Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum
Saturday 22th August – Six Bells Pit Party – the Museum will have a stall
Saturday 29th August - Coffee Morning with the theme ‘Presents from Afar’. Bring your knick-knacks along.
Saturday 10th October – Coffee morning with entertainment
Fundraising July - £140
July 100 Club
No. 99 Peggy Bearcroft £20
No. 9 Mary Hunt £10
No. 50 Bernard Jones £5
Dates to note
We have a stall at Six Bells Pit Party which this year is being held on a Saturday – 22nd August. We need help to man the stall as well as customers to buy things, so please come along. The following Saturday, 29th August, we have a coffee morning with the theme of ‘Presents from Afar’. Please bring your holiday treasures into the museum so that we can arrange a small exhibition - perhaps something exotic or a piece of china such as ‘A Present from Brighton’. It promises to be an interesting and enjoyable morning. Needless to say, contributions of cakes would be appreciated.
Prince of Wales Colliery
Mr Arthur Lewis O.B.E sent this short piece about the Prince of Wales Colliery at Victoria, Ebbw Vale, saying that according to a site on the internet it was one of six collieries working seams of coal in Ebbw Vale in the 1830s and the one colliery left supplying water to the Ebbw Vale Steel Works in the 20th Century. Victoria was a little village between Waunlwyd and Ebbw Vale. In 1918 the Prince of Wales visited the colliery, used a coal pick to cut a piece of coal from the face, and gave the hewer a £5 (?) note. Hence the name of Prince of Wales Colliery. Mr Lewis also sent in the following:
The Motorist’s Prayer
Give me a steady hand and a watchful eye
that none may suffer as I pass by.
Thou givest life, I pray no act of mine
may take away, or mar that gift of thine.
Shield those, dear Lord, who bear me company
from foolish folk and all calamity.
Teach me to use my car for others’ need.
Let me not miss, through witless love of speed,
the beauties of Thy world. That thus I may,
with joy and courtesy go on my way.
We are very sorry to report that Mrs Gwynneth Hutchings passed away recently. Gwynneth regularly visited and helped at the museum until her recent illness and she will be much missed. Our thoughts are with her family at this sad time.
A more distant member of the Museum Society, Mr D Thomas who lived at Leominster, has also died recently.
‘Boyhood Memories of Aberbeeg’
By Howard Robinson, part 2 as published in the Gwent Local History Council Journal Spring 1995.
On Sundays, of course, there was chapel. Ours was a large one overlooking Old Woodland Terrace, it is still there now but it must have barely escaped with its life as the new road was excavated to Warm Turn. Hot sun, melting tar and the Whitsun walkout. If you were lucky, the squeak and smell of new leather shoes and the uncomfortable but proud wearing of new clothes.
Opposite the brewery to the north, not far from those pleasant little terraced cottages of today, was a blacksmith, Mr Jim Bolt. What a name for a blacksmith! I think back sentimentally to another world when I pumped on the bellows to his forge, and turned the sandstone grinding wheel before continuing on my way home.
There was a time when Aberbeeg was a thriving, typical valley community. Situated at the junction of the road, rail and river routes – up the one valley to Ebbw vale and the other to Brynmawr – it bustled and oozed with character. There were plenty of mining families in the area but primarily it was a railway community. The Aberbeeg mine did not last long but the railway community survived strongly until Dr Beeching wielded his now infamous axe and chopped the valley rail lines. Freight lines still operate in the area but the withdrawal of the passenger services also saw the closure of the once busy engine sheds at Glandwr. It was really the beginning of the end for Aberbeeg.
Ironically, the end of the passenger railway services was followed by some improvements to the roads. The Aberbeeg/Cwm bypass scheme brought down some Aberbeeg landmarks. Now the multi-million pound Crumlin to Aberbeeg road has altered the whole character of the village. Underway is the next section from Aberbeeg to Abertillery. How many more ghosts of Aberbeeg will be disturbed and how many more integral parts of Aber will be destroyed.
Editor’s note: I am very grateful to Mr Howard Robinson and to Mr Tony Hopkins, Editor of the Gwent Local History Council Journal, for allowing the article to be reproduced in our Newsletter. I am sure it has brought back many memories for our readers. The latest edition of the Gwent Local History Council Journal includes an article by Mr Robinson entitled ‘Glimpses of the Past:’Black Pats (Cockroaches), the Chimney Sweep and the Domestic Fire of My Childhood)’. You can read the article in the Museum’s copy of the Journal. It is fascinating!
British Nylon Spinners, ICI Fibres
First can I explain what nylon is. Nylon itself is a plastic fibre with no strength or flexibility. The manufacture of nylon, as most people know, starts with a lump of polymer which is ground down to chips. After being supplied to the Nylons at Pontypool it went through several processes before it became a pair of nylon stockings.
The nylon chips delivered to the factory at Pontypool were blown up to the top of a tower and it was from here that the whole process began. The chips were supplied to the spinning machines through three floors – the hopper floor, extrusion floor and spinning floor.
On the hopper floor the chips were fed into individual melters and units. The molten polymer was gravity fed or, later, screw fed to the extrusion floor. Here, the molten polymer was pushed through a cast iron pack with filters filled with sand for back pressure and a brass spinneret with tapered holes to the number required for the denier being made.
The molten polymer would be forced through the holes and cooled by air flowing from a screen behind. The operator on this floor would catch the flow of polymer which at this time would have set into a semi-molten state and direct it down a tube with a guide and ceramic pins and separate each filament to its place.
Underneath the extrusion floor would be an operator to catch the filaments, set them up in their guides and two stainless steel rollers then led down to four fibre cylinders.
The spinning machine would partially draw and twist the yarn. When at last, at a set time, the cylinders were full, it was the job of the spinning operator to cut the thread, remove the full cylinders and replace with empty ones and restring. The full cylinders would be placed on a frame called a buggy and when full, the yarn would be denier tested by a second team, the buggy would be labelled and passed to drawtwist.
This was our first attempt. After many years the spinning, drawtwist and extrusion comprised one long machine.
Drawtwist started with old cotton machines which were very primitive. Next came a slightly larger machine made by a firm called Platts and this was a bigger machine. Then ICI came up with a very simple machine called P.I – not very good at all. The next and final drawtwist machine was a Swiss machine called a Rieter which was three times as
big, three times as tall and was installed by Swiss fitters. During this time the bobbin size had grown from 8oz to 5lbs.
Behind the Production unit was the Development Section whose role was to test and keep records of the different yarns produced.
I am not one of those who remember their school days in great detail so these are just a few of the memories that have stuck in my mind from the time I attended Blaentillery Junior School. Do you remember ‘the rec’? We would climb over the wall in the playground to go on the swings etc at lunchtimes. It was some time before I realised that ‘the rec’ was short for recreation ground.
I also remember that some lunchtimes we would go to The Lakes – strictly forbidden during school hours but I and others went there anyway. I seem to recall that there was a large iron pipe across part of one of the lakes and that the more adventurous boys would walk across it – I was too much of a wimp for that.
I have always enjoyed walking and the outdoors and so I particularly enjoyed the ‘nature walks’ which one particular teacher - Miss Colman? – would take us on. A stream ran alongside the school and there were woodlands above and so these walks were a delight. The teacher was very knowledgeable when it came to natural history and although I have forgotten much of what she taught us, such as the names of some of the mushrooms and toadstools we found, the interest she encouraged is still there.
Mr Arthur Lewis sent in the following notes following the short articles on some local industries in a recent Newsletter.
Nylons – Susan Gifford - Marion Rudge (Allen) and known to my children as Aunty Marion of Abertillery Food Office was one of the first employed at the Nylons.
Ebbw Vale Steel Works – Rod Davies (Rotary) – Whilst I was managing Waunlwyd Colliery (several workmen from Six Bells and surrounding area) I was looking after the Prince of Wales Colliery, Ebbw Vale. The P.O.W. colliery near the steel works coke ovens worked coal seams under the area of the works until the works were built. Although coal production ceased, the mine shaft and water pumping areas underground were kept open to provide necessary water to the steel works.
A picture sat there in my hand
The fairest village in the land
In Woodland Terrace as a child
The local shop was Mrs Wilde
The Ivorites and Hanbury Arms
Pubs with all the quaint old charms
Down River Row, Corona works
And Kibbys where nobody shirks
Jones the Barber and Pools shop
With early morning paper drop
The blacksmith’s down in Brewery Row
Sometimes we’d watch the forge aglow
The school, of course, upon the hill
each day we walked up with a will
Webbs the Brewery making beer
Railway sidings very near
Three bakeries yes the village had
Yes I remember as a lad.
Dagworth Orville Charter
Support Welsh Cheese!
Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar – most people living in and around Abertillery, especially those from a family where one or more male members worked in the coal mines, will remember the ‘Tommy Box’. For those who don’t know, the Tommy Box was a box used for carrying a coal miner’s lunch. It was rounded at one end for easier access into a pocket and was made out of tin to keep out underground dwelling rodents. Lunch for these miners had to be simple, easy to eat and, most importantly, tasty. Cheese sandwiches were a staple with an onion or apple accompaniment that fitted neatly into the rounded end of the box.
Some of you may be familiar with a brand of cheese called Colliers. The founder of Collier’s Cheese was born in South Wales and has since returned to live here. He fondly remembers his grandmother preparing his grandfather’s Tommy Box. It inspired him to create a cheese that he felt honoured his family as well as the mining tradition. The cheese is made in Wales, in Crickhowell, and is now a big hit throughout the UK and some overseas countries.
If you’ve tried Collier’s cheese then you’ll know it has a strong, deep flavour. If you haven’t, look out for it next time you’re at the supermarket. It has a distinct black packaging with an illustration of a coal miner and a red Welsh dragon on the front. Both the look and the taste of the cheese are powerful reminders of the coal miner as a part of Wales’ industrial past. It is good to know that long gone traditions are not forgotten and that they still influence aspects of our lives today.
Protest in the Abertillery District, March 1935
This museum matters article will be split into two parts. August’s edition of the newsletter will cover the events which took place in March 1935 and September’s newsletter will cover the court case that followed.
I have relied heavily for this article on the book The Fed:History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century written by Dai Smith and Hywel Francis and published in 1980. Dai Smith is a Professor of Welsh History at Cardiff University and Hywel Francis is the curator of the National Mining Museum and Professor of History at Swansea University. They would have researched their book meticulously and in fact I would recommend it. However, I have focused on this section as it is of particular relevance to Abertillery.
The reason why the event was covered in the book was because of fears in the inter-war years about a potential Communist uprising in the valleys after the Russian revolutions of 1917. It was seen as particularly significant and the Communist Party of Great Britain published its own interpretation of the event shortly after it took place.
Many of those in authority believed that the Rhondda was the most likely mining community in which Communism would take hold but it was the Ebbw Fach valley that received the attention of the authorities and the national media in 1935.
The event has been described by its contemporaries as an “uprising”, “riot” and “protest” depending on where one’s sympathies lay or in the case of the media whether there is an attempt to sensationalise a story.
The roots of the protest lay in the cuts to unemployment benefits that had been introduced in 1931. The economic downturn in 1934 had created a growing number of unemployed miners in the valley and the harsh winter had caused anger to surface in January 1935.
George Daggar, the South Wales Miners Federation sponsored local MP had urged the unemployed to “take any measures necessary” against the government of the day.
On 25th February 1935, Nantyglo schoolchildren refused to go to school and the shopkeepers refused to open their premises as a sign of solidarity with the local unemployed miners.
Much of the focus at this time was on a county councillor named Phil Abrahams who was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was seen as an influential figure in local politics who had the full support of his constituents. The Relieving Officer and Guardians Committee which administered unemployment support in the 1930s (before the creation of the Department of Social Security) had refused to meet him to discuss the cuts and the administration of payments to the unemployed.
Abrahams was outraged by this and so 12 local leaders (mostly county concillors) decided to occupy the offices of the Unemployment Assistance Board which was the local organisation that made decisions about unemployment assistance. The system that operated in the 1930s pre-dates the current welfare state so there was no legal right to unemployment assistance. All decisions on who could receive assistance and how much rested with the Unemployment Assistance Board. To their surprise, when they turned up to occupy the offices on 15th March 1935, the local Police were waiting for them. This led to a great deal of suspicion amongst the group because apparently only the twelve were party to the information about the occupation.
So it was decided instead that a mass demonstration should be organised and the whole of the Ebbw Fach valley would be mobilised. On the morning of the demonstration on 21st March, the Police had apparently granted permission for it to take place but then withdrew permission later in the day but the protestors had already assembled.
Demonstrators from Abertillery, Blaina, Nantyglo and Brynmawr were to assemble outside the Blaina Public Assistance offices at 6pm. The Nantyglo and Brynmawr contingents arrived first and were told to disperse by the Police. A short scuffle occurred and several of the demonstrators were injured. The Abertillery contingent had been stopped by the Police but several of them made their way in small groups towards the Blaina contingent. When they finally arrived at The Blaina Inn, they were met by 70 police officers. The Police gave the order to disperse but before the leader could tell the rest of the demonstrators apparently the Police drew their batons and charged at the Abertillery and Blaina contingent. The Nantyglo and Brynmawr protestors then charged the Police and so the Police were effectively surrounded by the demonstrators. They were also showered with stones and debris from the mountains and tips on the roadside. The whole affair lasted only a matter of minutes but about a dozen police officers and over a hundred demonstrators had been injured.
However, it is the aftermath of the event that gives it its historical significance. Within two weeks of the demonstration, eighteen of the protestors had been charged with “unlawfully and riotously assembling to disturb the peace and to make great riot and disturbance to the terror and alarm of His Majesty’s subjects”.
The feeling in the district was one of anger, particularly towards the Police. The unemployed continued to have buoyant street demonstrations and a campaign of protest was launched throughout the South Wales coalfield in support of the Ebbw Fach demonstrators. George Daggar demanded that the Home Secretary set up an inquiry into the behaviour of the Police.
It was in this atmosphere and with the threat of the spread of Communism in Europe and in particular, Spain, where many South Wales miners joined the Communist uprising, that the trial of the 18 ringleaders took place in May 1935. However, that is for next month’s newsletter.
Richard Gilson, Deputy Curator.