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October 2013
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Lecture Programme

Natural history was the subject of the Museum’s September lecture, more specifically, garden birds. Mick Bailey of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) told us about the work of the BTO in gathering information about birds through ringing and surveys, including the weekly reports of members on the birds that visit their gardens. Over the years this information has been invaluable in identifying patterns in the numbers and movements of garden birds. We learnt a lot about why numbers can fluctuate through the year and from year to year, and the valuable habitat our gardens provide for the birds we all love to see and hear. A couple of those who attended the lecture have since joined the BTO and others will doubtless be looking at the BTO website for more information about the work of the Trust or to use its excellent store of information about the many birds to be found in Britain.

The next talk will be at 2pm on Wednesday 2 nd October at Abertillery & District Museum in Abertillery town centre. The October speaker will be Robin Williams whose talk is entitled “Transport and Industry around the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal, Gilwern to Llanfoist”. Non-members are welcome; entry is £2 and tickets are available in advance at the Museum, or at the door (subject to availability).

Fund raising September – £149

100 Club September

No.18 Renee Morgan £25
No.53 Marje Roger £10
No.83 Jean Colwell £5 

Get Well Soon

Roy Pickford has had his operation and we hope he will soon be back on his feet and helping out at the Museum once more.

Bernard Hill has been unwell recently and is about to have a second operation. We send our best wishes that he too has a speedy recovery.

Diary Dates

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

Friday 4th October weekly until 16th November - Roman Britain by Frank Olding £3 per lecture or £15 for all six lectures

Saturday 26th October - Coffee Morning John Taylor will tell us about current projects to regenerate Abertillery

Wednesday 6th November Stanley Spencer War Artist by Pete Strong

Thursday mid or late November Christmas Fayre

Local Voices

CWMTILLERY COLLIERY –Saturday 5 th April 1873

At this mine about a mile from Abertillery, there were districts East and West, and in the latter, some old workings had recently been developed. At about 10.00 pm on Friday 4 th April, Joseph Sharpe, the Night Fireman had reported the area to be gas-free and about 6 hours later James Brown, Day Fireman, had entered the old West Side Workings. He saw here the evidence of a severe explosion that had gone unnoticed by others in the mine. He called for Mr. Wallace, the Manager, and the two soon came upon the bodies of :

Thomas Owen Unmarried 20
George Evans Unmarried 17
James Matthews wife + I 30.
James Connors Unmarried 42
William Moore Wid /Ch 25
Henry Phillips Unmarried 24

They had been killed by the heavy falls brought down by the blast. Also badly injured were William Cobbett and John Leary.

It was the opinion of the Manager that in leaving the workplace to take their supper the men had left open a Main Air Door. They had remained overlong at their rest, long enough for a build up of gas, and following their return the door had been closed behind them. The following inrush of air had wafted this accumulation of gas onto the naked lights. It would have been impossible, he said, for the explosion to have happened if the men had remained busy at their work.

The two injured men are under the care of Mr. Hale, Physician. James Matthews aged 39, Henry Phillips aged 24, and George Evans aged 17 were buried at Blaina on 8th April. The graves of the others are not yet found.

Brought out in ''A Pitiable Condition '' were John Griffiths, John Henry Wales, Robert Wellington, John Jones , Donald Samuel, Charles Swain, John Dando, William Lewis, Tom Roach, John Dacey, George Wakely (a boy ) and John Llewellyn. Two days later John Llewellyn and Charles Swain succumbed to their injuries and were buried respectively at Blaina and Herman Nantyglo. A stone at the latter ground reads: ''Charles beloved son of Noah and Hannah Swain of Cwmtillery''. Also injured were George Capel, Silas Capel, Charles Taylor, James Morgan, William Flicker, Richard Jones, and Thomas Miles. George Wakely and John Llewellyn lived at Blaina, the others in the Abertillery District and most of their deaths resulted from severe burns.

This was the finding at the Inquest which was held at the Bell Inn; the Jury Foreman was Lewis Richards. On July 13th 1877 a John Griffiths was buried at Blaina Church, A 19 th victim may also have fallen. Lewis Richards was an Abertillery grocer who in 1878 (if not before) became Chairman of the Local Government Board.
Enid Dean

Your Letters

Dear Newsletter 12th September 2013

Newsletter September 2013, Poetry Corner – Llanhilleth

What a wonderful poem. I lived in Llanhilleth – Railway Street, No. 12, No. 52, No. 2 and finally 23 next to my sister Councillor Mrs F.M. Protheroe J.P., Chairman of Abertillery Urban District Council in No. 25 and uncle Oliver Rogers in No. 21 Secretary of Llan. Cricket Club before moving to Attlee Avenue in Abertillery.

I could write a saga about the places mentioned in the poem, also other well known shops.

As for Brynhyfryd School, I was in the infants there before moving to Tyr Graig then back to Brynhyfryd at age 11 years until 14, before leaving for pit work. My one and only introduction to the cane was age 11 from Mr ‘Bosher’ chemistry teacher -“You spilled water Lewis, it could have been acid”.

How many colliers of Llanhilleth Colliery remember one of the finest mining Engineers, Phil Weekes in the Llan Office as Miners Group Manager NCB, Hobart House in London, and then South Wales Director NCB, resigning after the Scargill Strike and later Director of Ebbw Vale Garden Festival. Quite a friend.
Arthur Lewis O.B.E.

Book Corner

The Bleeding Land by Giles Kineton. This is the first novel of a trilogy telling the story of the English Civil War and the struggles of the Rivers family - the father and his eldest son who fight on the side of the King and the younger son who joins the Parliamentarian Army.

It also tells of the wife and daughter who are left at home and have to defend the house against the onslaught of a Parliamentary attack.

It gives a detailed account of the battles in the early stages of the war and the personal struggles of each family member. In the final battle Sir Edmund Rivers is killed. The older son helps rescue the King’s Standard and the younger son is believed killed in the battle.

Brothers’ Fury by Giles Kineton. Brothers’ Fury is the second novel of the trilogy of the English Civil War and the struggles of the Rivers Family.

Edmund, the elder son, is now the head of the family and, angered at the death of his father, he is determined to continue the fight in the Royalist cause despite peace talks between the King and Parliament.

Tom, the younger renegade son, although badly injured managed to escape the battlefield and, now recovered from his wounds, returns to the fight to pursue personal vendettas.

Meanwhile their sister, Bess, heart-broken at the death of her father and lover, decides to leave her son with her mother and go in search of her younger brother. Her journey to London is dangerous but she hopes she will be able to re-unite her family.

This is an exciting story of the Rivers family and a land turned upside down by a brutal and tragic war.
Jean Colwell  

Christmas Fayre

This will be held in the Museum in mid or late November and this year we are opting for a Thursday so pop into the Museum to check on the date. This event generates a significant sum and so it is an important part of our fund-raising calendar. But we need your help. We need items to sell on the usual range of stalls – crafts, cakes, good bric a brac, books, toys, tins, crackers, bran tub, bathroom items etc. Please bring your contributions along to the Museum.

We need helpers to set up and man the stalls and clear away afterwards.

We need people to come along and spend their money so please come yourselves, bring family and friends and spread the word.

Abertillery Primary School

Very soon the building that houses Abertillery Primary school is to be demolished.  Paul Gibbins is embarking on a major educational project whereby the children will investigate the history of the site from 1902 onwards. 

It had a variety of uses from an early mixed secondary school, a secondary modern, a junior comprehensive and more recently, a primary school. 
If anyone has direct experiences involving the building and its various schools Paul would be delighted to hear from you.  It would be invaluable if some of the children could talk to you about what you remember or what relatives have told you. 
The project will culminate in a book on the building and its history but the pupils need your stories. 
Please get in touch and become part of this historic venture. Paul’s email address is below or please call at the Museum for more information.

Paul Gibbins <>

Poetry Corner

‘My Candle Burns at Both Ends’
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

Edna St Vincent Millay 

Newport Memorial Plaques

Those of you who came to the talk on the Newport Docks Disaster may be interested to know that two plaques formerly in St Woolos cemetery have been relocated to St Mark’s Church in Newport, following an attempted theft. One plaque commemorates the 39 people who died and the other reproduces a poem entitled ‘Soldiers of Industry’ by WJ Collins, a former editor of the South Wales Argus. Plastic replicas are to be placed in the cemetery.

Thank you Peggy and Sharon

The storeroom now has new carpet tiles and replacement shelving, thanks to the hard work put in by Peggy and Sharon – yet another of those invaluable jobs that get taken care of behind the scenes and another reminder of how much we need our volunteer helpers.


Underground Anecdotes or, Black Humour!

Men who find themselves in stressful situations often use humour to relieve their or others stress. This is predominant of men in dangerous circumstances such as the mining industry.

When a thunder storm occurs especially on a night shift electricians were required to leave their work underground and return to the surface. A lightening flash could induce a surge in the power supply causing electrical feeders switches to trip out on overload. The electricians were required to reset these switches. One night as we ascended in the cage due to a thunderstorm the winder switch tripped out. The winder stopped but due to the inerter the cage continued on up the shaft until it ran out of the kinetic energy force after which it plunged back downwards. It then began a yo-yo action (you could almost feel the winding rope stretching). Those not holding on were forced to the floor, after regaining our feet a hollow voice was heard calling from below. “Are you still there” it called? Yes we replied. “Don’t go away” was the answer. An elderly fitter who was with us commented, “ We are stuck in a hole in the ground hanging on a piece of rope. Where the ell do e think we will go!”

If a miner was injured and had to be carried out on a stretcher he would be surrounded by his butties vigorously searching him for his chewing tobacco or his snuff. “He won’t need it now” they said! “You’re nothing but a bunch of ****vultures!”Cried the injured man.

We had a report that due to bad roof a fall had occurred on a face damaging the Stator Box (connection Joint Box) on the Panzer motor, we had to take a new box down to the face and fit it on the motor. On the way into the face we passed men on stretchers being carried out it was obviously a dangerous roof fall. When we reached the fall, the men had uncovered the motor so we could change the box. Much to my chagrin I was told to stay out of the face as I was married with two children! The two who went in were both single men. Much to my relief I was called in to help as the box proved too heavy and they needed my help. As I crawled into the face a Collier said. Leave your leg stretched out”.Why?” I asked. So we can see where to dig if you’re buried”! He replied.

On another occasion a face phone and signals were not working. The face had not crash-packed for a week; the roof in the waste was just hanging and could fall at any time. My job as I was the smallest was to crawl up the face testing the system as I went, the two large electricians and the Fireman waited for me at the entrance. I was half way up the face when with a sound like thunder the roof collapsed like a pack of dominoes coming towards me. I curled up tight against a roof support with the roof falling around me, after the dust settled I could hear a voice in my handset which had been buried calling me to answer. I cleared the debris covering me and retrieved my handset. After I answered on the handset the panzer was used to clear the fall which enabled me to crawl out of the face. The three giants waiting for me began a tirade of abuse because I had not answered quickly enough. They were frightened and worried about my fate.

On the night of the Six Bells Colliery Disaster a Mines Inspector, an electrician together with others went into the district to inspect the damage. They took a canary with them using it to detect gas. As they got near to the coal face they saw the canary was in the bottom of his cage. The electrician tapped the cage asking. “Is you dead canary” the canary woke up and jumped up onto his perch. The Mines Inspector remarked. “He’s not dead, he’s like us he doesn’t like working ****nights!

This is only a very small part of incidents I encountered working in the mine.

I apologise to any miners who read this as it will be all very mundane to them, I also apologise to my father who was completely buried in a roof fall and my Uncle Stan Bearcroft whose back was broken by a large stone falling from the roof, living on in great pain for a short while afterwards.

Bear LogoI suspect though that they also heard the black humour used to comfort them during their ordeal.

Don Bearcroft Curator.



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