Idwal Rees First Headmaster of Aberdare’s Welsh School
ABCS 1911 - 1916

Idwal Rees

Idwal Rees, circa 1963

Idwal Rees was very well known throughout the Aberdare area as the first headmaster of Aberdare Welsh Primary School, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdâr. However, he was equally valued for his life of exceptional service to his local community in a variety of areas: social, religious, musical and dramatic. There were few social and cultural organisations in Aberdare with which he was not associated.

Idwal was born on 31 July 1899 in Glanaman Road, Cwmaman, the eldest of four surviving children and the only son of Morgan Rees and his wife Jessie Jemima (née Harries). Morgan Rees worked as a miner at Cwmaman Colliery also known as Shepherd’s Pit; he became a deacon at Seion Welsh Baptist Chapel1 situated in Cwmneol Place. Mr Rees senior had come to the area with his family from the coastal area to the immediate west of Fishguard in the second half of the nineteenth century. Idwal’s mother, Jessie Harries, was born locally in Aberdare. There were three younger daughters: Annie Mary 2 the eldest followed by Lydia and Eluned3, each sibling being separated in birthdates by roughly two years. The family lived at 2, Spencer Street.

Idwal attended Cwmaman Boys Elementary School, and transferred to the County School in Trecynon in September 1911 to Form 1A with a full-fee exemption scholarship. He gained his CWB Junior Certificate in 1914, Senior in 1915 and a Supplementary Certificate in Geography in 1916, the year in which he formally left school in July. He became a Student Teacher in the 1916-17 academic year at the end of which he gained a further pass at the Supplementary Stage in History. He then became an uncertificated teacher. However, he spent a very short period of a few months in the army in 1917 until he was discharged.

He then went to Caerleon Teacher Training College from 1919 to 1921, where he gained his teaching certificate with credit in advanced Welsh, following which he took up his first teaching post, 1921-23, at New Tredegar. This was the start of a 43-year career in the teaching profession – from 1921 to 1964!

Young Idwal

Idwal Rees as a young man

He returned to the Cynon Valley in 1923 to take up a post in what was initially an elementary school at Ynyslwyd School4 where he remained until 1949. When the school became a ‘senior’ school, Ynyslwyd Central School in 1932, Idwal assumed the responsibility for the teaching of Welsh and music. Idwal gained his LTSC, (Licentiate of the Tonic Sol-Fa College), and was to become active as the conductor of two choirs associated with his chapel in Cwmaman.

Idwal married Jennie (Jane) Owen, another native of his home village, a deaconess and the organist at Soar, who lived at 49 Brynhyfryd, Cwmaman. Jennie’s father, John, was a colliery fireman originating from Ystradgynlais, whilst her mother, Sarah Ann, came originally from St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire. Jennie Owen was Welsh and music mistress at Aman Central School, and secretary of the Cwmaman Branch of the League of Nations at a time when Idwal was district secretary of the same organisation. The marriage5 took place at Soar Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Fforchaman Road in July 1937. The couple took up residence at 26, Brynheulog Terrace. There were no children and her untimely death in 1953 at the age of 52 was a great shock to all who knew the couple.

In the years leading up to 1949, there had been a long public debate about the establishment of a Welsh language primary school in Aberdare. There was considerable scepticism about the need for such a school and the discussions were reported frequently in The Aberdare Leader newspaper of that period. Eventually however, the scheme was approved and Aberdare’s Welsh School opened in 1949 in premises in Cwmdare, which were shared with Cwmdare’s (English) primary school6. Idwal Rees was appointed as headteacher, a post that he held until his retirement in 1964. The school was eventually granted the exclusive use of Idwal’s old school buildings, at Ynyslwyd, in 1960, where it remained until a brand new school was built in Laburnum Drive, Cwmdare, in 2003.

Jennie Rees 1938

Jennie Rees, 1938

In 1990, at a time which many considered belated, Idwal Rees was admitted as a member of the Gorsedd. He chose the bardic name ‘Idwal Blaenaman’ to reflect the place of his birth.

After the death of his wife, Idwal moved back to the family home at 2, Spencer Street where his sister Annie still lived. Later in 1973, he and Annie moved again to the home of his sister Eluned in Windsor Street, Trecynon. It should not be overlooked that during the whole of his life, Idwal was strongly committed to his Christian faith, and his presence at Seion Cwmaman was highly influential in many aspects of the chapel’s activities. Idwal was a member of Seion for 79 years, although he was an attender for almost all of his 92 years. Many considered him to be an unassuming yet much-respected moral authority in the life of Seion and the wider community by virtue of his Christian life and practice and he remains a revered figure among those privileged to have known him.

Idwal died on Wednesday 22 January 1992 aged 92 years, at Prince Charles Hospital Merthyr Tydfil. This followed a fall on Sunday 12th previously when he was preparing for the morning service at Seion. His funeral service was conducted on January 27th at Llwydcoed Crematorium by Rev Gwilym Davies (Seion), and there were readings by Rev J. Eric Jones, (Highland Place). The Crematorium was full to capacity with family, ex-colleagues, members of Seion, a large number of non-conformist ministers from the region, members of the teaching profession, parents and others associated with Aberdare Welsh School present. Idwal had served his community for an exceptionally long period, in many different capacities, and had lived through so many of the important events in the recent history of Aberdare, having been born in the closing years of the reign of Queen Victoria and then living through almost the whole of the twentieth century. His passing was a truly significant event for Cwmaman and for Aberdare.

As soon as Idwal returned home from college, in the years leading up to the Second World war, during his fifteen years at ‘the Welsh School’, and in the years of his retirement, Idwal continued to throw himself into a multitude social and community activities - he never seemed to rest. There are so many of these roles, that a list of some of the activities he engaged in during his life may be of interest to the reader :


     Idwal Rees with his Ynyslwyd School Choir

Ynslwyd School Choir

Ynyslwyd School Choir - mid 1930s
Evan Humphreys (headmaster, left), Idwal Rees (centre, conductor), Ronald Pardoe (right – piano accompanist, & pupil ABCS 1922-28)


Ynslwyd School Staff

Ynyslwyd School Staff - circa 1935
Back Row : Miss Pugh, Emrys Prosser, Ronald Pardoe, John Thomas (replacement for Tom James), Idwal Rees, Ceinwen Matthews9
Front Row : Woodwork master, Miss E. P. Frayne, Evan Humphreys (headmaster) Gwen Davies, Ben Davies


     Idwal Rees pictured with three of his many classes

Ysgol Gynraeg 1955-56

Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdâr, Standards 4 & 5, 1955-56
Back Row: Heddwyn David, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Howard Griffiths
Middle Row: Nigel Parry, Eurfryn Davies, John Evans, Ann Pollard, Mai Jones, Hywel J. Davies, Lyn Thomas, Dylan Morgan, Mr Idwal Rees
Front Row: Judith and Marilyn Davies, Cerys Lloyd, Susan Burrows, Carol Hewitt, Mary Harries,
Eryl Bailey, Gaynor Wynn Jones, Susan Dennis, Jennifer Lewis


Ysgol Gynraeg circa 1950

Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdâr, circa 1950
Back Row: Mr Idwal Rees, Miss Griffiths, Gwyn Morgans, ?, ?, Gwyn Davies, Gareth Davies, ?, ?, ?, ?,
Teify Phillips, Mrs Ann Walters (Siop y Parc)
Middle Row: Vera James,Valmai Morgan, Gaynor Morgan Rees?, Gillian Phillips, Ann Bound, ?, Ann Charles, ?
Front Row: Dafydd Howells, ?, Haydn Eames, ?, ?, Menna Davies, Carol Hewitt (?), Eryl Bailey

† The son and daughter of Mr Edwin J. Davies, (1895-1958), Economics and History master ABGS 1944-58.


Class circa 1957

Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdâr, circa 1959
Back Row: Idwal Rees, Norman Rees, Christopher Williams, Keith Thomas, Dafydd Morgan, Garrad Richards,
D. Leslie Davies, Alwyn Jones, –?–
Middle Row: Philip Dennis, Martyn Evans, Geraint Gibbon, Einir Davies, Lynette Jenkins, Jennifer Williams, Christine Howells, Janet Davies,
Gareth Morgan, Howard Davies, Miss Sian Lewis (Teacher), Anthony Arndell ?
Front Row: –?–, Sian Thomas, Sian Jones, Heulwen Davies, Nesta Griffiths, Sian Richards, Nerys Jones, Janet Thomas,
Margaret Matthews, Mary Morgan, Dwynwen Williams

Before and after the Second World War, Idwal held a strong belief that the co-operation of peoples from the world’s nations should be advanced and promoted. To this end, Idwal was for several years the organiser of the local scheme whereby overseas students stayed in Aberdare to study its civic and administrative structures. Here are photographs of two cohorts of his overseas student groups who came to Aberdare in the 1960s.

Overseas Students

Idwal, back row far right, with some of his overseas students
and local guides


Low Level Yard for Swansea

Idwal’s overseas students bid farewell to their hosts & hostesses before departing on the No. 79 bus for Swansea at the Low Level Station Yard, Duke St.

 This photo was taken by the man on the extreme left, Mr Terufusa Ono, a probation officer from Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo - he always carried a tripod and a camera with a self-delay timer.



  1. Sadly, Seion Welsh Baptist Chapel has ceased to function. The final service was held on Wednesday, 19th June, 2013. It was presided over by Rev Hywel J. Davies (ABGS 1962-64). Although Hywel is now ordained in the Anglican Church, he grew up attending Seion. An account of the service was published in the July 2013 edition of Clochdar.
  2. Annie M. Rees, B.A., was for many years a member of staff of the Girls County School, Plasdraw. She was appointed in January 1929 to fill the post vacated by Kate Roberts on the occasion of her marriage. Miss Rees taught Welsh and History. She can be seen in staff photographs on the Girls’ School website. She left the Plasdraw School to take up the headship of the Gadlys Girls Secondary Modern School, 1951-1963.
  3. Idwal’s sisters Lydia and Eluned married two brothers, furthermore the brothers were both Baptist ministers. Lydia married Rev William R. Evans in 1940, and Eluned married Rev David James Evans in 1942.
  4. The buildings of the Ynyslwyd School in Cardiff Road were demolished towards the end of 2012
  5. Before the Second World War, it was the practice for women teachers to vacate their posts when they were to marry. Perhaps it is no coincidence therefore that D.H. Samuel (ABCS 1924-1929) was appointed to teach music (and P.E.) at Aman in 1938 soon after the marriage of Jennie Owen.
  6. In September 1949, the existing Cwmdare Junior and Infants’ schools were amalgamated with David Herbert Davies (ABCS1915-1920) taking over the headship of the combined (English) County Primary School. It was in the redundant Infants’ School that the first Welsh school in the Cynon Valley opened on September 6th, 1949. The school was almost totally independent of the English primary school sharing only toilets, and the playground, although playtimes were scheduled to be at different times for the two schools.
  7. An extract from the Eisteddfod programme for 1956 can be found in the Musical and Dramatic Activities section of this website. It gives the names of all the participants, adults and schoolchildren, who took part in this Tuesday evening concert on August 7th, 1956 in the Eisteddfod Pavilion in Aberdare Park.
  8. These men and women were generally mature students who were already in positions of responsibility in their home countries. They were following a one-year course for a diploma in administration at Swansea University. As Mr Rees was at work in his school during these visits, he recruited a small group of Aberdarians to act as companions for the students as they visited factories, schools, hospitals and similar establishments during their residential stay in the town. Students were accommodated in the homes of volunteers who provided bed and breakfast for their guests.
  9. After leaving Barry Teacher Training College, Ceinwen Matthews spent about 3 years teaching in Glashoughton Secondary School in Castleford, Yorkshire, before returning to Cwmaman. Her family lived at 31 Spencer Street opposite Idwal Rees. She married Ronald Pardoe (back row) in December 1940 and went to live in Merthyr Tydfil, as her husband had been appointed Physics master at Cyfarthfa Grammar School. A daughter and son were born there in 1942 and 1945 respectively. The family then went north to Tregaron in 1948 when Ronald Pardoe became Chemistry master at Tregaron County School. In 1951 Mr Pardoe was appointed Headmaster of Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, Bethesda, Caerns where he remained until he retired.

Acknowledgements: This account owes much of its content to the tribute that appeared in Clochdar Mai-Mehefin, 1992 written by David Leslie Davies.
Thanks also to Steven Graham, Susan Dennis-Gabriel and John Samuel for their helpful suggestions and contributions.
Delyth Wilson (née Pardoe) for the Ynyslwyd School Choir & Staff Photograph
The W.W.Price Biographical Index also provided invaluable information.