Fighting for Wales Before the Foundation of Plaid Cymru

The history of the great poet, T.Gwynn Jones (1871-1949)

Review of the Welsh language biography ‘Byd Gwynn’ by Alan Llwyd

We have good reason to be grateful to the poet and author Alan Llwyd, who was brought up in the Llŷn peninsula and now lives in Morriston.  His awdl, a poem in strict metres on the subject Llif (stream, or flow) ensured that  the chair could be awarded this year, providing a real climax for the successful Llŷn and Eifionydd National Eisteddfod.

By now Alan Llwyd has established himself as one of Wales’ outstanding poets and writers.  His output is astonishing, both in quality and quantity , and includes a number of detailed biographies of Welsh poets, among them T. Gwynn Jones.

Today people remember T. Gwynn Jones as one of the leading poets of the twentieth century but he was much more – for decades a hardworking journalist, novelist, critic and adjudicator as well as a translator and linguist.  And a committed pacifist and a fiery nationalist. 

Alan Llwyd paints a detailed picture of his life from his upbringing in Denbighshire as son of a struggling tenant farmer. Although his family’s straitened circumstances ruled out university, Gwynn’s sheer talent ensured a career as a journalist in Welsh and English newspapers such as the Cymro and the North Wales Times.  But he also contributed substantially to the cultural life of Wales. At the age of 17 he published a poem in Y Faner in support of Welsh people’s fight against being forced to pay tithes to the established Church of England, and from then on he would occupy a key role in the literary life of his country. 

In 1902 he carried off the Eisteddfod Chair with his poem Ymadawiad Arthur, making purposeful use of the complex Welsh mode of cynghanedd to create a special effect; as Alan Llwyd explains, “not throwing consonants idly around without regard to the meaning of the words “.   In this respect, he was very different to many other poets , such as Hwfa Môn and Dyfed; and before long Gwynn would find himself in the middle of a fierce debate about poetic standards.  Critics would accuse him of resurrecting antiquated words that no-one understood, but Gwynn was more than ready to stand his ground and use his jounalistic skills to fight for rasising the standards of the Welsh language and experiment with new measures.

Cynghanedd, according to Gwynn, was the learned term for what ordinary people called a ‘cwlwm’, a knot or link.  As a schoolboy he came to know these links by ear before learning the rules, and coming to love them.

He succeeded in surmounting every obstacle,  moving from his ill-paid journalistic career to become a cataloguer and biographer in the National Library in Aberystwyth, and in 1919 a lecturer, and finally Professor of Welsh Literature in Univerity College, Aberystwyth.  Alan Llwyd also records Gwynn’s marriage and happy family life.

Gwynn became an accomplished linguist and translator in a number of European languages, and especially the Celtic languages.  He had learnt the Breton language before the visit in 1904 of the Celtic Congress to Caernarfon, and Gwynn played an active role as a member of the local organising committee.  Later on he set out to master Irish, seriously considering academic posts in Ireland.

Throughout his life T.Gwynn Jones was a convinced nationalist, but it is interesting to explore exactly what that meant during the course of his life. Gwynn’s father was a keen Liberal: he was forced to leave the farm at which he was tenant because of his opposition to the Tories during th ‘tithe war’ in rural Wales.  The young Gwynn also supported the Liberal cause, enthusiastically so during the period in the 1890s when the Cymru Fydd movement was campaigning for self-government. In 1903, he composed a poem in Welsh praising David Lloyd George, ‘our Dafydd of silver tongue, and a heart of fire’.

Disillusion with the Liberal Party followed the failure of Cymru Fydd and the support of many Liberal leaders for the First World War.  Gwynn was a lifelong convinced pacifist, and was profoundly disappointed by the ‘dogs of war’, politicians and ministers of religion who urged young people to go to their deaths in the slaughter.  As a socialist as well as a fervent nationalist, by 1918 he was attracted to the Labour Party, telling a close friend that he had (like DJ Williams) joined the ILP.

A verse from the awdl ‘Ymadawiad Arthur’ in T.Gwynn Jones’ writing

However, there was no question whose side he was on when the Easter Rising took place in Ireland in 1916: if England had the right to fight, then so did Ireland, he said.

In 1923, Gwynn chaired a meeting of the ‘Tair G’ (the three Gs, Y Gymdeithas Genedlaethol Gymreig or The Welsh National Society), one of the meetings that would lead to the formation of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru.  It is not known what was his reaction to the suggestion voiced at that meeting by Saunders Lewis to set up an ‘army’ of volunteers who would conduct military drill – it is unlikely he would have been in favour, and the idea found little support at the time.   Could that be one reason why, curiously,  there is no evidence that this convinced nationalist ever joined the nationalist party launched in 1925.  Indeed, some years later, he would admit that his friendship with one poet had cooled because of the latter’s support for Plaid Cymru.

By 1943 however, Gwynn was prominent among those who nominated Saunders Lewis as Plaid Cymru’s candidate in the University of Wales by-election, even though he was running against W.J. Gruffydd for the Liberal Party.  Gruffydd had been a close friend of Gwynn’s since his youth.

A great poet, and an emotional and complex character, T.Gwynn Jones stands out as a leading figure in the history of Wales, and his story is well worth remembering.

Dafydd Williams

From the Plaid Cymru History Society Newsletter Autum 2023



Celebrating the first Plaid Cymru Meeting

Friday 12 January 2024 Plaid Cymru met in Penarth to celebrate 100 years since the first meeting to establish the party.

Leanne Wood, Rosanne Reeves, Richard Wyn Jones, Gareth Clubb

Here are the contributions of Leanne Wood and Richard Wyn Jones at the start of the meeting.


Lively Kick-off for Centenary Celebrations

A series of events marking the foundation of Plaid Cymru nearly a hundred years ago got off to a lively start in Penarth on Friday 12 January 2024 at the Belle Vue Community Centre, Albert Crescent, Penarth. 

Plaid members and guests took part in an evening to celebrate the formation of a secret group, the Mudiad Cymreig or Welsh movement, one of the organisations whose fusion a year later led to the formal launch of the national party.

Those present at the meeting  on 7 January 1924 in Bedwas Place, Penarth, were Ambrose Bebb, Griffith John Williams, Elisabeth Williams and Saunders Lewis, the great poet, playwright and future leader of the party, who subsequently lived in Penarth from 1952 until his death in 1985.

Former Plaid leader and Rhondda Senedd Member Leanne Wood and Welsh Governance Centre Director Richard Wyn Jones led discussion of the last century of Plaid Cymru’s campaigning and its future prospects.

Leanne Wood paid tribute to all those activists who, although not prominent themselves,  had worked for Wales throughout the last century, especially the many women who had played a key role in building a nation.  This was echoed by Professor Richard Wyn Jones, who went on to analyse the circumstances that led to the launch of Plaid Cymru and the challenges and opportunities it now faces.

Their presentations in Penarth’s refurbished Belle Vue pavilion were followed by a lively discussion session – about Plaid’s future role as well as the party’s performance over the last one hundred years. 

There was a spirited debate about exactly when and where Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru came into existence: Richard Wyn Jones argued for Caernarfon in December 2024, but from the audience Gwenno Dafydd – one of three descendants of Ambrose Bebb present – put forward a powerful case for Penarth.  Officially, however, the centenary will be celebrated in August next year, the 100th anniversary of a meeting held in Pwllheli during the National Eisteddfod of 1925.

The event was organised by Plaid’s Penarth and Dinas Powys branch with the support of the Plaid Cymru History Society.  It was chaired by Gaeth Clubb

“We are delighted with the strong turnout for this highly successful evening, the first of a series of events which will trace the formation of Wales’ national movement a century ago” said History Society Chairman Dafydd Williams.





7pm Friday, 12th January 2024

Belle Vue Community Centre, Albert Crescent, Penarth, CF64 1BY

Entrance fee: £10 (concessions available)

Host:  Heledd Fychan,  Senedd Member (South Wales Central)

And in conversation:

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru Leader 2012-18

Richard Wyn Jones, Director, Welsh Governance Centre

Come and celebrate the centenary of this historic meeting: 

In January 1924, four Welsh nationalists met at 9 Bedwas Place, Penarth, and recorded their decision to create “Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru”: the National Party of Wales. A year later this led to the public launch of the new party at the 1925 National Eisteddfod in Pwllheli. Those present at the meeting in Bedwas Place were Ambrose Bebb, Griffith John Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Saunders Lewis, the great poet  and playwright and future leader of the party, who subsequently lived in Penarth from 1952 until his death in 1985.

Heledd will invite Leanne and Richard to discuss the past 100 years of Plaid Cymru’s existence and also look into the future, before opening up the event to questions and comments from the audience.

Tea/coffee and some Welsh savouries will be available for no charge.

For more information, please contact Cllr. Chris Franks at:

Saunders Lewis, Wales and Europe by Dafydd Wigley

The next three years will be crucially important for refining a model of independence relevant for Wales in today’s world.  In the wake of Brexit, Wales needs to protect its essential connection with the continent of Europe – the source of our values and civilisation, and the context of practical independence for our country. 

Nearly a century ago, the Plaid Cymru leader Saunders Lewis set out a vision of Wales in Europe.  The Plaid Cymru History Society is proud to publish in full the important lecture delivered by Dafydd Wigley during the 2023 Eisteddfod Llŷn ac Eifionydd National Eisteddfod – which shows that this vision is today more relevant than ever.  

Saunders Lewis, Wales and Europe

[In Memory of Emrys Bennett Owen,
who opened my eyes to his vision]


I am grateful to the Eisteddfod for being for this forum to re-examine ideas that are highly relevant to this period of time; and to thank Swansea University for inviting to deliver a lecture on the subject of “Saunders Lewis, Wales and Europe”. And today, it is appropriate to remember that it was in Pwllheli during the 1925 Eisteddfod that Saunders Lewis and five others came together to set up Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh National Party.

May I acknowledge my gratitude to the Uwch-Gwyrfai History Society for the opportunity of delivering the first version of this lecture, and pay tribute to the outstanding work of Geraint Jones, Marian Elias, Gina Gwyrfai and Dawi Griffith. And congratulations to Geraint on his gaining the T.H. Parry Williams award; an award he fully merits. Another lecture was presented to the Society last year by Ieuan Wyn, with the title of “Darlith Saunders a’i dylanwad” (Saunders’ lecture and its influence), which is available as a pamphlet – dealing principally with the impact of the radio lecture by Saunders Lewis, Tynged yr Iaith (the destiny of the language).

This morning, I wish to deal with another of Saunders Lewis’s lectures, the electrifying one he gave in Machynlleth in 1926, under the title Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb, or The Principles of Nationalism. To some of you, what I have to say will be neither new nor original; after all, I am a politician, not an author or a historian. But I feel passionately that Saunders Lewis’s vision, interpreting Wales in the context of Europe, is fundamental to the current project of securing an independent Wales; and I want to help the younger generation to appreciate Saunders Lewis’s leadership a century ago.

The next three years, which span the centenary of the lecture, will be crucially important for refining a model of independence that is relevant for this age. Especially so, as we consider – as we have to following Brexit – how Wales can protect its essential connection with the continent of Europe, the source of our values and civilisation, and the indispensable context for practical independence.

We also remember that Saunders was a University lecturer in Swansea between 1921 and 1936, before he paid the price for acting according to his conscience in September 1936 when the Bombing School was burnt, just three miles away from this place. It is good that the University has acknowledged its connection with this hero, in the words of Williams Parry, “the most learned in our midst”. And I thank Professor Daniel Williams for the Seminar he organised in 2011, which marks the 75th anniversary of the dismissal.

It is good also to recall that, earlier this year, an enormous rally calling for independence took place in Swansea, with six thousand in the procession – this at a time when the concept of independence has aroused the interest of over a third of the people of Wales. So it is right for us to consider once again the vision of Saunders Lewis. We don’t have to agree with every word he pronounced; and we have to remember that the Wales of 1926 was a very different place to the country we have today. At that time we did not exist politically: according to the index of Encyclopaedia Britannica, with its arrogant statement – “For Wales: see England”.

There was no Welsh Parliament, no Secretary of State, and no status for the Welsh language. That was the backdrop for Sounder’s revolutionary ideas, in the wake of the most bloody war ever seen by the world; a war where he as a soldier was wounded in the trenches in France; a war which, in name, was fought to protect small nations – but Wales, sadly, was not among them. But now, after four centuries of servility, here was this diminutive, frail man was daring to challenge it all, making Wales an essential part of the European continent, not the back yard of an arrogant and self-satisfied empire.

The Wales we have today would not exist but for the vision of Saunders Lewis: he cannot be ignored. This is evident in recent books, such as the work of Professor Richard Wyn Jones, who demolishes the completely groundless accusations of fascist tendencies by Saunders and Plaid Cymru. It is confirmed by Professor M Wynn Thomas, Swansea, in his volume Eutopia, which assesses the vision of Saunders Lewis. He is critical, in an objective way, but acknowledges that his vision remains “an interesting, brave and intellectually penetrating endeavour to frame a uniquely Welsh analysis of European affairs”. It is therefore appropriate to have a forum to examine the abiding significance of his European vision in this Eisteddfod.


Throughout the centuries, and during the times of Owain Lawgoch, Owain Glyndŵr, Gruffydd Robert, Richard Price, Emrys ap Iwan and Henry Richard, our link with Europe has been a key element of our identity as a nation. And today, when considering the significance of the European dimension for Wales it is impossible to do that without taking into account the standpoint presented to Plaid Cymru in its early days by its President.

During the period that followed the second world war, there was a tendency to scorn and belittle its political vision and beliefs; partly by Plaid Cymru’s political adversaries; and partly on account of the claim that its values and vision were relevant to another era – an era whose values were very different to those of our time. I shall try and answer that sort of accusation.

Saunders Lewis was just a name to me until I turned on the radio in February 1962. The programme had already begun, and so I was no wiser as to who was speaking. I was entranced by the unfamiliar, thin voice that was saying such great things, things you would never hear on the BBC! Who was talking, and what was the context? Yes, it was the lecture “Tynged yr Iaith” (The Destiny of the Language) – and quite by chance I was listening amazed in my bedroom in Manchester University.

I met Saunders Lewis only three times – the first occasion being at the time of the 1975 referendum 1975 on Britain’s membership of the European Common Market. I went to his home in Penarth in search of consolation at a time when Plaid Cymru – quite incredibly, to me – was campaigning against membership. Like me, he could not believe that the party was so short-sighted. A decade later, I had the unexpected privilege of bearing his coffin, along with Meredydd Evans, Geraint Gruffydd and Dafydd Iwan. I believe I was accorded this privilege because the European dimension is central to my politics, as it was for him; and that I was entranced by his vision of the rightful role of Wales – and the Welsh heritage – within the Europe’s cultural mainstream.


Saunders Lewis was born in 1893 in Wallasey, near Liverpool, the son of a Methodist Minister. I do not know at what age he became interested in our continent’s culture, but by 1912 he was studying French in Liverpool University; and this proved advantageous for him after he enlisted, as did so many of his fellow-students, in the army in 1914.

Saunders Lewis, at the time of the First World War,
as a subaltern in the South Wales Borderers 

By 1916 he was describing his life fighting in the trenches, but billeted in a French village fifteen miles behind the battlefield. In letters to his girl friend, Margaret Gilcriest, he described the experience of socialising with the local French people; and describing it as much more acceptable than the macho-masculine company of his fellow-soldiers. He wrote of the open and spontaneous nature of French people, and that this was in sharp contrast to the company of those in the trenches.

He says that returning to the front line was like going to another country – having to go back to the middle of Englishness; to English foul language and all the attitudes of “John Bull’s own ways of eating, drinking, and geing generally half a gentleman by effort, and half a Bull by nature and instinct.”  The company of French people, cheerful, open and without malice was quite different to life in the trenches where he had to live what he describes as “the boorish life of an English Squire”. There can be no doubt that these experiences confirmed his feeling that the Welsh had more in common with their cousins on the continent than with the values and attitudes of most of the people of England.


Saunders Lewis,
President of Plaid Cymru between 1926 and 1939


Saunders Lewis, from his early days as the leader of the National Party placed his political beliefs in the context of Europe. He made this quite explicit in his great lecture to the first Plaid Cymru Summer School in Machynlleth in 1926.

In the lecture, “Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb” (The Principles of Nationalism) – and I wish to quote a substantial passage to present it to a new generation – Saunders Lewis says as follows – :

5] “In medieval Europe, no one country …… claimed that its government within its own boundaries was the supreme and only authority. Every nation and every king recognised that there was an authority higher than state authority, that there was a law higher than the king’s law, and that there was a court to which appeal could be made from the State courts.

“That authority was the moral authority, the authority of Christianity. The Christian Church was sovereign in Europe, and Church law was the only final law.

“For a while Europe was one, with every part of it recognising its dependence, every country recognising that it was not free, nor had any right to govern itself as it pleased regardless of other countries. And Europe’s oneness in that age, its oneness in moral principle and under one law, protected the culture of every land and region.

“For one of the profoundest ideas of the Middle Ages, an idea Christianity inherited from the Greeks, was the idea that unity contains variety. There was one law and one civilisation throughout Europe, but that law, that civilisation took on many forms and many colours…..

 “Because there was one law and one authority throughout Europe, Welsh civilisation was safe, and the Welsh language and the special Welsh way of life and society. The idea of independence did not exist in Europe nor the idea of nationalism, and so no-one thought that the civilisation of one part was a threat to that of another, nor that a multiplicity of languages was inimical to unity.”

He goes on to ask:

“What, then, is our nationalism? This, …… a denial of the benefits of political uniformity, and a demonstration of its ill effects, thereby arguing in favour of the principle of unity and variety. Not a fight for Wales’ independence but for Wales’ civilisation.”  [I shall come back to that shortly!] “A claim that she should have a seat in the Society of Nations and European society by virtue of the value of her civilisation. ……. Europe will return when the countries recognise they are all subjects and dependent. …… So let us insist on having, not independence but freedom. And freedom in this affair means responsibility. We who are Welsh claim that we are responsible for civilisation and social ways of life in our part of Europe. That is the political ambition of the National Party.”

I do not want to split hairs about the word “independence”. It can have a variety of meanings for different people. The meaning of independence for UKIP was leaving the European Union; its meaning for the SNP is being able to join the European Union. Saunders himself said in his address to the Llanwrtyd Summer School in 1930: “We will go to Parliament …to reveal to Wales how we have to act in order to win independence.” [Y Ddraig Goch, September 1930]. If the greatest among us mix their diction, who are we to split hairs! It is the big concept that is important; and about that, there is no doubt and no confusion about where Saunders Lewis stands – securing for Wales “her place in the community of Europe by virtue of her civilisation.”

I have no time this morning to pursue the attractive red herring of asking “What is the value of the civilisation we possess in Wales today?” There are many people better qualified than myself to analyse that. Have a go! But I do believe that it is essential that we should advocate independence for a purpose; and that purpose should be to safeguard, develop, enrich, share and pass on what we regard as Welsh civilisation. And we should never forget that the natural home for our civilisation lies within the framework of Europe.

  1. Myrddin Lloyd, in his essay on the political ideas of Saunders Lewis, also refers to the theme of Europe, when he writes as follows:

“A nation’s foundations are therefore moral and spiritual; and its destiny does not rest on any form of complete independence; nor does its dignity require that. It can present itself to many sorts of relationships. And it can cope readily with many frustrations. One of its virtues is its freedom, and in the same way that people link themselves naturally together in families, and in various other societies, as they find themselves in association with their fellow-people, so nations by virtue of moral law acknowledge many relationships with each other.”

Myrddin Lloyd continues:

“In his attack on Fascism in 1934 (an important article that some choose to ignore) Saunders Lewis said that Fascism maintains that every individual belongs to the state , and that the claims of the State are unconditional. ‘The Welsh National Party maintains that the nation is a society of societies, and that the rights of smaller societies, such as the family, the locality, the trade union, the workplace, the chapel or church, are all worthy of respect.

“The State has no right to ride roughshod over the rights of these societies and there are also rights beyond the boundaries of the nation that every man and every country should respect.”

It is certain that the vision of Saunders Lewis is founded in part on the legacy that springs from Wales’s European roots. We should not think that commercial advantages of European unity are key to this vision; to the contrary. Material advantages are a secondary consideration; because Saunders set his vision on a spiritual rather than material foundations; and it is the European origin of this spiritual dimension that is important for him. This is seen in the Wednesday essays, when Saunders says as follows:

“The history of European civilisation – this is the history of a spiritual ideal …Tracing that ideal gives meaning to studying the history of Europe; it is that which gives Europe a unity.

There can be any number of influences on a country and its way of life. But what enters its life as a destiny, and decides its role in Europe’s heritage, is the particular moral ideal, the ideal first shaped by Greece. Greece is the starting point for our civilisation and the imprint of Greece remains upon it to this day.”

It is interesting to note the words of Patricia Elton Mayo, in her book “Roots of Identity: Adnabod y gwreiddiau”, where she wrote that as a author and dramatist recognised on the continent but unknown in England, Saunders Lewis emphasised the European context of Welsh civilisation, an obvious feature “before the English occupation isolated Wales from the mainstream of European cultural development”. This sort of perspective – springing from outside Wales, and recognising national developments in Wales as part of a European movement, reflects the viewpoint of Saunders Lewis, and sets it within a much broader context.

Saunders edited Y Ddraig Goch for years during the early phase of Plaid Cymru’s history. I shall be taking advantage of every opportunity to bring the European dimension to his analysis. For example, in the August 1929 editorial article that he wrote, under the title “Yma a thraw yn Ewrop: y lleiafrifoedd yn deffro” (“Here and there in Europe: the minorities awake”), he noted the national revival in Flanders, Catalunya, Malta, and Brittany and asks:

“What does all this prove? It proves that the minorities of Europe, the small countries that were swallowed up by larger ones during periods of oppression and centralisation of government, are now awakening in every part of our continent and are bringing a new spirit and ideal to European politics.”

Then he declares:

“The speciality and strength of Europe, in comparison with America, is the rich variety of her civilisation. ….If this is correct, our argument that the movement for self-government in Wales and in all the other countries benefits Europe and the world is also correct …..

“This European philosophy also drives leaders on the continent, …. who are seeking to lead Europe back from imperial materialism, from the short-sighted competition of the large centralised powers, to a new politics, a politics founded on a deeper understanding of the true nature and value of western civilisation.”

Saunders Lewis also sees self-government for Wales as part of establishing a better international order; an order that would aim at solving disputes by peaceful methods, not by fighting the bloody war that he witnessed in the trenches in France. His emphasis on developing international systems – and his repeated warnings that England would not wish to be part of such an order, provides the background for the politics of Gwynfor Evans, and for the stand taken by Adam Price against the Iraq War.

It is worth looking at this in detail, as the message is so relevant for our time, when England, once more, is turning its back on our continent and on the European Court of Justice. In his article “Lloegr ac Ewrop a Chymru” (Wales and Europe and England) in 1927 Saunders Lewis says:

“What is the foreign policy of England? Its guiding principle was set out finally and beyond doubt by Sir Austen Chamberlain (Britain’s Foreign Minister) in a meeting of the League of Nations in September. He said: ‘England belongs to a union of nations that is older than the League of Nations, which is the British Empire, and that if a collision occurs between the League of Nations and the Empire, then we have to back the Empire against the League of Nations.’”

It is relevant to remind ourselves that the Welsh Women’s “peace petition” collected in 1923, involved this very point – appealing to America to support the League of Nations as an essential foundation for building peace.

Saunders continues: “When Chamberlain said that, he spoke for England, not for his party …. Now, by virtue of this principle, England – unfortunately, we have to say Great Britain – although naturally and geographically and in part historically part of Europe and essential to Europe – nevertheless denies its association and its responsibility and leaves Europe today, as in 1914 and before, uncertain about its policy.”

Isn’t it incredible that we can say this, once more today? By failing to learn the lessons of history, we repeat the same mistakes. Last time this lead to fascism and to the 1939 war. God forbid we should experience that blood-stained lesson yet again.

Saunders goes on with this key statement, which did much to shape my own political convictions:-

“Bringing about political and economic unity within Europe is one of the foremost needs of our century. This is clearly seen by Europe’s small nations, and in order to ensure it they drew up the Protocol that binds countries to settle disputes by discussion and by law, and calls on all the other countries to unite and punish any country that breaks their commitment.”

To that end also, the small nations demanded that every country be bound to endorse a Permanent Court of International Justice, the aim of which was to get countries to accept the judgement of the Court on disputes between them and so avoid was.

“England refuses … because, as part of the Empire almost entirely outside Europe, she does not wish to attach herself to Europe …. She refuses … because the Government cannot ensure, if the court’s judgement were unfavourable to Britain, that it could be passed into law by a British Parliament; and secondly because the Government is sufficiently broad and strong to be able to defend its rights without depending on a court of law ……….”

Hasn’t this been clearly seen during the last seven years, by the attitude of supporters of Brexit towards the European Court of Justice?

Saunders’ essay continues:

“It can also be seen that England’s economic tendencies quite as much as her political tendencies, lead to war. The hope of political peace in Europe is to get Britain as an essential part of the European union of nations ….. But in Britain is there a European tradition? Is there here a nation that was an original part of the civilisation of the West, that thinks in the ways of the West, and can understand Europe, and be able to sympathise with her?  The answer is: Wales.

“The Welsh are the only nation in Britain that formed part of the Roman Empire … The Welsh can understand Europe because they are part of the family.”

Friends, It is from these roots that the national movement in Wales has grown; and woe betide us if we forget it. Wales’ national civilisation includes our cultural heritage – our language, our literature, our music, our fine arts. It also includes our values, such as the emphasis we place on our social legacy, on equality; on the value of society in its own right, and not just the value of the individual and the family alone; and on the element of cooperation, as families, as communities and as countries, to protect our interests.

This is the essence of the fundamental difference between the politics of Wales and the politics of England; and because the Welsh Labour Party insists on tying itself to the English Labour Party, it fails to develop a philosophy and a political programme based on our

Such was the meaning of independence when Plaid Cymru was set up; and that is why Gwynfor Evans wrote in the sixties, “It was stated (by Blaid Cymru) from its outset that its aim is freedom, not independence”. This was the case because of Plaid’s commitment to empower Wales to play its part in international institutions, such as the League of Nations; national values as the foundation for its policies within Senedd Cymru.

At this point, I come back to the matter of ‘independence’. In the 1920s the policies of the London parties rejected sharing power with international bodies in order to protect Britain’s ‘independence’, and after the war the United Nations; and later on, the European Union.

It was only at the turn of the century, when the terms of membership of the European Union were redefined so that membership of the Union was open to ‘independent states, that Plaid Cymru changed its policy to one of independence. I myself voted for that, accepting that the first thing that happens to a country becoming part of the European Union is that it sacrifices part of its independence. Saunders Lewis, I am sure, would rejoice that Wales was embracing this as an aim.

Saunders Lewis, of course, was no Marxist. He acknowledged the importance of small businesses and cooperative businesses. He was most critical of Soviet Communism – and as a result he attracted the antagonism of those, both Welsh and English, who based their politics on Marxist analysis. But that does not make him a capitalist; placing him on the political spectrum is not a binary choice. Saunders made quite clear his opposition to international capitalism in the first chapter of Canlyn Arthur: “It should be said at once and clearly, that capitalism is one of the principal enemies of nationalism.” In an essay in 1932 he says: “For the Welsh nationalist, the Trade Unions are institutions that are priceless, valuable and advantageous for establishing in Wales the sort of society we aim at.”

So I completely reject the allegation that he was on the political right wing.

The aim of the European Community, from its early days, was to promote free trade on condition it was within a social framework, and so create equal terms for workers in the various countries rather than leaving them at the mercy of the market. Not many in Britain had recognised this in 1975, at the time of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the ‘Common Market’. So the English commercial right wing were longing to join the new system where they could, in their opinion, rake in more private profit. By contrast, the English left responded by opposing Common Market membership.

But both right and left misunderstood the European vision – the ambition of creating a social European just as much as an economic Europe: The idea of ‘Social Europe’ became an essential part of the fight for a social chapter within the European Union. When Maggie Thatcher and her crew realised the civilised implications of this part of the vision, they quickly went into reverse! This is why by the time of Brexit, much of the right wing in England was fiercely opposed to the European Union; while progressive elements on the left were in favour.

I do not agree with every word that fell from the lips of Saunders Lewis. Some points, credible at that period of time, appear outmoded today. But the mainstream of his vision is wholly relevant.

Another article with a European theme in the volume Canlyn Arthur is that on Tomáš Masaryk and the national revival of Bohemia; and this is a reply to those critics who complained that Plaid Cymru at that time was only interested in the small Celtic countries. Masaryk succeeded in laying the foundation for the Czech Republic which today is an independent country. Masaryk, like Saunders Lewis, stressed the role of culture as one of the essential elements of the national community; and like Saunders Lewis he saw his country in a European framework and within European ideals.

   Saunders Lewis, with his fellow-defendants
Lewis Valentine and D.J. Williams
at the time of the Penyberth trials


In his important contribution to the book “Presenting Saunders Lewis”, Dafydd Glyn Jones, writing about “Aspects of his work: his politics”, notes:

“Canlyn Arthur assumes throughout that the nation is the normal form of society in Europe and the basis of modern civilisation….. To be, to exist, and to be recognised by other national communities as exosting, this, Sanders Lewis maintains, is the only way …… in which Wales can fully and creatively participate in wider community.

“That participation, moreover, is indispensable if self-government is to have any meaning …. A Welsh parliament is necessary not in order that Wales may retire into self-sufficiency, but so that she may recover her contact with Europe.”

According to Dafydd Glyn, one of the strongest influences on Saunders Lewis was the French Catholic scholar, Jacques Maritain. He was one of the French leaders who maintained that there was an alternative for French Catholics other than supporting the quasi-fascist movement Action Française.

Maritain’s ideals included individual freedom, the need for order within society and a new pluralism that avoided dictatorship and conservative laissez-faire. He was influential in the task of drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and he campaigned to draw attention to the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1936, he published the book “Integral Humanism” which is regarded as a work that inspired the Christian Democrat movement in Europe. He was a close friend of i Robert Schuman, the Foreign Minister of France, after the war – the person who could claim, before anyone else, to be founder of the European Union!

A valuable work on the importance of the ideas of Saunders Lewis about the essential relationship between Wales and Europe has been contributed by Dr Emyr Williams, who took a doctorate in Cardiff with his thesis on “The Social and Political thought of Saunders Lewis”.

Emyr Williams traces the influence of Maritain on Saunders; and cites Maritain’s conclusion that the concept of sovereignty is intrinsically wrong because “political authority arises from the people, the body politic, and does not descend from above. This is crucial in seeking to understand Saunders Lewis’ thought regarding the concept of sovereignty …”

I am indebted to Emyr Williams for his help and for being able to study his research work. Among his conclusions are the following:

  • The concept of a centralised European superstate is unacceptable to Saunders Lewis;
  • That his vision is based on the principles of federalism and subsidiary;
  • That his model for Europe is one of multilevel, plural governance;
  • That the element of national cultural continuity is an essential part of the European concept, and a central part of European identity.

According to Emyr Williams, “Saunders Lewis’ Catholicism and Francophilism (sic) was undoubtedly to inform his view of Welsh culture being part of a broader European Christian heritage; seeking to move Wales away from the parochial relationship with England and Britain, and seeking to engage it both culturally and politically with the wider world.”

Saunders Lewis acknowledges that he had been influenced by the work of Emrys ap Iwan – in particular by the book by T. Gwynn Jones on Emrys ap Iwan, described by Saunders as “One of those books that changes history and influences an entire generation, giving inspiration and direction to its thinking.”. Emrys ap Iwan, like Saunders Lewis drew much of his inspiration from France, and also from Germany where he had been a teacher. Emrys ap Iwan coined the term “ymreolaeth”, self-government; defining it in federal terms and using Switzerland as a model.

According to Saunders Lewis, the French philosopher and historian, Etienne Gilson, was one of the main influences on him; and Gilson himself was an authority on the work of Descartes, and cooperated closely with Jacques Maritain! Some say that it was his own awakening to the central importance of the European dimension brought Saunders Lewis to develop his political and national consciousness.

There was a time – in the sixties and seventies – when many within the national movement saw the European Union as an impediment to Welsh independence. In my opinion today – just as it was a century ago when Saunders Lewis was refining his vision of Wales – it is not Europe that threatens the future of Wales, or the values of Wales, but the imperialistic mentality of Westminster, which is as true today as it was in the days of Austen Chamberlain.

From our perspective today, what is important to remember is first of all, why did Saunders Lewis look to our European roots for inspiration? Cultural and religious reasons account for this, as our identity and culture spring from our European roots. Our values have developed from these roots, and for me this aspect is absolutely fundamental.

But there is also another most important reason why we should not give up on the task of uniting our continent; and we are reminded of this by the recent history of Ukraine. Some of us here today have relatives who suffered – or even lost their lives – in the two terrible wars fought between the nations of Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Let us never forget that people came together after the second war with the aim of creating a new, peaceful unity for our continent.

In conclusion, I return to the thesis of Emyr Williams – who underlines the fact that Saunders Lewis did not set national sovereignty in an independent state as the foundation of his Welsh nationalism. And this, say some political scientists, makes him unique for his period, and far ahead of his time. He is certainly not isolated in the mediaeval past, as his political enemies would have us believe.

Emyr Williams worked on his thesis partly because there had been no effort since the 1970s to reassess Saunders Lewis and his political ideas in the light of the massive changes of the last forty years, which by now include:

  • Britain’s entry into the European Union, followed by its regrettable departure;
  • the development of the European social chapter, the fall of communism and European reunification;
  • smaller countries achieving full membership of the European Union;
  • establishment of a legislative parliament for Wales;
  • laws that give official status to the Welsh language; and
  • growth in support for independence in Scotland and in Wales.

These all confirm the need to reassess the values and political message of Saunders Lewis.

Emyr Williams says of Saunders Lewis:

“Instead of viewing a place for the Welsh nation within a hierarchical British Empire, he sees a European political and economic union as necessary to the political vitality of the “small nations of Europe” in an egalitarian mould. The idea of a European union is therefore integral to his political thought.”

 The message comes in a sentence:

“The development of the European Union as well as of its inherent principle of subsidiarity and multi level governance therefore requires that Saunders Lewis’ thought be re-examined.”

And that is also my message today, from the platform of the Literary Pavilion, to look once more at the teaching of one of the greatest writers of Wales, one who shaped a vision for the Wales of today – whether in terms of language rights, relationship with our continent, social justice or what is vital for civilised nationhood and international order.

And if we are to use the next three years learning the lessons of the century that has passed since 1926, where better to start on the task than here in Llŷn and on the platform provided by the University of Swansea? And how better to conclude than with two poems by Williams Parry, the first to Y Gwrthodedig – the Rejected One:


Hoff wlad, os medri hepgor dysg,
Y dysgedicaf yn ein mysg
Mae’n rhaid dy fod o bob rhyw wlad
Y mwyaf dedwydd ei hystâd.


(Beloved land, if you can do without the learning
Of the most learned in our midst,
You must among every country
The most blessed of all.)


And again, from Y Cyn-ddarlithydd, the Former Lecturer:

“Y Cyntaf oedd y mwyaf yn ein mysg
Heb gyfle i dorri gair o gadair dysg
Oherwydd fod ei gariad at ei wlad
Yn fwy nag at ei safle a’i lesâd.”


(The first was the greatest among us
With no opportunity to speak a word from the chair of learning
Because his love of his country
Was greater than of his position or his well-being.)


Diolch yn fawr.

Editor’s Note

This is a translation from Welsh of the lecture delivered by Dafydd Wigley at the 2023 National Eisteddfod at Boduan near Pwllheli. Where possible, previous received English-language versions have been used in rendering direct quotations, notably the translation by Dr Bruce Griffiths of Saunders Lewis’ Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb – Principles of Nationalism published by Plaid Cymru in 1975 on the occasion of the party’s Silver Jubilee. I have translated other passages. I have also made use of the work of D.Hywel Davies and Emyr Williams. I am grateful to them, and also to D.Hywel Davies for his practical help.

Dafydd Williams


The Welsh Nationalist Partty 1925-1945: A Call To Nationhood. D.Hywel Davies (1983) Cardiff. University of Wales Press.

Saunders Lewis: Letters to Margaret Gilcriest. Edited by Mair Saunders Jones, Ned Thomas and Harri Pritchard Jones (1993) Cardiff. University of Wales Press.

Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb – Principles of Nationalism. Saunders Lewis (1975) Plaid Cymru. Printed originally in 1926 by Ryan Jones, Argraffydd, Machynlleth.

The Social and Political Thought of Saunders Lewis, Emyr Williams. A dissertation submitted at the School of European Studies, Cardiff University, in candidature for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Cardiff University.  June 2005.

Social and political thought of Saunders Lewis. -ORCA (

Penyberth – New Research on Old Bailey Switch

New research reveals that the controversial transfer of the Penyberth Bombing School trial from Wales to London was engineered by a local police chief rather than the Westminster government.

Three of the Plaid Cymru’s leading members, Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and DJ Williams were imprisoned following the burning of the bombing school under construction at Penyberth near Pwllheli in September 1936.

The move of the trial to the Old Bailey came after a jury in Caernarfon had failed to find the Three guilty of committing the damage and caused a major furore in Wales.  Former Prime Minster David Lloyd George was one of many who blamed the government of the day – “They crumple when tackled by Mussolini and Hitler, but they take it out on the smallest country in the realm,” he said, “This is the First Government that has tried Wales at the Old Bailey.”

Now freshly published research by law expert Keith Bush finds that pressure for the move originated with the then Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire Police, Edward Williams rather than London government ministers.

Mr Bush, Senior Fellow in Welsh Law at the Wales Governance Centre,  shows that just twelve days after the first trial in Caernarfon, the Chief Constable wrote to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions urging them to move the case out of Wales

To demonstrate his concern, he sent a copy of the panel of he had marked to show which jurors had been prepared to find the Three guilty and which were not – seven for guilty and five against.  This evidence of the deep division in the jury, together with the atmosphere outside and inside the court during the trial, made it necessary in his view to shift the trial out of Wales to the Old Bailey: the outcome of the case had given “a great stimulus to the Party and it is said by them that a similar result will happen again if the defendants appear before a Welsh jury”.

However, such was the strength of objections that the Attorney General looked for another option, admitting that he had not anticipated that the idea of moving a case from Wales to England could be so controversial.  Prosecution lawyers offered the Lord Chief Justice an alternative, that of holding a second trial somewhere else in Wales, with Cardiff suggested; but by then it was too late, as the only application before the Court was for the case to be moved from Wales to London.

The research was revealed in a lecture delivered by Mr Bush at the National Eisteddfod at Boduan near Pwllheli, organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society.  It also examines other legal aspects of the Penyberth case, including treatment of the Welsh language by the judge at the first trial,

It is now published in Welsh and English on the website of the Plaid Cymru History Society,

Picture:  Painting of the Penyberth Three by Ifor Davies, exhibited in the National Eisteddfod main arts centre Y Lle Celf this year


Legal Aspects of the Penyberth Case

Thursday 10 August at the Eisteddfod in Boduan, a lecture was given by the barrister, author and academic, Keith Bush, who is a Fellow of Welsh Law at the Wales Governance Centre.

Legal Aspects of the Penyberth Case

(Lecture delivered by the author (as “Agweddau Cyfreithiol Achos Penyberth”) on behalf of the Plaid Cymru History Society at the National Eisteddfod, Boduan, August 2023)

The Penyberth case

On 19th January 1937, at the Old Bailey in London, Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and D. J. Williams (“the Three”) were found guilty of property damage, contrary to sections 5 and 51 of the Malicious Damage Act 1861. They were sent to jail for 9 months. The basis of the charge was that the Three had “unlawfully and maliciously” burned buildings and materials on land that had been part of Penyberth farm near Penrhos, Llŷn but was now being converted into a Bombing School for the RAF. The action was part of a campaign against the Bombing School led by Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist Party), of which the Three were leading members. Saunders Lewis had been its President for ten years, succeeding Lewis Valentine in that capacity. From the outset, the Three intended to take responsibility for the damage so that the ensuing court case could be used as a platform for the campaign and for the Party as a whole.

The social and political aspects of the Penyberth case have been discussed at length and in detail over the last eighty-seven years. But today I want to focus on its legal aspects, and in particular on the decision, after a jury in Caernarfon had failed to find the Three guilty of committing the damage, to move the case to the Central Criminal Court in London.   


The story of the burning itself is told in a number of volumes, including “Tros Cymru”, the autobiography of J. E. Jones, then Secretary of the Welsh National Party, “Valentine”, a biography of Lewis Valentine by Arwel Vittle, and “O Gwmpas y Tân” the autobiography of O. M. Roberts.

A thorough and detailed treatment of the court cases, is given in “Tan yn Llŷn”, published in 1937, by the 25-year-old barrister, Dafydd Jenkins (afterwards Professor Dafydd Jenkins) and I am deeply indebted to his work. But I have also been able to draw on sources about the case that were not available when “Fire in Llŷn” was written and which take us behind the scenes of the legal process. 

The start of the process

The legal process began at about half an hour after two in the morning, Tuesday 8 September 1936, when the Three walked into the Pwllheli police office and asked to see the chief police officer for the area, Superintendent William Moses Hughes. When Constable Preston, the policeman on duty, asked what justified rousing Superintendent Hughes from his bed, Lewis Valentine replied, “Mae Penyberth ar dân” (“Penyberth is on fire”).

That was enough to cause the Constable to call the Superintendent. When he arrived, Saunders Lewis gave him a letter, signed by all Three, which “acknowledged our responsibility for the damage done to the Bombing Camp buildings this night, September 7.” (Note that the document is dated on the basis that the attack would take place before, and not after, midnight.)

Chief Constable

The Three’s letter was specifically addressed to the Chief Constable of the Caernarfonshire Police, Edward Williams and after the Three had been arrested and placed in the cells, Superintendent Hughes telephoned the Chief Constable to inform him of what had happened. Chief Constable Williams receives little attention in the various histories written about the Penyberth case. But, as will become clear, his role in it was, in fact, an absolutely pivotal one. Edward Williams was a native of Llanllechid near Bethesda and the son of a quarryman. He started his career as a policeman in London, before returning to Caernarfonshire and working his way up to become head of police there. On the face of it, he was on good, even warm terms, with party representatives in Caernarfon, including J. E. Jones, whose office was in the town, and the Party’s solicitor, E. V. Stanley Jones, who had a practice there.

The Chief Constable was certain that Party officials were in over their heads in the attack on the Bombing School premises – a perception which was, of course, absolutely correct. Although the Three were the “A Team” that lit the fire, the buildings and materials hat were set on fire had already been doused with petrol by the “B Team” of four other Party members, led by J. E. Jones himself. But the Chief Constable did not have enough evidence to prove the direct involvement of other Party members in the act, which, not surprisingly caused him professional frustration. But his hostility and contempt for the National Party went far beyond that, and he already had a desire, when the opportunity came, to restrain its activities, as he explained to the prosecution lawyers. He described the Party as “a noisy clique (which) needs checking”. Membership included the kind of person the Chief Constable did not think very highly of: “It is mainly composed of Ministers of the Gospel, School Teachers, College Students and Members of the Nonconformist Body”. It had, in his view, no right to speak for Wales.


Something that still irritated him was what happened on St David’s Day 1932 when J. E. Jones and three other young men, two of them trainee lawyers, went to the top of the Eagle Tower at Caernarfon Castle, pulled down the Union Jack that was waving there, and raised the Red Dragon instead. He had failed, moreover, to find justification for prosecuting them. But that small success, in his view, was enough of a threat to the constitutional order that he brought the matter to the attention of the Security Service (MI5). He believed the incident had been an encouragement to the Party to risk direct action on a much more ambitious scale. When he received the news from Pwllheli, therefore, it did not surprise him. And he saw it as an opportunity to take that effective action against the National Party which he thought was necessary. 

The Director of Public Prosecutions

Until the establishment of the Crown Prosecution Service in 1986, responsibility for carrying out prosecutions in the courts fell on local police forces, using either their own legal department or, particularly in rural areas, by employing firms of private solicitors. But there was a specialist central office in London, that of the Director of Public Prosecutions (or “DPP”), which was available to take over complex, sensitive or particularly serious prosecutions. Taking into account the political implications of what had happened in Penyberth, the Chief Constable arranged for his officers to contact, immediately, the DPP’s officers in order to warn them that he intended to ask them to conduct the and in order to seek their advice about the appropriate charge to bring against the Three. The DPP’s office advised that police should gather as much evidence about the incident as they could and to send them a full report as soon as possible. They should formally charge the Three, meanwhile, with an offence of doing damage to property contrary to section 51 of the Malicious Damage Act 1861, explaining to the local Magistrates, when the Three were brought before them, that more serious charges were likely to follow. The Three were represented before the Magistrates at Pwllheli, that afternoon, by E. V. Stanley Jones. The case was adjourned until the following week and the Three were released on bail.

The Chief Constable sent the fruits of police enquiries, including statements describing the nature and value of the damage in detail, to the DPP’s office two days later, confirming, at the same time, his request for that office to take over the prosecution. He suggested, though, that it would be appropriate for the DPP to work with local lawyers. But he warned the DPP against seeking help from those lawyers who would normally carry out prosecutions for the police in the Llŷn and Eifionydd area, namely Alderman William George, brother of David Lloyd George, the former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Caernarfon Boroughs. The Chief Constable’s reason for avoiding William George was because, “his sympathies lean towards the Nationalists” – a trend highlighted, in the Chief Constable’s view, by a speech made by William George at a meeting of Caernarfonshire County Council on 8th September.  He added that Wiliam George was also in partnership with his son, W. R. P. George, one who was “one of the four young men who pulled down the Union Jack from the flag pole at Caernarvon Castle on St. David’s Day, 1st March 1932; one of the others was Mr E. V. Stanley Jones, Solicitor, Caernarvon, who acts for the defendants in this case.”

The Chief Constable, in his letter to the DPP, stressed that he saw the attack on Penyberth as a real threat to law and order. He had heard that three other Party members had already been chosen, if the Three were sent to jail, to step into their shoes and to attack the site again, so as to prevent the completion of the Bombing School.

A witness for the Air Ministry had assessed the cost of the damage caused to its property by the fire (including the destruction of a number of wooden buildings) at £2355 (equivalent to around £120,000 today) plus further damage worth £300 (£15,000) to equipment personally owned by the workers. The DPP decided, therefore, that it was appropriate to charge the Three with an additional, more serious offence of setting on fire buildings belonging to the Crown, contrary to section 5 of the 1861 Act. After hearing the evidence of the prosecution (which was not challenged by the defendants) the Pwllheli justices, when the case came before them again on the 16th of September, decided to commit the Three, on bail, to stand trial at Caernarfon Assizes, which were due to commence on 13th October. Getting the case before a jury was exactly what the Party wanted, of course.  

Preparing for the Assizes

Looking forward to the Assizes, the Assistant DPP, Arthur Sefton Cohen, wrote to Chief Constable Williams on the 28th of September to request specific information. Mr Sefton Cohen had clearly taken seriously the Chief Constable’s warnings that the offence was part of a campaign of purposeful law-breaking on the part of the Party and realised that its members or supporters might be chosen to be members of the jury that would decide the case. He questioned whether the Chief Constable had reason to believe the trial would not be fair. He added: “I should also like to know if it is possible for you to obtain a copy of the jury panel before the trial and to let me have it together with your observations upon anyone on the panel so that I may instruct counsel as to whether a challenge should be made to any particular juror.”

It was the custom, at that time, for the High Sheriff to publish, before each Assizes, a list of prospective jurors – the “panel” – from which the jurors for each case would be selected. Police would check the panel names to see if someone who was disqualified from serving had been included on it by accident or if there was anyone on it who had personal links with a defendant or witness. Interfering with jury composition on the basis of jurors’ political charges could be something much more controversial, of course, if it came to light.  But the Chief Constable had portrayed the Party as some sort of extremist cell – nothing more than a “noisy clique”. His general advice to the DPP was, therefore: “There   is strong feeling of sympathy for the defendants amongst the Party, comprising mainly of students, school teachers, Non-conformist ministers and a fair number of quarrymen. It is difficult to express an opinion as to whether the trial is likely to be a fair one. As far as I have been able to scrutinise the panel  of jury, apart from my remarks thereon, I am of the opinion that the jury will be guided by the evidence.”

What then were the comments he made on individual prospective jurors? 56 prospective jurors were summoned to come to the Assizes but three of them were excused due to illness and so on. Of the remaining 53, the Chief Constable advised that four were “sympathiser(s) of the Party” and another was “An active leader in the Welsh Nationalist Party”. That was a reference to the first name on the list, one Willam Ambrose Bebb. As everyone knew that Ambrose Bebb was one of the most prominent members of the Party and had worked closely with Lewis Valentine no one would have been surprised to see him excluded from the jury that was to hear the case. But in the event, he was not chosen and neither were any of the other four whom the Chief Constable believed to be Party supporters. The prosecution did not have to decide, therefore, whether they should exclude jurors on the basis of their perceived political opinions.

Caernarfon Assizes

The Judge who was to visit Caernarfon in October 1936 was the Hon. Sir Wilfred Hubert Poyer Lewis, who was born in London but of Welsh descent. His grandfather was a Pembrokeshire priest who was promoted to be Bishop of Llandaff and although Mr Justice Lewis was educated at Eton and Oxford he had started his career as a barrister in Cardiff and served in a Welsh regiment during the Great War. He did not speak a word of Welsh, of course, and it was the first time, since being appointed a judge the year before, that he had administered justice in North Wales.

The legal position at the time was that the court had to be held  in English, including the official recording of the evidence. But the judge had a discretion to  permit a witness or party to speak Welsh if justice demanded it, with ad hoc  arrangements being made to interpret from Welsh to English. By the 30s, a growing trend had been noted on the part of some Judges, particularly those not accustomed to sitting in Wales, to refuse to allow the use of Welsh by those who appeared to be able to speak English. No one knew what Mr Justice Lewis’s attitude would be when, as everyone expected, the Three claimed to defend themselves in Welsh.

The defence’s strategy was that the burden of presenting the Three’s case would fall largely on the shoulders of Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine. It was decided that they would represent themselves, while D. J. Williams would be represented by a 30-year-old barrister, a native of Mountain Ash, Herbert Edmund Davies (afterwards Lord Edmund-Davies).

Edmund Davies’ role in the case was very limited but the Party felt it would be advisable to have someone on hand to keep an eye on legal and procedural questions – a wise decision as Edmund Davies had to remind the judge of the defendants’ rights to challenge jurors. E. V. Stanley Jones, was there, of course, and another solicitor was also employed, to assist with the defence, Mr H. Cornish of the firm of Thompson’s of London. The Three’s legal representation was paid for out of a special public fund collected for the purpose. The prosecution was led by W. N. Stable KC, one of the stalwarts of the North Wales and Chester Circuit, who divided his time between London and Plas Llwyn Owen, Llanbrynmair.

In the same way that the prosecution had scanned the list of prospective jurors to see who was likely to favour the defence, the defendants and their advisers had been considering challenging the jurors who they thought would be least likely to sympathise with their case. They chose to do so largely on the basis of the linguistic background of the prospective jurors.  Five non-Welsh prospective jurors were removed, and a further five were chosen to replace them, all of whom were Welsh-speaking. The Judge referred to this process, the exercise by the defendants of an undoubted right they had under the law, as a “farce”, making that criticism of the defendant’s conduct in the presence of the jurors, of course. 

 The evidence

The Three did not dispute any part of the prosecution’s evidence other than the story of the night watchman, David William Davies, that two men (whom he had been unable to identify) had assaulted him during the raid on Penyberth. The Three denied there was any truth in this and asserted that there was no sign of Mr Davies on the premises when they were there. Although no charge of assaulting Mr Davies had been formally made against the Three, and the evidence on the point was therefore technically irrelevant, it was unavoidable that they should spend time denying Mr Davies’s account, for fear that the jury would believe that the Three had been violent towards him.

Although Mr Justice Lewis had been reluctant, at first, to let the Three speak Welsh because he was confident they were fluent in English, he had, by the end of the prosecution’s evidence, had an opportunity to reconsider. He allowed the Three, in presenting their defence, to do so in Welsh, with their words translated, sentence by sentence, by Mr Gwilym T. Jones, a trainee solicitor from Pwllheli (who subsequently became Clerk of Caernarfonshire County Council and a leading member of the Gorsedd). But while the Judge eventually adopted a more conciliatory attitude towards the use of Welsh, it was his initial hostility, it seems, that has remained in the public memory.  

The Three, when questioned, admitted that they had lit the fire at Penyberth. At the conclusion of both sides’ testimony, there was, therefore, no doubt that the Three had set the site on fire. They did not claim to have any legal authority to do so. What, then, was their defence?

Addressing the Jury

On behalf of D. J. Williams, Edmund Davies limited himself to reminding the jury that, ultimately, they had the right to decide whether the Three were guilty or not. Lewis Valentine made an address laying out the pacifist argument against the Bombing School. He tried to convince the jury that the plan was contrary to the moral law since aerial bombardment was an extremely inhumane method of warfare. He argued that the practice should be banned by international treaty rather than promoted. He asked the jury to place the moral law above English law.  Saunders Lewis’s argument was based largely on nationalist considerations, emphasising the Government’s unwillingness to listen to Wales’ opposition, as a nation, to a project that would harm Welshness and endanger peace. He endorsed Lewis Valentine’s call on the jury to acquit them, placing national and Christian principles above law. The Judge repeatedly interrupted Lewis Valentine’s and Saunders Lewis’s addresses, claiming that their arguments were irrelevant and that only “English law” counted. He made the same point in his instructions to the jury.  The only question the jury should consider, according to Mr Justice Lewis, was whether they were certain that the Three had set fire to the site, contrary to English law.

The prosecution clearly did not anticipate any difficulty in obtaining a verdict of guilty from the jury. The Chief Constable had advised that the Party’s supporters were a very small group and none of those whom he believed to be their sympathisers had been selected to be on the jury. Prosecuting counsel W. N. Stable had been asking around Wales about attitudes towards the Three and his finding, which he shared with DPP officials, was that “Public Opinion is dead against the men, it seems, except for a very small minority.”

Jury fails to agree

But after considering their verdict for only three-quarters of an hour, the jurors returned to court and reported to the Judge that they were unable to agree on a verdict, with the divide so deep that it would be futile to spend more time discussing. As it was not possible, in those days, for a jury to reach a verdict on any basis other than unanimity, Mr Justice Lewis had to adjourn the case until the next Assizes in the new year, and he released the Three, once again, on bail.

The crowd outside the court had already been singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, disrupting, at times, proceedings inside but, as it became known that the jury had been unable to agree, the singing broke out even more strongly. Already, copies of Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine’s speeches to the jury, in the form of the pamphlet “Paham y Llosgasom yr Ysgol Fomio” (“Why We Burned the  Bombing School”) were on sale on the streets of Caernarfon for 3 pence each.




Shocking news

The jury’s unwillingness to find the Three guilty was seen as a major victory for their case. The Party envisaged that the same outcome would be repeated when the case came before the next Assizes and that the prosecution would ultimately have no option but to drop the charges against the Three. The Plaid began organising public meetings across Wales to support them.  But at a meeting of the Party’s Executive Committee on the 31st of October there was a startling report from J. E. Jones, “(W)e have received information, from someone claiming to be close to its source, to the effect that the Crown is closely watching the situation in Wales in order to determine whether it would make a request for the case to be moved to London, and that we should keep as silent as mice lest we cause this to happen. This puts us in a pickle. We would not, by giving the country an opportunity to show its enthusiasm for the three, to want to cause the case to go to London and for  all three to go to jail. On the other hand, it was necessary to rise up strongly against the Bombing School.”

The implications of transferring the case to London,  a move which, with the consent of the High Court, was allowed under the Central Criminal Court Act 1856, were inescapable, The strategy of making the case the centrepiece of the campaign in Wales against the Bombing School would be seriously undermined and there would be no chance of a jury in London refusing to convict the Three.

The question of applying to the High Court to move the case to London was discussed on the 12th of November, with the Attorney General, Sir Donald Somervell KC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Edward Tindal Atkinson and the prosecution’s counsel, W. N. Stable KC, all present. It was decided to proceed with an application and there were hearings before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, Mr Justice Swift and Mr Justice McNaghten at the High Court in London on Monday November 23rd and Monday 7th December.

The prosecution was represented by the Attorney General himself and such was the importance of resisting the move, in the Party’s view, that it enlisted the service of one of the most prominent (and costly) barristers of the day, Norman Birkett KC, to try to do so.

Norman Birkett KC

But he did not succeed. There was no doubt that the Three had set fire to Penyberth deliberately and without legal authority. The defendants had confessed and even taken pride in the deed. They had urged the jurors to decide the case on grounds other than principles of law. The proceedings took place in an emotional atmosphere, with the crowd outside singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau so loudly that it was difficult, at times, to hear what was being said inside the court. The addresses of two of the Three had been published and were on sale immediately after the conclusion of the hearing. And supporters of the Three had been urging any who might be chosen, next time, to be jurors to follow the example of the original jury and refuse to find them guilty. There was, therefore, sufficient evidence to support the prosecution’s argument that, if the case were to be heard again in Caernarfon, the jury would be placed under exceptional pressure which could influence their decision. As the High Court recognised no constitutional principle that Welsh people should stand trial in front of a jury of their fellow countrymen, it was inevitable that the Court would agree that the objectives of justice (the relevant legal test) justified moving the case to the Central Criminal Court, as the 1856 Act allowed. 

Wales’ reaction to the decision to move the case to London

By the time the application was finally decided by the High Court it had already drawn a hornet’s nest on the head of the Government. The newspapers received piles of letters accusing the Government of undermining the rights of the Welsh by depriving the Three of their right to lay their case before a jury of their fellow countrymen, in their own country and in their own language.     

Criticism of the decision to move the case was not limited to those who had supported the Three’s opposition to the Bombing School. Local MPs David Lloyd George and Goronwy Owen had kept their heads down quite successfully during the campaign, with Lloyd George, as the Prime Minister responsible for setting up the RAF, reluctant to condemn the principle of improving its efficiency. But his reaction to the decision to move the case to England was scathing: “I think this is a piece of unutterable insolence, but very characteristic of the Government. They crumple when tackled by Mussolini and Hitler, but they take it out on the smallest country in the realm…. This is the First Government that has tried Wales at the Old Bailey.” A wave of protest against the intention arose from Welsh MPs from all parties, and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, had to receive a delegation that included prominent figures such as Goronwy Owen, Gwilym Lloyd George and Clement Davies from the Liberals and Robert Richards, Wil John, William Jenkins and Aneurin Bevan of the Labour Party.  (Lloyd George himself was on his way to the Carribean but sent a message supporting the opposition.)



In response to a Parliamentary question by Robert Richards, Labour Member of Parliament for Wrexham, the Attorney General tried to distance himself and the Government from the decision. “Facts were brought to my notice which, in my view, made it my duty to apply to the Court for the transfer to the Central Criminal Court on the grounds that such transfer, in the wording of the Act of Parliament, was “in the interests of justice””.

The Old Bailey

As it would be futile to try to convince the Old Bailey jurors of the correctness of the arguments presented at Caernarfon, the Three did not bother to make any addresses to the jury at the conclusion of their evidence there and were found guilty by the jury without them even leaving the court to discuss the matter. Another wave of protest ensued, with Professor W. J. Gruffydd, who had by now become one of the Party’s vice-presidents, declaring in the Western Mail that the Government had struck a fatal blow to the idea of impartial English justice and, thereby, destroyed “the only decency left in the English in the eyes of modern Welshmen.”

What was behind the decision to move the case to London

Despite the Government’s argument that moving the case to London had been inevitable in the interests of justice, the version of the decision that has been accepted by the national movement and by many others in Wales, is that it was a politically oppressive move. It was believed to have been taken by the Government in London in order to punish the people of Wales for being so presumptious as to challenge the authority of the state.  But is that entirely true? Or is there another interpretation which is more complex and perhaps less comfortable for us Welsh. 

On 25th October 1936, twelve days after the first trial in Caernarfon, Chief Constable Edward Williams wrote to the DPP with his comments on what had happened. Bearing in mind his goal of using the case to restrain the Party, and his view that it was nothing but a noisy clique, what had happened was a disaster, and the last thing he wanted to see was the same thing happening again. To demonstrate to the DPP that very decisive steps had to be taken to avoid this, he attached a copy of the panel of prospective jurors which he had marked to show which jurors had been prepared to find the Three guilty and which were not – 7 for guilty and 5 against (none of the five, by the way,  had been on the police list of Party supporters).

This clearly showed how divided the jury had been. It had not been a case of one or two stubborn individuals. The origin of his knowledge of jury deliberations was what he described as “discreet enquiries” among them. Although such enquiries were not illegal at that time, the public reaction to the police’s interest in jury proceedings would probably not have been favourable, particularly bearing in mind the political implications of the case, which explains why the enquiries had to be “discreet”. It is worth noting that one of those named as refusing to find the Three guilty was the jury foreman, John Harlech Jones of Criccieth. His attitude had hardly been a secret as he had been winking at Lewis Valentine during the hearing and had sought him out that evening in order to assure him that he had been one of his supporters. 

As well as referring to the deep division in the jury, the Chief Constable, in his analysis, emphasised the atmosphere outside and inside the court during the trial. A crowd had gathered in support of the Three who, according to the Chief Constable, included “Students from Bangor University, female School Teachers (and) unemployed quarrymen from outside Caernarvon” – all of whom, he believed, were supporters of the Welsh Nationalist Party. The outcome of the case had given “a great stimulus to the Party and it is said by them that a similar result will happen again if the defendants appear before a Welsh jury”. The jury’s failure to reach a decision was, he believed, “(a) challenge to the Law of England”. He finished by expressing the view that “that a fair trial cannot be obtained here and that the trial should take place if possible at the Old Bailey”.

Responsibility for moving the case

We see, therefore, that it was not the prosecutor, nor the Director of Public Prosecutions nor the Attorney General who made the original suggestion that the case be moved from Caernarfon to London but the Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire, Edward Williams.  The move of the case out of Wales and to London was necessary, according to him, to secure a “fair trial”, a concept which, in the Chief Constable’s view, meant one that hindered the development of the Nationalist Party. 

And, having regard to the response of the DPP and the Attorney General to his suggestion, it is clear that the Government did not share the Chief Constable’s view that a fair trial would not be possible before any Welsh jury. Such was the strength of the objection raised against the application to move the case to London that the Attorney General looked for another option, admitting that he had not anticipated that the idea of moving a case from Wales to England could be so controversial. At the end of the final hearing in front of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Donald Somervell rose to make it clear that the prosecution would be satisfied if the case was moved not to the Old Bailey but rather to somewhere in Wales other than Caernarfon. He suggested Cardiff as a possibility. But by then it was too late. As Lord Hewart pointed out, the only application before the Court was for the case to be moved to London. As the evidence showed that, in his view, the interests of justice would be better served in London than in Caernarfon he did not feel he needed to consider any alternative.

It is clear, therefore, that the impetus for moving the Penyberth case from Caernarfon to London originated not in Westminster but in the office of Edward Williams, Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire. One must ask how someone whose salary was paid by the people of Caernarfonshire could be so willing to deprive them of the right to administer justice in their own county? The answer, I think, is that he saw his function as Chief Constable not, primarily, in terms of protecting the people of the county and their rights but as custodian of “English law” and the British order in general. Ironically, his zeal for that order had the effect of transforming the Penyberth case from being a matter of primarily local interest to one that heightened patriotic sentiment from Anglesey to Monmouthshire. 

Although there has been considerable change in the organisation of the courts since 1936, and in their attitude towards the use of Welsh, the Welsh courts are still nothing more than a region of those of England. By the next general election for Westminster five years will have passed since the publication of Lord Thomas of Cwmgïedd’s report on “Justice in Wales for the People of Wales”. That called for authority over the Welsh courts to be transferred to the Cardiff Bay Parliament. Only achieving that will be able to draw a final line under the disrespect towards the residents of Wales highlighted by the Penyberth case.  


© Keith Bush, August 2023

Brian Arnold (1941-2023)

Writing a posthumous appreciation of Brian Arnold and his contribution to the stability and success of Plaid Cymru in Pontypridd, the Cynon Valley (to which Ynysybwl belonged administratively) and the valleys of mid-Glamorgan is an unsought privilege.

It is a privilege because he was such a steadfast and upstanding character in personal and political terms and, because, over a period of sixty years or so, it was an honour to have counted him a good friend. It is unsought for the same reasons.

It has been said in other tributes to Brian (by Heledd Fychan A.S. on-line and David Walters in Clochdar, April, 2023, pp.14-15) that his inspiration for joining Plaid Cymru in 1957, at the age of 16, was Gwynfor Evans’ leadership of the Party and the latter’s statement that Wales was a nation in its own right and so possessed of the right to govern itself.

I don’t doubt that. Indeed, I heard Brian say as much over the many years of our political friendship. However, his real mentor – ‘on the ground’ as it were – in bringing him into lifelong membership of and service to Plaid Cymru was his predecessor as the leading party figure in his home district, the late Cllr. Gernant Jones (1920-2001) and also the latter’s wife, Eluned.

I have been told there was a family-link between Gernant and Brian “rhywle yn yr achau” as we say in Welsh, though I never managed to get to the root of it. Whether true or not, Gernant was Brian’s political father within the Party and primarily responsible for encouraging him to join it. What an auspicious day that turned out to be! Gernant too is worthy of retrospective tribute on the Plaid Cymru History Society’s website and I hope to furnish such a piece at some future date.

Neither of Gernant’s sons chose to pursue a political career and so Brian became his ‘political heir’. The two remained close; and when Gernant died in June 2001, aged 81, Brian was genuinely bereaved. It was as if he had lost the father-figure he had not known within his own family (having been born at Ynysybwl on the 16 February, 1941 in unsettled circumstances at the height of WW2).

Brian was raised initially by his maternal grandparents and, when they died, by his maternal aunt, Doris, at Thompson Street, Ynysybwl. On leaving school, he took a job as a trainee chef; but it wasn’t long before he went to work as a trainee and ultimately senior figure in the stores department of the old East Glamorgan Hospital at Church Village. This was a job he came to know like the back of his hand and in which he remained until retirement in 2006.

Though dedicated to his job, Brian possessed a wider vision for the society and country into which he had been born. He pursued that vision with commitment and integrity as a community figure, as a churchman and as a political activist in Plaid Cymru until the very end.

Brian was a lifelong member, and ultimately deacon and secretary, of Zion English Baptist chapel in Robert St., Ynysybwl. He was also a founder-member and leader of several community and social enterprises in the village and its environs. Among them were the local Ramblers society; a Youth Club that ran for many years on Robert Street; the Dârwynno Outdoor Pursuits Centre and its most recent addition, ‘Caban Guto’ (which Brian officially opened on 10 July, 2021), and the Ynysybwl Regeneration Partnership of which he was director between 2007 anfd 2012.

He was first elected a Plaid Cymru member of Ynysybwl Community Council in 1986 and served without a break on that body for 26 years. He regarded his rôle there (as elsewhere) as one of serving the community as a whole, not only that section of it which had voted for him. I believe it’s fair to say that his electoral opponents, as well as the wider public, appreciated this approach to politics on his part – an approach which absolutely typified him.

Brian’s first foray into a wider political field – that of the (then) Cynon Valley Borough Council – was in 1979 when he stood for election alongside his mentor, Gernant Jones, in an attempt to limit damage to the Party’s cause arising from a decision by a former Plaid councillor, Norma Harvey, to stand as an Independent in opposition to the Party. Unfortunately, Norma’s decision resulted in splitting the Plaid vote thereby allowing Labour (temporarily) to take both borough council seats – including Gernant’s, which he had held for some years prior. It hardly needs sayng that Norma’s campaign got nowhere as she came bottom of the poll. There’s a lesson there, folks!

Brian was not politically ambitious for himself. So, when Gernant again stood for election to the CVBC in 1983, his running mate wasn’t him but Gareth Evans, Coed-y-cwm, who taught French in the Rhondda. In 1983, this time without a ‘renegade’ candidate to split the vote (though two Independents stood) Gernant was comfortably re-elected at the top of the poll and stayed there in 1986, 1987 and 1991 (with Gareth joining him on the local authority between 1987-91). During all this time, Brian was content to be a ‘back-room boy’: planning, persuading and campaigning on the Party’s behalf.

In 1995, a lead-election was held for the new Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority, formed in 1996 out of three previously existing borough councils (Cynon Valley; Rhondda; Taf-Elai). At this contest Ynysybwl was awarded a single member as opposed to the two that had previously been allocated on CVBC. Against every expectation, Gernant lost his seat by a single vote (696 to 695) to Labour’s Christine Chapman, the wife of a local GP. She was subsequently elected (1999) to the first Welsh Assembly as constituency member for the Cynon Valley.

It was this jolt – together with Gernant’s advancing years (he was 75) that spurred Brian into biting the electoral bullet in a way he had not previously sought to do. Thus, at the second RhCT borough election in 1999, Brian agreed to stand – with some reluctance as I recall – as the Party’s candidate for the Ynysybwl ward.

His reluctance was based not on any misgiving about the Party or on serving the community of which he thought so much. Rather, it was based on an entirely objective – and humble – realisation that, if he stood, he knew, without question, he would be elected – such was the respect in which he was widely (and rightly) held.

So it proved. In his initial RhCT election in 1999, Brian polled 745 votes (45.7%) to Labour’s 504 (30.9%) with an Independent on 380 (23.3%). He stood again in 2004, easily topping the poll above Labour, an Independent and a LibDem. The same was true in 2008 as he topped the poll with 51.3% of the vote, above Labour and a LibDem. In 2003-04 Brian served as Chair of RhCT local authority (a post subsequently re-designated ‘mayor’ by the Labour Party).

In all, Brian served on RhCT.CBC. for thirteen years (1999-2012); but decided as he entered his 70s to make way for younger candidates. He was by then 71, retired and had no wish to ‘hog’ the electoral stage. With Gernant and him having led the Party locally between them for at least forty years (1972-2012) a period of difficult readjustment inevitably lay ahead.

So it proved. In subsequent borough elections (2012 and 2017), Labour managed to regain the Ynysybwl seat on RhCT council (much to Brian’s disappointment); but it was not to last. To his relief, Ynysybwl (by then restored to be a two-seat ward) comfortably returned two Plaid members, Amanda Ellis and Tony Burnell, to RhCT Council in 2022 (in what was otherwise a disappointing election for the Party in the borough).

Sadly and tragically, Tony Burnell died a few months later, which meant, inevitably, a by-election. This was held in September 2022 and resulted in Paula Evans, the Plaid candidate, comfortably holding the seat against Labour, Conservative, Green and ‘Gwlad’ candidates: the latter having no chance of winning but seemingly content to put the seat at risk by seeking to split the ‘Welsh aware’ vote. (The lesson is still to be learned).

By this stage, Brian’s health was deteriorating markedly. He was becoming frailer and more susceptible to falling. Even so, while no longer able to canvass, drop leaflets or campaign on the streets, he sought to do what he could in support of Paula’s by-election contest by plastering 28, Thompson Street with her posters to show that she had his full and willing support.

Brian Arnold gave exceptionally long service to his community and to Plaid Cymru. Thus, it was fitting that in January 2022 the trustees of the Llanwynno-based Edward Thomas Charity (founded in 1678 – yes, you read that correctly) included him among those whom the Charity formally honours each year for service to the community. The ceremony is normally held annually in the ancient church at Llanwynno but had to be held on-line in 2022 owing to Covid restrictions. Nevertheless, it was a well-deserved (and appreciated) gesture by the trustees.

Plaid Cymru too readily paid tribute to Brian as one who devoted much of his time, energy and undoubted interpersonal skills to building the party and encouraging comradeship within it (sometimes in difficult circumstances it must be said!).

After he stood down from elective politics in 2012, the Party bestowed on him at its annual conference in 2013 its Outstanding Achievement Award in recognition of his long and sustained service at many levels across some fifty-five years (until then). At his passing on the 28 January, 2023, a few weeks before his 82nd birthday, Leanne Wood, a previous leader of the Party, paid him fulsome tribute for his life’s work, as did Heledd Fychan, regional A.S. for South Wales Central. in a warm tribute delivered at Brian’s funeral at Glyn-taf Crematorium on the 6th March this year.

It was a shock to hear of Brian’s decease because, somehow, he always seemed to have a busy positivism about him. It was a disappointment too that I was unable to make it to his funeral to pay my respects to someone I had known as a political colleague and friend since I first joined Plaid Cymru, aged 14, in 1962.

I met Brian soon thereafter as we campaigned for Plaid Cymru’s candidates in the Aberdare constituency (as it then was) in the general elections of 1964, 1966 and subsequently. During all that time, I can honestly say – along with probably everyone who knew him – that, while we might have argued over issues, we never quarrelled; and I, for one, will miss those occasional sessions which members of the Cynon Valley constituency party at its best would have at the Brynffynnon Inn, Llanwynno or the Old Bwl Inn as we put Wales and the world to right!

Brian was a profoundly moral individual who radiated personal and political integrity. He treated – perhaps especially – his direst political opponents (not least in the Labour Party) with respect and moderation and they respected him in return. His friends, Plaid Cymru and the cause of Welsh advancement are the better for having known him – and the poorer for his loss.

Brian served his community selflessly. That is beyond question.

The wider significance of his and Gernant’s electoral and political work is that, for years during the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, they proved – along with others such as Ted Meriman in Ogmore Vale, Glyn James at Ferndale and Pauline Jarman in Mountain Ash – that the Labour Party could be beaten by credible Plaid Cymru candidates representative of the communities they sought to serve.

The significance of their work lies too in the confidence this still imparts to others, and in having helped to drive the huge constitutional advance Wales has made during the past quarter of a century.

Does a journey of a thousand miles not start with a single step ?

David Leslie Davies,


Charlotte Aull Davies, 1942-2023

A talented American and a Welsh patriot

Dafydd Williams

One day in the mid-1970s, a young American woman walked into Plaid Cymru’s headquarters in Cardiff.  Charlotte Aull  had set her mind on finding out everything she could about Wales and its national movement. The plan was to return over the Atlantic once her PhD was complete, but – fortunately for Wales – things turned out otherwise.

Charlotte was born in Lexington, Kentucky, one of three children.  She took a degree in mathematics and then an MSc in Mississippi University before switching to social anthropology, the study of communities and their culture.  And for her PhD in North Carolina, she chose Wales as the focus of her study.

Charlotte had a quiet demeanour and a pleasant personality, but she was no shrinking violet.  Hours after landing in the UK, she was in the House of Commons interviewing Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru’s leader and first MP.  Later on, while in a bookshop, she spotted a gentleman browsing a row of Welsh-related books – it turned out to be the well-known poet Harri Webb, who was interviewed on the spot!

It was probably Gwynfor who suggested a visit to the Plaid Cymru office to find out more and obtain a list of other people to interview.  But little did I foresee the happy outcome – that Charlotte would marry my friend Hywel Davies, a journalist, nationalist and author of a classic study of Plaid Cymru’s first twenty years.  So Charlotte came to live in Wales, mastering the Welsh language during the course of her PhD field work in Bangor and Cardiff.

The couple moved to the United States in 1985 when Charlotte took up the post of lecturer in the University of South Carolina.  By then they had a two-year old daughter – Elen Gwenllian, who they had adopted in 1983.  The family moved back to Wales in 1988, living in a number of places before settling in Morriston – Hywel to pursue his career in television and Charlotte in Swansea University.

Many will be familiar with her classic work Welsh Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (1989).  Although the work was published at a difficult time for Wales and Welsh nationality, Charlotte’s book broke new ground in tracing the relationship between nationalism and institutional factors, such as the growth of functions devolved to the Welsh Office.

In 1992, Charlotte was appointed as a lecturer in Swansea University, and in 2000 as senior lecturer in sociology and anthropology.  She became a prolific author, her book Reflexive Ethnography (1998) proving a key reference for those studying peoples and their cultures.  Her colleagues recall her kindness, her spirit of cooperation and her dedication to social justice.  She became a recognised authority in her subject, approachable and popular among her students.

Charlotte contributed a large number of academic papers, as well as writing for the magazine Planet and the Welsh language periodical Barn. Between 2007 and 2012 Hywel and she produced the Papur Gwyrdd, an environmental publication that presented the struggle for the future of the planet to a Welsh-speaking readership.  She was an active member of Plaid Cymru, serving as Secretary and as Treasurer of the party’s Swansea East branch, and contested the Morriston ward as Plaid candidate for a seat on Swansea Council.

Charlotte remained a patriotic American, keeping her American citizenship, making frequent visits to her family in the United States and celebrating Independence Day and Thanksgiving in style.  She was keenly interested in her homeland’s politics – it is fair to say she was no fan of Donald Trump!  As well as a love of jazz, she had a lifelong interest in horses and riding, a passion she passed on to Hywel and Elen – to such an extent that Hekla, an Icelandic pony gifted to Elen crossed the Atlantic to take up residence in Wales!

Charlotte was a committed supporter of the cause of Wales and the Welsh language, of social justice and of peace.  She served as governor of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Tan-y-Lan, Morriston.  She loved mountain walking, cycling and gardening, an interest commemorated in verse by a friend and neighbour, the chaired Eisteddfod bard Robat Powell:

Ein Charlotte ddoeth, Charlotte dda – a gofiwn

drwy nos gyfyng gaeaf,

ac o’r ardd daw atgo’r ha’

i ddyn, a bydd hi yna!


Our Charlotte, wise and good – we will remember

in the winter night

and from the garden will come an echo of summer

and she will be there!


We extend our sympathy to Hywel and Elen, and to Elen’s husband Adam. 


Charlotte Aull Davies was born on 8 October, 1942.  She died on 18 February, 2023.

This tribute is an extended version of an article that appeared in the June 2023 issue of the Welsh-language magazine Barn, and translated by the author.  We are grateful to the editor of Barn Menna Baines for her kind co-operation.


Fighting Poverty – Plaid’s Role over the Years


Valuable information has come to light about Plaid Cymru’s role in combating poverty in the nineteen thirties.

Papers transferred to the care of the Plaid Cymru History Society by Siôn ap Glyn show the extent of practical work done to help unemployed people and their families in underprivileged areas in the North and South.  ‘Clybiau Cinio Difiau’ – Thursday Dinner Clubs – were set up by Plaid Cymru during the Great Depression which hit Wales especially hard nearly ninety years ago, by a small party that had been launched barely a decade before.

As pointed out by Saunders Lewis, Plaid Cymru’s President at the time, the aim was for people in employment to help those less fortunate by foregoing one meal a week and giving sixpence to provide food for the unemployed.  Thursday was the day suggested to hold the dinner clubs, mainly because by Thursday many poor families would run out of money and be unable to afford a meal.  The cost of the meals were paid by party members, the funds administered by the party office. The Thursday Dinner Clubs continued their role until the outbreak of war in 1939.  Historian D. Hywel Davies concluded that this was the most successful charity work undertaken by Plaid members during the 1930s – “the flow of nationalist sixpences had continued unabated”.

The papers include detailed reports for the year 1937 about the work of two clubs in the South Wales coalfield – Dowlais, Merthyr and Dyfnant (Dunvant) near Swansea – and one in the North-west quarrying area of Rhosgadfan.  Dowlais was the area where the initiative was launched, it seems, and a visit by Saunders Lewis was the catalyst that led to its being rolled out to other areas.  Later on, another dining club was set up in Treorci in the Rhondda.

The reports are full of interest – in Dunvant, for example, on local leader Dr Gwent Jones, revealed that the first dinner held proved something of a damp squib – proud local people were unwilling to accept ‘charity’.  This barrier was surmounted by inviting ‘guests’ from among unemployed people in the community to an evening session where they could “speak, lecture, sing etc., depending on their talent, but always sharing food with us”.  After that, the dining sessions proved a great success.

The original documents, which are mainly in Welsh, will be deposited as part of the Plaid Cymru archive in the National Library in Aberystwyth and they can now be viewed on the Plaid Cymru History Society website here –

Clwb Cinio Difiau 1937

Hanes Plaid Cymru