Ystradgynlais & District

History and Heritage

Dr Stephen J Williams

This article from 1963 describes in detail the life and achievements of Dr Stephen J Williams, who became one of the most respected scholars and academicians in the Welsh language and culture. It also looks at his family (of which more - here ) including the famous author Menna Gallie.

From The Voice newspaper, 5th April 1963:-


Many people born in humble circumstances in villages and hamlets nestling in the shadows of the mountains of the Swansea Valley have achieved national recognition as scholars and academicians. One of the most distinguished is Dr Stephen J Williams who, at the age of 67, had the honour of being chairman of the Executive Committee of the 1964 National Eisteddfod which will be in Swansea.
He was born in 1896, one of nine children in the little hamlet of Blaengors near Ystradgynlais and was destined to become one of the most notable scholars and lecturers in the Welsh language. His father was most versatile - farmer, small mine operator, with drifts in the Swansea Valley, and later check weigher at the old Diamond Colliery, Ystradgynlais.
Doctor Williams' mother, before her marriage, Miss Anne Gibbs, was a native of Alltwen, where her family farmed for over 300 years.
Educated at Maesydderwen Grammar School, and at Cardiff University College, Dr Williams' studies were interrupted for 4 years during the First World War. [He enlisted in 1915, spending the following four years mainly with the 11th Gurkha Rifles in northern India.] He returned to Wales in 1919 and returned to his studies when the war ended and graduated.
He was the first ex-pupil of Maesydderwen to obtain a Master of Arts degree, and the only ex-pupil to take the degree of Doctor of Literature.
His first teaching appointment was at Aberayron Gramma School in 1922. A year later he went to Llandeilo Grammar School and in 1927 became Assistant Lecturer in Welsh at Swansea University College and later Professor of Welsh. He remained in that position until he retired 2 years ago.
Speaking of his father and brothers, Dr Williams said "I would say that my father was a cultured man without much education. But he was widely read in Welsh and English. He died during the First World War" "It was my second brother, W R, who had perhaps the greatest influence on me"
"He was an exceptionally able man, being a poet and a literator, with no worldly ambitions. He became a county councillor, justice of the peace, and member of the diaconate and secretary of Sardis Chapel, Ystradgynlais for over 40 years. Most of his life was spent as a miner."
"Another brother, D R, was a manager of Tirbach Colliery, Ystalyfera, and a member of the diaconate and treasurer of Gurnos Chapel."
His father was also a deacon and the youngest brother, Mr Elwyn R Williams, is a deacon at Gosen, Trebanos. His career as a mining engineer was cut short by a serious accident.
Dr Williams is a deacon at Henrietta Chapel, Swansea. He has 2 surviving sisters, Mrs Elizabeth Humphreys, Crynant, mother of well-known authoress Menna Gallie, who at one time lived at Ysgubor Fach, Ystradgynlais, and Mrs Margaret Jones, Ystradgynlais.
Mrs Stephen Williams is a native of Gwynfe and comes from a talented musical family. She is a well known folk singer and vice president of Swansea Philharmonic Choir.
Their 3 children have Christian names of ancient Welsh origin, and their surnames have been to changed to the traditional name of Wiliam.
They are Dr Aled Rhys Wiliam, of the BBC; Mr Urien Wiliam, lecturer at Trinity College, Carmarthen; and Miss Annist Wiliam, BBC Sound and Television actress now in New York with Menna Gallie, whose husband, Mr Bryce Gallie is a visiting professor at an American university.
Dr Williams' association with the Welsh National Eisteddfod is already strong. He is a member of the Eisteddfod Council, chairman of the literary committee, and vice president of the Eisteddfod Court. He has also been an adjudicator of note for over 30 years.
His publications include works on medieval Welsh literature, and a handbook 'Beginners Welsh'. First published before the Second World War, it has found its way into Egypt, USA, South Africa, and Australia. Dr Williams is chairman of the Swansea Welsh Drama Society, a member of the University Court, and of several other national bodies.
Recalling the 1926 Welsh National Eisteddfod at Swansea, he said that the event showed a profit despite the difficulties of the General Strike and the coal stoppage.
"One above all responsible for all its success on the musical side was the late Dr Vaughan Williams, uncle of Mr Haydn Thomas, one of the conductors of the choir now being formed for the 1964 Eisteddfod" said Dr Williams.

Menna Gallie

These photographs show the famous author, Menna Gallie, and the slate plaque commemorating where she lived. Menna was the daughter of Stephen's sister Elizabeth and her husband William Humphreys, and was thus his niece. Born in Ystradgynlais in March 1919, Menna Humphreys (as she was) wed Walter Bryce Gallie in 1940, and died in 1990.

The Williams Family