twenty five vouchers for boots were distributed today.
2 Oct 1940 All the local schools were closed today while teachers checked up their billeting cards and available billets.

20 June 1964 On Thursday last the weather was perfect. 214 pupils were present. At Ewenny Pottery the Potter demonstrated for each class in turn. On arrival at Porthcawl the children were marshalled to the beach where lunch was eaten. Later the teachers collected those who had signified their intention to swim or paddle to the water. Games followed and later children were allowed to visit the fairground. They were assembled at 5.45pm and left Porthcawl at 6.10pm arriving home at approx 7.45.

Were you on that school trip in 1964? If so, it would be good to hear from you. Or maybe you remember another school trip?  The log book makes fascinating reading, recounting as it does the day to day life of the school with the occasional drama (broken leg, perhaps) as well as special treats such as the occasions, a few times a year, when some of the boys went off for a holiday to one of the camps for that purpose at places such as St Athan, Barry or Pendine.  My father remembered one that he went on and how much he enjoyed it, as well as the kindness of one of the teachers giving him a little pocket money to spend.

Hidden Histories

There is often much more to someone than you might think, particularly members of the older generation who are sometimes reluctant to blow their own trumpets. One such is Mrs Doris Lacy, the mother of one of our regular volunteers, Mrs Judith Williams.  Mrs Lacy now lives in Yorkshire, the county where she was born, but she lived for a while in Swindon where her husband worked in an aircraft factory. This unassuming grandmother was recently awarded the prestigious Legion d’honneur for her wartime work in France. Her children used to play dressing up with her former uniform, never guessing the vital and secretive work she did during the war.

She volunteered for service with the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the army.  After training in Cambridge, she was posted to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force based in London, in an underground tunnel near Tottenham Court Road.   Mrs Lacy was then deployed to France with the Americans shortly after D-Day. She should have come ashore on Utah Beach but the boat got lost in the fog and she ended up landing at Omaha Beach.  She was subsequently billeted at Versailles where she continued her work with codes and signals.

When the honorary French Consul for Yorkshire presented the award, he said “If it was not for this allied support, who knows what would have happened. France remains eternally grateful to these people.”  Mrs Lacy is one of only a handful of women to receive France’s highest honour, in recognition of the part she played in liberating the country.
Do you have a relative with a story to tell?  Please let us know.

Book Corner

Many of us have visited or seen at least one of the cemeteries under the care of the War Graves Commission in northern France and Belgium.  Although a novel, the book entitled “Field Service” by Robert Edric, draws on meticulous research and the backdrop to the story is the preparation of one such cemetery in the aftermath of the First World War.  The work involved not just the preparation of an area of land for use as a cemetery and then the formation of graves but, often, the reinterrment of soldiers and nurses and others involved in the war, who had been initially buried in temporary graves, and the identification of bodies.  Well worth reading. 

Roger Cecil, Painter

The museum has recently been given some paintings by celebrated local artist, Roger Cecil, who died in 2015 aged 72.  This is an extract from the Obituary carried by The Guardian.

“Roger Cecil, who has died aged 72, was an archetype for the artist who is insufficiently recognised during his lifetime. He was from a working-class background and largely stuck to his home area in the Welsh valleys, uninterested in worldly success but absorbed in trying to be the best possible painter.

His inspiration was the fused natural-industrial environment that he saw all around him: “these big, gigantic sort of breaks in the mountain; manmade things”. He loved to climb to the hidden moorland that roofs the Welsh coalfield, often sleeping overnight in a sheepfold to catch the first light. …He used diverse materials in his painting, including plaster, car-body filler, and household paints …. The paintings sang with harmonies of greys, pinks, whites, deep brown and coal black, and they were complex in texture – rough, dry, polished, pitted. ….

Cecil was born and raised in the Ebbw Fach valley at Abertillery, a town locked between mountains and put there for coal. His father, Charles, was a collier, and his mother, Hilda (nee Evans), looked after their four children. Their terrace house would be Roger’s home for his whole life. He attended primary school in the street where he lived, then went to Bryngwyn secondary modern nearby.

At 16, he was accepted into Newport College of Art, where he became troubled that painters worked “in each other’s pockets” so that influences rubbed off and each became “a bit of everybody”. Against stiff competition, he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, but rejected the opportunity on the grounds that it would be detrimental to his art. This caused such a stir that the BBC made a documentary, Quiet Rebel (1964), examining the reasons for his extraordinary decision. It revealed the 21-year-old as a gentle and grave young man who was absolutely clear in his determination to “do painting my way”…

Cecil supported himself through casual labouring jobs and occasional picture sales. He sold reasonably well through dealers in London, Cardiff, Devon and elsewhere, but business relationships were never easily maintained….”


The European Union

As we approach the rather momentous act of triggering Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon which will begin the formal process of our withdrawal from the European Union, I thought that I would examine the history of the EU and the UK's relationship with it from a cold, detached historical perspective. Brexit has divided the people of Abertillery as it has the whole of the UK as all too often, emotion has overridden analysis.

After World War II, European integration was seen as the only way to avoid a repeat of another war in some quarters. The Hague Congress of 1948 and the formation of the European Coal & Steel Community in 1952 laid the foundations for the EU. In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome which created the European Economic Community (EEC) and set up a customs union. This meant that there were no duties on any goods travelling between these initial six member states.

In 1961, the UK had its first involvement when along with Ireland, Norway and Denmark, an application was made by then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to join the EEC. However, this application was rejected and vetoed by the French President, Charles de Gaulle, who believed that the UK joining would allow the USA access to the market due to their "special relationship". De Gaulle feared that the USA would dominate the community and would attempt to create an Atlantic community rather than a European one and consequently was keen for the USA to be excluded.
This perhaps foreshadowed the UK's rather ambiguous relationship with Europe in that it is both geopolitically part of Europe but because of its location and history maintains stronger ties with the USA than any of the other member states of Europe. The majority of the Press at the time perhaps represented the public mood feeling that the UK's relationship with Europe should not be at the expense of its relationship with the USA. The leader in The Guardian on 15th January 1963 expressed as much when it stated that, "In the last resort Britain is an Atlantic power before she is a European one, and her ties with the United States matter at least as much as her ties with Continental Europe." De Gaulle was replaced in 1969 by Georges Pompidou and renegotiations began under the pro-European government of Edward Heath in 1970. Once the main issues were dealt with over the Common Agricultural Policy and the UK's relationship with, and commitment to, the Commonwealth, the path was cleared for the UK's entry. The accession treaties were signed in 1972 so that the UK, Ireland and Denmark became members of the EEC effective from 1st January 1973. The Norwegian people finally rejected membership in a referendum in September 1972. Thus, the UK joined an economic community of nine member states in 1973. However, under constitutional rules, only the Parliament that had ratified the accession treaties was committed to membership. Technically, if the Wilson government that succeeded Heath's had decided to leave the EEC they could have legally done so. Indeed, the Labour Party's manifesto on which it fought the 1974 General Election had promised that "the people will decide through the
ballot box." The referendum was held on 5th June 1975 and the electorate expressed significant support for continued membership of the EEC with 67% in favour on a national turnout of 64%.

Wilson had hoped that this would mark the end of what he termed "a 14 year controversy over Europe." However, one might more reasonably argue that this was the beginning of the controversy rather than the end. Despite the 1975 referendum result, the British Parliament and its people continued to endure an uneasy relationship with Europe. Whilst the Labour Party, many of whom had opposed their own leader in 1975, came to accept European integration, the Conservative Party remained divided over the issue. The Party split along pro-European and Euro- sceptic grounds. Indeed, it is the Conservatives domination of Parliament from 1979 to 1997 that saw a number of significant events on the road to Brexit.
In June 1984, Margaret Thatcher clashed with Europe over Britain's financial contribution to the community and secured a budget rebate. Black Wednesday in September 1992 caused Britain to drop out of the exchange rate mechanism paving the way for Britain move away from any proposed monetary integration with Europe. In July 1993, the Euro-sceptic wing of the Party dealt their leader John Major an embarrassing blow. By rejecting large sections of the Maastricht Treaty, the British government clearly sent the message that it did not seek full integration with the rest of Europe and would resist any type of federalisation. When the Euro went into circulation in January 2002 and with the amendments to the Maastricht Treaty, it was clear that Britain's membership of the community was not as committed as countries such as France and Germany. In May 2004, a further ten countries joined the enlarged EU causing greater pressures due to the economic disparity between the strength of the established members and the new entrants. Labour had remained pro-European under Tony Blair and had been in power since 1997 and from 1997 to the enlargement of the EU in 2004, it seemed that the issue had subsided. However, in September 2006, the political landscape changed when a former commodity broker, Nigel Farage was elected leader of UKIP, a political party formed in 1993 with the express purpose of campaigning for the UK to leave the EU. It had received limited success prior to Farage's ascension to its leadership. By 2007, the EU was very much back on the agenda. Gordon Brown was ridiculed in December 2007 for dodging the photograph of the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Lisbon. This reflected the apparent disconnect between those at the top of government and the growing antagonism amongst some sections of the Press and public to the UK's continued involvement in the EU. Brown had to attend the ceremony as Prime Minister but did not want to appear so enthused as to come across as pro-European. A Conservative government was once again elected in May 2010 under the leadership of David Cameron. Thirteen years out of office had not healed the divisions in the Party over Europe and responding to the pressures from within the Party and beyond, Cameron laid out plans for a referendum in January 2013. He promised to hold an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 whilst simultaneously seeking a revised relationship with the EU for Britain. He argued that "democratic consent for the EU in Britain is wafer thin." On 23rd June 2016, 51.89% voted to leave on a 72% turnout.

Richard Gilson Deputy curator



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