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March 2017
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Diary Dates

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

Saturday 8th April   -  Coffee Morning Easter Bonnet Competition and Easter Quiz

Saturday 20th MayCoffee Morning with Whitsun Walks photos and memories

Annual Dinner(Date to be fixed)

Saturday 1st JulyAberfest (the museum will be putting on an event)

SeptemberRalph Robinson Memorial Lecture  (date to be fixed)

Fundraising February - £292

February 100 Club

No.32              Kath Chivers                £20
No.27              Sylvia Matthews          £10
No.45              Mary Roden                  £5

Easter Bonnet Competition & Quiz

Don’t forget to put Saturday 8th April in your diaries as that is when we have a coffee morning with an Easter Bonnet competition and an Easter Quiz.  Please come along and bring a friend.

Coffee Morning memories

Our coffee morning in early February looked at the  Origins of Christmas Cards. I gave a short presentation and then circulated some of the lovely Christmas cards and postcards from the museum’s collections which are normally safely stored away in the archives and rarely seen by the public.  All my information came from the internet and it included a statement that in the 19th century post was delivered on Christmas morning.  It seems that there was a postal delivery on Christmas morning well into the 20th century and the ensuing chat threw up some interesting anecdotes, not all of which I can repeat!  What I can tell you is that Museum Society member Trevor Cook used to work on the post for a week at Christmas, to earn extra money (he thought it was about £8 for the week) up until 1955 although the Christmas morning post continued for some years after that. Trevor can remember that on Christmas Day he was expected to finish his round by 11am – not always possible as some rounds involved delivering post to areas where the numbering system took more than a little imagination to work out.  Trevor also remembers delivering Christmas parcels, pushing a post bike through town with a basket on the front laden with parcels.  Apparently the museum has a photo of Jack Clark, a popular Abertillery postman who was also the postman for the Monmouthshire Regiment.
Jen Price

Oxford House Industrial History Society

Is hosting the 48th South Wales & West of England Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference on Saturday 29th April.  The programme for the day costs £19 for several talks, a choice of walks/visits and lunch.  For more details ring 01633 264819. It sounds like a really good day.

Local Voices

‘Nantyglo Comp’

Nantyglo Comprehensive welcomed its first pupils in September 1971 and I was one of those very first pupils.  I was in the last batch to sit the ‘11+’ at Abertillery British Girls School and, having passed, I started at Abertillery Grammar School in September 1970.  Dr Kenneth Colombo was the head of the Grammar School and he was now to be the head of the new school.  Even though the new school was to be a ‘senior’ Comprehensive (14-18 year olds), Dr Colombo decided to move all his Grammar pupils to the new Comprehensive. The new school, I believe, was built to hold over 2000 pupils when full to capacity, but for the first year the only pupils there were those from Abertillery Grammar and I was one of the youngest there, aged 12.

I was there from day one and can still remember it clearly.  It was the complete opposite of the old dark Grammar.  This school was clean, bright, modern and brand-spanking new!  The school was huge and no-one, not even the staff, knew their way around.  We were all (staff included) issued with maps and for the first week or two if you got lost and were late for a class then you were excused.  We were divided into four ‘houses’ based on local mountains, Milfraen (blue), Skirrid (yellow), Darren (orange), and my house, Arael (purple).

Many degrogatory comments were made about Nantyglo comprehensive, it was nickmaned ‘Colditz’ by many of my peers and from the outside it did not look very appealing but the facilities it had were second to none!  Apart from what you’d expect a school to have we also enjoyed our very own indoor heated swimming pool and not many schools could boast that!  And as for the cookery room – wow!  In the Grammar school the so-called ‘cookery room’ comprised a prefab in the yard with one or two cookers in the corner – but at Nantyglo Comprehensive the room was the size of a gymnasium and every single girl in the class had her own ‘wrap-around’ kitchen with sink, cooker, worktops, utensils etc.  It was like walking into MFI and picking a kitchen to cook in!  The sewing room was also awash with sewing machines, one for each pupil.  No having to share in this school.  The boys woodwork and metalwork rooms were also equally impressive but of course I never got to see those as girls were not allowed to take those subjects just as the boys were not allowed to take cookery or dressmaking.  That said, one of my best friends’ was lucky enough to have a metalwork teacher as her form tutor, consequently she had her registration each day in the metalwork room and, during some of those registration periods, she was given the opportunity to try metalwork; the result of which was a copper ashtray for her father.  Her father has since passed away but she still has the ashtray to this day.  Then there was the ‘language room’ with every child having their own booth with tape deck and headsets and a choice of learning French, German, Russian or Latin (no Welsh in those days I’m not sorry to say!). Oh and did I mention we also had a drama studio…?!

After sitting my ‘O’ levels in 1975 I stayed on to do my ‘A’ levels and the facilities for the sixth form were even more impressive.  Sixth formers had their own huge library, and above the library we had our own common room with sofas, kitchen, lockers, toilets and even a ‘pay phone’ on the wall (no mobiles in those days!).  As sixth formers we wore red jumpers rather than the grey or navy worn by the lower years and we were all prefects expected to keep the lower years in order.  These days in Wales, there are very few english medium schools that have sixth forms and this is a shame because, for me, they were the best of days.

When my daughter started at Oakdale Comprehensive in the year 2001 (with no sixth form of course), I expected her school’s facilities to be at least as good as I had enjoyed some 30 years earlier.  Don’t misunderstand me, she did very well academically at the school but, alas, the facilities there were nowhere near as good as I had enjoyed and it made me acutely aware of just how ahead of its time Nantyglo Comprehensive had been and of how lucky I had been to be part of it.
Sally Murphy  (Footnote – Nantyglo comprehensive School was closed in August 2010)


I spent a very interesting few days in Bridgnorth last month – lots to see including the historic town of Bridgnorth itself, the many museums and the famous bridge at Ironbridge, and the Severn Valley Steam Railway. Each venue was a reminder of how so much of what we enjoy depends on the work of volunteers, as with our own museum.  On the steam train I fell into conversation with a lady in the same carriage and it turned out that she was a volunteer on the steam railway – not one of the front-line volunteers in a gleaming uniform but someone who helped with the washing up.  Well done all you volunteers out there and if you fancy helping out at our museum, just call in for a chat.
Jen Price

Museum Archives - ‘Dog Licence’

I am not sure when the Dog Licence became compulsory in the UK but it was certainly in place in the early years of the 20th century when it cost 7s.6d.  We have a dog licence in our museum archives.  It was issued in 1947 and still cost 7s.6d – that’s the equivalent of something over £14 now. It is quite a small and flimsy piece of paper and carries the warning that the ‘Penalty for refusing to show this Licence to any duly authorised Officer, or Police Constable, or for keeping a Dog above 6 months old without Licence £5’.  The licence was abolished in 1987 and still cost the same – 37p (the halfpenny having been done away with some years earlier).

The back of the licence carries a warning about rabies and under the heading of ‘Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs’ it says:

Change in the manner and habits of the dog, which becomes unusually affectionate at times, but at other times shows a disposition to snap at persons to whom it was formerly attached. Avoiding light by hiding in dark places. Gnawing and eating indigestible substances. Alteration of voice, the ordinary bark being replaced by a peculiar howl. Difficulty of swallowing, but no dread of water. Sometimes ropy saliva will be hanging from the mouth.

In the furious form, these premonitory symptoms are followed by paroxysms of excitement on the part of the dog with a tendency to attack any animals or persons approaching it.  Frequently the dog seeks every opportunity to escape from its home, wanders about snapping at any object which comes directly in the way, continuing its march, until it finally drops and dies from exhaustion.

In dumb rabies the lower jaw drops. The dog remains quiet in some dark place, paralysis of the hind limbs soon sets in, followed by death.
Dogs showing any of these symptoms should be at once isolated till a Veterinary Surgeon can be called in.

Any person having or having had in his possession or under his charge any dog affected with or suspected of rabies is liable to a penalty under the Diseases of Animals Acts if he fails to give notice thereof with all practicable speed to a police constable of the district’.

Given the serious consequences of a bite from a rabid dog for a human, you might have expected the licence to include some advice on what to do if bitten although in practice Britain was pretty well rabies free by 1902.

A couple of sayings

While on duty at the museum one or other of our volunteers will often draw attention to a saying that has caught their eye; here are a couple of them.
‘Do you love life?  Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff  Life is made of’.    
Benjamin Franklin

‘Never use the phrase: “in my time”. Your time is now. As long as you’re alive, you are part of this time. You may have been younger, but you are still you now, having fun and enjoying life’.

Air Raid Shelters

We have an air raid shelter in our museum and if you catch the Abergavenny train into Newport you can still see a few shelters in the back gardens of some houses in the town.  During the war, this was the only new building most people had.  Did you know that more than 2 million of these ‘Anderson’ shelters were produced?  If you earned less than £250 per year you could obtain a free shelter, otherwise they cost £7. The shelters measured 2m long, 1.4m wide and 1.8m high.  They came in kit form comprising several sheets of straight and curved panels of corrugated iron.  These were bolted together and the structure was then buried to a depth of 1.2m and covered with soil.

The Anderson shelter was designed in 1938 with the aim of providing protection from bomb-blast and it was named after Sir John Anderson, the man responsible for preparing Britain to withstand German air raids.  The shelters were very basic but nonetheless provided a valuable place of refuge for families, the shelter being able to accommodate up to 6 people, albeit in rather cramped conditions.

There was also a Morrison shelter for use indoors by those without a garden.  It was named after the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, and was issued from 1941.The Morrison Shelter was made of sections of heavy steel grid and could be used as a table, being of roughly ‘table-like’ dimensions. 

Air Raid Shelter cartoon



Continuing with my series of Page 4 articles on the Constitution, this week’s is on the issue of devolution.  I recently took a school trip to the Welsh Assembly and was not just startled by how little my students knew about the subject but I too found myself unaware of many of the powers that the Welsh Assembly holds.

The Labour government that was elected to power in 1997 made a manifesto commitment to establish a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly.  A referendum was held in both countries and both peoples voted in favour. In Scotland just over 74% of those who voted voted in favour of a Parliament.  In Wales, the result was much closer with just 50.3% voting in favour of the creation of a Welsh Assembly.

This article will focus predominantly on what happened in Wales.  The nationalist movement in Scotland had been more successful than in Wales and the SNP has managed to become the predominant political party in Scotland.  Nationalism in Wales has had less of an effect than socialism and the Labour Party has been the preeminent political powerhouse in Wales since 1997.

The 1998 Act of Parliament created in law a Welsh Assembly of 60 members.  Unlike the Westminster parliament, there was no separate executive.  This meant that the Assembly had to exercise all functions collectively whereas in Westminster it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to lead policy creation.  Importantly, the Act did not give the Assembly the power to make primary legislation or laws.
This remained unchanged until the 2006 Separation of Powers Act which created an executive.  This means that we now have an Assembly consisting of 60 members but we also have a Welsh Government consisting of 12 members.  These 12 members include the First Minister for Wales and 11 Cabinet members.  These 12 members of the Welsh Government are also members of the Assembly. Hence the term Welsh Assembly Government was born.

In the One Wales Coalition agreement of 2007, the Labour Party of Wales and Plaid Cymru agreed to campaign for a referendum to give the Assembly full law making powers.  A referendum duly took place in which the Welsh electorate were asked the question, “Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers over?” In this vote, 63.5% of those voting voted “Yes”.

This referendum led to greater powers being passed to Wales and gave the Assembly the right to make laws on 20 areas of policy. However, 11 areas were left as responsibilities of the UK government.  The Welsh Assembly could not make laws on the following : taxes and benefits, immigration, defence, TV and broadcasting, criminal justice, foreign policy, nuclear energy, large energy producing plants, abortion/human fertilisation, control and safety of medicines and vivisection/animal testing.
Since May 2011, the Assembly has been able to make primary legislation on 20 other areas. The most notable changes came in education and health.  The creation of a separate NHS Wales which passed laws offering the citizens of Wales free prescriptions and more recently and controversially the automatic opting in of the organ donation programme.  Similarly, our education system is now notably different to the one in England.  All secondary schools are still in the hands of local education authorities/councils whereas England has allowed the development of academies and free school that are run by trusts.  Our qualifications structure also differs.  At GCSE, England has moved to a numbered system of grades (1-8) whereas Wales still operates on the A*-G formula.  At A-Level, England has returned to the old system whereby students take the complete course at the end of two years of study whereas Wales has opted to maintain a modular system where exams are taken at the end of both the first and second years of study.

However, devolution has not been a fixed process, rather it has evolved.  The Silk Commission published its report in 2014 and recommended further powers be transferred to Wales.  Most notably are the control of policing and giving Wales tax raising powers.

The Wales Act 2014 put these recommendations into law and in April 2018, control of stamp duty and landfill tax will pass to the Welsh Government, which is replacing them with a land transaction tax and a landfill disposals tax. 

The Wales Act 2017 will give even greater powers to the Welsh government.  It will be able to pass laws on any matters which is not reserved (i.e. one of the 11 powers listed previously), it will have the power to control its own constitution framework and this includes setting the number of Assembly members.  There is already speculation that the number of Assembly Members (AMs) is likely to rise from the current 60 in total.  The Assembly is also proposing a Youth Parliament for Wales and will consult with the public on a change of name.

Perhaps the most significant change in this Act is that from April 2019, income tax rates in Wales could be varied as part of a deal with the UK Treasury.  Whereas Wales currently receives just over 90% of its funding from a block grant from Westminster under the Barnett formula, from 2019 onwards, the block grant is forecast to be reduced to around 75% with the difference being made up in income tax returns. This could lead to the people of Wales paying a higher or lower rate of tax than the rest of the UK from 2019 onwards. In just 20 years, devolution has evolved at a rapid pace.

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