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October 2014
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Lecture Programme

In September 1940 a Blenheim Bomber crashed in heavy mist into the hillside above Abersychan, killing the three members of the crew. Mr Ken Clark gave the September lecture at Abertillery & District Museum on the subject of this tragic accident. Mr Clark had an attentive audience as he explained how the plane came to be flying above Pontypool and the likely reasons for the accident. He also told us about the three men who flew the aircraft, the general background in the context of the war, and how the local townspeople reacted. Mr Clark and fellow local historians had clearly put a great deal of time into researching the story and then working hard to ensure that the site is marked with a fitting memorial to the three brave men who lost their lives.

The next talk is at 2pm on Wednesday 1 st October at Abertillery & District Museum in Abertillery town centre and is entitled ‘Into the Abyss: Gwent in 1914’. The lecturer is Peter Strong who will describe life in Gwent as the First World War approached and the reaction of the County to the declaration of hostilities.

Fundraising September - £761

The Museum would like to thank Liz Wiles and Robert Emmanuel for their donation of £100 towards the £1000 cost of the Ash’s mural. A big thank you too to all those who have put something in the glass collecting jars. All the donations are much appreciated.

100 Club September

No. 131 Chris Budd £25
No. 23 Alison Line £10
No. 81 Marge Selway £5

Diary Dates

Wednesday 1st October – Into the Abyss, Gwent in 1914 by Pete Strong

Saturday 11th October - Coffee Morning

Wednesday 5th November The Mysterious World of Bees by John Holden

Saturday 22nd NovemberXmas Coffee Morning

Tuesday 2nd December All day Christmas Fair at Winterfest

Get Well Soon

We send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Gwyneth Hutchings who has been in hospital recently.

Birthday Wishes

To Mr Terry Charles, one of the Museum’s regular visitors and a poet as you will see below.

Poetry Corner

‘Riches in a Book’

I love my books on the shelf,
For many years gives me untold wealth.
As a child my parents have sown the seed,
By giving me many exciting books to read.
Stories that brought alive many far away places,
People seem so real I could picture their faces.
Now my hair is turning grey as I grow old,
My favourite book I always loved and never sold.
It has a leather cover and gold edged pages.
I bought it long ago with my first wages.
In that truly unique book which is very old,
I found riches that’s worth more than gold.
If only people would open their covers and look,
What riches they would find in a book.

Terry Charles  

Local Voices

Something about a shed

As I watch my grandson rootling around in the shed I wonder what it is that makes a shed so irresistible. I remember as a child poking around the big brick shed in my grandparents’ garden. Goodness knows what treasures I expected to find as it was mostly full of things my Grandad used in his garden and allotment. Years later, after my grandfather’s death I was in the shed again, this time looking for garden tools which I myself might be able to use. Now that I have my own allotment I wish I had anticipated a use for more of his tools. Then I remember that what is more important is for him to have passed on his infectious love of growing things to eat. And so, too, my grandmother with her love of flowers and her willingness to pick them and bring them into the house. I remember her now as I watch the pink Japanese anemones, taken from a clump in her garden, waving in the gentle autumn breeze.
Jen Price

Exhibition success

Our museum put on a WWI exhibition at the Macmillan coffee morning in Abertillery Library. There was also a quiz which the museum team won after a tie breaker involving 8 additional questions.

Anarchy in Abertillery

In 1913 resentment against the behaviour of trade union leaders in South Wales crystallised in the setting up of Workers Freedom Groups in the regions, and reports from these and other Freedom Groups around the country were reported in the anarchist newspaper called ‘Freedom’. The Workers freedom Groups advocated a society based on Anarchist Communism. The heavy casualties of the first two years of the Great War led to the introduction of conscription in January 1916. The state was concerned at the opposition to war as expressed by the Workers Freedom Groups and attempted to clamp down on their activities. A number of their members were arrested, including Christopher John Smith, a coal miner active in the Abertillery Freedom Workers Group. Whilst at work on 22 nd March 1916 his house was visited by a police inspector and anarchist literature was confiscated. Christopher Smith appeared in court the following month, under the Defence of the Realm Act, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for advocating a down-tools policy to the prejudice of the national interest. The Freedom newspaper said that Smith’s ‘crime’ was distributing leaflets amongst the miners. Smith was also charged with sending a letter to a newspaper calculated to prejudice recruiting. Smith told the court that he had been a soldier in the Boer War but had since changed his mind about militarism. He was imprisoned at Usk where he apparently served out his sentence in good heart, and with his views unchanged. If anything, the experience strengthened his revolutionary views.

Salvation Army Abertillery 1898

When the 1898 miners’ strike swept Wales, the Salvation Army helped with the supply of food and clothing. The Salvation Army Barracks in Abertillery were used as a soup kitchen and food was supplied by the townspeople. Many of the shops had stopped giving trust, leaving many of those affected by the strike to be dependent on relief. By 1900 the Salvation Army had proved itself as a lasting and effective working class movement not just in Abertillery but throughout Wales.

The Jewish Chronicle 1900 reported in February and March of that year that Mr M Ash of Somerset Street had given a balloon clock to be drawn in aid of the War Fund (the Boer War). The draw raised £6 which was given to the local Soldiers and Sailors’ Families Association.

Edith Cavell

The name is familiar but who was she? In brief, she was the World War One British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. She and Belgian and French colleagues helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium. She was arrested, tried with 33 others by a German military court, found guilty of ‘assisting men to the enemy’ and shot by firing squad on 12 th October 1915.

Edith Cavell was born in Norfolk in 1865, the daughter of a vicar who, although poor, brought his family up to be selfless in the service of those more needy. She proved herself to be a resourceful child, helping her father raise money for a new schoolroom by painting cards to sell and writing to influential members of the church authorities.

Edith had her early education at home. Between ages 16 and 19, she went to three boarding schools, in London, Bristol and Peterborough, where she learnt to become a pupil teacher and, through her own teacher, became an accomplished French speaker.

In 1886, she became a governess, looking after the young children of a vicar in Essex. Edith was remembered as being full of fun, a young woman who enjoyed dancing and tennis although her compassion was always close to the surface. When, a little later, travelling in Austria using money from a small legacy, she came across a free hospital and was so impressed by it that she donated some of her money towards its upkeep. In 1890 she moved to Belgium as a governess and spent five years there, returning home to nurse her sick father. This led her to decide to enter nursing and she trained at the Royal London Hospital where she won a medal for her work during a typhoid epidemic.

Edith stayed there for four years and then successfully applied for the post of assistant matron at Shoreditch Infirmary where she set up an innovative scheme for nurses to visit patients who had been discharged in their own homes, to help them through the first days. In 1906, Edith she took on a temporary post as matron in a hospital for the poor in Manchester and Salford.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, a surgeon called Antoine Depage was very dissatisfied with the quality of the nurses who were mostly nuns and had little or no training. He wanted to set up a nurses' training school similar to the ones in Britain and make nursing a proper profession - it was looked down upon at that time in Belgium. He wanted an experienced matron to run it who spoke fluent French. Edith was recommended by one of her former pupils. She accepted the post and the nursing school she established went from strength to strength in terms of numbers of nurses trained and the high quality of the training provided.

Edith was on a short break visiting her widowed mother when war broke out, and when she heard that Germany had invaded Belgium, Edith returned at once to Belgium. The school's clinic was taken over by the Red Cross and Edith was allowed to continue in her post, despite being a British citizen and therefore deemed an 'enemy' of the invading Germans.

The Germans reached Brussels on 20 th August and the wounded of all nationalities started to pour into the clinic. They were treated equally; Edith’s strong Christian beliefs motivated her to help all those in need, both Allied and German soldiers, saying “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved”. However, she was soon faced with a near impossible dilemma when the hospital received some wounded British soldiers who had been cut off from their colleagues and who faced certain death if found by the Germans. She hid them and helped them escape – the first of many as she gradually became more and more involved in an underground network aimed at returning soldiers to neutral territory. That network helped over 200 Allied soldiers to escape occupied Belgium. Edith knew that she herself risked death if caught, and that she was compromising the neutrality of the Red Cross Hospital but she felt compelled to help. Meanwhile, she carried on her usual nursing duties caring for the many wounded, mainly German, soldiers who came there.

When the network was betrayed, Edith was arrested, found guilty of ‘treason’ and condemned to death. Representatives of the Spanish and American governments made pleas on her behalf, as also did the German Foreign Ministry in recognition of her work with wounded German soldiers but the military authorities were implacable. The execution was carried out at dawn on 12 th October 1915, Edith still wearing her nurse’s uniform. She seemed to harbour no bitterness towards her prosecutors, saying on the eve of her execution, “ I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Those last few words are inscribed on a stone tablet near her statue close to Trafalgar Square.

Thanks to Jean Colwell for the information used to prepare the above account.


Last month I had appointments at St Woolos Hospital this was the only hospital that I had never been to. I had 3 appointments in a week, seeing the building for the first time I realised that it was old and asked the nurse accompanying me about its historical beginnings she told me that it was originally Newport’s Workhouse telling me where to upload this information.

In the spring of 1836, Assistant Poor Law Commissioner George Clive visited the south Wales and catalogued a multitude of malpractices and poor conditions relating to former parish workhouses in the area. Many workhouses are rented in the county of Monmouth; in the parishes now forming the Monmouth Union, nearly £150 is annually paid in rent for them. In only one or two of these houses is there any attempt at a dietary or employment regime, in none classification, in the generality every kind of abuse. In Monythusloine poorhouse the contractor keeps a shop; different families have apartments in the house; the whole is filthy to the last degree. In one room was a woman who has had nine bastard children, the last confessedly born in the house; and from the time she had been resident there were, doubtless many more. The system is much the same in the Newport poorhouse, though no shop is kept; the inmates going in and out for work or pleasure, the whole being enlivened by a lunatic in rags, who was running about where he pleased.

Newport Workhouse

In 1835, the Newport workhouse on Commercial Street had Elizabeth Morgan as its Mistress. After 1834 Newport Poor Law Union was formed on 1st August, 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of 43 Guardians representing its 40 constituent parishes. The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 24,252 with parishes ranging in size from Llanwern (population 22) to Newport with St Woolos (7,052). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £6,817 or 5s.10d. per head. The Board of Guardians met at the workhouse each Saturday at noon. A Newport Union workhouse was erected in 1837-8 at the south side of Stow Hill in Newport on land donated by Sir Charles Morgan. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £4,000 on construction of the building which was to accommodate 200 inmates. The building was designed by T.H. Wyatt. Its layout adopted the popular cruciform or "square" plan, with an entrance block at the north, behind which four wings radiated from a central supervisory hub. Enclosed exercise yards for the different classes of inmate were created by the perimeter outbuildings .

Newport Poor Law Board inspections of the workhouse on 15th July 1865 and 9th June 1866 resulted in a critical report: “ The sick wards are small and sometimes crowded. The workhouse is not adequate to the wants of the union, though there is a supplementary hospital (lately somewhat improved) where sick tramps and foul cases, and infectious disorders, are treated. An order has been issued for enlarging the workhouse, but many of the Guardians wish to postpone the additional building on account of the expense.”

The Guardians realised that expansion was needed and the workhouse was enlarged in 1868-9 which cost £10,000 increasing its capacity to 500. The main additions were a new hospital and infirmary on additional land that had been purchased at the west of the workhouse. A chapel was also erected at the north of the site 1902-3, a larger expansion took place when the workhouse was almost entirely rebuilt at a cost of £60,000 with only the 1869 infirmary, hospital, and chapel surviving. The new buildings followed the popular pavilion-plan principle with a number of separate ward blocks connected by passageways. The site, now known as St Woolos Hospital, has been redeveloped but a variety of older buildings still stands along the south side of Stow Hill. The union operated a casual ward for vagrants at 67-69 Stow Hill.

Caerleon Industrial School

In 1859, the union acquired a property on Mill Street in Caerleon for use as a residential industrial school, initially with a capacity of 188 children. The numbers being placed at the school soon required that additional accommodation be created and, in 1861, extensions to house a further 200 were approved by the Board of Guardians at a cost of £4,600. The school's staff included the superintendent, the matron, a female industrial trainer, a farmer, a bailiff and a porter. As well as elementary education in reading, writing and arithmetic, the children were taught singing. The boys could join the school's military band and also received physical training playing football and cricket. The girls learnt needlework and all the girls' clothing as well as the boys' shirts were made on the premises. The school's 14 acres of land were cultivated under the supervision of the bailiff. Cows were kept and some of the girls could milk and churn. In 1886, a house was erected for the superintendent of the school and his family.
Don Bearcroft

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