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July 2015
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Diary Dates

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

Ongoing – Salvation Army Exhibition

Saturday 4th July – Aberfest.  The Museum will be joining in the activities.  Weather permitting there will be a bouncy castle and a museum stall in the car park adjoining the Museum and refreshments inside.  We need people to help that day so please let Peggy know if you can come along for a while.  Donations of cakes would also be much appreciated.

Tuesday 18th AugustCream tea morning and musical entertainment  Price £2.50

SeptemberCoffee morning – more details next month.

Raffle prizes needed!

If you have any items we can use for raffle prizes, please drop them off at the Museum.

Aberfest Saturday 4th July

Please come along for fun and games both inside and outside the museum.  As you can imagine, we need a number of people to be available throughout the day to man the museum, museum stall, café, raffle etc and so if you can spare a couple of hours your help would be much appreciated.  This is an opportunity to showcase the museum to the townspeople so let’s make the most of that opportunity.

Tuesday morning 18th August – Cream Tea

Something different for your diary!  Come along  to the museum for strawberries and cream and cream scones.  We also hope to have some live musical entertainment and so it should be a very enjoyable morning.  Please try to come along and bring a friend.

Fundraising June

June 100 Club

No. 59              Mike Purchase             £20
No. 44             Siân Price                     £10
No. 67             Sharon Saunders          £5

Get Well Wishes

A number of our Museum Society Members are in hospital or convalescing.  We all hope you will soon be fully well and we look forward to seeing you at the museum before too long. 

New Acquisitions

Mrs Mary Howarth recently donated some interesting items to the museum.  They included a gold coloured tin which had belonged to her father in law, who had lived in Yorkshire and who had been a soldier in the First World War.  These tins, which bore the Queen’s head, had contained cigarettes and were sent out to the troops.  We are very grateful to Mrs Howarth for her donations which make a valuable addition to the museum’s collection of military items.

Gwent Local History Journal Spring 1995

‘Boyhood Memories of Aberbeeg’ by Howard Robinson

To people driving down the Ebbw Valley, Aberbeeg barely encourages a glance.  The new roads carry the vehicles smoothly and efficiently through the village.  Yet not so many years ago, it was the epitome of a South Wales valley village.  It had everything and deserves to be remembered.
First memories of Aberbeeg are of whiteness and the huge snows of 1947.  Looking through my bedroom window, I remember my father battling drifts eight feet high to make his way down the ‘banking’.  We lived in part of a conglomeration of dwellings set into the mountainside and surrounded by rough grass and silver birch.  The houses were known in later years as ‘Peats’ houses.   

Our home was two up and two down, and we had the proverbial blacklead grate and a scrubtop table.  The houses are no more.  Their remains lie behind and under the huge supporting walls of the new road to Warm Turn.

As conditions became worse in ‘47, the adults talk was of bread, bread and more bread.  The village, to my knowledge, boasted three bakeries.  One was situated at Old Woodland Terrace and was called Joe Day’s Bakehouse, another at Thomas’ shops on the top road from ‘Lan’ (never Llanhilleth to Aberbeeg people), and the other about sixty yards to the south of the present flyover – Kibby’s Bakery.  I was sometimes sent to Thomas’ shop.  Compared to today there was very little traffic and it certainly wasn’t as aggressive as it seems today.

Certain things I recall about that shop – the rows of glass-topped biscuit tins.  Biscuits (as many will know, and many will not) were not sold in packets but were weighed on scales, as were most things in the late forties and fifties.  I remember the wooden floor liberally strewn with sawdust and the sacks of sugar out of which was scooped the amount required, put into a royal blue paper bag, and weighed.

On the way back from my errand, I would call into a little shop opposite the Hanbury Hotel.  It was known to everyone as ‘Uncle Lou’s’.  If I had a halfpenny, which was the usual change from my sixpence-a-day school dinner money, I would often buy either a block of sherbert, or an Oxo cube which I would crumble and eat on the way home.

Behind Uncle Lou’s, which overlooked the packhorse bridge, which happily still exists, there was a barber’s shop.  Mr Jones looked like the proverbial barber.  He never rushed, this master of his craft.  He peered over his glasses, carrying out his day’s work at a comfortable, enjoyable pace, more akin to the shire horse than to the blustering tractor, and that is the way it was.

At the centre of Aberbeeg was the brewery, Webb’s Welsh Ales, and, at the front of it, the Hanbury Hotel.  In my mind, I was able to use this pub before its ‘oldness’ was ripped out – before the brass and copper, and the old smokers’ chairs and the mahogany bars were replaced with plastic and polystyrene, Formica and chipboard.

The other pub in the valley was situated about 150 yards to the north, at the entrance to a small narrow side valley called Cwmbeeg Dingle.  The meeting of the brook which flows down the dingle and the River Ebbw gives the name Aberbeeg.  The pub was called The Ivorites after a friendly society of the Victorian period.  It was demolished to make way for the re-routing of the Cwm to Aberbeeg road.  My parents often took us there and we would sit outside in the summer sunshine, the corners of our mouths burning from the salty, greasy, scrumptious crisps, and then a sip from a lemonade that actually contained essences of lemons.

Some of the children at that time were quite skilled at catching trout, not with a rod and line but with their hands.  I was never clever enough, but a loan of my little three-wheeler bike was used as full payment for a trout dinner.  Those of us not skilled enough to catch trout would go for bullheads, again in the Cwmbeeg brook.  They proved quite easy to catch, but being only two to three inches long they were never eaten.  I wonder if there are bullheads there now, and if small boys venture to catch them.
Deep in a cleft that forms the valley from Aberbeeg to Abertillery, wide enough at its bottom for a street and a small river, my grandfather kept a shop. It was a ‘front room’ shop at New Woodland Terrace and was started out of necessity during the hard days of the depression.  It looked no different to the other houses, except that to the left of the doorway was an enamel ‘Tizer the Appetizer’ sign.  My grandfather’s name was Charles Wilde.

Many a Saturday morning I would accompany him to the railway station. As we made our way there, we pushed a large wooden home-made barrow.  Once at our destination, we loaded our vehicle with produce that had been delivered by train, and then, with caulies and sacks of this and that overhanging our sideless barrow, we struggled back to the shop.    To be continued next month

Local Voices

When I was a child Abertillery had an annual SHOPPING WEEK.  The shops all dressed their windows in a very appropriate way.  The butchers hung a whole pig,  legs tied at the top as the focal point in their window.  Fruiterers dressed their windows artistically with pyramids of oranges  or apples. I particularly remember Joseph and Falkman the furniture shop. Their window was elaborately dressed as a posh bedroom scene. There would be a beautifully negligee-attired lady complete with make up on a table. There was always a carnival. I remember one float throwing out sachets of face powder, it was about the size of 2 postage stamps. I was lucky enough to catch one of these and never opened it. I kept it in my treasure box for many many years.
The Roving Reporter

Poetry Corner

‘Abertillery Museum’
A dusty room                                                       
Vibrant with echoes                                                  
Of our town’s past

Here the Celtic warrior                                          
Forever battles                                                                  
His Roman foe

The weary miner                                                          
Coughs quietly in                                                                        
A stone floored kitchen                                                
His future as black                                                            
As the coal face 

Eyes stare back at us                                                    
from faded photos

Beseeching us


To remember them

Simon Campbell

Book Corner

‘Gwalia Patagonia’ by Jon Owen, published by Gomer Press, price £14.99.  This newly published book has received good reviews.  The book is described as part history, part oral history and it traces the steps of the first Welsh settlers in Patagonia some 150 years ago.  Along the way we meet legendary giants, Andean condors, devil spirits and chapel worshippers with a great sentiment for a homeland most have never seen.  The book goes on to recount how the descendants of the first settlers view their history.


I am sure I am not the only one who enjoys looking around graveyards.  On a walk recently near Merthyr we passed the churchyards at Vaynor.  There are two churchyards.  One is attached to the ruins of the church which was rebuilt in about the 13th century.  It is very overgrown but on a sunny day it looked quite picturesque with tombstones poking through the grass and flowers.  On a dark winter’s day it would probably look quite eerie.  The other churchyard adjoins the ‘new’ church built in the 19th century.  The most famous tombstone is that of Robert Thompson Bailey known as the ‘Iron King’. It comprises a huge slab of sandstone said to weigh ten tons, bearing the enigmatic words “God Forgive Me”. 
Another tombstone records the death in 1923 of 69 year old Thomas Morgan who was described as a ‘hairdresser’.  It is quite unusual in these parts for someone’s trade or profession to be noted on their gravestone and we also wondered if being a hairdresser was an unusual job for a man at that time.  Or was he what we would now think of as a barber?  Intriguing.

On the same gravestone were the following lovely words to a woman named Catherine Jane Pembridge who died in 1905 at the young age of 23.  The tender verse suggests she was much loved by her husband:

Warm summer sun
Shine kindly here
Warm southern wind
Blow softly here
Green sod above
Lie light, lie light
Good night, dear heart
Good night

Summer Memories

What do you remember about your summer holidays of years ago?  You must have some good tales to tell so please send them in, it’s what our readers most like to see in the Newsletter.  I remember as a child travelling by train to Brighton or wherever, our large suitcase being sent on ahead for collection.  And I remember the pit ponies, wearing blinkers, up from Cwmtillery pit in the miners’ holidays, spending a couple of weeks in a field for a change.


The Blitz in Wales

The Second World War witnessed the development of technology and, in particular aircraft that could travel greater distances and target both industrial and civilian populations for aerial bombardment.

The Spanish Civil War in 1937 had seen this practised to devastating effect in the Basque town of Guernica.  The German Air Force or Luftwaffe as an ally of the nationalist Spanish government targeted the town on its market day.  The tactic that became a strategy used in World War II was termed terror bombing.  Its intention was to devastate morale to the extent that the bombed civilian population would surrender.

The bombing of Britain in the Second World War focused heavily on London with the capital constantly targeted throughout most of 1940 and 1941.  The captured records from the German armed forces do not reveal a great deal of targets in Wales.

The ports of Cardiff and Swansea and their surrounding civilian populations received the greatest amount of attention from the Luftwaffe and it was in the first two months of 1941 that these towns were targeted along with Bristol.

In Cardiff 33,000 homes were damaged with over 500 demolished and 355 civilians were killed.  Swansea suffered the most intense attack in a three night period in February 1941in which half of the buildings in the town centre were destroyed.  30,000 bombs were dropped in that three night period, 575 business premises were destroyed, 282 houses demolished and over 11,000 damaged.  227 civilians were killed, 37 of them under the age of 16.  The organisation Mass Observation used diarists to chart the effects of the war on civilian morale.  One such diarist noted that when he asked one Swansea woman the whereabouts of her husband at the height of the February blitz she replied, “he’s in the army, the coward”.

However, the bombing was not restricted to Wales’ major cities.  Ordinance factories, oil installations, mining towns and even rural communities were bombed.  At times, these were planned and at others it seemed to be bombers just eager to lose their cargo for the journey home.  For example, Caernarfonshire witnessed five deaths largely because it was on the flight path for Liverpool docks.  In April 1941, 27 were killed in Cwmparc in the Rhondda including six children of whom four were refugees.

When I was researching my dissertation many years ago now, I examined the impact of aerial bombardment on civilian morale and spent two weeks researching in the Public Records Office in Kew Gardens just outside London.  The documents seized from the German forces at the end of the war reveal a precise plan of all of the targets of military and industrial value in Britain.

Although Abertillery was not a focus of my study as it was never targeted, I decided to look up whether our town was mentioned in the records at all.  Indeed, it was and the only target recorded in the records was the tin works.  The records revealed that they were seen as having the potential to be converted to weapons manufacture. 

However, Abertillery would have made a difficult target due to its surrounding mountains as 1940s bombers were extremely imprecise from greater height and needed to descend to drop their bombs and then ascend quickly in order to avoid the surrounding terrain.

In the records with regards to Swansea and all of its targets there was a great deal of attention focused on the industrial installations at Port Talbot.  The Luftwaffe desperately wanted to target Port Talbot but the town has its own natural defences.  The next time that you are driving along the M4 motorway past the town, notice the proximity of the mountains to the port and how quickly the German bombers would have needed to ascend to avoid hitting them after dropping their bombs.  For this reason, Port Talbot escaped the Swansea Blitz in February 1941 despite being seen as just as important a target in terms of the industrial production of that region.  The original plan was to target both Swansea and Port Talbot but after the first night when the raid on the latter had been unsuccessful, the focus turned exclusively to Swansea.  Abertillery’s geographical terrain though not mentioned in the records would have led to even greater problems for the Luftwaffe.  So it seems that not only do our mountains add beauty to our town they also provide us with a natural defence.

Swansea town centre

Swansea Town City During the Blitz

Craddock Street, Cardiff

Craddock street, Cardiff during the Blitz

Richard Gilson, Deputy Curator


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