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October 2008
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Museum Lectures

Scott Reid gave a very interesting talk on some notable painters from Merthyr, and whose works can be seen at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum.  Scott brought his subjects to life and left all of us keen to visit his Museum to see the paintings for ourselves.  The paintings will mean that much more now that we know something of their background.

Autumn Trip

Roy Pickford is hoping to arrange a trip to Llancaiach Fawr on Saturday 18th October, price £13.  Please contact him to book your place. Tel: 01495 213377.

Christmas Fayre

This will be on Saturday 8th November at Ebenezer so please make an early start with sorting out items for the usual range of stalls (handicrafts, bric a brac, toys, bathroom, books etc) as well as items for the bran tub, crackers and raffle prizes. We will need helpers to man the stalls so please let Peggy know if you can help.  We also need prizes for the grand raffle at the December lecture and a more modest raffle at the Social Evening in late November; please help.

Fundraising September - £100

Museum Society Social Evening

This promises to be a real treat! Please come along to the Commercial on Tuesday 25th November at 7.00pm for an evening of fun and entertainment.  Tickets £3 including light refreshments.

Diary Dates

Wednesday 1st October 2008James Green of Llansantffraed 1759 -1814 by John Evans

Saturday 4th October 2008 Blaenau Gwent Heritage Forum – see over for details

Saturday 18th October 2008Autumn Trip to Llancaiach Fawr £13. Contact Roy Pickford 01495 213377

Wednesday 5th November 2008 - Coal Shipping at South Wales Ports by Tony Jukes

Saturday 8th November 2008Christmas Fayre

Tuesday 25th November 2008Museum Society Social Evening at The Commercial

Wednesday 3rd December 2008A Woman’s Lot in Tudor and Stuart Times by Susanne Allen

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.

You may also be interested in events organised by the Gwent County History Association:

Saturday 11th October - Day School: The Towns of Medieval Monmouthshire, at the Memorial Hall, Usk.   Call 01633 660830 for more details.

Saturday 1st November - Chartist Day School.   Call 01633 660830 for more details.

Thank you Biffa!

We are thrilled to be able to announce that Biffaward are giving us a grant of £5,000 towards the cost of providing a new ‘shop front’ to the Express Café in the Museum.  This very generous award means that we can press ahead with the project and are hopeful of starting later this month.

A letter from across the Atlantic

I noticed in a recent copy of the Museum Newsletter that you sent a request for stamps.  For several years I’ve collected stamps in the hope that one of my grandchildren may ‘get the bug’.  Alas this was not to be.

So, I enclose an assortment of used stamps for your collection.  Do feel free to discard any that are of no use.

My longest-time – but not my oldest – friend, Sylvia Matthews, sends me the Newsletter since I dropped my membership.  She and I started our education in the ‘Babies Class’ in Ty’r Graig School and Sylvia actually remembers what we wore on that auspicious occasion.

My brother, David Thomas (Hereford), is a member of the Museum whose founder member was Gladys Andrews, my aunt-by-marriage, and wife of our uncle, John Andrews, former headmaster ay Queen Street School.

I’ve put you in the picture as to my family tree to show you the interest I still have in the history and future of Abertillery…” Gwen Wild

Comment – Thank you for the stamps Mrs Wild, and for your continuing interest. If you visit one of these days you can be assured of a warm welcome.  If you would care to contribute a piece to our ‘Local Voices’ section of the Newsletter, it would be much appreciated.

Congratulations Bernard! 

Our Assistant Curator Bernard Hill always stays out of the spotlight but Don Bearcroft would be the first to emphasise the important role he plays behind the scenes.  October is a special month for a special birthday when Bernard is 70!  Congratulations and many happy returns.

Blaenau Gwent Heritage Forum

Is holding its 3rd Annual Day School on

Saturday 4th October 2008 10.00am – 4.00pm

Ysgol Cymraeg/Welsh School, Brynmawr

Tickets £5 from Blaenau Gwent Ventures

Tel Box Office 01495 305800

This promises to be an excellent event with guest speakers –
Dr. C. Stephen Briggs
Dr. Madeleine Grey
Mr Roger Morgan
Mr Peter Walker

Local Voices


As well as the wonderful scenery and mountains of Abertillery and District, socially we have a wealth of organisations which help bind us together.  In big towns and cities they too have a lot of organisations but one could be a stranger in their midst.  No so in our town, one can join any group and immediately we feel at home and are really welcomed.  Over the coming months I shall endeavour to remind you of the ones with which I am familiar.  If, after the series ends, I have forgotten some, you will let me know won’t you?

Well, first and foremost in ‘organisations’ is our own Museum Society.  We all know the history of its formation and events leading up to the present.  We know of the historical and educational aspect but equally it is a social asset to the town.  People continually pop in for a cuppa and a chat.  If we were in one of the big city museums, one would quietly wander around and maybe sit and have a cup of tea (and probably pay more for it).  You would probably not recognise a single person there.

But not so in Abertillery Museum.  Whenever one goes in there is always a familiar face with whom one can have a chat and put the world to rights.  It is probably not as old as some other organisations I shall be mentioning but it is certainly high on the priority list, with monthly lectures, coffee mornings, trips etc.  If you are not a member I urge you to become one…I can thoroughly recommend it.

Till next month. The Roving Reporter

Poet’s Corner


Where will you go Mary Ann,
when you leave this valley behind,
Will you be chasing a dream,
what are you hoping to find.

The teaching’s all done,
qualifications you’ve gained,
can give you a career,
in work you’ve obtained,

You’ll never forget that
old grey stone built school,
Or these tree covered hills,
where once only ferns grew.

Wherever you go may you
find sweet music of love,
To sustain you through all
those years that you have.

You’ll remember your roots
when your home is elsewhere,
But if ever you’re in need,
remember we are here.

Wherever you go Mary Ann,
No matter what joy you find,
I know you’ll always remember,
love of those you’ve left behind.

Gordon Rowlands, 2007

100 Club August

Bernard Jones £25

Vera Smith £10

Marge Blackmore £5

100 Club September

23         Marion Layton £25

34         Jill Phipps £10

107       Glyn Bevan £5

Please help to recruit a new member to the 100 Club – just £1 a month but this regular source of income is important to the Museum.  As you all know there is no charge for entry and so we must continually fundraise to meet our costs (and electricity isn’t getting any cheaper!).

Pub Names

Pig and Whistle – this is believed to refer to ‘pig’ a which is a drinking vessel and ‘wassail’ which is a toast to good health.  There are earlier records (1600) of the use of the phrase ‘pigs and whistles’ to mean odds and ends while to go to ‘pigs and whistles’ meant going to ruin. Take your pick!

Cross Keyssign of St Peter, gatekeeper of heaven.

Lamb and Flag symbol of the Knights Templar.

Navigation – usually alongside a canal tow path.

White Hart – the emblem of King Richard II it was popular during his reign and a name and has continued to be popular.

Royal Oak - After the Battle of Worcester 1651 in the English Civil War, the defeated Prince Charles escaped and reached Bishops Wood in Staffordshire where he hid in an oak tree and later escaped. He became King Charles II and to celebrate this good fortune his birthday 29th May was declared Royal Oak Day and the pub name remembers this.

Crown  - A name which became very popular after the Restoration of the Monarchy to demonstrate people's loyalty to the Crown.

Can anyone throw any light on some of the more unusual names around such as the Goose and Cuckoo?

Birds of Gwent book coverA book to treasure - Anyone with an interest in the Birds of Gwent will delight in this new book of that title. By WA Venables, AD Baker, RM Clarke, C Jones, JMS Lewis, SJ Tyler et al

416 pages, line drawings, 32 pages of colour photos, distribution maps.  Price £39.99


Museum Matters     

"I don't believe you! How do you know you weren’t alive then, you're telling lies!" This remark was made by a lady in a visiting group after I had explained about one of our artifacts on display. I knew the provenance of the article which is over 100 yrs old but she was quite right I was not alive then. How do we know about objects from the past? Here are some of the methods that scientists use to date objects.

Historical dating

Archaeologists try to work out the age of sites by using ancient calendars and written records. This method, known as historical dating, is still used today. For any historical dating the system has to be reasonably complete and archaeologists have to be able to tie it in with modern dating systems.

Seasonal dating Tree-ring dating

"The passage of time and the seasons affects the growth of plants and animals and leaves tiny traces in their bodies. Andrew Douglass used this information to develop a dating system known as Tree Dating. When wood samples from archaeological sites are matched and overlapped, archaeologists can extend the dating back into prehistory. A number of master patterns have been constructed for different parts of the world. One of the longest is the pattern for Europe, which is based on the remains of Irish oak trees and stretches back to around 5500BC.

Sediment layers, varves

Melting glaciers deposit layers of sediment, known as varves, on the edge of lakes. This has been  happening since the end of the last Ice Age scientists have recorded sequences of varves from several glacial lakes. By counting the number of varves in each lake, they can work out the age of the lake. They have linked a number of these sequences together to produce one continuous sequence stretching back 13,000 years, from the present to the time when the first ice sheets started melting. This gives them a reasonably accurate date for the end of the last Ice Age. The sequence serves as a useful guide to help date local archaeological sites. It also gives vital information about weather conditions over thousands of years.

Radioactive decay 

Radioactive chemical elements found in plant and animal remains, pottery, and even in rocks, form the basis of several modern archaeological dating methods.

Radioactive clocks

The radioactive forms of elements, such as carbon and potassium, are unstable, which means they tend to decay, giving off energy and radiation. Each element decays at a certain rate, and scientists can use this knowledge to work out how old an object is, if they know what it is made of. The rate of decay is called a "half-life", which means the time it takes for half the element to decay. Different elements have different half-lives, from a few seconds to thousands of years. For example, one type of carbon has a half-life of 5,730 years, while the half-life of one variety of potassium is about 1.3 billion years.

Radiocarbon dating  C14

Plants absorb C14 during photosynthesis, the process they use to make food. Animals take it in when they eat the plants. But it decays as fast as plants and animals take it in, so the level of C14 inside them stays about the same. When they die, the C14 inside their remains continues to decay. But now they are not taking in any more and the level goes down. Scientists can measure how much of the original C14 is left. As they know how long C14 takes to decay (it has a half-life of 5,730 years), they can work out how old the remains are.


Fission-track measurement  

Fission-track measurement is used to date rocks and objects, such as glass and pottery that contain uranium minerals and were made using extreme heat. This works by counting the microscopic tracks made during the fission (splitting) of a radioactive form of uranium called U238. This process starts as soon as the object begins to cool down after the firing process in its manufacture. The rate of fission is constant, so the age of the material since the fission tracks began can be calculated.

Rock  (K-Ar) dating

Potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating is based on the decay of a radioactive form of potassium, known as potassium-40 (K40), to form the gas argon-40 (Ar40). Potassium-40 is found in rocks, so K-Ar dating is used to date the rocks that contain ancient objects, rather than the objects themselves. When archaeologists know the age of the rocks, this tells them the age of any objects inside the rocks

Dating with light (TL) dating  

Thermo luminescence (TL) dating is another method of dating pottery. After firing, energy from the decay of radioactive elements in the clay is trapped. This builds up as the years pass. When the pottery is recovered by archaeologists, sometimes thousands of years later, scientists take a sample by drilling out a tiny amount. They heat this up, and trapped energy is released as light. By measuring the strength of the light, the scientists can calculate how long ago the pot was fired


Cat scans or sectional X-rays are used to "see" through the wrappings of mummies and measure the skull and body underneath. They feed this information into a computer, which creates a virtual skull and makes a face to fit, using the same average measurements that more traditional reconstructions use. Then skin texture was added. The old X-rays weren't very clear, so this reconstruction involved a lot of guesswork. The reconstruction also revealed new medical evidence and scientists found traces of a rare disease that made the Pharaoh

Tutankhamun vulnerable to injuries, and some marks suggesting he'd had a serious fall. Perhaps this is why Tutankhamun died aged only 18. Many chariots were found in his tomb, he may have been a boy racer.

Bear logoArcheologists differ on the findings of others and are among the first to say.

"I don't believe it!"

Don Bearcroft Curator.


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