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December 2023
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What’s on at the Met

12th & 13th Dec 7pm Sounds of the Season £10
16th Dec 1pm & 4pm Let it Snow - Music sing-a-long to mark the 10th anniversaty of 'Frozen' £12
23rd Dec 11am Sing-a-long Frozen £2/3

Every Mon until 18th Dec Shiny Happy People (Parent & Toddler group £4

For more information visit or Tel 01495 533195

Museum Opening Times

The Museum is open to the public, free of charge:

Thursday* to Saturday              10am – 1pm

Christmas Closure

The museum will close 1pm on  Saturday 16th December and re-open 10.00am Thursday 4th January 2023

November 100 Club

This month’s prize numbers were drawn by Peter Rosser  and Peter Yemm, the lucky winners are:-

No.   96            Margaret Dyer                        £20
No.  21             Margaret Lester                     £10

If you would like to join our 100 club and be in with a chance of winning, it costs just £1 a month. Ask at the museum for further details.

Annual General Meeting

Our AGM held last month heralded a few changes the main one being that Mr Gareth Murphy has agreed to take over as curator with Mrs Peggy Bearcroft as deputy curator. We are also pleased to welcome two new committee members, Mrs Jackie Lias and Mrs Mary Lester.

Annual Membership

Our membership fee has been £6 per year for many years but this year, with everything going up in price, we have reluctantly been forced to increase it.   It will therefore change to £8 per year from 1st January 2024 for regular members with Vice Presidents staying at £25 a year and if you are a taxpayer, please come in and sign a Gift Aid declaration so that we can claim another 25p for each pound given at no extra cost to you (unless you have already done so of course).  We will also be retaining our popular loyalty card for members meaning a free hot drink in our café every month so it still represents good value for money.   In addition we are now offering a new Junior Membership for under 16s for £4 a year and they too will get a loyalty card entitling them to a free ‘treasure hunt’ (with a sweet reward) each month.  

Christmas of Yesteryear

Check out our temporary  ‘Christmas of Yesteryear’ display in what was Roman Case 5 (in front of the café).

Photograph of Christmas of Yesteryear display

Penscynor Wildlife Park

Family photo from visit to Penscynor Wildlife Park

It’s 25 years since Penscynor Wildlife Park closed its gates for good.  Now it’s just an overgrown wilderness but in its heyday it was one of Wales’ most visited attractions…

In 1966 a chap by the name of Idris Hale purchased Penscynor House at Cilfrew, Neath that came with 11 acres of land.   Idris must have been a bird lover as he built up quite a collection of exotic birds.   Word of his private collection spread and soon members of the public were asking to see his collection.   As pressure from the public mounted, Idris decided to hold a number of charity days where members of the public were allowed in.   The events were quite successful and, in 1971, Idris decided to permanently open the park to the general public and it was opened by none other than Johnny Morris himself, the presenter of a popular TV show of the day ‘Animal Magic’.   

Family photo from visit to Penscynor Wildlife Park

Soon it was not just birds at the park but lots of other animals too including reptiles, fish, seals and even chimpanzees.   In the 80s, for the more adventurous visitors, the park added a twin track toboggan run which it called the ‘Alpine Slide’.   For years the park, with its workforce of 18, was very successful, welcoming around 200,000 visitors annually.   One of those members of staff was none other than Howie Watkins, who went on to be a BBC presenter, working alongside Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan on ‘The Really Wild Show’.

Then, on 5th February 1992, disaster struck when three chimpanzees escaped their enclosure.    They had been fighting and during the fight they discovered a flaw in their enclosure they could exploit to escape.   Chimps may look very cute and cuddly but an adult is incredibly strong, and these three were big strong males.   Panic ensued and members of the visiting public took shelter where they could, some even locking themselves in the toilets while others were led by staff to a place of safety.  One of the chimps was recaptured but unfortunately the other two, Robbie and Sebcoe, escaped the park completely and crossed the road towards a local primary school.   The park made the difficult but unavoidable decision to call in the police and the two chimps, sadly, were shot dead by police marksmen.   A drop in visitor numbers, possibly because of this incident, left the park struggling and in 1998 after yet another loss making year, the park closed its doors and the difficult job of re-homing the animals began.  Chimps live long lives and some of Penscynor’s chimps are still alive and well today and living at the Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary at Abercrave, on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons.

Family photo from visit to Penscynor Wildlife Park

My husband and I were regular visitors to Penscynor during the 1980s. No two visits were the same; you never knew what exotic bird might wander by and you might even meet a chimp on a walkabout with staff as pictured here.   After our daughter was born, she, too, was introduced to the wonders of our local wildlife park.   The photographs shown here were taken by us during a visit in 1984.
Sally Murphy

Wikipedia article

BBC article


The other week I was sitting in on an on-line first aid course with my 10 year old grandson (this was a Scouts course) and thought the information given about phoning for help was extremely useful for children to know.   So, although you, our readers, will probably be familiar with what follows, you may want to share it with (depending on your age) your children or grandchildren.   I have also added a couple of other sorts of emergency contacts.

999.  The emergency number we all know is 999 but you can also use 112 which is the international number so it's useful to remember if you are abroad on holiday but it works in this country too.

Emergency button on mobile phoneYou can always ring the emergency services on someone's mobile phone even if it is locked as you can see in this photo.   Once you are on the passcode page you will see that in the bottom left hand corner is the word 'emergency'.   Tap that icon and you will get through to the emergency services even if the phone is locked and you don't have the passcode.

No phone signal?  If you need to call 999 in an area and your phone doesn't seem to be picking up a signal, dial 999 anyway as that will trigger your phone to search for any available alternative network and will log onto it to make that emergency call.

Helicopter help needed? We have all seen films with people wildly waving their arms around but a helicopter pilot can't then be sure if you want help or if you are just waving to say hello.  If you need help, stand with both arms in the air so that your body makes a 'Y' shape – it means Yes I need help.  If you don't need help, stand with one arm raised  and one arm down to form a diagonal.

Whistles  This is of most relevance to people who go out walking/hiking.  If you hear 6 blasts on a whistle it means that someone is in distress and needs help.  If you hear an answering 3 blasts it means that someone has heard you and is sending help.

Domestic abuse or other silent call for help
This is a more recent hand signal but one which has been well publicised.   If you see someone holding up their hand showing the palm with the thumb tucked in and then the fingers closing to make a fist, it is a silent call for help.

SOS (Save Our Souls) – well this is the stuff of adventure stories but it has saved lives in the real world too.  You can signal in Morse Code – 3 short taps followed by 3 long taps and then 3 short taps again.  You can also 'tap' out that message with a torch.   Or write SOS in rocks or whatever is available for it to be spotted by air.

Whatthreewords app logoJust one more – it is a good idea to have the what3words app on your phone.   Every 3 square metres (10 sq feet) has been given a unique combination of three words.   It can be used in all sorts of ways but is a good way of relaying an accurate location if you find you need help and aren't sure where you are.  Hopefully you will never need to put any of this into practice but better safe than sorry!                             
Jen Price

Avoid High Telephone Charges

Calls made from mobile telephones used to be far more expensive than calls from landlines; these days the situation has reversed with mobiles being the cheaper option.  However no matter whether you use a landline or a mobile there are certain numbers which will land you with a big bill!  Any number starting 09 is a premium rate number which could well cost you several pounds per minute and while calls to 0800 numbers are completely free, calls to some other 08 numbers can also be pricey.  If you have inclusive minutes or calls within your phone package, be it land or mobile, this will usually only apply to numbers beginning 01, 02 or 03 and all businesses will have one of these even if they don’t advertise it.  If you only have an 08 or 09 number there is a website called ‘Say No to 0870’ where you can search free for an alternative cheaper number and if you search for a company’s number using Google, be aware that paid for ads will be given priority so be wary of the numbers at the top of the list.  Alternatively ring Directory Enquiries FREE using 0800 118 3733.  In summary:

  • Use free 0800 numbers where possible.
  • 01, 02 and 03 numbers will be free if your phone package, be it land or mobile, includes calls.
  • Avoid 09 numbers especially
  • Visit to find an alternative for your 08 or 09 telephone numbers.                             
    Sally Murphy


Who doesn't smile when given a gift wrapped present? There's no doubt about it, the gift wrapping makes it extra special.  It shows that someone has taken the time and trouble to make the present look attractive and there is that added sense of anticipation -what is under all that wrapping paper and ribbon?  Even the most mundane of gifts can look exciting when covered in brightly coloured paper!

Photo of wrapping paper

But when did this tradition start?  I assumed it started with the Victorians along with the decorated Christmas tree but I was very wrong.  My researches show that the tradition of wrapping gifts started in about 200 AD in China and Korea although the gifts were wrapped not only in paper but sometimes in cloth.  The practice of wrapping was believed to bestow protection not just on the gift but also on the one receiving the gift along with good fortune – that's rather a nice idea I think.  The practice of using decorative cloth for wrapping presents is something which is becoming fashionable again with the wrapping cloth being reused time and again  as a more eco-friendly alternative to single use wrapping paper.

But back to wrapping paper.  It seems that until just over a century ago, and certainly in the United States, red, white and green tissue paper was widely used for wrapping gifts.  In 1917 a stationery  company in Kansas City by the name of  Hall Brothers were running out of tissue paper in the run up to Christmas and so to fill the gap they started selling printed paper which was originally intended to line envelopes (a French fashion).  They continued with this for a couple of years and then decided to print their own rolls of brightly patterned 'ordinary' paper.  It proved very popular and the custom grew as did the company – I think we are all familiar with the trade name 'Hallmark' for cards and the like.

I wasn't wrong about the Victorians wrapping presents even if they weren't the ones to start the custom.  Apparently the Victorians were into wrapping presents in a lavish way, adding lace and ribbons.  Or at least the privileged few who could afford both presents and wrapping paper!
I have decided that I will make more effort with my wrapping this year and perhaps take a lesson from the Victorians and add pretty ribbons, perhaps even lacy ribbon, to make the parcels look more attractive.

Photo of wrapping paper As a bit of trivia did you know that  an American band called The Waitresses wrote a song called  'Christmas Wrapping' which was included in a Christmas compilation in 1981.  You can see the group perform it if you search on YouTube.  Here is another bit of trivia (but I've no idea how accurate the figure is) – apparently 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away each year.   That is about the same distance as a journey to the moon from earth.  If that really is the case then maybe more of us should use those recyclable cloth gift squares. Whatever your choice, happy wrapping!
Jen Price

Explore Gwent Archives

Monday 11th December at 2pm

This a free event for the public to get advice from archivists, conservators and experts in community and diverse histories.  As well as a talk from guest speaker, Dr Marion Loeffler, you will be given a behind-the-scenes tour.  Refreshments will be provided.

To book your place use this link

Or contact-

Gwent Archives, General Offices, Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale NP23 6AA
Tel 01495 766261

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