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September 2013
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Lecture Programme

Newport Transporter Bridge is a familiar and much loved feature of the Newport townscape and our August speaker, Mrs Anne Gatehouse, told us how the bridge came to be built and the problems of keeping it running in these difficult economic times. The River Usk has a huge tidal range and when faced with a pressing need in the late nineteenth century for improved links between the industrialised eastern side of the river and Pillgwenlly on the western side where most of the workers lived, whilst also allowing tall-masted ships to navigate the river, a transporter bridge provided a novel solution. The bridge opened in 1906 and has operated ever since although with some breaks in service for repairs and maintenance. It is still an exciting experience to drive or walk onto the gondola for the crossing, and the engine house is another wonder which is well worth seeing. If you are feeling more adventurous you can climb up the towers and do a high level crossing for a bird’s eye view over Newport and the surrounding area. The talk made us realise we have some real gems on our doorstep, and the important role of local groups such as the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge (FONTB), in helping keep such treasures in the public eye. FONTB organise regular events and run the visitor centre.

The next talk will be at 2pm on Wednesday 4th September at Abertillery & District Museum in Abertillery town centre. The September speaker will be Mick Bailey whose talk is entitled “Garden Birdwatch”. Please come along; entry is £2 and tickets are available in advance at the Museum, or at the door (subject to availability).

Fund raising August – £260

100 Club August

No. 6 K Webb £25
No. 4 S Smale £10
No. 32 R Withers £5

Diary Dates

Wednesday 4th September Garden Birdwatch by Mick Bailey

Wednesday 2nd October Transport and Industry Around the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal, Gilwern to Llanfoist by Robin Williams

Coffee Morning – date to be announced

Wednesday 6th November Stanley Spencer War Artist by Pete Strong

Get Well Wishes

Roy Pickford has been in hospital for some weeks now, patiently (?) awaiting an operation. We all hope the wait will soon be over and that you make a speedy recovery.  

Hidden Histories

There is invariably something of interest to be discovered wherever you go, but sometimes you have to delve a little to find it. I visited Lydford recently – a small village on the edge of Dartmoor. It has a primary school, village hall, pub, castle and church but is known mainly today for its impressive gorge which is under the stewardship of the National Trust and well worth a visit. The castle points to a turbulent past but just how turbulent only became clear when I read a little pamphlet giving a potted history of the town. There are Bronze Age remains in the locality and a Christian Centre was established in about 600AD but Lydford’s importance emerged in Saxon times when it was one of four towns established by Alfred the Great on the frontier of the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. There are fortifications from these times, and further fortifications were erected as part of the defence system against the Vikings. A Royal Mint was established during the reign of Edward the Martyr (975-978) and the Mint continued production until 1050 using locally won silver. Twenty or so coins from this time are held in the British Museum but many more are in the Royal Stockholm Museum as a result of the ‘Danegeld’ which was a tax levied to pay off the Viking Invaders. The payments were in vain as the town was ransacked and burnt in 981. Further destruction took place when the Normans reached the town; they then built a fortified earthwork, the predecessor to the later Norman Keep which can still be seen today.

Without the helpful little booklet on sale in the church the casual visitor would have little inkling of the former importance and history of this now quiet village. Even the last one hundred years have seen many changes with no trace of the shops and tradespeople then to be found in the village.

Thank you Canon Martyn Bateman for having compiled the history of Lydford and similar thanks to the many unsung historians who research, compile and keep alive the stories of our towns and villages. Museums like ours do a similar stirling job!
Jen Price


British apples are now ripening and beginning to make their appearance at market so if you have an opportunity to buy Gwent varieties of apple, why not try them. Better still, if you have the space (and dwarf varieties are available) why not plant one or two Gwent varieties. You will have to visit a specialist nursery, or perhaps a beer or cider festival to find them, but you will then be doing your bit to conserve a piece of our local history as well as having some delicious fruit. Apples and pears were once an important crop in Gwent, particularly in areas such as the Gwent Levels where part of the tithes were paid in fruit.

On a more general note the importance of apples on the British scene is shown through the tradition of wassailing which is about waking up the apple trees and saying thanks for all the produce given the previous autumn. The term ‘Wassail’ comes from the Anglo Saxon phrase waes hael, which means ‘be hale’ or ‘good health’. The call ‘wassail’ should be answered with the response ‘drink hale’.

Tawny Owls

By way of a little taster for the Garden Birdwatch talk at the Museum in early September, here are a few facts about the tawny owl – the original ‘twit-twoo’ owl. It is a night bird and is so well camouflaged that you are unlikely to see it roosting in a tree during the day. The tawny owl, about the size of a pigeon, is the wise old owl which features in fairy stories, Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter. It is the commonest owl in Britain and more successful than, for example, the barn owl which still needs support with artificial nest boxes and the like. Now for the disappointing news. A tawny owl doesn’t actually call ‘twit twoo’. The ‘twit’ is more of a ‘ke-wick’ and is the owl’s contact call, while the ‘twoo’ is a more like ‘hoo-hoo-oooo’ and this is the male’s territorial call. So, if you hear what is popularly described as ‘twit twoo’ what you are really hearing is ‘ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo’ and is most likely a male answering a female. So now you know!

Your Memories

Can you please let me have your memories of summers and autumns past to feature in the next Newsletter. Days out, holidays, travel by train, your first flight, package holidays – there are loads of stories to be told so please share them. Ring or write to me, or drop some notes off at the Museum. I try to be at the Museum one morning a week so perhaps that would suit you?
Jen Price

Mametz Memorial Concert

You may be interested to know that on Saturday 21 st September, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in North Road, Cardiff there is a concert aimed at raising funds for the repair and renovation works needed to be carried out on the Memorial to the 38 th (Welsh) Division at Mametz Wood in the Somme. The concert will feature Cor Meibion de Cymru and tickets are £10 and £12. The concert is called ‘Lest We Forget’.

Local Voices


The site of many geological trips because of its formation. As a child I remember travelling with my parents, by coach, from Llanhilleth to Crickhowell and “getting out” on the bridge, tramping up the side of the Sugarloaf to Uncle Will’s Farm (Uncle Will and my father were at Senghenydd Colliery Disaster pre First World War).

My father was a lover of horses and his “Bran Poultices” were a “cure all” for injured horses at the farm.

Haymaking was the main work during the visit but picking whinberries (which covered the approaches to the Sugarloaf) for tarts or sale at Abergavenny Market was much featured.

Walking from Llanhilleth to relations in Argoed via Pen y Fan is another memory.
Arthur Lewis O.B.E.

Recent Acquisitions

We have quite a number of ‘In Memoriam’ cards – small cards which it was the custom to distribute at the end of the 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Some are fairly plain while others are quite ornate but they all have a sad tale to tell of the loss of a loved one. Those telling of the death of a child are particularly poignant.

We hope that before long we will be able to accommodate a case where recent acquisitions can be displayed for a short period before being incorporated into the main displays or stored in the archive room.

Don’t Eat Blackberries After Old Michaelmas

Old Michelmas – 10 th October - is the date in the Christian calendar when the Archangel Michael expelled Lucifer from heaven. The Devil landed in a thorny blackberry bush and in disgust he cursed and spat on it. The scientific explanation is the development in late autumn of bitter tasting tannins.

Book Corner

The recent publication of the fifth volume of the Gwent County History in June marked the completion of a major publishing project by the University of Wales Press and a massive achievement for the Gwent County History Association which emerged some seventeen years ago.

On a more local note, Brian Foster has recently published a 55 page booklet entitled .A Different Time, a Different World – Pontypool Police Court Cases 1850 - 1876’ The booklet is priced £4 and I (Jen Price) can obtain copies for anyone wishing to buy one. I hope Mr Foster will not mind me quoting one case, to give you a flavour of the reporting and cases of the time:

Saturday, August 1 st, 1874 Free Press


George Newcombe was charged with assaulting Wm. Bell. Defendant said that he was provoked by being called a fool and a b….y hound. Complainant said that defendant has called his wife a b….y cow. Both parties were in the employ of Mrs Edmonds, at the Menagerie. Fined 10s.  

Poetry Corner


Brynhyfryd School upon the hill
Its massive walls remembered still
At the fence I’d often stand
Looking out across the land
River Ebbw flowing by
And playing fields would catch the eye
Railway and the colliery there
Sending coal to who knows where
The Institute a wondrous place
Would many snooker tables grace
Kibbys shops and T.A. Hall
And bowling green I do recall
Cinema and Horseshoe Bend
The coalhole where I had a friend
The Central and the Top Hotel
Bakers where the bread would smell
Island station on the track
The rugby team all dressed in black
Llanhilleth in my younger days
The memory of them still stays.

Dagworth Orville Charters


Mrs Jean Hunt passed away recently. She will be missed and our thoughts are with Cliff and his family at this sad time.


September Newsletter, Dangerous pets. Or sometimes you have to learn the hard way!

We played with the 3 brothers from Popes Farm (Tr Watkins: or Cwm Farm). On one occasion when we were playing in their garden we saw a rat that had fallen into a metal drum, one boy T T decided to pick it up by its tail. As he lowered his hand into the drum the rat flew at his hand and bit onto his index finger! T T let out a scream running around trying to dislodge the Rat, Albo Pope the grandfather of the farm boys came and took T T into the outhouse, and laying his arm on the salting bench he chopped the Rat across his neck. The Rat dropped to the floor dead and T T was rushed off to the doctors. He was lucky said Albo, a rat does not let go once he has bitten until his teeth meet.

I had a Persian cat which I was very fond of. When I had Scarlet Fever I was confined to bed; my cat went missing which upset me. My friends looked for my cat and one day they came to the house, they had my cat on the end of a wire. They had found him in the Old Barn with his throat torn out! He had obviously gone ratting, this time there were too many for him and they cornered him, this last fight he lost.

As young boys we played on the mountain top above Pant-Y Pwdyn. One day I saw a white bag with a £ sign on it lying on the ground. I called the others before picking it up; when I opened it and saw its contents I let out a yell and started to run. I did not stop running until I was home in my house. The others did not know what was in the bag but they ran home with me! What was in the bag? It was an Adder! The markings on its neck and body were prominent.

Don with pet snake around neck

When I started work in Six Bells Colliery as an Apprentice Electrician, sometimes the smallest apprentice was given an unpleasant task which I knew nothing about. If a new armoured cable was to be installed from the substation it first had to be pulled from there to where it was required. Someone had a rope tied around his waist and had to crawl through the cable duct dragging the rope behind him. Once they were through the armoured cable was pulled through using the rope. I could see the other electricians in a group talking surreptitiously and looking at me. Ernie Webber who was Assistant Electrical Engineer at that time came over to me and told me to go with him as he had a job for me, there was quite an outcry from the others but never the less he took me away and then told me that there was no job, it was a ruse to save me from what the others had intended for me.

My Father always quoted to me that travel broadens the mind meeting many interesting people. I have added to this as I also find the variety of their pets more interesting. When we were in Weymouth market we met a Snake Man who had a variety of snakes, the largest of which was an Anaconda. He also had a Python which he allowed people to drape around their necks while he took photographs. On this occasion it was quiet and I felt that it was too good a chance for me to have a go; I stepped up to have the Python put around me.

Peggy said the Python was a change from my Surgical Collar! The snake man asked me to look after the Python for a while as he saw to his other snakes. A large crowd had gathered and it was interesting to see the looks on the ladies faces when they passed by.

On our trip up the River Nile we visited a Crocodile Farm where we were allowed to handle baby crocodiles and also put them around our necks if we wanted to. There was a bigger baby crock but they would not let me handle it as I was told it would take my finger off!

Don Bearcroft Curator

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