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April 2020
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Bernard Jones

Bernard Jones photoPlease join with me in wishing a very happy birthday to Bernard Jones who turned 90 recently.  Bernard has been a very important figure in the museum society.  As well as being a member for so many years, he was also our Treasurer until two years ago (see page 4 for a special tribute from our curator). 


Museum Closed Until Further Notice

Due to the current health crisis, and following government advice, the museum has had to close until further notice.  This newsletter will continue to be sent out by email but hard copies will not be available until we re-open.  We apologise for the inconvenience and look forward to welcoming you back when things return to normal.

March 100 Club

This month’s prize numbers were drawn by members Val Rosser and Ann Llewellyn and the lucky winners are:-

No.  111          Richard Dean                          £20
No.     7           Karen Pratley                          £10

As the museum is now closed, future draws are suspended until this current health crisis is over and things get back to normal.  Draws will be backdated so no-one will lose out.

Ebbw Vale Garden Festival

Our coffee morning for March on the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival of 1992 had to be cancelled due to the museum closing as a result of the current health scare.  It will be rescheduled when things get back to normal and will include a talk and exhibition as well as some video footage taken during the event by yours truly and family!  In the meantime parts of the video footage are available to view on the Museum’s Facebook page.  By the way did you know that the iconic clock that was a big part of the Festival is still around?  It currently stands as a centre piece on a roundabout in Llanwern though it no longer ‘performs’ and is merely decorative!  To see the clock in action, check out our Facebook page.                   

Festival clock

Roundabout at Llanwern, home to the iconic clock.
Sally Murphy

South Wales Gazette Friday March 7th 1947

The headline article on the front page of this particular edition of the paper said "Blizzard Havoc Hits Coal Production" followed by "Snowbound Valley Towns Face Growing Supply Problems. The fury of the blizzard, which attacked the already snowbound Western Valley on Tuesday and continued until the early hours of yesterday morning, left its mark everywhere but, undoubtedly its most serious effect was to paralyse coal production, with a consequent output loss of about 10,000 tons at collieries at Abertillery and neighbouring districts and the creation of food supply problems as road and rail traffic has been brought to a standstill in the major portion of the Western Valley.

Attempts were being made yesterday to restore normal working conditions at colliery surfaces so that underground production can be resumed today.

The food supply problems are not serious at present – there are considerable stocks of the vital commodities at Abertillery and Blaina, but it is obviously urgent that traffic-ways should be cleared as soon as possible.

The Abertillery and Nantyglo and Blaina Councils and the railway company are sparing no effort, in extremely difficult circumstances, to re-open the main roads and railways."

The report went on to explain the situation in more detail, describing miners trudging to collieries in knee-deep snow and surface-men struggling to carry out their tasks in the severe conditions. Production was impossible at the Arael Griffin and Six Bells Collieries and Abertillery miners were walking to the North and South Celynen Collieries where they had been able to maintain 50% of production but now production was at a standstill while efforts were focussed on surface clearance.

Road and rail traffic had come to a standstill and there were no postal or newspaper deliveries, while railway staff were working long hours, mainly to clear the lines for goods traffic.

A snowplough, even with three engines, became snowbound between Nantyglo and Blaina and had to be abandoned while at Abertillery Station, passengers on a stranded train had been forced to spend the night in the carriages, fortunately with heating. Many householders found themselves snowbound and the paper reported people having to exit their homes through bedroom windows or tunnels, and with pensioners reliant on friends and relatives to help keep them safe and provisioned.   A difficult time indeed – much like our situation today!

The Mormons in the South Wales Valleys

It was news to me and a number of others at the museum (though not to our Curator Don Bearcroft) that the Mormon Church had had a strong presence in the South Wales Valleys, with its followers numbering many thousands, a large number of whom  emigrated to North America.  We have kindly been given a CD with a list of those who followed the Mormon faith in our own Western Valley (and neighbouring valleys), the information including a wealth of detail which we have yet to explore as this is a brand new acquisition. We are very grateful to Ms Ann Bath and Mr Terry Jones for sharing the results of their research with us – research which is ongoing. They have a photo of the former Mormon Church in Blaina but have yet to locate where Mormons worshipped in Abertillery. Do you know? If so please get in touch. The information is with our museum to share with our local community so if you think you have an ancestor who followed the Mormon faith, please call in and see what information we have on the CD which might be of interest to you.
Jen Price

April Fool’s Day

The tradition of playing jokes on people on April 1st is thought to date back many centuries but where did the tradition originate?  No-one really knows though some historians believe it relates back to 1582 when France changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar that we use today.  The Julian calendar started on 1st April and it is thought that some people continued to celebrate the New Year at the end of March / start of April and were called fools for doing so!  If only this current health crisis was an April Fool prank!


NASA’s Most Successful Failure

Fifty years ago this month, on 11th April to be precise, Apollo 13 was launched from Kennedy Space Centre.  On board were Jim Lovell, commander, Jim Swigert, command module pilot and Fred Haise the lunar module pilot.  Jim Swigert was not supposed to be on board but was a late replacement for Ken Mattingly who had been exposed to rubella.  Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were due to walk on the moon, while Jim Swigert would remain in orbit of the moon aboard the mothership (the Command Module) which went by the code name Odyssey.  Had things gone to plan, they would have been the third Apollo craft to land on the moon. 

Disaster struck just two days into the mission (ironically on the 13th) when there was an explosion on board the service module which resulted in a loss of oxygen.  Without oxygen needed to breathe and to generate electricity, the Command Module was unable to support life and so the crew were forced to transfer to the Lunar Module code named ‘Aquarius’ which in effect became their lifeboat.  All hope of completing their mission to land on the moon had to be abandoned and ways had to be found to get the men home safely.

Aquarius was designed to accommodate two men for two days and ways had to be found to support three men for the return journey to earth which would take four days.  Back in Mission Control at Houston, engineers and scientists worked around the clock to find ways to generate enough power and oxygen to safely get the astronauts home.  In addition, a way had to be found to remove carbon dioxide from the cabin of Aquarius which was critical if the men were to survive the return journey.  To remove carbon dioxide from the air they used something called ‘scrubbers’.  They had spare square scrubbers for Odyssey but Aquarius used round scrubbers for some bizarre reason and so it was a case of literally trying to fit a square plug into a round hole using what limited resources they had!

As if in a scene straight out of ‘Star Trek’, Apollo 13 continued its approach to the moon, looped around it and used the moon’s own gravity as a ‘slingshot’ to hurl it back towards earth.   Before they could enter the atmosphere of earth though, they had to transfer back to Odyssey as only Odyssey had the necessary heat shield to safely allow them to re-enter the atmosphere without burning up.  Odyssey had no power though and could not support life without it.  A way was found to transfer power from Aquarius to Odyssey and then both the service module (where the explosion happened) and the lunar module Aquarius, which had been their lifeboat, had to be jettisoned.

After a very tense radio blackout that lasted over a minute longer than expected, they landed safely in the pacific ocean on April 17th 1970 and henceforth this mission became known as NASA’s ‘most successful failure’.

A film about Apollo 13 was made in 1995 and starred, amongst others, Tom hanks, Bill Paxton  and Kevin Bacon.  It was planned to air the film in cinemas this month to mark the 50th anniversary of the incident itself and the 25th anniversary of the film.  Sadly, Coronavirus has stopped that but it might yet be on TV.  Incidentally probably the most famous line in the film is ‘Houston we have a problem’ but in fact what was actually said was ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem’.  It was changed for dramatic effect!

Fred Haise photo I have been lucky enough to hear astronaut Fred Haise talk about his experience aboard Apollo 13.  He attended a Star Trek convention at the NEC in Birmingham in 2018, at which I was present.  He talked extensively about this mission and he said that while the situation was serious and they could so easily have all perished, his overwhelming feeling was one of disappointment that he would not get to walk on the moon.


While Lovell, Haise and Swigert never went into space again, Apollo 13’s trajectory means they still hold the record for the furthest distance that men have ever travelled from the earth.  Ken Mattingly meanwhile, went on to be the command module pilot for Apollo 16 in 1972, having never contracted rubella.
Sally Murphy


Happy 90th birthday Bernard Jones!

I first met Bernard when working at Six Bells Colliery when I was an Electrician of the Mine and he was a surveyor. Our jobs meant that we inevitably came into contact with each other.

When the then Chairman,  Mr. Ralph Robinson asked me to join the Abertillery & District Museum Society I was pleased to find that Bernard Jones was already a member.  I became friendly with him, finding that he had much the same sense of humour as me.  The treasurer was Bill Selway, Bernard Jones was the secretary and Harry Morgan, aged over 80, was the curator.

The society held Extra Mural Lectures from Cardiff University given by Dr Madeline Grey (now Professor Grey); we would go on field trips and visits arranged by her, they were always interesting and sometimes comical.  It was on these occasions that Bernard’s and my sense of humour came out.

We were on a field trip to the Stone Circle on Grey Hill, accompanied by another history group.  In this group was an elderly lady and when we arrived at the stone outrider to the circle Dr Grey explained its origins and its composition.  Afterwards the old lady walked up to the stone and whacked it with her walking stick, saying, “It’s a lump of concrete that someone has set up here!”  Bernard and I doubled up with laughter. 
After the sudden death of our treasurer, Bill Selway, it was decided that Bernard, who had always shown an interest in stocks and shares and giving monetary advice to those who sought it, should take Bill’s post as Treasurer and Mrs Silvia Mathews then agreed to become Secretary in Bernard’s place.

Our family was involved in the Aberbeeg Hospital Fete, raising funds for the hospital.   I suggested that we have a museum stall to keep us in the public eye while also giving something back to those who helped us. We called the stall “Books & Botany”.  Bernard was a gardener and sold the plants and I sold the books while other members such as Peggy, Ron Selway and Jennifer Price also helped.  Jennifer also brought plants donated by Pugh’s Garden Centre Cwmbran. 

Books and Botany

Bernard on the Books & Botany stall at the hospital fete.

It was a treat to watch Bernard selling on a stall whatever it was.  As the saying goes He could sell sand to the Arabs”.  He was in his element on these occasions thoroughly enjoying himself.

When we lost our home underneath the Abertillery Library, an intensive fund raising campaign was started to enable us to get the matching funding for a Heritage Lottery Grant. The committee planned the fund raising events with our fund raising secretary Enid Dean, which gave us the chance to plan for a new museum. We had to raise matching funding and five years running costs. The types of events we were involved in were many and varied, as I was fond of saying You name, it, we did it!”.

Bernard fund raising

Bernard fund raising in Church Street, Abertillery.

With the tragic death of our Chairman Mr Ralph Robinson, Peggy was elected Chairman in his place.  If we had known the struggles that faced us it’s doubtful that we would have continued but seeing the museum now it was well worth all the hard work.
Don Bearcroft Curator

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