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November 2016
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Annual General Meeting

Our Annual General Meeting will take place in the museum at 5.00pm on Tuesday 29th November.  You, the members, decide who is on the Management Committee and this is your chance to make your voice heard.  It is an opportunity to find out what has been going on at the museum over the last year, including all the important work that goes on out of the public eye but which is so essential to the smooth running of the museum.  It is also a chance to hear what is envisaged for the next twelve months, how our finances stand, and for you to ask questions or make suggestions. We will also set the membership fee and fees will be due from the date of the AGM.  Please make every effort to come along. 

Diary Dates

Tuesday 29th November – AGM at 5pm

Tuesday 6th Decemberall day Christmas Fayre

Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum

October 100 Club

No. 19             Huw Bearcroft             £20
No. 12             Mary Rogers                £10
No. 14             Val Sykes                    £5

All day Xmas Fayre Tuesday 6th Dec 

We are once again having our Christmas Fayre at the same time as Winterfest. We plan to run the Christmas Fayre as an all day event and to provide refreshments available to those attending whatever attractions will be available in the car park alongside the museum. We will need volunteers to man the museum and the café and stalls throughout the day.  We don’t expect you to stay all day, but if you can spare a little time to go on a rota then that would be a big help.  Please call at the museum to put your name down.  We will also need items for the stalls – toys, good bric a brac, bathroom items, chocs and sweets, books, tins, raffle prizes and, on the day, cakes.

Fundraising October £352

Don’t forget

Our museum has a lot to offer, especially if you take a little time on your visit.  There are, of course, our many displays.  You can never take in everything on one visit so why not come regularly and perhaps look a little closer, each time, at one particular display.  There are also, at many displays, additional information sheets to read.  And when did you last admire the treasures in the drawers at the Bon Marche display? 
Out of sight, but available to researchers and the like, are the thousands of items in the archive store.  As a volunteer you can get to see these!  I can confirm that it is always interesting to see new items for cataloguing, and intriguing to see into the various specialist storage boxes in the archive store.

Then there is our café.  The prices are modest and the welcome will be friendly.  Why not have a slice of hot buttered toast with your hot drink next time?  Just the thing as winter sets in.

Don’t forget the shop!  We have goods for sale at all prices, to suit young and old.  This is the place to find a Christmas present for an adult or a stocking filler for a child.

We rely on volunteers and fund-raising to keep our museum going. Please help.

We hope to see you soon!

Tredegar Anti-Irish Riots 1882

The Irish came to Wales for work and as industry grew in South Wales, so did the numbers of Irish. They were well established in most of the industrial towns and ports from the 1820s onward. Mark Ryan, the assistant medical officer at Cwmtillery Colliery in the late 1860s was a member of the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and bemoaned the lack of Fenian activity in the South Wales valleys but there was little sympathy for such views among the Welsh.  Indeed, the increasing number of Irish people in South Wales led to unease among the local population, particularly at times of economic decline or when the Fenians were politically active, and Fenian scares led to riots against the Irish in Dowlais in the latter part of the century.  In 1882 there were anti-Irish riots in Tredegar.  Newspapers of the day reported that the houses of at least sixty Irishmen were gutted, that all the furniture in those houses were burnt in the streets, and that not only men but also women and children were attacked.  The event was deemed sufficiently serious as to be raised in Parliament.  The disturbance came as no surprise to the local authorities as they had noted that fights between the Irish on the one hand, and the Welsh and English on the other, had increased.  It was reported that this was mainly in the form of the Welsh throwing stones at the Irish and the latter staying safely indoors rather than confronting the attackers, but the lack of retaliation did not quell the unrest.  The Chief Constable sent the following report to the Home Secretary:

“Every Irishman who showed himself out of his house was stoned, and his house, in many cases, gutted, his furniture being thrown out and destroyed.  During the afternoon and evening of the Sunday, repeated attacks were made on Irish houses in different parts of the town.  Windows and window frames, doors and fittings smashed and in some cases burnt and many persons severely hurt.  Being Sunday and no trains running, police from outlying towns could not be consigned to Tredegar…

…At about 9 o’clock, a house inhabited by a contractor of the name of Fitzgerald, an Irishman was threatened and possibly a few stones may have been thrown.  Just as the police arrived, a gun was fired by Fitzgerald and two boys wounded.  This so infuriated the attacking mob they swore they would have his life.  They found entry into the house and an encounter between them and the police appears to have taken place.  Fitzgerald was kicked and abused most brutally and with the greatest difficulty his life was saved by the police and he was conveyed to the police station where he now lies in a precarious state…”  

The mob ignored the police when the Riot Act was read.  They rampaged through the town, largely unhindered, as the lack of transport meant the police were woefully undermanned.  They were reinforced eventually by two hundred and forty men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers but in the meantime the mob literally ran riot though the town.  Sixty houses were destroyed and over one hundred gutted, these being “the cottages of the poorer classes and nearly all inhabited by Irishmen employed in the works”.

Irish families began to leave Tredegar in large numbers, many making their way to Cardiff where they ended up in the workhouse.  In the meantime, the anti-Irish riots spread to Blaina and the local ironworks was forced to close for a time.  The situation settled down over the next week and although no-one had been killed, the riots had left many badly wounded as well as one woman who died from shock.  Fourteen people were arrested and charged – thirteen Welsh and English and one Irishman.  Four were freed, the others were sentenced to three months hard labour.

Although there was a general air of antipathy towards the Irish, the press were unable to explain what had triggered the severity of the attacks at Tredegar although rumours were rife – allegations that an Irishman had poisoned a Welshman’s beer, and that the Irish in Aberdare had poisoned the local reservoir, were among the rumours circulating.  In fact, it seems that the immediate cause was a fracas over an Irishman who had joined the Salvation Army, was ridiculed by some Irish women, and a confrontation ensued which escalated.  However, the local Roman Catholic priest, Rev. William Wlliams, submitted a more considered opinion to the Home Office.  He pointed out that works were being converted from iron works to steel works and as a consequence far fewer men were employed because puddling was not employed.  Most of the puddlers were Welsh and were resentful that they might lose their jobs while the Irish might continue to be employed, especially as the mines were overmanned at the time and so were offering no job opportunities.
Rev. Williams was convinced the riots had been carefully orchestrated.  They started with stone throwing but the tactics changed on the Saturday night, apparently with the aim of driving the Irish out, as the properties of Welsh people who offered shelter to the Irish also came under attack

Source: LLAFUR, Journal for the Society of Welsh Labour History  1983

Cakes, glorious cakes

Cakes are popular, and not just to eat.  Look at the number of people who watched the recent final of the Great British Bake Off.  But when did cakes first appear?  The history of cakes goes back to ancient times but they were then more bread-like and sweetened with honey.  Cakes as we might think of cakes appeared in Europe in the mid- 17th century although the word itself dates back to the 13th century and is a derivation of the Old Norse word ‘kaka’.  It was not until the 19th century that ‘modern’ cakes came on the scene, using refined white flour and baking powder instead of yeast.  Those early cakes were, and continued to be for some considerable time, very rich.  Many recipes would start with instructions such as ‘take one pound of butter and 15 eggs’.

Cakes also have an association with special occasions – we still have birthday cakes, Christmas cakes,  wedding cakes and so on.  Some countries have cakes with a religious significance – think of Simnel cake in German speaking areas, the cake being decorated with eleven marzipan balls to represent Jesus’ disciples minus Judas the traitor.  Or moon cakes in China.  The Chinese made cakes to honour their moon goddess and, recognising the role of the moon in the seasonal cycle, they made round cakes with an illustration of the goddess on top.

Severn Bridges

The (old) Severn Bridge, a suspension bridge, is 50 years old this year, having been opened in 1966 by Queen Elizabeth.  It is a Grade 1 listed building and still stands out as a striking feature in scenes of this part of the Severn Estuary.  The bridge also crosses the River Wye. 
This is also an anniversary year for the Second Severn Crossing which was opened 20 years ago in 1996 by The Prince of Wales.  While the bridge was still under construction a group from the Museum Society were able to visit the site and walk onto the bridge, complete with our hard hats, having been given an interesting talk about its design and construction by the project manager.  That was a good day out and one that all of still remember, I’m sure.

Local Voices    ‘School Uniforms’

Dark brown and yellow – those were the colours of the uniform for Abertillery County School.  Dark brown isn’t a flattering colour for teenagers and I always thought that the navy uniform of Nantyglo Grammar School was much nicer.  In years one and two the girls had to wear a tunic – it hung in wide pleats from a yoke, was tied with a sash at the waist and was a very shapeless garment, although so too were most of the girls under it at that age.  It was buttoned at the shoulder and it was lengthened or shortened by moving the buttons.  Under the tunic you wore a white blouse.  I started school wearing a blouse with soft collars and quickly realised that the blouses with stiff collars were much smarter but I had to put up with the soft ones that first year.  The tie was brown and yellow stripes but there wasn’t much of it on show above the tunic.  I remember that the uniform list included brown knickers which it said were compulsory.  I, and all the others I suppose, started the first term wearing these awful knickers but very soon realised that no-one checked and so the only times they were worn after that was for gym.

Move on to year three and girls could wear skirts.  Bliss!  The skirts were smarter and allowed for a bit of individuality except in length – nothing above the knee.  Now was also the time to show a bit of individuality with that stripey tie.  You could wear it with the ‘fat’ end very long or very short.  In practice your tie became shorter over the week as you moved the knot to avoid the creases of the previous day’s knot.  Eventually you had to give in and iron out the creases and start all over again. The optional summer uniform was a dress in yellow or brown gingham. 

You added a brown jumper or cardigan for warmth, along with a brown blazer complete with school badge.  I must have worn a gaberdine mac when it was raining or in the cold of winter but I don’t remember it.  I expect that was also brown.  One last item completed the uniform – the beret – again dark brown with a small school badge.  The berets, when new, were very stiff with a pancake like crease and so the first thing you did, having sewn on the badge, was to ‘manipulate’ the beret to soften out that awful crease.  You could sit the beret flat on top of your head, at a jaunty angle, or perched at the back held with clips.  We had to wear it on the journey to school and until 4.45pm after school – any infringement was likely to lead to lines or detention.

All this was bought at Bon Marche.  I didn’t keep any of my school ties but I expect there is one at the museum, possibly in one of those hundreds of boxes in the archive store.                   
Jen Price

Museum Maters

Poor people’s oysters

When I first started in Six Bells Colliery working with miners I found that to vary their food they would sometimes swap sandwiches out of their Tommy Boxes’ (lunch box). On one occasion a new boy was having his food with older miners. One wise old bird said. “Oh no not chicken again”. The young boy said, “I will swap you for one of mine”. After his first bite the boy the boy exclaimed. This isn’t chicken! It’s cheese! “That’s right boy that’s what cheese is, MINERS CHICKEN.

All over Britain poor people adapted some food, calling plain food by more exotic names.

Scratting for the Poor Mans Oyster                          

The sands and shores at low tide have riches for the hungry. For fishermen and those that live by the sea, there are cockles to rake out of the sand, winkles to pick out of rock pools, shrimps to net, limpets to prise from rocks, and clams to dig.

Women Scratting for cockles

Old Llanmadog women famous for 'scratting' (scratching) the sands of the Welsh Gower Peninsula looking for the dark-coloured Devon cockles.

They would watch for the tell-tale pair of small holes which betray the cockle's presence an inch or so below the surface. there cuffs were cut away to prevent them from drawing cold seawater up her arms, their skirts were tucked up and their scarf’s tied tight as a bandage around their hats. With their stockings cut away at the ankles, they paddled barefoot in the freezing water, bent double for hours on end over the cold sands. Back in the village, they would sell some to the fishmonger then steam a few others in a saucepan for their dinner.

The writer Ernest Pulbrook chose several Frith pictures of these women for his famous survey 'English Country Life and Work', published in 1922. 'Quaint are the women cockle gatherers', he said. They may well have looked quaint to him from the comfort of his hotel window. Whilst he was enjoying his afternoon tea, the old women were trudging across the flats against a headwind and hauling baskets that got ever heavier. But we can perhaps forgive him: he wrote his book as a passionate testament to a vanishing age and to generations of country people, including hardy fishing communities, who battled with the sea to make ends meet. The cockle shells that are found on the surface are always empty. You will find live cockles just inches down in the sand. Often you will see a siphon of water where a cockle is drawing down air.

You should only gather the cockles that you cannot prise open with your fingers. Never toss them into the basket, for you may break the shells. And if you gather them today make sure you are not close to a sewage outfall.

The cockle-men of the North Norfolk coast turned a pastime into an industry. They went out in their boats, across the flat salt marshes, and would return with a considerable haul in their nets. They used yokes to ease the burden.


A woman shrimping on a beachThe South Wales fishwives went shrimping with nets on the sands and filling the baskets which they carried on their backs. The old walled town of Tenby was a highly popular watering place in the far south-west of Wales, and these women have been paddling in the shallows on South Beach facing the broad seaward sweep that takes in Caldy Island and the Gower Peninsula. They would hawk their catch on the beach and quayside, wearing traditional Welsh shawls draped around their shoulders and long heavy skirts.

Free fertilizer

After storms, beaches on some parts of Britain's coasts can be strewn to a depth of several feet with seaweed. At St Michael's Mount in south Cornwall, the farmers were down on the beach with their cart by two o'clock in the morning, as soon as the winds and seas had abated. They collected the seaweed which they used as a free fertilizer for their sour land.

At Inverary, on the shores of Loch Fyne, men and women would heap the Bear Logoscattered weed into baskets. Others form the mass into a ball, tie it with string and then haul it away on their backs. It was not comfortable work, for the sands are slippery and the weed slithers through chilled fingers. Some seaweeds are edible, especially the excellent lava weed, with its translucent purple fronds.

Don Bearcroft Curator

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