CANALS TRUST NEWSLETTER: Every so often I receive a publication called the Reed Warbler, which is issued by the Monmouthshire Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust. Its slogan is “Progress Through Partnerships”, and it certainly reveals that the organisation is full of enthusiastic members, headed by their chairman, events and media officer, Chris Morgan. Their president is Lord Raglan and their vice-presidents include Lord Crickhowell, the Newport MP, Paul Flynn, and Sir R Hanbury-Tennison.

Their headlines in this issue proudly announce the opening of the newly-extended Fourteen Locks Canal Centre. Their ambition shines through, as their chairman says they hope to make it the ‘No 1’ tourist attraction in Newport. Newport Social Services are running the tearoom there for five days of the week and the Trust for the other two days.

In fact, it has become an instant success, as the warden, Phil Westacott, has reported that 4,393 visitors had called there from May 23 up to July 14.

So if you are looking for somewhere different to go for your day out, with just a short journey, the Canal Centre would seem to be the place.

ANNUAL DUCK RACE: This is normally a very well supported event, but due to the closure of the canal it will not be possible to hold in its normal form this year. However, this minor hitch does not prevent this bunch of go-getting members from finding an alternative method of staging this always popular event. They say that they will hold a “Virtual Race” in the beer tent at the Llangyndir Show at 3pm on Sunday, August 24. They say that there will be plenty to do and see, and there will be a Children’s Best Dressed Duck Competition. The entry is £1.00 per duck and adults are welcome to enter as well.

NEW CANAL BASIN: Of more local interest will be the official opening of the new canal basin at South Sebastopol on Thursday, August 14, at noon.

There will be a boat convoy to leave Pontymoile at 10.30 am. Access to the basin is via Bevan’s Lane, off the roundabout at the north end of Cwmbran Drive, at its junction with Avondale Road.

This project has been on the drawing board for over 10 years, as they needed to protect the canal corridor. This will now be possible, and the canal basin will be the centre of the new village, which will eventually be built around it.

There will be access for boat owners to get to the shops and other facilities on the site. Another important part of the Trust’s discussions with the council will see the houses facing the canal and not the back of their gardens. This will avoid the disposal of garden waste into the canal that we have all seen in other areas.

The actual work has taken about two years and has been funded by INTEREG 3b fund of European money. Torfaen County Borough Council and the Canal Trust are partners in the scheme and have also funded research into the control of Japanese Knotweed. The overall cost was approximately £450,000.

Chris Morgan has told me that the Trust would love to see lots of members of the public turn out on their big day. The procession of boats leaving Pontymoile Basin at 10.30am will pick up VIPs at the Open Hearth and go on to Beavan’s Lane for the opening ceremony.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal Trust and British Waterways are continuing to work with Torfaen Council to source funding for the regeneration of the locks into Cwmbran and a New Town Centre canal basin.

There are many more events planned by this organisation, too many to list here, but it certainly shows that despite all the huge difficulties that seem to be thrown at them at regular intervals, they continue to bring the local canal into the 21st century.

HOW PICTON GOT ITS NAME: I have often mentioned in my previous articles in Grassroots my cousin Mary Thorne, who now lives in Canada. She writes to me regularly and included the details of the little village called Pontypool which is near her, well, only a little matter of 200 miles away from the town where she lives, which is called Picton.

I have an idea that there is a road called Picton Street, in Abersychan, although I no longer have an A-Z of the Pontypool area to verify that fact.

In her latest letter, Mary, who used to be quite well known hereabouts when she led a dance band for many years appearing in the various dance halls that were around before and after the war, enclosed a cutting from a publication called the Canadian Media Circulation Audit. This is headlined “How Picton Got Its Name.”

It seems that the town gets its name from Sir Thomas Picton, a British soldier who was born in Wales in 1758, and died at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

He had a colourful career. He was at one time the Governor of Trinidad, but was hauled back to England to be tried in one of the first ever court trials to be covered by the British Press. He had tried a 14-year-old girl for theft under Spanish rather than British law. It meant that she was tortured. She was hung up in irons and lowered so she stood on sharp stakes. They say that he was “hauled back to England”, but it must be remembered that that journey probably took months and months before he arrived back in the home country for his trial.

The stain of his sensational trial, his rough ways and his Welsh background all contrived to rob Picton of a higher place in history. Even the British hero called him a “rough and foul-mouthed devil.”

There was much discussion about the naming of the town with many in favour of Port William in honour of King William the Fourth. It seems that the name of Picton was agreed on more due to other relatives of Thomas rather than the man himself.

It certainly is a real glance back into the habits of the Commonwealth in its early days.

ANOTHER DISTINGUISHED RESIDENT OF PONTYPOOL: Recently I wrote about Mr W H Green with details of his life and this brought a letter from Mike Kerr, of Newport.  He told me that he had an old Pontypool book called the Pontypool Local Register and Appendix, with a preface dated 1871, although, as he points out, the information in it goes through to 1875.

The first half is a chronological list of events in the town in the form of brief extracts from the Pontypool Free Press.

One is about the Pontypool Exhibition of 1871, which I mentioned previously.  It reads “May 1.  An exhibition of Fine Arts &c at Town Hall Pontypool; it was a great success and continued to be attractive to multitudes from far and near during the six days it remained open.  The clear proceeds amounted to upwards of £100, out of which the committee to Mr W H Green, the Hon Sec, a purse of 12gns and a clock.”  The second half of the book is a series of articles on topics relevant to Pontypool and the area, and a list of a number of books which were written by him.

  DANIEL LEWIS JP: This reminded me of an extract from the Free Press sent to me by Alan Webb, of Pontllanfraith, some time ago. It concerned the death of an ante-cedent of his, Daniel Lewis, in a railway accident near Pontypool Road.  Mr Lewis was a native of Cardiff, and had worked on the railway for many years.  He had caught the train from Little Mill to Pontypool Road and was walking up towards the town where he intended to take his place on the Pontypool Bench of Magistrates.  The railway was busy on that Saturday morning and he stepped out of the way of one train and into the path of another.  His injuries were severe and he was taken to the Pontypool Union Infirmary where he soon died.

  THE INQUEST: There was quite a full report of the inquest, which found that no one was at fault, and the Coroner, Mr R M Jones, said that the deceased was an old railway hand and, as such, the more accustomed they were to danger, the more careless they sometimes were.

It was clear case of accidental death and no one was to blame.

  LIFE HISTORY: Mr Lewis left the railway about 1869, and took up keeping various public houses in Cardiff.  He was a member of Cardiff Corporation and was chairman of the Cardiff and District Licensed Victuallers Association.  In the late 1870s, he went to live in partial retirement at Mamhilad.  However, he became the Managing Director of the Crown Brewery in Pontypool, and the proprietor of the Clarence Hotel.  On the formation of the Pontypool and District Licensed Victuallers’ Association, he became their chairman and treasurer and was then appointed district representative of the Monmouthshire, Hereford and South Wales National Trade Defence Fund.  Other posts that he held in this period of his semi-retirement were vice-chairman of the Pontypool Board of Guardians, by which he was a JP for the County and a member of the Pontypool Rural District Council. He was also a member of the Kennard Lodge of the Freemasons, the ROAB, and something call Shellibier.

  THE FUNERAL: As would be expected, this was a huge affair and took up nearly a page of the Free Press.  The body had been taken to the Clarence Hotel and the mourners, as a mark of respect, all walked to Pontymoile before getting into the 40 or so coaches and private carriages for Mamhilad Churchyard.  There is a list of mourners and the organisations that they represented, as well as dozens of names of private people.  Mr S Harris and Sons were the undertakers and the coffin was a “magnificent one of panelled oak, polished with heavy brass mountings.”

The Freemasons, upon leaving the grave, each deposited a spray of acacia upon the coffin, the Buffaloes doing likewise with their emblem.

There is then a list of those who sent wreaths, which were described as “numerous as they were exquisite.”  As well as being remembered at the organisations in which he held office there is an account of a “Sympathetic Reference at the Monmouthshire Chamber of Agriculture”, of which he had been an active member when the chairman, Mr Frederick Stratton proposed, and Mr W Sambrook seconded a vote of condolence to Mr Lewis’ widow and children.  Mr Stratton had received a postcard from Mr Lewis that very day saying that he would speak to the Group on the “Beer Materials Committee”, which presumably was yet another organisation that this busy semi-retired man belonged to.