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November 2014
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AGM Monday 24th November

The Museum Society’s AGM will start at 5pm. Please try to attend. We need a respectable number of members present to ensure we have a quorum, but it is also important that you are there to hear what has been happening over the last year, what is envisaged for the forthcoming year, and to settle matters such as the membership fee. This is your opportunity to ask questions and have your say, so please be sure to come along.

Xmas Coffee Morning 22nd Nov

Don’t forget to put this date in your diary and come along for a festive morning to put you in the mood for Christmas. Can I also remind you that the refurbished Museum shop has a selection of gifts which would be ideal for Christmas presents and stocking fillers. Please come along and bring a friend. As ever, donations of cakes would be appreciated.

All Day Christmas Fayre – Tuesday 2nd December

We have chosen this day to coincide with Winterfest when the Museum will, in any event, be playing its part in helping the town celebrate Winterfest. We need items to sell on the usual range of stalls – crafts, sweets, chocolates, lucky dip, good bric a brac, jewellery, raffle items, bathroom items, good toys, Christmas goods etc. Please bring these along to the Museum. We would also be grateful for cakes nearer the day. Can you help with setting up or manning a stall or helping clear away? If so, please see Peggy Bearcroft. Please help, this is a big fundraiser for the Museum so try to come along and bring friends and family.

100 Club October

No.6 Kay Webb £25
No 133 Vera Greaves £10
No.10 Hazel Robinson £5

Fundraising October - £ tba

Diary Dates

Wednesday 5th November The Mysterious World of Bees by Dianne Jenkins

Saturday 22nd NovemberXmas Coffee Morning

Monday 24th November AGM at 5pm.

Tuesday 2nd December All day Christmas Fair at Winterfest

Lecture News

The lecture in November will be the last unless someone else decides to take over the role of programme secretary. Attendance figures have dropped and the lectures are no longer viable. I hope those who have attended through the year have enjoyed the talks. It is no easy task trying to suit everyone and so I tried to include a wide range of topics including natural history. Jen Price

Lecture Programme

A very interesting talk entitled “Into the Abyss – Gwent 1914” was given to the Museum in October by Mr Pete Strong. Monmouthshire, as the area was then known, was a thriving part of Wales. Wages were pitifully low but there was plenty of work available with coal mines in our own valley, steel works in Ebbw Vale, and Lysaght’s in Newport. Alexandra Dock in Newport was specially built to cope with the shipments of natural resources from and to these heavy industrial bases. The First World War came quite suddenly without much speculation and was apparently declared overnight.

Mr Strong related how ships were sunk with great loss of life and of cargoes of food. Allotments and gardens were utilised for food growing. Women gradually took over the roles men had previously held and worked in factories as well as providing support such as knitting scarves for the troops. It was interesting to note that although mining casualties were frequent, more women died in childbirth than men were killed underground.

Mr Strong praised our Museum and its wonderful display of war memorabilia including rare medals. A lively question and comment followed, with members of the audience sharing memories handed down by their parents.

The last talk of the year will be held on Wednesday 5 th November at the Museum at 2pm. The speaker will be Dianne Jenkins of the Gwent Beekeepers Association who will tell us something about beekeeping and ‘the mysterious world of bees’. Entry £2 so please come along. Members of the public are also welcome.  

Book Review

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray, published by Seren £8.99

It is Easter 1955 and as Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice from the inside of the windows and rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has been buried but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story.

Rag Rugs

Rag rugs or rag mats are hardwearing rugs made out of rags cut into strips and pushed or pulled through a hessian backing, often an old sack. These rugs originated in Europe and were made as a practical floor covering, using scraps of worn out fabric from old clothing, bedding, and household furnishings that were too small or worn to continue in original use. Rag rugs provided a way for every household to have a floor covering or carpet to provide protection from drafts or to keep the floor clean and protected.

The 19th-century was the heyday of rag rugs but very few examples survive as they were not treated as heirlooms. A new rug was often made each winter and the old ones rotated around the house, from hearthrug to kitchen to back door, with the old doormat either thrown away or used outside. Also, rag rugs were associated with poverty and their making was not a craft taken up by the Victorian lady with time to spare.

Many of our older members will remember rag rugs being used in their own homes and today it is a craft that many people pursue for pleasure, with care taken over the colours and designs.

Do you have any memories of these rugs?

Poetry Corner

Christmas Gifts

I’ve sent all my cards,
Done all my shopping,
Decorated an artificial tree,
Now I think of the smiles as presents are unwrapped,
on the day I await patiently.

Though another year has passed,
with its mixture of grief and joy,
I will look forward to that day,
as I did when I was a boy.

But now the pleasure of giving,
has replaced that of receiving,
As I hope others will be happy with the gifts they’ll be having.

With family around me,
I will enjoy that sweet day,
grateful for all that we have,
But no worldly goods can ever be worth more than,
the gift of someone’s love.

Gordon Rowlands  

Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day

While there are many versions of the origins and old customs of Halloween, some remain consistent by all accounts. Different cultures view Halloween somewhat differently but traditional Halloween practices remain the same.

Halloween culture can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Its roots lay in the feast of Samhain, which was annually on October 31st to honour the dead. The Romans had a similar ceremony. Following the annual harvest w at the end of October, the Romans would celebrate Lemuria - a festival of exorcism, in which Romans would perform rituals to purge or ward evil and malevolent spirits from their homes.

Samhain signifies "summers end" or November. Samhain was a harvest festival with huge sacred bonfires, marking the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of a new one. Many of the practices involved in this celebration were fed on superstition.

The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night. Since not all spirits were thought to be friendly, gifts and treats were left out to pacify the evil and ensure next years crops would be plentiful. This custom evolved into trick-or-treating.

Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is the evening before All Saints Day, which was created by Christians to convert pagans, and is celebrated on 1 st November. The Catholic and Anglican churches honour saints on this designated day. It is an opportunity for believers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4 th Century A.D. but it was not until 609A.D. that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs. Originally the date of 13 th May was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837A.D. Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to include remembrance of all the saints, changed its name to the Feast of All Saints and changed the date to 1 st November.

All Souls' Day is marked on 2nd November (or the 3rdif the 2nd is a Sunday), directly following All Saints' Day, and is an opportunity for Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to commemorate the faithful departed.

Local Voices

‘Bonfire Night’

Bonfire Night these days tends to be focussed on organised Firework Displays run by organisations such as The Round Table, with a strong focus on public safety and raising money for charity. Often the displays are held on a weekend rather than Bonfire Night itself when that day falls mid-week. Fireworks can still be bought by the public but they are expensive and so you get more for your money by going to an organised event.

When I was a child I don’t remember any organised firework displays. We as a family had our own firework display in the garden, the fireworks having been bought over a matter of weeks and safely stored in a large biscuit tin. I still remember the experience of trying to decide which firework to buy and should we buy them singly and choose our own, or buy a box already containing a mixture. Vesuvius, Silver Rain, Roman Candle, Catherine Wheel, Rockets……The choice was bewildering but I tended to go for the fireworks that gave pretty displays and avoided the bangers and Jumping Jacks. I hated the Jumping Jacks and the unpredictable path they would take. The only person allowed to light fireworks in our family was my father and we children and my mother had to stand well back. We always finished with sparklers.

Although we had our own private firework display, I remember that I also used to go to the communal bonfire on a patch of open ground near Greenmeadow Terrace where my grandparents lived. There are houses there now but in those days (mid-fifties) the local boys would collect wood for weeks to assemble what in my mind was an enormous bonfire. Of course, those same boys delighted in lighting bangers and jumping jacks around the fire! I recall I used to take sparklers but no actual fireworks.

In later years when I had my own children we would usually take them to an organised display at Cwmbran Stadium or Pontypool Park. The fireworks were always spectacular but, my goodness, there was usually a long wait till they went off. Of course we would go early to get a good place, and the display was invariably preceded by a band or some other sort of musical entertainment so that by the time the fireworks started we were all cold and hungry. That was forgotten when the display commenced and the moans ad groans were replaced by ooohs and aaaahs. Then it was home to hot dogs! Happy days.


Memories of 75 Pant Y Pwdyn Road.

The House is drawn from memory


I awoke as a boy, the army greatcoat that my mother had spread over the blankets as an added protection from the winter cold had a sugar sprinkling on it. Getting up and looking through the window the mountain opposite was a white pillow, dotted here and there by spidery black trees, there was also a sprinkling of white sugar on the window sill.

The snow had come with no warning; no weather maps and no TV then. The draftee ancient window frame let the snow through its gaps.

Below my window was the banking of white with the solitary gas lamp with its white winter cap and arms standing in the midst the warm cone of its light. It is here in the dark nights that we children sat, telling stories of ghosts, monsters and the boogie man. We were not frightened but looking into blackness that enclosed the light someone would say it’s time to go home now mam will be worried. Looking further past the banking was the mountain and the two fields merging into one by its white coat only the hedgerow separating the mountain from the field and the twin rows of fence posts with their heads peeping out of the snow, their white caps showing the line of the Farm Road.

Further on nestling in a hollow is the farmhouse, its lights twinkling on the snow. In the valley are the rows of terraced houses with now and then the warm glow of a window, warmer still if you know who lives there. The mine and its headgear invisible in the falling snow, no floodlights yet, they are in the future.

The gasometers are like two giant bongo drums with white skins on the floor of the valley.

Morning comes showing the front door our only means of entrance covered by snow. My father opens the upstairs sash window and lowers himself from the windowsill onto the coal cot below. My Mother throws down the house shovel to him and he begins clearing the snow until he finds his miners shovel he then sets too with a will, clearing the path and steps, piling the snow on either side of his route.

Other neighbours doing the same meet up working together they clear a path to the road. My mother tries to make a pot of tea but the pipes are frozen so she gets snow and puts it in the cast iron kettle heating it on the coal fire, repeating until there is a kettle of boiling water which is poured over the frozen water pipes until the water runs freely and a life reviving brew is made.

After a while there are damp patches on the bedroom ceiling, the snow has got into the attic through the eves and is now melting. The houses are built back to back with one entrance hole to an attic shared by two houses, the attics have no partitions, and they run into one large dark cavern. The men now have to climb into the attic using a step ladder, my father climbs in and my uncle and grandfather pass buckets’ up to him. He fills them with snow the others form a chain passing the empty buckets up to father and taking the full ones outside to dispose of the snow, our neighbours are doing the same procedure in their houses.

On one occasion when a neighbour had died the funeral car and hearse could not get through the snow the men in the street brought their shovels and forming a line cleared the snow as they moved forward. When they had finished they lined the street leaning on their shovels they bowed their heads as the hearse passed by them.

Bear LogoI cannot think of any better tribute than what these men did for their neighbour.

Hard times someone says, yes but were we happier then?

Don Bearcroft Curator

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