Dates for your Diary
Closed until further notice.
Museum opening times
Closed until further notice.
Suspended pending re-opening of museum.
The museum has commissioned some Perspex screens for the café area. They are being made for us by a local gentleman, Martin, who has done work for us in the past. We have also had permission from the council to have a dedicated wash hand basin installed in the café’s kitchen for those working behind the counter. These things, together with the sanitizer and other cleaning products we have ordered, should make it possible for us to re-open soon though the new local restrictions have further complicated the matter.
Cwmtillery Post Office
Thanks to Mr Jason Gray of Aberbeeg, the museum has now acquired the sign from above the old Post Office in Cwmtillery. Builders were working on the post office and were going to throw the sign away but it was rescued by Jason who planned to display it at his home. Unfortunately for Jason, but fortunately for the museum, the sign proved to be too long for his needs, and so he has kindly donated it to our museum where, hopefully, it will soon be up on the wall for all to see. Thanks too to Andrew for kindly collecting the sign from Jason and transporting it to the museum.
The sign which will soon be on display at the museum.
Get Well Soon
Reader and supporter Mrs Marge Selway, who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year, is currently in hospital.
We send her belated birthday wishes and also wish her a very speedy recovery.
The Argos Catalogue -
End of an Era
Hands up if, like me, you have an Argos catalogue at home! If so you have a piece of history as sadly, Argos has just announced that, after 48 years, there will be no more!
Argos started life in 1972 as ‘Green Shield Stamp’ stores. The stamp shops were the brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Tompkins and Tesco signed up to the stamps, giving them to customers as a reward for shopping at Tesco. The stamps came with a book to stick them in and once you had sufficient books filled, you could exchange them for goods chosen from the catalogue. It was a great success making Tesco one of the biggest retailers in the country.
Richard had the idea of allowing people to use cash rather than just stamps (which took ages to save) and so, in 1973, he started re-branding his catalogue stores as ‘Argos’.
By 1977, Tesco were finding it hard to compete with a new cut-price supermarket ‘Kwik Save’, and so decided to ditch the stamps and just cut prices instead. This gave Richard Tompkins the chance he needed. It allowed him to stop the stamps entirely and convert his new Argos stores to cash purchases.
At the height of its success, every year Argos was printing 20 million copies of its bi-annual catalogue. The January edition (spring / summer) usually led with gardening equipment and patio furniture, reflecting the season ahead, while the July edition (autumn / winter) always had jewellery at the front as jewellery was a popular Christmas gift.
I always reached for the Argos catalogue whenever I needed inspiration for that birthday or Christmas gift and was the place I turned to for small electrical items such as kettles, irons, and toasters. They were always competitively priced, had so much choice and were nearly always in stock; you just popped in, filled out your slip with the 7 digit code and walked out with your heart’s desire. And you could buy (and still can for that matter) with confidence, knowing that you had a no-quibble, 30-day exchange or refund returns policy should you be unhappy with your choice.
Come the 21st century, with internet shopping giants such as Amazon increasingly popular, Argos started to struggle and ironically, while it started life with connections to Tesco, it is now owned by rival supermarket, Sainsbury’s.
I shall miss skimming through its catalogue as while the same range and more will be available on its website, you can’t browse a website in quite the same way as a catalogue. How many new and innovative gadgets will pass us by simply because we don’t know they exist? You can’t search for something you aren’t aware of.
I still have some ‘vintage’ items sourced and purchased from Argos catalogues of the early 80s; one is my tea trolley and the other is my (over) 35 year old Goblin Teasmade which still wakes me with a lovely cuppa every single morning!
If you have any vintage items from Argos, do let me now and if you can supply a photo, all the better! Sallymurphy@talktalk.net
My vintage tea trolley and fully functioning tea-maker.
Article sourced from
John Babbacombe Lee - The Man They Couldn’t Hang
In Babbacombe Devon, is a lovely museum called Bygones. It is a privately owned, family run museum and is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the vicinity. From the outside it looks quite small but inside, well, let’s say it’s like Dr Who’s Tardis! It was there in January 2020 (that seems a lifetime ago now) that I first heard of the tale of John Babbacombe Lee.
Nineteen year old John Babbacombe Lee had been found guilty of murdering his employer Emma Ann Whitehead Keyse. Keyse was in her late sixties and is thought to have been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria in her younger days. She lived in Babbacombe, Devon…
On the night of 15th November 1884, the cook was awoken to the smell of smoke and, realising the house was on fire, raised the alarm. Lee, who was a footman to Miss Keyse, ran to a nearby pub to seek help. While extinguishing the fire, the body of Miss Keyse was found. She had been stabbed and had suffered a head injury.
Lee had a criminal record and quickly found himself under suspicion even though the evidence against him was flimsy and circumstantial to say the least. Lee protested his innocence; indeed those who knew him said he was very fond of his employer who had been very good to him. She had put a roof over his head and he had nothing to gain from her death. Despite all this, he was found guilty of her murder and was sentenced to death by hanging.
The execution was set for 23rd February 1885 at Exeter prison. His legs and arms were bound and he was placed on the trap door. The executioner pulled the lever but the door didn’t budge. He pulled again but still nothing. Warders pounded on the trap door with their feet but still nothing.
After what must have seemed a lifetime to poor Lee, he was taken aside while carpenters were called in to fix the faulty trap door. It was tested with a heavy weight and found to be working. Once more Lee was placed back on the trap door and once more the lever was pulled but the trap door refused to open.
Yet again Lee was moved aside and for the second time carpenters were brought in and this time they shaved the door down in an attempt to get it working. It was tested again and once more it worked perfectly.
For the third time Lee was placed on the gallows and for the third time the lever was pulled but the trap door refused to budge. It is said the Chaplain, who had been present throughout, could bear to watch poor Lee no more and he refused to stay any longer.
Lee was eventually returned to his cell and soon after the Home Secretary of the day, Sir William Harcourt, commuted Lee’s sentence to life in prison.
Lee, who always maintained his innocence, served 22 years in prison before being released and then emigrated to America where he lived until he died in 1933 aged 67.
The trap door had worked perfectly for other prisoners, both before and after the attempt to hang Lee so, was it coincidence or were there other forces at work? We shall never know….
For more information on Bygones Museum use this link.
The House Spider!
Yes, it’s that time of year again; you’re sitting in your living room watching TV of an evening when suddenly a huge black spider scurries across the floor in front of you! Until recently I always thought that it was the cooler weather that drew these spiders indoors for a warm but not so apparently. This spider was most likely born in your home in the spring. It has been hiding, feeding and growing right under your nose for months.
The ones you see scuttling around are most likely males and they have broken cover to search for a female to mate with and to start the whole cycle all over again! Yes apparently we all share our homes with around 30 spiders at any one time; they’re not called ‘house spiders’ for nothing!
We are a largely urban population now but our rural roots are still in evidence, not least in the long school holiday in July and August. This goes back to Victorian times when, apparently, it was decided to close schools over that period as many children would not have attended school in any case because they would have been needed to help with the harvest.
We still celebrate harvest festivals – these festivals go back to pagan times to celebrate the gathering of the main crop and they used to be accompanied by feasting to give thanks for food safely gathered in. In this country it is now usually celebrated in churches and schools and other organisations in late September or early October, near the time of the Harvest Moon. When I was a child I can remember going to Harvest Festival at West Bank Chapel and the upstairs, where services were held, would be decorated with fruit and vegetables, flowers, a couple of sheaves of corn, and an enormous loaf of bread shaped as a sheaf. The food was given away afterwards and this is still the case although nowadays the produce, which is donated, is as likely to include tinned foods as fresh produce.
We can still get corn dollies although now they are bought in craft and souvenir shops – a far cry from their historic pagan roots. It is said that the corn spirit lives in the living crop and so when the corn is harvested, the spirit's home is destroyed. Corn, a term which can be taken to cover all cereal crops, was vitally important and in bygone days, if a crop failed the results could be catastrophic for those relying on it. The final sheaf of corn therefore had a very special significance since it signalled the end of the labour intensive harvest time, the start of feasting to celebrate the harvest, and the provision of a safe home for the corn spirit itself. The final sheaf was held up for all to see and was then taken away to be made into a corn dolly by plaiting or weaving. The corn dolly could be male or female and was at the heart of the post-harvest celebrations. The dolly would then be stored in a safe place over the winter to ensure the corn spirit was at peace and then, when springtime came, the dolly would be ploughed back into the ground at sowing time, to restore the corn spirit to the earth.
Hazel Hill 1920 – 2010
Eighty years ago on October 31st 1940 saw the end of the Battle of Britain with Britain emerging the victor having seen off the German Luftwaffe thanks to the bravery of our pilots and the speed, manoeuvrability and gun power of their Spitfire fighter aircraft. But it may well have all ended so differently had it not been for a 13 year old school girl, Hazel Hill who, until recently, has not had the recognition she deserved.
Hazel’s father Frederick, worked for the ministry of defence and in 1934 he asked his daughter for help in proving that the Spitfire plane needed eight guns rather than the four that were being planned. Many at the ministry believed that eight guns would make the aircraft too heavy but Frederick Hill was convinced that eight would be needed to gain air superiority in the event of a second war with Germany. His young daughter was a very talented mathematician and it was her calculations that convinced the ministry of defence to build the Spitfire with eight guns and the rest, as they say, is history…
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