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June 2009
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Coffee Morning

Our May coffee morning was a little different from usual in that the topic was the Centenary of the Institution of Structural Engineers. The presentations and display boards told us about the Institution itself and the role of structural engineers over time, from early projects to span deep gorges to today’s race to erect the highest building. The topic generated a great deal of interest and we are pleased to be able to tell you that the exhibition will run until 26 th June.

Social Evening – Postponed

This evening event at the Salvation Army Hall was postponed due to lack of ticket sales. Kevin Smith Sarah Butcher and Jackie Bryant have agreed to do it later on in the year.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Fund raising May - £469

This impressive figure was helped along by the £135 raised at the coffee morning, and around £90 at the craft fair. Once again, thanks to all those who helped with those events.

Lecture Programme

The evening lectures start up again in September and to open the autumn season we have a talk entitled ‘Anniversary of the Rape of the Fair Country’ – an intriguing title! Marge Selway always manages to put together a varied list of speakers to suit all tastes – no easy task. Thank you Marge!

Sponsors needed

The ‘Race for Life’ takes place in Cwmbran on 28 th June to raise funds for Cancer Research. Peggy Bearcroft, Judith Williams and Janet Rees are all taking part and looking for sponsors so if you’d like to help, please get in touch or call at the museum.

100 Club

See next month’s newsletter for May and June.

Please encourage family and friends to join.

Diary Dates

Saturday 4th July 2009 Children’s WW2 Street Party starts at the Museum at 10am.

Wednesday 2nd September 2009 Anniversary of the Rape of the Fair Country by Ivor Beynon.

Please call at the Museum for news of other events through the summer.

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.

Book Corner

Gwent County History. Vol. 3
The making of Monmouthshire, 1536-1780
Edited by Madeleine Grey & Prys Morgan.

The third volume of the Gwent County History begins with the Act of Union in 1536, which brought about the creation of the County of Monmouthshire and continues through the Civil War to the beginning of the Industrial Age in South East Wales. This was a momentous period in the history of Wales, and Monmouthshire played a critical role in that history.

The first part deals with the political and religious changes of the Tudor and Stuart Reigns including the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The second part shows the part played by Monmouthshire in the Civil War between King and Parliament and its aftermath. The County, situated between the military entrenchments of the Midlands, South Wales and the West Country saw much fighting and one of its largest castles, Raglan, was left in ruins.

The third section deals with social, economic and cultural themes in a county that was still mostly rural and Welsh-speaking. The end of the 18 th Century saw the growth of the Iron industry and the beginnings of the industrialisation and urbanisation of the County. The new industry attracted skilled migrant workers and capitalists which gave rise to new towns e.g. Pontypool and Rhymney.

An additional end chapter describes a “Wye Tour” of the later 18 th Century.

The contributors are all eminent in their respective fields of geography, history and theology. The book is well illustrated with coloured and black and white plates and has extensive tables and maps.

The third volume of the Gwent County History is an important and welcome addition to the history of Monmouthshire and Wales and will be of interest to historians, students and the general reader.
Jean Colwell

A Postcard from the Wye
By Jan Dobrzynski & Keith Turner Published by The History Press Price £12

This book takes you on an historical journey down the River Wye through images captured in more than 200 old postcards. Even those who know the area well are likely find something new in this book with a difference.

Local Organisations

The Rotary Club of Abertillery & Blaina (founded in 1938) is part of Rotary International – a worldwide organisation of over 1,200,000 members from some 130 countries. The motto of Rotary – “Service before Self” – neatly incorporates the whole ethos of the organisation. The idea of a club of business and professional men gathering together once weekly in a convivial lunchtime gathering, to promote the highest ethical ideals in the service of the community, was the brainchild of American Paul Harris. He established the inaugural Club in Chicago, Illinois in 1905. The idea caught on to such an extent that by 1910 Rotary became international at the 1910 Convention in Winnepeg, Canada.

It was to quickly ‘cross the pond’ to Dublin in 1911 and soon to the United Kingdom. Indeed, the growth in the British Isles was so great that in 1921 Rotary International Great Britain became a semi-autonomous organisation within the banner of Rotary International.

The Abertillery Club was one of the earlier Welsh Clubs to be formed. 2005 saw the centenary of Rotary and it could look back with justifiable pride on its contribution to world understanding and a veritable myriad of good works. Its aid to various disasters is well known, but not perhaps the £250 million gift to eradicate Polio throughout the world.

But it was not just to momentous world suffering that it has concerned itself. The local community of each club has also been the beneficiary of its fund raising activities. This has been of particular importance to the Abertillery & Blaina Club. Perhaps its highest profile has been, together with its partner the Round table, the Annual Fireworks Display at the Park. For the past 40 years each November, the Park has echoed to the blasts from some memorable displays.

Alas, this will be no more! Ironically, the Display, conceived to allow people to enjoy Guy Fawkes Night in a safe environment, has been hit of late by an enormous increase in costs, to meet the requirements of the Health and Safety Executive of the Borough Council. 2008 was sadly the 40 th and final display.

Should any of our readers wish to consider joining Rotary, then President John would be delighted to have a chat with them.
Trevor Cook

Poet’s Corner


Of hard grey stone
quarried from near-by hill,
that imposing building.

Tall windows opened
by winding a handle
Entrance double doors of
thick timber calculated to
repel most determined.

Through several coats of brown
paint, someone’s initials carved
during hours when those portals
were locked and barred to all.
Inside parquet block floors,
and half timbered walls line
corridors once seeming vast,
now disappointingly small.

Rows of cast iron sided desks
replaced with plastic chairs
at plastic surfaced tables,
Computers now where girls
once learned domestic science.

Built to last was my junior school.
but now after a mere 90 years,
machines will reduce it to rubble.
Future generations will be taught
modern curriculum in a red brick
and glass characterless rectangle,
not in the least bit awe inspiring.

Gordon Rowlands February 2007

Sponsors wanted

Enid Dean is looking for people to sponsor Jen & Colin Price on their 20 mile Gower Challenge Walk, to raise funds for Ty Hafan Children’s Hospice.

Irish immigration to Wales

Those who arrived in Wales were fleeing the Irish potato famine, and often arrived in a very desperate state. The Wanderer docked in 1847 Newport and deposited 113 destitute men, women and children in the town, with 20 of them said to be "close to death". This prompted comment in Parliament, and the Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper commented on "the alarming and lamentable appearance of the streets of Newport, crowded with many hundreds of famishing Irish". The emotional impact the famine had on the escaping Irish was so great that they built a Famine Memorial in a Cardiff cemetery.

From 1841, the Irish kept coming to Wales, to reach a high point of almost 30,000 people by 1861 - a 344% increase. They settled primarily in the four largest South Wales towns - Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Merthyr.But not all Irish immigrants to Wales were poor and unskilled. Among the new arrivals were also doctors, businessmen and other members of the professional classes. As the population dwindled at home, they too had to look for opportunities elsewhere.

However, the arrival of the Irish caused tensions between neighbours, and led to Cardiff's very first race riot in 1848. Cardiff's first policeman Jeremiah Box Stockdale found the dead body of Welshman Thomas Lewis in Cardiff's Irish quarter, the area around Stanley Street. He had been brutally stabbed by Irishman John Conners.

Prior to this, in some quarters there'd long been a suspicion about the Irish - in earlier times there were rumours that the immigrant Irish sucked the blood of sheep, murdered children and ran "faster than any dog". In those days, Stanley Street was not a very inviting place to be in - it wasn't uncommon for over 50 people to occupy a single room. Catholic churches and homes were assaulted with some venom as Welsh mobs rampaged through these streets looking for Conners. In the end he was arrested at Pontypridd, found guilty of manslaughter, and shipped off to Botany Bay in Australia. At the funeral of the murdered man, Irish railway workers apparently lined these streets, armed with pickaxes, ready to protect the Irish against any further Welsh reprisals.
Source: BBC website

Museum Matters

The Exhibition set up in the museum by Mathew Evans Chairman of The Institute of Structural Engineers of the Cambria Branch Richard Dean Junior Vice Chairman. The talk given by them afterwards has stimulated a lot of interest in their subject especially the section on the

Burj Dubai which was the tallest building in the world in September 2007 and it is still not finished. The Institute is responsible for setting the exam standard for Structural Engineers which entails a 7 hour exam. Richard told me that for his graduation he was presented with a print of Crumlin Viaduct.

There is a chapter in our History 2000 book that I wrote on the viaduct this is an extract from it.

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Company, in order to get the iron and coal traffic from Merthyr and Dowlais to the Midlands, require a bridge over the Crumlin and Kendon valleys to link up with the TAFF line at Quakers Yard. The contract went to Kennard & Sons, in1853.

The first column was fixed in December 1853 by Lady Isabella Fitzmaurice and was afterwards known as ‘’’The Isabella Pier’’. A works was built on the Eastern end of the viaduct to fabricate bridge structure, this later became known as ‘’The Nut & Bolt Works’’.

The N. A. & H. R., laid a line with a gradient of 1 in 38 to connect with the Monmouthshire Railway at Llanhilleth and an incline plane was set up to deliver ironwork (wrought iron from Blaenafon, fabricated on site) from the viaduct works to the valley floor.

The cast iron tubes came by sea from the Kennard Works in Falkirk, and thence by canal or railway to Crumlin. The horizontal girders presented different problems; 150ft in length, each of which was 1/10 of the total length of the bridge, there were 10 to the main span and 3 in the span crossing the Kendon valley with 4 girders to each span, Fabricated on the valley floor, they were lifted into position by a steam winch.

Crumlin Viaduct

A gang of twenty men, paid £5 a day, two days making and preparing each girder for lifting, the third day was spent lifting and securing each girder. The first was lifted on December 3rd 1854, but the second collapsed and a man riding on it was killed . After this the girders were braced with timber until they were secured to the apex of their respective piers, there no more accidents and the last girder was lifted in December 1855.

The first train crossed in 1857, the bridge was a double track railway and the track was made of 6 inch Memel Timber, 26 feet long, when they rotted they were replaced by iron plates. It was replaced again in 1925; one track at a time, and an electric train token system was instituted on the line. 18 months later the process was reversed and the second half replaced, it took 3yrs to complete and at the end, single line working having proved so successful, it was retained until the viaduct was demolished in 1965.

£ 10,000 was spent on repairs on the viaduct and apart from the re-decking in 1866, this seems to be the only cost in 100yrs, 15 tons of paint was used at intervals of 5 to 7 years, first by contractors and then by railway painters. A speed limit of 8 mph was always in force with restrictions on the type of engines to use it. Special bearings were used on the stone abutments to allow for expansion. The expansion of the 1,050 foot length of the main structure, was measured at 7/16 of an inch, between 4am and 4pm on the 12thFebruary 1861 and on the 27th August 1861, it was 2 ¾ of an inch.

Before opening the viaduct, 6 heavy engines filled with pig iron with a combined weight of 300 tons were driven over it. Materials used in its construction were, 2,400 tons of ironwork, 30,000 cubic feet of timber and 11,000 cubic feet of masonry and the total cost was £62,000.

The viaduct was taken out of use in 1964 it was said that the cast iron tubular supports were rusting from Bear logothe inside out. Kennard built himself a house in Crumlin, which later became the Crumlin School of Mines. He spent some of his leisure time grouse shooting on the mountain above Cwmtillery and Blaenafon. On the first day of the season he accidentally shot his dog, he had a marker made of cast iron and transported it over the mountain to mark his grave. It is known locally as ‘’The Dog Stone’’.

The old bridge works at Crumlin, in addition to Crumlin Viaduct, built bridges over the Ebro at Alfonso in Spain, the Velletry near Rome, the Barrakur in India and also the Tees in South Durham.

Don Bearcroft Curator

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