Brynley Francis Roberts, cbe, dlitt, ma,
Scholar of Celtic Studies
Bryn Roberts was the Librarian of the National Library of Wales from 1985 to 1994. He was previously Professor of Welsh Language and Literature at Swansea University (1978-85), and had also been on the staff of the Welsh Department at Aberystwyth University, having been appointed as Lecturer in Celtic Philology, Cornish and Medieval Welsh in 1957. He left in 1978 having progressed to the post of Reader at the Aber department.
Bryn was born in 1931, the son of Robert F. Roberts1 and Laura Jane Roberts (née Williams). Bryn’s father (a native of Caernarfon) was a printer with Wilcox and then with Stephens & George (S&G), until his retirement. S&G was situated at 19 Cardiff Street, opposite the location of the old Aberdare Cinema. The family lived at 16, Stuart Street in Foundry Town and attended Bethania Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Wind Street. Bryn received his primary education at the Town Council School, (now Caradog), before entering The County School in 1941, where he joined his elder brother Alun who was at the school from 1938 to 1944. Bryn did his CWB School Certificate in 1945, and ‘Highers’ in English, Latin and Welsh in 1947, and again in 1948. Whilst at school he was a keen rugby player and represented the school in its 1st XV in successive seasons, as can be seen in the two team photos covering the years 1946 to 1948 in the Sporting Section of this website. Bryn has had an outstanding career in the academic world and he is now retired. He lives in Aberystwyth with his wife Rhiannon. They had twin sons.
Bryn chose to write his own entry for this website and this follows below. However, at the very end of his account we have added a summary of his career that attempts to highlight the exceptional achievements made by Bryn over the last fifty years.
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I’m known as Bryn Roberts, though I’m sometimes known now by my fuller name, Brynley, a name that I rejected for many years. I came to the County School, or as we also knew it, the Grammar School, from Town Council School in September 1941. In those days the entry was around 60 boys and we were divided into two classes or forms, A and Alpha. As far as we knew, and I don’t know now, there was no particular reason why boys were placed in the one or the other and we followed the same courses but often under different teachers. Our form rooms were adjacent to each other on the lower corridor.
The intermediate/grammar schools, especially boys’ schools, were modelled on the English public school system, which is why we were so much at home and found nothing strange in reading the adventures and escapades of pupils in such schools on the pages of our magazines like Hotspur, Rover and Wizard. We identified with them as our school lives were like theirs, apart from the boarding. We were all being prepared to sit the Senior School Leaving Certificate (equivalent to GCE) and as the English system had pupils sit that examination in Form V, so did we. But our course was four years, so most schools ‘lost’ a year in the sequence of years somewhere.
We progressed to Form III, form room off the main hall. The first major change came at the end of that year when we had to choose our subjects for the Senior. The options at ABGS were very carefully and wisely drawn up to ensure that every pupil had the opportunity, if he passed his chosen subjects at the same sitting as it were, to have the right combination to gain his ‘Senior’ and his ‘Matric’. We all did maths and arithmetic, but as the ‘matric’ regulations allowed a choice between maths and Latin, one group could opt to do Latin, and became IVA, VA (I took Latin as an insurance, knowing what my maths were like), while the other could opt to do sciences (‘Chem.’, ‘Phys.’, ‘Biol.’) and became IV Alpha, V Alpha. The A group, however, had to do General Science, again to satisfy the regulations. We all did English language and English literature and we all had to do a modern language. To the shame of the system, Welsh was regarded as a ‘foreign’ modern language and we were obliged to choose between French and various standards of Welsh. I chose Welsh and I always regretted that it had not been possible to choose both; later on in my career I had to struggle to learn French on my own. I think we all did geography and then had the choice of another four subjects, History, Art (and architecture), Woodwork, and I can’t recall the other: music perhaps after the arrival of Mr Gwilym Ambrose, the headmaster, who was an excellent musician.
I don’t really remember much about those years. E.C.Jones taught Latin (in the junior years the teaching of Latin was shared with Louis Thomas whom I never ‘had’). W.E. Roberts taught English and I suppose Louis Thomas taught the other form. P.E.Phillips taught French but Brinley Reynolds, the other French teacher, taught us arithmetic (and proved once again what an effective teacher he was). Bobby Roberts taught us history in the first year, and then Arthur Trott who taught history, art and maths in Form III. It was a great loss when he fell ill during that year. W.E.Roberts taught Welsh in Form III.
Some boys went on to study for two years for the Higher Certificate, usually for university entry, or often for one year for teacher training colleges. Another change in nomenclature; first-year sixth was Alpha (Arts or Science), second-year was A (Arts or Science). The popular arts subjects were English, French (in my case Welsh), Latin, History, Geography, and Economics. There is a photograph on the website of our VI Arts form with our teachers, P.E. Phillips, J.T. Bowen and E.C. Jones; no English teacher. W.E. Roberts had left to take up new pastures in Lampeter (he actually lived in Aberaeron) and for some time we were quietly left to our own devices and English became free periods when we sat in hidden corners, out of sight, out of mind, or wandered in the park. Until, suddenly, Mr Arwyn Thomas appeared from somewhere and lessons resumed. He must have taught us well as we all passed our Higher English exams in spite of the lost, but enjoyable, sessions in the park. He left later to become headmaster of Maes-y-dderwen Welsh-medium school.
I gained my Higher in 1947 and then received the best bit of academic advice I ever had. There was no talk in those years, of course, of a gap year but I was told that I was too young (too immature I suppose they meant) to go to university and that I should stay in school for another year and re-do the course without the fear of failure hanging over me this time. It was my most enjoyable year at school. During that final year, I was Head Prefect. I don’t recall much about the duties except that we had to ask permission to hold and organise a Christmas party with the girls’ grammar school sixth form. And having received our headmaster’s permission a few of us were sent to Plasdraw to seek the permission of the headmistress. We went rather nervously, and diffidently made our case and awaited the verdict. It never dawned on us that everything had probably been arranged by the two heads over the phone long before we arrived. That final year too I met Rhiannon Campbell of Trecynon. She immediately went off to Barry Training College, then to teaching posts in Birmingham and Abercynon, but we were married in 1957.
I went to Aberystwyth in 1948, graduated in 1951, teacher-training, research and finally tore myself away in 1954 to do my national service. I was lucky enough to do the Russian translator’s course, the bit of the army most like a rather relaxed, almost eccentric, school, then back to Aberystwyth in 1956. I joined the staff of the Welsh department in 1957. After a few years in Swansea University I came to the National Library in Aberystwyth and I retired (I think) in 1994. I still potter there and in the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth.
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Publications, a small selection:
The Dictionary of Welsh Biography and Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig are now available on-line from the National Library of Wales website
1 Bryn’s father can be seen in this group photograph of the deacons of Bethania Chapel, Wind Street. R.F.Roberts started his printing career with a seven-year apprenticeship in North Wales with the firm of W. Gwenlyn Evans and Son, Printers and Stationers located at Eastgate Street, Caernarfon. RF’s first job was with William Wilcox a printer in Aberdare. When Wilcox retired he sold the business to Stephens and George, at which time Mr Roberts as well as Willy Wilcox, William’s son, joined S&G. R.F.Roberts was a typographer and monotype keyboard operator for Stephens and George from 1919 to 1959. They were located at 19 Cardiff Street from 1948.