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June 2013
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Lecture Programme

‘Cwmcarn Dam Disaster’ was the title of Abertillery Museum’s May lecture, given by Mr Tony Jukes. Cwmcarn Dam held water to feed the Monmouthshire Canal; the dam wall was 40 feet high and 20 feet wide, holding back a considerable body of water. The reservoir, built in 1798, fell into disuse once the canal itself ceased to be a major transportation link from about 1828. Without regular maintenance, the clay and earth dam was subject to failure and this is what happened on the night of 14 th July 1875 following a day of exceptionally heavy rainfall. The flood of water overwhelmed buildings downstream and killed twelve people – the worst canal dam failure ever recorded in terms of loss of life. Traces of the dam can still be seen alongside the road to Cwmcarn Scenic Drive.

The next talk will be at 2pm on Wednesday 5 th June at Abertillery & District Museum in Abertillery town centre. The June speaker will be Bob Trett whose talk is entitled “Inn Signs” – a chance to learn more about the intriguing stories behind some of our pub signs.

Please come along but please also note that in order to ensure we have enough room, numbers will be limited to 25. Tickets are available in advance, or at the door - £2; the lectures are held in the Museum and start at 2pm.  

Coffee Morning 29th June

The theme for this event is ‘Holiday Time’ and you are invited to bring along any unusual holiday items you may have, and take part in a postcard quiz. Can you please help by bringing some postcards into the Museum in advance. Tickets are £1 – a modest sum for tea, cake and a bundle of fun. We will also have a sale table and would be grateful for donations of quality items and crafts and, of course, cakes.


This event is spread over several weeks, with lots going on in the town. The Museum will have a stall at one or more of the events and would be grateful for volunteers to man it. Please contact Peggy Bearcroft if you can help.

Diary Dates

Wednesday 5th June Inn Signs by Bob Trett

16th June – 6th July Aberfest, various events in the town

Saturday 22nd June Aberfest Fair outside the Museum

Saturday 29th June Coffee morning – Holiday Time with unusual objects (please bring yours along) and a postcard quiz. Tickets £1

Sunday 30th June Six Bells Pit Party

Wednesday 3rd July The Story of the Hero of Newport Docks Disaster by Monty Dart

Wednesday 7th August Newport Transporter Bridge by Anne Gatehouse

Wednesday 4th September Garden Birdwatch by Mick Bailey

Wednesday 2nd October ( TBA) Robin Williams

Wednesday 6th November Stanley Spencer War Artist by Pete Strong

100 Club May

Sorry, the May Newsletter printed the May winners instead of the April winners. There is a list of winners in the Museum.

Thank you

Our volunteers work in all sorts of ways to help the Museum. Rose Smith is a regular volunteer at the Museum but as well as her regular ‘job’ of looking after the photo archive, she also knits to raise money for various charities. Rose knitted hundreds of ‘Wales’ jumpers as egg cosies, and kindly donated £25 from those sales towards Museum funds.

Holiday Guide 1949

Rose Smith also brought a copy of this guide by British Railways for the London Midland Region. Here are a few extracts.

Go abroad to the Isle of Man!

You can have all the complete change of the continent there without having to trouble about passports, customs formalities or currency restrictions. The Isle of Man is a little world in itself containing everything the holiday maker can desire.  

Sleeping Cars

A popular feature of long-distance overnight travel is the provision on the principal trains of both First and Third Class Sleeping Cars.

First Class – First Class salons, which have been specially treated for sound-proofing, have single-berth compartments, arranged for inter-communication if desired. The furnishing and equipment is of the highest standard, the lighting, heating and ventilation being under the individual control of the traveller whose comfort is looked after by an experienced attendant; the latter will, if desired, provide early morning tea.

Third Class – Third Class sleeping cars run on certain trains between England, Scotland and Wales, and vice versa. They are of the latest corridor type having a vestibule at each end. Each vestibule has a lavatory and a toilet compartment fitted with the necessary appointments. Access to the car is made by doors in the vestibules; in this way passengers are not disturbed in their various compartments. Each car has seven compartments, which are fitted with four sleeping berths, two upper and two lower. The berths are approximately six feet long and two feet wide, have well-sprung mattresses covered with light fawn velvet, and make an exceedingly comfortable bed.

A combined table and ladder gives access to the upper berths, which have two safety straps. The compartments are amply illuminated, and on switching off the white light, a blue night-light immediately operates, so that the compartment is never in complete darkness. Net racks, hat and coat hooks, and mirrors are supplied for the convenience of passengers, and above the door there is a shelf for luggage.

Holiday Time

The summer is approaching with holidays beckoning. The previous article had a holiday theme, as does our Coffee Morning on 29 th June. Please let us have your holiday memories – write in or email, or give me a ring on 01633 482851. Before my father had a car, we travelled by train to go on holiday. The suitcases would be packed and sent ahead to Brighton or Bournemouth or wherever we were going that year – a facility advertised in the British Railways Holiday Guide. I remember the carriages with individual doors into the compartments (and no access to a toilet other than at the start and end of the journey). The seats were covered in a type of maroon coloured plush material which was very itchy on a child’s bare legs. The carriages always had photographs of seaside towns and other attractive destinations, and net racks for luggage and hats. The windows were opened and closed by way of a leather strap with holes to adjust the extent to which the windows were opened. They were usually kept shut to keep out smuts. I seem to recall you had to open the window in order to reach out and open the handle on the carriage. Oh the excitement of it all! Jen Price

Recent Acquisitions

A few examples:

Various church magazines

War medals

1953 calendar

Sheet music circa 1950

Did You Know?

The first ever million dollar cheque was raised on a consignment of Welsh coal for the American Navy, shipped from Cardiff.  

Poetry Corner

‘For the Cause’

Where are the ones that ran away,
Where are the ones with feet of clay,
Where are the ones that called us fool,
Where is their propaganda tool.

Where are the ones that crossed the line,
Where are the ones that we call swine,
Where are the ones that took their gold,
Where they should be, out in the cold.

We are the backs that dug the coal,
We are the men that face the dole,
We have the hearts that do not break,
We are the line that did not break.

We are afraid our towns might die,
We heard our valleys’ plaintive cry,
We were united by their plea,
We took the loss of liberty.

I was a cause before a vote,
I was defiance in a throat,
I was a skull split to the bone,
I was a sinner all alone.

I am a fact for all to see,
I am a page in history,
I’m not an ailing failing pound,
I am a man that stood my ground.

Shauna Jones

A miner’s son living in Abergavenny, wrote this poem and sent it to the Lodge Secretary in Crumlin in March 1985. Mr Jones described it as ‘a tribute to the struggle of human dignity over economic policy’.  


By Dorothy Margaret Stuart
Who are you my little man?
Sitting woebegone and wan,
With your little bundle by your side,
Waiting for the tide?
You're very young to go to sea,
I wonder what your fate will be
Fever or Shot or Captain's Sword
Or, ''Midshipman Overboard''
Be not dismayed, lift up your head.
There's an apple for you and some ginger-bread,
Now boy, who did you say you were?
Horatio Nelson, sir.

Nelson joined the navy in 1770 aged just 12 to join a ship commanded by his uncle. His uncle was absent when he arrived and Nelson sat most of the day cutting a forlorn little figure on the quay until a kindly naval officer took pity on him. This inspired the above poem.


This year is the 30 th Anniversary of Big Pit which is celebrating with a variety of special events including:

April – August Antique Trinkets and Defunct Machinery Exhibition looking at the demise of heavy industry in Wales and the rise of the ‘industrial museum’.

22nd July – 2nd August Miners’ Fortnight – Sea, Sand and Coal Dust involving a variety of family activities

Saturday 27th July Gala Day.  

Big Pit has also recently launched the 2013 edition of its annual history publication – Glo. This is part of an ongoing project at Big Pit to collect and publish stories from people with some involvement in the coal industry. The 2013 edition, which is free of charge, features the stories of 21 former workers at Big Pit, both as a mine and a Museum.  

Mr Arthur Lewis O.B.E. has also pointed out that 2013 is the centenary of the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines (later a Polytechnic and then University of Glamorgan). It opened in October 1913 in a house in Treforest formerly owned by the Crawshay family. In its first year there were 17 mining diploma students, including 3 from China. The school was initially owned and funded by the major Welsh coal owners . A sister school opened for part-time students at Crumlin Hall which later became the Crumlin Mining and Technical College. Crumlin Hall was previously the home of Thomas Kennard, the man awarded the contract to build the Crumlin Viaduct. In 1927 HM Inspectors commended the work of the School of Mines and noted that research of national importance was being undertaken into the application of science to industry and, crucially, having in mind the causes of so many mining disasters, an investigation of explosions due to coal dust.

Whitsun Walks

Do you remember these? I remember that for many girls it was the first time the new ‘posh frock’ was worn, hopefully on a sunny day rather than covered with a plastic mac. It was also a day when you hoped those new (or newish) shoes would be comfortable over what could be quite a long walk before arriving at the destination chapel for tea. Tea always included tinned fruit, evaporated milk, bread and butter, cake and squash. I always hated bread and butter with the fruit. Jen Price


Don & Peggy go walkabout

Due to problems with my right arm and left leg I will have to give up driving my car. After reading the Serenity Prayer I looked back on my life and the places we have walked and visited, remembered mostly with humorous anecdotes.

Grey Hill & Wentwood

Wentwood DrawingThe museum society used to go on field trips organised and led by Dr Madeline Grey. A memorable walk with her was to the stone circle on Grey Hill; the ascent is very steep so Peggy and I had stopped to catch our breath when Mr Morgan who was over 80 passed us remarking “Nice Day”. On reaching the top Dr Grey showed us the stone outrider leading to the circle explaining it as being conglomerate rock. An elderly lady from another society whacking it with her walking stick remarked “it looks like concrete to me!”

Blackwood pillow mounds and long house platforms

Another walk with Dr Grey was over the mountain from Blackwood to Cross-keys. On the way Dr Grey pointed out the sites of ancient long houses and also the pillow mounds dug to help rabbits dig their burrows. Rabbits were an important source of food during winter. The same elderly lady prodding the sites said “looks as if someone has been digging for coal to me.

Manmoel Argoed ironworks and Cows

A walk from Oakdale to Argoed, Manmole and up to Pen-y-Fan Pond, on the way Dr Grey told us that she had arranged with the farmer to go through his farmyard to reach the old iron foundry site. As we approached the cowshed Dr Grey went ahead to see the farmer who was milking his cows. There was a loud yell followed by curses that can’t be repeated. The cow being milked had kicked the farmer off his milking stool and the pail of milk was all over the floor. I think now is not the best time to be introduced to him, remarked Dr Grey! It was a very hot day and on the way up to Manmoel we stopped for a break and lunch. I found what looked like a green grassy site to sit on. Unfortunately for me it turned out to be an ant’s nest! I let the others go ahead and then dropped my pants to try and get rid of the ants that were biting furiously at my rear end.

Tunnel drawingBob Pitt and I used to take our dogs over the mountain visiting and searching sites in which we were interested one of these was Garndyrus ironworks on the Blorenge Mountain. We walked along the tram road from the works site to the short tunnel and as it was hot sat down to take in the view, at this moment a large car stopped on the tar mark road and a noisy group of American tourists disembarked from it. As they approached Bob and I started to bleat like sheep!” Don’t take any notice of us shouts Bob, “we are redundant miners put out to grass”. The tourists embarked in their car and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Peggy and I climbed the Sugarloaf , it was a clear day, the view was fantastic, and while we stood by the trig point we heard the sound of approaching jet aircraft. Two low flying alpha jet trainers flew past, we were looking down on them clearly seeing the two pilots in both, we waved to them and they waved back! We also walked Clydach Gorge iron works and Smarts Bridge. The reconstructed bridge has plates that were cast in Abertillery Foundry.

Iron Bridge Drawing

We also stayed at Mitchel Troy Caravan Park, walking up to Trellech and Harold’s Stones. Between Trellech and Mitchel Troy is the site of the battle between Owen Glendower and the Normans.

Harold's Stones Drawing

I also went on County arranged guided walks, I remember one up the Skirrid Mountain I found going up hard work and told the tail end warden you best shoot me!.” Come on, we have not lost a walker yet!” he replied. It was a different matter on the way down being used to our mountains I passed them all, jumping from tump to tump.

Llanerch Colliery pit siteThe Llanerch Colliery pit site. It was 8.45 am on Thursday February 6 th 1890 that the disaster occurred which caused the deaths of 176 men & boys. I searched for this site eventually coming to iron gates barring my way up to Abersychan and Tyrpentys which I knew was near the site. Taking my pathfinder map I climbed the gate and proceeded up the road. I stood on a mound of rubble to get my bearings and found that I was actually standing on the capping of the shaft. I could not see a marker so I wrote the event on a nearby stone. When I returned home I entered the walk in my diary and was amazed to see that it was February 6 th the same date as the disaster.

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Don Bearcroft Curator

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