Dates for your Diary
Closed until further notice.
Museum opening times
Closed until further notice.
Suspended until museum re-opens.
The museum café kitchen area now benefits from a dedicated stainless steel wash hand basin for the use of those serving behind the counter. Now we just need the go-ahead to be able to re-open!
It is with great sadness that I must report that Bernard Jones has passed away. He was our treasurer for over 30 years and it is only a year ago this very month that our Curator, Don Bearcroft, wrote a lovely tribute to Bernard in this newsletter to mark his 90th birthday. Bernard is survived by his wife, Irene, to whom we send our sincere condolences.
To read the tribute to Bernard, written by Don last April, please use the link
Get Well Wishes
Don Bearcroft’s health has given much cause for concern this last month and he has spent some considerable time in hospital. However I am pleased to report that he is now back at home and is on the road to recovery. He and his wife Peggy have asked me to convey their thanks for all the get well wishes and cards received.
Many thanks to our President, Mr Jack Hanbury, for his very kind and generous donation of £100.
‘Your Royal Mail parcel is awaiting delivery. Please confirm the settlement of 1.99 (GBP) on the following web link…’
If you should receive the above text message please ignore as it is a scam!
And you can report suspicious texts to your service provider by forwarding the message (free of charge) to 7726.
The Hijacking of Newport Transporter Bridge
Following the piece on Newport Transporter Bridge in the February Newsletter, one of our long-standing members, Mrs Marge Selway, contacted us to ask if we knew about the attempted hijack of the bridge during the Miners' Strike. She was particularly aware of it as her son was one of the police officers sent to the scene and his uncle was among the miners involved in the protest. This was something I hadn't been aware of but on the internet I found the following account in the archives of the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge:
It began just before 9 am on the 30th August 1984 when a group of Miners seized control of the Gondola. They ordered the driver to take the Gondola back to the Pill side of the river, where more pickets drove on in a minibus, stocked with a stove, food and sleeping bags. Ordered to cross again the driver saw Miners massing on the other bank. An NUM Official said, ”We had enough food to last for two weeks if necessary. We positioned the platform over the deep water channel to make sure that boats could not get underneath it, to stop them bringing coke for Llanwern into the wharves”
Police Officers started to arrive in force at about 10.45 pm, by now many of the pickets had drifted away – thinking that the miners were set for a long spell on the Bridge. At 11.40 Chief Superintendant Fred Wyer ordered his men to form up about 200 yards from the Bridge. They advanced at midnight. Forty yards before the Bridge the Superintendent – at the head of the squad halted his men and shouted a warning through his loudspeaker ‘I give you 20 seconds to give up peacefully’.
Then the Police moved in on the motorhouse and arrested 10 pickets. Once police had gained control of the Bridge Motorhouse, the acting Superintendant of the Transporter John McDermott was able to override the controls and bring the bridge back to the bank – another 4 men were arrested. They were eventually cleared of a charge of riot and unlawful assembly. Next day the Transporter, quiet and graceful, carried on ferrying passengers and vehicles to and fro as if nothing had ever happened.
Thank you to Mrs Selway for drawing this to our attention and thank you to the ‘Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge’ for allowing us to reproduce their archived account.
This time fifty years ago, we were all still getting used to the ‘new money’ in our pockets. Decimalisation had taken place on 15th February 1971 and to me and my young sister it was new and exciting.
From the late 1960s, there was a card game available to buy in stores, called ‘New Money Snap’. It was designed to help children understand the new coinage and my parents bought the game for my sister and I. We had hours of fun playing with it and so by the time the new coins were in our pocket, we had a good grasp of it. The game was played in much the same way as ‘Snap’ is played on traditional cards; two of a kind and the first to shout Snap wins the stack of cards. This game required the players to shout Snap whenever two cards of equal value appeared whether they both be in ‘old’ money, ‘new’ money or one from each and it was through the latter example that we learned that 1 new penny equalled 2.4 old pennies, and 1 florin (2 shillings) equalled 10 new pence and so on.
Our childhood game is long gone but, to mark the 50th anniversary of decimalisation, I have managed to purchase the card game from a seller on Ebay, and it struck me that this game would now, conversely, make a good historical tool for today’s school children to learn about pre-decimalisation coinage. I plan to donate my card game to Abertillery museum for it to go on display…but not until I’ve finished reliving my childhood with a game or three…! Snap anyone?
To see photos of these Snap cards, visit our Facebook page and for more information on decimalisation and the reasoning behind it, see July 2020 newsletter article Imperial Versus Metric available to read at this link
Just a few kilometres from Pripyat in north Ukrainian SSR lies the now defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant and, thirty-five years ago, on Saturday 26th April 1986, nuclear reactor No 4 exploded…
There had been nuclear accidents in various parts of the world before and there have been accidents since, but Chernobyl ranks among the worst and some commentators say that it could have been much worse and left much of Eastern Europe uninhabitable. It was an accident that was unexpected by the authorities (although some individuals had raised concerns) and for which there was no 'repair manual'. Decisions had to be made quickly and without there being any precedent. The lack of practice drills, decontamination suits and medical decontamination facilities, and even of portable equipment to measure radiation levels, led to a greater loss of and damage to life than might otherwise have been the case.
The explosion of the nuclear reactor was, quite simply, catastrophic and its effects were widespread, primarily due to airborne radiation contamination. The 49,000 people who lived in nearby Pripyat, followed by a further 68,000 people from the wider area, were evacuated when a 19 mile exclusion zone was established. No-one seems to know the true figure for the number of people evacuated but many believe it to be significantly higher than the figures issued by officials. A number of personnel at the nuclear plant died as did the helicopter pilots who dropped sand and clay on the reactor to help form an initial seal, while many others died or were somehow affected by the radiation which had been emitted. A secure cover of concrete and steel over the damaged reactor was in place by December 1986 and in 2017 a further cover was built. A full clean-up is scheduled for 2065 – a timescale which indicates the scale of what is involved. The wider area remains problematic and it has been estimated that there are areas which will be uninhabitable for perhaps 20,000 years – a sobering thought!
The accident was not immediately made public and it would seem that it was only openly acknowledged under international pressure when Sweden demanded answers as to why they were experiencing high levels of wind-borne radiation which could only have come from the Soviet Union. This contamination was detected just three days after the explosion; serious airborne contamination from the plant continued for nine days.
Radioactive contamination is not easy to eradicate and Britain was among the countries to suffer from the fallout. The upland areas of the UK were most affected and the movement of sheep was restricted by law, affecting 4.5 million sheep and 9,700 farms, in order to prevent contaminated meat entering the food chain. Those restrictions were not fully lifted until 2012.
Pripyat remains deserted, a ghost town complete with a very eerie abandoned amusement park that was due to have its grand opening on 1st May 1986, as part of its Mayday celebrations. The park and the Ferris wheel in particular have become symbolic of the disaster and is now quite a popular tourist attraction albeit one with a difference - visitors carry radiation counters! It's not on my bucket list!
Left, the abandoned Ferris Wheel at Pripyat, now a ghoulish tourist attraction. Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.
Photo souce: User Cls14
The National Census
Last month, on Sunday March 21st, every household in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was required by law to complete the National Census with Scotland breaking ranks for the first time ever; delaying their census until 2022 and citing the pandemic as the reason behind their decision.
The census comes around every ten years; if the year ends in a number 1, it’s a census year. But why do we have it and how did it all start?
The idea behind the national census is to gain vital information on the population so that the powers that be can plan how many homes, schools and hospitals we need for the coming decade as well as planning for our transport demands and of course food requirements.
The Doomsday Book is a very early example of a census. Ordered by William I in 1085, or William the Conqueror as he is perhaps better known, it was an assessment of landholdings for tax collecting purposes rather than a population count but it is often thought of as the starting point for the census in the UK though it would be many centuries before the first proper census.
Census taking had become quite common in some parts of Europe during the 18th century but here in Britain in the 1700s, there was wide spread opposition to a national census. Until, that is, the year 1798 when demographer Thomas Malthus, wrote a paper on the danger of the growth of population outstripping food supplies. This led to the Census Act of 1800 and the UK’s first census in 1801 which revealed our population was around 9 million. It covered just five topics, which were:
- The number of families living in a home
- The number of occupants by sex
- The numbers of those in certain professions such as agriculture and manufacturing.
- The number of baptisms by sex
- The number of weddings
It wouldn’t be until 1821 that the census would ask about the age of the population and with each subsequent census, it would be further expanded on. The 1920 Census Act allowed for a census to be held every 5 years rather than 10, however the only time this was enacted upon was in 1966 and even then, only 10% of the population were asked to complete the form.
There has been a census every decade since except, that is, for 1941 and the reason of course, is that we were at war with Nazi Germany. However, in 1939 we had the National Registration Act which required of everyone, their name, sex, age, address, occupation, marriage status and whether they were a member of the armed forces. Thus it could be argued that a census wasn’t needed in 1941. The subsequent 1951 census was deemed to be of great importance as it was the first proper census in 20 years and was the first one to ask if your home had things like a cooker or an outdoor toilet (indoor toilets were still uncommon).
In 1961, a two-form approach was adopted, a short form census and a long form census. Most households only had to complete the short form while one household in ten were required to complete the long form. It was also the first census to have the results analysed by a computer. This would be the first census that yours truly was included on! By 1971, however, the long form would become the norm for every household.
These days, most of us complete the census via the internet, with the 2011 census being the first available in this format though, of course, a paper version is still available for those with no internet access or who simply prefer to put pen to paper. With so many people currently unable to work or having to work from home, the 2021 census will be of particular importance, both now and to historians in the future, as a snap shot of life in lockdown.
For more information on the history of the national census, use the links below:
Office of National Statistics
The History of Census Taking in the UK
Top Of Page