Introduction to Online Edition
by Colin Rees & Steve Hammonds
During the year that led up to the 75th anniversary in the 1971-72 academic year,
an editorial team was set up to produce a commemorative booklet to mark the forthcoming
special occasion. A number of past students and teachers were approached by the team
and asked to write about their experiences at the School; at least one contribution
was sought for each of the eight decades of the School’s existence. As you read
through the articles, you will notice that the institution was known by various names
during its 75 years: initially as the Aberdare Intermediate School, then The Boys’ County
School, and finally after 1944, The County Grammar School for Boys, or more simply
as the Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School.
Owing to the untimely death of one of the editorial team, Glyn Griffiths, the commemorative
booklet was never published. It has remained dormant in manuscript form, firstly at
the school and now, at The Aberdare Library. However, in 1996, during the preparation
of the Commemorative Centenary Booklet, its editor Ken Griffiths and others, decided
to make use of about half of the articles that had already been written for the unpublished
75th anniversary brochure. Even so, several articles generously written by past students
were not used at the centenary nor in subsequent editions of The Aberdarian. Consequently,
with the agreement of Ken Griffiths and of the Aberdare Library, we decided to produce
the full version of the 1971-72 booklet for visitors to read ‘online’.
We hope that you will take pleasure in reading the accounts written by the ‘old
boys’, and appreciate the appearance of the complete edition, albeit 34 years
In conclusion, we wish to record our gratitude to Mr Nicholas Kelland of the Aberdare
Library who has given us invaluable assistance during the compilation of this ‘online’ booklet.
Mr. Gwilym Williams
The School, past and present, is grateful to the Past Students’ Association
for its splendid effort in producing this Brochure to mark the 75th anniversary of
the opening. The work has been in the hands of the Committee, which has persisted
in its efforts despite the very many difficulties encountered. Some delay has been
caused by such things as the postal strike, and ill-health of Mr. Glyn Griffiths has
robbed the Association of a very experienced journalist, who had undertaken the work
of editing. His task has now been undertaken by Mr. K. Griffiths, and Mr. P Walters,
and full well have they set about it as you can now judge for yourselves. We are,
indeed, grateful to all those who have made this publication possible. This includes
those who have contributed articles contained herein, as well as those who, by their
financial support, have made this publication possible. It is my pleasure and privilege
to express thanks, both personal and on behalf of the School, to everyone concerned.
These thanks I feel sure will be echoed by all who delve in the succeeding pages.
There is something here for all, from each decade of the school since the first
bell rang at Aberdare Intermediate School on Sept. 29th 1896. Memories will be treasured
of incidents recalled, staff and fellow-pupils who were ‘there’ at the
time. ‘There’ of course has a double meaning since we have been resident
in two different buildings, but whether at the O.B.G.S. or the New B.G.S. the same
spirit pervades. May it long continue to do so.
Writing an article in a brochure of this kind, with such illustrious contributors
as two former Headmasters and the many distinguished old boys and staff of the school,
is indeed an onerous task. Having spent nearly 35 years in contact with school which
is 75 years of age, would make it difficult to condense into a short account all the
school has meant to me.
As a very young and impressionable trainee teacher when I first entered the school,
I was struck by the compactness of the building - not surprising when one considers
it was originally designed for 180 pupils. This has always been the impression, even
today, of buildings bursting with pupils as though nothing could really contain Aberdare
Boys’ Grammar School: its energy and vitality overspilling in many directions
scattering the seeds of wisdom sown within, to the four winds. I still meet those
pupils of the pre-second war period in widely different places, all proud and glad
to recall their membership of the school.
The characteristic pride in school is, I feel sure, a manifestation of the gratitude
for the rich experience, sound education and wonderful spirit nurtured in one of Wales’ first
Secondary schools opened under the Welsh Intermediate Act of 1889. Since that time
it has increased from 100 boys and 80 girls to 620 boys alone. It has seen its way
through two wars, survived bifurcation and an invasion by Ilford School, with dignity
and restraint. We still treasurer the shorter hours imposed in 1940, and the Old Spanish
Custom of early closure on the last day of term.
In all these years the total number of staff passing through the school numbers
157 - not a large number by modern standards, and in this lies one of the great strengths
of the school. Staff find it very hard to leave. New recruits are always made warmly
welcome, and quickly settle to a Staff Room atmosphere that is as cordial as it is
sometimes smoke-laden. Retirement and promotion may take their toll, but the same
congenial spirit of good-will remains. This spirit is shown to all who join the staff,
whether as fully-fledged members or as teachers in training. Perhaps this then is
the secret of the success of the school; the ‘prisoners’ are captivated
by an atmosphere, which in turn they help to maintain while adding a fresh breeze,
by opening yet another window on the world.
It has been my good fortune to work under four of the school’s headmasters,
and the contribution each has made cannot be measured against each other because each
gave to the school his most devoted service and left his mark indelibly stamped on
its character. In so doing they have added to the tradition and reputation of the
school, without which the school would be but a pale shadow of its present image.
Perhaps a word about the non-teaching staff would not be out of place, as they too
are so involved that they must also be said to have played their part in the moulding
of the character of the boys. This must be especially true of Mr. David Jones, now
retired, and Mrs. Jennie Williams.
G.C. HUGHES 1904 - 1909
(Former Senior French Master and Deputy Headmaster, Barry Boys’ Grammar School)
As a rather Old Boy, I esteem it a great privilege to have been invited to make
a contribution in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the school, an occasion
which gives me an opportunity of greeting all Past and Present students, and in particular
those Old Boys and Old Girls of my time, and before, who have survived the passing
of the years, and many of whom still reside in the Aberdare and Mountain Ash areas.
I mention the latter area because during my time there was no Intermediate School
in Mountain Ash, but a merry band of boys and girls used to travel daily to Aberdare
on the old Taff Vale Railway.
In 1904 the school was small, resulting in small forms of boys and girls, under
the Headmastership of the first Head, Mr. W. Jenkyn Thomas; the following year Mr.
W.R. Cox succeeded Mr Thomas, and the former remained at the school until his retirement
in 1937. We older Past Students like to think of some of the old Masters who also
remained at the school for the whole of their teaching lives, - Messrs. W.R. Williams,
Louis M. Thomas, A.W. Elliot, Aubrey Roberts, Ogwen Williams and Timothy Davies. Happy
memories there are, too, of the Mistresses on the Staff, - Miss White, Miss Rowlands,
Miss Griffiths and Miss. Morris.
The social life of the school is not to be compared with the development of later
years. The boys played ‘soccer’ and the girls ‘hockey’. We
indulged in poetry readings and in the performance (not public) of scenes from some
of the plays of Shakespeare. The ‘pièce de résistance’ was
the presentation of the short farce “Box and Cox” by members of the staff,
led by the late Mr. W.R. Williams.
The little school achieved its fair share of Academic Honours - it produced a Fellow
of the Royal Society, Honours Graduates of the University, and throughout the years,
right up to the present, these early beginnings have been followed by a line of successes
unique, long and varied.
Aberdare may look with pride on the achievements of the boys and girls of the school.
Old Boys and Old Girls are found in every department of public service, in the highest
professions, in commerce and in industry; and not in the annals of proclaimed success
are the hundreds of men and women following their daily callings, in home, office,
factory, workshop, all essential to our daily life.
It is with sorrow and grateful remembrance that we think of the sacrifices of old
pupils in the wars. Boys of the 1904 -1909 period gave their lives in World War I,
and many more in World War II. May the host of Old Boys and Old Girls of our fine
school combine always in a great determination to bring peace to a world so torn with
Present pupils will live long enough for further great anniversaries, and I ask
myself what glorious chapter of progress and success will be unfolded twenty-five,
fifty or seventy-five years hence.
Qui vivra verra
Mr. P.E. Phillips
(Master and Deputy Headmaster at ABGS)
The “County School” - 1915-1920.
I was a pupil at the Aberdare Boys’ County School from 1915 to 1920. In my
first year we were something over a hundred pupils. The staff consisted of Mr W. Charlton
Cox, (Headmaster), Mr E. Ogwen Williams, (Senior Master and Teacher of Geography,
Art and Music), Mr W.R. Williams, (Mathematics), Mr Aubrey Roberts, (History), Mr
Louis M. Thomas, (English), Mr Timothy Davies, (Junior Mathematics and Welsh), Mr
Jackson, (Chemistry), Mr Evans, (Woodwork), and Mr. T.B. Reynolds, (French).
Mr. Cox was an awe-inspiring figure. He was also a man of great versatility. At
various times he taught Latin, English and Mathematics to “Senior” level,
and was able to step into the breach in other subjects, when needed. The Staff were
men of personality. Past Students will remember “Ogy’s Geogy” and
Aubrey’s vivid, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of History.
The Great War was a period of constant change as regards Staff. Mr Reynolds went
into the Army at the end of my first year; Mr W.R. Williams and Mr Timothy Davies
left us to do war work. In their place there appeared a number of temporary teachers
- including two women - the men remaining only until their time came to join the Forces.
Some of them made quite an impression on the boys - particularly an ex-sergeant of
the Lancers, whose ideas of discipline would have made those of a Guards sergeant-major
look kindly! In 1918 Mr J.T. Bowen joined us, to be followed shortly afterwards by
Mr Ceredig Jones.
Life at the School was interesting, lively, happy, and democratic - a boy was judged
on his merits, academic or sporting, and on his qualities of character. At this period
an immense respect for education was very much a part of the Welsh Way of Life; moreover,
the pupils were aware that the Grammar School offered them opportunities which had
previously been available only to those with a Public School education. We were constantly
reminded of the academic achievements of Past Students by the “Honours Boards” with
their gold lettering ranged around the Hall, which included the name of Dr Ezer Griffiths,
F.R.S., one of our first distinguished scientists.
The sporting activities of the School were restricted by the War, but there was
great interest in Soccer and Cricket; Rugby was not introduced until the early 1920s.
The tone of the School had been set by the legendary Jenkyn Thomas. Appointed at
twenty-six years of age, after a brilliant career at Cambridge and a short period
as a University Lecturer, he had impressed his personality upon all those with whom
he had come into contact. (I met him some years later and thereafter had no difficulty
in accepting the stories I had heard about his influence upon the school.) Of course,
in those days it was easier for a Headmaster to impress his personality upon Staff
and pupils. The numbers were small and he was comparatively unfettered by the Bureaucracy.
He took decisions on quite important matters on his own initiative, and appointed
his own Staff.
The School was very much a community. The boys wore their school caps with pride;
and though they worked longer hours than is customary today, it was not difficult
to persuade them to return in the evening for extra-curricular activities, like “Lit.
and Deb.” Discipline was not harsh, though one aspect would, no doubt, shock
pupils of today - it was not considered seemly to walk or talk, with the girls from
the Girls’ School; meetings with them were limited, (in theory), to official
occasions, like Inter-School Debates.
In these days, it is fashionable in some quarters to denigrate the Grammar School.
Let us not forget what it has done for the children of both the working- and middle-classes.
For my part, I look back on my time as a pupil at the County School with feelings
of pleasure and gratitude.
Arthur Probert, M.P.
1921 - 1927
Underneath the House of Commons Chamber - deep down - there are a number of very
small rooms called interview rooms. Here, a Member of Parliament can dictate to his
secretary or, indeed, interview a constituent.
Sometimes, when I take the lift down there, early in the morning, I smell a certain
musty odour. As so often happens to us all, certain smells send the memory fleeting
back to particular places, or to particular moments of time. In this place, at a particular
time in the morning, I can smell the old Chem Lab of my own County School some thirty
odd years ago!
I see once again the musty, even dirty, lab with Daddy Elliott peering quizzically
at what, I am certain, seemed to him a natural phenomenon - the British Schoolboy!
In his mouth, Daddy Elliot would be constantly chewing a cheap, wooden penholder which
he occasionally dipped into some peculiar concoction - made by himself - and which
he called ink!
He was certainly my favourite character - really Dickensian, a lovable, excentric
man, and the schoolboy’s equivalent of the absent-minded professor.
His experiments were always unpredictable and exciting. He thoroughly enjoyed them!
We all co-operated, and great was Daddy’s delight when, following a loud explosion,
we all simulated great surprise, some of us falling down in pretended shock.
I am afraid there was no pretence of hygiene in that lab, and I can still see the
lovable old chap tottering around test tubes and bunsen burners, dipping his pen into
various smelly fluids and then masticating that same pen with absent-minded, but evident
In a different vein, who can forget “Oggy” - Mr Ogwen Williams - Geography
and Music. What an incongruous combination! Oggy was the barometer of his classroom.
He responded to its moods, sometimes elation, sometimes depression, but never really
He was thrilled one day when one not so innocent youngster asked him if Lake Ogwen
had been named after him. I cannot recall what Oggy replied but he radiated his delight
that he should have been so honoured. Indeed, there was an attractive naivety about
him. For example, he thought he was a good detective, and would pretend to leave the
room for some distant place, whereupon he wound jump back into the classroom in order
to catch some misguided boy doing something he should not be doing. If Oggy was successful,
his face glowed with satisfaction. Yet he was never malicious.
As so often happens, we had an outbreak of broken window panes. Oggy was determined
to catch the miscreants to fulfil his part as school detective. He would dart hither
and thither into unexpected places and at unexpected times. One of the boys was fed
up with this and was determined to get his own back. He rigged up a contraption, whereby,
by pulling a piece of concealed string he could let down a window flap, suddenly.
On the flap he had already placed pieces of broken glass. A sudden tug of the cord
from inside the class and there would occur a resounding crash of broken glass. Oggy
would run out into the yard to “arrest” the offender. He never found him
and, to my knowledge, never discovered the trick played upon him!
At one time he had visions of becoming the local weather expert. He began to keep
a rain gauge. Much to his astonishment, the gauge kept registering appreciable rainfall,
when the night and day had been dry and fine. I am sure it took Oggy sometime to realise
that the rain was not rain but the result of a most natural action of a human body.
That human body belonged to a boy I knew. I hasten to add that it was not I.
At one time, too, he had ideas of election to the local Council, if my memory is
correct. What I do remember in a morning when he came to the classroom to find hundreds
of tram tickets lining the walls, all the tickets portraying the simple advertisement
of a well known beer called “Brains”. The advert read, ‘Its BRAINS
you want’. One could take that message in one of two ways, Oggy took it the
only way he could, as a compliment to him. I know we had a very pleasant lesson with
Who can forget “Bobs” - Mr. Aubrey Roberts - the history master. His
love of history was equalled only by his love of rugby. It is fitting to record that
the Welsh Secondary Schools Rugby Union owes a great debt to him for his tireless
and enthusiastic work on its behalf.
His lessons were a source of inspiration, never dry, and always interlaced with
amusing anecdotes. His maps, too, were very easy to remember and visualize. The British
Isles were a triangle, France a square, and so on! However horrified the geographer
may feel, I certainly learned my geography that way, although incidental to the real
Throughout my six years in the school, I lived in Mountain Ash, and this fact brings
to mind another character - the Physics Master Mr. Towler. He was strict, often irritable,
but fair. He lived, at that time, somewhere near Cardiff and, in consequence travelled
up to Aberdare in the same train as I did. But never together, I saw to that! He claimed
that there was ample time to get to the School from the Low Level station in time
for the start of the first lesson. Anyone who saw him walking would not be surprised
by the fact that he always succeeded! We were only kids, and could not be expected
to keep up with him, even if we wished to do so which we certainly did not.
Naturally, we felt strongly about this when we often a little late, through no
fault of our own. And we used to get our revenge on the return journey. He could not
always leave school on time, whereas we could. In consequence, we had the glorious
spectacle of Towler impatiently standing at the ticket barrier pleading with the collector
to let him through to catch the train then due to leave. There was a strict rule at
that station in those days. When the barrier was closed, no-one must be allowed through!
And we would be cheering, and jeering, at the discomforted master. This occurred many
a time. How cruel can schoolboys be. And yet, I often feel we were a little justified.
Incidentally, a few years ago, I was addressing a British Council gathering in
South America on behalf of the Inter Parliamentary Union. After my speech, I was approached
by two of those present, who asked me if I knew a Mr. Towler living somewhere in South
Wales. Great was my surprise, and indeed theirs, when I discovered that they were
referring to my Physics Master!
There was one master who made me work like a slave. And, indeed, he did the same
to hundreds of other pupils. I refer to the French expert and later, Headmaster, Mr.
Brinley Reynolds. I was his pupil for six years and I grew to admire and respect him.
He was a hard taskmaster, and, much the annoyance of other masters, he expected you
to devote nearly all of your homework time to his subject. I well recall his impatience
with any intruder of his classroom, because such intrusion would be wasting valuable
lesson time. I can remember to this day his daily irritation with the master whose
duty it was to take the register to each classroom in the morning. Bryn could be positively
rude, and he did not disguise his impatience for this very necessary duty, and then
being performed by our new Sportsmaster. Bryn never seemed to accept it, but I’ve
no doubt he thought differently when he himself became Head!
That new Sportsmaster was, of course, Mr. Excell. I owe a great debt to him for
my love of Rugby, Cricket and Athletics. It was through his coaching that, although
I was of very small stature, I played regularly for the First Rugby team, the First
Cricket team and ran for the school Relay Team. Many years later I discovered what
great artistic gifts he possessed, and I still count him among my friends. It is strange,
yet natural, that I call him Mr Excell, although he still calls me “Arthur”!
Then there were “Billy Two” and “Terrible Tim” - Mr. W.R.
Williams and Mr. Timothy Davies respectively. Both of these could and did instil the
fear of God in all boys! I will always remember Billy Two’s irreverent references
to what he had no hesitation in saying was the irrelevance of School prayers. He certainly
gave me the impression at that time of being an agnostic. I never discovered the truth.
Both of these masters could not suffer fools gladly, and many a hapless boy would
spend lesson after lesson standing or sitting in the corner of the class, or worse
(or better!) would be sent outside for the duration of the lesson.
I cannot fail to mention the one who had the greatest influence upon me, - Mr.
Louis M. Thomas. My great and enduring love for English literature and poetry is due
solely to him. In my opinion, looking back, he was not fitted for this competitive
and exam-ridden age. I feel he could not attune himself to the rigours and demands
Then there was Bookkeeping and Shorthand. Mr. Hoggins. He got results, my goodness,
he did! I believe he could have “headed” a great Commercial school. He
would have produced Accountants and Company Secretaries by the score.
Hoggins had dull subjects to teach, but his lessons never proved to be dull, because
we nearly always succeeded in getting him to tell us of his exploits in World War
I. I cannot remember what service he served in, but I seemed to remember him on the
deck of a submarine, leading a tank attack on land, or taking part in some night skirmish
behind enemy lines!! However much he was, to use World War II parlance, “shooting
the line”, he knew what he was doing. He broke the tedium of very dull lessons,
and we thoroughly enjoyed these many, though brief, interludes. He certainly could
produce results and my one regret is that I did not take his advice to take up Accountancy
as a profession.
He was of great bulk and was never loathe to use his bulk on we lesser mortals
when having a game in the school yard, or a boxing lesson in the gym.
Last, but not least, there was the Headmaster! W. Charlton Cox - “Charlie”.
The modern school, I feel sure, cannot fully appreciate the terror that “Charlie” wrought
in the recalcitrant boy. When you saw him approaching in the distance, even if you
had done nothing wrong, you imagined you had! And you promptly turned the other way
and disappeared into some convenient place for some lesser danger. That is if you
did not hear a low pitched but resonant voice calling out “Boy!” You then
stood still, trembling, heart fluttering. “Boy! what are you doing and where
are you going?”
Over the years, one appreciated his compassion for his “boys” and his
gradual acquisition of a personality and character fitted to provide a discipline
which, I am told, is not characteristic of most modern secondary schools. Whatever
his failings, if there were any, he was the type of Head that I would like to see
back, if present conditions in today’s schools would allow.
I have left out references to three who later became friends of mine. I have done
so simply because I did not have the benefit of their tuition for a single lesson
in the six years I was there.
Mr. P.E. Phillips “Pep” who, I am glad to say, is still around, Mr
Bowen - “Sarso” and Ceredig Jones. These two latter gentlemen are no longer
with us. I trust that the Divine will use their great talents in teaching Latin and
Welsh. For some years I was a neighbour of Mr. Bowen, and many is the chat we had
about the school.
Well, there we are. I have written of a period of my life of six years in the 1920’s.
I have made no mention of my schoolboy friends, some of whom became famous in their
respective spheres. I have tried to portray, within the limitations of a few hundred
words, the characteristics of teachers who influenced thousands of boys who passed
through their capable hands. Perhaps I am nostalgic, but I treasure the memories of
good and, accepting a true sense of values, also, in their allotted tasks in life,
great men. Posterity always owes a lot to those who were teachers, and a great responsibility
always falls upon each generation of teachers, a responsibility the vast majority
of whom recognise.
My debt will never be fully repaid. I can only say that I have tried.
The Rev. M. J. Williams, B.A., B.D.,
General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Wales
1922 - 1928
The summer of 1921 will be remembered for its golden days and the miners’ strike
which seemed to drag on interminably. The latter was a “cloud no bigger than
a man’s hand”, but it heralded a long winter of discontent which was to
last almost until the outbreak of the Second World War. The wheels of industry slowed
down, unemployment became a demoralising force, thousands of young people migrated
to England and thus was written one of the most melancholy chapters in the history
of South Wales.
How far we were affected by the temper of the times it is difficult now to say.
We were, of course, too young to feel the weary weight of things. But it is almost
certain that the times had a profound effect upon our ideas of education. We were
left in no doubt that we were most favoured in that we possessed the key to a secure,
reasonably paid, superannuated job, free from the toils and vagaries of industry.
Our class-room days were, therefore, expected to be as brief as possible, the years
of our tutelage were hastened so that we realised our economic potential, - an educational
heresy which all the changes of these latter years have not succeeded in eradicating
completely. How much more fortunate are our successors in an affluent society who
pursue a more leisurely course in less turbulent waters. Perhaps they would disagree.
Nonetheless the increasing years bring conviction that the whole we were given
a sound foundation. The ideal, I imagine, is one of as few examinations are as absolutely
necessary and as wide a curriculum as is possible within the narrow confines of the
academic year. In respect of the first our teachers were wise. Six, or at most seven,
O-level subjects were considered a sufficient burden. But in respect of the latter
one could have wished for more breadth and variety. Why, for example, were we always
consigned to the monotony of drawing cubes and cones and the like? Why could we not
have been given sight and interpretation of some reproduction of a Matisse, a Van
Gogh, or a Picasso?
I have a vivid recollection of a solitary visit to the school of that genius Sir
Walford Davies, “who out of three sounds could make not a fourth, but a star.” Helped
by a trio of stringed instrumentalists he showed us what magic could be wrought with
a simple series of notes. Why were we not given more of this? Our misfortune, I suppose,
was that we were born too early for the record-player and the tape-recorder and the
specialist teacher. I hope I am not being churlish. These were blemishes in what otherwise
was a good education.
Time blurs the memory of this and that occasion and incident and what remains is
a mixture of sounds, sensations and smells. To this day the muffled sounds through
closed doors of furniture being moved is somehow a reminder that the stage is being
built for the school play, which we welcomed not only because it helped us to see
our companions in a new light, but because it threw the whole school into glorious
disarray. To touch a rope is to be in the gymnasium again with legs entwined climbing,
slipping and hands being chafed. And the smells? To pass the top of the steps leading
down to the kitchen, where Mrs. Griffiths held undisputed sway, caused the growing
schoolboy with a healthy appetite to suffer the most excruciating pangs of hunger.
And what excellent meals, by the way, could be purchased for the unbelievable sun
of seven (old) pence.
The year in which I entered school, 1922, saw one clean break with tradition. Rugby
football supplanted “soccer” as the recognised game. The explanation for
the change was given me many years later when I called on that dramatic and imaginative
teacher of history, Mr. Aubrey Roberts, then in retirement at Cardigan. The Aberdare
of the 1920’s had a celebrated “soccer” club which played in the
Third Division of the English League and rugby was introduced, said Aubrey, to save
us from the perils of professional football!
The game was quite new to us. Most of us had never handled the oval ball. At this
critical time, one master, Mr. E. J. L. Greer, had the bright idea of killing two
birds with one stone by teaching us the technical terms of the game in French. It
was hardly a success, but I hope I may say without presumption, that if I acquired
neither the basic skills nor the courage to excel at that game, at least I was helped
to become an appreciative and intelligent spectator. I have ever been grateful that
the school provided me with what I regard as a legitimate escape from the burdens
of my calling and the pleasure, if only vicariously, of physically flooring an opponent!
Presumably the school has more pupils on its registers than in our day and consequently
the sixth form is correspondingly larger. In the 1920’s there were few survivals
to the sixth and, if memory serves me aright, we numbered no more than sixteen or
seventeen. This had its advantages. We were a small intimate community where iron
had a chance to sharpen iron. The time-table made generous allowance for private study,
but more often than not we escaped to the wood-work room, then in fitful use, and
indulged in informal and frequently unruly discussion and debate. Here with youthful
exuberance and self-assurance we exercised our oratorical gifts and hurled infallibilities
at one another. No subject was precluded and religion and politics were recurrent
themes. Possibly we owe more to this illicit and unprescribed exercise than we then
realised, in that it helped us toward the little urbanity, tolerance and objectivity
of judgement we now possess.
The sixth form also brought a subtle change in teacher-pupil relationship. Even
the head-master seemed less remote. Mr. W. Charlton Cox may not have been a “Mr.
Chips,” but he had many solid qualities. He belonged to an age which laid greater
store by versatility than specialisation and he was capable of teaching subjects as
widely apart as mathematics and classics. In my case he failed dismally with the first,
but when my course was set and it was found necessary that I should be initiated into
the complexities of Greek Grammar, I found him an excellent teacher. It was at this
point that I discovered how well-versed he was in the Welsh language. Let it be counted
to him for righteousness that he respected the country of his adoption sufficiently
to learn its language. In this he was a pattern not only to the “stranger within
our gates” but to that type of native who adopts a sublime indifference to this
vital part of his heritage.
An incident involving the headmaster may serve to show how widely our interests
differed from those of the youth of today. A celebrated Free Church preacher had been “billed” to
conduct a service and lecture in the town. I thought it would be helpful if I heard
his sermon and took with me a companion, now a respected priest in the Church in Wales.
We registered for afternoon school then quietly slipped out. We reached the chapel
and piously placed our books under the seat. Imagine our embarrassment when a few
seconds later we discovered the headmaster had also “skipped” school and
occupied the pew behind us. His presence rather ruined the sermon for me. We were
summoned to meet him the following morning to be more gently rebuked for this than
we would have been for other misdemeanours. Clearly, staunch Presbyterian as he was,
he thought the place right even if the time was wrong.
The closing years of my schooldays were made exceedingly rewarding by a providential
encounter with Thomas Rowland Hughes, scholar, poet, novelist, whose living and dying
is now a legend in Wales. My admiration for him must not be taken as implying any
lack of appreciation of others of the staff. I owe much to J. T. Bowen, Ceredig Jones,
W. H. Naylor and others. But it so happened that my particular academic interests
brought me into daily contact with T. Rowland Hughes in a class which numbered no
more than two in Welsh Language and Literature and three in English. His two years
in Aberdare were an interlude between Bangor and Jesus College, Oxford, to which he
proceeded on a Fellowship of the University of Wales, awarded for a brilliant dissertation
on Anglo Saxon poetry. The time, however brief, was sufficient for him to leave an
indelible impression on us.
If the teacher’s primary task is to help his charges safely negotiate examinations,
then Rowland Hughes may not have been the best of guides. The prescribed books he
saluted in the by-going and then he led us on to other realms of gold. With him we
read widely and critically and his aim was always that we should be creative. To be
in his class was somewhat akin to a re-birth, a breaking out into a larger world,
an affair of “magic casements.”
It has been said that culture is what we acquire when our formal education is ended.
That may well be so. But if the recognition of excellence and respect for values are
the essential constituents of culture, then many of us owe the Aberdare Boys’ Grammar
School an undischargeable debt for giving us these things.
Prof. Mansel Davies 1924-1930
(Professor of Chemistry, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth)
The School - 1924 - 1930
Innumerable biographies have made us aware of the revulsion with which the literary
products of English Public Schools usually recall them. As far as one can judge Welsh
Grammar School boys have almost uniformly happy recollections of their schooldays.
My own have not yet ended although the school is somewhat larger and more adult than
when I started at home in Aberdare in 1924.
The headmaster, W. Charlton Cox, M.A., B.Sc., left no-one in doubt that the principal
object of the school was amply expressed in its motto: Gorau llyw dysg. He was a fine
pattern of the Scotch dominie - tall, humped-back, and somewhat forbiddingly beetle-browed
but prepared and capable of teaching Mathematics, Greek, Latin and several other subjects.
When he took us for one term in Algebra in Form II, he gave us the examination questions
that belonged to Form IV. Tom Barling alone passed - at 42 per cent I believe; I had
28. No-one complained: we had all been treated alike.
The Governors thought of themselves as socialists and perhaps encouraged by the
Glamorgan Education Committee - after my first year school prizes were abolished.
A sad case of a little theory being too much for weak minds. However, competition
and prizes remained in athletics; Tom Barling acquired a personal preserve there from
his first year onwards.
School teachers may sometimes be reduced to an uninspired level of dullness by
the apparent tedium of their task but rarely do (or did) they fail to engrave impressions
on their pupils minds - even the English and Welsh language masters who came as near
as possible to sleeping before the class are well remembered. But who could not be
tickled by “Daddy” Elliot who taught Chemistry and Biology? He belonged
- I am tempted to write - to the Faraday era; i.e. he was full of natural enthusiasm
for his subjects, often rushing around the lab despite his age and his short-sight.
His cat’s skin provided a very efficient blackboard duster. “Bobs” in
History (Mr. Aubrey Roberts) had developed his own syllabus for the Senior (= G.C.E.)
level: Europe from 1815 to 1914 and British Commonwealth history. There was no textbook
so we had duplicated notes, which left him time, inter alia, to discuss rugby at length
and Gabe (his Barry John) in detail. But his appreciation of the relevance of his
subject meant that I knew what Durham, Waitangi, Karageorgevitch and Obrenovitch meant
in Canada, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. And he had read some Chinese history - which
could be of comparable relevance to today’s pupils.
Then there was Brin (Mr. Brinley Reynolds, later headmaster) whom modern educationists,
psychologists, and other child-care specialists would regard as outrageous. He frightened
everyone into passing in French - for twenty years or more no-one failed in Higher
French. I do remember having shaky knees in his early classes; but it was excellent
to have to cope and accept the possibility of instant damnation. I don’t think
I’ve been afraid of anyone since. If Brin would slaughter you with a blunderbuss, “Billy-two” (Mr.
W.R. Williams, Mr. Cox’s successor as headmaster) would do it far more neatly
— indeed, as befitted a mathematician, even elegantly - with a rapier. Two boys had
been less than bright: “Walker: walk to hell; Hopper, hop there!” And
when we were once disturbed in the Physics lab by someone wishing to get through to
the woodwork room, who fussed in, rattled the connecting door several times and announced
complainingly, “The door is locked; I cannot get through”. “Then”,
came the instant solution, “wriggle through the keyhole”. Schools inspectors
(one of the older forms of concealed unemployment) were more afraid of him than we
were; it was said he’d put a problem on the board for them to solve.
In complete contrast was Ogwen Williams, F.R.G.S. “Ogie” supposedly
taught Geography and Music - in which context the only reliable comment is that possibly
he knew less of Music than of Geography. His lessons were almost continuous buffoonery
- or so one’s memory pleasantly and doubtless erroneously suggests; everyone,
including “Ogie” played the fool.
Unfortunately, I am coming to the end of my allotted space without mentioning another
half-dozen I should like to. The steady workers amongst the masters were less colourful
and got on with their jobs with a quiet efficiency.
I have said nothing of the boys. Most of us are still pretty exact extensions of
what we then were. One of the pleasantest privileges I have had was to be in the same
Form as Arwyn Williams, Morien Morgan, Tom Barling and Handel Davies. Again, there
are others I should mention. I look forward to seeing most on them there at the centenary.
Necque enim malignior fortuna unquam
Eripiet nobis quod prior hora dedit.
I suspect that there may be others writing in this brochure who will refer to the
period that they spent at the Boys’ County School as “the end of an era”.
My own claim to fame in this connection is that my leaving in 1939, coincided with
the departure of Mr. W.R. Williams as Headmaster, and the arrival of Mr. G.P. Ambrose,
and the outbreak of the Second World War. I am not sure which of these two latter
events was the more significant in the life of the School! Perhaps indeed it was only
their coincidence that made possible so many changes in the ordered pattern of school
life as I, and many others, had known it.
Certainly, it was the Second World War that led to the abandonment, at one stage,
of the terminal examinations (because of the shortage of paper), the arrival of women
teachers, and the introduction of a shift system of working when the Ilford Grammar
School arrived. Equally certainly, it was Mr. Ambrose’s arrival that led to
the great upsurge in the musical life of the school. But which event was the primary
cause of the great change that took place in the early 1940’s in the relationship
between the Boys’ and Girls’ County Schools at Aberdare? Or would even
the combination of these two great events have been insufficient, had not Miss Cook
also left the Girls’ School at about this time?
Mr. Ambrose speaking to the Girls’ Grammar School many years later described
the strict “No Fraternization” rule that he found when he came to Aberdare
as The Great Ice Age - followed very quickly by The Great Thaw. The full impact of
his analogy can only perhaps be appreciated by someone who can remember the spirited
public defence by Huw Lewis (the youngest son of the former Director of Education
for Aberdare) of his position when seen at night, on the threshold of a billiard hall
in Canon Street, Aberdare. He had, he asserted, just come out of the Palladium Cinema
that was immediately above; the County School girl with him was his sister; and the
cigarette he was smoking was for the relief of asthma. Human memory being conveniently
selective, I do not recall how successful the defence was.
I have earlier mentioned “the ordered pattern of school life” in pre-war
years. I fear that what I may be building up is, however, a picture of authoritarianism.
This, I suppose, it was, but there are always two sides to every penny. What the Boys’ County
School (or more properly, at that time, the Intermediate School for Boys) provided
for its pupils in my generation was stability, and this in a world of economic crisis
with its extremely adverse local consequences, and heading fast towards another major
On a strictly personal note, I am today certain that the whole course of my later
life would have been quite different if, in June, 1938, Ceredig Jones and Brinley
Reynolds had not, quite independently of one another, brought me to a faint perception
of what a Second World War was likely to involve. At that time, after the only real
illness that I had during my whole period in school, I was considering whether to
go on to attempt the Higher Certificate examinations in June, 1939, or take a third
year over them. If I gave greater weight to Mr. Jones’ unequivocal advice to
press forward as quickly as possible, I think that this can only have been because
he bore the more obvious physical marks of the First World War service they had both
undertaken. Certainly it was not because I felt that either had a greater or lesser
regard for my own welfare and future.
Viewed in retrospect, I am sure that this stability that I have mentioned was more
than anything else attributable to a long-staying teaching staff. In the period 1931
to 1939, the staff complement, leaving aside Woodwork was, as I recall it, seventeen.
In that time there were only three changes. If memory serves me right, Mr. W.R. Williams
succeeded Mr. W. Charlton Cox as Headmaster in January 1937, and was himself succeeded
as an Assistant Master by Mr. T.R. James. In June 1936, Mr. Deiniol Williams left
for Bangor Normal Training College, to be succeeded by Mr. D.T.H. Price; and in 1938,
Mr. Gwilym Williams, the present Headmaster, took the place of Mr. D. Timothy Davies
who died. The remainder (Messrs. Aubrey Roberts; L.M. Thomas; T.B. Reynolds; E. Ceredig
Jones; W.D. Towler; J.T. Bowen; E.J. Excell; Sam Evans; W.E. Roberts; R.V. Hoggins;
P.E. Phillips; H.I. James; and A.L. Trott) were there throughout my school days and
most of them, for many years before and after. They must have been a healthy lot,
because none of them ever seemed to be away sick. Teachers’ Refresher Courses,
if they then existed, must have taken place during the school holidays, because none
ever seemed to be away on that account either. If I remember an occasional staff exodus
for some local important funeral, I think it can only have been because of the number
of silk top hats that such an occasion still produced, since, in number there were
Parenthetically, I think I should say that the school attendance of pupils must
also have been pretty good, because the ceremony, traditional in other schools, of “Marking
the Registers” was strictly confined to Mr. Excell’s brief appearance
in each classroom on the last period each Friday afternoon, to make a note of the
very rare exceptions to full attendance that might have occurred in that week.
It was this steady round of teaching, (and school counselling, although this term
was not then invented), by the same men, usually to the same forms, within very much
the same timetable, and in the same classrooms, day in day out, year in year out,
which provided this stability to which I have referred, and the value of which I now
put beyond estimation.
Woodwork in my early days, was catered for by a Mr. Davies who arrived on the mornings
of Mondays and Wednesdays by way of the High Level railway line from Swansea, with
ramrod back, razor edged trousers, pince nez glasses, wing collar, cravat, and pearl
pin, to spend some hours in strictly limited instruction in the woodwork room (with
periodic excursions into the then adjoining engineering workshop), departing again
in the early afternoon. It was in a hole in the ground in Italy in 1944 that, when
all other topics of conversation were nearly exhausted, I learnt from the only other
Welsh officer in the Battalion in which I was then serving, that the mysterious Mr.
Davies led an exactly complementary existence at Gowerton Boys’ Grammar School
on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and that a prudent County Council would seem to
have built the two schools with one set of plans.
Mr. Davies was succeeded, in a full time capacity, by Mr. David Arthur Lewis whose
friendship I retained until the time of his death. He progressed as a teacher, from
the then unfortunately thriving Juvenile Instruction Centre, (or “Dole School” at
the Old Isolation Hospital at Park Lane, now very recently demolished), to the County
School. This must have been in 1935, as I recall that he sang with seemingly great
conviction as well as vigour, “Friend O’ Mine” at the departure
concerts for both Mr. Cox and Mr. W.R. Williams when they retired.
I shall always be grateful to Mr. Williams for bringing to the 1938 School Prize
Day, as the guest speaker, Mr. Jenkyn Thomas, the first Headmaster of the School,
and for introducing to him the senior pupils of whom I was then one. This enables
me to say, that I have at least spoken to all the headmasters who have served the
school since its foundation. Honesty, however, compels me to admit that I hardly said
more in four years to Mr. Cox, than I did in one brief meeting with Mr. Thomas. This,
clearly however, did not mean that Mr. Cox did not know a great deal about me, and
I was in no way unique.
It was Mr. W.R. Williams who shortly before he became Headmaster, under great pressure,
so he said, from the Editor, Mr. Louis Thomas, wrote in the school magazine “The
Aberdarian”, of his boyhood recollection of life at Aberaman, where he had been
brought up. He found no difficulty he wrote, in producing clear recollections of his
schooldays. The difficulty he explained was to bring back the same set of recollections,
on any two consecutive occasions. If the recollections in which I have indulged prove
equally unreliable, I will then have to acknowledge to what generation I now belong.
It is however, to two clear, although, on the face of it, insignificant recollections,
that I turn for a final illustration of the breadth of education which the Boys’ Grammar
School of that period provided.
Mr. Cox used ‘Michaelmas’ and ‘Lent’ to describe the first
two terms of the school year with all the ‘Oxbridge’ overtones of that
style, which I only later learnt to recognise. This was clearly no mere affectation
on his part, but is of a piece with Mr. Ceredig Jones’ statement to me, many
years later, that he had stayed in Aberdare for all his teaching career, and, in particular,
during the years when he could very well have moved for promotion or otherwise, because
he feared that, in leaving a Headmaster who set a proper store by a classical education
he might, as a teacher of Latin, himself be exchanging the substance for the shadow.
But Mr. Cox too, in the days when teaching through the medium of the Welsh language
was not the relatively common, and almost fashionable thing it is today, could allow
Mr. Timothy Davies to do something very like that. A fair competence in Welsh was
necessary even to identify the Mathematics examination paper you were to attempt,
when set by Mr. Davies. “Dosbarth - Isaf Uchaf; Prawf; Rhifyddeg/ Alsoddeg/
Meintoniaeth”. Mr. W.E Roberts, a truly gifted teacher, would, (“For the
benefit of the weaker brethren” he used to say), frame his English examination
questions: “Parse, (as you have done in class)......”. Mr. Davies made
no such concessions to weakness. With him you had to depend upon your own resources;
and surely it is only because he never attempted to teach me Mathematics at School
Certificate level, that today I do not know the Welsh for trigonometry.
For much else, however, I owe grateful thanks to the School, and the gentlemen
who served it, and I am happy to acknowledge it here.
J. Gwyn Morgan
Some recollections of 1945-52 at Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School
This immediate post-war period in the School’s history saw the destinies
of the School shaped and guided by two great headmasters, Mr. T.B. Reynolds and Mr.
G.P. Ambrose, two headmasters at opposite poles in temperament and approach, but both
capable of stamping their personality on the School and its inhabitants in no uncertain
As I jot down these personal recollections - and they are no more than this - I
recollect that my entry into the School was sufficiently near to the end of the war
for us all to be turfed out of our classrooms and drawn up in strict lines along the
pavement outside the School to wave in true patriotic fashion at Field Marshal Montgomery
(or was it his double?), who flashed past in a flurry of beret and raised salute.
My most lasting impression of this undoubtedly historic occasion was slight annoyance
that he had chosen to pass Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School during the lunch hour,
so that we did not miss any lessons.
During this period, the School’s great musical tradition was at its peak.
The School Concert at the Coliseum with rows of normal schoolboys transformed by soap,
water and parental pride into ranks of cherubs emitting golden noises. Alas, although
I stood in the ranks, I am afraid my contribution at its very best could accurately
be described as mildly disruptive. The headmaster and the other masters involved,
Mr. T.R. James and Mr. P.E. Phillips, would have been forced to abandon the School
concert if all the other voices had been like mine.
There never seemed to be much change in the staff at our School - like Tennyson’s
Brook they all seemed to go on for ever. The advantage of this stability, and indeed
of the quality of the staff alas did not strike you at the time and became evident
only later in life at University. Many a student must have felt a debt of gratitude
for the excellence of this teaching, even if only in retrospect. I trust that those
who laboured long and patiently to bring at least a minimum sheen to some very rough
pieces of Valley coal will accept this somewhat posthumous apology and accolade from
what the Americans would call the Class of 45/52.
Great teachers there certainly were and I hope I will be excused if I dwell on
one or two of those with whom I had some contact. Ceredig Jones, who ensured that
we knew Bradley’s Arnold Latin Primer so thoroughly that we could quote from
it more easily than from the Bible. He was of course Caesar to generations of boys
- how disappointing to learn later of other Caesars at other schools - in my mind
at least they were all usurpers. There was P.E. Phillips, who cajoled class after
class into an appreciation of the richness of French language and literature; I worked
very hard at French to try and persuade P. E. Phillips that I was not quite as imbecilic
as my musical performances might suggest.
My own deepest personal apology most go to Mr. Luther James, Mr. W.D. Towler and
Mr. Gwilym Williams, who must have despaired of inculcating the slightest chink of
scientific light into perhaps the most unscientific of minds even they ever encountered.
School life pretty much revolved round the Sports Field though, where our activities
were presided over by that doyen of sports masters, Mr. E.J. Excell. A jumble of memories
crosses the mind’s eye. The quick trot down Tudor Terrace; the complaints of
the inhabitants at bouncing rugby balls adding still further to the droop of their
already drooping plants, or even threatening the odd window pane; rugby played to
the background of shunting noises from then fully operating engine sheds; the not
so speedy return back up Tudor Terrace and the invariable reproaches from the unfortunate
master who was taking the next lesson, a) because we were late arriving, and b) because
our minds were full of the glory of the tries we had just, or ought to have just,
Athletics was an alien sport which sometimes caused me to miss cricket fixtures,
but nevertheless this was a very successful period for the School. If memory serves
me right we won three Glamorgan Secondary School Championships in close succession.
I recall particular heroes like one Malcolm Lloyd who could be counted on for maximum
points at high jump, long jump and the hurdles, and a mountain called John Thomas
who putt the shot, and threw the discus incredible distances as it seemed to a junior
member of the School.
Athletics may have achieved the glory at this period, but rugger and cricket were
the real life-blood of the School’s competitive existence. Recalling events
after a gap of twenty years or so, anomalies are probably due to distortion of the
memory - but no, it is absolutely true that in these years a tall, gangling, almost
skinny youth played his first game for Aberdare Grammar School at scrum half. His
name was Keith Rowlands and little did those of us playing in the same team think
that our scrum half would go on to captain Cardiff and play for Wales and the British
Lions as a second-row forward of more than adequate proportions.
On the cricket field there was a steady flow of Aberdare Grammar School representatives
in the Glamorgan Secondary Schools Eleven. I recall David Bird, Raymond Erasmus as
well as (without due humility) yours truly, who were selected for the Glamorgan side.
If we were inclined to be swollen-headed at this elevated selection, it was short-lived
because we all played in the Aberdare League, and bowlers like the brothers Tommy
and Elwyn Edwards of Robertstown, and a dozen others scattered up and down the Valley,
were quite capable of making a mess of our stumps at any time.
Inadequacy of school buildings caused the school to hire the vestry and other smaller
rooms of a nearby chapel Bethel, Capel yr Annibynwyr, Trecynon. This might have seemed
to other boys a simple, uninteresting arrangement, but to me it was a disastrous contract
which haunted me all through my school days. You see, I was christened in Bethel and
it was the Chapel to which my mother and my aunts gave undying allegiance. So what?
you might say. Well, every Sunday night, upon my mother’s return from Chapel,
there was a ritual inquest over the past week’s events at Bethel. Every scratched
set of initials on the pews, every abusive reference to the caretaker, and indeed
every single misdemeanour committed by a Grammar School boy on or around the precincts
of Bethel was part of my Sunday supper confrontation. Will it or not I became the
solitary sustainer of communal guilt.
The spectre of co-education raised its ugly head from time to time, but our contacts
with the Girls’ Grammar School, situated appropriately at the lower end of the
town, fell into clear categories. a) School debates - unremarkable. b) Sixth Form
School Dancing - a mixture of purgatory and excitement. c) unofficial contacts - quot
homines tot sententiae, or chacun á son goût.
The school buildings have changed and are now to be found at the foot of Cwmdare
Hill. (Many an extra half-hour in bed could I have had if this had been so in my time!)
Links with 45-52 however remain most notably in the person of the present headmaster,
Mr. Gwilym Williams. In his hands I know that tradition and progress will be judiciously
8th March 1972.
1948 - 1955
Arms Park, Lansdowne Road, Twickenham, Stradey, Old Deer Park, Robertstown, Stade
Colombes, Neland and Ellis Park. Robertstown!!! How does humble Robertstown figure
amongst some of the most famous Union grounds in the World? For me, Robertstown, flattish,
narrow, Mr. Jones’ school to one end, the railway sheds and tennis courts to
one side, and the other where one corner almost cuts itself into the bank, as many
a visiting wing three quarter found to his regret. Robertstown, a ground to rank with
the greatest grounds of the greatest sport that man has yet envisaged.
For me, Robertstown is the beginning of a rugby story, that took me halfway around
the world, to play against a host of nationalities, create memories to last a lifetime,
and make a thousand friends. Robertstown was where it all began.
I came to Aberdare as a small boy into Form Two, from Cowbridge, and my earliest
rugby recollection was being thrust into the Armageddon of a house match for Penri.
A veritable test match with opponents the size of the All Blacks, forwards the size
I had never before encountered, the ferocity of whom I was to remember in many a foreign
field. Colin Hodgson, Russ Morgan, those were the Meads and Claasens of my young days.
My thoughts were, “I’ll never be big enough for this game”. But
under Jimmy Excell’s quiet, patient encouragement, my rugby development began,
at Robertstown Field.
At Robertstown there followed a procession of outstanding rugby captains to follow
and to emulate: Geraint Walters, John Gwilliam, Lyn Thomas (the only captain apart
from Dai Hayward at Cardiff who ever dropped me from his side); Dilwyn Davies, who
led an amazing pack of forwards, half of whom were red-headed - John Manser, Paul
Hancock, Mike Rowlands and Davies himself, more fiery and redder than the rest, and
Colin Burke who captained the best drilled (along with the Cardiff side of 1966 that
beat the Australians) and certainly the most entertaining side I have ever played
Other outstanding players who played at Robertstown over the years, all players
who each and everyone contributed to my knowledge, expertise, understanding and love
of the game, by watching them, listening to them, training with them, playing with
and against, were Don Baxter, Jeff Evans, Ray and Ron Walters, Russ Yates, Viv Matthews,
Malcolm Hussey, Gwyn Thomas who was oddly enough a schoolboy soccer International,
Alan Biggins, Roy Brackstone, Gareth Freebury now in Australia, Bob Matthews; Arwyn
Richards a very talented footballer who went on to play for both London Welsh and
Surrey with distinction, and Alan Pascoe who was easily the best attacking footballer
I played with at school, and but for an unfortunate early injury may well have become
an equally outstanding senior player.
Not all the schoolboys who helped mould me into the player I was to become played
at Robertstown for Aberdare. Some were foes from schools within and without the valley,
some I was to play with for Wales Secondary Schools v England, some to become Barbarians
and British Lions: Roddy Evans Cowbridge, Wales and the Lions; Derrick Morgan Lewis,
Wales Schools and England; J.B. Jones another Pengam boy, I was to serve under both
for the Secondary schools and London University; Stan Thomas, Pontypridd and Welsh
Schools now Hon. Sec. of Pontypridd RFC; Bryan Richards, Neath, Cambridge and Wales;
Alan Rees Duffryn, Maesteg and Wales; Alun Pask with whom I played for W.S.S.R.U,
Wales, the Barbarians, and the British Isles, and the most amazing, extrovert, brilliant
schoolboy footballer of all time Leo Karseras of Howardian and Cardiff. Talented Leo,
who was born twenty years too soon, for all who saw him play would agree he was Dominic
de Villiers, Chris Lardlan, and Gareth Edwards rolled into one. Before his time, too
brilliant even for Cardiff, Leo never fulfilled his early promise, but more stories
are told of Leo than any other rugby player I know of, Ray Prosser and Cliff Davies
That stud sharpening, ankle weakening, long walk to Robertstown, as short as a
cricket pitch when you won, but as long as the retreat from the Somme when you lost,
has echoed to many great captains, great players, famous players, outstanding characters,
great foes and the great team of Colin Burke. To name one or even ten and not all
who played in that great, great team, would be a colossal disservice to the spirit
of what is rugby. So to those who played in that superb side of 1955 and who read
these words, acknowledge yourselves as members of one of the greatest sides Aberdare
has ever produced. A side that only lost one game, was unbeaten at home, conceded
only six points at Robertstown, no try scorer crossed their line, save a solitary
dropped goal, scored whilst overwhelming Pontypridd 44 -3 and a penalty scored by
the Old Boys in the last match of the season, deserves singling out as does the memory
of the attacking football it played from its own line to its opponents line, where
so many beautiful tries were scored. I remember well, for one of my greatest achievements
in Rugby Football was to have made the long walk to Robertstown as a member of Colin
Burke’s side. I remember it well. I gave away the penalty!
My own impression of Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School is biased to some extent
by the nostalgia that still surrounds any discussion of the old school. To those of
us who were students of the school in the early 1960’s, the move from the top
of the Gadlys hill to the bottom of Cwmdare hill signified far more than a mere change
of location. It did not need a great amount of experience in educational planning
to realise that the old school was inadequate to cater for the imminent expansion
of Secondary education, and we welcomed the larger floor space and better facilities
which the new buildings offered. However, although the new gymnasium was a welcomed
improvement, some of the “facilities” of the old school were dearly missed
by most of us who had had the opportunity to sample them.
In fact, looking back now, it is not the more obvious aspects of schooling which
spring to mind as having been dramatically altered by the move, but what might be
called the more underground aspects, such as the ease of exit from the school, around
From a schoolboy’s point of view the old school could not have been better
planned. Those rooms in which, typically, little interest is taken - the staffroom
and the Headmaster’s room, were conveniently situated out of sight (and, too,
perhaps out of mind). Another attraction was the multitude of entrances and exits
from the school -mostly clandestine, but all easily accessible. However, the real
attraction of the old school was undoubtedly that area at the top of the yard affectionately
known to all as “the dubs”. These could not have been either better constructed
or better positioned to carry on those very necessary activities without which school
(anywhere) would be unbearable. In fact, the solid construction of the dubs facilitated
the enjoyment of numerous recreational activities. The main sky-lighted area was particularly
useful for pursuing those ever popular schoolboy pastimes such as pitch ‘n’ toss
and three card brag, while the tops of the cubicles themselves could quite easily
be used as seating or standing arrangements whenever a difference of opinion became
serious enough to warrant turning the dubs into a boxing arena. Furthermore, the positioning
of the dubs in relation to the rest of the school was such that it enabled smokers
and card players alike to develop an early warning system which would not have embarrassed
the national system at Fylingdales.
Of course, all this is in sharp contrast to the “facilities” that were
available in the new school. The staffroom and Headmaster’s room were inconveniently
situated in front of the only legitimate entry and exit point while the very few illegitimate
exits that did exist were readily accessible only to those who had some experience
of cross-country running. But the worst point of comparison between the old and the
new was the lack of any plausible substitute in the new for the infamous dubs of the
old. A few, small, prefabricated, inconvenient conveniences scattered around the new
school were not regarded as an adequate successor to so famous an institution and,
I believe, this was the cause of much bitterness and frustration in the early months
after the move. To support this it is only necessary to point to the large numbers
of boys aimlessly walking around the new building during any breaktime who would have
been contentedly congregating in the dubs and surrounding area had they still been
in the old school.
However, another piece of bad planning in the new buildings did give some light
relief to its inhabitants. This was the minuscule assembly hall which was large enough
for only half the school. The great joy of this was that each class turned up for
morning assembly on alternate days only, thus reducing by half the sheer misery of
these gatherings - much to the appreciation of the staff and students concerned. But
even an this point the old school did have something to offer, because, prior to the
Cowshed (as the new dining room was affectionately known) being built, morning assembly
took the form of a daily jaunt down to Bethel Chapel, and this was by no means as
boring as the later arrangements - particularly for those who could arrange to join
the procession on its way back from Bethel rather than on its way down.
Many instances could in fact be cited in which the old school was better in a very
definite sense to its successor. For example, on those days when free periods filled
the timetable for the rest of the afternoon, the joy of being able to walk up to the
top of the yard, to slide over the wall and to spend the rest of the afternoon admiring
the beauty of Nature in Aberdare Park was immeasurable. And what could be wrong with
such an arrangement when the alternative was to spend the time in a claustrophobic
classroom being supervised by someone who, in all probability, would prefer to be
It seems to me, therefore, that the great asset of the old school was that it provided
more scope to work out the frustrations endemic in a repressive school system of which
Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School is a part. This is not to say that the school
was or is a bad school. It has many attractions, of which its Head and first class
staff are perhaps the most obvious, but these attractions should not be allowed to
gloss over its weaknesses such as its selective and non-co-educational entry, and
the bad effects these weaknesses have on the character of the students who pass through
Some of the weaknesses will no doubt be overcome in the future when the plans for
a co-educational comprehensive materialise. In the meantime, however, great priority
should be given to providing a focal point within the school where senior pupils can
meet and work off the stresses which arise from the educational weaknesses of the
school its present form.
Christopher John Spiers
The School in 1972
In this seventy-fifth anniversary year of the founding of Aberdare Boys’ Grammar
School, Past Students will undoubtedly think back over their impressions of the school
as it was when they themselves were pupils. As time goes on, changes inevitably occur,
and even though I am sure that the school has changed little in some respects, it
must have changed greatly in others. Past students must be interested to know what
the school is like today, so I hope that I can convey my impressions of the school
as it is in 1972.
We are now firmly established in the comparatively new building at the bottom of
Cwmdare Hill. Here, we have a new playing field, tennis courts, space for cricket
practice, the traditional school yard, and a staff car park. (Mobilised members of
form six must park their cars elsewhere).
The school has the usual assortment of rooms: a hall, a laboratory for each science,
a woodwork room, drawing office, quite a large gymnasium, and a recently acquired
language laboratory. Unfortunately, the metal workshop is still housed in the old
building opposite the park.
Although the number of pupils has increased by the introduction of a three-form
entry in 1966, the school is still small enough for the Head and Staff to get to know
the pupils as individuals. The boys in the Sixth Form generally enjoy a happy relationship
with their teachers. The Staff and Headmaster are always ready to advise us and to
give us the benefit of their knowledge of University departments. We also have a member
of staff who has the extra duty of Careers Master. From him, pupils can obtain literature
on any career in which they are interested. He also deals with problems which arise
from completing University application forms.
Now that I have reached my final year at school, I realise how well guided I was
in my choice of subjects for ‘O’ level. The Staff and Headmaster go to
much trouble to make sure that boys at this stage in school take the subjects which
suit them best.
By the time boys are about to enter the Sixth Form, they have usually made up their
minds about the subjects that they want to study for ‘A’ level. We feel
we are very fortunate in that the Headmaster and Staff are prepared to make every
effort to accommodate all the combinations of subjects that boys wish to take. This
consideration for us, I know, creates extreme difficulty in making out a timetable,
and often inconveniences the Staff.
The latest innovation is the formation this year of the School Council. Each year
in the school is represented on the committee of this body, the function of which
is to provide a means by which the views of the pupils on any aspect of school life
may be presented to the Staff and the Head for their consideration. Through the School
Council, it has been agreed to try and revive the House system which has, in recent
years, been losing its hold. Sport will pay a large part in reviving enthusiasm in
Rugby is still the game we play most frequently against other schools - almost
every week in fact. Past school rugby enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that this
season the First XV has a much better record than it has had for the last few years.
Basketball is still played, and badminton, squash and table tennis are rapidly growing
in popularity since the Fifth and Sixth Forms have been allowed the use of the Michael
Sobell Sports Centre for games. Very many pupils, throughout the school, have a tremendous
interest in soccer. Unfortunately, there is not the same enthusiasm for cricket. However,
with athletics in the summer, we have quite a range of sports open to us.
All considered, I think that our academic and recreational needs are well provided
for at Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School. As has always been the case, boys who
put the most effort into their work or sporting activities will get the best results,
and some will no doubt, be as successful as those old boys who have attained high
honours in their professions.
Mr. J.T. Bowen, B.A.
Brynley F. Roberts
One cannot consider the Welsh Language in the Aberdare Grammar School without drawing
attention to J.T. Bowen, who worked tirelessly and faithfully for forty years to educate
generation after generation of pupils. After graduating in Latin and Welsh from the
University College of Aberystwyth in about 1917, he was appointed in 1918 to teach
both languages at the Aberdare school; when Mr. Timothy Davies retired, he was put
in charge of teaching Welsh throughout the school and did not have the opportunity
as before to give much attention to teaching Latin. He played a major and valuable
role in the life of the school, and in his time, he was Deputy Headmaster, and for
a while, whilst Mr. Gwilym Ambrose was Principal at the Emergency College, Llandrindod,
he was Acting Headmaster at the school. He is also remembered for his part in establishing
annual concerts of the school choir. He was not a musician, but he gave much time
and skill as organiser by acting as secretary and publicity officer. Much of the burden
of organisation was on his shoulders and it is to his credit that the annual festival
was such a success.
He stayed at the school until he retired in 1958. He had grown as a teacher with
the school; it filled his professional life. It was quite natural, therefore, that
he played a leading part in establishing the Past Students Association to protect
the school’s heritage to which he had contributed so much, and to preserve the
spirit which he had helped to create.
Teaching Welsh in Aberdare was not an easy task. J.T. Bowen worked at a time when
the language suffered heavier setbacks than in its previous history. He saw the decline
of the language in the valley, the decline in the number of speakers, the worsening
of the standard of the language of his pupils, the recession of the 20’s removing
the cream of society, and war completing the job started by the economic conditions.
Welsh lost the status it had in society, and it was painful for every teacher of Welsh
to see his pupils having to make the choice between Welsh and French, knowing that
the weight of social ambition favoured the foreign language. Teaching any subject
faithfully and honestly makes many demands but when the subject is regarded as unimportant
and of little use, a teacher’s task becomes a penance. J.T. Bowen responded
to this challenge not through immersing himself in social work, but by respecting
the language as an academic subject. He is seen at his best, perhaps, with the sixth
form or with the few (by then) who spoke Welsh as their first language. He discussed
texts thoroughly and carefully and with attention to detail, he prepared copious detailed
notes that might have been beyond the comprehension of the school pupil, but later
would be valued, and he set comprehensive reading lists. I have a few of his books
that show his detailed work, covered with his notes on content, background and author.
To a large extent he worked in this field by himself, before the days of language
organisers, effective support and new hope for the language. He did not have the pleasure
and stimulation that comes from teaching the sixth form regularly, but the individuals
who were his pupils can testify to the value of his teaching and friendship.
He was a grammar school teacher forced to teach Welsh as a second language. This
bore fruit in the volume ‘Teach Yourself Welsh’. Mr E.S. Jenkins* encouraged
the publisher to undertake the commission this book and he also persuaded J.T. Bowen
to carry out the work. A little later, he asked Mr. T.J. Rhys Jones (now at Coleg
Cartrefle, Wrexam) to work with him, and the collective work of the two friends, with
the help of Mr. Jenkins, is the volume that has been so popular and valuable. The
first print run sold out completely in three weeks and the book continues to sell
with the best in the series.
A true friend, a co-worker and exact teacher. J.T. Bowen died in 1964 at the age
of 71. He was buried in his old home of Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire.
* Either an ex-pupil of the school, or, a French teacher
at the school.
Mr. J.T. Bowen, B.A.
Brynley F. Roberts
Prin y gellir meddwl am yr iaith Gymraeg yn Ysgol Ramadeg Aberdâr heb ddwyn
i sylw enw J.T.Bowen, gwr a fu wrthi ’n ddygn ac yn ffyddlon am ddeugain mlynedd
yn hyfforddi to ar ôl to o ddisgyblion. Wedi graddio yn Lladin ac yn y Gymraeg
yng Ngholeg y Brifysgol, Aberystwyth, tua 1917, apwyntiwyd ef i ddysgu’r ddwy
iaith hynny yn ysgol Aberdâr yn 1918; pan ymddeolodd Mr Timothy Davies, gwnaed
ef yn gyfrifol am ddysgu’r Gymraeg trwy’r ysgol ac ni chai gyfle bellach
i roi ei sylw fel cynt i’r Lladin. Chwaraeodd ran flaenllaw a gwerthfawr ym
mywyd yr ysgol, ac yn ei dro bu’n Ddirprwy Brifathro, ac am gyfnod, tra oedd
Mr Gwilym Ambrose yn brifathro Coleg Brys Llandrindod, ef oedd Brifathro Gweithredol
yr ysgol. Fe gofir hefyd am ei ran yn sefydlu cyngherddau blynyddol côr yr ysgol.
Nid oedd yn gerddor, ond rhoes lawer o’i hamdden a’i ddawn i’r gwaith
o’u trefnu, gan weithredu’n ysgrifennydd ac yn swyddog cyhoeddusrwydd.
Ar ei ysgwyddau ef y gosodid llawer o faich y trefnu, ac iddo ef yr oedd llawer o
lwyddiant y wedd gyhoeddus yn ddyledus.
Arhosodd yn yr ysgol hon hyd ei ymddeol yn 1958. Yr oedd wedi tyfu fel athro gyda’r
ysgol; hi oedd wedi llenwi ei fywyd proffesiynol. Yr oedd yn hollol naturiol, felly,
iddo fod a rhân amlwg yn sefydlu Cymdeithas y Cynfyfyrwyr i warchod buddiannau’r
ysgol yr oedd ef wedi cyfrannu cymaint iddi ac i gynnal yr ysbryd yr helpai ef i’w
Nid gorchwyl hawdd oedd dysgu Cymraeg yn Aberdâr. Bu rhaid i J.T.Bowen wneud
ei waith yn y cyfnod pan brofodd yr iaith ergydion trymach nag erioed o’r blaen
yn ei lianes. Gwelodd ddirywiad yr iaith yn y cwm, nifer y siaradwyr yn gostwng, ansawdd
iaith ei ddisgyblion yn gwaethygu, dirwasgiad y dau ddegau’n dwyn hufen y gymdeithas
ymaith, a’r rhyfel yn gorffen y gwaith a ddechreuwyd gan yr amodau economaidd.
Collodd y Gymraeg hynny o statws a feddai yn y gymdeithas, a gloes i bob athro Cymraeg
oedd gwylio ei ddisgyblion yn gorfod gwneud y dewis di-egwyddor rhwng Cymraeg a Ffrangeg,
gan wybod fod holl bwysau uchelgais gymdeithasol o blaid yr iaith estron. Mae dysgu
unrhyw bwnc yn ffyddlon ac yn onest yn waith sy’n gofyn llawer, ond pan fo’r
pwnc heb gael ei ystyried yn fater o bwys nac o fudd, mae swydd athro’n troi’n
benyd. Ymatebodd J.T.Bowen i’r her, nid trwy ymdaflu i waith cymdeithasol, ond
trwy barchu’r iaith fel disgybliaeth academig. Gwelid ef ar ei orau, efallai,
yn y chweched dosbarth neu gyda’r ychydig (erbyn y diwedd), a siaradai’r
Gymraeg fel iaith gyntaf. Trafodai lyfrau’n drylwyr ac yn ofalus, paratoai nodiadau
helaeth a manwl a allai fod y tu hwnt i blentyn ysgol ond a werthfawrogid maes o law,
a gosodai lyfryddiaeth gynhwysfawr. Y mae gennyf ambell un o’i lyfrau sy’n
dwyn nodau ei fanylder, yn frith gan ei nodiadau ar y cynnwys, ei gefndir a’i
awdur. Gweithiai yn y maes i raddau helaeth ar ei ben ei hun, cyn dyddiau’r
trefnyddion iaith, y cynorthwyon effeithiol, a’r gobaith newydd. Ni chafodd
y pleser a’r ysgogiad sy’n dod o ddysgu chweched dosbarth yn gyson, ond
gall yr unigolion a fu dan ei law dystio i werth ei hyfforddiant ac i’w gyfeillgarwch.
Athro ysgol ramadeg ydoedd a oedd wedi gorfod troi i ddysgu’r Gymraeg fel
ail iaith. Ond fe ddug hynny ffrwyth yn y gyfrol Teach Yourself Welsh. Mr E.S. Jenkins*
a symbylodd y cyhoeddwyr i fentro ar y gyfrol hon, ac ef a berswadiodd J.T.Bowen i
ymgymryd â’r gwaith. Yn fuan wedyn gofynnodd ef i Mr T.J. Rhys Jones (Coleg
Cartrefre, Wrecsam, yn awr), i gydweithio ag ef a chywaith dau gyfaill, gyda help
Mr Jenkins, yw’r llawlyfr hwn sydd wedi bod mor boblogaidd a gwerthfawr. Gwerthwyd
yr argraffiad cyntaf yn llwyr mewn tair wythnos ac y mae’r llyfr yn dal I werthu
gyda’r gorau yn y gyfres.
Cyfaill cywir, cydweithiwr ac athro manwl. Bu farw J.T. Bowen un 1964 yn 71 mlwydd
oed. Claddwyd ef yn nhir ei hen gartref yn Llanarthne, sir Gaerfyrddin.
*yntau’n un o gyn-ddisgyblion yr ysgol, neu a fu’n
athro Ffrangeg yn yr ysgol.
Music Making at the Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School
T.R. James, B.Sc., L.R.A.M.
(Pupil 1922-28, Mathematics Teacher 1937-57, Headmaster Brynmawr Grammar School from 1957)
Although appointed to teach Mathematics at my ‘old school’, a privilege
in itself and an enjoyable and rewarding experience, my association with the school
in its music making, both as a pupil and member of staff, recalls many happy hours
of real pleasure and worth-while endeavour.
In the early twenties, as a very junior official school accompanist, I recall the
efforts of my contemporaries, keen music makers and makers of mischief, under the ‘direction’ of
Mr Ogwen Williams, in preparation of our annual contribution of musical items to the
Prize Distribution Ceremony held at the Aberdare Empire or the Palladium. I was usually
a solitary figure at the piano in the orchestra pit, the conductor and choir in the
auditorium, at a distance and hence somewhat remote, not always conducive to a good
ensemble. At this period we had a scratch orchestra (a very descriptive adjective),
a ‘do-it-yourself outfit’, without staff direction, which provided the
musical interludes of the annual play production of the school. Sam Watts and Glyn
Voyle, both members of the Ebenezer (Trecynon) Orchestra, were the musical directors
of this group of varied instrumentalists.
The more serious form of music making started when Mr. Gwilym Ambrose was appointed
as Headmaster. He, with Mr. P.E. Phillips and myself, founded the Music
Society of the school, Mr Phillips as the conductor, with the other two members of
the ‘triumvirate’ sharing the accompaniment, supported to the full by
many staff choristers and administrators. Our first production was Coleridge Taylor’s “Hiawatha’s
Wedding Feast”, accompanied by a full orchestra with professional leads including
Mr. Arkite Phillips, the conductor’s father, on the oboe, and local semi-professional
and amateur players. In the early stages it was a hard battle convincing many of our
fifth and sixth formers that choral singing was not confined to females and junior
boys. However, the success of our first venture, under the safe and capable baton
of Mr. Phillips, established the Society in the locality and gained the continued
support of the music lovers of the area. The school greatly appreciated the help given
by men from the Hirwaun Choral Society, choristers from Cwmaman and the Cwmbach Male
Voice Choir, and individuals from other parts of the valley, many of whom were past
students or fathers of pupils of the School. One must mention the late Sir Gwilym
Ffrancon Williams who, I believe, participated in every concert during the 21 years.
Amongst the many works performed, the following come to mind: Acis and Galatea
(Handel), The Spring (Haydn), which was also given a broadcast performance from the
B.B.C. studios at Aberdare with the B.B.C. Cardiff Orchestra, conducted by Idris Lewis,
Requiem (Faure), concert versions of Carmen (Bizet), and Merry England (Edward German),
Dido and Aeneas (Purcell), many of Bach’s Church Cantatas (notably “Wachet
Auf”) and other shorter works. We were privileged to have with us, as soloists,
well established singers as Elsie Suddaby, Ena Mitchell, William Parsons, Roderick
Lloyd (a past student), Trevor Jones and Helen Gaskell the B.B.C. Principal Oboe,
and other younger singers as Gwyneth Jones, Jennifer Vyvyan, Heather Harper and Peter
Peers, soon to establish themselves as singers of national and international repute.
Early in the series, Mr Morgan Lloyd was engaged with his orchestra, and he became
a regular friend of the school. In later concerts, Mr Ambrose, myself, Mrs. Meudwen
Davies (née Smith), Miss Jean Lindsay and Mr. Gethin Evans shared the conducting
with Mr. Phillips and, in the latter’s retirement, Mr. Evans took over the work.
To be associated with such a fine group of colleagues and friends has been one of
the highlights of my career and I welcome this opportunity of recording my personal
appreciation and thanks.
Apart from the annual concert, there were other interesting facets of our music
making: the joint orchestra with the Girls’ Grammar School, with Mrs Lily Richards
(née Walters) and Miss Marie Howells as the driving force, the Carol Services (conducted
by Mr. Ambrose), our contributions to the 1946 and 1956 National Eisteddfod, our singing
under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult, accompanied by a section of the B.B.C. Symphony
Orchestra during their week’s visit to Aberdare sometime during the War, an
engagement to provide background choral music to a B.B.C. Wales radio broadcast of
the Emlyn Williams play “The Corn is Green” at the Cardiff studios, a
recording of suitable choral numbers for the Naval Authority under the direction of
Jon Pertwee (now of Dr Who fame), not forgetting the individual items, vocal and instrumental,
for our ‘impromptu’ St. David’s Day celebrations, arranged by Mr.
J.T. Bowen. Another event of personal interest to me was the formation, one year,
of a small male voice choir from the fifth and sixth forms to provide a group of TTBB
items for the miscellaneous part of the concert, a very successful venture that gave
me a great deal of satisfaction. Some of these singers are now members of the Cwmbach
Male Voice Choir, an encouraging fact as far as I am concerned.
In recent years at the school, there has been a welcomed emphasis on the instrumental
side of music making, thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of Mr. Gethin Evans and
the grand facilities provided by the Education Authority. This was quite clearly demonstrated
in the orchestral concert given last October, as the first event in the programme
of celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the school. The musical tradition of the
school is still maintained and augurs well for the future.
In conclusion, may I as a former pupil and member of staff, and one who has been
associated with this tradition, wish Mr. Gwilym Williams, who has done so much for
music making in the school as chorister and administrator, his staff and pupils all
success and good fortune in the future.
It has been a privilege to be asked to contribute to the Anniversary Brochure.
RANDOM REFLECTIONS (1947 - 1952)
It was with a mixture of pride and trepidation that I commenced work at the school
in January 1940, for it was a formidable task to maintain the high reputation won
during the first nine years under W. Jenkyn Thomas and consolidated during the long
tenure of W. Charlton Cox. Older inhabitants frequently reminded one of the abilities
of the first Headmaster, with the implication that glory had departed. This was indeed
true, for Jenkyn Thomas was one of the most distinguished of the remarkable pioneers
who first guided the Intermediate Schools to whom Wales is deeply indebted. The School
had established itself as an avenue to higher education in which the locality showed
keen interest and concern apparent in the groups of people waiting outside on the
autumn evening when the new appointment was being made.
From the start, my task was made easier by the friendly co-operation of colleagues
who from the thin wealth of experience guided the steps of the tyro past many pitfalls.
To do justice to them individually would be beyond the scope of this article. They
were men who combined academic and professional competence with complete dedication
to the interests of the School, of which a number of them were past pupils. As most
of them remained at their posts until they retired they knew their pupils and often
their parents - and were able to exact an influence over many generations.
The institution of ‘posts of responsibility’ had hardly begun to rear
its divisive head and there was no incentive to the frequent changes of post that
cause instability in so many schools to-day. All were conscious of special responsibility
not only to the School but to the cultural life of the locality to which they made
a valuable contribution in their varied ways. Some gave service in a wider field,
Aubrey Roberts and E.J. Excell being founding fathers of the Welsh Secondary Schools
Rugby and Cricket Associations.
One member of the staff can be mentioned by name, because while there were many
masters there was only one Caretaker. In David Jones, the School was indeed well blessed.
Over a long period of service his diplomacy, ready wit and deep knowledge of men and
boys smoothed over many awkward situations. His mastery of first aid was always available
and on one occasion at least, he saved the life of a boy in danger of bleeding to
death from appalling injuries to an arm driven through a glass door. On the secretarial
side Jennie Lewis, now still serving the School as Mrs. Williams, by her patience
and meticulous attention to detail kept us all on the path of administrative rectitude,
a task ably carried on during her absence on war service by Mrs. Brace.
As an Intermediate School, control was in the hands of local Governors largely
independent of outside bodies other than the humane inspection of the Central Welsh
Board. The Governors exercised their authority with personal interest and understanding
- and a minimum of interference. They included such stalwart pioneers of social developments
as Edmund Stonelake and Rose Davies, to name but two. Their unfailing courtesy and
confidence gave the school an enviable freedom from bureaucratic trammels comparable
with that of independent schools. The Governors were ably served by the knowledge
and experience of their Clerks: W.J. Davies and T.J. Lewis.
The pupils in general were vigorous, high spirited and ready to speak their mind,
though co-operative and friendly. Most of them came from stable homes with parents
who accepted the purposes of the School. While there was the normal proportion of
the mischievous and the laggard, I can recall very few really unpleasant boys and
many of very high ability and serious intent with the University as their goal, mostly
the Welsh Colleges particularly Aberystwyth with which there was a long established
connection as there was with the Commerce Department at Birmingham. A few looked further
afield to London, Oxford and Cambridge. The good record of University scholarships
established since 1898 continued in this period. While it would be invidious to mention
individuals, perhaps the most remarkable achievement was that of Alwyn Williams, who
having had only six months in the Sixth Form owing to prolonged illness, obtained
an outstanding State Scholarship which was the prelude to a brilliant academic career.
The objectives of the School were unashamedly academic with a traditional grammar
school curriculum which, while it suited many, did not cater for the needs of all.
Some who did badly at School subsequently did well in the technical and business fields.
The inscription on the outside wall, “Aberdare Technical and Intermediate School”,
showed that the original aims of the founding fathers had been wide and the building
had included a well equipped engineering workshop, but this had been replaced by a
biological laboratory, the technical side of the school remaining vestigial.
Something was done in this period to develop art and music, and some pupils were
enabled to follow professional careers in those subjects. But attempts to widen the
curriculum were continually hampered by the limited size of the over-crowded building
and the number of Staff. Art was taught in the dining room and music in the hall to
the annoyance of adjacent classes and these subjects were made available only through
the good will and versatility of talented masters already heavily engaged in other
departments, E.J. Excell and A.L. Trott in Art, and P.E. Phillips and T.R. James in
Music. Theirs indeed was a labour of love. The range and choice of subjects offered
to sixth form level was remarkable under the circumstances and any further widening
would have been impossible.
The war years affected the life of the School in many ways. In the early stages
boys struggled to school with gas-masks added to their already heavy load of books,
the sombre building was further darkened by window tapes as a protection against air-raids,
and the catering department battled heroically to make meals out of slender materials.
There was a general shortage of teaching materials and writing paper deteriorated
into a grey, porous substance which afforded a ready excuse for smudged work. The
activities of the Air Training Corps produced in some pupils an interest in Mathematics
previously unsuspected. Members of the Staff were heavily involved in the town in
defence activities and the School was used as a First Aid Post manned by the Trecynon
Ambulance Division under the direction of David Jones.
In 1940, our accommodation was further strained beyond breaking point by the sudden
arrival of several hundred pupils and staff from the Ilford County High School. Hasty
improvisations had to be made; neighbouring church vestries were called into use and
a shift system of teaching implemented. Boys in black blazers, boys in red blazers
teemed everywhere. The inevitable frictions were minimised by the good sense of pupils
and staffs. We realised that the lot of the visitors was harder as they were away
from their homes. After a while the pull of home proved stronger than the fear of
danger and the Ilford boys drifted back until only a few remained.
The number of past pupils who lost their lives was not far short of the losses
of the 1914-1918 war, when general losses were much higher. On the Staff side the
conscientious performance of defence duties at home may well have contributed to the
untimely death of R.V. Hoggins, who for many years had directed the highly successful
department of Commerce. His son Dennis also died on active service. H.I. James and
D.T.H. Price being absent in the forces, their places were filled by mistresses. Any
initial doubt about their reception by boys was soon dispelled by their vigour and
Athletic and cultural activities were not interrupted in the war years. In addition
to the annual school concerts in which the choir combined with some of the leading
singers of the day, boys played their part in a choir and orchestra in the Schools
Concert at the National Eisteddfod at Mountain Ash in 1946. Sir Adrian Boult conducted
the School Choir on a visit in 1943 and a party of boys took part in a radio production
of ‘The Corn is Green’, trudging through the snow from outlying districts.
In 1946 the School held its Jubilee celebrations at which Jenkyn Thomas spoke with
affection of his time at Aberdare as he did when I visited him living alone in a flat
near King’s Cross shortly before his death. The other speaker was W.J. Gruffydd
who, in his inimitable way without fear, favour or tact, contrasted the merits of
the early Intermediate Schools, of which he claimed to be the first pupil, with the
shortcomings of modern administrators. This was certainly rousing stuff but did not
contribute to the harmony of the occasion.
During my absence from November 1946 to November 1950, the School flourished under
the control of T.B. Reynolds who on my return continued to give loyally and generously
of his outstanding administrative abilities. Regrettably we shared the vice of being
unregenerate smokers. During lunch breaks, our tiny office was filled with impenetrable
fog. One day, as we opened the door after a knock, a visiting lady Inspector retreated
in spluttering horror to return only after we had hastily opened the windows. During
those years I had daily contact with T.B. Reynolds who relieved me of much administrative
work enabling me to do more teaching, an arrangement that suited us both. I grew to
know him intimately and to respect him as a thorough professional of the old school,
so that when I finally handed over the School to him it was in the knowledge that
it was in most devoted and capable hands.
Writing away from records one is only too conscious of how random these recollections
are and of how much has been omitted. The most abiding recollection is a deep sense
of privilege of working in my native valley with such congenial companions both young
and old, in town as well as School, some of whom have become life-long friends.
The School Secretary
Mrs. Jennie Williams
The 20th May, 1940, really was a Red-letter Day in my life. It was the first time
I entered Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School as the Headmaster’s Secretary.
Boys, members of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, come and go, but I seem to
go on forever.
I think that had I seen the little text which now hangs in my office, and says, “You
don’t have to be mad to work here; But if you are it helps”, I think I
might have had second thoughts about accepting the appointment.
In those early days there were only 250 boys in the school. Now there are well
over 600. The non-teaching staff were few. Mr. David Jones, the Caretaker, had two
cleaning helpers - Miss Gwennie Griffiths and Miss Nancy Hayward, both of whom remained
with us even after we moved into the new building. Mr. Jones was a tower of strength,
giving me very sound advice on matters of first aid, and how to deal with high-spirited
small boys and lusty Sixth Formers. Mrs. Griffiths had been the cook for many years
and had only 1 maid to assist her in providing meals for the starving horde.
I have had the privilege of working for 4 Headmasters, all of whom had their own
particular characteristics. Mr. Gwilym Ambrose was the first and his help and advice
were invaluable. Upon my return from the Forces, Mr. Ambrose left the school and Mr.
Reynolds took his place. He was so proud of having been appointed Headmaster of his
old school. He had spent the greater part of his life in it as pupil, teacher and
finally as its Head.
Mr. Warren was in command for 16 years. He surely was the most understanding and
generous of Headmasters. Many pupils and parents have good cause to remember his kindness
at a time of great need. Mr. Gwilym Williams was no stranger who came into our midst
when he was selected as Mr. Warren’s successor. He is the only member of the
1940 staff who now remains in the school, so there was no breaking-in period and we
seen to have settled down without any serious difficulties.
The changes in the teaching staff have been numerous. Many Past Students have returned
to impart their knowledge to new entrants and they seem to grow more youthful each
year. They are proud of the school and its traditions. The number of Past Students
who call in to see us, even some who left many years ago, is surely proof of this.
Very few people are ever completely satisfied with their “Lot”, but
a great number of school secretaries feel as I do that the good work they do balances
out in the long run. The criterion is that ours is a “worthwhile” job.
It brings about an awareness of others. I am, I think, privileged in my work as it
brings the pleasure of so many human contacts, with the interest of the endless variety
of work and while there are moments when I am completely over-whelmed, there are also
times of great reward.
To any-one who contemplates taking up an appointment such as this, I would say
- having a fondness for children and a desire to help other people in general is not
enough. Being able to cope with endless telephone calls, a constant flow of enquiries
and emergencies of all kinds is a tremendous asset, but the main thing is to have
a sense of humour. This will, at all times, stand you in good stead. If after 10 years
of all this you are still anxious to continue with your work, you are really and truly
a school secretary and an essential part of the smooth running of the school.
Chairmen of Governors
1896-1901 Alderman D.P. Davies, J.P.
1901-1902 G. George, J.P.
1902-1908 Alderman D.P. Davies, J.P.
1908-1913 Councillor David Hughes
1913-1915 L.N. Williams, J.P.
1915-1916 Mrs. M.S. Lloyd
1916-1917 William Thomas
1917-1918 Thomas Lewis
1918-1919 G.A. Treharne
1919-1922 Edmund Stonelake
1922-1925 Councillor W.M. Llewellyn, J.P.
1925-1928 Councillor J. Marchant Harries
1928-1931 Alderman Mrs F. Rose Davies, J.P.
1931-1934 Mrs H. Matt. Lewis
1934-1937 George Jenkins
1937-1940 County Councillor W.J. Edwards
1940-1943 County Councillor Mrs. M.E. Jones, J.P.
1943-1946 County Councillor J.G.R. Phillips
1946-1948 Edmund Stonelake, J.P.
1948-1949 County Councillor F. Leach
1949 - Dec 58 Alderman Mrs. F. Rose Davies, M.B.E., J.P
Jan 59 -1961 County Councillor D.J. Lewis
1961-1962 Alderman J.R. James
1962-1963 County Councillor Jabez Jones
1963-1964 County Councillor M.H. Prowle
1964-1965 County Councillor W.D. Richards
1965-1966 County Councillor A.P. Jones
1966-1967 Alderman J.R. James
1967-1968 County Councillor M.H. Prowle
1968-1969 County Councillor W.D. Richards
1969-1970 County Councillor A.P. Jones
1970-1971 County Councillor F.D. Riddiford
1971-1972 Alderman M.H. Prowle
1896 - 1905
1905 - Jan 10th, 1937
Jan 11th 1937 - 1939
Jan 1st 1940 - 1951
1951 - 1954
1954 - 1970
W. Jenkyn Thomas, M.A.
W. Charlton Cox, M.A.
William Rees Williams, B.Sc.
G.P. Ambrose, M.A., B.Litt., L.R.A.M.
T.B. Reynolds, B.A.
J. Warren, B.A., M.Sc. (Econ.)
G. Williams, B.Sc., A.R.I.C.
Corrections and additions to above, added January 2007
Mr. W.R. Williams left 10.1.1940
From Nov. 1946 to Nov. 1950, Mr. Ambrose was seconded by the Ministry
of Education to be Principal of Llandrindod Wells Emergency Training College.
During this period, Mr. T.B. Reynolds was Acting Headmaster.
Mr. G.P.Ambrose left 31/8/1952
Mr. T.B. Reynolds appointed Headmaster on 1/9/1952 retired on 31/8/1954
Mr. G. Williams died in service 14.1.77
Clerks to the Governors
1896 - 1900 Rev. Benjamin Evans
1900 - 1921 Mr. J.D. Thomas
1921 - 1938 Mr. J. Botting, B.A., B.Sc.
1938 - 1946 Mr. W.J. Davies
1946 - 1951 Mr. T.J. Lewis
1951 - 1955 Mr. Brynmor Jones, M.A.
1955 - 1969 Mr. O.J. Timothy, B.A.
1970 - 1977 Mr. E. Roberts, M.Sc.
Captains of Rugby Football
1922-23 Brinley C. Erricker
1923-24 R. Norman Berry
1924-25 Brynmor Powell Thomas
1925-26 John David Jones
1926-27 John David Jones
1927-28 Henry John Miles
1928-29 Mervyn Jones
1929-30 Thomas James Barling
1930-31 Llewelyn Morgan Rees
1931-32 John Trevor Jones
1932-33 William Ewart Timothy
1933-34 John Roderick
1934-35 Ronald Jeffrey Reynolds
1935-36 D.N.T. John
1936-37 Thomas Brynmor Lewis
1937-38 Trevor Leslie Moore
1938-39 G.O. John
1939-40 Merlyn Treharne Williams
1940-41 William Vivian Morgan
1941-42 John Leslie Jenkins
1942-43 Peter Powell Roderick
1943-44 D.B.G. Hoggins
1944-45 Dyfrig Gruffydd Morgan
1945-46 John Oliver
1946-47 William Burgess Llewellyn
1947-48 Gwilym John Howells
1948-49 Geraint Walters
1949-50 Donald Baxter
1950-51 A.J.H. Gwilliam
1951-52 Llewellyn James (Lyn) Thomas
1952-53 William Dilwyn Davies
1953-54 Keith Alun Rowlands
1954-55 Thomas Colin Burke
1955-56 Maurice Britz
1956-57 Thomas Graham Thomas
1957-58 Philip Edward Dyton
1958-59 David Cummings
1959-60 Wynford Bowen
1960-61 Wynford Bowen
1961-62 Bernard Evans
1962-63 Geoffrey Keith Davies
1963-64 Graham Bevan
1964-65 Philip Vincent Rees
1965-66 Ceri Morgan
1966-67 Clive Harris
1967-68 Alun Powell
1968-69 Lyn Sherwood
1969-70 Gwynne Lloyd Jones
1970-71 Arwyn Morgan Powell
1971-72 Stephen Sambrook
Captains of Cricket
1923 Brinley C. Erricker
1924 Brynmor P. Thomas
1925 Ronald C. Knight
1926 John D. Jones
1927 H. Davies
1928 Thomas J. Rowlands
1929 Thomas J. Rowlands
1930 John A. Reynolds
1931 Oliver J. Timothy
1932 Joseph Douglas Richards
1933 Ronald Jeffrey Reynolds
1934 Ronald Jeffrey Reynolds
1935 Ronald Jeffrey Reynolds
1936 D.N.T. John
1937 Howell Edwards
1938 D. Gwyn James
1939 D. Gwyn James
1940 Randall Marshall Davies
1941 G. Bird
1942 Raymond Mills
1943 Nantlais Parry Evans
1944 Dyfrig Gruffydd Morgan
1945 Dyfrig Gruffydd Morgan
1946 Thomas John Jones
1947 Gwynfryn Beynon
1948 Geraint Walters
1949 Geraint Walters
1950 David Stuart Bird
1951 David Stuart Bird
1952 John Gwynfryn Morgan
1953 William Arwyn Richards
1954 Keith A. Rowlands
1955 Keith A. Rowlands
1956 Dilwyn Williams
1957 Alwyn James
1958 Martin Jones
1959 Geraint Roberts
1960 Peter James Leach
1961 Gabe Treharne
1962 Gabe Treharne
1963 Gabe Treharne
1964 David Robert Davies
1965 David Robert Davies
1966 Norman Jenkins
1967 Phillip Stephens
1968 David Davies
1970 Christopher B. Turner
1939 - 1940 Theo. Owen
1940 - 1941 Raymond Mills
1941 - 1942 Elwyn Jones
1942 - 1943 Alwyn Davies
1943 - 1944 Conrad Bayliss
1944 - 1945 Dyfrig Gruffydd Morgan
1945 - 1946 William David Oxenham
1946 - 1947 William Burgess Llewellyn
1947 - 1948 Brynley Francis Roberts
1948 - 1949 Kenneth Morgan
1949 - 1950 Donald Baxter
1950 - 1951 A.J.H. Gwilliam
1951 - 1952 David Roger Williams
1952 - 1953 Morton John Davies
1953 - 1954 John Roger Coulthurst
1954 - 1955 Keith Alun Rowlands
1955 - 1956 Maurice Britz
1956 - 1957 Morton Rees Davies
1957 - 1958 Thomas Graham Thomas
1958 - 1959 Allen Dilwyn Prowle
1959 - 1960 Robert John Harris
1960 - 1961 Wynford Bowen
1961 - 1962 John Davies & Ronald G. Falder
1962 - 1963 Thomas Gareth Rees
1963 - 1964 Colin Rees
1964 - 1965 D. Wayne Powell
1965 - 1966 Brian Morgan
1966 - 1967 Terence John Lewis
1967 - 1968 Michael Murphy
1968 - 1969 John Lyn Sherwood
1969 - 1970 Alun Larrimore
1970 - 1971 Arwyn Morgan Powell
1971 - 1972 Christopher John Spiers
Emlyn H. Lloyd
Leslie H. Underhill
David E. Edmunds
Alun H. Maddy
John G. Morgan
Morton J. Davies
Victor J. Carney
D. Gareth Howells
B. Keith Lewis
David A. Dadley
Melvyn Keith Lewis
* Editors Note (2007): State Scholarships were introduced in 1921 and
abolished in 1963.