D.O. Roberts, M.A.
Headmaster, Educationalist, Writer, Lecturer, Champion of Wales & its Language
(Aberdare County Intermediate School 1901-1904)
D.O. Roberts lived his whole life in Aberdare. He trained to be
a teacher, became a headmaster of a local secondary school, but in addition
became a great advocate for the teaching of Welsh in schools, and at the end
of his career was a prime mover in bringing the National Eisteddfod of Wales
to Aberdare in 1956.
David Owen Roberts was born 6 October 1888 at 28 Church Row, Trecynon,
Aberdare, the only son of Gethin Roberts and his wife Hannah1,
née Jones. Both
parents were Aberdare-born, and his father was a Colliery Examiner. They also
had a daughter Ethyl Mary who was one year younger than her brother. The family
moved to Moriah House, Llwydcoed when D.O. was six years old, so that his elementary
education took place at both Park Infants and Llwydcoed Board School. He gained
a place at the County Intermediate School in Trecynon in 1901 entering just
before his thirteenth birthday. During the whole of his time at this school
his Headmaster was W. Jenkyn Thomas, the first of the school’s eight heads.
D.O. left school in 1904 and by 1907 was admitted to Bangor Normal College
where he qualified as a Certificated Teacher in 1909, and where he was a college
prizeman in music2.
On returning to Aberdare the family was reunited and the parents
and grown-up children took up residence at 3 Holford Terrace, Cwmdare. D.O.
became a member of Gobaith C.M. Chapel in the village and became actively
involved in many chapel activities3. He eventually became a Blaenor (deacon),
Codwr Canu (precentor) and Pregethwr Cynorthwyol (Lay Preacher) as well as
the chapel treasurer. He was a class teacher at Cwmdare Board School until 1915 when
he volunteered for service in the army, joining the Royal Garrison Artillery as
Wedding of D.O. & Ann (Nancy) Edwards
He made progress in the army: promoted Corporal (1916), and Sergeant
Instructor in Map Reading and Field Sketching (1917). It was at this stage
in his army career, whilst stationed at Gillingham, that on 19th April 1917
he married Ann (Nancy) Edwards4 at Gobaith Chapel Cwmdare. The bride was the
daughter of the late Guardian David Edwards and his wife Mary Louisa Ann, née
Davies, of Cwmdare Post Office. The honeymoon was spent in London. Over the
following years, Mr & Mrs
Roberts lived at various addresses in Aberdare: 32, Broniestyn Terrace; 14
Park Lane, Trecynon; back to the Post Office in Cwmdare; 1 Broniestyn Terrace,
which they renamed Ynyswen, and finally Park Grove, Trecynon.
In 1918 he was posted to France after winning a gunnery competition,
and he was not there long before he was seriously wounded and almost lost a
leg. Afterwards his left leg was 1½ inches shorter than his right and this produced
a very severe limp for the rest of his life. Although he had volunteered for
the Army, his experience of those years changed him and he became a Pacifist
and raised his children in the rejection of violence.
On 6th September 1919, Mr. Botting, the Director of Education
for Aberdare, reported to the Aberdare School Board meeting that the remaining
two teachers of the Committee had now been demobilised, and had returned to their schools.
They were Messrs. P. D. Davies, Aman, and D. O. Roberts, Cwmdare.
Post war, he later taught in Abernant until appointed master-in-charge
of Welsh and Music at the Gadlys Central School, circa 1924, where he remained
a member of the staff under the headship of William Griffiths and, later, Edward
(Ted) Davies, whom he succeeded as head on the 3rd April 1940, a post he occupied
with no little distinction until his retirement in 1949. Not least amongst
his achievements at The Gadlys School was the establishment of the annual school
Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah,
which for many years was a notable feature of the musical life of Aberdare.
In preparing these performances he was ably assisted by Walter Pontin, another
former County School pupil who attended in the years 1908-13.
Nansi, Mary, Dafydd and D.O. in 1926
Mr & Mrs D.O. Roberts raised two children a boy and a
girl. Their son David (Dafydd) Gethin Edwards Roberts was born at 19 Bwllfa
Road on November 20th, 1918. Dafydd Roberts entered Guy’s Hospital Medical
and Dental School in October of 1936 and qualified as a dental surgeon. He
was elected President of the British Dental Association in 1979. He was a very
active member of the Little Theatre in Aberdare, and was the first member of
Plaid Cymru to be elected, in 1968, to serve as a councillor on the Aberdare
Urban District Council. Mr Roberts moved to Cardiganshire after his
retirement, and currently, (2014), lives in Llanbadarn. D.O.’s daughter, Mary
Beryl Roberts was born 24 August 1920 at 32, Broniestyn Terrace. She attended
Cardiff School of Art and later taught at Machynlleth and Merthyr County Schools
and at Brecon High School for Girls. After teaching she became a freelance
artist, illustrating several Welsh books and designing a series of book dust
jackets, exhibiting her work across Wales and at the National Eisteddfod. She
died at the Brecon Memorial Hospital on 12th of March 2000.
From the mid 1920s, D.O. Roberts was active in a number
of educational and professional fields. Many of them are listed below:
The cover of one of
- In 1924, he was one of a group of teachers who founded Undeb Athrawon Cymreig,
U.A.C., (The Union of Welsh Teachers), and was honorary secretary of the organization
until the outbreak of the Second World War when activities were suspended.
U.A.C was incorporated into U.C.A.C., Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru,
after the War.
- Secretary of the editorial board of teachers’ newspaper “Yr Athro”.
- In the years immediately before and after 1930, he authored “Llwybr
y Gymraeg” volumes
1, 2 & 3 and “Priffordd y Gymraeg” volumes 1, 2 & 3 which
were standard textbooks for the teaching of Welsh as a second language — they
were used throughout Wales for a generation. He also published Cynllun Newydd
yn y Gymraeg which
was an adaptation of the work of the Frenchman Félix Gouin.
- He lectured and demonstrated extensively on the teaching of Welsh
as a second language. One such course organized by the Breconshire Education
Committee was attended by 90 teachers and ran from October 1934 to the
following Christmas. He also taught on many postgraduate courses,
especially the Summer Schools of Undeb y Cymdeithasau Cymreig.
- He was the author of various talks on the wireless5,
on subjects as diverse as Ragnor Ostberg6 and the Stockholm City Hall; Ben Yehuda and
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Education in Poland; The Small Nations of Europe:
Latvia Estonia and Lithuania, and many other topics.
- He was elected, on 15th February
1935 and again on March 29th 1938, to be one of the 6 representatives of
Certificated Teachers in Public Elementary Schools in South Wales and Monmouthshire
to serve on the Court of Governors of the University College of South Wales
- Elected Honorary Secretary of Cymrodorion Aberdâr 1922 until 1932 when he
was elected vice-president and then President in 1933-34.
- Spoke at the August 1935 meeting of the Welsh Language Society in Aberystwyth on
modern methods of teaching Welsh. He stressed that the emphasis should
be on speaking Welsh rather than on an exclusive academic study of the
language. He also advocated that the language should be used in some of the other
general school subjects.
- He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the N.U.T. executive for the Wales District
9 in 1936.
- He served for some years as a member of a committee of the BBC which was responsible
for educational programmes in Welsh, and had prepared a detailed series
of programmes on learning the language to be broadcast in the Autumn of 1939; but the
outbreak of war meant that this scheme was cancelled.
- He was awarded the Sir Owen M. Edwards Prize7 at the 1939 Denbigh National Eisteddfod
for outstanding work for Wales and her Language.
- He was Joint Hon. Sec., with W.R.Davies of Mountain Ash, himself a native of Llwydcoed,
of the first National Eisteddfod held after the war at the Pavilion in
Mountain Ash in 1946.
- He was agent for Wynne Samuel, Plaid Cymru candidate for Aberdare in
the 1946 Parliamentary by-election, (Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare Division),
and for successive elections until 1957 when his health began to fail.
- He was admitted to the Gorsedd of Bards in 1948 in recognition of his work for Wales
- President for the evening drama performances at the Bridgend National Eisteddfod,
August 3rd 1948.
- Retired from the headship of Gadlys Secondary Modern School, July 1949.
- Eisteddfod adjudicator especially for literary competitions.
The honorary graduates in the National Library
of Wales, 1951. D.O. 2nd from right.
- In 1951, he was awarded an honorary degree, M.A, (Honoris Causa) by the
University of Wales in recognition of his great services to the nation8.
- In July 1951 he lectured at a Summer School in Dublin organized by The Irish Department
- Lecturer in general interest subjects, such as: “Nationalism in Architecture”, “Arts
and Crafts in Finland”, “The Development of Folk Music in Wales”, and “Educational
- He fought unsuccessfully the Llwydcoed Ward of the Aberdare Urban District Council
on behalf of Plaid Cymru on the 8th May 1952, but though defeated, he
polled 1083 votes.
- At the 1954 National Eisteddfod at Ystradgynlais, he led the deputation appealing
for a future Eisteddfod to be held in Aberdare. With Rev. D. Jacob Davies
he drafted “Y Cais”, which successfully won the 1956 National for Aberdare.
Consequently he spoke at the June 1956 Llangefni Proclamation Ceremony
to invite and welcome the audience to the Aberdare Eisteddfod that was
to take place six weeks later.
- He was appointed Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Aberdare National Eisteddfod
in 1956 and President of the Day9 for the final day, Saturday,
In the mid-1950s, D.O.’s health began to fail. He died
at his home, 4 Park Grove, on 29th August 1958. The funeral took place at
Glyntaff Crematorium where a large gathering of representative personalities
in the educational and cultural life of Wales was assembled10.
The funeral service was conducted by Rev. D.R. Thomas from Merthyr, a close
friend of the family, and Rev. H.H. Williams. The oration was delivered by
Rev. R. Ivor Parry, who was for many years Mr. Roberts’ next-door neighbour
in Broniestyn Terrace. Mr Parry pointed out the fact that Mr Roberts had made
such a special niche in the community that many of the town’s citizens knew
him as just “D.O.”
Mrs Roberts lived on for many years after husband’s
death. She moved to Brecon to live with her daughter Mary Beryl Roberts, and
she eventually died in January 1977 at St. David’s Hospital in the cathedral town.
Click any of the photographs below, or elsewhere on this page,
to get a larger version.
D.O. rear right with sister Ethel Mary,
father Gethin and mother Hannah.
Bangor Normal College 1908-09
D.O. Roberts (front row, third from the right)
Bangor Normal College production of
D.O. Roberts is between and slightly behind
first two actors
in the front row.
Gadlys Central School Staff, 1920s
Back Row: ? Davies, Jack Roberts, T.J. Lewis,
T. J. Williams, ? Thomas (Abernant),
T. Picton Evans
Front Row: D.O. Roberts, William (Bill) James,
William Griffiths, ??, Thomas Thomas
Staff Ysgol Ganol Y Gadlys Aberdâr, 1920au
On holiday in Barmouth, 1930.
Nansi, Beryl, David, Mabel, D.O.,
Gwylan, Ellis Williams
Yn Y Bermo tua 1930
The honorary graduates on the steps of the
National Library of Wales, 1951.
D.O. extreme right of the second row.
D.O. at home in Ynyswen,
D.O. (front row, third from left),
at a meeting of Plaid Cymru, 1953.
Gwynfor Evans is to D.O.’s immediate left, and
Wynne Samuel to Gwynfor Evans’
D.O. (front centre in dark robe),
Eisteddfod Aberdâr, 1956
D.O. Roberts in 1956 as Chairman
of the Executive Committee of the
National Eisteddfod at Aberdare.
The Executive Committee of the
National Eisteddfod at Aberdare, 1956.
D.O. Roberts front row centre.
- D.O. Roberts’ mother, Hannah, was a sister of S. Glynne Jones, O.B.E., H.M.
Inspector of Schools, and National Savings Commissioner for Wales.
- D.O. had a fine baritone voice which he sadly overworked and otherwise neglected
in his great efforts on behalf of the Language.
- The Aberdare Leader reported in detail the activities of the large number
of churches and chapels in the Cynon Valley over a period of about 70 years.
A sample of some of these reports for Gobaith (C.M.) Chapel can be read
- Nancy Edwards, D.O.’s future wife, was also a pupil at the County Intermediate
School in Trecynon. She
started at the school in the same academic year as her future husband.
She attended from September 1901 until July 1906, when she left with her
CWB Senior Stage Certificate and a Certificate of the Associated Board
of the Royal Academy of Music in pianoforte playing. At Gobaith, Cwmdare, she often
played the organ.
- One such wireless talk was scheduled for 15th February 1938, and can be seen in
the schedule of Welsh Region programmes
- Ragnor Ostberg was a Swedish architect who designed the Stockholm City Hall
- The Sir Owen M. Edwards Prize awarded in 1939 was “for the most signal service
to the educational advancement of the youth of Wales in the year preceding
- His honorary degree was awarded for his services to the twin causes of education
and culture in Wales, and the citation included the phrase: “he served both with a rare
zeal and a fire fanned by a deep love for his native land.”
- In his capacity of President of the Day, he took his rightful place amongst other
prominent Welsh men and women:
Monday, August 6th: The Right Hon. James Griffiths, M.P.
Tuesday, August 7th:
Dr Kate Roberts
Wednesday, August 8th: Professor T.H. Parry-Williams, M.A.,
Thursday, August 9th: Sir Ben Bowen Thomas, M.A.
10th: Dr. Charles Evans, F.R.C.S.
Saturday, August 11th: Mr D.O. Roberts, M.A.
- Mourners from Aberdare at the funeral included Revs. D.O. Davies, (Elim, Cwmdare)
and Randall Jones (Cwmaman). Messrs. W.W. Price, David Howells (headmaster
of Gadlys Secondary Modern School), J. Warren (headmaster of Aberdare Boys’ Grammar
School), J.T. Bowen (formerly deputy headmaster of Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School,
and vice-chairman Aberdare National Eisteddfod Literary Committee); J.T.
Roberts (former Gadlys School colleague); Alan S. Morgan (chairman of Aberdare
N.U.T. and Aberdare Little Theatre); Arthur Thomas (N.U.T. minute secretary);
Idwal Rees (headmaster Cwmdare Welsh School and chairman National Eisteddfod
Youth Committee); D. Herbert Davies (headmaster Cwmdare Junior School and
secretary of National Eisteddfod Youth Committee); Councillor David Hill
(headmaster Ynyslwyd Secondary Modern School); D.T. Price
(headmaster Aman Secondary Modern School). Messrs. R.M. Beaman, Tom Davies
(secretary National Eisteddfod drama committee); Alwyn John Ll. B. (chairman
Aberdare National Eisteddfod financial committee); D. Joshua Davies; J.L.
Thomas (Treasurer AUDC); Councillor W.S. Jones; Rev. Morgan Price (chairman
Aberdare National Eisteddfod literary committee); P.G. Prosser (managing
Glyndwr Griffiths (assistant editor and chief reporter “Aberdare Leader”,
and chairman of the Aberdare National Eisteddfod Press and Publicity Committee);
R. Walters; D.J. Griffiths (representing Moriah, Llwydcoed), and John Morgan
(Abercwmboi); Charles Morris (Trecynon).
From outside the district: Alderman Gwynfor Evans, M.A., (LIangadog), and
Mr. J.E. Jones (Cardiff), president and general secretary of the Welsh
Party, Mr. T. W. Thomas (Cardiff), financial secretary of the Welsh National
Eisteddfod Council; Mr. J. D. Powell, H.M.I. (representing the Welsh Department of
the Ministry & Education);
Mr G. Angell, H.M.I., Mr Gwyn Daniel, (general secretary of Undeb Cenedlaethol
Athrawon Cymru), Prof Evan John Jones, M.A. (chairman of the executive
committee of U.C.A.C); Hywel J. Thomas (U.C.A.C. national treasurer), Rachel Thomas
(B.B.C. Repertory Company).
Rev W Owen, M.A. (Porth), chairman of the East Glamorgan
Presbytery of the Calvinistic Methodist connexion, Rev. G.H. Jones, (Blaenclydach),
an official of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Rev. J. W.
Maddox (Abertridwr), also representing the officials of the East Glamorgan Presbytery,
Rev. D. J. Morgan (Porth), Rev. T.J. Edwards (Treorchy), Couns. Bryn John and H.P.
Richards (Caerphilly), Messrs. W.R. Jones (Trealaw), Tudor Davies (Pencoed), Ieuan
Owen and William Lewis (Pontypridd); David Davies and Dr Reid Thomas (Mountain Ash).
This appreciation of the life of D.O. Roberts is based almost entirely on material
provided by his son Dafydd Roberts, now of Llanbadarn.
I am indebted to him for his invaluable assistance. Thanks also to the staff of Aberdare
Obituary, The Aberdare Leader, 6 September 1958;
The Biographical Index of W.W. Price, (at the National Library of Wales
and Aberdare Public Library);
The Welsh Biography Online;
Early editions of The Aberdare Leader in Welsh
Rhaglen Y Dydd, Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru. Aberdâr a’r Cylch, 1956.
CR. 26 May 2014.