Express Café – officially open!
Saturday 7 th March saw the Museum packed with visitors for a very special coffee morning. It was a belated St David’s Day celebration, and a commemoration of the Welsh Dragon having been our official flag for 50 years, but the main reason for or get-together was to open the ‘new’ Express Café.
Those involved with the Museum will know that it has always had a café but it was a rather ordinary set up, with formica tables and chairs. We then had a knight in shining armour (or a female equivalent) in the form of Jane White who had bought the marble fittings from the Express Café intending to use them herself. When she found they were too big for her premises she very generously asked if our Museum would like them. We leapt at the opportunity!
The marble counter and front were professionally restored with the aid of a grant from Cymal, and the restorer advised us that the marble was among the finest in the world. It was installed in the Museum and we were all very proud of it but there was still something missing. With the help of our Museum Designer, Alan Morgan, we fitted out the seating area with cast iron tables and chairs, and Alan designed a shopfront using photos and memories of the original café in town. Biffaward generously funded a large part of the cost of the shopfront and at our coffee morning we were pleased to have Mr John Cavaciutti, whose family ran the Express, declare the café officially open. Mr Cavaciutti said he was sure his family would have been pleased and proud to see the café alive and well and still serving the residents of Abertillery.
We were also pleased to have our benefactor, Ms Jane White at the opening ceremony. She explained how she came to give the marble fittings to the museum and was thrilled to see the wonderful work on its restoration, and to see the café where it should be, in Abertillery. We were sorry that Biffaward were unable to send a representative but we hope they will take the opportunity to visit the Museum the next time they are in the area. Thanks must also go to those who worked behind the scenes – collecting and storing the marble, applying for grant aid for its restoration, researching the shopfront details …..the list goes on. It’s yet another example of the commitment so many people show to our wonderful Museum. Please be sure to call in and get your cuppa whenever you are in town. You can be sure of a warm welcome!
We were thrilled to receive a letter recently from Cymal confirming that Abertillery and District Museum had been awarded full accreditation. This is a tremendous achievement and reflects well on all those involved in setting up and running the Museum since in order to achieve full accreditation, we had to demonstrate that we had achieved the necessary high standards – the same standards that apply to professionally run museums. As our museum in Abertillery is an independent museum run entirely by volunteers with no paid professionals, we can be justly proud of our new status. As well as affording recognition of the level of competence we have achieved, full accreditation will potentially also allow us to access more in the way of training, services and grant aid. Thanks to everyone who helped, with a special thank you to our Curatorial Advisor, Frank Olding, whose guidance and advice were invaluable.
Children’s Easter Egg Hunt
The museum will be holding an Easter Egg Hunt and Craft Morning on Saturday 11 th April from 10am - 12pm for children up to 11 years of age. There will be a small charge of 50p. To book a place please telephone the museum on 01495 211140.
Coffee Morning Saturday 16 th May
The topic will be the Centenary of the Institution of Structural Engineers. There will be display boards telling us something of the Institution and the work of its members, and the South Wales Chairman, Matthew Evans of Ove Arup Consulting Engineers, will give a short presentation.
The museum held a series of lectures given by Blaenau Gwent Heritage Officer and the museums Curatorial Advisor Mr Frank Olding. The lectures on European Archaeology ran on Friday mornings for a six week period. An average of twenty four people attended each week and was enjoyable and educational. Thank you Frank, we look forward to the next course. The museum’s share of the course fee was £200 which will go towards the running costs of the museum.
No. 109 Lyn Gladwin £25
No. 137 Neil Winmill £10
No. 77 Vi Owen £5
No. 6 Moira Brown £25
No. 22 Yvonne Bevan £10
No. 123 Ida Hobbs £5
Please encourage family and friends to join.
The children’s Saturday Club which met monthly was a great success. It was set up by Communities First but they no longer have the resources to run it, and the Museum Society is also unable to commit to continuing the Club on a regular basis given its limited resources. The Museum is run entirely by volunteers and we are simply unable to take on anything more at present. The Museum hosts regular school trips and we are always glad to see youngsters call in for visits. Until we are able to resume the Saturday Club, therefore, we will be having a series of ‘Special Days’ for children including, for example, an Easter Egg Hunt and a Craft Day. Please call at or ring the Museum for more details.
Wednesday 1st April 2009 – Early Underground Flash Photography by Chris Howes
Saturday 10th April 2009 – Children ’s Easter Egg Hunt and Craft Morning
Wednesday 6th May 2009 – Unusual Memorials for the Fallen by David Woodliffe (Ralph Robinson Memorial Lecture)
Saturday 16th May 2009 – Coffee Morning celebrating the world of engineering, with guest speakers. Call at the Museum for details
Friday 8th May 2009 – Field trip to Avebury . This is part of the archaeology course which Frank Olding, Blaenau Gwent Heritage Officer, has been running at the Museum. Places on this trip are available to members of the Museum Society.
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.
Abergavenny Museum will be 50 years old next year. The idea for a Museum was around from as early as 1903 when it was discussed and minuted by the Abergavenny Free Library Committee. At this meeting permission was given for the library to begin collecting objects. These collections remained at the library until the 1940s when it was said that they were disposed of. The demolition of the historic buildings in Tudor Street and Castle Street during the 1950s once again made people aware of the need for a museum. Alfred Jackson addressed the Rotary Club on 22nd October 1957 and a Committee was formed. Alfred and Ernest Jackson and Duggan Thacker led a group of enthusiastic volunteers and the Museum opened on 2nd July 1959.
The Museum is always worth a visit for its permanent and temporary displays. Details of one of the current displays are set out below:
25 January - 07 June 2009
Traditional Welsh Costume
Welsh Costume - the truth behind the myth. A touring exhibition by the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth and Ceredigion Museum.
Also on the subject of Abergavenny, two stone monoliths are to be erected in Swan Meadow (the park by the bus station) as a landmark tribute celebrating the work of Lord and Lady Llanover, highlighting the importance of Abergavenny in the history of the development of the National Eisteddfod. The tribute will also acknowledge that Big Ben is named after Lord Llanover. The timing is appropriate as Big Ben will be 150 years old this year.
Abertillery Ladies Dance Club
Mrs Thelma Morgan originally started this dance club but for over twenty years it has been run by three members on a voluntary basis.
The dance club is held on Monday afternoons from 2.30 to 4.30 pm in the downstairs schoolroom of Ebenezer Chapel, Abertillery.
All enjoy going and the dancing is easy modern sequence and line dancing. A raffle is held and of course a cup of tea and biscuits provide a respite from the physical activity.
Two tea dances are held annually at different venues and a Christmas Dinner Dance is held in December.
Any lady is most welcome and she can be assured of a very enjoyable afternoon.
The Roving Reporter
Within my heart all suddenly
Joy kindled into flame,
Nor could my startled spirit see
From whence such glory came;
Yet suddenly as shooting stars
That stab across the night,
My heart undid its bolts and bars,
And dusty grief took flight.
Yes, suddenly my heart was lit
By joy’s bewildering glow,
So fierce and proud the flame of it,
And yet I did not know
By what strange fancy ‘twas beguiled
Nor whence its glory came –
I only knew that when You smiled
Joy kindled into flame.
This year is the 25 th Anniversary of the 1984 – 85 Miners Strike to those involved it seems as if it were yesterday. Here are some of my memories of strikes and their consequences.
As an Electrician of the mine my duties took me to all parts of the mine above and below ground.
In a certain roadway underground I met a man who worked all alone and whose job it was to clean the spillage of coal from the belts. His roadway was immaculate and one day I stopped to talk to him, afterwards I was told you don't talk to him no one does. When I asked why? I was told. "He was a Black Leg in the strike; he went to work and took the bread out of the mouths of our wives and children!" When I asked when was this then? The answer came, 1922 or 1926 I don't remember which one.
Apart from one or two day strikes the first real strikes I was involved in was the 1972 and 1974. When the strike started the NUM decided not to pay out strike pay and the miners could then claim benefits. The problem for me was that as Peggy my wife worked part time although her money was very low we could not claim anything. As I was a qualified electrician people and builders offered me work installing electrical fittings and re-wireing houses.
There was a problem with this as the money earned was supposed to be declared to the authorities who would tax it and also to the union who would use it in their strike fund. Quite a dilemma don't you think!
Meanwhile the miners had started to picket the coal depots, docks, power stations, steelworks and all sources of coal production to prevent the movement of coal. What is now known as, "secondary picketing."
After seeing the BBC News I saw this as the quickest way to bring the strike to an end as Ted Heath’s Government were prepared to wait it out.
The following day I enrolled at the Miners Institute for picketing duties. The pickets did 12 hour shifts at their allotted posts and much to my surprise we were paid.
For 12 hrs picketing Ryan's coal tip reclamation we were paid Half a Crown, 2 shillings and sixpence. For Llanwern Steelworks 12 hrs in the snow we had the princely sum of
7 shillings and sixpence. (Never mind every little helps as the old woman said).
The reason for this strike was the low wages paid to the miners and the mood of the general public and the country was supportive to them. This was evident in the way people reacted to the miner's pickets as they passed them, honking their car horns in support. Support was shown in other ways, food was delivered to the groups of men on picket and at Rogerstone Power Station a barrel of beer was brought to them by the men going into work.
When we were picketing the steelworks at Llanwern the 12 hour shift in the snow we were told that a few of us at a time would be welcome to take shelter and have a warm in a nearby pub. So we took it in turns to visit this establishment, while we were there we were plied with hot pies and drink by the locals and the steelworkers. We had with us a young boy fresh from his underground training that had started work with his father at Six Bells Colliery. The landlady took pity on this young lad asking. "You don’t make a little boy like him work underground". Always ready for fun,"of course we do" we answered, He's just the right size to send into small places we can't reach". Outraged by this the landlady refused to allow us to take him back to the picket line. The bus picked up the rather inebriated boy on the way home; I have often wondered what his mam said to him and his father when they returned home.
At the gates of the steelworks we were stopping lorries preventing any coal being taken in. most lorries stopped and wished us well. On one occasion we saw a lorry approaching fast, one old miner had the habit of walking out into the road, flat hat on his head, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, one hand behind his back the other held up like a policeman does on point duty. He would shout "STOP", on this occasion the lorry swerved and whizzed passed, Percy's hat flew off and his cigarette turned sideways in his mouth burning his cheek. We found this amusing but the next time we were on picket I saw Percy take a hammer and some 6inch nails out of his bag, together with some other men they drove the nails through planks of would. He won't do that again he said to me, this is getting nasty I thought. Fortunately not long after the strike ended with victory to the miners but in that victory was sown the seeds of our own destruction.
The Miners Strike of 1984-85 was a bitter struggle by the miners to save their industry, as it dragged on divisions and rifts between families and friends began when towards the end men started to return to work.
It was the death of the coal industry and a way of life but I am sometimes annoyed when I here or read eloquent and romantic accounts of the "Miners Epic Struggle" by people who have never seen a working coal mine let alone set foot on a picket line. It was a dirty and dangerous business, all of it.
I pray now that the scars can be healed and that no one is treated like the old man at the beginning of my story because that would mean they have finally won, taking not only our dignity but also our humanity.
Don Bearcroft Curator & Ex Welsh Miner.