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February 2019
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Dates for your Diary

Saturday 23rd February - Coffee Morning looking at Jones’ Buses

Saturday 30th March - Coffee Morning on theme of Mothering Sunday

January 100 Club

No. 84 Corrine Taylor £20
No. 59 Mike Purchase £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.

First Video is Live!

The first of the promotional videos made by Ben Jones is now available to view on the museum’s Facebook page so do please take a look!. As explained previously, Ben is a local lad who now works as a professional programme maker in London and he very kindly made a series of videos to help promote the museum. At time of printing, the video has had over 7000 viewings and has been‘shared’ more than 290 times.

Also with the video is a link to the museum’s new‘My Donate’ page where anyone, far or near, is able to donate to the museum as they see fit and if
they are able to gift aid their donation as well, all the better. The My Donate page can be found at the following web address https://bit.ly/2Cxq7ru. More videos will be released over the next few months so do keep an eye out for them.

Coffee Morning

Nick Smith, Don and Peggy January's coffee morning on 'The Winter of '47' was a successful event and we were pleased to welcome some new faces including Blaenau Gwent MP, Nick Smith. We found a few photos of an extremely snowy 1947 winter in our archives, one of our members (Audrey) read extracts from The Gazette and from the log of one of the local schools, and then the conversation kicked off with people's memories of that winter or their parents' memories. It became clear that there had been a lot of hardship but also an outpouring of community spirit. There was also a bright side, Trevor Cook recalling his delight at weeks off school and unparalleled sledging opportunities!

War Evacuees - Part Two

I’m sure that last month you all enjoyed Sheila Williams’ firsthand account of life as a child wartime evacuee in Abertillery so, without further ado, here is the remainder of her letter written on 16th August 2007….

I have since wondered how they managed to find billets for us all, but with a typical Welsh welcome they tucked us all in somehow. Three years is a long time to have the responsibility for caring for one or sometimes two teenage girls and I remember that most of us changed billets a number of times as circumstances arose; sometimes illness in the family; a new baby; an elderly relative to care for, sometimes when the mother went out to work and sometimes, alas, when we behaved like teenagers! For the most part we joined in with family activities. I was billeted with Mr & Mrs Meredith and their two children June and Alan. They lived in Oak Street
and I was included in a wedding party, a day trip to Barry Island and a visit to a dairy farm where we drank milk straight from the cow as a treat, ugh!

Later I stayed with Bill and Ruby Rogers in Princess Street. Bill was a miner who regaled us with stories of his life underground. When we
first arrived in Abertillery a few of the older girls were taken down one of the pits by their hosts. This was soon stopped as our teachers considered this too dangerous. They wanted to take us home alive! Later on we were allowed to go round the pithead. Bill Rogers took us round the Roseheyworth, the only pit that had a pithead baths at that time.

Lots of the girls went to chapel with their host families. I attended King Street Baptist with some of my new friends. It was a great thrill to join the chapel choir and sing choruses from‘Messiah’. I have sung this many times since but the first time is always special. We went to an evening service most Sundays conducted by the Rev Garfield Evans. Afterwards a small group of boys and girls would walk ‘up the Roseheyworth Road’ to discuss the socials run by the chapel and the little ‘talent shows’ we put on, singing, reciting, sketches (I always danced).

In the summer we would go for long walks clambering about in the quarry on Mount Arrael (is that the right name?) We picked wimberries on the Cock and Chick behind and above the pigeon lofts to take home to be made into pies, being careful not to add any rabbit droppings by mistake!

During the three years we were in Abertilley we would go home to London for our holidays from school but only if it was safe to do so. One summer it was too dangerous so arrangements were made for us to stay in the Black Mountains at Capel-Y-Ffin with our teachers. We had a great time there busily damming up the nearby stream which didn’t please the farmer one bit! We also helped with the potato harvest on one occasion.

In 1943 the decision was made by the school to return home. We had been away for four years and it was thought that the end of the war was in
sight. It wasn’t as it happened and the south-east of England had to endure more death and destruction with the V1 and V2 missiles. And so in July after a farewell ceremony in which we expressed our heartfelt thanks to our Welsh friends, we departed and made our own way home. Eltham Hill School re-opened in the September but many of us left to find jobs or join the forces and some continued their education at college.

I am 80 years old now and my health is not very good. My niece in Bristol found you on the internet and supplied me with some print-outs. We plan to come again to Abertillery next summer if possible.

Yours sincerely Sheila Williams (nee Manwaring)

Editor’s note. I have learned that one of the girls from Eltham Grammar school, did not return to London. Mavis (maiden name unknown) married a local teacher by the name of Hatton and made Abertillery her home.
Mavis Hatton (now deceased) worked at Abertillery Social Security office, alongside museum member Mrs Vera Smith to whom I am grateful for this information.

As for Sheila Williams, I have tried to contact her at her last known address in Kent, but to date of printing I have had no response. She would now be 91, if of course she is still with us. Sadly it seems we shall never know whether she returned for a second visit in 2008.

What happened in the UK in 1919?

Well, lots of things but this is one event that caught my attention.

When World War I ended, the race to claim the£10,000 Daily Mail Aviation Prize for a non-stop flight across the Atlantic began in earnest. There were a number of contenders but the aviators that succeeded were the British pair - Captain John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten-Brown. Alcock had little flying experience, having been shot down and captured early in his combat career while Brown had been an observer not a navigator, and only learned the skills of aerial navigation when a prisoner of war. The flight was to start in Newfoundland and there were problems even before they took to the air. Handley Page had secured all the aviation fuel in
St Johns Newfoundland and the duo had a struggle to get supplies. Another problem was that the local water was very impure and affected
the aircraft leading to problems such as blocked pipes and so Alcock had a supply of water filtered and boiled.

The twin-engined Vickers Vimy flown by Alcock was adapted to hold extra fuel where it would have held bombs. It was shipped over to Newfoundland in pieces and put together with the help of a local engineer. When a halfway decent weather forecast arrived they set out, very little time having been spent testing the reassembled aircraft.

The flight was full of dangers from the start, the plane only just clearing the trees at the end of the runway because of the weight of the additional
fuel on board. The Vimy took off at 1.45pm local time on June 14 1919.

The flight was to prove an epic. One of the engines gave problems early on, the batteries of the heated flying suits soon gave out and the
forecast for good weather was wrong which meant the pair were forced to fly almost blind through fog and turbulence and even a snowstorm – and all this in an open cockpit. When ice accumulated on the outside of the
aircraft the pilots had to lean out of the cockpit to chip it away. And what kept them going through this grueling ordeal? A lot of pluck along with sandwiches, beer and whisky.

The duo eventually spotted the coast of Ireland and the flight nearly ended in disaster as the plane touched down not onto a green meadow,
but a treacherous green bog. The nose of the plane tipped up but neither pilot was hurt. The flight had taken 16 hours 27 minutes to cover 1890 nautical miles. On June 15 1919 the Atlantic had been crossed non-stop by air for the first time.

Alcock and Brown were rushed to London, where they were wined and dined in great style and a few days later they were knighted by King George. Tragically, just a few months later, Alcock was killed while ferrying a plane to the Paris air show. Brown never flew again in his life.
Jen Price

The Foundry

In last month’s Newsletter, I wrote a short piece about the Foundry Bridges in Abertillery. But what about the foundry itself? A foundry was
built in 1874 behind Church Street and on the banks of the River Tillery, more or less underneath the first of the foundry bridges which was built some years later. The foundry owner was John Ward Williams and the works later became known as Warwills. It remained in operation almost continuously until its closure (the date of which I’m not sure) and during the Second World War the Government asked the company to build agricultural machinery and tank parts. The foundry was an important local
industry and employed 70 people in 1959, at which stage it expanded to the then derelict tin works site on Station Road. The new site was used to make castings and the original foundry site behind Church Street became its engineering depot. I can remember, as a child, seeing vehicles manoeuvring in and out of the narrow entrance off Church Street. I believe the original foundry site closed in 1987 when a replacement building was built at Station Road, that site subsequently being taken over by Tescos. When the Station Road site was operated by Bawn Bros, I had occasion to visit and was fascinated to see the sand moulds - a method of casting that
has persisted for hundreds of years.
Jen Price

We are pleased this month to welcome another new Vice President, Mr Bernard Jones.

Museum Matters

Obituary, John Selway

Christmas and the New Year is normally a time for celebration and festivities but sometimes things happen which puts a damper on the celebrations.

This year for the longer serving members this happened with the sad news that John Selway one of the founder members of the museum passed away on December 27th.

I first met John when he took turns with his brother Bill in opening the old museum under the Abertillery library. At the time John’s Brother Bill Selway was the Treasurer of our society, Bernard Jones who also took a turn opening the museum, was Secretary.

John was a strong minded man never afraid to speak his mind. He was what we called ‘straight as a die’; he proved this when the museum lost its home in 1996. The very first meeting we had with the new Unity Authority of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and the Community Council of Abertillery, we had not only had the notice to vacate our museum but also our chairman at the time, Mr Ralph Robinson, had been killed in a car crash on the Heads of the Valleys Road. As we did not have a Chairman I was asked to speak for the society and, as all the committee were to be present, we had asked Norman, Ralph’s brother, if we should cancel the meeting but he told us that Ralph would prefer us to carry on.

As you can imagine it was a very emotive meeting, our members were very upset and especially John as we had been in the old library since 1972. I said to the council you may think that losing the museum and the recent death of our Chairman Mr Ralph Robinson has demoralised us, but contrary to this we are more determined than ever to keep our museum in Abertillery. This was the beginning of our struggle for a new museum.

John and his wife Madge were highly involved in all the events that followed, they were at our boot sales and all the other fundraising events which were many and varied. They stood in the sunshine or the cold at our Christmas and summer sales in the Abertillery Arcade. During the winter time the arcade was like a wind tunnel everyone was freezing but John and Madge was there from beginning to end.

We had stalls at the Aberbeeg Hospital Fete to raise funds for the hospital, the stall was, “Books& Botany”. John provided Cactus Plants for the stall
the books were given by our members; other plants were provided by Bernard Jones and Pugh’s Garden Centre in Cwmbran.

John and Madge ran the ‘Bric a Brac’ stalls at the Christmas and the Summer Fayres. They regularly called into the museum paying their subs, and 100 club and we would sit and discuss various subjects, continuing their support of the museum.

Before this in happier times we went on many trips with the museum and also field trips with Dr Madeleine Grey (now Professor Grey). We were all John Selway cutting cakeinvited to Dr Grey’s mother’s bungalow for tea after we had been on a field trip up over Mynyddislwyn where we saw the remains of the Pillow Mounds of loose earth that the Normans dug to breed their rabbits. We also viewed the Long Houses where the soil had been removed so that the back end of the house was in the excavated part of the mountain and the front of the house was built up with views across the landscape.

It is hard to imagine how Madge and her family must feel at the moment but a similar thing occurred to me when my father who I loved very much died three days before Christmas Day.

I think of my father throughout the year but every third day before Christmas it is even more poignant.
Don Bearcroft, Curator

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