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October 2011
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Museum Matters

The Museum is always glad of volunteers and so if you think you’d like to be involved, please call at the Museum for a chat. We will be having the AGM soon and this is advance notice that we need a programme secretary. We have unfortunately had to call off the October lecture as the speaker we had planned is unavailable, and without someone able to do a little chasing, we are unable to fill that slot at short notice. If you think this is a post you could fill (you will get help with ideas and contacts if the role is new to you) please speak to Peggy Bearcroft.

Can you please be sure to try and come along to the AGM on 31st September – this is your Society and the AGM is a chance to hear about what goes on behind the scenes as well as the more obvious activities, and for you to ask any questions you may have.

We have unfortunately had to call off the October trip – this just seems to be a year when our members have lots of prior engagements. We will try and ensure that we give ample notice for the Spring trip. The trips have always been popular but we have to be able to fill a coach in order to keep the cost to a reasonable sum.

I hardly dare mention it but Christmas is coming up and so can you start thinking about making and putting aside items for the Christmas Fair. It is one of our main fund raising events so we need your help for items for the usual range of stalls. A notice will go up in the Museum when we know the date and venue.

September fundraising: £192


Long-serving Museum Society members Marge and John Selway celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary recently. They kept it quiet and so we hope they won’t mind if we use the Newsletter to send our congratulations and best wishes. Marge and John clearly know the secret to a long and happy marriage.

Diary Dates

AGM – Monday 31st September 2.00pm at the Museum

100 Club – September 2011

Please see next month’s Newsletter.

Nonconformism in Wales

The movement goes back to an historic meeting in 1693, at Llanfaches near Newport, when William Wroth organised his followers into a Puritan church. The first Baptist chapel was established ten years later on Gower. A further twenty years on between 300 and 600 people were attending clandestine religious meetings in Merthyr Tydfil district and by the end of the seventeenth century more chapels had been established. Just two of these now survive, one being Llanwenarth Baptist built in 1695 and later enlarged.

Throughout the eighteenth century the Nonconformist movement continued to grow, including the erection of small chapels in the developing industrial areas of South East Wales. By the end of the century more than a hundred chapels had been erected, most comprising simple, barn-like structures with earthen floors and a pulpit placed centrally between twin entrances.

During the nineteenth century Nonconformism grew rapidly and came to outstrip the established church in terms of numbers of worshippers and numbers of buildings. As part of a debate concerning ‘spiritual destitution’ a census was undertaken in 1851. This showed that there were more than twice as many chapels (2,784) as Anglican churches (1,176) in Wales and that of those who attended worship, 87% were Nonconformist, a much higher proportion than in England.

The growth of the movement was even more intense in the latter part of the nineteenth century with chapels rebuilt to accommodate growing congregations. Chapel membership and chapel building were given added impetus by the frequent religious revivals and the result was that there were more chapels in southern Wales than in any part of Britain.

By 1905 another two thousand chapels were in place and yet more were to come, especially after the famous religious revival of 1904-5, and chapel building continued at a prodigious pace up until the First World War. Chapel building came to an abrupt end after the war as disillusion set in and unemployment took its toll. However, by that time, some five thousand chapels had been built in Wales.

Most of the early chapels were the products of local builders, often members of the chapel itself, who gleaned their ideas from the illustrated catalogues of the period, thus giving a common character to many of the buildings. From about the mid nineteenth century more and more chapels were designed by professional designers such as Beddoe Rees of Cardiff. Although the later chapels tended to become more elaborate as congregations became wealthier, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and for much of the nineteenth century, chapel builders avoided the ceremonial associated with the Anglican church and instead designed ‘preaching theatres’ where the most important element was the sermon. As a consequence, chapels tend to be squarish in plan and internal galleries on three sides became important features in all but the smallest churches.

The thousands of chapels built in Wales over the last couple of centuries are a quintessential part of the country’s architectural heritage. However, changes in the pattern of religious observance and population shifts have led to the under-use or redundancy of an increasing number of chapels throughout Wales. Many chapels have outlived their original purpose and many have been lost. It has been estimated that the rate of closure is as high as one per week. In many Welsh villages and communities the chapel is, or was, the dominant building and many are excellent examples of the architectural styles of their age using, for the most part, local, hand cut stone and embellished with Classical or Gothic elements. Few people can afford or would wish to build in such a manner today and the loss of these chapels, which resulted from the outpouring of religious enthusiasm and architectural craftsmanship of a bygone age, is wellnigh irreplaceable. The conversion of these unused or underused buildings is key to their preservation and Cadw has issued guidance to help and encourage sympathetic conversions.
Source: Chapels in Wales, Conservation and Conversion published by Cadw

Poet’s Corner

‘True Price of Coal’

In June 1960 on the 28th day
45 miners were sadly taken away
A memorial is now standing
To remember them all
And an annual service held at St Johns Parish Hall.
Gone but not forgotten we can
All say with pride When we look back to that day
And how tragically they died.
B Inch

The recent death of four miners in the Swansea Valley was a reminder of the dangers of the coal industry and the toll it can take on a local community.

More Secret Army Details

The recent interest in the activities of the so-called ‘Secret Army’ has resulted in more details of how it was conceived and its operational intention in those dark days of World War II.

Early in 1941 a secret weapons centre called Aston House located near Stonehenge received an order for 1000 cases of mixed stores for ‘Auxiliary Units’. If and when Britain was invaded by the fast moving Germans it was the intention of the Government that these forces would go to ground and form guerrilla units who would fight following their occupation of the country. The men of Aston House scattered dumps of explosives and other stores throughout the southern areas for use by these ‘stay behind parties’.

The units made up of regular soldiers and selected civilians were commanded by Major General Colin Gubbins who created a secret underground army that would be specially trained to use the weapons. They would operate from secret underground chambers constructed by the Royal Engineers in remote places such as forests where a dozen men could live with food and ammunition and with hidden vents for air. Their purpose was to attack the German occupying forces and then vanish away their dugout hiding places.

The information being gathered at the time suggested that the Germans would invade somewhere between Yarmouth in Norfolk and Southampton in Hampshire, a coastal stretch of some 300 miles. Gubbins decided however that his forces would have to cover a much longer coastline. His resistance cells would be set up from Pembrokeshire in South West Wales, round the coast to Lands End, Dover and John O’ Groats.

The specially selected men were trained in the use of explosives – how to make the least amount to the most damage, how to blow up railway lines, set booby traps, where to place charges on petrol tanks, in vehicles and parked aircraft, how to blow up bomb dumps and destroy petrol stores and also how to improvise and make explosives when stocks ran low.

When plastic explosive was introduced the Auxiliary Units were the first to receive it. It was nicknamed ‘marzipan’ because of its consistency and smell. Other arms supplied to the secret auxiliary units were Thompson sub machine guns, sticky bombs, booby traps, Fairbairn knives and snipers’ high velocity 0-22 rifles with telescopic sights. The Germans were known to use tracker dogs and to counter these Aston House produced a substance to put dogs off the scent and so safeguard secret hideouts. They came up with selenium sulphide – one part in a million gives the ‘stink’ to crude oil.

A brief description of the Auxiliary Units in Monmouthshire entrusted to Alan Hollingdale and its implications for Abertillery was given in an earlier Newsletter. It is clear that the Government were actively preparing resistance cells with substantial material backing to operate in the advent of a successful German invasion. Individuals were appointed and training courses organised to familiarise them with a range of weapons. All o0f this took place at a time when invasion barges were being directed from European rivers to the French Channel ports and active defences were being organised along the south coast of Britain. The loss of heavy equipment after the Dunkirk evacuation was of special concern at this time. There is no doubt that this was an organisation with serious intentions in a period of great uncertainty for Britain which was relieved only by Hitler’s invasion of Russia on 22 nd June 1941.

With our present knowledge of the Allied Invasion of Europe with its complex planning and execution one wonders how successful a German invasion of Britain would have been in 1940. The Government clearly believed that it could happen and took steps to organise effective resistance if it succeeded. The Auxiliary Units were disbanded in 1944.
Laurence Hale, September 2011

Book Corner

Laurence Hale has provided some fascinating articles on the ‘Secret Army’. If you would like to read a work of fiction which takes forward the Secret Army scenario then a good read is ‘Resistance’ by acclaimed local author and poet Owen Sheers; the book is published by Faber at £12.99. The plot presupposes that the Germans defeated the Normandy landings of 1944, and counter-attacked so powerfully that they soon occupied almost the whole of Britain, even sending a seven-man patrol to take control of the minute Black Mountains valley that is the book's arena. The soldiers' purpose there is unexplained. There seems no reason for their presence, and the sparsely populated valley turns out to have no men in it at all, only farmers' wives and their animals. The absent males, we begin to learn, have left the valley to become members of the secret British resistance, the Auxiliary Units.

I won’t tell you any more; it is a good story.

Nursery Rhymes

When the schools ask for Tudors & Stuarts as their theme for a museum visit I read nursery rhymes which originated during those times. They may be of interest to our readers.

Please to remember The fifth of November

Gunpowder treason and plot; I know no reason
Why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot

Refers to the Gunpowder Plot

The Bubonic Plague (Black Death)

Ring-a-Ring o'Rosies A Pocket full of Posies
"A-tishoo! A-tishoo!" We all fall Down!

Ring around the rosy A pocketful of posies
"Ashes, Ashes" We all fall down!

I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear;
The king of Spain's daughter came to visit me,
And all was because of my little nut tree.
I skipp'd over water, I danced over sea,
And all the birds in the air couldn't catch me.

Refers to Joanna of Castile, who visited the court of Henry the Seventh, in the year 1506.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again!

Humpty Dumpty CannonHumpty Dumpty was in fact an unusually large canon which was mounted on the protective wall of "St. Mary's Wall Church" in Colchester, England. It was intended to protect the Parliamentarian stronghold of Colchester which was in the temporarily in control of the Royalists during the Civil War (1642 - 1649).

A shot from a Parliamentary canon succeeded in damaging the wall underneath Humpty Dumpty causing the canon to fall to the ground. The Royalists 'all the King's men' attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall but even with the help of 'all the King's horses' failed in their task and Colchester fell to the Parliamentarians after a siege lasting eleven weeks.

Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.

The origins of the nursery rhyme are believed to date back to the 16th century and refer to necessity for Catholic priests to hide in 'Priest Holes' ( very small secret rooms once found in many great houses in England) to avoid persecution from zealous Protestants who were totally against the old Catholic religion. If caught both the priest and members of any family found harbouring them were executed.

Also refers to the post Civil War period (middle 17th century) Cromwell’s soldiers who marched in “goose-step", which gives the title and first line.

The third line as, " There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers” . This referred to a Catholic, possibly a Priest, praying using the Catholic service and the line: "I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs" alluded to the nickname "left-footer", that a Catholic is sometimes called in Britain.

The overall meaning was that the Roundhead soldiers were searching out Catholics, particularly Priests, hiding in the houses of friends, and when found they were ill-treated".

Jack Sprat could eat no fat His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them They licked the platter clean. Jack ate all the lean, Joan ate all the fat.

The bone they picked it clean, Then gave it to the cat

Jack Sprat was wheeling, His wife by the ditch.
The barrow turned over, And in she did pitch.
Says Jack, "She'll be drowned!" But Joan did reply,
"I don't think I shall, For the ditch is quite dry.”

The Jack Sprat alluded to in this English poem is reputed to be King Charles I (1625-1649) and Henrietta Maria, his Queen (1609-1669). Apparently, when King Charles (Jack Sprat) declared war on Spain, parliament refused to finance him (leaving him lean!) So his wife imposed an illegal war tax (to get some fat!) after the angered King (Jack Sprat) dissolved Parliament.

Old Mother Hubbard composed in 1805 written by Sarah Martin was based Bear Logoon the Housekeeper at Kitley House Yealmton, Devon. In the poem the lines, “The cupboard was bare” and “ The poor little doggy had none”. Refers to the food shortages during the Napoleonic Wars there are as many as 25 verses to this rhyme.

Don Bearcroft



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