History and Heritage

James Williams, Headmaster
of Wern School, Ystalyfera

Taken from History of Ystalyfera Bernant Hughes page 49
The old Wern Elementary and Infant schools situated near the railway and the canal were replaced by the spacious new Wern schools which were built on Clare Road. Boys and girls occupied separate schools and the infants were mixed. James Williams, head teacher of the older Boys School continued in the same position in the new school. Miss Alice Williams was the first governess of the new Wern School for girls.
The year 1913 saw changes in the head ships of both the Boys school and the County school. Mr James Williams on his 67th birthday on 30th June 1913 retired as the head teacher of the Wern Boys School.

From the Labour Voice 18th April 1914 :-


The public presentation to Mr James Williams, the highly esteemed old headmaster of the Wern Boys' School, will take place on 29th April. A massive gold watch suitably inscribed, forms part of the testimonial and is now on view in the shop window of Mr T C Clatworthy Watch Maker Ystalyfera.

From the Labour Voice 2nd May 1914 :-


There was a large and enthusiastic gathering at the St David's Church Hall, Ystalyfera, on Wednesday evening when Mr James Williams, of Wern House, Ystalyfera, was the recipient of a gold watch and cheque, the result of a public subscription, as token of respect and esteem from his old pupils and friends. Letters of apology for their absence were received from Messrs T R Williams, headmaster of the Wern Boys' School, and J Walter Jones, BA Maesydderwen County School. County Councillor D W Davies presided, and in handing over the watch and cheque to Mr Williams said that he had the greatest pleasure in doing so, and in wishing Mr Williams a long and happy evening of his life. He also gave a brief outline of Mr Williams' long career in public service. The inscription on the watch read "Presented to Mr James Williams, Ystalyfera, by his old pupils and friends on his retirement, June, 1913, after 45 years' service; over 40 of which were spent at the Wern Boys' School."

Mr Williams received a most cordial reception, the applause of the audience lasting for several minutes. Speaking under stress emotion he said that he was in a position that night that he had never been in before. The position was that he was at last being turned aside, and that was a very serious position to a man who had been in harness all his life!

In the course of some interesting reminiscences, Mr Williams described the difficulties under which those who thirsted for education laboured in the old days, and recounted how, 60 years ago, his father used to show him how to make the multiplication tables. They had no copy of the tables in those days, and only three books dealing with rudiments of the three R's. The first school he attended at Ystalyfera was the old Pantteg School, which was held in Pantteg Vestry, and the schoolmaster at that time was the late Rev Benjamin Thomas, whom he described as a poet preacher, and a great and good man.

The first school ever held in Ystalyfera was in a parlour of the house he at present occupied, in the early 50's, and Mr Simpson had been the first schoolmaster of note.

The Chairman had wished him (Mr Williams) a long life. It was a wonder that he was alive, considering the conditions under which he had worked. They could hardly appreciate the difficulties a schoolmaster had to face in the old days with about 150 young hooligans to teach-(laughter). In a humorous manner he related some of the tricks the pupils played upon him in those days, how on one occasions the boys had tied a donkey to the outside of the school door - which caused several donkeys on the inside of the door to pull very hard in order to get the door opened; how on another occasion the boys climbed to the belfry, tied some string to the tongue of the bell, and then sat upon the railings on the canal side and pulled the bell until someone had to ascend the belfry to cut the cord (laughter).

He had been very much relieved when in 1875 the Llanguicke School Board came into existence, and he was not then bound to carry on the school any longer. In comparing the methods of teaching of those days and today, he wondered whether it was better to have everything at hand as they had today. He thought at times it would be much better if the boys worked things out for themselves more, instead of having everything prepared for them, but he believed that, generally, the methods of teaching in vogue today taught boys to think.

He did not know that he had ever done any great work in life, but he had been conscientious in his work amongst the boys who had been in his charge. A great mistake often made by the public was in thinking that teachers' lives were too easy, and that they were granted too many holidays. He was of the opinion, however, that if teachers worked any harder than they did they would soon be put in the lunatic asylum. In concluding he thanked them truly and sincerely for their splendid gift, which would be handed down as an heir loom to his children (loud cheers).

A musical programme, arranged by Mr Telorydd Nicholas, with Mr W D Clee at the piano, was gone through during the evening. Songs were given by Mr Jenkin Rees, Miss A B Clee and Mr James Nicholas, schoolmaster, Cwmavon. Several glees were rendered by the Vera Glee Singers, under the leadership of Mr Telorydd Nicholas, in a very pleasing manner.

In the course of an eloquent tribute to the recipient of the presentation, Mr Rhys Nicholas, schoolmaster, of Port Talbot, as an "old boy," referred in touching terms to the indebtedness which he would always feel he was under to Mr Williams, and to the influence which he had exercised upon his (the speaker s) life and career.

Speaking on behalf of the presentation committee, of which he was secretary, Mr D J Rees, Editor of "Llais Llafur" referred to the cordial manner in which the public had respondent to their appeal, and the manifestly warm regard in which Mr Williams was generally held; and as an "old boy" he testified to the affection he and others felt for their old master. Mr Thomas Williams, (Cerddor v Dyffryn) also paid high tribute to Mr Williams' genial and kindly character.

From the Labour Voice 8th January 1916:-

Another officer home for a few days is Lieut. D J Williams, of the S.W.B (Breconshires), eldest son of Mr James Williams, Wern House. Lieut Williams was also a schoolmaster at the Wern Schools before the war.

From the Labour Voice 9th March 1918 :-


Miss May Williams, daughter of Mr and Mrs James Wern House, left on Tuesday to the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (W.A.A.C.). Miss Williams, who was formerly a member of the staff at the Gurnos Council School, has gone to the Imperial Hotel, Clifton, as a hostel forewoman.

From the Labour Voice Saturday 5th July 1924:-


We have again the exceeding great pleasure of being able to congratulate the veteran Mr James Williams, Wern House, on reaching another milestone on the journey of life. On Monday last the venerable dominie reached his 78th birthday and although his step is not quite so sprightly as it used to be when in the old days he summoned Mr Cheever's boys to "hold your hand out", we might very appropriately apply to him the words of holy writ, "his eye is not dim nor his natural force abated". No one, we are certain, will read this announcement with greater pleasure than the larger number of old boys who had the privilege of passing through his hands during his headmaster ship of Wern Boys School for close upon 50 years. Many of these are now occupying positions of honour in the great world and not a few in the most distinguished walks of life. In the nature of things not think is more welcome to the heart of "yr hen fishdir" than to receive a letter from a former pupil, who still remembers the master who made learning a pleasure, who set his eyes hungering for the "realms of gold". The writer recollects how at the time when Mr and Mrs William celebrated their golden wedding, the eyes of the former gleamed and his whole being stirred in relating the contents of some of the letters he received. In spite of his advancing years his interest in his hobbies of gardening and in his studies in astronomy and kindred subjects is as keen as ever. His prowess in his garden is of course well known and one of his most intimate friends once confided to the writer that if he were so evily disposed as to wish to ruffle urban geniality of Mr Williams, he would only have to smile incredulously when he discussed the produce of his garden.
But this only proves that this failing, if failing it be, "leans to virtue's side". It shows how he scorns a lie. To conclude we heartily wish Mr and Mrs Williams many years yet of unclouded happiness.

From the South Wales Voice Saturday 6th December 1930:-


It is with regret that we have to announce the death of Miss Jesse Williams, youngest daughter of Mrs Williams and the late Mr James Williams schoolmaster, Wern House Ystalyfera, which occurred on Monday evening last at the age of 48.
Miss Williams had suffered a painful illness for about 14 months and the wonderful fortitude and cheerfulness that she displayed during this trying period were characteristic of her sunny and lovable nature.
One of the first pupils at the Ystalyfera County School, Miss Williams showed versatile abilities at an early period, taking a leading part in all school activities and this quality she continued to develop and exercise throughout her life.
After a period at the Swansea Art School she became art Mistress at Maesydderwen County School. She was an expert in art needlework and jewellery and a gold ring, set with jewels, executed by her, won the first prize at Pontypool National Eisteddfod.
She founded and was the first captain of a troop of Girls Guides and early during the Great War turned her undoubted organising abilities to the task of raising money for the Soldiers and Sailors Fund. In this way she was instrumental in collecting over £400.
In 1915 Miss Williams became a VAD and served at Netley Welsh Hospital. Later she became a commissioned officer of the WRAF at Fishguard and Fowlmere and it was during this period that she received an injury that ultimately caused her death.
Miss Williams possessed artistic and dramatic talent of a high order and no operatic or dramatic performance of note has been held in the place but that her assistance and advice was sought - and always freely given. Many will recall her success as "Gwen" in "Change" and "Eliza" in "Eliza Comes to Stay"
Since her father's death in 1925, Miss Williams has continued with the work of recording the rainfall in the district, which he had so faithfully carried out


The funeral, which was a large and representative one, took place on Thursday at Alltygrug Cemetery. The mourners were: Capt D J Williams and Mr R Williams brothers; Messrs James Evans, East Grinstead, Gwynne Wade Evans Cardiff; John Williams, W Williams, Richard Williams, Evan Rees, William Jones Neath; Tom Miles Neath; Danny Williams, D Llewelyn Griffiths, Tom Ellis Griffiths, W D Clee, Ieuan Clee, John Evans, Dr W J Lewis cousins.

From the South Wales Voice Saturday 16th June 1934 :-


The funeral of Mrs Anne Williams, Wern House Ystalyfera, took place on Monday burial being at Alltygrug Cemetery. A service was held at St David's Church, with surpliced choir.
The mourners were: Captain David James Williams, son; Mr and Mrs Edward Rhys Williams son and daughter in law, the Misses Lily, Gwen and May Williams daughters; Mr Willie Williams brother; Mr Tom Williams Tirgof cousin; Messrs James Evans, G Wade Evans, Evan Rees, Willie Williams, Richard Williams, William Jones, John Evans, Emlyn Evans, Ben Evans, Dan Davies, W D Clee FRCO, Ieuan B Clee, Fred Thomas, Robin Clark, Bob Williams, Albert Williams nephews.
At the house were: Mrs Evan Rees, Mrs William Jones, Mrs Vaughan Jones, J Walter Jones, and Mrs Griff Griffiths.
Among friends present were Dr W J Lewis and J Walter Jones BA.

From the South Wales Voice 5th December 1936 :-


On Friday last Captain D J Williams, Wern House Ystalyfera, retired from the service of the Glamorgan Education Committee on reaching the age limit.
For the last 4 years Captain Williams was headmaster of Coedffranc Boys School Skewen. He was a son of the late Mr James Williams who was for 44 years headmaster of Wern Boys School Ystalyfera and of the late Mrs Williams.
Capt Williams started his teaching career as a pupil teacher at Old Wern School in 1889, when 14 years of age. He became headmaster at Rhiwfawr on his return from the wall, which post he held until 1923. In that year he was appointed headmaster of Resolven, where he remained until his appointment to Coedffranc in 1932.

TEACHERS PRESIDENT: for many years Captain Williams was secretary of the Glamorgan branch of the Teachers Provident Society and had been president of the Glamorgan Teachers Association. Mr Williams was a member of the Y Ddraig Goch for many years and was the vice president in 1913-14.
Keenly interested in plays and dramas Mr Williams took part in several English plays and also acted as producer. He was also the producer of the Ystalyfera Operatic Society which performed a number of light operas about 10 years ago. He is to produce "The Mikado" for the Resolven Operatic Society shortly, besides taking the part of "Koko".

INTEREST IN SPORT: throughout his life, Capt Williams has taken a keen and active interest in sport. He is vice captain and one of the founders of the Palleg Golf Club and has served as a playing and committee member of the Ystalyfera Rugby, Cricket and Tennis Clubs, being secretary and vice captain of the latter.
Captain Williams had been a Freemason the many years and will be next year's secretary of the Cambrian Lodge Neath.

WAR SERVICE: from the years 1894 - 1901 Mr Williams was a fully qualified Sgt of the 1st Volunteers Battalion, South Wales Borderers and at the outbreak of war in 1914 was gazetted as a Secondary Lieutenant to the 2nd Battalion of the Brecknocks SWB. In August, 1915, he was promoted 1st Lieutenant and Battalion Musketry instructor. He was transferred as Battalion Bombing instructor in India in October 1916 and in June 1918, was promoted Captain to "A" Company as Commander. In November 1918, Captain Williams was transferred to the Headquarters Staff in East Persia and in October 1919 he rejoined his Battalion as Commander of "C" Company.

From the South Wales Voice Saturday 7th September 1946:-


The death took place on Friday of a member of one of the oldest and most highly respected local families in the person of Miss Gwen Williams Wern House. She was the daughter of the late Mr James Williams, Headmaster of Wern Boys School and the late Mrs Williams and had lived at Ystalyfera all her life. Formerly a teacher at Wern Schools, Miss Williams retired a short time ago and throughout the war was an ardent worker with the WVS. She was a faithful member of St David's Church and her services were always readily given in any activities connected with it.
She had been a patient at Morriston Hospital and had recently returned home. The deceased lady was 66 years of age.
Deep sympathy is extended to her brother and 2 sisters in their great loss.
The cremation took place on Tuesday at Glyntaff Pontypridd.
Principal mourners were: Messrs E R Williams brother; James Evans, Gwyn Wade Evans, Richard Williams, Evan Rees, John Gower Thomas, Ieuan Clee cousins.
At the house were: Misses Lilly and May Williams sisters; Mrs Evan Rees, Miss Annie Williams, Mrs Richard Williams cousins; Mrs W I Lewis, Nurse Cross, Mrs Ada Griffiths, Mr and Mrs E J Griffiths Midland Bank; Mrs R A Griffiths, Mrs G Owen. No Flowers

SON of James and Annie WILLIAMS

From The Voice 17th February 1966 :-


The death occurred on Friday of Mr Ted Williams, Wern House Ystalyfera. He was 87 years of age.
Mr Williams saw active service in the Boar War, after which he spent many years in Africa as a surveyor in the mines.
When he came home Mr Williams was employed by Cory Brothers Cardiff, as colliery manager and later as colliery agent at Resolven.
Mr Williams was the son of the late Mr James Williams, headmaster of the Wern Schools for many years and a member of one of the oldest Ystalyfera families.
He leaves a sister, the only surviving member of the family of six.
Mr Williams' only daughter died in Germany a few years ago.

Possibly married Catherine Ann Elizabeth THOMAS (Born Glais 1881) at St James Swansea 1909 26th June Father in Law Jenkin David THOMAS and in 1911 living at 66 Penrchys Road Ystrad Rhondda as a Colliery Surveyor underground


From the South Wales Voice Saturday 17th June 1950 :-


Included in the last Birthday Honours List was the name of Squadron Leader Joyce Williams who received the MBE.
Miss Williams is an officer in the Administrative Staff of the WRAF which she joined in 1946.
She is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Edward R Williams Wern House Ystalyfera who before coming back to the old Homestead seven years ago on Mr Williams, retirement from the staff of Messrs Cory's and Sons, resided at Ystrad Rhondda. Squadron Leader Williams was educated at Neath County School and graduated at the London University.
Readers and her many friends will join in extending to Squadron Leader Williams heartiest congratulations upon the distinctive recognition of services to the Nation.

The Family of James Williams

James Wiliams was born in 1847 and died in July 1925 at Longlands House, Swansea, being buried on 30th July 1925. He married Ann or Anne Williams, born in 1847 who died aged 87 in June 1934.

Their daughter Janie Edith, known as Jessie, died aged 48 on 1st December 1930, being buried 3 days later.
Their son David James Williams, born in 1876 (and baptised at Holy Trinity on 19th March) died in October 1937 aged 61. He had been a teacher and Headteacher, and served in the First World War in the South Wales Borderers.
Their daughter was Gwenllian Alice, born in 1879 who like her brother and father also taught at the Wern Schools. She died on 31st August 1946 aged 66.

James Williams' mother was Jane who died in 1873 and his father was James, who died in 1897. He had a brother, John, who died in 1911, and a sister Alice who died in 1928.


Photographs of the Williams family grave in Alltygrug

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