Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum
Saturday 9th September – Open Day at the museum
Wednesdays in September – Ralph Robinson Memorial Lecture by Frank Olding Entry £
We will be holding coffee mornings – please call at the museum for an update of what is planned for the autumn along with the date for the September talk.
July 100 Club
No.24 Mary Coles £20
No.6 Kay Webb £10
No.113 Nicole Dean £5
Fundraising July - £ T B A.
It is getting ever more expensive to run our museum, and ever more difficult to find funding; our fund-raising efforts are crucial. Please help –become a member of the Museum Society for £6 per year or a Vice-President for £25 annually. Our popular 100 Club is just £1 per number per month. Fund-raising ideas welcomed.
Our weather over the last few years has become somewhat unpredictable – hot days, storms, we never quite know what to expect but scientists say that in the years ahead we can expect more heatwaves. Experts predict that by 2040 more than half of British summers will be hotter than the sweltering temperatures of 2003. What is a heatwave? The official definition is rather long so let’s just say it is a prolonged period of hot weather. Why do they occur? They are most common in summer (it might sound obvious but there is a technical explanation) when slow moving or near stationary high pressure systems develop. In the UK this is due to the jet stream which usually lies to the north of the country in summer, allowing high pressure to develop with persistent dry and settled weather. Let’s look back at some notable heatwaves of past years. Do you remember some of them?
1915 – not only a terrifying war to cope with but also a heatwave and this was in the days when people wore more clothes than they do today. It must have been very uncomfortable.
1949 – after the horrendous winter of 1946-47, summer 1949 was hot and dry. Some places in England had to rely on water being brought in pails on horse and cart.
1959 – this year saw weeks of blue skies and southern England had temperatures above 21C (70F) for at least 100 days. The lack of rain over such a prolonged period led to Pathe News filming the first downpour when it eventually arrived.
1976 – this is the year that temperatures hit at least 26C (80F) for 25 straight days with even hotter days within that period. The lack of rain led to a major drought in Britain and some parts of the country were obliged to cope with water rationing with water only being available at standpipes in the streets.
2003 – was a sizzling summer which saw the 100F mark broken for the first time. The heatwave covered much of Europe and was the cause of many heat-related deaths, including 2000 such deaths in the UK.
2013 – another sizzler!
The Scenic Railway
I have always loved fairground rides but in particular, rollercoasters and my love of them started in the 1960’s with the old wooden Scenic Railway at Barry Island! It dominated the skyline and was the first thing you saw as you approached the sea. I’m not sure how old I was the first time I rode the Scenic Railway with my mother but I was a seasoned rider by the age of six. No visit to Barry Island was ever complete without a ride on the rollercoaster – it was the highlight of my day! In those days there were no overhead restraints, nor seatbelts, just a pull down bar that sat on your lap and as far as I can remember there was no height or age restriction either, hence I was able to ride from a very young age. A fairground operative sat in a seat in the centre of the train holding onto a lever that operated the braking system. Thinking back now I’m not sure how safe it was and I wonder what could have happened if that person had been suddenly taken ill whilst the ride was in operation! But as a child I had no fear and that thought never occurred to me other than to think he had the best job in the world! I seem to remember it cost about a shilling to ride and you could stay on for a second ride for 6d and of course, one ride was never enough!
But it was not the first rollercoaster at Barry Island, that honour goes to the Switchback which opened in 1897. In 1912 another rollercoaster opened at Barry Island called the Figure Eight and this led to the closure of the Switchback in 1914. The Figure Eight in turn was demolished to make way for the Scenic Railway which opened in 1939 and was the one that I rode as a child. I always tried (and still do) to get a seat as near to the back as possible in order to get the fastest ride possible. The front seat has the best view granted but the front seat cannot speed up until the very last seat reaches the apex and starts to descend by which time the front seat is already half way down! Sadly Barry’s Scenic Railway finally closed in 1973 after suffering gale damage and the owners could not afford to repair it.
There are still some very old rollercoasters in the UK, two being at Blackpool, the Big Dipper (opened 1923) and the Grand National (opened 1935) and both were awarded Grade II listed status in April 2017. I remember going to Blackpool in 1969 and being alarmed to see that the Grand National, in addition to the ride charge, required a fee of 6d life insurance! On that occasion I was put off riding though I have ridden it since!
But the honour of the official oldest rollercoaster in the UK goes to the aptly named Scenic Railway at the Dreamland Amusement park in Margate. The ride opened in 1920 and in 2002 the ride was awarded a Grade II listing, making it the first rollercoaster to be protected from demolition. However in 2003, and with our coastal towns struggling with the popularity of cheap package holidays abroad, Dreamland closed though the ride itself continued to operate until 2006. In 2008 the ride was subjected to an arson attack which destroyed part of it. In 2009 a grant was awarded to the Dreamland Trust to re-open Dreamland and to restore the rollercoaster. During restoration in 2014 it suffered further wind damage and this delayed the restoration. It was finally made operational again in 2015. It still has a ride-on brakeman though it now has an additional automatic breaking system!
More about Barry Island
Sally’s article brought back fond memories of visits to Barry Island. I’m sure my first visits would have been with West Bank Methodist Sunday School on their annual outings. Everyone would gather on the pavement opposite the chapel, ready to get on the bus. Mothers went along with the children and must have been weighed down with all the usual beach paraphernalia. And macs if the weather was bad, as it sometimes was. The trip was on whatever the weather, even if it meant spending time under one of the covered sections of the promenade. It was a delight for children – sand, sea, ice cream, chips, the fair…… Barry Island still is a good place for children (and adults). Butlins has gone and grass and new houses have taken its place, the promenade has been spruced up, the sand is raked every morning, there are lifeguards on duty at holiday time and, of course, there are still plenty of places to get ice creams and chips. And then there’s the fair!
Butlins – Hello Campers!
I’m sure that many of our readers will have had a holiday at Butlins. I certainly did – a family holiday at Minehead. I can remember the huge dining rooms, and the massive swimming pool decorated as if in a jungle. It was probably quite tacky really but who cared, everyone had a great time. I also worked as a chalet maid at Minehead in my teens one summer holiday. It wasn’t the best holiday job I’ve ever had, cleaning chalets (as in Hi De Hi complete with a wraparound green overall) but once the cleaning was done we were free to use all the facilities and so that part of my time there was fun. My friend and I chose to stay with a landlady – much nicer than the chalets which were allotted to staff.
The first Butlins camp opened in 1936 at Skegness; it was opened by Amy Johnson, the lady aviator, and the camp was so popular it soon doubled in size and was followed by a second camp at Clacton on Sea. Both camps were given over to the military in the Second World War but their popularity for family holidays was such that in the 40s more camps were built as also in the fifties and sixties, including Minehead which opened in 1962 and so it must have been quite new when I was there.
The camps were founded by Billy Butlin to provide affordable holidays for families. The idea was sparked by a less than successful holiday in his youth in Barry Island when he was locked out of his bed and breakfast accommodation during the day – a common practice. The holiday camps, with a wide range of activities and entertainment on offer on site, proved a huge success but their popularity began to wane in the 70s with the rise of package holidays and the opportunity to holiday abroad. Just three Butlins holiday camps now remain, including Minehead!
The holiday camps are part of popular culture for those of us who remember them and the holiday camp theme has featured in a number of films and sitcoms. I have already mentioned Hi De Hi set in a fictitious ‘Maplins’ camp, but do you also remember an early episode from The Two Ronnies in which an attempt to escape from a prison camp modelled on Colditz saw them end up in an even worse one called ‘Butlitz’ where the German prison guards were dressed as Redcoats.
Do you have memories of Butlins holidays? Did you ever go in for any of the competitions? We’d love to hear from you.
Miners’ Fortnight covered the last week of July and the first week of August when the mines were closed for two weeks for annual maintenance. Maintenance staff had to work but coal production ceased and even the horses were often brought up from underground for a holiday of their own, albeit a blinkered one.
Ode to Barry Island by Max Boyce
I remember Miner’s Fortnight when I was just a lad,
We’d go to Barry Island, the weather always bad
In a brand new shirt and shoes that hurt,
The one’s mam saved to buy
To go to Barry Island on that last week in July.
We’d catch a Western by the square, my bucket in my hand
Then all the fuss to get on the bus and we always had to stand
Then I’d be sick
And my shoes I’d kick,
The one’s mam saved to buy
To go to Barry Island on that last week in July.
They’d put me by the drivers seat for me to ‘av some air
And my mother’d say, “He’s never this way,”
She’d come and comb my hair
Then I’d see the sea and I’d want to pee
And if I couldn’t I’d cry
When we went to Barry Island on that last week in July.
Our caravan, “The Waters Edge”, 10 miles from the sea!
And we’d drag the cases over and we didn’t have the key
We couldn’t light the gas lamp,
I’ve gone and marked my tie
When I went to Barry Island on that last week in July
I’m on the beach, It’s Sunday I’ve got a friend called Russ
I’ll ave to buy another bucket, Left mine on the bus.
I’ve cut my foot, It’s bleedin
My cousin says, “You’ll die
And we’ll bury you in Barry Island on the last week in July”
I’m going to the fair tonight, my bucket full of o'shells
The weather forecast’s settled now,
with dry and sunny spells
I’ve brought Mangi a present and I’d wave the sea goodbye
My mother’s found my plastic mac
and the weather’s nice and dry
Aye, that’s how I remember Miner’s Fortnight,
when I was just a lad
I went to Barry Island and the weather always bad.
Some years ago a visitor came to the old museum; he was an Australian with what to me was an unusual story. He was an independent opal miner who had lost both his legs in an accident at work. His mates paid for his hospital bills and he now travelled the world selling their opals. He came to the old country researching his roots. He also told me that the house he lived in was cut into a cliff face. It had rooms, windows and doors; it was warm in winter and cool in summer.
Our secretary Margaret’s son Rhys Dyer who immigrated to Australia also lives in an unusual house that he built himself. This is a report from the local newspaper the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
Hand sculptured house in Wilby Australia
A house from a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water
has become quite an attraction in Wilby
Members of the community were fascinated to visit the home of Rhys Dyer in Martins road recently. Mr Dyer who is very keen to reduce his imprint on the environment has built the house unusually attuned to its surroundings by using readily available materials. The house is constructed from an eco-friendly cob mixture of clay, sand, straw and water.
Mr Dyer spoke with the visiting group about the process involved with the planning and construction of his house. Building with cob, requires no forms, no cement and no machinery. It is actually sculptured by hand while the cob is still pliable. It then dries to hard weather resistant finish. To start Mr Dyer had to comply with Moira Shire guidelines, to lay a slab and a damp course. Then rocks were positioned to form a wall base and the cob was built up from there and moulded layer by layer to the ceiling.
Cobbling has been a traditional process for thousands of years around the world. Homes made this way can endure extremes of climate and last for hundreds of years. Mr Dyer said he found the design of the house provided efficient insulation keeping him comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter without the aid of air conditioning. The home is totally solar powered and has a composting toilet. Mr Dyer chose the shape and size of the home to limit the impact on the natural environment.
It has two storeys with the lounge, kitchen, bathroom, laundry and toilet downstairs and the sleeping area upstairs reached by a spiral staircase. It is very neat and provides an adequate living space.
During the community visit, Mr Dyer demonstrated how to make a batch of cob which he will use to make a planter. This involved mixing the raw materials on a large tarpaulin the foot stomping, turning and adding more water several times until a good, malleable consistency is achieved.
The cob is then ready to form into handfuls which are patted and shaped on the structure – easy as making mud pies.
The houses in Abertillery were built using stone from the quarries on the hillsides and the houses where I grew up were built near and one even built into the Panty Pwdyn Quarry. The pathway in front of the houses was what remained of the old stone tramway which was made with stones placed side by side on end. They were sharp; I have the scar on my forehead to prove it! The tramway was used to transport the stone to build the houses in Somerset Street. I saw the bill of galliege in the County Records Office.
Before slate was readily available stones were cut into thin slabs and used as tiles on the old farmhouses.
Stone from the Blackstone quarries above Bishop Street was used in the building of Newport Docks.
I have also been told about the turf houses somewhere on the mountain betweenBrynmawr and Blaenafon.
People all over the world are adapt at utilising the materials around them to build their dwelling places.
Don Bearcroft Curator.