Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum
Saturday 19th March – Coffee 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
February 100 Club
No. Vera Smith £20
No. Mary Coles £10
No. Audrey Osland £5
Fundraising February - £316
New Vice President
We are very pleased to welcome Dr Graham Eyre-Morgan. Dr Eyre – Morgan has a background in archaeology and is sure to be an asset to our museum.
As you can see from the diary, on Saturday 27th February we are holding the official Dedication of the Welsh Chapel window display – more about that event in next month’s Newsletter. In the meantime remember that we are having an Easter themed Coffee Morning on Saturday 19th March so come along and don’t forget your Easter Bonnet. If you have any young children in the family bring them along too for the Easter Egg Hunt.
Past President Mr Arthur Lewis was recently talking to another Museum Society member, Mrs Enid Dean, about times past. He said that a recent Newsletter article by Don Bearcroft reminded him of a very large carpet which was bought for Waun-y-Gof Manse – the first National Coal Board tied house which he and his wife lived in, in Newbridge. In their next NCB house the rooms were smaller and as they were reluctant to cut the carpet, they gave it to the Museum in Abertillery Library (where it was housed at that time) so that children would have something to sit on.
Easter Eggs and Easter Rabbits
It is thought that the word Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe. A festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox to honour her. The name for a celebration of the sunrise and a change of season was eventually applied to the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ and the new era this heralded.
The goddess Eastre’s earthly symbol was the rabbit, which was also known as a symbol of fertility. Since rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, it’s understandable that the rabbit is the symbol of fertility.
The legend of the Easter Bunny bringing eggs appears to have been brought to the United States by settlers from south-western Germany. The German tradition of the Easter Bunny or “Oschter Haws” migrated to America in the 1800s, probably accompanying German immigrants, many of whom settled in Pennsylvania. Over the past 200 years, the Easter Bunny has become the most commercially recognized symbol of Easter.
Source - internet
Gwendoline and Margaret Davies
Gwendoline, born in 1882 and Margaret, born in 1884, were sisters, the granddaughters of David Davies Llandinam, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 19th Century. He was responsible for the building of much of the railway system in Mid Wales and a pioneer of the coal industry in South Wales. In 1890 his son Edward, the girls’ father, inherited his fortune and estate.
The sisters were born in Mid Wales and had a strict upbringing based on the religious beliefs of Methodism, being taught that their wealth must be used for the benefit of others. They received a progressive education which was unusual for females at that time, developing a passion for the Arts, Music and Art History which was then in its infancy in Great Britain. To enable them to continue this interest the sisters travelled widely in Europe, studying Art in Germany and Italy. Their knowledge of art history was unusual and it was now that they began collecting masterpieces. They were among the first people in Britain to show an interest in and begin collecting the works of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
In 1908 they began their serious collecting. Their early purchases included landscapes by Corot, peasant scenes by Millet and Turner’s seascapes – ‘The Storm’ and ‘Morning after the Storm’. During the first six years of their collecting they amassed over one hundred paintings and sculptures. Their early taste was traditional but in 1912 they turned to the impressionists whose work was generally less expensive than works by Turner and Corot. In 1913 Gwendoline acquired her most important work to date – ‘La Parisienne‘ by Claude Monet. This painting is usually known as the ‘Blue Lady’.
The beginning of the First World War in 1914 curtailed their continental travelling and transformed their lives. They became volunteer nurses with the Red Cross in France and this enabled them to continue their collecting. They acquired works by Monet, Renoir and Manet. In 1916 they spent over £2000 on paintings and a drawing by Augustus John. In 1918 they moved towards landscapes, buying works by Cezanne. After the war they resumed their travelling and purchased another Cezanne and also a work by Vincent Van Gogh. They also spent large sums on Old Masters.
Suddenly, their collecting reduced and in 1921 Gwendoline wrote that ‘they could not continue to purchase so much in the face of the appalling need everywhere’. She did, however, spend £6000 on a Turner painting in 1922. She finally ceased collecting in 1926.
During the 1920’s and 30’s the sisters championed many social, educational and cultural initiatives in Wales. In 1920 they bought Gregynog Hall, in Mid Wales, which they established as a centre for music and art in Wales and hosted festivals of music and poetry until the outbreak of war in 1939. The Hall complemented the Arts and Crafts Museum which they had already established in Aberystwyth. In 1922 they also set up the Gregynog Press which produced some of the finest illustrated books in Britain.
Gwendoline died in 1951 and in December of that year it was announced that the National museum of Wales had received a bequest from her. This was one of the most valuable donations to any public collection in Britain during recent years.
Margaret continued some of their activities and carried on collecting art until her own death in 1963, focusing on the work of modern British artists, but her sister had been the inspiration behind their collecting. In the year before she died, Margaret gave the house and grounds at Gregynog to the University of Wales. Her collection of art was also destined for the National Museum of Wales and many of her purchases had been made with that in mind. Her collection of 102 objects joined that of her sister after her death.
The Davies sisters were the greatest benefactors of the National Museum of Wales’ first 100 years and together their collections formed the basis of the Welsh national art collection. Their generosity and support for Welsh art and culture had a remarkable impact on the cultural life of Wales which continues to this day.
Source: Westerm Mail 2015
Many of us had grandmothers or mothers who worked as servants but how many of them told us what those times were like? Not my grandmother and that seems to be a common experience which is why a book by Rosemary Scanlon, entitled ‘No Job for a Little Girl: Voices from Doestic Service’, is so interesting. It tells of the experiences of a number of girls in the interwar years who went into domestic service. It was rarely a matter of choice, more a question of necessity in times of great poverty and hardship. Once a girl finished school at the age of fourteen, she was expected to earn her keep and, if possible, contribute to the family income. With very few jobs available in the valleys, many of these girls found posts as domestic servants, often through a local agent, and often in London. A fascinating book.
A London Marathon
Perhaps the most interesting London Marathon was that run in London in 1908 as part of the London Olympic Games, staged at White City in London and incorporated within a spectacular British-French Exhibition. The length of a marathon race is 26 miles 385 yards. The ‘additional’ 385 yards were added at the 1908 event so that the race could start not from Windsor town but Windsor Castle and the length was subsequently adopted as the official distance, odd though that distance seems.
The Oxo Company sponsored the race along with WAWKPHAR Antiseptic Military Foot Powder. Oxo provided booths with food and drink for participants – an Oxo flask, hot or cold Oxo drinks, and Oxo soda as well as food such as rice pudding, raisins, bananas and milk. Stimulants were available if any of the athletes collapsed along with eau de cologne and sponges around the course.
Major competitors were accompanied by two trainers on bikes but the substances administered to athletes in distress sound alarming now. The temperature that day was 78C but the North American trainers only allowed their team a wet Turkish towel over the head and face and the occasional orange segment – no liquid drinks. One South African runner had a special bottle of calves’ foot jelly and lemon, while another had new laid eggs in tea and grapes. When one runner collapsed, his trainer poured champagne down his throat. Another runner who collapsed, convulsing, was subsequently thought to have taken too much strychnine – this toxic substance is potentially lethal but it was not uncommon at the time for runners to take it in small doses as a performance enhancer. Meanwhile, the competitor who had earlier been given champagne was now given brandy by his trainer as a way of easing the cramp brought on by the champagne! Brandy seems to have been in use along the course. One of the other runners struggled towards the end with the aid of wet towels from his accompanying cyclists who also gave him brandy to gargle with.
The end of the race was full of excitement as an Italian staggered along the home straight, clearly confused and disorientated and close to collapse. He only crossed the line with the help of one of the race officials and was subsequently eliminated, the title going to the second runner to cross the line – an American. However, the crowd’s sympathy was with the plucky Italian and Queen Mary organised, personally, a special consolation trophy which she presented to him the next day.
Fun and games indeed!
Source: The First London Olympics 1908 by Rebecca
Don Bearcroft, Curator
Don has been the museum’s curator for 25 years and is to be found in the museum most days, despite some health problems. We wouldn’t have the fine museum we have today without his efforts over the years (along with wife, Peggy).
Where would the museum be without Sharon? She has worked at the museum under placement schemes but is also a committee member and a keen and regular volunteer ready to turn her hand to anything that needs doing.
A former Goundwork placement who is keen to continue helping as a volunteer.
Crickhowell (Crug Hywel)
My grandmother on my mother’s side was brought up in Crickhowell where her father Joseph Pitman owned a bakery business.
Joseph married Mary? They had six children; Emily Ann Pitman, William Pitman, who opened a bakery at the back of his house in Vivian St, Abertillery, John Pitman who also became a baker and deliveryman for Hancock in Abertillery, Edwin Pitman, Alice Pitman, and Helen Pitman.
I loved to sit and listen to her stories of when she was a girl. Nana Emily Bevan (Nee Pitman) spoke Welsh as a girl told me how she would go by horse and trap delivering bread to the local farms in the area on the Dardy, the Ffawddog and Llangattock mountains. One day while playing in the churchyard with a chaffing machine she accidently cut off her right thumb and crying, my thumb!, my thumb!, she ran home carrying the thumb in her hand (we have a chaffing Machine in the museum and when I told the museum designer this story he made an imitation thumb which you can find in the machine).
I remember going with Nan to Crickhowell church yard to find her brothers grave, after a long search Nan decided that the grave was hidden in a shrub which was in bloom to my horror she began ripping up the shrub! But my Nan was right! The shrub had overgrown the gravestone.
There is a great amount of history in and around Crickhowell which takes its name from the rampart and ditch stronghold Crug Hywel, the flat topped hill which stands above the town, also known as Table Mountain. It is possible that the fort was established by Hywel Dda who was the first ruler, around 950AD, to frame a code of laws to govern the Welsh. “Hywel Dda” means “Howell the Good” in English.
The ruins of Crickhowell Castle built on the green "tump" which was initially a motte and bailey castle built 1121c, probably by Robert Turberville a family of Norman Lords. The castle was fortified in stone and from 1242 the castle was walled with substantial stone towers and a large bailey, a home castle befitting an important Royal ally in Wales. The castle was refortified on the Royal command of the new King Henry IV in 1400. Then it was largely destroyed in the early 15th century by Owain Glyndŵr's forces who also attacked and burned Abergavenny town and other settlements in the area. The ruined stone double tower still stands on the Castle Green in the centre of Crickhowell Town.
Crickhowell also features a beautiful stone bridge which is 18th-century and spans the River Usk. The bridge is claimed to be the longest stone bridge in Wales at over 128 metres (420ft). It is unusual due to the 1828 alterations, in that it has a different number of arches upstream (12) from downstream (13). On the original downstream side, the arches are recessed, though not on the upstream side. The bridge has V-shaped cutwaters on both sides with pedestrian refuges above. Construction is of rubble masonry with flat coping stones on the parapets. In 2011 part of the parapet was demolished by a car, following a police chase! The bridge became a Grade I listed structure in 1998, being "one of Wales' finest early bridges". It is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. When I went fishing at Crickhowell some years ago we were not allowed to fish below the bridge as that was the preserve of the Crickhowell club. My friend who wore waders went down under the bridge and casting from there into the forbidden water.
Crickhowell’s most famous son was the surveyor Sir GeorgeEverest (1798–1866) who was born at Gwernvale Manor near Crickhowell and is now a hotel, known as 'The Manor'. He was a Surveyor-General of India, after whom Mount Everest was named. There is also a street in Crickhowell named after him Everest Drive.
Don Bearcroft curator