Robert Ralph (Rolfe) Williams AM

b. 16/10/1870 Llywnteg, Llanon, Wales. d. 26/07/1948 Llywnteg, Llanon, Wales.

DATE OF AM ACTION: 11/03/1910 Clydach Valley School, Glamorgan, Wales.

Robert R Williams AM

Born in 1870 in Llwyn-teg, Llan-non, Carmarthenshire, son of Thomas Williams, minister (Congl.), and his wife Mary. He was educated at Bryndu Elementary School, and the Copper Works School, Llanelli. In 1880 his father accepted the pastorate of Soar Chapel, Clydach Vale, Rhondda, and Robert became a pupil-teacher with Thomas Williams (‘Glynfab’), at the local school. He went to the University College, Cardiff (1892-94), before joining the staff of Ferndale Secondary School.

He returned to Clydach Vale in 1896 as headmaster of his old school. He was widely acclaimed for his heroic leadership on 11 March 1910, when he was largely responsible for rescuing all but five of the pupils caught in the school yard when it was flooded by water from a disused coal-level at the head of the valley. He was awarded the Albert Medal for his bravery. Later that year he was appointed headmaster of Llwynypia School before being promoted Inspector of Schools. His flair for administration was greatly appreciated when he effectively re-organised the Authority’s evening schools which catered for 20,000 students. In 1915 he became Assistant Director of Education for the Rhondda, and after World War I he increasingly concerned himself with the development of Welsh-medium education. In 1921, on his advice, five primary schools were designated bilingual schools. The Education Committee published his Report … on the teaching of Welsh in the bilingual schools of the Authority (1925) and recommended that Welsh be the medium of instruction in these infant schools; that all the senior departments be conducted on the bilingual plan; that Welsh be included in the curriculum of the Secondary Schools as a subject of instruction, and as a medium of instruction in some other subjects. In 1926 a scheme was published to cover the needs both of pupils and of non- Welsh speaking staff. That the Education Committee was fully supportive of this revolutionary language policy was manifested in 1927 when it appointed its author to be Director of Education. Unfortunately his strength was heavily taxed; he suffered a severe breakdown in 1931 and had to retire before his plans were fulfilled. By the mid-1930s the Education Commiteee’s enthusiasm for the Welsh language policy had waned and the scheme was dropped. The Council forfeited a unique opportunity to secure the rightful inheritance of the Welsh pupils attending the Valley’s schools, and also of leading the country in the field of bilingual education. Consequently, there developed during the 1930s a clear break in the linguistic pattern of Welsh -speaking families with the younger generation increasingly losing the mother-tongue. Some of those children, fifty years on, became the most fervid supporters of the Welsh-medium Schools Movement.

R.R. Williams was a Fellow of the Geological Society, was made an O.B.E. (1932), and awarded an honorary M.A. degree by the University of Wales (1933). He was an active and valuable officer of many of the county’s cultural societies. He married (1) at Cardiff, 7 December 1892, Esther John of Marian Street, Clydach, daughter of Benjamin John, collier; they had a son and two daughters. After their divorce he married (2) Rachel Anne Jones, Tonpentre (died 27 July 1970). He retired to Llwyn-teg, Llan-non. He died 26 July 1948 and was buried in Llwyn-teg (Congl.) cemetery.



On the llth March, 1910, Mr. Williams noticed a large volume of water rushing down towards his school—a dam having burst on the mountain side—and realising that the girls’ and infants’ departments of the school were in great danger, he at once gave instructions for the boys to be dismissed, and rushed to give warning to the other departments, but not before the approach to the front of these schools was entirely cut off by an immense volume of water. His only route was through a doorway between the playground of the two departments. He unlocked this door and shouted to the children playing in the yard to make their escape to the boys’ school yard, and one class escaped in this way. Mr. Williams afterwards opened the back doors of the girls’ department, which all opened inwards, and closed the front door. Mr. Williams then went to the infants’ department, having to wade through a current up to his armpits. He satisfied himself that there was no imminent danger provided the walls of the girls’ school could withstand the force of the water, and decided to take the girls to a slope near the back entrance of their school; but he found that the volume of water had greatly increased, and had burst in the front door and broken the lower parts of the windows. He succeeded, however, in entering the school and finally got all the children out safely, although the water inside the building was now fully four feet six inches in depth. While the last of the children were being rescued, a wall, eighteen yards long, ten feet high, and two feet three inches thick, which had formed a partial breakwater, was swept away, and the increased rush of water carried Mr. Williams out of the building, down a flight of steep steps, where he was severely bruised and narrowly escaped drowning. At the bottom of the steps he found about twenty girls struggling in six feet of water, and these he assisted to safety in the infants’ school yard. In the meantime, Mrs. Colville, an assistant teacher, and her class were caught in another corner of the yard, bounded by a high wall, which met the full force of the flood. She and the children were being whirled round by the torrent, but all were rescued by Mr. Williams, who, with a child in his arms, caught Mrs. Colville as she was sinking and being carried away. Valuable assistance was rendered by Mr. Matthew Lewis and other members of the school staff.





Allan Stanistreet – Images of Robert Ralph Williams and his Albert Medal.