Idwal Rees First Headmaster of Aberdare’s
ABCS 1911 - 1916
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!
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.
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
Ynyslwyd School Choir - mid 1930s
Evan Humphreys (headmaster, left), Idwal Rees (centre, conductor), Ronald Pardoe (right – piano accompanist, & pupil ABCS 1922-28)
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 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 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.
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.
Idwal, back row far right, with some of his overseas students
and local guides
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.