Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Noel Thomas Lecture 2009

Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture 2009

The meeting began with the sad news that loyal and hard working member of the Society, Stuart Hicks, husband of our Treasurer, Julie, had passed away on Sunday 11th January. Stuart will be greatly missed and Gwyn Thomas expressed his appreciation of his contribution over the years and passed on the collective sympathy of the History Society to the family. A minute’s silence was observed

The speaker for the evening needed no introduction since it was none other than Mr Phylip Jones, the Society President. He began by stating that this was the twelfth Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture and that Noel had enjoyed all that was good in a traditional Welsh upbringing, including singing, poetry and an interest in education. These three themes were to feature prominently in his talk.

Mr Jones began by stating that he had been accused of over emphasising the contribution of the Three Doctors of Music to the detriment of other “worthies” emanating from Resolfen, his mission therefore was to set the record straight.

The first luminary chosen was Sir Clifford Darby (a full record of Sir Clifford’s achievements already exist on this site from an edition of Who’s Who), the only Resolfen resident thus far to receive a knighthood. Sir Clifford was born in 9, Coronation Avenue in 1909, son of Evan and Jenny Darby and grew up in Neath Road. He proved something of a child prodigy and after attending Neath Grammar School went up to University College, Cambridge at the tender age of sixteen. He graduated at nineteen with First Class honours and by the age of only 22 achieved his Doctorate. Then began a glittering academic career in both Cambridge , London and the USA where Cliff Darby specialised in the field of Historical Geography. His magnum opus was a study of the Domesday Geography of England which took some thirty years to complete. He had a distinguished war record and compiled some thirty atlases which were used during the war effort. He married in 1941 to Eva Thompson and had two daughters. He was knighted in 1988 for services to Geography

Though largely forgotten in Resolfen today, Sir Clifford Darby never forgot his roots. In 1935 he was the President of the evening session of the Jerusalem Cymanfa Ganu with a congregation of over a thousand ( even though Jerusalem officially only holds 850). Darby was noted by the academic establishment for his obvious Welsh accent and fervent 'hwyl'while delivering his lectures. A fitting epitaph describes him thus, “A complex man of high ability,he demanded high standards of others.”

The second 'worthy' to gain recognition from Phylip was David “St” John the noted pugilist and bare knuckle fighter who achieved nation wide fame. He was born in 1872 and though his mother was born in Lyon’s Row ( Place – Y Rhestr Fawr) it is not known whether he was born in Resolfen since his father had moved constantly in search of employment. However he grew up in the village where he was known as “Dai Bac y Vaughan’s”, after the now disappeared terrace behind the Vaughan Arms- Sims Row. One of eleven children, he was the second eldest son (and distantly related to Mr Jones whose great grandfather was one of the eleven siblings). He was a fine specimen of a man and unusually big for the time at six feet and two inches and weighing over fifteen stone. While working in the local colliery he gained a reputation as a prize fighter on the local mountainside and in fairground boxing booths.

In 1896 he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards and became the heavyweight boxing champion of the British Army, gaining national recognition. He became known as “Saint” as a nick name from this period. He took part in military campaigns in both Egypt and the Sudan and was eventually sent to South Africa during the Boer War. Unfortunately he was killed in action in the Battle of Belmont, 23rd of November 1899 at the age of 28. Such was his fame that his death was commemorated by the production of crockery and his own heroic demise was shown in pictorial form in periodicals of the day.

In September, 1997 a commemorative plaque and headstone was placed in St David’s churchyard in a military ceremony conducted by the Grenadier Guards.

Mr Jones concluded his talk by speaking of other “worthies” from the village including Madam Jenny Ellis who won the National Eisteddfod seventeen times. He also spoke at length on Sammy Lloyd the poet, who was born in Moses Row in 1880 and who gained considerable success in semi-national Eisteddfodau , and every place of worship in Resolfen and other meeting places including the Reading Room had one of his bardic chairs on display.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Jones for a most interesting and informative talk and lamented that we will have to wait until next year for the next episode.

P.S. Providing we receive match funding from the Ffynnon Oer Fund, many of these luminaries will receive commemorative plaques in the coming months.


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