Richie Rudd, always a popular speaker, told us of one of the early battles in the First World War and, in his inimitable way, strayed into other topic areas. We were entertained and educated. This month’s talk will deal with a topic closer to home, as will the lecture in May. Please note that the Ralph Robinson Memorial Lecture in May will be on the second rather than the first Wednesday of the month.
Our St David’s Day Coffee Morning went well. Special thanks to Gordon Rowlands and Margaret Cook for their poetry readings, and to Janet Preece for her impromptu recitation. Thanks to all who helped and attended.
From late March into April the Museum will host a touring exhibition on the Partition of India, organised through Aik Saaph. We are planning a rather special coffee morning to complement the exhibition, with a speaker on the exhibition, tasters of Asian cakes and sweets, and traditional music so please be sure to put Saturday 19th April in your diary. Recipes will be available at the Museum for those who would like to help with the cakes and sweets, and donations of our more usual coffee morning cakes would also be appreciated.
The coffee mornings are enjoyable social events in their own right but they are also important for our fund-raising so please lend all the support you can
Fund raising March - £335
28th March to 28th April 2008 – Exhibition on the Partition of India
Wednesday 2nd April 2008 –Tinplates and Tramroads, Aspects of Caerleon’s Industrial Past by Malcolm Johnson
Saturday 19th April 2008 – Partition of India Coffee Morning with Asian cakes, sweets and music. Tickets £1
Wednesday 14th May 2008 – Ralph Robinson Memorial Lecture, The Lost Pubs of Abergavenny by Frank Olding
Lectures start at 7.00pm in the Metropole Theatre, with teas and a chat downstairs in the Museum afterwards. Entry is £2 and the public are most welcome.
100 Club February
No. 86 Joan Cook £25
No.88 Matthew Price £10
No.43 Glyn Mitchell £5
‘THE LITTLE ROUND WHEEL’
In the Arcade a memorial is laid.
Not up in the sky
like the pit wheels on high,
but low on the floor.
Just names, no more, not half a score:
Cwmtillery, Roseheyworth, Vivian,
Six Bells, Penybont and Grays –
those were the days!
Names from the past,
they still echo and sing,
for when iron was cast,
coal was the king.
From near and far we came,
not for fortune and fame
but just for a living,
which we heard coal was giving.
Our men struggled and strived
and so we survived.
Their wives worked as hard,
for no holds were barred
and many a doorstep kiss
made up for going into the abyss.
As demand grew the vaster,
work was faster, under a hard master.
But our men were the masters, miners,
not “minors”, kings of the craft, would you
like to have faced that long shaft.
History still tells of the hell at Six Bells,
Yet let no-one today, with glib tongue,
dare say that our pits were “the pits”.
Remember the lives that our forefathers lived
in streets underground and all that they did.
So next time you pass by,
look down, as did I, at the little round wheel
in the ground, not the sky.
Though our hearts wear the scar
of the streets that still are
both below and above,
look at the wheel and remember with love.
And, it can’t be denied, with love.
This is an account of how the above poem came to be written:
‘I stood at the entrance to The Arcade on a Friday afternoon, looking at the snow and hoping the weather would be better the next day for the Coalhouse Coffee Morning and suddenly noticed the commemorative wheel and realised I’d walked over it unthinkingly for years’.
‘The Vale of Usk; a Pictorial Representation’ by Stinchcombe,M.G & Knight,B.A
This delightful book tells the story and illustrates the towns and villages of the Vale of Usk from the source of the river to its mouth at Newport. It is a comprehensive collection of over a hundred fine black and white drawings of bridges, castles and churches along the river by a very talented artist…Each drawing is accompanied by brief notes which bring the drawings to life. The book will please those readers who are already familiar with the many places mentioned but it should also encourage those who are not aware of its beauty to visit these places themselves.
‘Branch Lines to Monmouth’ by Mitchell,V. and Smith, K.
This is an interesting addition to the railway literature of the old County of Monmouthshire. The illustrations and maps follow the railways from Pontypool through superb scenery to Usk and on to Monmouth. This line holds many memories as we lived for a short time in Monmouth and travelled along it to visit my grandparents who lived in Usk. When we moved to Aberbeeg we travelled in the opposite direction to Crumlin and across Crumlin Viaduct to Pontypool where we caught the train to Usk.
Monmouth had two railway stations and two bridges that carried the lines to Chepstow and Ross on Wye over the rivers. The line to Chepstow passed through Tintern with views of the Abbey, while the line to Ross on Wye ran close to the river through Symonds Yat and Lydbrook.
If the railways had not been closed during the Beeching era they could have become a marvellous tourist attraction today with scenery rivalling that of such lines as the Dart Valley in Devon and the Settle to Carlisle railway in Cumbria.
‘Building at The Duffryn’ (contd)
Nowadays, self build is quite common, but in the early 1950s it was a new concept in house building. Our licence to build arrived in December 1950, the best Christmas present we could have had. During the long summer months, Ray had, with the spasmodic help of his friend Eric, prepared the groundwork. Fencing was completed, a large shed built and a very big hole dug out of the sloping ground. The soil from this was stacked in front, to form the basis of a future lawn. We also got married during this waiting period, spending a week’s honeymoon in glorious Salcombe, where we collected shells which we later used to cover part of the porch.
Ray had also applied to the District Council for the road to be upgraded and for an electricity supply to be installed. Gas lamps were sparse and failed whenever water seeped into the pipes. The Council responded by adopting and tarmacking the road and the gas lamps were replaced by electricity poles much to the delight of the cottage inhabitants who had been trying for years to get these amenities. January and February 1951 passed and in March we had our first delivery of bricks, sand and cement. Footings were excavated by hand and we were ready to start building. I found this very exciting. (To be continued).
‘It’s a Small World’
On Wednesday 16th January 2008 I was prevailed upon to attend the dedication service of a Poppy Memorial at a newly raised plot in the Garden of Remembrance at South Woodham Ferrers, Essex.
The service was very well attended by dignitaries of local government, the British Legion, Salvation Army, Church members and the general public.
Whilst in the crowd attending, I was talking to a friend when the lady rubbing shoulders next to me asked ‘With an accent like that which part of Wales do you come from?’
‘But which part as I come from Abertillery’.
I found that she had been born and brought up in Glandwr Street, the same as my late wife Morfydd.
At the end of the service I spoke to her husband who also came from Abertillery before he joined the Welsh Guards and moved away. His wife’s family owned the ‘Newsagents and Sweet Shop’ opposite the Gaiety Cinema and other businesses near the ‘Palace’ and Arcade. We exchanged views about the four cinemas of Abertillery, dances in the Metropole, Church Street and other places, ‘Crumlin Viaduct’ got a mention.
His name was Ron Williams.
We have arranged to meet for further chats.
New Military Website
In February, for the first time, the full medal records of the 5.5m British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the First World War are being made available to view online, comprising a total of 14m medals. Since almost every soldier who fought was awarded at least a campaign medal, the record is comprehensive. Most of the WWI service records were destroyed during WW2, and so the medals record is the most extensive archive of the conflict in existence.
The records take the form of colour scans of handwritten cards, on which details of the medals awarded are recorded along with the soldiers’ addresses, rank, regiment and service history. The cards carry references to mentions in dispatches, where appropriate. More than 50,000 records include details of covert operations.
Six people worked for six months using hi-tech scanners and word recognition software to convert the documents into a searchable archive.
The website, which operates commercially and requires users to pay a subscription, also allows users to search WWI pension records (and much more on their general website!).
The oldest artefact in the museum is a black shiny stone; the Romans said it was the best stone in Britain. They called it gagate or jet, we call it coal. Priests burned it in honour of Minerva the Goddess of wisdom at her shrine in Bath. Bronze age inhabitants of South Wales used coal to cremate their dead.
The Origins of Coal display in our museum shows the type of plants growing in the Carboniferous Period 360 to 290 million years ago. It depicts the Lepidodendron which grew up to 175ft tall, its trunk interior was soft and pithy and up to 6ft in diameter at its base. The covering was a lizard type skin, hence its name, (Lepid Greek for Scale). At the top it branched into short arms bearing narrow leaves up to 36 inches long. The other plant is the Sigillaria which had a long trunk forking near the top like a two headed monster. Some were short and stout with un-branched trunks 6ft in diameter and about 18ft tall. These forests teamed with life, a model of a Dragon Fly with a wing span of over 30inches can be seen in the display. When these forests died due to the lack of oxygen and they failed to decompose in the normal way, becoming firstly peat and then coal. Fossils of these plants are also in our museum display.
Much of the land was owned by the church including the coal measures and was worked by their Serfs. Disputes between the town merchants often arose over the selling of the coal. As most coal was found near the surface it was considered to be a form of living vegetation so people applied manure to the coal to help it grow! In 1217 the "Forest Act" gave estates ownership of all wood, peat and coal. The Crown still claimed ownership of all precious metals in the Realm.
The Bubonic plague arrived in Europe in 1347; most thought it the wrath of God. The University of Paris said it was caused by the unusual alignment of the Planets that occurred on March 20th 1345. Coal was unpopular because of its smoke and fumes and the sale of coal was not helped by the symptoms of the Black Death. One Welsh witness to the plague described the eruption of the buboes as "looking like broken fragments of sea coal and the pain as seething like a burning cinder". And he also wrote, "Death came into our midst like black smoke". Already the term carbuncle derived from the Latin term for small coal or charcoal was being used. People smelt the sulphur (Commonly known as brimstone) in the smoke and connected this with the demonic underworld. The Middle Ages associated coal with disease, death and the devil.
By Elizabeth Ist time wood was getting scarce and with the introduction of chimneys coal started to be used and London started to feel the effects of pollution. John Evelyn blamed "the incessant, coughing and snuffing, barking and spitting in the churches, and that his musical friends from the country complained that they lost 3 notes in the range of their voices" on the coal smoke. The city was covered with layers of soot which damaged buildings and Londoners took to carrying black umbrellas.
Another school of thought held that coal smoke prevented the influx of more disease carrying miasmas (It may have driven away the infected fleas).
Elizabeth Ist navy was augmented by the use of armed merchant ships, some of these were the sturdier coal ships with their larger crews. With the advent of the steam age and what is referred to as the "Industrial Revolution" the use of coal by the Royal Navy coal became a national asset. One historian described it as, "An almost superstitious reverence" as the source of England's naval strength.
The importance of the role of the miner in Britain's history comes from the mixture of awe, sympathy, guilt and fear that they inspired. It comes from their work facing danger in the mysterious underworld and the distinctive isolated tight-knit communities. The 1984-85 coal strike was the last stand of the miners who were fighting to preserve a way of life as much as their jobs. The bitterest confrontations during this strike took place at Orgreave Coke Ovens in May and June of 1984. We have artefacts in our museum brought back from Orgreave by men from our valley who attended these protests. We also have other items from this era and consider them to be precious items, important in telling the story of our community.
Our community was built on coal; we were and we are close- knit societies who support each other. The organizations still flourishing in the valley and our museum is living proof of this. We are loyal to each other and fiercely independent so no one should make the mistake of taking us for granted!
My Great Grandfather, my Grandfather, my Father and my uncles were miners. I was an Electrician of the mine and proud to work alongside of men who called me,"Brother".