Dates for your Diary
Ongoing – WW1 Exhibition in the Museum
Tuesday 5th December – Christmas Fayre – all day event – volunteers needed to man stalls!
Please note the museum will be closed from Thursday 21st December and will re-open on Friday 5th January 2018.
November 100 Club
No. 111 Richard Dean £20
No. 81 Marge Selway £10
No. 16 Don Bearcroft £5
Annual Subscription - £6
Annual subscriptions are now due so please call at the museum to pay or send in a cheque made payable to Abertillery & District Museum Society and post to ADMS, Market Street, Abertillery NP13 1AH.
Fundraising October - £339
The AGM was very well attended this year. Thanks to all those who turned out on what was quite a wet evening. The Management Committee members were all returned with one important exception, our long-standing treasurer, Mr Bernard Jones has decided to stand down and take a well deserved rest. He has been the society’s treasurer for over thirty years and we cannot thank him enough for his long and loyal service. In his place the society would like to welcome Mrs Jennifer Price who has kindly offered to take over as treasurer and was formally elected to the post. We would like to thank her for stepping in to what is quite a demanding and time-consuming post. On that note I should also like to mention that, until recently, Jen was the editor of this newsletter and was for over twenty years, so many thanks to her for that too. I shall endeavour to continue to produce the newsletter to her very high standard.
The museum has a number of vintage classics for sale at just £1 each - annuals (Beezer, Beano etc), Biggles books and adventure comic books. Come into the museum and see if there is something you would like.
The Story of Father Christmas
In Britain today, young children hang up their stockings on Christmas eve in the hope that Father Christmas, who lives at the North Pole and has a sleigh pulled by reindeer, will climb down the chimney and fill them with presents. This tradition though differs in other European countries. In Germany for instance Christkindl, a fair-haired girl, brings a basket of presents to each house on Christmas Eve while in Scandinavia it is Julenisse the gnome. Grandfather Frost brings the presents in Russia while in Spain and Italy children have to wait until 6th January (Twelfth Night) for their presents which is brought by the Three Kings in Spain and La Befana in Italy – an old woman who was left behind by the Three Kings on their first trip and she comes on her broomstick and climbs down chimneys just like our Father Christmas.
In Dutch-speaking Europe, he is called ‘Sinte Klaas’ and he arrives on December 5th by ship, wearing his red bishops mitre and robes and accompanied by his servant, Black Peter. Sinte Klaas then mounts a white horse and travels from house to house where children leave out not stockings but clogs for him to fill with presents. He determines which children have been ‘naughty or good’ with the help of Black Peter.
But where did all this mythology start? Our familiar Father Christmas has a long and complex ancestry. On the Christian side we have the 4th century St Nicholas who was Archbishop of Lycia in what is now modern day Turkey. His name is surrounded by several legends. In one story, St Nicholas is staying at an Inn when he dreams that the Innkeeper has murdered three visiting boys. When accosted, the Innkeeper confesses and St Nicholas brings the boys back to life.
In another version, St Nicholas rescues three girls from the threat of prostitution by giving them each a bag of gold as a dowry so that they might marry instead. But perhaps the most widely known legend is that of the St Nicholas who is said to have travelled from his home to deliver baskets of fruit, grain and cakes to hungry children in the West.
It is in deference to these traditions, that St Nicholas became the patron saint of children on the continent and his feast day of 5th December is remembered by giving presents to children.
On the pagan side, the Romans gave each other presents during their feast in honour of Saturn while the Norsemen believed that their god Woden brought them gifts at midwinter. Early churchmen could not be seen to condone a pagan custom so they turned the winter present-giver into St Nicholas. It was during the 16th century Protestant reformation with its emphasis on saints in England that, somehow, St Nicholas became merged with the old Father Christmas of the ‘mummers’ plays’ and he became neither a saint nor a bishop but just a cheery fellow crowned in holly.
It was during the 19th century that the Americans, took the Dutch Sinte Klaas and changed him into the chubby, fun-loving ‘Santa Claus’, or Kris Kringle as they call him, that we know and love today, complete with red suit, white hair and beard. They replaced the white horse with a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and replaced Black Peter with Santa’s Elves.
Christmas Trivia Quiz
- Who made the Christmas tree popular in Britain?
- Where did the Christmas turkey originally come from?
- Which Roman God is connected with New Year?
- Who considered mistletoe sacred?
- Which English ruler banned the eating of mince pies by an act of Parliament?
- Where does ‘Stollen’ cake come from?
- Who wrote Auld Lang Syne?
- Who was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066?
- What were known as ‘Cosaques’ in the 19th century?
- When is Epiphany?
Sally Murphy, who now edits the Newsletter, invited me to write a short piece about Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong? Well, our son and family moved out there a few years ago and we try to visit them each autumn (a good time to visit, weatherwise). Hong Kong is difficult to describe – it is made up of 261 islands, the largest of which is Hong Kong Island, and the mainland comprising Kowloon which is the busy built-up city area and the New Territories beyond.
Perhaps the most surprising thing for us when we first visited was to realise how green and mountainous much of Hong Kong is. The mountains are steep and forested, contain many country parks, and are criss-crossed by hiking trails which give wonderful views out over the landscape. The best way to appreciate these differences is to look at some photos. I have included a couple with this article and I hope that Sally will post some more on the museum’s facebook page.
Can I sum up Hong Kong in a few words? That’s not easy but if you think skyscrapers, a highly efficient public transport system, mountains and coast, delicious food, street markets and temples, then you will have some idea of what Hong Kong can offer. One of our favourite things is travelling on the trams that run across the northern side of Hong Kong Island, a journey which takes over an hour. The trams are over a century old and are being lovingly restored at a rate of one a year.
They are old fashioned with wooden seats but offer a great view from the upper deck where the air conditioning is provided by way of open windows. They are called ‘ding dings’ for obvious reasons and a senior’s ticket costs the equivalent of 12p – it’s the best bargain in town! I could also tell you about the typical Chinese towns in the New Territories, the colourful temples, the largest outdoor Buddha statue in the world, ferry rides to islands for a meal in one of the many fish restaurants, the typhoon warning system, and many more things of interest but Sally asked for a short article and so I will end it here.
Jen has promised us more on Hong Kong so look out for part two next month and in the meantime there are more of Jen’s photos of Hong Kong on the Museums’ Facebook page.
Staying on the theme of travel, the following was given to me by museum member Vera Smith and it’s something I’m sure we can all identify with!
The Tourist’s Prayer
Heavenly father, look down on us your humble, obedient tourist servants, who are doomed to travel this earth, taking photographs, sending postcards and buying souvenirs.
We beseech you, O Lord, to see that our plane is not delayed, our luggage is not lost and our overweight baggage goes unnoticed. Give us this day divine guidance in our selection of cabins. We pray that everything works and that the Cabin Stewards speak our language.
Lead us to good, inexpensive restaurants, where the wine is included in the price of the meal. Make the natives love us for what we are and not for what we can contribute to their worldly goods. Grant us the strength to visit the museums, cathedrals, palaces, and if we skip a historic monument to take a nap after lunch, have mercy on us for our flesh is weak.
Dear God, protect our wives from bargains they don ’t need or can’t afford. Lead them not into temptation for they know not what they do. Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making fools of themselves in nightclubs. Above all, please do not forgive them their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.
And when our voyage is over, grant us the favour of finding someone who will look at our holiday photos and listen to our stories so that our lives as tourists will not have been in vain.
Miner’s Comic Cuts
To relieve their hard work miners would often play tricks on each other.
I remember that on one occasion on a night shift we came up the pit at about 3am and seeing light flashes up near the saw mill Bob and I decided to investigate.
He went one way and I went the other. There had been a lot of thieving going on so as I approached the light source I removed my heavy pliers from its frog the only weapon which was better than nothing!
As I rounded the corner of the building there was a loud yell accompanied by a blinding blue flash. I jumped into the air; I saw a figure doing the same.
There had been heavy snow and ice that night the figure that I saw was Bob. The flashes were caused by a power line down occasionally shorting against the ice on the pole. Bob had crept up but as he was about to shout intending to frighten me the power line shorted on the pole causing the flash! Bob had as much of a fright as he intended for me.
There was a miner who did not bring a food box; instead he would raid his butties food boxes stealing their food so they decided to teach him a lesson. When he next took a sandwich from a box at his first bit there was a crunch combined with a horrible taste. He grabbed the nearest water bottle took a large swig to wash out his mouth. Only to find out that it did not contain ordinary water! His Butties had put a mouse into the sandwich at the first bite he got the mousses head, I leave it to you to figure out what was in the water bottle. He did not take anyone’s food again!
There was a large miserable old man whose personal hygiene lacked somewhat no one wanted to work with him so he worked on his own clearing up the coal spillage off the conveyor belts. Most miners kept their tools on a bar with a lock. (These toolbars can be seen in the Mining display in our museum). The place where he worked was near where the Disaster had been, some men played a cruel trick on the old man. They would turn their cap lamps off, creep up and move the old man’s tools. When he complained about these happenings they denied all knowledge of it saying it must be the ghosts! Many men considered that part of the mine to be haunted. The old man was eventually moved to another part of the mine.
The Mice Darby
The return airway in a district had rails on which the trams brought in supplies for the coal face. The miners would catch mice and keep them in cages made from the wire used underground.
The mice were fed by the men giving them (miners chicken) cheese. During a slack period the miners would race the mice between the rails, tying numbers to their tails for identification as they looked all the same covered in dust.
On an afternoon shift we had a phone call telling us that there was a bad roof fall on a coal face. Heavy stones had fallen onto and smashed the head motor of the Panzer (a coal face chain conveyor). We hurried down the pit and as we made our way into the workings, we were passed by 3 men being carried out on stretchers. We arrived at the fall where we saw that the stator box and plug had been smashed.
The Fireman told us that it was too dangerous for the men to remove the roof fall by hand, so they wanted to use the Panzer to clear the fall, first we had to repair the motor. There were three electricians and as I was married with two children I was told to stay out of the face unless they needed me. I sat outside the face fretting and worrying about my butties in danger in the face, (they were both single men). Much to my relief they soon called out for me as they needed my help. As I crawled into the face a collier called out, “Stick your legs out so that we will know where to dig if you are buried!” We finished the job and after a struggle and a few false starts the Panzer started to clear the roof fall.
At Christmas men working at a certain face would use the staging at the entrance to their coal face as a stage to perform a concert! The artists included; comedians, singers, tap dancers and a very unusual singing man dog, the concert ended with traditional carols. These items did not happen until the coal cutting was completed.
I am an only child and the mining electricians were the nearest I have had to brothers.
A Merry Christmas and a Healthy Happy New Year.
Don Bearcroft, Curator.