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July 2020
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Dates for your Diary

Closed until further notice.

Museum opening times

Closed until further notice.

100 Club

Draws suspended pending re-opening.

Fifty Years Ago

I'm going to pick two things from 1970. The first is 'Hot Pants'. Those of us of a certain age will remember them although I didn't myself have a pair (ordinary shorts worn in the summer didn't count). Hot pants were short, very short, and tight. Women's Wear Daily was apparently the first to call them hot pants and they specifically referred to those short, tight shorts made in luxury fabrics as fashion items rather than practical pieces of clothing. The name has stuck although the shorts themselves fell out of fashion. I particularly remember visiting friends in Leeds one snowy November weekend in 1970. Our friends took us to a bar in the city centre and the waitresses were all wearing hot pants. I suppose I remember it because it was unusual, eye catching and probably also because it was snowing heavily outside and, given the weather, hot pants seemed singularly inappropriate.

SS Great Britain
© By mattbuck (category) - Photo by mattbuck., CC BY-SA 3.0

My second item is the SS Great Britain by Brunel, now a popular visitor attraction in Bristol. Originally built to ply between Bristol and New York, it was the longest passenger ship in the world between 1845 and 1854 and was revolutionary in its design as an iron ship and equipped with a screw propeller. Her subsequent days were associated with less luxurious travel – having been sold for salvage she was repaired and carried thousands of immigrants to Australia, was converted to all-sail and was then retired to the Falkland Islands where she served as a warehouse, quarantine ship and coal hulk before being scuttled and sunk in 1937.  In 1970 Sir Jack Arnold Hayward paid for the ship to be raised and returned to her original home – Bristol dry dock. The salvage operation was fraught with difficulty and the salvage crew had the difficult job of trying to patch the hull with whatever materials they could find locally, in order to float the ship once more. Their hard work paid off and 87 days after setting off one last time from the Falklands, the ship arrived back at Bristol to a crowd of thousands of spectators. The ship has been lovingly restored and is well worth a visit. When we can go visiting again, that is.
Jen Price

Margaret Smith

In March’s edition, was a lovely article by Jen Price on snowdrops and I commented how an old friend had given me some snowdrops from her much-loved garden before moving into a care home.  It saddens me to say but that friend, Margaret Smith from Gelli Crug Road, passed away from coronavirus in une. Her snowdrops will be a perfect way to remember her.  
Sally Murphy

Melvyn Hughes 1949 – 2020

In memory of Melvyn Hughes, sadly taken by coronavirus in April aged just 70; his family have very kindly made a substantial donation to Abertillery Museum.  Melvyn was born in London but grew up in Abertillery before moving to Northants but at heart he was always a Welshman and a keen follower of Welsh rugby.  This moving letter was received from his sister Andrea.

After suffering a lengthy illness, my brother Melvyn, eventually succumbed to the Coronavirus and passed away 24th April 2020.

The childhood years spent in Abertillery were one of the favourite periods of Melvyn’s life.  This is especially as at one time, most of his family all lived in different houses along Griffin Street, Six Bells.  This included his grandmother and grandfather; mother and father; brother and sister; and various uncles, aunties and cousins.  His father and some of his cousins also worked in Six Bells colliery.  This is a time that all the family look upon with great affection.

To help celebrate his life, my brother Gareth and family, my cousins from Wales and my friends have decided to make a donation of £140 to Abertillery Museum.

To further celebrate Melvyn’s memory I have written a poem for his journey to Heaven.

Melvyn by Andrea Hughes

We loved you more, in our own ways, than you could ever know,
You were our brother, uncle, friend, we never thought you’d go.
But now we know you’ve gone too soon,
We’ve lost all of who you are,
And we can only cry for you and miss you from afar.

We miss your love and kindness, you always would be there,
To lend a listening ear to us, our troubles you would share.
You’d lend a hand to anyone, if you could help in any way,
And now you’re gone, we can’t believe, there are no words to say.

So all we can do is leave you, with the One I do believe,
Who has the power of life and death, and who can receive
Your soul into His loving arms, though I am jealous too,
For Heaven’s gain is our own loss, we’ll never stop missing you.

On behalf of my family, cousins in Wales and my friends, I wish the volunteers of Abertillery and District Museum society every success for the future.

Yours sincerely, Andrea Hughes

To Andrea and her family and friends, we offer our sincere condolences on the loss of Melvyn and thank them for their kind and generous donation to our museum.

Easy-Sew Face Mask

There are reports that sewing machines across the country are in very short supply, such is the rush to make face masks at home.  Below is a very easy face mask to make which, of course, is completely machine washable.

  1. Cut two 9” x 6” (23cm x 15cm) rectangles of cotton (a pillowcase is ideal as it is already double thickness).
  2. Sew the two pieces together along the longer edges, allowing ¼” (6mm) seam allowance.
  3. Turn right side out and, with a hot iron, press flat.
  4. On the shorter sides, tuck the raw edges in by about ¼” (6mm) and iron in place.
  5. Then along the length of the fabric, use your iron to press in three pleats.
  6. Cut two 6” (15cm) lengths of narrow elastic (¼” / 6mm is ideal). 
  7. Along both shorter edges, tuck the elastic inside the open end about ¼” (6mm) on each corner and sew in place while at the same time machining the pleats in place and thereby closing the open ends.  Take care not to twist the elastic or it could be uncomfortable to wear.

For instructions with step-by-step photos, see the museum’s Facebook page.

Imperial versus Metric

In these strangest of times, we are being told to keep two metres apart.  Which poses the question, do you still think in ‘Imperial’ or are you comfortable with ‘Metric’?  My husband who was at grammar school during the 1960’s was taught imperial weights and measures (pounds and ounces; feet and inches etc for those younger readers).  Our daughter, schooled in the 90’s and ‘noughties’, learned only the metric system (grams and kilograms; centimetres and kilometres etc) used on the continent.  I, on the other hand, schooled in the 60’s & 70’s was taught both and am frequently called upon by my husband to ‘convert’ metric to imperial for him!

The metric system is not new by any means.  Decimalisation first started in France in 1799 and started to spread throughout Europe.   It was first discussed in our parliament as early as 1818 though not much happened until 1968 when a labour government headed by Harold Wilson, set up the ‘Metrication Board’ to oversee the metrication process.  It was hoped it would be completed by 1975.

In 1970, a surprise general election win saw the conservatives returned to power under Edward Heath and, while some conservative MP’s were unhappy by what they saw as ‘metrication by stealth’, the government denied this was the case and ploughed on.  Ted Heath was keen for Britain to join the European Economic Market and it was felt we needed to embrace the metric system in readiness and to this end our money was decimalised in 1971.  Heath eventually signed us up as members of the EEC in 1973 after France’s De Gaulle, who had blocked two earlier attempts to join, was no longer in office.  A requirement of our membership was that we would fully adopt the metric system within five years and it was hoped that the general public would eventually be comfortable with, and accept, the metric system.

By 1980 most pre-packed goods were sold in metric though it was permitted to show both metric and imperial on packaging.  This ‘duel system’ was only meant to last until the end of 1989 but the public resisted and so the government was forced to extend this to the end of 1999.  The authorities then started getting tough with traders.   I remember listening to a news bulletin on the radio back in the year 2000 that announced that a market trader was being prosecuted over selling loose produce by the pound instead of by the kilogram but in the same news bulletin, it was announced that the Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, had just given birth to son, Leo, who weighed 6 pounds 12 ounces.  One rule for one….!

In many ways metrication has been imposed on us by stealth.  Have you noticed how we are all now (even my husband) comfortable with being told the daily temperature in degrees Centigrade rather than Fahrenheit?  I’m not even sure when they stopped given us both such was the subtlety of it.

With the change to selling petrol by the litre in the early 80’s, the government was helped in its tax raising.  We were by now used to the odd penny per gallon price increase each budget but then it became 1p per litre which effectively meant 4.5p per gallon increase, a massive 450 percent rise!  A nice little earner for the Chancellor!

Mathematically, I can see the benefits of metric; with a base unit of 10, it makes for much easier calculations, however to this day, we have never truly given up our imperial weights and measures.  Ask my metric taught daughter, how long an inch actually is, and she cannot tell you but ask her how tall she is, or any young person for that matter, and you will invariably get your answer in feet and inches!  Likewise, ask how heavy they are and I guarantee they will reply in stones and pounds while most will have no idea how many pounds make up a stone and even less idea of how many ounces make up a pound! 

And did you know that the only things that MUST NOT be sold in metric measurements are draught beers and ciders.  The good old ‘pint of beer’ is here to stay!

Have you noticed too just how frequently imperial and metric are confused and used together?  For example a TV show I was watching recently talked about mixing so many kilograms of this with so many kilograms of that and so many gallons of water!  All our road signs give the distance in imperial miles while announcing a fun run in metric kilometres.

But perhaps the daftest thing I have seen recently was when I was driving and following a large vehicle and on the back was a notice that said ‘this vehicle is 2 metres wide and 8 feet 5 inches high’ -   I give up!
Sally Murphy

Article sourced from:-

The Telephone

I was hoping that by the time you read this, the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ may be just a dim and distant memory….though there is light at the end of the tunnel so do hope all you Newsletter readers are keeping safe and well.  Maybe it won’t be too long before you will be able to visit Abertillery Museum in person.  Let’s hope so.

Did you know that telephone voice calls have apparently increased markedly since the Coronavirus pandemic began?  Maybe one positive side effect of the present unprecedented situation is the return of the social phone call.  There’s nothing quite like a nice phone catch-up, is there, in these strange days of social isolation?

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

In the last decade or so many people have almost given up on the phone call.  It almost seems rather dated.  Texting, e-mailing, ‘instagramming’, tweeting etc seem to have become the preferred method of communicating, particularly among the younger generation - many will have never known anything different.

Have you still got a good, old-fashioned landline? I certainly have but we’re in the minority.  Most of my younger relatives and some of my friends rely solely on their mobile phone.

What’s the history of the telephone?  Where and how did it all begin?
Have you ever used a tin can telephone?  Can you remember using two washed out cans, a small hole made in the bottom of each and fixing a long length of taut string between through these two holes and then stretching it out between yourself and a friend.  It’s amazing that one could speak into the can with the other able to hear what was being said at the other end!

Do you ever use or hear the phrase ‘I’ll just get on the blower’?  Before the invention of the telephone speaking tubes were in use.  A speaking tube is a device based on two cones connected by an air pipe through which speech can be transmitted over an extended distance.  At the transmitting end, a cylinder mouthpiece enabled the speaker to communicate with the receiving end, and by blowing down the tube a plugged-in whistle sounded to attract the attention of the intended recipient. ‘Blowers’ were often used in large country houses.  With the development of speaking tubes, members of the household could communicate their requirements directly to servants making extra journeys unnecessary.  Apparently these speaking tubes are sometimes still used on some naval ships.

Alexander Graham Bell is credited with the invention of the telephone.  Alexander Graham Bell (born March 3rd 1847 died August 2nd 1922) was a Scottish born American inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone.

Bell's father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell's life's work.  His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first US patent for the telephone, on March 7, 1876.

Maybe you can remember the old, black, bakelite phones with a silver dial?  Later you could buy a coloured phone - we had a snazzy red one in the hall - but still with a dial.  Then came the ‘Trim Phone’ with its shrill ring tone - we had one of these too - very trendy in its day - with its characteristic ring tone rather than a ringing bell sound - still a dial though.  Then came push button phones; cordless phones and then mobiles.  These were a bit like house bricks at first but have been refined and refined so that you can keep almost every detail of your life on it and can also use it to make phone calls..... all very useful in the digital age!

If you know Cockney Rhyming slang, when you hear your phone ring you’ll reach out for the ‘dog and bone’ and when you do…..just remember Alexander Graham Bell and ask yourself where the world might be without him.

Katherine Taylor

Editor’s comment – Many thanks Katherine for this article and indeed thank you Mr Alexander Graham Bell – the telephone landline has certainly been a lifeline for all of us during ‘lockdown' as while mobiles with 4G data have their uses, only a landline can deliver home broadband.


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