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May 2011
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Lecture Programme

Make a note in your diary for the May and June lectures on the first Wednesday of the month, starting at 2pm, in the office at the Museum. Please call at the Museum for a ticket or ring to reserve a place.  Entry will be £2.  The Wednesday afternoon lectures have been a success and we hope we can also run an autumn/winter programme but for that we need a programme secretary.  Any volunteers? Please see Peggy if you can help.

100 Club – February 2011

Jen Price £25, Sylvia Pickford £10, Laurence Hale £5

100 Club – March 2011

Joan Cook £25, Jill McCarthy £10, Ann Arnold £5

100 Club – April 2011

Jennifer Peck £25, Marge Selway £10, Roy Pickford £5

Fund raising April - £257

Obituary – Margaret Gilson

We were all saddened to hear that Margaret Gilson passed away recently.  She was a popular and active member of the community and a long standing supporter and member of the Museum Society.  Margaret was often to be seen in the Museum in many volunteer roles including helping with school parties, as a member of the management committee, and as a guest speaker.  She is already much missed.

Frank Olding Archaeology Lectures

A new series of these always popular lectures begins on Friday 27th May at the Museum.  The cost is £3 per lecture or £15 for all six.  Tickets are limited so please book early.  The list of dates (note the different days of the week!) is in the ‘Diary Dates’ section of the newsletter.  The lectures are from 10am -12 noon  and the theme is ‘Recent Finds’.

Diary Dates

Wednesday 4th MayRalph Robinson Memorial Lecture ‘Medieval Herbs and Medicine’ by Adrianne Jones, 2pm at the Museum 

Friday 27th May – Archaeology lecture series 

Tuesday 31st May – Archaeology lecture series 

Wednesday 1st June - ‘Sir Oliver Starkey – The Last English Knight of the Order of Malta’ by Gerwyn Griffiths, 2pm at the Museum 

Friday 10th June – Archaeology lecture series 

Friday 17th June – Archaeology lecture series 

Wednesday 22nd June – Archaeology lecture series 

Friday 24th June – Archaeology lecture series

Poet’s Corner

‘Our Museum’

In our town of Abertillery
A fine new thing can be found
It’s called a nice Museum
For anyone to look around.

The young people will enjoy it
The older ones will too
Full of very interesting things
To have a good look through.

Like memories of our industries
Coal, railways and steel
All very interesting
I’m sure you will feel.

So in this year why don’t you
Come visit us and see
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it
And there’s no entrance fee.
B Inch

Secret War

In last month’s edition of the Newsletter we reported on a ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’ bunker the Forestry Commission had unearthed near Caerphilly.  A similar bunker has recently been discovered on the Blorenge, near Abergavenny.  This was another bunker built by the Auxiliary Units which was an organisation formed following the Dunkirk evacuation when a German invasion of the British Isles seemed a very real prospect.  Members of the Auxiliary Units were recruited from the local area and trained as saboteurs and assassins.  If an invasion had taken place, the members of the Units would have retreated to their bunkers and functioned as a resistance force in the same way as on mainland Europe.  A network of equally secret control/zero bunkers was set up to provide a communications network and the bunker discovered on the Blorenge was just such a support bunker.  The Auxiliary Units were stood down in 1944 and the operational and support bunkers were ordered to be destroyed.  The whole operation was highly secret and those involved kept their secret well guarded.  Not a great deal is known about the Auxiliary Units but it is a fascinating story.  Do you know anything about them?  Did anyone ever mention them or the secret locations for message drops?  There certainly were such places, checked regularly for messages by locally recruited members of this secret army.  If you can throw any light on what might have gone on locally, please let us know. 

John Speed’s County Maps

Between about 1603 and 1611 John Speed published a series of maps of the Counties of England and Wales as part of the first comprehensive atlas of Great Britain; the set included not only a single sheet for each county in England and Wales but also a map of Scotland and each of the four Irish provinces.  Cambridge University Library holds one of only five surviving proof sets of John Speed’s ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain’ – a work regarded as one of the world’s great cartographic treasures.   The ‘Theatre’ was an immediate success and the first print run of around 500 copies quickly sold out, followed by several later editions.  The atlas cost 40 shillings at the time of the 1627 edition.  Maps were much prized by the intelligentsia and the military, and landowners had long ensured that their estates were accurately surveyed but Speed introduced surveying on a much grander scale.  The County maps feature finely drawn symbols to show the landscape – the mountains, rivers and towns.  The maps also have an inset with a plan of the County town showing and naming not only its streets and main buildings, but also the layout and divisions of the plots within and adjoining that town or city.  The maps, including that for Monmouthshire, have recently been posted on the internet and can be found on the following website:

The Monmouthshire map is well worth looking at and is presented in such a way as to enable the reader to look in great detail at any one part of the map without losing any clarity.  You will see, for example, the settlements of Blanagwent and Llanhylethe and the rivers Ebwith Vach and Ebwith vawre.   The map is a joy to see and some of the other County maps are even more detailed.

Llanhilleth Institute

Margaret Gurney is researching the history of Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute and the surrounding area.  If you can help her with what you know about this fine building and the various activities it hosted, however mundane, Margaret would like to hear from you.  Telephone 01495 753629 or email

Your stories would also be of interest for the Newsletter!

Gwent County History

In the last Newsletter we reported that Volume Four covering the period 1780-1914 had recently been published.  It is to be officially launched at the Elliott Colliery Winding house in New Tredegar on Friday 20th May at 7pm.  Meanwhile, work is already under way on Volume Five covering the period since 1914; that volume is expected to be published in 1912.  If you would like to become a member of the County History Association (£5) please contact Andrew Morgan, GCHA, 72 Risca Road, Newport NP20 4JA telephone 01633 660830. 

Elliott Winding House, New Tredegar

The coal boom hit the Ryhmney valley and within just a few years the hamlet of White Rose had been transformed into the busy mining town of New Tredegar.  One of the new pits to open was Elliott Colliery, its east and west shafts being sunk in 1883 and 1889 respectively.  The mine was owned by the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company Ltd and during its peak it produced over a million tons of coal a year and employed around 2,800 people.  Many experts described its coal as being of the best quality.

Elliott Colliery’s surface plant and buildings included lamp rooms, explosives stores, workshops, the washery, a railway sidings and in later years a canteen and baths.  Below this was a complex network of tunnels and roadways leading to and from the workface. 

The colliery closed in 1967.  Its buildings were demolished and machinery sold or scrapped.  Fortunately the East Winding House and its Thornewill and Warham stream engine survived.  The Victorian Winding Engine was used to raise and lower the cages in the mine shaft.  This transported men and coal between the surface and the bottom of the pit.  Now over 100 years old, the Engine is being cared for with a long term conservation plan.

The Winding House Engine volunteers run the winding engine for members of the public on Bank Holidays and special event days, and can be organised for special groups – ring 01443 822666. 

The Winding house is open Tuesdays to Sundays 10am – 5pm and admission is free.  It is on White Rose Way, New Tredegar NP24 6DF – follow the brown tourist signs. 

The Engine will run at 12 noon and 3pm on the following dates in 2011:

Monday 2nd May
Monday 30th May
Friday 29th July
Monday 29th August
Saturday 24th September
Friday 28th October
Saturday 3rd December.

You may also wish to note the following events:

Saturday 24th SeptemberGwent Local History Council Day School at Shire hall Monmouth. The theme is Law and Order. Contact Karen Vowles for more information telephone 01633 241561, email

Saturday 15th October Blaenau Gwent Heritage Forum Day School 10am – 4 pm at Bedwellty House, Tredegar.  Various speakers includinh Gwyn Griffiths on the ‘Sioni Wnions’ and Joeph Payne from the Royal Mint on ‘The History of Coins’.

Source – Gwent County History Association Newsletter

Jig Saw Puzzles

It is generally agreed that the first jigsaw puzzle was produced around 1760 by John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker. Spilsbury mounted one of his maps on a sheet of hardwood and cut around the borders of the countries using a fine-bladed marquetry saw. The end product was an educational pastime, designed as an aid in teaching (wealthy) British children their geography. The idea caught on and, until about 1820, jigsaw puzzles remained primarily educational tools.

Technological advances enabled more intricate jig saws to be made and the later use of cardboard opened up the jig saw puzzle to a much wider market than previously.  A German furniture maker, Raphael Tuck and his two sons were pioneers in this area and were also the first to use attractive boxes which also included an image of the uncut jigsaw.

Waddingtons took the popularity of the jig saw a step further by buying up the latest technology and allowing puzzles containing up to 1000 intricately cut pieces to become available at a price most families could afford although it was only in the 1950’s that the quality could genuinely be described as good.

Who can resist a jig saw?


On our way home from a holiday in Weston-super-mare Peggy and I found we had a 4 hours stop in Bristol. I have problems walking and was getting stressed when we came across a gem of a museum. The New Room (John Wesley's Chapel) at 36 The Horsefair, Bristol BSi 3JE.

The New Room Museum

George Whitefield invited John Wesley to preach outdoors for the first time to the miners of Bristol. The New Room was built in 1739 by John Wesley as a meeting place for two of the resulting groups or 'societies' of worshippers and was the first Methodist building in the world.


It was enlarged in 1748 to its current proportions. The New Room also provided accommodation for John Wesley and later other visiting preachers whenever they visited Bristol on their travels.


Placed in the heart of the city, the New Room became a centre for the Wesleys' work in Bristol, where those in need could receive help and education. It was also the first 'society' to use John Wesley's 'class' system, members were divided into sub-groups for mutual Spiritual support and development. Several of Wesley’s helpers scratched their names and prayers into some of the lantern windows glass panes.


ClockToday, the Chapel is in regular use for worship as well as being used for cultural activities and exhibitions. The interior is still decorated in the Style of the 18th century, with many original objects and furnishings from Wesley's day. Upstairs, is the preachers' quarters, where the room displays show the work of Wesley and Francis Asbury, who sailed from nearby Pill to lead the Methodist Church in America. There were quite a few American visitors there when Peggy and I visited.


The New Room also houses an extensive 3,500-volume library of Methodist history. The collection of journals, pamphlets, portraits, biographies and critical works relating to the Wesley’s is available to researchers by appointment. It also houses documents relating to Methodism from before 1936, be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. One of john Wesley’s rules of assistant, he urged his Methodists to be good time keepers he gave a clock to the New Rooms to help them in this.

Grandfather Clock

Upstairs, are the preachers’ quarters, where a one hundred, 36-hour grandfather clock is in the Common Room, it was originally in Epworth Rectory Wesley’s boyhood home. It only has one hand denoting the hour and still chimes on the hour. The room displays Show the work of Wesley and Francis Asbury, who sailed from nearby Pill to the Methodist Church in America. Wesley’s bed is on display; his views on sleep were that. A long lie-in was particularly harmful. “By soaking so long between warm sheets, the flesh is, as it were parboiled and becomes soft and flabby. The nerves in the meantime are quite unstrung and all the train of melancholy symptoms, faintness, tremors, lowness of spirits, comes on, till life itself is a burden”. He had seven hours sleep rising at 4am for private prayer, ready to lead public worship at 5 am.


I was fortunate to spend a retreat day at Coleg Trefeca Nr Talgarth which has a small museum with displays on life of Howell Harris, founder of Welsh Methodism and of the Trefeca Family he founded in the old house in 1752. This visit gave me peace, after visiting The New Room I found that I was no longer stressed and was again at peace which was good not only for me but also a long suffering Bear LogoPeggy.

Don Bearcroft, curator


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