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December 2009
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We had a small but respectable turnout for the AGM.  It was an opportunity to hear a summary of events through the year and for those of us who aren’t ‘on duty’ at the Museum to learn about what goes on in order to keep the Museum running smoothly, ensure the collections are recorded and conserved, and the many visitors - including school parties – welcomed.  Volunteers are always welcome so if you have a few hours to spare, why not call in at the Museum for a chat.  There was also more formal business to attend to.  Robert Pitt has decided to stand down but the other Directors were voted back and the Management Committee is also largely unchanged other than for Dennis Roles to take over as Secretary from Trevor and Margaret Cook.  Peggy Bearcroft, our Chairwoman, has asked me to extend a big thank you to everyone – your contribution, however small, is much appreciated. In turn, thanks must go to Peggy for all her hard work, and to Don Bearcroft, our Curator, who continues to give 150% despite not being fully well at present.

PS  The membership subscription has been held at £5.  It is due from 1st January so please be sure to pay promptly – payment in advance will do nicely thank you.

Annual Dinner Friday 22nd January

Once again this will be at the Top Hotel – always a popular venue.  Please contact Roy Pickford (01495  213377) or call at the Museum to book.  Menu choices are now available and Roy is looking for your money! 

Fund raising October - £668 of which £540 was raised at the Christmas Fair.  Thank you all!                   

Diary Dates

Wednesday 2nd December 2009The Life of Field Marshal Robinson by Richie Rudd

Saturday 12th December 2009Children’s Cracker Hunt and Craft Morning from 10.00am to 1.00pm.   Entry 50p

Friday 15th January 2010First of a series of 6 lectures on An Introduction to the Archaeology of Gwent by Frank Olding.  £3 per lecture or £15 for all 6 sessions.

Friday 22nd January  2010Annual Dinner at the Top Hotel, Llanhilleth

Wednesday 2nd February 2010Going Down the Pit by John Evans

Lectures start at 7.00pm in the Metropole Theatre, with teas and a chat downstairs in the Museum afterwards. Entry is £2 and the public are most welcome.

Please call at the Museum for more information or watch the Newsletter for coffee mornings and other events.

Christmas Customs - Germany

Germans love to decorate their houses at Christmas. Many houses will have little wooden frames holding electric candles in their windows. Often too, they will have an 'Adventskranz' - a wreath of leaves with four candles. On each Sunday of Advent, another of the candles is lit. Most homes will also have little wooden 'cribs' - a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals. Father Christmas - 'Der Weihnachtsmann' - brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th), after people have been to a church meeting. The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas Day, fish (carp) or goose will be cooked.  

Book Corner

Brunel in South Wales Vol. 3: Links with Leviathans by Stephen K Jones

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the greatest engineers of the Victorian age and he had a strong association with South Wales.  This third volume completes Stephen Jones’ trilogy on the history of Brunel’s links with South Wales.  Vol.1 deals with the founding of the Taff Vale Railway and his links with the early iron masters.  In Vol. 2 Jones describes Brunel’s other railway projects, namely the Severn Tunnel and the extension of the London Bristol railway into South Wales.

Links with Leviathans, Vol. 3 of the history traces Brunel’s maritime links with the area and describes the building of his magnificent steamships.  Firstly there was the wooden paddle steamer Great Western.  This was followed by the iron hulled and screw propelled SS Great Britain, whose final voyage was made from Penarth Dock.  Brunel’s final maritime venture was the PSS Great Eastern with its home port in Neyland, the terminus of his South Wales Railway.  The volume concludes with the work of Brunel’s son who was engineer of the Barry Docks, the largest dock system in South Wales.

Each chapter is supported by detailed references to sources with many quotations and extracts from diaries which add to the interest of the reader.  The book is well illustrated with sketches, diagrams and photographs in colour and black and white.

The trilogy is a valued addition to the history of South Wales and its industrial history and development.
Jean Colwell

Poet’s Corner

Jack Frost by Gabriel Setoun

The door was shut, as doors should be,
Before you went to bed last night;
Yet Jack Frost has got in, you see,
And left your window silver white.

He must have waited till you slept;
And not a single word he spoke,
But pencilled o'er the panes and crept
Away again before you woke.

And now you cannot see the hills
Nor fields that stretch beyond the lane;
But there are fairer things than these
His fingers traced on every pane.

Rocks and castles towering high;
Hills and dales, and streams and fields;
And knights in armor riding by,
With nodding plumes and shining shields.

And here are little boats, and there
Big ships with sails spread to the breeze;
And yonder, palm trees waving fair
On islands set in silver seas,

And butterflies with gauzy wings;
And herds of cows and flocks of sheep;
And fruit and flowers and all the things
You see when you are sound asleep.

For, creeping softly underneath
The door when all the lights are out,
Jack Frost takes every breath you breathe,
And knows the things you think about.

He paints them on the window-pane
In fairy lines with frozen steam;
And when you wake you see again
The lovely things you saw in dream.


We were very sorry to learn that Dilys Humphries passed away recently.  We extend our condolences to family and friends.           

Local Voices

A Good Idea at the Time?

When I was aged six or seven and a pupil at Ty’r Graig School, Aberbeeg we were told by our teacher that arrangements had been made for the whole class to attend Aberbeeg hospital on a certain date for the removal of tonsils and adenoids.  I can only assume that parents had approved of this and on the due date we attended school at the usual time and then boarded a hired bus which transported us the two miles to the hospital.  Here boys and girls were shown into separate rooms where we changed into night attire and awaited our turn to be wheeled into the operating theatre.  There was very little outward apprehension and the fact that the whole class was participating seemed to convey a sense of confidence.  I can remember an anaesthesia mask being produced but my next recollection was waking up on a floor covered with mattresses alongside fellow pupils, with a mild sore throat.  Some were moaning, one was crying but most just lay in silence until some time later when we were taken home by ambulance, arriving about tea time.  The class attended school as normal next day seemingly none the worse for our experience.  What medical purpose the exercise was we were not told but presumably parents had been convinced.  The whole class principle continued on a selected basis for some years because my wife had a similar experience at Cwmtillery Girls School but it appears not to have been applied universally.

It was many years later that I found a probable explanation for this practice contained in a book called “1939 The Last season” by Anne de Courcy published in 1989.  The book described the London seasonal events of that year including debutante Court presentations and balls, race meetings, the Boat Race etc and the political situation leading to the declaration of war.  In a chapter entitled ‘ Health and Panacaeas’ the author describes how doctors were poorly equipped to deal with medical problems that are treatable nowadays with antibiotics and similar remedies.  Thus conditions like pneumonia, diphtheria, TB, venereal disease etc caused thousands of men and women to die every year from infections which post-war generations would regard as comparatively mild or from diseases which have been virtually wiped out.

With effective treatment limited there was a great deal of temperature taking and bed rest, better to be seen as over cautious than to take the slightest risk.  The prevailing medical orthodoxy was provided by a certain eminent doctor of the day who advocated principles to be followed by the profession.  The author describes: “One of the cornerstones of this was the Theory of Focal Sepsis developed by Sir Arbuthnot Lane.  When Sir Arbuthnot, one of the most powerful personalities on the medical scene between the wars, evolved this idea, he instilled in several generations of doctors the belief that trouble in one place -  a bad tooth say – was a focus for infection that then filtered through the whole body, leading to a general deterioration of health. Conversely, unexplained disorders could be put down to one of these foci: track it down said Sir Arbuthnot, whip it out and presto! The patient would be good as new.  Thus tonsils and adenoids, so often inflamed or enlarged during childhood, were frequently found guilty and removed without further ado”.

Sir Arbuthnot’s ideas were also applied to conditions like appendicitis and that bane of childhood, the criteria for a healthy colon – a regular daily motion. “Constipation, ran the accepted wisdom, caused not only migraine, lethargy, indigestion, halitosis and a poor complexion but also more esoteric conditions such as difficulty in childbirth, depression, permanent fatigue, frigidity and impotence.  Liquid paraffin sold by the gallon and no bathroom cupboard was complete without a wardrobe of laxatives, frequently compared as to taste and effective use”.

In the profession itself the former blind faith in Sir Arbuthnot’s creed wore off towards the end of the decade but drug companies continued to make handsome profits from these simple remedies.                        
Laurence Hale  October 2009

Horses at War 

Some of you may have seen the West End show called ‘War Horse’ – a much acclaimed play with emotive life size horse ‘puppets’ to tell the story, drawn from real life, of the bond between a young soldier and his horse in the First World War.  Before the motorised vehicle, horses were vital and it is estimated that by 1917 nearly a million horses were on active service with the British Army; a quarter died in the war and many more were injured.  The organisation now known as the Blue Cross, formerly ‘Our Dumb Friends League’, was founded in 1897 to address the plight of sick and wounded horses stranded on battlefields. Its purpose was to provide medical help and comfort to horses in the same way as the Red Cross supported sick and injured men.  The charity actively fund raised to support its work in Britain, France and Italy; its animal hospitals in these countries treated thousands of horses and horse ambulances were put to work retrieving injured animals from enemy lines. More information on the organisation can be found on their website at

Museum Matters

A review of the year in  the museum firstly a table of activities















SCHOOL VISITS: Total number of children   352

VISITOR GROUPS two student groups from France a group from Ireland the Eisteddfod Committee, Steve Thomas Council Leader, Robin Morrison Director of Leisure. Judges for Met Centre visited twice Penarth Chartist Group (51 visitors.) I gave a talk to them about the museum.

TOTAL DISABLED GROUP VISITS = 41. With 8 Themes including a Wedding & Christening combined* re-enactment.

WORK EXPERIENCE STUDENTS, we were awarded a Certificate by Careers Wales for our work with Student Placements.

EXHIBITIONS Museum Refurbishment for HLF at Llanchiach Fawr, Richard Dean Celebrate the Centenary of Structural Engineers, St David's Day, 50yrs Welsh Flag, the opening of the Express Cafe. Opening done by John Cavacuiti and Jane White

EVENTS & TALKS  I have given 6 Talks to organisations including; the "GEM" Organisation at Big Pit Mining Museum, "A Schools Learning Progress", "New Ways of Working with Schools". Head Teachers from England and Wales attended this seminar. The results of the feedback on the day my score was 98%. A Training day for students was given by myself for their Heritage project. they are going to interview members of the public on their working lives.

Due to the problems with my voice box I have had to turn down 3 talks but hopefully after I have attended hospital I will be able to continue these in the near future.

EVENTS included Christmas Cracker Hunt, Easter Egg Hunt, Aberfest II. WW Street Party held in the car park outside the museum, (over150 people visited inside the museum), a Halloween Theme and a Victorian Christmas market 1st December 09 



We have had new floors laid in the kitchen and also the Express Café area. This has enhanced the look of the café and made it even more popular with our visitors. New II WW American Marine Drill Rifles were purchased for use with the schools.









PRE 1997



















28TH JANUARY STANDARDS ADVISOR for CyMAL JEAN EVERETT inspected the museum as part of our Application for "ACCREDITATION" which we achieved.

A Conservation Heater has been set up in the Archive Store, Plinths also made for Archive store and Environmental Monitoring is CHECKED every month. The Archive store and Plant Room floors were repainted.

Emma Telford Textile conservator worked on the textiles in the museum; she spent three days from 9am until 5.30pm photographing and documenting the 100s clothes and textiles in the museum. Another conservator was brought in to help her. Peggy opened up on these days and I went in at 9.30am.

Valentine Walsh Picture Conservator came to conserve newly acquired painting of Six Bells Colliery. It is a specially commissioned Oil Painting and required both cleaning and varnishing before it could be put on display.

It is hard to single out people who give their time up to work in the museum as every job, cleaning, manning the museum, the cafe and shop, Helping to set up displays, working with the schools and the myriad other things that keep the museum going. I have not mentioned our monthly lectures, field trips, dinner and other fund raising activities only events in Bear logothe museum. My role as curator has become increasingly difficult as my health deteriorates so I would like to thank all those who through their kindness and understanding help me to continue.

Next year if I am re-elected will be my 19th year as curator of The Abertillery & District Museum; I still have lots more ideas for the future for although we preserve the past we do not live in it!  

May You Live, Be Prosperous and Healthy.

Merry Christmas
Don Bearcroft Curator.

Christmas Scene


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