The First Reading Rooms at Abertillery in 1856.
Long before Mr T. W. Powell came to the valley education was at the forefront of the long term planning for the towns workforce by the Industrialists. Sir Thomas Phillips was born near Brynmawr, he became the Mayor of Newport and was caught up in the battle at the Westgate Hotel, Newport during the Chartists Uprising in 1839. He later came to Abertillery fought for the Welsh language and worked with Messrs T. P. & D. Price (Penybont Colliery owners) along with Mr John Conway (Abertillery Tin Works proprietor) on setting up the first Reading Rooms at Abertillery in 1856.
They later had support from Mr James Brown (the Blaina and Cwmcelyn Iron Works owner and brother of Mr Thomas Brown – Cwmtillery Colliery founder). They rented a room from Mr Hiley close to where the Arcade is now and filled it with Books, Papers of the day and other periodicals. They only leased the room for a short period whilst they awaited on a permanent room at the newly planned National Schools connected to St Michaels Church in High Street, Abertillery (where the Bus Stops are today).
The Powell’s Tillery years and the Workmen’s Hall and Reading Room.
When Mr Thomas Wilde Powell took over the Tillery Colliery from Basil Jayne & Co in 1882 his first commitment was to give as a gift to the workmen a Hall with a Library and Reading Room, he had it built at his own expense. The Hall was on Tillery St, it cost between £700-£800, it was capable of holding 300 people, it was opened on the 12th January 1884, but as the community grew and more workmen came to the area this Hall became too small for its purpose and a much larger one was required. In 1896 Mr Powell arranged to have a large Institute built, which would also house a Gymnasium and Swimming Pool. In 1897 his company sold the old Hall on Tillery St to the Council for £800 to be used as a Court House and the council arranged for the company to purchase land at Division St/Powell St to build the new Institute, the money the company paid for the land off the Council was given back to them as a donation towards the new Institute. The building of the new Institute went ahead and was finished in early 1898 though Mr T. W. Powell sadly died before its completion.
The Powells Tillery New Institute, Division Street, Powell Street.
In April 1898 the new Institute was completed, the Architect was Mr F. R. Bates of Newport, the Contractor was Mr J. Davies from Newport. The Gymnasium and Swimming Pool were deferred until later dates.
On the Monday 4th April 1898, the Institute was officially opened by Mr Thomas Edmund Powell (Thomas Wilde’s son the new Chairman) of Powell’s Tillery Collery Co and his sister Lady Christiana Herringham nee Powell. Lady Herringham was presented with a Gold key for the ceremony. Many of the dignitaries of Abertillery were at the opening of the Institute and afterwards a luncheon was held at the National Schools which were highly decorated for the function.
The building was made of the Tillery Company’s Buff faced bricks, pilasters, moulded cornices and other dressings in Llantarnum Red faced bricks. In the basement there was a heating chamber, the ground floor 2 Billiards tables and raised seating for spectators a public reading room and library with toilets. On a Mezzanine floor the were two slipper baths for the ladies on the entrance to Division St, on the 1st floor were three Committee Rooms which could have been converted into one big room for large gatherings capable of holding over 200 people, a smoke room lavatories and slipper baths for the gentlemen. The top floor was for the Caretakers use only. The conditions of membership was as follows – Outside members subscriptions was sixpence per month. Baths non members 4d, outside members 3d…. Billiards game of (50) 2d, game of (100) 4d. Plans for the Gymnasium had been forwarded but not yet been decided on when the work will proceed.
The new Gymnasium (as seen attached to the Institute) was opened at the Abertillery Institute in March 1902 by Dr H A Powell the son of Mr T. W. Powell, and new Chairman of the Powell’s Tillery Co (sadly his brother Mr T. E. Powell passed away before the Gymnasium was built) he was presented with a gold key by the architect Mr F R Bates and he opened the new building, the cost of the build was £2,500. The Gymnasium was 80 foot by 38 feet, and at a height of 32 feet, with an entrance lobby and a ticket office with a fireproof staircase and changing rooms for the ladies and gentlemen. The Instructor at the Gymnasium was Mr William Dunlop Essex, he was from the Scots Guards.
Later the Gymnastics Team went on to become one of the best competitive teams in the country and achieved so much in their short history. The following is a link to their story – Powell’s Tillery Gymnastics Team story.
The New Wing installation.
In June 1908 the company decided to add a new wing to the Institute. The Institute had become such a success it was deemed necessary to expand the building and the new wing costing £1,600 housed a larger Billiard Room and Reading Library. The new Billiard Room was 50′ feet by 40′ feet with space for six tables and a raised platform for viewing spectators. Above this Billiard Room was the Reading Room, the same size as below, with pitch pine newspaper stands and magazine tables etc. The room also had an open ceiling giving plenty of ventilation. Provision had been made in the original building for a lending library which was fitted with book cases capable of holding 2,000 volumes.
The opening ceremony was presided over by Mr James Price (Chairman of the Committee) also attended by Mr William Stewart (Managing Director of Powell’s Tillery) and Mr F. R. Bates (Architect of Newport). Mr Turner (Building Secretary). After the formality of the speeches, Mr Price was presented a Gold key suitably inscribed for the occasion by the Architect with which he officially opened the new wing. The Contractor was Mr Smith of Kidderminster. Mr Phillips was the clerk of the works. The construction was carried out under the plans of Mr F. R. Bates who acted as Architect.
The Swimming Pool.
The Pool was officially opened on Monday 3rd September 1910, it was opened by Dr H. A. Powell managing director of Powell’s Tillery Co, also present were Mr W. Stewart J.P the Managing Director, Mr W. Brace M.P. Mrs Stewart, Miss Stewart, among others. Mr W. Beddoe Rees of Cardiff prepared the necessary plans and Mr A. J. Colborne of Swindon was the contractor, Messrs Bradford and Co did the engineering work. It had a gallery on 3 sides, the pool was 60 feet by 22 feet, hot and cold shower baths, a diving stage, spring board and other up-to-date appliances.
The water was heated by steam from 2 upright boilers, the building was also centrally heated by the same means, there was also a steam laundry in the basement. Because of the scarcity of water in the area at this time there was a filtration plant installed by the “Turn Over” Filter Company, Belfast. The walls and floor of the bath were lined with White glazes bricks inlaid with Green and White mosaic tiles. A special feature was the addition of collapsible dressing boxes. During the winter months the pool would be covered by a movable boarded floor and a platform will be erected for the use of concerts etc. After the opening ceremony and speeches, the committee had a special tea put on for them at the Ebenezer, Abertillery.
The New Re-Built Institute.
The Powell’s Tillery Institute burned down on April 16th 1951 and was rebuilt, the opening ceremony of the new re-built institute (as seen in the image right) took place on the 27th August 1955. Later a specially commissioned Mosaic was placed above the main entrance onto Powell Street showing mining scenes with a centre piece of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the latter was portraying the new Institute rising from the flames of the old. The Institute was later used by the miners of the Cwmtillery, Roseheyworth and Six Bells Collieries and as the headquarters for the latter two collieries during the Miners Strike of 1985-85. It was in constant use at that time as a Soup Kitchen and Food Distribution Centre for the miners families.
In about 2016 all activity in the Institute ceased and the building was put up for sale.
Mr Thomas Wilde Powell, 1818-1897
In 1882 Mr T. W. Powell took over the Tillery Colliery, Penybont and it was then known as Powell’s Tillery.
Mr Thomas Wilde Powell, was a Solicitor, Philanthropist, Banker, Broker and Art Collector etc, he lived in Piccards Rough, Guildford. His wife was Mary Elizabeth nee Marten. He paid for the erection the Tillery Reading Rooms, Abertillery in 1884 and also had the Tillery Institute built in April 1898 but sadly died in January 1897 before its completion. He had an estate in Western Australia, and left a personal estate that was valued at £195, 508, 5s 9d, the equivalent to £11,407,763,03 in today’s money.
At the time of his death he was in the company of Heseltine, Powell & Co. Stockbrokers.
The Powell Family.
Mr Charles Marten Powell, Surgeon, son.
Mr Thomas Edmund Powell, Stockbroker, son. Director of Powells Tillery from 1897. Died in 1901.
Mr Herbert A Powell, Doctor, son. Took over the directorship of the company in 1901, after the death of his brother. Mr Herbert A Powell opened the Tillery Institute Gymnasium Abertillery in 1902, he was presented with a Gold key by the Architect to open Gymnasium.
Lady Christiana Herringham, nee Powell, daughter, (1852-1929) married Physician, Sir Wilmot Parker Herringham KCMG CB (1855-1936) in 1880, Christiana, Lady Herringham was a prominent painter. She opened the Powell’s Tillery Institute, Abertillery, she was presented with a Golden Key by the Architect to open the Institute.
Mrs Mary Elizabeth Turner nee Powell, married Mr Hugh Thackeray Turner (Architect, China Painter)- Their daughter Ruth married George Leigh-Mallory (Mountain Climber).
Mr Powell’s other children were
Miss Eleanor Grace Powell,
Miss Rosamond Powell,
Miss Agnes Powell,
Miss Theodora Powell.