Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum
Saturday 10th June – Talk and Book Signing followed by viewing of paintings by Roger Cecil, start 11.30am, £3.
Saturday 1st July – Aberfest (the museum will be putting on an event)
Sunday 23rd July – Open Day at Clytha Park (the museum will have a stall)
Saturday 9th September – Open Day at the museum
September – Ralph Robinson Memorial Lecture (date to be fixed)
You will see from the Diary Dates that the museum is involved in Aberfest and in the Open Day at Clytha Park in July. We need volunteers to help man our stall and we also need good items of bric a brac to sell alongside our ‘official’ museum display goods. As ever, these events are important for us, both to raise much needed funds and to advertise the museum. Please help!
Fundraising May - £159
May 100 Club
No.31 Jean Liddington £20
No.84 Corinne Taylor £10
No.19 Huw Bearcroft £5
The Museum Society’s Annual Lunch took place in mid-May at Ty Ebbw Fach, Six Bells. As always, it was very successful with an enjoyable meal, a talk by Meg Gurney on The Guardian statue, and a quiz set by Sharon and Dale. A big thank you to Peggy and her helpers for all their hard work in organising the event.
Peggy Bearcroft – our longstanding Chairman and a familiar figure at the museum.
We extend a warm welcome to Lucy Harding and Greg York who recently signed up as Vice Presidents. We hope they will become familiar faces at the museum.
The Whitsun Walks coffee morning was an enjoyable event which brought back many memories and was an opportunity for people to see some of the photos from our archives. A big thank you to Margaret Cook for her skilful presentation of the talk which brought newspaper reports and personal memories very much to life..
The first Newsletter we have in our files is dated February 1995 and it is interesting to see just how things have changed in the intervening years The February edition comprised just one page (plus a separate book review). Here it is:
"Welcome to our Spring programme of meetings, and a particular welcome back to Mr Selwyn and Mr Robinson who had some health problems back in the winter. Tonight we have Mr Gerallt Nash from the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans, and next month (6th March) we have Mr Bill Gascoigne who will give us an illustrated talk on the spectacular caves to be found in the locality.
Looking ahead to field trips, Dr Gray has arranged a car-based trip in the Margam area on Saturday 20th April, starting at Kenfig Visitors Centre at 10.00a.m. On to May and Judy Phipps has arranged for us to visit Penhow Castle on Saturday 18th May (cost £3.15); there will be a bus if enough people are interested, and a pub lunch. Judy cannot be at tonight's meeting but if you are interested in the Penhow trip please contact her or give your name to Mrs Enid Dean (Mrs Dean will also collect any foil and stamps you may have brought along this evening).
If you thought there wouldn't be another book launch for a long while you are in for a pleasant surprise - our Curator, Don Bearcroft, has collaborated with Simon Eckley to produce a new book on the "Voices of Abertillery, Aberbeeg and Llanhilleth". Don has prepared the attached review which explains more about how he came to write the book, which will be launched in April and which will doubtless be popular".
Move on to October 1995 and the Newsletter notes that the Society has plans to visit Tredegar Park House, Penhow and Abergavenny in the months ahead as well as news of the monthly lecture programme we were able to sustain in those days. The President at that time, Mr Arthur Lewis (who sadly died last summer) was standing down as he was moving to live near his son, Mr Bernard Jones was re-elected Treasurer (a post he still holds) and 500 copies of the new book had been sold.
As at the end of 1995 the museum was still housed in the room below the library but things were about to change as you will find out in next month's Newsletter when we will take a look at Museum business in 1996.
Subscriptions for members (£6) and Vice Presidents (£25) were due at the beginning of the year so if you haven’t already paid, can you please renew your memberships – we value your interest (and your money).
Book Signing Saturday 10th June
We hope you will come along to the special event at the museum on Saturday 10th June at 11.30 am – the launch of a new book by Peter Wakelin, art critic with The Guardian newspaper, about local artist Roger Cecil who never courted fame or fortune but nevertheless was an artist of international renown. Peter Wakelin refers to him as “Abertillery’s Secret Artist”.
Roger Cecil made headlines in February 2015 when his body was found in a field near Cwmbran. Police had issued an appeal two days earlier when a 72-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s went missing from a hospital at Newport, South Wales. Searches involved a helicopter and 50 police officers with dogs. The subsequent inquest found he had died of hypothermia while trying to walk the 16 miles to his home at Abertillery through a winter night.
None of the initial publicity mentioned that Roger Cecil was an artist but it soon became apparent that this was one of the greatest painters Wales had produced. Now his legacy is celebrated with an exhibition and a new biography, Roger Cecil: A Secret Artist. Author, Peter Wakelin, will give an illustrated talk at the book launch and some of Roger Cecil’s original paintings will be on show. (Entrance £3 in aid of the museum.)
Mabon the Cat and Angharad and Me, 1990-5
Jeanette Fulton is a name you may have noticed in this newsletter in past editions, listed as a Vice President, and you may have wondered who she was. Well in fact she was an American, who never visited this museum but who very kindly left $5000 to the museum in her Will. Why would someone from across the Atlantic be so generous you may ask…?
Museum member Vera Smith and my mother the late Betty Wayne, while still in school, were given the opportunity to have pen friends from across ‘the pond’. They both started corresponding with twins from Mississippi, USA called Jeanette and Annette.
In the early 1950’s Jeanette and Annette along with a girl friend, came to visit my mother and Vera in Abertillery.
The photo shows, from left, Jeanette, my mother Betty, Jeanette’s sister Annette and my mother’s young nephew, taken outside 44 Evelyn Street.
Annette went on to Marry Charles (Chuck) Mckenney and they moved to Delaware and had two daughters, Rhonda, and Keva while Jeanette married CB Fulton (he was always known as ‘CB’) and they remained childless.
Here you can see Jeanette (second from left), my mother (centre) and next to her Vera Smith. Photo taken during the same visit in the early 1950’s.
When I was a child, every year at Christmas, a large box would arrive from Jeanette with gifts for all the family. In the late 1960’s Jeanette came to visit again. This photo was taken in the back garden of our home in Gelli Crug Road and shows Jeanette, my mother, my sister and me holding our dog Candy!
When hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi on 29th August 2005, Jeanette and CB had a very lucky escape. They had recently moved to an apartment where, apart from some damage to their motor vehicle due to falling branches and a loss of power for several days, they escaped unscathed. Their previous home, however, was completely destroyed by the hurricane!
Vera and my mother (and my father after my mother’s death) continued to correspond with both sisters and, with the advent of the museum newsletter, Vera decided to include a copy of the newsletter with her letters. Jeanette must have found the museum newsletters of interest because, when Jeanette passed away, around I believe 2012, she left $5000 US dollars to the museum she had never visited!
The money was well spent providing an extra display case (presently used for warfare items) which was badly needed and which the museum had previously been unable to afford.
The articles, such as the one above, written by local residents, are the features which our readers say they most enjoy in our monthly Newsletter. Please let us have your memories. If you don’t want to put pen to paper yourself, let me know and we can arrange for someone to write up an article for you. Here is a wealth of material out there, let’s hear from you.
The Kings (Queens) Highway
During the Local Council Elections the potholes in our roads were highlighted. In the eighteenth century it was difficult for farmers to have communication with others in distant parts. Henry Homer, a clergyman, who lived in Warwickshire, wrote: Few people cared to encounter the difficulties which attended the conveyance of goods from the places where they were manufactured to the markets where they were to be sold. Those who undertook this business were only enabled to do it in the winter season on horseback, or, if in carriages, by winding deviations from the regular tracks.
In 1730, George II and his queen, when coming from Kew Gardens to St. James's, were overturned at Parsons Green, the wind having blown out the coachman's torches. In 1663 the first Turnpike Act was passed, whereby companies were allowed to take charge of a portion of road and charge tolls for its upkeep. These turnpike trusts did little to improve the roads, because no one had a real knowledge of how a road should be made. There were many turnpike companies on one road, they collected the tolls, but many of them carried out no repairs. Some roads were shaped like a barrel, with a high causeway in the centre, sloping away on either side. Others were made high at the sides and hollow in the middle, which was filled with sand. In wet weather this became a mass like pudding. A hole would be filled by a bundle of broom or heather; and mud from the ditches would be thrown on to the road; and into this would be shot a cartload of great unbroken stones.
A traveller Arthur Young, in 1770, measured ruts "four feet deep and floating with mud only from a wet summer." He says The turnpike road from Chepstow to Newport was " full of hugeous stones, as big as one's horse, and abominable holes." The roads in Essex were but narrow lanes, “where a mouse could barely pass a carriage," and they were often choked by strings of chalk waggons stuck fast in the mud, from which they could only be extricated by thirty or forty horses.
In 1746, a duke who was going from London to Sussex, sent word that people who knew the holes and bogs should come to meet his Grace with lanterns and long poles to help him on his way. Most country roads were mere lanes, impassable in winter, these lanes were narrow and winding, and the bells on the horses were not only for ornament, but were necessary as a warning in the days when two teams could not pass each other. The roads were so bad that, in 1736 in London the Queen was advised to live at St. James's, because at Kensington she was divided from her ministers by an “impassable sea of mud."
The farmers used wagons with very broad wheels, drawn by eight horses. But for goods which had to be carried far, pack-horses were used. Long strings of these animals could be seen crossing the country. The turnpike roads were slowly being improved even at this time, but no real progress was made until the end of the eighteenth century. The stage wagon was the usual mode of travelling and sending goods they travelled all over England, wherever roads were possible. A few passengers were poked amongst the goods and were carried very cheaply. For those who could afford it, there were the stage coaches, which could travel about forty miles a day near London, and twenty miles a day in the north of England. Even in London the streets were very badly paved, although they were becoming a little better than in Tudor times, when everyone who could went by river. The coaches were heavy and strong to stand the wear and tear, but for passengers, the journey was uncomfortable even torture. The London streets were paved with "kidney shaped stones," with an open "kennel," or gutter, at the sides, a coach journey was a great trial. People were beginning to use the “hackney coaches" instead of the boats on the river. The watermen grumbled about their loss of custom, and one of them, called the water-poet, wrote: “The first coach was a strange monster; it amazed both horse and man. Some said it was a great crab shell brought out of China. Never land hath endured more trouble than ours by the continued rumbling of these upstart four-wheeled tortoises."
When vehicles moved so slowly and were often upset, they became easy objects of attack by highwaymen, who rode good horses and were well armed. These highwaymen were often brutal and cowardly, they stopped at nothing to get what they wanted. A good description of one: you needs must take particular notice of, that plucked out a pair of pocket pistols, and laid them in the window, who had a great scar across his forehead, a twisted wig, and laced hat on. The company called him captain; he's a man of considerable reputation fears no man in the world but the hang man; and dreads no death but choking. Acquainted with the Ostlers about Bishops gate Street, and Smithfield getting intelligence from them of what stage coaches go out.
Don Bearcroft, Curator.