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October 2007
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Don Bearcroft is our guest speaker this month, taking us to the sunny climes of Egypt.  As an added bonus, there will be a small exhibition of Egyptian items in the Museum.

Gwent County History Association This Association was specifically set up some years ago to publish the history of the County in several volumes.  Volume II, covering the Norman Conquest to the C15 creation of Monmouthshire, will hopefully be available before the year is out.  The Association organises a number of fund-raising events including, on 19th October, a lecture and buffet supper at Lord Raglan’s home at Cefntilla.  Cost £15 per head; for more details ring Gwenllian Jones 01633 894338.

Fund raising September - £276

Communities@One have awarded us a grant for a laptop computer; many thanks!  A special thank you to Helen Kell for her help.

Cllr Cheryl Morris, local Ward Councillor, has secured a donation of £100 from the Council, for which we are very grateful.

Charity Appeals

Craft Fair on 24th November in the Metropole.  We are taking a stall so please help with handicrafts to sell.

Knitters needed for Velindre Hospital – small Christmas puddings (needed by mid-November) and Easter chicks (needed by January).  Peggy has patterns in the Museum and puddings and chicks left there will be collected.

Diary Dates

Wednesday 3rd October A Journey up the Nile from Thebes to Abu Simbel by Don Bearcroft

Wednesday 7th November From Camera to Canvas by Nora Lewis

Saturday 10th November – Christmas Bazaar, Ebenezer Chapel

Saturday 24th November – Craft Fair upstairs in the Metropole

Wednesday 5th December1804 Ship’s Surgeon by Roger Morgan

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.

Christmas Bazaar

This will take place on Saturday 10th November at Ebenezer Chapel so please get busy with your arts and crafts and putting aside items for the usual range of stalls and attractions.  Let’s make this a big success!  Please bring donations of handicrafts, bric a brac, sweets, tins, bathroom items, toys etc to the Museum. 


We were sorry to learn that Jane Peirson Jones, former Director of CMW and s strong supporter of the Museum, died recently.

Anti Jewish Riots Tredegar 1911

There are a number of old photographs at Bedwellty House in Tredegar including one showing the damaged shopfronts resulting from these riots.  It seems that one Saturday night in August 1911, a group of workers, after a night at the pub, attacked a Jewish shop. By the time the police arrived, the number of rioters had multiplied to more than 200 and they were rampaging through any property having Jewish connections in Tredegar. The windows of all Jewish owned shops were broken, eighteen shops were plundered and destroyed by the rioters, but nobody was injured.  Winston Churchill, the British Home Secretary, sent in the army, but the troops arrived after the rioting had largely subdued.

 Although the riots spread beyond Tredegar and affected (but to a much lesser extent) many communities in the Welsh Valleys, there appeared to be no permanent damage to the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of the town and the Jews continued to live and trade in Tredegar for very many years.

The Tredegar riots were the only reported instance in Britain of serious anti-Jewish riots since medieval times and were probably as much a symptom of the general economic difficulties facing the population as any inherent anti-Semitism.  Tredegar was in economic crisis at the time, with several coal strikes due to wage reductions, and a rise in the price and a shortage of basic goods due to a railway strike.  The local Jewish community in Tredegar was relatively affluent as many were traders, and they also had properties which they rented out, allegedly at high rents which their hard-pressed tenants were having difficulty paying.

Does anyone have more information on this?

Old specs and stamps

Jen Price is still collecting these items which go to help the blind and partially sighted in the third world.

Blaenau Gwent Heritage Forum

The Forum held its 2nd Heritage Day School on Saturday 1st September, in Tredegar.  Mr Peter Jones, Chairman of the Forum, welcomed everyone and gave a brief outline of the work of the Forum.

The first speaker was John Hilling, who has published several books on the architecture of Wales.  The title of his talk was “Blighted Hills or Industrial Landscape?”  He explained that we should look at the landscape as an historical document and a window on the past.  He accompanied his talk with a slide show and explained how our industrial heritage has shaped the buildings of our area.

The second speaker was Mrs Daphne Condon who spoke on the History of St Cadoc’s Hospital, Caerleon.  She stated work as a ward maid at seventeen, went on to train as a nurse and ended her career running special clinics for patients with mental illnesses.  She spoke of the changes that had taken place in the care and treatment of such patients and staff but with the development of new treatments life became easier.

After a buffet lunch the afternoon session was opened by John Evans, the local historian from Blaenavon.  His talk was entitled “The Quakers in Monmouthshire During the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s”.  They were particularly active in the Brynmawr area and provided work in new industries for the unemployed.  The furniture they produced became famous.  Their work also brought knowledge of the conditions in the area to a wider world.

The final speaker was Richard Keen whose talk “South Wales, Ten Generations of Landscape Change” described how landscape has a powerful influence on our environment and industrial buildings also have an effect on the landscape.  Mr Keen illustrated his talk with slides.  These buildings should be preserved as they represent the history of the last 200 years and remind us of the hardship suffered during that time.

All the speakers answered questions from the floor and the day ended on a positive note with the hope that there would be more such days in the future. The Forum has just published its first Journal (£1.50 per copy).  It is hoped to publish the next issue before Christmas.  The theme of the 2nd issue will be WW2, and articles with a local interest will be welcome. The Forum holds monthly meetings…its membership comes from Local History and Museum Societies together with individuals with an interest in local history.  For further details of the Journal and Forum contact the Secretary, Janet Karn tel Tredegar 722687.

Jean Colwell

Local Voices

‘Earliest Memories’

As far as I know, I could always read – I did not have to learn it, but in 1936 I had to do what the other children did.  We recited by rote a -t ‘at’, c-a-t ‘cat’.  I asked my mother what we were doing; she chuckled.

My school was on the mound overlooking High Street in Six Bells.  It contained four classrooms, an important small “governor’s room”, and a cloakroom.  The walls were all made of wood and painted green outside and lighter green inside.  The girls’ toilets were across the yard.  I never found out what the boys’ toilets were like!  The lowest class held small chairs and some toys (I mean counting frames).  The teacher was a soft, round, pleasant lady.  I believe I wasn’t in her class long.

In the hall was a large rocking horse on glorious rollers.  I never saw it move.  I never saw anyone switch its tail.  It had round brown eyes.  I’d like to ride it now.

There were large iron stoves, one in each room which were gloriously warm.  Each was guarded by a firm fence which we were not allowed near; I never heard of anyone burnt from those fires.  When the weather was icily cold a crate of milk bottles was put inside that fence and that day we had warm milk.

On dark, grey misty Abertillery days, the gas lamps were lit and we’d learn carols.  I can still hear the sound of those gas lamps!  However there were the wonderful days – very rare – when we were allowed to go “up the field”.  It was part of the mountain and we’d run and roly-poly madly as though we’d never been up a mountain in our lives.

Sometimes during “playtime” there’d be a gang of loud boysshouting “Miss, he’s got his head stuck”.  One boy in particular, I’ve seen him in town recently, would have pushed his head thorough the fence to get a wider view of the backs of High Street.  A very determined teacher would stride across the yard.  I always wondered if she’d had to cut off the head.  She’d return victorious.

On the arch of the drive (a pompous word!) there were wide “steps” – we used to play shop there.  I used to go there later to guide my father to check the firewatchers – I’ll tell you about that later.

My friend, Arthur, lived two doors away.  We always walked home by going up the path then down through my Gran’s house in Windsor Road and so home.  On one occasion Arthur and I had picked some branches of pink may from the orchard garden of Jones the milk and were taking them home.  My Gran would not let us into her garden!  We had to throw them down in front of the chicken cots!  We were warned never to take the may blossom into a house. It was unlucky.

I remember that school, wooden and noisy as I look up from my front room window.  The teaching methods were old fashioned but we learned.  If bullying existed I was unaware of it.   Of course my life changed in the “big school”.  The war began.  The “infants” meant my childhood.

Menna Walters

 ‘Pit Clothes’

When I was a child in the 1930s during the depression, I remember my parents waiting anxiously for the pit hooter to go about 4.00pm.  If the hooter went it meant there was no work the next day but if all was silent …..happy faces for there was work the following day.

My father’s working clothes were kept in a rough wooden box in the back kitchen covered by a sort of bench which was prettied up by some cretonne.  We used this bench as an extra seat. I remember my mother mending my Dad’s working clothes, trying her best to get the needle through stiff greasy trousers using a thick thread.  Her poor hands were rough after this work.  Then the age of ‘no-sew’ came.  It was a white paste which would stick fabrics together.  The men then took the patches to work and repaired the clothes themselves.  Then the pit head baths arrived.  What a godsend that must have been to come home in decent clothes clean and fresh.  Progress came with men first being issued with grey underwear and later overalls to work in.  No longer had they to bring their clothes home to be washed.  It was all operated at the pit head baths.  Apparently the week’s dirty clothes were put into your own special bag and went away to be washed.  On the Monday morning in their place would be nice clean ones.

Now the pits have gone and we should be thankful that men have no longer to go underground to earn a meagre living.  And our valleys are once again beautiful.

Roving Reporter

Coal House

Coal House  is the name for a series of programmes going out on BBC1 Wales starting on   22nd October, BBC2 starting on 29th and an omnibus on Sundays.  It is basically a reconstruction of life for mining families in the 1920s, with three families having volunteered for the venture, living in cottages in The Square in Blaenavon.  It will be an interesting insight into the hardships of daily life at that time and all the more interesting for being filmed locally.  The producer/director is Sian Price (Jen’s daughter); perhaps we can persuade her to come along one coffee morning for a few inside stories.


Copy of a letter I have received from a lady aged 80 living in Kent

Dear Mr. Bearcroft,

Last week while I was staying with my niece in Bristol, she took me for a trip into Wales.

It was really a trip down Memory Lane, for my sister and I had been evacuated to Abertillery during the last war. I wondered if you would be interested in my recollection of that time over sixty years ago.   When war broke out in September 1939 it was important to move children out of the cities to where they would be safe from the bombing. Our school was sent first to Deal and then Folkestone on the Kent coast. With the fall of France we were hastily moved to Abertillery, arriving about seven o’clock after a very long train ride. It was raining, of course, we had never seen mountains before and we were tired and hungry and some of us were a little tearful. We were taken to a big chapel in the town and allocated to our new homes. As you can imagine it took quite a long time to get us all settled in, but eventually in ones and twos we were found billets with kind people who opened their doors and hearts to us,

We had come from a large grammar school in South East London, Eltham Hill school. There were two classes for each school year. You started at eleven years old and left at sixteen, at least five years education, so you can see what a large number of girls descended on Abertillery. I don’t think every child came with us. Quite a number stayed in London and took their chance and were taken in by other schools who didn’t evacuate.

It wasn’t long before arrangements were made for us to continue our education. A large co-ed grammar school at the top of Oak St. offered to share their accommodation with us.

The two schools worked independently, for we each had our own teachers and curriculum. As far as I can remember we had the use of the school on two whole days and Saturday mornings. The other days we had classes at a large chapel to the north of the town. I think we used to walk up Tillery St. or maybe Alma St. There were two large classrooms there and we had singing lessons in the chapel itself sitting high up in the choir stalls. We also had the use of rooms over the Co-op shop in Church St. One large room was our art studio, well equipped with all manner of painting materials and easels. The other room was a library. Quite a lot of time was spent scurrying about from one part of town to another with our bags of books etc. for the next lesson. We went swimming in the baths in town. During the winter it was boarded over and used as a place for P.E. We had just a few items for gymnastics, a vaulting horse, box and spring boards. Once a week we had a games lesson on the sports ground on the west side of the railway. We played tennis on the courts and practiced our passing skills for lacrosse (which was our school game). We didn’t use the open-air swimming pool with the school but we did in our own free time if it was warm enough. Netball was played at the school in Oak St.

I can’t remember there being any inter-school activities such as league matches and combined choir concerts but as teenagers one is very self-absorbed. I expect our teachers had more than enough to do with teaching us and keeping us happy and occupied outside the normal school hours.  The responsibility must have been awesome for them. I have since wondered how they managed to find billets for us all, but with a typical Welsh welcome they tucked us all in somewhere. Three years is a long time to have the responsibility for caring for one or sometimes two teenage girls and I remember that most of us changed billets a number of times as circumstances arose, sometimes illness in the family, a new baby, an elderly relative to care for, sometimes when mother went out to work and sometimes, alas, when we behaved like teenagers. For the most part we joined in with the family activities. I was billeted with Mr. & Mrs. Meredith and her two children June and Alan. They lived in Oak St. and I was included in a wedding party, a day trip to Barry Island and a visit to a dairy farm where we drank milk straight from the cow as a treat, ugh!

Later I stayed with Bill and Ruby Rogers in Princess St. Bill was a miner who regaled us with stories of his life underground. When we first arrived in Abertillery a few of the older girls were taken down one of the pits by their hosts. This was soon stopped as our teachers considered this too dangerous. They wanted to take us home alive. Later on we were allowed to go round the pithead.Bill Rogers took us round the Rose Heyworth, the only pit that had pithead baths at that time.

Lots of the girls went to chapel with their host families. I attended King St. Baptist with some of my new friends. It was a great thrill to join the chapel choir and sing choruses from “Messiah”.I have sung this many times since but the first time is always special.We went to an evening service most Sundays conducted by the Rev. Garfield Evans. Afterwards, a small group of boys and girls would walk “up the Rose Heyworth Rd” to discuss the sermon, or so we said. We enjoyed the socials run by the chapel and the little “talent” shows we put on, singing, reciting, sketches, (I always danced).

In the summer we would go for long walks clambering about in the quarry on Mount Arrol (is that the right name?).We picked wimberries on the Cock and Chick behind and above the pigeon lofts to take home to be made into pies, being careful not to add any rabbit droppings by mistake.

During the three years we were in Abertillery we would go home to London for our holidays from school but only if it was safe to do so.

One summer it was too dangerous so arrangements were made for us to stay in the Black Mountains at Capel-y-Ffin with our teachers. We had a great time there busily damming up the nearby stream which didn’t please the farmer one bit. We also helped with the potato harvest on one occasion.

Museum Bear Mascott

In 1943 the decision was made by the school to return home. We had been away for four years and it was thought that the end of the war was in sight. It wasn’t, as it happened and the south-east of England had to endure more death and destruction with the V1 and V2 guided missiles. And so in July after a farewell ceremony in which we expressed our heartfelt thanks to our Welsh friends we departed and made our own way home.

Yours sincerely. Mrs. S. Williams, nee Mainwaring

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