Williams, Watkin Hezekiah (DNB12)

WILLIAMS, WATKIN HEZEKIAH (1844–1905), Welsh schoolmaster and poet, born on 7 March 1844 at his mother's home at Ddolgam, in the Llynfell valley, Carmarthenshire, was son of Hezekiah and Ann Williams his wife. He was brought up, the second of a family of ten, on his father's farm of Cwmgarw Ganol, near Brynaman. At an early age he found employment in the coal mines then being opened up in the district, and he worked, chiefly as a collier, with occasional periods of attendance at various local schools, until the age of twenty-seven. In 1870 he married Mary Jones of Trap, Carreg Cennen; the death of his wife in less than a year led him to quit his home and occupation, and in Jan. 1872 he entered the school of his relative, Evan Williams of Merthyr. His progress was rapid, and he was soon able to give assistance in teaching to Evan Williams and his successor, J. J. Copeland. In 1874 he resolved to qualify for the independent ministry; he returned home, began to preach at Gibea Chapel, and, after a little preliminary training, was admitted to the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen in 1875. On the conclusion of his course in 1879 he married Anne Davies of Carmarthen and accepted, instead of a pastorate, a post as teacher of a private school at Llangadock. Differences among the staff led to his moving, with the Rev. D. E. Williams, to Amanford in 1880, where the two friends founded the ‘Hope Academy.’ In 1884 Watkin took sole charge, and in 1888 he adapted for school purposes a building to which he gave the name of ‘Gwynfryn.’ Thenceforth until his death he conducted the institution as a preparatory school for those about to enter the dissenting ministry or other professions. He was ordained an independent minister in 1894, but held no pastoral charge. He died on 19 Nov. 1905, and was buried at Amanford.

‘Watcyn Wyn,’ as he was generally known, was an inspiring and original teacher, whose vivacity and wit endeared him to his pupils and whose early struggles made him a sympathetic guide of young men athirst for learning. He had also a wide reputation as a Welsh poet, dating from 1875, when he divided a prize with Islwyn [see Thomas, William, 1832–1878] at Pwllheli. Both the silver crown and the bardic chair, the two chief poetic prizes of the eisteddfod, were won by him, the former at Merthyr in 1881 for a poem in free metre on ‘Life,’ and the latter at Aberdare in 1885 for an ode in the strict metres on the subject ‘The Truth against the World.’ He was also the winner of the crown at the World's Fair eisteddfod of 1893 at Chicago, the subject being ‘George Washington.’ These longer productions are not so likely, however, to preserve his memory as the lyrical and humorous poems which came so easily from his pen. He published: 1. ‘Caneuon Watcyn Wyn,’ Wrexham, n.d.; second edit. 1873. 2. ‘Hwyr Ddifyrion,’ Swansea, 1883. 3. ‘Llenyddiaeth Gymreig’ (a survey of Welsh literature), Wrexham, 1900. 4. ‘Storiau Cymru’ (versified folk-tales), Wrexham, 1907, and other minor works. His autobiography (‘Adgofion Watcyn Wyn’), edited by J. Jenkins (‘Gwili’), appeared (with portrait) in 1907 (Merthyr).

[Album Caerfyrddin, 1909; Congregational Year Book for 1907; Adgofion Watcyn Wyn; Geninen, April 1906; information supplied by Mr. G. O. Williams, B.A.]

J. E. L.