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November 2007
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Lecture programme

The lecture in October given by our own Don Bearcroft, Curator of the Museum, was a descriptive travelogue of the journey on the Nile from Thebes to Abu Simbel. Don described the wonderful architecture and treasures of Egypt and brought to life these wonders with some fantastic slides he had taken.  The talk was brought to a close with Don dressing up as the sheik and Peg and Janet as harem girls.  A very entertaining and informative talk.  Thank you Don.  Michael Palin had better watch out!

E Dean                                     

Media star!

Yes, it’s none other than our Curator Don Bearcroft.  Don was recently interviewed live on the Roy Noble show on BBC Radio Wales and was able to out-talk Roy (no mean feat!) in telling the audience about the Museum.  Roy Noble and others involved in the production team were very impressed with the work of the Society and our website and it was a valuable opportunity to promote the Museum to an audience within and beyond Wales. The interview was prompted by the attention which the Coal House series is bringing to our former mining communities and, not content with radio, Don will also soon be appearing on television.  He was asked to accompany a film crew to a number of collieries and say something about them, with particular emphasis on Six Bells. Don was able to speak eloquently about the history of the colliery, the terrible disaster of the explosion, and the Lowry painting, and the account was all the more poignant for being able to show and record the story of the medals awarded to Arthur Bobbett.

It must have been a nerve racking experience to be on live radio and to record pieces for television and Don deserves our congratulations for being prepared to represent the Museum on our behalf, and to do the job so well!

Christmas Bazaar is on Saturday 10th November at Ebenezer Chapel so please get busy with your arts and crafts and putting aside items for the usual range of stalls and attractions.  Let’s make this a big success!  Please bring donations of handicrafts, bric a brac, books, toys, sweets, tins, bathroom items, cakes etc to the Museum. 

Fund raising October - £203

Diary Dates

Frank Olding daytime lectures – please call at the Museum for details of the current series.

Wednesday 7th November From Camera to Canvas by Nora Lewis

Saturday 10th November – Christmas Bazaar, Ebenezer Chapel

Saturday 24th November – Craft Fair upstairs in the Metropole

Monday 26th November – AGM at 7.00pm at the Museum.  The evening will feature a visual presentation of the work carried out at the Museum

Wednesday 5th December1804 Ship’s Surgeon by Roger Morgan

Wednesday 6th February 2008A Visit to Italy (films) by Harry Vagg

Wednesday 5th March 2008Mons on the March by Richie Rudd

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.

Gwent County History Vol 2

This covers The Age of the Marcher Lords 1070-1536 and orders are now being taken.  Price £45 direct from University of Wales Press – 029 2049 6899 or call at the museum for more details.

Readers’ Letters

Dear Fellow Museum Members,

Rule Britannia or Fool Britanna – Evolution or Devolution

I’m sure those of us who went to Frank Olding’s lectures on the Celts enjoyed them very much; but the Celts were newcomers too, at one time, so where do we start?  So I’ve imagined a little scenario about the coming of the Celts and prophesying others to follow.

Imagine me, a repulsive old crone, the matriarch of my tribe, standing at the mouth of the cave leaning on my trusty staff, with the rest of my tribe just showing as startled, anxious pairs of eyes in the darkness behind me because two strange men have appeared over the brow of the hill in front of us.  They’re also carrying trusty staffs but theirs have nasty long pointy bits sticking out at the end.  These men, we’ll call them Juan and Pedro Celtos, are talking among themselves as they come up to me.  Juan, who seems a bit of a wimp, takes one look at me and says, “Oh Pedro, can’t we just go back home to Iberia, I don’t fancy the look of that old witch at all!” Pedro, who’s feeling a bit under the weather after a rough sea passage, is determined he’s not going back on that boat again at any cost.  He says, “No Juan, I think we’ll try a bit of diplomacy here” and strides up to me, making a flourish with his right hand and bowing.  “A thousand greetings, my beautiful ladeee!”, he oozes, “My friend and I are Celtic gentlemen and we have come to visit your fair country and bring civilization to your simple people.”  “Celts are you”, I reply.  “I’ve met your sort before, smarmy dandies always on the make, I wouldn’t trust you an inch!  We belong here because we’re the Ancient Britons and no-one is taking our land from us.  Celts indeed, you’re just a pair of naughty boys and you’d better hop off now, before I put my trusty staff about your ears.”  “Oh dear”, sighs Pedro, “you’ve brought it on yourself; come on Juan, we’ll show the old biddy what our staffs will do!”  And with that he plunges the pointy end bit of his staff deep into my chest.  As I fall dying – alone, as my tribe have quickly scarpered out of the way, hotly pursued by Pedro, I see far into the future.  So I say to Juan, in a gasping whisper.  “I think you might get on quite well with the Romans when they come as they’ll bring civilization in bucketfuls but wait until those big blond blokes arrive and, Allo, Allo, you’ll certainly have to knuckle under when Norman’s Frogs take over, serve you right!  But to get back to today, much good will it do you killing me, wait until you find out we’ve only rented this cave for the summer season from the family of that Red Transvestite at Paviland!”

Joking aside now, I hope the above goes some way towards showing how we evolved .In view of all the real ethnic strife in the world today, why re-create our own by choosing devolution instead of continuing evolution?  Why not be satisfied with being a mixture, as we modern Britons all really are (except on the Rugby field of course).  We’re not a bad mix overall and mongrels are always far more interesting than thoroughbreds.  Consequently, I feel we have to be very careful about how far we take devolution.  Think of the Northern Rock scare, if we completely devolve would we, in Wales alone, since the decline of our heavy industry and use of fossil fuels, have the resources to bale out our customers in similar circumstances?  In fact, taken to excess, there could come a time in the future when we do go back to the beginning, living in caves and throwing rocks at passing strangers – sorry, no joke.  Then we really would be the fools of Britannia – if we don’t stand together we’ll fall alone! 

Janet M Preece, October 2007                                  

Cave Man

Charity Appeals

Knitters needed for Velindre Hospital. Peggy has patterns in the Museum and knitted puddings and chicks left there will be collected.

Local Voices

The Abertillery African Connection

In 1992 a meeting happened in Mike Spencer’s house in Abertillery, as a first attempt to realise a long established wish by members of Abertillery & Blaina Rotary Club to organize a rugby match for local and international charities.

Present were:

Mike Spencer & Alun Thomas of Rotary & Abertillery RFC
Norman Thorpe  Rotary
Arthur Lewis    Rotary & Polytechnic of Wales
The Polytechnic of Wales was where both the Welsh International Rupert Moon and Mike Crouch, an International Referee were based.

The resulting match involved Welsh & English Rugby Clubs that would have cost thousands of pounds to arrange today, playing lads from local rugby clubs. The match programme can be seen in the Abertillery District Museum.          

What to give the match participants?

A T-shirt in Rotary Blue with a yellow Rotary emblem.

However, the first delivery of T-shirts was in black with a silver emblem, subsequently bought by Rotarians and their wives.

Whilst wearing the Black & silver T-shirts beside a Tunisian hotel swimming pool, my wife Morfydd & I were approached by Rotarian Bob McLean and his wife from Glasgow.  We talked about Rotary and the British Executive Service Overseas (BESO) the charity that I worked for and assignments in the Far East with Morfydd.

At Christmas I received a letter from Bob’s wife to the affect that she had sent his CV to BESO and obtained his acceptance as a retired engineering workshop manager. His first assignment was to a small Tanzanian village with a derelict workshop.

Bob went to Tanzania, got rid of the chickens & goats and revived the workshop, then taught the villagers how to use the engineering equipment.

They then produced equipment for African hospitals.  Bob went on to do similar charity work in other African countries, his last assignment was in Palestine.

All brought about by an Abertillery charity rugby match and wrongly coloured T-shirts

Arthur Lewis

I Remember

When I was young there were no window cleaners in Abertillery.  Most of the windows were sash ones with cords and weights to open and shut.  To clean the outside of upstairs windows, women sat on the window sill outside with their legs dangling inside the bedroom.

Highly dangerous I would have thought but I never heard of an accident.

My mother always gave the black leaded grate a final shine with an old piece of velvet.

Does anyone remember THERMOGENE?  It was an orange coloured piece of cotton wool impregnated with some sort of medication.  If one had a bad chest this was worn next to the skin.  As one’s chest improved the Thermogene was gradually thinned out until it was all gone.  Apparently it was disastrous to take it all off in one go.

The Roving Reporter

AGM on Monday 26th November at 7.00pm at the Museum.


Craft Fair

On Saturday 24th November upstairs in the Metropole.  The Museum society has taken a stall so please let us have one or two (or three or four?) handicraft items we can sell.  We will also be selling cakes so donations of those would be most welcome.


Items on display in the museum that are not glamorous but nevertheless essential to our wellbeing and also a source of considerable interest are toilets. The history of toilets in this country goes back a long time; The Water supply in this area  was firstly taken from streams on the mountain sides. Sewage was disposed of by emptying the waste into open sewers. One such sewer ran down Water Street (Now renamed King St) and collected on the M.C.R.Co, (Monmouthshire Cat & Rat Co) railway line before entering the River Ebbw.

The Increased discharge of untreated sewage into rivers and waterways turned them into open sewers. Contaminated rivers were responsible for several horrific cholera epidemics. In 1840 John Snow, linked cholera' and typhoid fever with contaminated water supplies. Cholera and typhoid claimed the lives of 29,000 Londoners between 1832 and 1866. During the same period over 50,000 lives were lost to cholera throughout Britain.

Early Water ClosetSir John Harington a godson of Queen Elizabeth I designed the first water closet the Ajax in 1592. It impressed Queen Elizabeth and she ordered one for Richmond Palace.His idea probably came from the Roman plumbing in Bath.

The privy of the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys discharged into a cesspit in his cellar. He recorded how his cesspit was manually emptied in buckets carried through the house. The emptying arrangements  still existed in early Victorian times, the service being carried out by nightsoil men.

Alexander Cummings, a London watchmaker, registered the first water-closet patent in 1775; it had a slider valve to close the outlet hole from cesspit odours

Joseph Bramah, a locksmith, invented a self-cleansing hinged outlet valve in 1778 designed to hold water in the bowl and stop cesspit gas entering the dwelling it served

Pottery Water ClosetJosiah Wedgwood, made a pottery 'close stool water closet pan' in April 1777. Pottery bowls were easier to clean, lighter in weight, not liable to corrosion and much cheaper than metal. Potters added decoration to stoneware bowls in an attempt to make them more attractive

In 1782 John Gaittait patented a stink-trap designed to close out cesspit odors. These water-sealed traps, known today as U-bends, had the advantage of self-cleansing traps. Ceramic materials used for WC Stoneware was cheaper and stronger than earthenware. Metal stands had to be used to support the toilet seat as is the case of our museum exhibit. In addition stoneware had the advantage of being waterproof throughout the trappage.

Decoration Transfer decoration inside early-nineteenth-century pottery valve closet bowls had already proved popular. The new pedestal WCs provided ideal surfaces for the same decorative process.

In 1848 the Public Health Act stated 'it shall not be lawful newly to erect or to rebuild any House, without a sufficient Water closet, Privy or Ashpit'. This was the first Health Act to make provision for sanitary facilities inside all new dwellings..       

Pottery industry

Henry Doulton (1820-97) saw the commercial potential for drainage pipes to connect houses into London's anticipated new sewer system. The projected need for drainpipes encouraged Doulton in 1846, to open a stoneware pipe factory at Lambeth in London. He was knighted in 1887

Potting expertise was established in North Staffordshire because of the local availability not only of clay, but also of long-flame coal for firing, and salt for glazing the ware

Pedestal water closets Ceramic bowl and trap WCs were  made by many well-known potters such as, Copeland, Doulton, Edward Johns, Minton, Shanks, Twyford, Wedgwood and Enoch Wood were making pottery WC bowls, plug wash bowls, bidets and other toiletware. The most successful were the Twyford brothers, Christopher and Thomas. In 1848 Thomas Twyford (1827-72), committed his family's domestic pottery in Hanley to the exclusive manufacture of. toiletware.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London highlighted the lack of interest in free-standing, plumbed-in pottery WCs. John Ridgway's WC emulated in pottery the appearance of the popular mahogany closet cabinet Ridgway's WC, and the public toilets introduced at the 1851 Exhibition, helped start the process of sanitary reform in Victorian Britain.

WASH-OUT WCS Valve closets had been replaced by the introduction of pottery bowls.

George Jennings, the Victorian sanitary engineer, and Thomas Twyford developed a wash-out WC. Jennings installed early versions in the public toilets at the 1851 Great Exhibition. He patented his design the following year.

Jennings's wash-out bowl featured a shallow dished tray holding an inch of water to prevent fouling the bowl. He secured a contract for the installation of public toilets in the Great Exhibition's Crystal Palace. Records show that 827,280 visitors paid to use Jennings's public toilets. There was a penny charge for using the exhibition toilets, hence the term 'spending a penny'. There was no charge for men wishing to use the urinals. The Great Exhibition moved to Sydenham, in South London, where Jennings earned £1000 a year from the visitors' toilets he installed. Jennings offered to install and staff other public conveniences, or 'halting stations' as he called them, free of charge, provided he was allowed to receive a small fee for their use.

Bear LogoThomas Twyford developed a free-standing pedestal WC using the wash-out principle.  In 1886  Queen Victoria used a Unitas WC at the Angel Hotel in Doncaster, Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert  had died from typhoid in 1861, and their son almost died from the same disease in October 1871. Royal approval was given with the installation of Unitas WCs at Buckingham Palace. Freestanding pedestal WCs became popular due to Victoria's patronage. A Royal Warrant of Appointment as Bathroom and Washroom Manufacturer to Her Majesty Queen Victoria's Government was given to Thomas Twyford.'

The wash-out closet was adopted and remained the standard-type WC throughout continental Europe until the 1980s and is still popular in South America.

Don Bearcroft curator


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