THERE are many people who made an impact on life in the Amman Valley and today we take a look at one of them.
In 1972, Jim Griffiths MP, an Ammanford miner and first Secretary of State for Wales called Watcyn Wyn “the greatest man nurtured in the Amman Valley.”
Here we take a look at the life of ‘teacher, poet and preacher’ Watcyn Wyn and his impact on the valley.
Watkin Hezekiah Williams – better known as Watcyn Wyn – was born to parents Hezekiah and Anne Williams on March 7, 1844.
He was born in Y Ddolgam near Cwmllynfell while Anne was visiting her family. He lived in Brynamman with his parents.
Watcyn started working as a child – as was commonplace at the time. He was paid eight pence a day for carting a sledge of coal in the Tri Gloyn level.
He wrote in his memoirs about his education, including his teachers, who included a butcher and an old soldier who had ‘given up on killing the enemy and was now half-killing the children.’
Watcyn also said that the best school he attended was the one that his fellow colliers held in the bowels of the earth.
It was a Welsh school and he recalled: “Every lunch time we had a class for reading or writing in Welsh, or making a speech, or composing a verse or singing a song.”
While at the ‘school’ he won a box of matches with a verse on Y Ci Kipar. Watcyn was attracted to poetry by miller Owen Dafydd who sold his compositions at fairs.
Daniel Lewis Moses began to mentor Watcyn and other budding poets.
He had moved from Cribyn to work in the iron works and was a poet, master of cynghanedd and taught Watcyn, Gwydderig, Gwalch Ebrill, Meyrig Aman and Tegynys.
Some of his early work appeared in the poetry column of Y Gwalagarwr.
He would write while working in the colliery and in 1870, he married Mary Jones of Trap. His wife died 11 months later, just three weeks after giving birth to their daughter.
Terry Norm’s in-depth detailing of Watcyn’s life as translated from W. J Phillips’ article in Cwm Aman, includes a poem Watcyn wrote after the death of his wife. It reads:
“Do you remember,
When in the arms of love
We strolled across the meadow,
Tender talk of the one who would be left behind?
One of us now remembers,
Remembers every word
Yes, remembers and feels
And weeps alone.
In 1872, a concert was held by the people of Brynaman with the funding going towards getting Watcyn a formal education and he enrolled in the Tydvil Academy in Merthyr, run by his uncle Evan Williams.
Initially he wanted to become a colliery manager but his friends urged him to consider a career in the ministry and to start preaching. He moved to Carmarthen in 1875 learning Greek and Latin at Parc-y-Felfed Academy, followed by four years in the town’s Presbyterian College.
He would go on to marry his second wife, Anne Davies, during his time here. He also continued to write poetry and the money he would earn from this helped him through college.
He was unable to secure the ministry of a chapel on leaving college so turned to teaching where he was given a job at a school in Llangadog.
He didn’t stay there long and moved, along with some of his pupils, to set up a new school in Cross Inn (which we know today as Ammanford).
The school was called Hope Academy and was held in Ivories Hall in Hall Street in 1880. Two years later, the school moved to Gellimanwydd Chapel and then a former barn on Brynmawr Avenue.
In 1882, he would translate hymns sung in Evangelist meetings held by Americans Ira D. Sankey and Dwight L. Moody into Welsh, with a collection of them being published the same year in the first edition of Odlau’r Efengyl. Most of the hymns were adaptations of Sankey’s work.
During this period, he would win a number of eisteddfod chairs and crowns.
In 1881, he won the crown for pryddest on the theme of Bywyd at the Merthyr National Eisteddfod. In 1885, he won the chair in the Aberdare Eisteddfod on the theme Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd.
In 1888, he became headmaster of new school Ysgol Gwynfryn, which provided education to many ministers. He would remain in the post for the remainder of his life.
In 1893, he was awarded the crown at the World’s Fair Eisteddfod in Chicago for a poem centred on George Washington.
This was the last time he would enter a competition after being disappointed that he only received 100 dollars for this, when he was expecting the crown and 200 dollars.
He used his own work to make fun of the way the literary competitions were held, particularly in poem The Complaint of the Unsuccessful Competitor and in Plagiarism when he calls out some poets who would steal each other’s work.
Watcyn also wrote his own hymns which followed a similar pattern to Sankey’s and were an instrument of praise and inspiration.
He wrote a hymn which was published in the 1895 Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol to celebrate the centenary of the Missionary Society. The hymn was inspired by the breaking dawn he saw while in Newquay on holiday.
Watcyn wanted to see the harp returned to the stage and when the Eisteddfod committed decided to have the harp accompany sung verses at the 1889 Brecon National Eisteddfod, he responded to the challenge, creating compositions with verses sung by Eos Dâr.
The pair, alongside harpist John Bryant held talks all across Wales called ‘Evenings with the Harp’ after their music was well received at the Eisteddfod.
In 1895, he published a volume called Can a Thelyn, where he had his own free rein to show his satirical, humorist and storyteller ways through song.
He was outspoken and would attack the prejudices of the time, particularly on the lack of respect for Welsh in education and the fact Greek and Latin were promoted over the native tongue.
Watcyn was a pacifist and opposed the war in South Africa. He wrote a poem called Cadw’r Heddwch, translated as Keeping the Peace and spoke out about capitalism, poverty and distress.
He would also regularly contribute towards journals such as O.M. Edwards’ Cymru and periodicals Y Dywigiwr and Y Traethodydd.
In total, he published 35 books containing poetry, hymns, prose and song. He also translated Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare into Welsh.
He wrote two novels in partnership with Elwyn Thomas called Irfon Meredydd and Nansi, Merch y Pregethwr Dall.
In 1903, he preached the first sermon at Gwynfryn Chapel – which stood opposite the school he founded in 1888.
He was friends with a number of famous people including Sir John Rhys, Sir Edward Annwyl and Joseph Parry, who would regularly visit his Ammanford home.
Throughout his life, Watcyn suffered from ill health including severe shortness of breath, believed to have been caused by his time in the colliery.
In 1904, his condition worsened and he believed he would not fully recover as stated in a letter he wrote in February of that year.
By the end of 1904, his health had severely deteriorated but fellow poet and good friend Gwili would say: “his wit flowed despite the coughing and pain.”
He died on November 19, 1905 with old friend Gwydderig at his bedside. Thousands of people attended his funeral and he is buried in Gellimanwydd, Ammanford.
The words on his gravestone were written by Gwydderig: “The name of Watcyn Wyn is not seen – a day and he will have to be put in a shallow grave.”
Watcyn is still remembered to this day, with a school house called Watcyn when Amman Valley Grammar School became a comprehensive in 1970. He has a memorial plaque in Gwynfryn Chapel in Ammanford.