Navigating this news site

The default view is all posts regardless of category in chronological order stating with the most recent in descending order. To view all posts relating to a specific category, use the menu to the right. To return to the default view, please click 'News' above.

Only registered 'Friends' can comment and receive email notifications of new posts/comments.

Next Lecture

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Fri, February 12, 2016 04:23:33

Tuesday, 8th March 2016

At Newport Museum and Art Gallery, John Frost Square

Art Gallery, Third floor

Doors open 6.30pm and lecture commences 7pm

Sculptor, Nigel Talbot will discuss

‘Is it Art?’

Nigel Talbot was born in 1952 in Taunton, Somerset. Between 1970 and 1976 he studied sculpture at three British art colleges including Newport College of Art. Since 1978 he has had a studio in Wales. He trained as a teacher and has taught in schools in Wales, especially at Caldicot Comprehensive School. Nigel Talbot has created many public works of art, many in conjunction with school children. One you may be familiar with, is the art he created for the Trevithick Trail near Merthyr. You may remember that he gave us a stimulating and thought provoking lecture on 'Public Art' some time ago.

  • Comments(0)//

Peter Guest’s Lecture: 'Roman Caerleon – Recent Discoveries and New Thinking'

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Sun, February 07, 2016 09:50:54

Peter Guest began his lecture by looking at what the fortress might have looked like about 2,000 years ago. As he states in the website of the Caerleon Research Committee,

‘In AD 74/75 the Second Augustan Legion (Legio Secunda Augusta) was moved forward to Caerleon (Isca) during operations to subdue the Silures. Isca, the most westerly fortress in the Roman Empire, was to continue as the base of Legio II Augusta for more than 200 years. The importance of Caerleon cannot be overstressed in the opportunities it offers for the study of legionary fortresses and archaeological (as opposed to antiquarian) work has been on-going in and around Caerleon since 1908. The vast amount of evidence derived from these excavations allows archaeologists to explore in detail the structural development and history of the fortress, its garrison and the wider community.’


Research took place from 2006-2011. There are only 3 Legionary fortresses in Britain, York, Chester and Caerleon, but Caerelon has the advantage of open spaces which allow easy access to areas of the Roman fortress and surroundings. In 2006 Tim Young undertook a magnetometer and resistivity survey on the Priory Field and 15 new buildings were discovered, dated to about 100AD and were expected to be granaries or barrack blocks.

‘The geophysical surveys were followed by the excavation of a series of evaluation trenches in 2007, directed by Andrew Gardner and Peter Guest with students from Cardiff University and UCL. Six trenches were opened in Priory Field to investigate a possible rampart building, rooms in two barrack blocks, one of the military granaries, and the open 'yard' area between the granaries and the large courtyard building. … A second geophysical survey was undertaken within the fortress in the spring of 2007, this time of School Field and Golledge's Field between the via principalis and the barrack blocks in Prysg Field to the northwest. … The magnetometer survey of School Field located a very large courtyard complex, as well as part of the barrack blocks for the legion's First Cohort (these extended northwards from the via principalis in Golledge's Field). The main complex occupied an area approximately 70 metres square and appears to have included an aisled basilical hall with large tower-like rooms at each end, and other long buildings subdivided into large rooms around the remaining three sides of the central courtyard.’

The ware-house building and its finds

The 2008 excavation revealed a building that looked like the warehouse buildings in Ostia, or on the Tiber in Rome. The excavation continued until 2010. One of the important finds was stone fragment of a captive native, naked to the waist in a kneeling position and with his hands tied behind his back. This is typical of the type of iconography which is placed on tablets celebrating Roman military victories and shows how the Romans viewed the natives depicting them as subjugated and enslaved. The warehouse also revealed a host of artefacts in iron and bronze. They were excavated and removed in blocks and taken to the laboratory where Mark Lewis and Penny Hill excavated the contents of the blocks. Apart from bucket handles they found a set of armour. The studs seem to have been removed as they were probably recycling the reusable metal whereas the less recyclable iron was left in a corner. They also found a small terracotta figure with a Phrygian cap which came originally from Persia and was worn by Roman emancipated slaves. From one of the blocks emerged a chamfron, which was protective and decorative horse armour placed over a horse’s face. These were used in parades, ceremonies and mock battles. Why such an item was placed in the corner of a room with discarded amour is not known.

Interestingly, radio carbon dates have been obtained which prove that the site was re-occupied by people who built Roman style buildings on the site in 430-530-AD. This shows that life continued on into the 5th Century and it is the 1st building in Britannia to reveal such occupation during this period.

Outside the fortress

In 2011 the buildings outside the fort close to the river were discovered and were identified as being 3-4th Century AD with no evidence of post Roman occupation. The largest building surrounded a large open square a full hectare. It is one of the largest buildings in Roman Britain, but many have been found in Europe outside the walls eg., Ulpia Noviomaqus Batavorum in the Netherlands and at Carnuntum, in Austria where a Gladiator School has been identified. This open area outside Isca could have been a cattle market or a campus training area and the small post holes that were discovered could have been for practising fighting techniques against wooden posts. Peter Guest speculated that the space could have been used for important occasions such as when Hadrian visited Britain in 122AD and is known to have addressed the Legion.


2.5 thousand metal pieces were discovered and even more pottery. Some finds give a great deal of information. For example an intaglio which would have been part of a soldier’s ring was a lucky charm and the four images tell us about the Roman soldier’s beliefs. Graphs revealed the different histories of different sections of the site which reveal not only how long they were in use but also if they were demolished or merely fell down. Also on the large site outside the fortress large quantities of pigs and ravens were found. This suggests the site had a religious use as pigs were used for sacrifice and ravens were considered to cross over from the living to the dead


There was a gap of about 50 years before the natives were allowed some autonomy as is proved by the Civitas stone found in the Roman town at Caerwent. Just as some natives adapted to town life in Caerwent, the Legion became part of the local landscape and local wives and children can be seen in the inscriptions at the National Roman Legion Museum. Future research intends to look at the impact of the Roman presence on the surrounding area and the people who lived there.

For further information see the Caerleon Research Committee Website

  • Comments(0)//

Video describing the work of Tim Harries, cartoonist, well known for his South Wales Argus strip 'Never Say Dai'

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Tue, January 19, 2016 19:12:13

FoNMAG runs a programme of evening talks at Newport Art Gallery covering historical and art related subjects. The first talk of 2016 was given by cartoonist, Tim Harries, perhaps best known locally for his long-running South Wales Argus strip ‘Never Say Dai’ though his work is published internationally.

Find out more about Tim and his work at

  • Comments(0)//


LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Thu, December 10, 2015 11:28:10


NOTE the time has changed to a 7pm start

Winter – Spring Lectures

12th January Tim Harries: Cartoonist for the South Wales Argus

9th February Dr. Peter Guest: ‘Roman Caerleon – recent discoveries & new thinking’

8th March Nigel Talbot: Sculptor ‘Is it Art’

12th April Bob Trett: ‘Medieval Newport’

Summer outings – these may alter

May Peter McDonald: ‘An architectural tour of Newport’

June Richard Frame: ‘St Woolos Cemetery’

Saturday 16th July at 10am. ‘Llangibby Castle’

August. ‘Flat Holm’

Autumn Lectures

13th September Tony Hopkins, County Archivist. ‘Newport Charter and other Gwent County Records.’

11th October Presidents Lecture: Dr. David Wyatts: ‘The Power of Prehistory: Caerau Iron Age hillfort and the dynamics of community archaeology.’

8th November Dr David Howell: An aspect of social history. Title to be arranged

13th December Adam Gwilt: ‘The Langstone Cup and its relevance to the Silures.’

  • Comments(0)//

The coin collections at Newport Museum and Art Gallery

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Fri, November 13, 2015 06:11:48

An important collection of over 8,000 coins at Newport Museum!

We have had many interesting talks this year at FoNMAG, but Nick Well’s talk this week on the Roman coins in Newport Museum was not only interesting BUT one of the most important talks I have heard this year in regard to Newport Museum. His research poses many questions and his dedication and enthusiasm suggests he will find the answers. Nick Wells, an archaeologist and numismatist, told us we have about 8,000 coins in our museum which is the largest in Wales for a regional museum and probably the largest regional assemblage in Britain. Most come from Caerwent and you would have been amazed at what you can learn from coinage. Nick was funded for 6 months in 2009 by a Cymal grant to work on Newport’s coin collection whilst also finishing his Ph.D at Cardiff. After the six months were up he came back in his own time.

95% were late coins from Caerwent between 206-402AD

Most of the finds came from Caerwent and 95% were late coins from Caerwent between 206-402AD. A first of many questions occurs at this point – why?

We remind you of the post on this NEWS page which describes the recent exhibition on the Edwardian excavation that took place under the Caerwent Exploration Fund Excavation from 1889-1913. See There was also another excavation under Nash Williams between 1923-25. Nash-Williams was Keeper of the department of Archaeology at National Museum Wales and also lecturer in archaeology at the Cardiff University College. So why is Caerwent’s early examples of coinage not evident in the collection. Nick suggested that earlier archaeologists had a different attitude to their finds and passed them around. He did find some at Cardiff but is still searching. Also some coins were reused in antiquity such as 3rd Century bronze coins which disappeared due to inflation. Furthermore the 1889-1913 excavation only excavated the top late levels of Caerwent and so produced late coinage. The collections were found in bags and match boxes and in many cases the number on the boxes and the content did not tally. Nick managed to identify 80% and they were laboriously identified, catalogued, photographed and placed on an inventory. He also tied coins to the published accounts of previous excavations.

The IARCW data base

Nick Wells was appointed as the project research assistant for twelve months from October 2003 on the ‘Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales’ (IARCW) research project whose purpose is ‘to advance the knowledge and understanding of coin supply (particularly from Rome) and the impact of coinage (especially Roman) on the diverse populations of this part of western Britain from the first century BC to the fifth century AD’. As the project details inform us ‘the civitas capital at Caerwent has produced by far the largest assemblage of site finds from Wales (2,015 coins in total, while Caerleon has produced 1,455 coins).’ There are now 50,000 coins in the data base.

Coin hoards are not so important for Nick’s purpose

9 coin hoards were found at Caerwent which had the largest number of hoards on one site found in Britain. Interestingly many of the hoards were found buried in rubble not as one might expect under buildings. The 1902 hoard yielded about 4,000 coins. The famous Hoxne (pronounced 'Hoxon') hoard found in 1992 in Suffolk and consists of over 15,000 gold and silver coins, gold jewellery and numerous small items of silver tableware, including pepper pots, ladles and spoons and is in the British Museum. You will also will be aware of the 2006 Llanvaches hoard one of the finest hoards of silver coins from Roman Britain in the second century A.D. They are now on displayed at the National Roman Legion Museum. Llanvaches lies between the fortress of the second Augustan Legion at Caerleon and the local tribal capital, Venta Silurum, at Caerwent. However, as Nick pointed out hoards were of less interest to him as they represent someone’s wealth which was placed in the ground to preserve it for what-ever reason and tells us nothing about the assemblage of the site. He also had to identify and exclude coins that were fakes or coins brought back from abroad by antiquarians and handed in to a museum as a collection. They were not relevant to his data base.

Why are coins important?

Coins are one of the most important categories of artefact to survive from the ancient world. ‘They provide a wealth of information about the societies that produced, used and lost them, and coins, particularly Roman coins, have been the focus of numismatic, historical and archaeological study for many years.’ Roman coinage can be used to; discuss the production of coins at the imperial mints and their supply to different parts of the empire, used to date archaeological material (excavated stratigraphy as well as other categories of artefacts) and source evidence for the so-called 'economy' of the Roman Empire.

What can a data base of coins can tell you?

In recent decades archaeologists have developed techniques for the analysis of coins as archaeological artefacts and the work of Casey, Reece and Robertson, among others, revolutionised how coins from settlements and hoards were studied. This sub-discipline, called 'applied numismatics', remains popular today and coins are now more integrated into the archaeology of late prehistoric and Roman Britain than ever before.

Richard Reece divided the Roman period in 21 periods (Sam Moorhead has added two more) for the purpose of comparing different sites. You can find out which rulers fall into different periods and search the database accordingly. Nick showed us how the coinage of Caerwent was placed against Reece’s periods and graphs created which revealed that most coinage was late coinage. Then different sites in Wales such as Caernafon were compared with Caerwent. Also from 140 sites a national average could be created and so it could be seen how sites varied from the norm. It was found that Caerwent was the only one with a peak in 4th century coinage. Nick had also studied sites in France and found that there are more coins of the late period in Britain. Yet more questions that need answering. All those who listened to Nick’s talk would never think about Roman coinage in the same way again.

Sources also used

Society of Museum Archaeologists –article by Oliver Blackmore

ads Archaeology Data Service: Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales, Peter Guest, Nick Wells, 2007

  • Comments(0)//

Roman Coins in the Collection of Newport Museum

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Sat, October 31, 2015 06:16:11


The history of the people who lived in our area is traced by Newport Museum from the earliest evidence 250,000 years ago through to the twentieth century, and include the Beaker people, the Silures, the Romans, the Vikings and the Normans.

Nicholas Wells, a Field archaeologist and Numismatist will talk about the coins in Newport Museum and especially the Roman coins which were found at Caerwent. Newport Museum's recent exhibition 'Recording the Romans - the Edwardians at Caerwent' told the story of the excavations at Caerwent between 1899 and 1913 and explained why Newport Museum has such an important collection of Roman finds (see previous post // ).

Nick has catalogued over 6.000 coins from the Museum collection. As coins can help date the past it is important to study and catalogue them. At the end of March 2010, the Iron Age and Roman coins of Wales project's data (collated by Peter Guest and Nick Wells) was integrated with the Portable Antiquities Scheme's database, significantly increasing the number of coins available for study.

For more information on this valuable resource see

  • Comments(0)//

NEWPORT DURING THE 15th CENTURY – a talk by Bob Trett given at Newport Museum on 20th October 2015

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Wed, October 21, 2015 18:03:17

The importance of Newport

Within Monmouthshire/Gwent Newport is one of only two ports capable of providing deep enough water for larger ships to berth. The other port is Chepstow. Today Newport is a large industrial and commercial city with a population in excess of 140,000, but in the mid fifteenth century Newport was a small market town with a population probably of about 1 - 2000. The historic town is still the heart of modern Newport, lying on the west bank of the River Usk, with a bridge crossing the river and protected by a castle. The bridge was built by the twelfth century and was the key factor in the establishment of the borough of Newport. It provided the means of crossing over a river with one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, and which was a major obstruction to travel across South Wales.

Newport was also the administrative centre of the Lordship of Newport, a large stretch of land on the west bank of the River Usk, covering territory from the Severn Estuary to the edge of the Brecon Beacons. In the fifteenth century the lordship was possessed by the earls of Stafford, who became dukes of Buckingham after 1444. A map of 1820, now in the National Library of Wales, shows the routes from Chepstow in the east and from Cardiff and Caerphilly in the west, running along land ridges towards the River Usk at Newport Bridge. The outline of the historic borough of Newport can also be seen. An 18th century watercolour by Anthony Devis in Newport Museum and Art Gallery shows the view that travellers from the east would have had of Newport Castle, when making their way to the bridge.

The town

The earliest map of Newport dates to about 1750, but now only survives in later copies. It shows how the town is built along the High Street leading towards the church of St Woolos which is just outside the borough boundary. The main importance of Newport was as a market town and even today the same street system survives, with the High Street broadening out to form a market place. A charter granted by Hugh Stafford in 1385 and renewed by his grandson Humphrey Stafford in 1427, gave the burgesses many rights including to right to elect a mayor and establish a guild. Only the 1427 charter now survives and this is in the collections of Newport Museum.

The castle

What remains of the present Newport castle was probably first built by the de Clares in the late 13th century or early 14th century, but the castle was largely rebuilt in the 15th century. The castle bailey has now been destroyed but the impressive towers along the riverfront still survive. A map produced in 1885 shows the castle bailey was roughly rectangular, with the north wall at a slant to the rest of the bailey. There was also other evidence for a moat surrounding the castle. The central tower of the main frontage contained an audience chamber and the magnificent vaulted roof still survives. Beneath the audience chamber was a Watergate where the castle could be supplied by boats coming in on the high tide. The castle protected a bridge. This was of wooden construction, and needed regular repairs.

The town walls

It has been uncertain whether the town had walls, but recent research unearthed both physical and documentary evidence for them. There are many references to Newport having three gates, and the east gate by the bridge can be seen on an engraving of 1732 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck. By looking closely at a map of Newport in 1853 it is possible to see a line of property boundaries following the line of the north wall of the castle bailey. Further investigation showed that the line of property boundaries continued beyond the castle. This suggests that castle’s north wall reused the earlier town wall. Also the “missing” middle gate was likely positioned in this wall, across a road no longer there, called Thomas Street. At the end of the 18th century a canal destroyed the rear west wall of the castle bailey.

15th Century Newport

Despite very little archaeology it has been possible to produce a conjectural plan of 15th century Newport. [See below for link] The town was divided into two walled bailies, separated by the town pill (also known as Arthur’s Pill). An Austin Friars was founded in 1377, outside the Small Bailey and to the south of the town. This was close to the location of the Newport Ship. Despite the major redevelopment of Newport the medieval street system still remains largely intact. In the late 1530s John Leyland records that the fairest of the town is in one street, and as for most of its history the town, as against the castle, looked away from the river. The landing stage for the town quay was at the entrance to the town pill. Leland also refers to the three gates, and evidence still exists to show where they were situated. The Westgate is still commemorated in the name of the Westgate Hotel at the south end of the High Street. The history of the West Gate is complicated and the original gate appears to have been a short distant away, at the top of what is now Skinner Street. This was replaced soon after 1476 with a new gate on the site of a later hotel.

St Woolos

The original town and borough of Newport was carved out of the manor of Stow, sometime soon after the conquest of the area in the late 11th century. As a result the town church of St Woolos (a corruption of Gwynllyw) stands outside the original town boundary. Although much altered the church, now a cathedral, has a late 15th century tower thought to have been built when Jasper Tudor had custody of the lordship. St Woolos’ main architectural treasure is a Romanesque arch leading into the nave, with naïve but ornate stone capitals, possibly including a representation of St Gwynllyw. A map of Newport dated 1794 also shows the location of St Woolos near the edge of the town, and how the town pill cut the town in half. Despite the changes the map might have been equally recognisable to the medieval and modern inhabitants.

The Murrenger House

There is also another building in High Street, known as the Murrenger House. A murrenger was originally a custodian of the town walls, but the house appears to have been misnamed in the 19th century and was in fact the town house of the Herbert family. The evidence for the history of the building now known as the Murrenger House includes a fine plaster ceiling on the first floor. This incorporates a Tudor rose, and allegedly open pomegranates, suggesting a date early in the Tudor period.

Austin Friars

The Austin Friars was still standing in 1859 when this engraving of the ruins was made. In the spring of 2014 there was a unique opportunity to see part of the Friars, during an archaeological excavation prior to a large redevelopment project. The excavation showed at least two building periods, with stone tracery thought to be from the first phase reused as building material in a later wall. It is also significant that the edge of a relict channel was found which may represent the course of the channel where the Newport Ship was abandoned.

Medieval finds

There are a few medieval finds of interest including part of a fine 15th cross head dumped in the river near the town bridge. In 1934, during rebuilding of the bank where the Town Pill once crossed the High Street, fragments of a possible barge were found, including what was thought to be a rudder and also another “Y” shaped timber. From the same location a quantity of medieval pottery and tile was recovered, later identified as 13th or 14th century Bristol Redcliffe ware. This adds to the evidence of close trading connections between Bristol and Newport during the Middle Ages.

Newport Shipping and the Newport Ship

The Austin Friars recent excavation was significant because the Newport Ship was found to be lying in a silted up channel between the Friars and the town quay. However a crudely shaped access door was inserted into the starboard side of the Newport Ship and shows that dismantling was carried out from the quay side of the channel, not from land belonging to the Friars. The Newport Ship seems at odds with what we do know of Medieval Newport and we would expect the Newport Ship to be trading with Bristol, not Newport. The town could certainly take ships of this size and a survey for Henry VIII in 1522 refers to a goodly haven “well occupied, with small crays (small trading vessels), whereunto a very great ship may resort.” The bridge was not a problem since it was upstream of the quay. Likewise the sand or mud banks along the channel formed by the Usk into the Severn could and still can be navigated safely at high tide, with the help of a pilot.

Unlike Bristol there are few references to Newport ships in the middle of the 15th century. There is a reference to a carvel built in Newport around 1454 for Morgan ap Jenkyn ap Philip and William Kemeys. This may be the Trinity, John Lloyd master, which received a safe conduct to trade overseas in 1460 and in 1461 was shipping undyed cloth from Bristol to Ireland. At the same time a fair number of Chepstow ships were importing wine and other goods from Chepstow to Bristol, but there is no reference to Newport being involved in this trade. Apart from that there is one reference to a ship in 1469, and one to the Christopher of Newport (probably our Newport) importing fish to Bristol from Ireland in 1480.

The Newport Ship has provided us with a number of merchant marks carved onto wooden boards or barrel staves found either under or within the ship. Most have not been identified but at least two of them have close similarities with two known 15th century Bristol merchants, William Fish and Robert Baron.

The most interesting document relating to a Newport ship is a letter dated 26th July 1469 from Richard Neville earl of Warwick authorising re-imbursements for the “making of the ship at Newport”. John Colt was a gentleman soldier from Northumberland in the service of the earl, but Richard Port, William Toker and Matthew Jubbz all appear to have been important Bristol merchants. Since Jubbz was paid in goods from the ship it appears it must have been a repair rather than a new ship. If (as seems likely) this letter refers to our Newport Ship then it must be closely associated with the Wars of the Roses.

For a conjectural map of Newport see

By clicking on the map the site will take you to the many aspects of Newport mentioned above.

  • Comments(0)//

A forgotten son of Newport: artist Bert Thomas and his connection with the town.

LecturesPosted by Communications Officer Sat, October 17, 2015 18:42:09

The cartoon which brought him fame

The famous cartoonist Bert Thomas is largely forgotten by Newport, but he was born in Newport in 1883 and died in London in 1966. He was particularly famous for his cartoon, "Arf a Mo', Kaiser!" which illustrates the bravery and disdain of the soldiers in the Great War in the face of the Kaiser’s armies. The cartoon first appeared in the Weekly Dispatch of 11th November 1914, as part of the newspaper's Tobacco for the Troops Fund. It raised nearly £250,000. It was also produced as a post card and on the back it stated "Specially drawn by Mr. BERT THOMAS for the 'WEEKLY DISPATCH' TOBACCO FUND, Carmelite House, London. E.C. Every 6d. will gladden the heart of a hero." Bert Thomas has shown his soldier lighting a pipe, but pipes were becoming less fashionable and cigarettes were crucial to many men’s survival in the trenches and were a symbol of comradeship and patriotism. The cartoon became so popular as a sign of British resistance that the Germans banned prisoners of war from having copies sent in their comfort parcels and so Bert drew a less provocative cartoon entitled ‘Are we down hearted?’ which prisoners could receive. This cartoon shows a soldier with a cigarette.

[©Tony Allen: Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918: The original newspaper cartoon was in black and white.]

His family connection with Newport

Herbert Samuel Thomas, known as Bert, was born the year before the death of his father, Job Thomas. Job Thomas was a stone mason and memorial sculptor and was born in 1823 at Talgarth. Recognising the economic draw of Merthyr Job had moved to Ynysgan in Merthyr by the time of the 1851 census. Job was married and was a ‘stone cutter master’ with one apprentice. By 1861 he was living and working at Chepstow Road, Newport, and was a mason employing 5 men and 4 boys. There is no mention of a wife and so presumably she had died. By 1871 Job was 49 years of age at Clarence Place Newport and his business had expanded. He employed 5 men, 8 apprentices, 4 labourers, 4 boys 2 women and a clerk. He was married again to Mary who was 27 and they had 3 children one of whom, Tom, was to carry on the family business. By 1881 he was 58 and in Rodney Parade Newport. He had another son, Ivor John who had been born in 1874 and was to become a renowned sculptor in his own right. Bert was born in 1883, but the following year his father died and so Job never realised that his artistic genes were to bear fruit in all his sons, but the most famous was to be Bert.

He begins his artistic career in Swansea

Ivor John Thomas had moved to Swansea by 1891 where he set up as a monumental mason and sculptor and exhibited at Swansea Art Society. Bert Thomas followed his brother to Swansea in 1897 aged fourteen and was apprenticed to a Swansea engraver. In his spare time he sketched and he sold his first cartoon to the magazine Pick-Me-Up, subsequently providing music-hall cartoons to the Swansea Daily Leader, Daily Post, News and Echo. When he was seventeen Sir George Newnes, the MP for Swansea, saw some of his drawings and published them in the Strand Magazine. In 1902 he moved to London and got a job in an advertising agency, but in his spare time he produced illustrations for humorous papers and in 1905 he began a long association with Punch, which he later estimated had published more than a thousand of his cartoons. In 1909 he began to provide political and social cartoons for London Opinion, and the popular "Child's Guide" to celebrities series. On 30th April 1909 The Cambrian reported that Lloyd George had praised one of his cartoons concerning the 1909 budget. In 1909 he married Elizabeth Gwynne and by the 1911 census they were living in Kensington with one child and a nursemaid. Bert described himself as a ‘Black and white artist’.

The First World War

Bert Thomas was now well known and in 1913 The Times praised Thomas's caricatures at the second exhibition of the Society for Humorous Art. His fame escalated when he produced "'Arf a Mo', Kaiser!" in the early months of the First World War. By 1916 he had joined the war on the Western Front as a private (765426) in the 'The 38th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteers' but he left the army and then served as an official war artist for the National Savings Campaign. Thomas was also appointed the official artist for the War Bonds campaign and his designs were hung in enormous 75 x 30ft posters across the National Gallery and the Royal Exchange in London. Painted in oils, it was seventy-five feet long and showed Drake facing the Spanish Armada. Thomas produced similar posters for Cardiff and Glasgow, and in June 1918 was awarded an MBE for his contributions to the war effort.

The inter-war years and the Second World War

In the interwar years he continued to produce cartoons and many can be found on line dealing with society and its foibles. The original drawing below is part of a series on dining and is held by Newport Museum and Art Gallery.

©Newport Museum and Art Gallery

He came into his own again in the Second World War and he produced a series of posters entitled ‘Is your Journey Really Necessary?’. He drew these in 1942 for the Railway Executive Committee. In the Second World War he also reworked his 'Half a mo' cartoon to create “Half a mo’ Hitler”.

©Newport Museum and Art Gallery


Tony Allen: Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918:

The British Cartoon Archive is located in Canterbury at the University of Kent’s Templeman Library.

The Illustrated First World War from the archives of the illustrated London News;

The Times, 7 September 1966, "Mr Bert Thomas." His obituary

Find my Past

History Today, 2 April 2014: Chris Wrigley, ‘Smoking in the First World War’

Newport Museum and Art Gallery's archive collections

  • Comments(0)//
Next »