Lewis Nicholas James
Headmaster & Sportsman
Lewis Nicholas James, better known as Nick James, was born in Abernant on Sept 16th, 1892 to David James1, a colliery checkweigher, and his wife Margaret Jane, née Samuel. Both parents were born in Aberdare. Nick had two older sisters and the family lived in Foreman's Row at the top of Abernant.
He attended the elementary school in the village followed by a short period at the Higher Grade School2 before transferring to Aberdare County Intermediate School in September 1905. Towards the end of his school career he became a pupil teacher, after which he entered Carmarthen Teacher Training College. Whilst on his college teaching practice in Pembrokeshire, he met his future wife Sarah Haslett3 of Templeton, near Narberth. The couple were married in 1919. Nick served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers during the whole of the First World War, being discharged in January 1919.
He began his teaching career in his hometown with short periods at Llwydcoed, Abernant and then Aberaman Junior School where he stayed for 31 years. Then, in 1950, he was appointed headmaster at Abernant Junior School where he was himself once a pupil. He retired from that post4 in 1954. As a teacher at Abernant, one of us, JS, remembers his spelling exercises on a Friday afternoons and the fact that he got the whole class to remember poems by heart. He announced the death of King George V to his class with the words, ‘Children, stand up and repeat after me, The King is dead, God save the Queen’.
Nick and his wife brought up three children whilst living at Nythfa, 63 Broniestyn Terrace. They were Robert David (but known as Roy), Lorna and Douglas Gordon. Roy was a keen sportsman, but got badly injured during service in WW2, which ended his playing career. He was a schoolteacher at Aberystwyth5 and secretary of Aberystwyth RFC. Lorna became a schoolteacher too. Douglas Gordon James6 was a solicitor who became Town Clerk of Aberdare, and after a change of career became Vicar of the Parish of Aberdare.
Nick was an active and well known figure in Aberdare especially in the sporting life of the town. Before WW1 he played for Abernant football club, then when he became a teacher he was connected with schoolboy football from 1919 onwards; he was also treasurer of the Aberdare Schools Football League. He nurtured Alf Sherwood, one of his boys from North View Terrace, Aberaman, who became a professional footballer and captain of Cardiff City FC, and of Wales in 1955. Alf called in at Abernant to see his former teacher and to give him complimentary tickets for some matches.
Although ABGS did not support football, Nick managed to induce at least three of the school's pupils into his football XI: T. Gwyn Thomas, who got a schoolboy cap for Wales, and two goalkeepers, Keith Fenwick and Rhidian Morgan, (brother of J. Gwyn Morgan). Nick James picked and supervised them all.
Actively interested in cricket,7 Nick was himself an accomplished player. He was treasurer and a founder member and team selector of the South Wales and Monmouthshire School Cricket Association and a member of the county club. He had the pleasure of seeing Alf Sherwood gain his Welsh youth level cricket cap as well.
Nick was active in the National Union of Teachers, being a co-opted member of the Divisional Education Executive, and was N.U.T. member on the Aberdare Education Committee in the days when the local council ran the primary schools in the town.
In religion, Sarah James was a devout Anglican, which almost certainly influenced her son D. Gordon James, but Nick James remained at Bethel Welsh Baptist Chapel, Abernant, where he was a deacon succeeding his father, David James, who was also a town councillor on Aberdare UDC.
Nick James died June 15th, 1975, aged 82 at ‘The Retreat’ 31 Abernant Road. His wife Sarah survived him by 13 years, dying on December 15th, 1988. also at ‘The Retreat’.
1 David James was born circa 1863, and like his wife and children were all born in Aberdare . He was a checkweigher at the Werfa Colliery situated between Abernant and Cwmbach. He was a deacon at Bethel WB Chapel, Abernant, and the photograph shows him with his adult Sunday School class. Of the two men in the photograph, he is on the right. The larger man, on the left, is Rev. Ben Williams, minister at Bethel from 1913 to 1932.
2 The Higher Grade Schools enabled pupils to progress beyond the educational Standard, normally V, offered by their elementary school, for example to Standards VI or VII. At the time that Nick James attended the Higher Grade School, it was housed in the buildings occupied by The Town (Council) School, (much later called Caradog Primary School). This type of 'top-up' education was provided from 1907 in the Gadlys Higher Standard Schools.
3 Sarah was Sarah Merrien May Haslett, (1895-1988), but was known to all as Maisie.
4 D.H. Samuel, (ABGS 1924–29), became headteacher at Abernant in 1954, succeeding his cousin Nick James. D.H. Samuel transferred as headteacher to Cwmdare in 1966, when he succeeded David Herbert Davies, (ABGS 1915–20), father of Alun Davies (ABGS 1948–56).
5 When Roy arrived at Aberystwyth to teach at Ardwyn Grammar School, he replaced (Long) Tom Evans who was returning to Aberdare to take up a post at ABGS.
6 D. Gordon James has an entry in the Former Pupils section of this website.
7 The photo below shows Nick with the Aberdare Youth Cricket Team in 1949. Nick is on the far left. Next to him is D.H.Samuel of Aman School and on the extreme right is the teacher Don John of the Gadlys School. These three teachers collaborated to bring together pupils from Aberdare and district to form combined schools youth teams. Standing next to D.H.Samuel is J. Gwyn Morgan who has an entry in the former pupils section of this website.
CR & J. Samuel, August 2023