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July 2013
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Lecture Programme

Inn signs have a long and fascinating history as we found out at the June lecture given by Mr Bob Trett.  Such signs can be seen in the ruins at Pompeii and on the Bayeux Tapestry.  The earliest signs showed a bush (vine) indicating the availability of wine while a stave signified an ale-house; many signs, of course, featured both symbols.  Mr Trett explained that many inn signs have a religious origin, examples being The Fountain, The Bull, and The Pelican.  Another major group of signs related in some way to royalty and Mr Trett’s reference to The Royal Oak – King Charles I hiding in an oak tree when pursued by Roundheads – struck a chord as it is the name of the local pub featured in our own Museum.  It is also the second most popular pub sign.  We learnt the origins of many more signs and the hour’s talk passed very quickly, with many of the audience then raising questions and comments.

The next talk will be at 2pm on Wednesday 3rd July at Abertillery & District Museum in Abertillery town centre.  The July speaker will be Monty Dart whose talk is entitled “The Story of the Hero of Newport Docks Disaster”.  Please come along; entry is £2 and tickets are available in advance at the Museum, or at the door (subject to availability).

Fund raising May – £200

Fund raising June – £206

100 Club June

No. 94             Dale Challenger           £25
No. 38             Penny Stockley           £10
No. 88             Matthew Price              £5

Diary Dates

16th June – 6th JulyAberfest, various events in the town

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

Wednesday 7th AugustNewport Transporter Bridge by Anne Gatehouse

Wednesday 4th SeptemberGarden Birdwatch by Mick Bailey

Wednesday 2nd October  (TBA) Robin Williams

Wednesday 6th November Stanley Spencer War Artist by Pete Strong

Poetry Corner


Trinant at the mountain top
Hardakers had the local shop
Joneses buses made the trip
Around the country roads they slip
Pentwyn Inn a pub of note
Or Trinant Club might get your vote
Glandwr lying down below
In the winter lots of snow
Farms were dotted all around
Barns and cattle often found
On Maggie’s Lane was Joneses place
The chickens all around would race
Then Pen y Fan the local pond
Of which the children all were fond
Families walked there with pride
To picnics at the waterside
And everybody had great fun
Up at Trinant in the sun.
Dagworth Orville Charters

Recent Acquisitions

A few examples -

Various military Newsletters including one covering the Coronation

War medals

Military tie

Framed pictures


Gwent Historian – Museum Society Newsletters 1973 - 1974


In the last Newsletter we mentioned the annual free history magazine called ‘Glo’ issued by Big Pit.  One of our Vice-Presidents, Mr Arthur Lewis O.B.E. has written an article which features in the latest edition of Glo.  In the article Mr Lewis recalls his connections with Big Pit over the years, from the time it was a working coal mine to more recent times including when he was interviewed by Melvyn Bragg for a television series.  If you haven’t been able to pick up a copy of ‘Glo’, you can read it on-line at

Local Voices

The Gaiety

Do you remember the Gaiety? It was actually built over the River Ebbw in Bridge Street. It was often flooded and was unique that ''upstairs ''was just a sloping continuation of ''downstairs''. All the other cinemas in Abertillery had proper stairs to ''upstairs''; the town had no lifts in those days.

When I was a child our wiping towels consisted of stiff natural coloured material which was purchased by the yard and hemmed top and bottom. I called it ''crash'' It was very rough and stiff which I hated but it did soften with continual laundering.

Then came pithead baths and every workman was given two proper fluffy towels and a bar of soap. These towels could also be purchased cheaply from the pithead baths by the miners who worked in that pit. How lovely to have proper towels to dry oneself with after the years of using those hard stiff wiping cloths.

I had a very happy childhood although quite poor materially. My Dad was a family man who put the family welfare before everything else. He had two allotments as well as a long garden to the front of our house.  One allotment was in Church Lane Cwmtillery and the other in Gelli Grug. He had 'green fingers 'and grew enough potatoes and carrots and parsnips to see us through the year.  He also grew cabbage, beans, peas, beetroot etc. I think we were probably self supporting with vegetables.  I remember one day my Mam said to my Dad ''Why don't you grow flowers like the other men?'' He replied. ''I do CAULIFLOWERS.''                                       
The Roving Reporter


I was not quite five years old at the time of the Coronation and so I doubt I had much idea of the significance of what was happening.  However, I remember seeing the Coronation and still recall what a big occasion it was to watch a television.  Very few people had televisions in those days.  A neighbour, Mr Coles, had a set and he invited several people to watch the Coronation on it.  I remember a small television with grainy black and white pictures of the coach carrying the queen.  The quality must have been dreadful by today’s standards but it was still an exciting day.
Jen Price 

‘Gwent Historian’

This was the name given to the early Newsletters of what was then known as ‘Abertillery Museum Society’.  The four copies issued in 1973 and 1974 have come to light in the Museum.  The first edition focussed on the Chartists, coinciding with a touring exhibition on the Chartist movement.  Below is a copy of an article by Mr W F Deasy which featured in the second Newsletter, September 1973.

The West Side Story

Cwmtillery has always been a community of two distinct settlements separated by the colliery – East Side and West Side.  After the sinking of the pit in 1850, Scotsmen, Irishmen and men from the Forest of Dean came to the homes which were being built as a result of the industrial development and they joined a community which was, of course, predominantly Welsh.

High Street, with its Company Shop where the workers and their families were compelled to make their purchases, pay office, police-constable’s house, and doctor’s house and surgery, was the centre of community life.  Later on, the colliery manager’s house was built in High Street and, as a symbol I suppose of his source of power, a large lump of coal was placed in front of it.

One of the managers used his power in such a way when he fixed the wages that he earned the title of “Johnny Dry Bread”.  When West Side developed, a group of families took the important step of establishing a co-operative store.  It was one of the first in the area, and a splendid example of community action.  When the Store was opened a representative of each of the pioneering families marked the occasion by making the first purchase of a particular commodity in order to symbolise the importance of what had happened.  One representative bought cheese, another sugar, and so on, and my own grandfather may have been setting a bad example, according to present-day propaganda, because he bought tobacco!

Families were also grouped when they baked bread – they had one oven between seven or eight homes, and they used it in turn in a strict rota.  If they missed their turn, there was no fresh bread for them that day!

Before the church and chapels were built community life centred around the West Side pub – the South Wales Inn – and its ‘Jug and Bottle’ department was a popular meeting-place for the women.  The first Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1892, but it was destroyed by subsidence and a new church was erected in 1913-14.            

Another landslide – in 1913 – destroyed ‘Ty Doctor’ farm and a company house.  Many of the West Side houses were built on Ty Doctor farmland and on land owned by ‘Ben Brecon’.  Part of it is the site of the children’s playing field in Gwernberthi Road.

The first of the Church of England  services were held in a company house near the colliery, and St Paul’s church was built in 1889.

Ration Chocolate

The History of Food Rationing     

With the outbreak of war in September 1930 the British government established the Ministry of Food under the experienced administrator Lord Woolton.  Food Defence Plans had been devised for some time identifying the essential requirements of the population and ration books had been printed.  People expected rationing to begin at once, but the months passed and still restrictions were not introduced.  The Cabinet was unsure whether the public would accept rationing and an opinion poll was carried out to gauge the likely reaction.  Yet as U-boat attacks began to reduce food imports, it became clear that without rationing the wealthy would be able to eat, while the poor would go hungry.  In January 1940 food rationing finally began.  Each family had to register with a shop or store and individuals were issued with their own books of ration coupons.  Meat, sugar, cheese, eggs and other foods were rationed by cost, weight and coupon points.  Wartime ration bars of chocolate were introduced when confectionery rationing began in July 1942.  Coupon points restricted weekly purchases to 3oz of confectionery per person.
Past Times

Remembering July 1916

On 7th July 1916, seven days into the battle of the Somme, the men of the 38th (Welsh) Division (known as Lloyd George’s Welsh Army) were directed to capture the formidable Mametz Wood, advancing suicidally uphill over open ground against sweeping machine gum and intense artillery fire.  The attacks, ending on 12th July, saw vicious hand-to-hand fighting and innumerable acts of courage but at a cost of over 4000 Welsh deaths and casualties.

The terrible events of those days are remembered in the Mametz memorial which comprises a sculpture of a Welsh dragon challenging the wood.  The memorial was erected just over twenty years ago following a public appeal.


The Rest Hotel Porthcawl

The Rest Hotel

Many people including Peggy and myself always thought the Rest Hotel was a Miners Rest Home. This much shortened history tells part of its story. The Hotel is under threat of closure at present due to financial problems. It is a Grade 2 Listed Building the exterior has an entrance porch and gables ornately carved from Welsh Oak. Inside are a magnificent Welsh Oak staircase and an ornately carved door in the corridor, only two of the 50 original fireplaces remain. To lose this magnificent building which is still functional would be a crime for our heritage and our history of the working class with benefactors from all classes.

Florence NightingaleOther people begin with a Prospectus, great names, a Secretary, a Public meeting, and a Castle in the air. You begin with a cottage, a few suffering people who alas number a great many, and your own noble personal exertions and wise and practical benevolence” Thus wrote Florence Nightingale to Charlotte Lewis, wife of Dr James Lewis, in November 1817- in response to a request for her advice on the design of a new convalescent home, which it was proposed to be built near Porthcawl.

The imposing dressed stone building which emerged from that scheme, and which still functions as The Rest Hotel today, is a monument to all those involved in its creation. The Rest was founded a decade earlier, in a more modest enterprise in a practical scheme for the relief of suffering which was the brainchild of the Doctor and his wife. James Lewis FRCS, MRCP. Born in 1871 at Michaelston-Super-Ely. The majority of his patients came from the industrial communities, his experience in treating the sick Dr James Lewisand injured ironworkers, colliers, quarrymen and their families convinced him of the need for a convalescent home for the working man and his dependants. He looked to the coast of Glamorgan and to the parish of Newton Nottage in Porthcawl, with its limestone downs, extensive bays, pure water and mild climate. The Doctor and his wife purchased, with the help of donations, three small cottages, and in 1862 opened their doors to a few of his patients. From this modest enterprise that The Rest was to grow and flourish, creating a home by the sea. The response from benefactors reinforced the Doctor’s conviction that the Convalescent Home met a genuine need; this encouraged him to launch an appeal throughout the county to landowners, ironmasters, colliery proprietors and the public at large. Plans were drawn up; the estimated cost was in the region of £14,700 to complete. This was exclusive of the cost of the furnishings. In January 1874 the site offered by Mr C.R.M Talbot of Margam was accepted, 10 acres of land overlooking the beautiful Rest Bay. The appeal for funds continued with efforts made by the Committee of Trustees. The original plans had to be scaled down, so only half the main block, together with kitchens, the cost just over £4,000 was built. The building was designed on a block system so it could be erected in stages. Work recommenced and in July of 1878 the new Rest received its first patients. Initially The Rest received only male patients, but with the completion of the Central Block, in 1893, women patients were also admitted. The building work continued with the West Wing being completed by 1901, making it possible to also accommodate children. Finally in 1909 the building was completed, with the addition of the East Wing providing an Assembly Hall and with more wards above. Today the East Wing serves as the Entrance Block, and the Board Room. The rules of the Rest for patients were strict, reflecting the Victorian and Edwardian era. At the end of 1915, the premises were at the disposal of the St John’s Ambulance Association as an Auxiliary War Hospital it continued in this role for the remainder of the Great War almost 2,500 casualties from the Britain and the Commonwealth forces received treatment there. At the end of 1939 the military authorities again requisitioned The Rest for the duration of the war. The Rest has also had Bear Logoto change, Dormitories have now given way to stylish and beautifully furnished, twin and single en-suite rooms, spacious comfortable lounges, a Lounge Bar, Cafe and even a Shop all of which are now among the facilities enjoyed by all who stay at The Rest Hotel.


Don Bearcroft, Curator.


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