HISTORIAN AND PREACHER
The 14 year old boy collier and future chapel minister . It's difficult to comprehend now, but this child, and countless like him, had already been working underground for a year when this photograph was taken.
In many ways the life and subsequent career of Llandybie born Gomer Roberts (1904 1993) exemplifies all the similar stories of talented children born into the working class at the turn of the twentieth century. Like his near contemporary Jim Griffiths, he started his working life in local coal mines at the age of 13. Then, by a combination of ability, determination and support from his family and local community, he was able to realise his true potential, otherwise denied to children from impoverished backgrounds by the state education system of the day. Born in 1904 at the farm of Cwmbach in Llandybie, Gomer Roberts, by his death in 1993 had received two honorary degrees from the University of Wales and was sufficiently well known outside of Wales to be judged worthy of an obituary in The Independent newspaper.
In the pages of this web site, we know Gomer Roberts as the author of 'Hanes Plwyf Llandybie' (History of the Parish of Llandybie) which has been quoted from extensively. Ammanford, for much of its history, was a tiny hamlet in the southern corner of the much larger, and historically much older, Parish of Llandybie. Gomer Roberts wrote 'Hanes Plwyf Llandybie' in 1939 as an entry for the history prize in the 1939 National Eisteddfod, a competition which it won. The essay was immediately turned into a book and was translated from its original Welsh in 1986 by Ivor Griffiths of Gowerton.
'Hanes Plwf Llandybie' is still the authoritative history of Llandybie but as it stops at 1939 it is in need of bringing up to date, a task that awaits a hitherto unknown historian. It is deeply to be hoped and desired that when, or if, that task is undertaken, its author will have the same happy combination of deep knowledge and love of the area that Gomer Roberts undoubtedly possessed.
But the achievements and career of Gomer Roberts spread much further afield than his native village and his death in 1993 elicited an obituary in The Independent newspaper in cosmopolitan London. We reprint the obituary below:
"GOMER ROBERTS, the historian and sometime Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, started work as a miner at the age of 13 in the anthracite coalfield of Carmarthenshire, but at the age of 19 went into further education, supported first by a Workers' Educational Association scholarship, then to cultivate his talents as a poet by his fellow miners.
He gained the WEA scholarship to Fircroft College in the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, and moved from there to Trefeca College. A volume of poetry, 'O Lwch Y Lofa' , meaning 'from the dust of the pit' (1924), written by six of his fellow miners in the Amman valley and edited by David Rees Griffiths (known as "Amanwy" brother of the Labour politician James Griffiths) was published to finance his educational studies. The sacrificial efforts of his fellow miners left an indelible mark on him and made him realise the value of education.
The collier-poet, now 21 (top left). The six collier poets of "O Lwch y Lofa" were Gomer M Roberts, Gwilym Stephens, David Mainwaring, S. Gwyneufryn Davies, Amanwy, Jack Jones.
He gained immensely from his studies at the preparatory and theological colleges of his denomination. In 1930 he was ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Wales serving at Clydach in the Swansea Valley (1930-39), then Pontrhydyfen from 1939 to 1958, and Llandudoch near Cardigan. In 1968 he retired to the village where he was born, Llandybie, near Ammanford.
The chapel minister in later years, in more traditional pose.
A year later he was elected Moderator of the South Wales Association and in 1973 Moderator of the General Assembly. He received many honours from the Church: he delivered the Davies Lecture on the Methodist reformer Howel Harris (1714-1773) of Trefeca, and in 1982 his colleagues in the Historical Society published a collection of essays in his honour, Gwanwyn Duw ("The Spring of God"). It contains a full and impressive bibliography of his writings.
His outstanding contribution was to the study of 18th-century Methodist revival, in in particular with his two-volume biography of William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-1791), the hymn-writer. Roberts had an amazing grasp of the history of nonconformity in Wales, as can be seen in his articles in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, in his three volumes of Welsh hymn-writers, in his biography of the 18th-century reformer Peter Williams, and in the indispensable two-volume history of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism of the 18th century (1973-78) which he edited and largely wrote. Roberts was editor for nearly 30 years of the journal of the Calvinistic Methodist Historical Society and was responsible for the Trevecka Records Series published by the same society in the l950s and 1960s. He collected a vast amount of archival material for the Calvinistic Methodist archives in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.
A prolific writer, he was responsible for nearly 40 books besides the mass of articles he wrote over 50 years.
The young budding collier-poet gave way to the meticulous scholarly historian. His scholarship was acknowledged by the University of Wales with the award of the prestigious Ellis Griffith Memorial Prize, on two occasions (1950 and 1966), and two honorary degrees, an MA in 1949 and later a D Litt.
After suffering a stroke Roberts experienced a long struggle to enjoy his books and journals. But a number of his ministerial colleagues kept him informed of what was happening and provided him with a point of contact with the denomination that he served so well."
(Obituary written by D. Ben Rees and published in the Independent 15th April 1993)
Gomer Morgan Roberts, historian, editor
and minister of the church: born
Llandybie, Carmarthenshire 3 January
1904; married (one daughter); died
Glanaman, Dyfed 15 March 1993.
The background to Gomer Roberts' early years in local coal mines can be obtained from several places in this web site, notably the various pages on Jim Griffiths and Amanwy in the 'People' section.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010