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November 2011
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Museum AGM

Despite it being a wet day the AGM was well attended. The meeting started with a minute’s silence in memory of Margaret Gilson who was an active member of the Museum Society for many years. The Chairman then gave her report as did our Curator and the picture they painted was of a thriving well-loved Museum. The Treasurer’s report also showed that our finances are in good shape although grant aid can be expected to fall in these difficult economic times. The members of the Management Committee were re-elected including Sandra Tranter as Secretary (just one of her ‘jobs’ at the Museum!). Nigel Daniels was elected onto the Committee as a ‘new boy’, and both he and Sandra were also elected as Directors. Peggy Bearcroft gave a big thank you to everyone who helps keep the Museum running smoothly – we are lucky to have a dedicated team of helpers. We are, though, short of a programme secretary. We need someone to take this on for June 2012 onwards (6 lectures per year). Can you help?

Christmas Fete

We need your help in donating items and manning the stalls. Please make a big effort and see if we can raise a record amount this year. We are looking for items for the usual range of stalls - bric a brac, toys, tins, bathroom, crafts etc, as well as needing items for the cake stall, Christmas Hamper raffle, lucky dip and the chocolate crackers. Please bring things along to the Museum. Please also note the Aberfest the following week.

Annual Dinner

Once again this will be at the Top Hotel in Llanhilleth and will take place on Friday 20 th January. Roy Pickford is collecting names and money so please contact him to book your place – 01494 213377.

100 Club – October 2011

70 John Selway, 88 Matthew Price, 81 Marge Selway

100 Club – November 2011

118 Maureen Williams, 110 Margaret Evans, 53 Marj Rogers

Diary Dates

Saturday 5th November Coffee Morning

Saturday 10th December - Christmas Fair starting at 2pm at Ebenezer

Friday 16th December - Winter Aberfest in the Arcade

Friday 20th January Annual Dinner at the Top Hotel, Llanhilleth

Fundraising October £146

Christopher Saxton –
Putting Monmouthshire on the Map

In the early 16 th Century much of Britain’s intellectual and practical aspects of life trailed behind the Continent but in the last quarter they showed considerable progress. One of the practical aspects was the application of cartography.

The principle had been established by Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’ in A.D. 160 in which the basic principles of mapping a landscape and drawing it to a consistent reduced scale had been described. Translated into Latin in 1406, the Renaissance allowed such ideas to spread to Europe and found application in England which at that time had particular intellectual, religious, administrative and political upheavals which characterised the reign of Elizabeth I. While maps had been produced in the past they were compiled from the accumulated knowledge of seafarers and other travellers and assembled by monks onto a conjectural world layout such as the ‘Mappa Mundi’ of Hereford Cathedral. Estate plans had become important when the Dissolution of the monasteries produced the need for landowners to establish their new holdings. No comprehensive map of Britain based on land survey methods existed at this time and the knowledge that Spain was enlarging its fleet and assembling forces in the Netherlands made the production of such a map imperative for defence planning.

William Cecil, later Lord Burghey, held high office in Elizabeth’s administration and recognised the need for factual maps especially of S.E. England. He was aware of the survey work of John Rudd, a fellow of St. Johns, Cambridge, then Vicar of Dewsbury who had produced local surveys and had planned wider applications. As he was now over seventy, this was clearly a job for a younger man and when approached by Cecil, he recommended a pupil, 25 year old Christopher Saxton. There were other contenders but Cecil decided that he required a good field man in preference to a scholar and academic so Saxton was chosen. The official most directly involved was Thomas Seckford who held the position of Master of Requests and so became Saxton’s paymaster for this formidable undertaking. The surveying technique of triangulation was understood at this time and good angle measuring instruments were being produced by Flemish engravers in metal who had come to London to escape religious persecution.

Saxton was issued with a ‘placard’ or pass in March 1576 requiring local officials to furnish assistance and access to high places and to provide individuals with local knowledge of place names and especially in Wales, language. Surveys were completed on a County basis, the first being Norfolk and on completion they were forwarded to Flemish and Flemish-taught engravers who transferred them to copper plates. This involved reverse engraving of the map and lettering so that when the lines were filled with ink and damp paper pressed against the plate, a positive print was obtained. In all 34 County maps were produced and adjusted to fit a copper plate of a size of about 25 x 20 inches with the exception of Yorkshire which was printed in two leaves. The constraints of paper size and book format involved an immense labour of reduction and compilation but Saxton would have used a common unit of measurement.

The map of Monmouthshire was produced in Latin in 1577 and shows the royal arms of Queen Elizabeth I with a rampant lion and dragon, together with the arms of Thomas Seckford. The scale of miles, surmounted by a pair of dividers is 1 mile = 0.55 inches and bears the words ‘Christopher Saxton descripsit’. Capital letters are used for the towns of Abergavenny, Newport, Monmnouth, Chepstow and Usk and rivers are shown but no roads. Hills are conically portrayed in profile, parks are fenced and woodlands abound. North is at the top of the map and westwards is shown. Symbolic church signs are ‘Blanagwent’ (Blaenau Gwent), ‘Llanhyleth’ (Llanhilleth) and ‘Monethuslayn’ (Mynyddislwyn) together with ‘Tumberlow Hill’ (Twmbarlwm). While this is clearly intended to be a serious official document, the engravers have included a lively scene on the Skirrid mountain near Abergavenny. This shows four men and six animals, five of which are chasing the sixth – a fox.

Saxton’s plates produced prints for over 150 years until they were too worn out to be effective. They were copied, plagiarised and improved by others but no further national triangulation was undertaken until the formulation of the Ordnance Survey in 1791.
Laurence Hale, January 2011


We need items and helpers for our Christmas Fete. We also need a Programme Secretary!!!

Poet’s Corner


The town of Abertillery, what memories unfurled
To middle valley people, the centre of the world

My mind can see the tinworks, and Cwmtillery mine
The foundry and the bakehouse, and gasworks down the line

Pavilion and Gaiety, with Empress gave us fun
But Saturday morning pictures, the Palace was the one

A dance up in the Market Hall, all would laugh and shout
Just to see old Tommy Farr, throwing someone out

Bon Marche and Woolworths, the shops in the Arcade
Toys and kits from S.M. Ash, would put them in the shade

The cafes and the chip shops, were a common sight
And the indoor market, where bargains came to light

Rugby matches up the park, soccer, bowls and cricket
But it seemed to take all day, till someone got a wicket

Up the swimming pool we’d go, dive in wearing shorts
Every year great fun we had, watching the Police sports

Commercial and The Somerset, and The Prince of Wales
Top Hat and The Rolling Mill, selling many ales

This then I remember, in days of long ago
When life in middle valley, would up to Aber flow.

Dagworth Orville Charters

Ferris Wheels

George W. Ferris, a bridge builder from Pittsburgh, designed what we now know as Ferris Wheels, found in amusement parks and city centres all around the world. George Ferris started his career in the railroad industry before moving on to bridge building and this was where he acquired his knowledge about structural steel and led him to set up a company that tested iron and steel. He built the first Ferris Wheel for the World Fair of 1893. This was held in Chicago and commemorated the 400 th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America. The Eiffel Tower stole the show at the Paris World Fair in 1889 and the organisers of the Chicago show were anxious to rise to the challenge of an equally impressive structure. Finding something suitable was not an easy task and it was almost by chance that the man in charge of the Chicago World’s Fair met George Ferris at an engineer’s banquet. In true ‘ Eureka’ fashion, George Ferris came up with an idea at the dinner and scribbled his design on a napkin.

The Ferris Wheel was an enormous success – two 140 foot steel towers supported the wheel which had a diameter of 250 feet and carried 36 wooden cars which each held up to sixty passengers. The ride cost 50 cents and made over $700,000 during the World Fair. It was destroyed by fire in 1906 but Ferris’s legacy lives on.

Book Corner

This month I am unashamedly promoting a book written by my daughter Siân Price. It is called “If You’re Reading This- Last Letters From the Front Line” and is due to be published on 17 th November by Frontline Books; the 288 page book is in hardback and will cost from £15.99 (depending on where you buy it!) A couple of years ago Siân made a programme for Radio 4 about the letters soldiers write for their loved ones when they go off to war, these being letters which are only read if the soldier doesn’t return. Following the broadcast a firm of military publishers contacted her and commissioned the book which will shortly be available. The book spans the centuries and the world with letters not just from soldiers involved in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but also soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic War and the American Civil War, to name just two conflicts. I understand that the book isn’t simply a collection of letters – it tries to uncover something about the life of the soldier and his regiment, and looks at how soldiers’ attitudes to war have changed over time. The book has been well received and although the subject matter can be heart-rending at times, it is well worth reading.

Museum Matters

Highclere Castle

Highclere CastlePeggy and I were invited by my son Lyn and his wife Janice to go with them to Highclere Castle the home of Lord Carnarvon’s Family where the TV series Downton Abbey is filmed. As an added attraction for me the castle is home to an Egyptian Exhibition, which was founded by the 5th Earl who, along with his archaeological colleague, Howard Carter, famously discovered the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922. The 5th Earl was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, undertaking in 1907 to sponsor the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahari (Thebes). We stayed overnight as the house opened at 11am. We arrived just after and were amazed to find that thousands of people were already queuing. As the guide told us, this is the power of television. The house was closed to the public in the afternoon as they could not cope with the numbers, the following day a Help for Heroes event was held there.

Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. The present day Castle was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect also responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The present castle stands on the site of an earlier house, in turn built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Domesday Book. In 1692, Robert Sawyer, a lawyer and college friend of Samuel Pepys, bequeathed a mansion at Highclere to his only daughter, Margaret. Margaret was the first wife of the 8th Earl of Pembroke. Their second son, Robert Sawyer Herbert, inherited Highclere, began its picture collection and created the garden temples. His nephew and heir Henry Herbert was made Baron Porchester and 1 st Earl of Carnarvon by King George III. In those years, the house was a square, classical mansion, but it was remodelled and largely rebuilt for the third Earl by Sir Charles Barry in the years 1839 to 1842, after he had finished building the Houses of Parliament. It is in the Jacobethan style and faced in Bath stone. The term "Jacobethan" refers to the Victorian revival of the English architecture of the late 16th century and early 17th century when traditional Tudor architecture was being challenged by newly arrived Renaissance influences At Highclere, he worked in the Jacobethan style, but added to it some of the motifs of the Italianate style. This is particularly noticeable in the towers which are slimmer and more refined than those of the other great Jacobean houses. Barry produced an alternative design in a more purely Italian Renaissance style which was rejected by Lord Carnarvon. 

The external walls are decorated with strapwork designs typical of Northern European Renaissance architecture. The Bear Logo waiterItalian Renaissance theme is more evident in the interiors. In the great hall, in an attempt to resemble a medieval English great hall is a Gothic influence evident in the points rather than curves of the arches, and the mock-hammerbeam roof. Sir Charles Barry died in 1860, the interior and the west wing (designated as servants' quarters) were still far from complete. The 4th Earl turned to the architect Thomas Allom, who had worked with Barry, to supervise work on the interior of the Castle, which was completed on 1878.

Grounds and Gardens. The 1st Earl rebuilt his park according to a design by Capability Brown during 1774 to 1777, relocating the village in the process (the remains of the church of 1689 are at the south west corner of the castle). The famous 18th century seed collector Bishop Stephen Pococke was a friend and brought Lebanon Cedar seeds from a trip to Lebanon. These beautiful trees can be seen in the garden today. Various follies and eye-catchers exist on the estate. To the east of the house is the Temple, a strange structure erected before 1743 with Corinthian columns from Devonshire House in Piccadilly. "Heaven's Gate" is an eye-catcher about 18 m high on Sidown Hill, built in 1731 from a design, it is thought, by the 9 th Earl of Pembroke. It fell shortly afterwards. The event was witnessed and recorded by a Rev. J Milles, who recorded that "we had not been there above half an hour before we saw it cleave from ye foundations and it fell with such a noise yet was heard at three or four miles.

The hybrid holly Ilex x altaclerensis (Highclere Holly) was developed here in about 1835 by hybridising the Madeiran l Ilex perado (grown in a greenhouse ) with the local native local native Ilex aquifolium.

All of us enjoyed our visit and hope to return in 2012

Don Bearcroft, Curator

Highclere Castle Staff


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