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September 2009
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Coffee Morning - Wedding Photos

Please come along to our coffee morning on Saturday 12 th September when the theme is wedding photos. We'd like to have a good display so please bring your (or your family's) wedding photos to the Museum, as soon as possible, so that the display can be organised. It will be interesting to see how many faces we recognise!

Autumn Trip Saturday 26 Sept

Roy Pickford is organising a trip to Wells Cathedral on Saturday 26 th September. Will you please contact Roy on 01495 213377 or ring the Museum on 01495 211140 (or call in) to put your name down. More details will be available when we have a better idea of numbers.

Lecture Programme

Don't forget this

Takes place on the first Wednesday of the month. We have a talk on 'Rape of the Fair Country' in September, and Roy Noble in October.

Christmas Fair 5 th December

Please start collecting items for a bumper event.

100 Club

We will have a bumper draw at the September lecture. As always, this is a plea to encourage new members - £1 a month, a bargain!

Cordell Country Festival will be

Held at Blaenavon on 12 th -13 th September. Well worth a visit; try the Heritage Centre for starters.

Diary Dates

Wednesday 2nd September 2009 - Anniversary of the Rape of the Fair Country by Ivor Beynon.

Saturday 12th September 2009 - 'Wedding Photos' coffee morning

Saturday 26th September 2009 - Autumn trip to Wells Cathedral contact Roy Pickford or call the Museum

Wednesday 7th October 2009 - An Hour with Roy Noble

Saturday 5th December 2009 - Christmas Fair

Lectures start at 7.00pm in the Metropole Theatre, with teas and a chat downstairs in the Museum afterwards. Entry is £2 and the public are most welcome.

Thank you GAVO

The Museum Society sends a big thank you to the Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations for their generous award of £1512 under the Capital Assistance Grants Scheme. The award was available thanks to Welsh Assembly Government support via the CFAP scheme.

Fund raising August - £174

Poet's Corner


By bus we travelled, for oui-
first day by the sea, Organised
by a social club, we children
travelled free.

Money clinking hi a pocket,
sandwiches to sustain us all day,
With constant excited chatter,
we were sped on our way.

Barry Island was a marvel,
popular day-trippers paradise.
Everything so very different,
to where we'd spent our lives.

Down the crowded beach we slowly made our way,
Then paddled hi calm water,
watching others at their play.

Clouds dodged summer sun,
but dreaded rain kept away,
So there was nothing to spoil,
enjoyment of our special day.

Such a crowded beach with hardly
room to place a deckchair. It
seemed that all South Wales,
had come for a breath of sea air.

Sandwiches eaten, we wandered
past photographers and vendors, To
enter the huge fairground, with its
pleasures and wonders.

Then when the sun sank low, we
wearily boarded our bus, Singing as
we travelled home, for life seemed
very good to us.

Gordon Rowlands, December 2008

The Welsh Hat

The distinctive Welsh hat first became popular during the 1830s and soon became an icon of Wales, although why two English firms should have produced quite large numbers of a unique shaped silk hat which was bought only by the women of Wales remains something of a mystery.

The Welsh hat is distinctive in having a broad stiff brim with a tall, flat-topped crown. During the 19* century they were made of linen buckram covered with silk plush - the same materials that were used for men's top hats. Evidence from the hats which survive suggest there were two main types with a range of shapes between the two.

Most hats have a slightly tapering crown, are about 9inches wide and about ISinches maximum width; most of these were made in England and worn hi south-west Wales. The second type is shorter with almost vertical sides about 7-8inches high and 13-ISinches maximum width. These were mostly made by Welsh hatters and worn by the women of north Wales.

There were also differences in the method of manufacture - the English products have one piece of plush folded right around the rim, whereas the hats made in Wales have separate pieces of plush on the upper and underside of the brim. The hats were certainly being made by the mid-183 Os but it is not clear when production ceased although the period of the 1880s has been suggested . There are many questions still to be answered including why and how the hat came to be popular and how it was popularised as no-one has yet discovered an advert or catalogue for Welsh hats. Accounts books can, however, tell us how much the hats cost, with entries in 1860 citing 91-, rising to 107- in 1866 and 167-in 1879.

The cost of the hats suggest that they were probably bought by the likes of successful farmers' wives and daughters who wore Welsh hats at market, chapel and church and at special events when they wore their 'Sunday best' clothes (which included a nightgown!). Most of the pictures show the hats worn by market women which suggests they may not have been widely worn by townswomen. What is known is that by the end of the 19 th century the Welsh hat was only usually worn for special occasions such as Royal visits and celebrations, and by choirs and for staged photographs. The evidence suggests that these women were wearing old hats, possibly bought when they were young or handed down from their mothers. Is there one in your attic?

Source: Cyiiial magazine

Local Voices

The Ebbw Fach Valley

The heather covered moor is very beautiful at Brynmawr and the sunsets are second to none. The valley then gently slopes to Nantyglo and Blaina where, although pleasant, the mountains are not spectacular and the valley is comparatively wide.

On leaving Blaina and heading to Bournville there is a vast change. The valley narrows with majestic mountains closing in, which gives one a feeling of being protected. We se nature's work in evidence with the 'slips' which appear to originate in Cwmtillery, emerging on the eastern side of Bournville and passing through to the Arail Mountain - movement which still goes on. I remember several years ago going for a walk along Roseheyworth Road when I heard a mighty bang. Looking towards the source of the bang I saw a scene of dust and tumbling boulders, the result of movement under the Arail 'slip'. Quite magnificent really.

The confluence with the Tillery is a wonderful sight with the Tillery stream fast flowing near the fire station and small waterfalls banked by woods below St Michael's Church. It really is lovely. Go up the Tillery valley and you reach the reservoir and lake. The fast flowing stream reminds me of Tennyson's poem 'The Brook' '/ come from the haunts of coot and hern I make a sudden sally And sparkle out among the fern To bicker down the valley'. Carry on through Bluebell Wood and a panorama opens up - the Horseshoe Bend. Nestling in the hillside is lovely St Paul's Church. Many are the walks I took with my parents when a child, past St Pauls and then a very steep climb to the flat hilltop where we picked wimberries. We did not often go to Barry for the day because we could not afford it but wimberry picking and a nice picnic was very enjoyable and as a young child a ride on my Dad's back when, tired and sleepy, we headed for home.

On the east side of the valley are some lovely horseshoe bends, one above the Duffryn, one above Cwm Cottage Road and one above Six Bells park. To me they are like giant armchairs.

From Victoria Road there is a magnificent woodland of broad leafed trees. It is a sight second to none except perhaps the Cwm Valley which is very beautiful. I love the interlocking spurs carved out in the ice age. At Aberbeeg the Ebbw Fach is joined by the Ebbw Fawr and the woodland continues past Crumlin and on for many miles through Abercarn. The by pass road seems to make this scenery more evident.

Why is this lovely valley not publicised more? The other Heads of the Valleys towns do not have the narrow valley and steep high mountains of the Ebbw Fach. The other valleys seem quite nondescript in my judgement. Could not coach operatives from other places be persuaded to run day or hah 0 day trips taking in 11 th Century St Illtyd's Church, a genuine Victorian Arcade, and Victorian Theatre and Museum. Do people in other parts really know how coal was extracted? A tour like this could end at Cwmtillery Lake and children would enjoy feeding the ducks. It would be nice if some enterprising small businessman fitted out a van and on clement days located it at Cwmtillery Lake and dispensed tea, snacks and ice creams.

The Roving Reporter

Book Corner

USK, Castle Priory and Town

Edited by Jeremy K Knight & Andy Johnson

The town of Usk was established around the Castle and Priory by the Normans whose occupation of the area had been preceded by the Celts and the Romans.

This series of essays by various eminent contributors outlines the history of the town spanning the years from pre-history to the 21 st Century. They explain the life of its inhabitants, and how they lived, by examining the many historic buildings that still remain in the town as well as the archaeology of former times.

One chapter tells the story of Adam of Usk who was renowned for his Chronicle of Medieval Wales and England. Born in Usk, he is buried in the Priory. Another of Usk's famous sons was St David Lewis, a 16 th Century martyr who is remembered with a memorial in the churchyard.

Jeremy Knight has contributed a chapter on the history of the Castle from its earliest beginnings to the 20 th Century when it was purchased by the Humphreys family. A chapter on the garden at the castle was written by the present owner.

Among the notable contributors are Frank
Olding with a chapter on prehistoric Usk and
Madeleine Gray who co-wrote a chapter on the
medieval priory and its inhabitants. Both these
contributors are well known to members of
Abertillery & District Museum. , ,
The final chapter discusses the current
problems and future of Usk.

This is a well produced book, illustrated with black and white plates and figures, and some delightful coloured prints of the Castle gardens. Lord Raglan has written a foreword and commends it as informative reading for those who know Usk as well as for the visitor.

Jean Coldwell

Museum Matters

In our museum we have many items which measure both time and space. We have mining surveyor's equipment used both above and below ground also various time clocks and watches. These are considered outdated now with the advanced computerised technology available to measure time, distance angles and Global positioning. But what of the ancients? How did they build immense structures travel long distances and get it right?

On a visit to London we took a river boat trip down to Greenwich where the Zero Meridian line is situated, the starting point for measuring distances east or west. Also the world clock is set at this place, known to everyone as GMT. (It is said that the French wanted to move it to Paris until the change of initials were pointed out).

Pyramid DrawingThe Greek Thales of Miletus visited Egypt and calculated the height of the Great Pyramid. He compared the shadow that it cast with the shadow of a staff set upright in the ground.

H = height of pyramid, h = height of staff, P = length of pyramid shadow, s = length of staff shadow H: P = h: s

P. h and s can be measured so H can be calculated from the equation

Thales' calculation is the method of using ratios in similar triangles and it is a basic; principle of surveying to this day.

In 250 BC, the Egyptian city of Alexandria had the greatest library and university in ancient times. Astronomers, engineers, mathematicians and scholars, from all over the known world, came to Alexandria to study. In 230 BC Pharaoh Ptolemy III invited the famous scientist Eratosthenes of Cyrene to come to Egypt to be his son's personal tutor and to be the head of the Alexandria Library

One of Eratosthenes most important works was his Map of the World, in which the zero meridian line passed through the city of Alexandria . At that time and long after people thought the Earth to be flat, it is interesting that

Eratosthenes clearly believed that it was sphere.

Another of Eratosthenes’ famous achievements was the calculation of the distance around the Earth. Just like Thales before him, his discovery was based on the length of shadows. He had heard that at noon on the day of the sum­ mer solstice, about 21 s'June by our modern calendar, sun light shone down a deep well on the island of Elephantine at Aswan, illuminating the bottom without shining on the walls. This showed that the sun was directly overhead and casting no shadows. At the same time, in Alexandria the sun's rays fell at an angle, and by measuring the shadow cast by an obelisk there, Eratosthenes was able to say that the distance between Aswan and Alexandria was one fiftieth of the circumference of the Earth.

Distance diagramAll he needed to know was the distance between the two cities, but that was not so easy to find in those days.

As he couldn't measure the distance he had to rely on information from travelers and traders who reckoned that the journey from Aswan to Alexandria would take 25 days. Whether traveling on land or by boat on the Nile, the journey would not have been a perfect straight line, but it was the straight line distance that he needed; and he had to assume that Aswan was due south of Alexandria when, in fact, it is about 3° to the east of his zero meridi­an line. So, by estimating the average speed of travel and doing a lot of juggling with the numbers, Eratosthenes came up with the nice round figure of 5,000 stadia for the distance from Aswan to Alexandria. The stadion was a Greek measure of length and, as it was not fixed, we ca nnot be sure which value Eratosthenes used, but it is gen erally accepted that 10 stadia = 1 mile.

Multiplying the distance between the two cities by fifty gave him the value of 250,000 stadia or 25,000 miles for the circumference of the Earth. We know that our planet is not perfectly round. The distance around the Equator is about 24,900 miles while measured through the north and south poles the circumference is roughly 24,820 miles, so Eratosthenes' value was remarkably accurate considering the very inaccurate data he had to work with and the large amount of guesswork involved.

The ancient Egyptians themselves never thought of the world as being round, but they drew maps, were able to construct pyramids with sides aligned precisely north-south and east-west, and could calculate lengths, areas and angles to a high degree of accuracy. The Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle (mid-fourth century BC) wrote that "the mathematical arts were first set up in Egypt ." Seven hundred years later, the Greek mathematician Proclus wrote that "geometry was first discovered among the Egyptians, taking its origin from the measurement of areas." So, though Thales and Eratosthenes have given their names to some important scientific discoveries, we can be fairly sure that their inspiration actually came from Egypt.

Bear logoSources British Museum , Petrie Museum University College London, Ancient Egypt magazine

Don Bearcroft Curator


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