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Wales’ first university will kick off the celebrations for its 150th year at the National Eisteddfod in Ceredigion

23 Jul 2022 3 minute read
Gwilym Williams’s Eisteddfod Chair, Dorothy Bonarjee’s notebook, images by Rolant Dafis

The eisteddfod chair awarded to a soldier who died in the First World War, together with other historical objects, will be central to Aberystwyth University’s activities at this year’s National Eisteddfod as it marks the start of its 150th anniversary celebrations.

The University was founded in 1872 following efforts to raise money locally and nationally to establish the first university in Wales, and this August marks the beginning of its 150th academic year.

During the event on the University stand, there will be an opportunity to see a collection of items of historical importance to the university, including a statuette of the first Vice-Chancellor, Thomas Charles Edwards, and the prison badge of the former lecturer, poet and conscientious objector David James Jones, known by his bardic name, Gwenallt.

On Thursday 4 August, an event will be held to remember the two students who won the chair at the College’s Eisteddfod in 1912 and 1914 – Gwilym Williams who was killed in France in 1916 during the First World War, and Dorothy Bonarjee, the first woman of colour to win it.

First woman

Dorothy Bonarjee came from India with her family as a child and was first educated in Dulwich before choosing to study as an undergraduate at Aberystwyth.

She graduated with a degree in French in 1916, entered the competition under the pseudonym “Shita” and received a standing ovation when she revealed herself as the poet.

Following her time at Aberystwyth she gained an international law degree at UCL in 1917, two years before women were allowed to practice law, before going on to advocate for women’s suffrage.

She later married and had children, living in France with her family and never returning to India.

Dorothy Bonarjee with her classmates, second from right, front row, image by Aberystwyth University

Eisteddfod chair

Gwilym Williams came from Trelech in Carmarthenshire and after graduating from Aberystwyth in 1913 became a schoolmaster. He was wounded by a rifle grenade in France in 1916 and later died from his injuries.

The eisteddfod chair won by Gwilym Williams will be on display at the University’s stand throughout the week.

It is among 150 objects that will appear in a special volume called Ceinogau’r Werin / The Pennies of the People which is to be published in October as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Prison badge and glasses of Gwenallt image by Rolant Dafis

Conscientious objector

Gwenallt was born in Pontardawe and won two bardic chairs in his lifetime, at Swansea and Bangor after studying at Aberystwyth.

In 1917 during World War I, he declared himself a conscientious objector and was imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs and later, Princetown Work Centre in the former Dartmoor Prison until April 1919.

He was the first editor of Taliesin and founder member of the Welsh Academi, and along with a prolific and prominent writing and teaching career he later returned to lecture at Aberystwyth.

Full details of the Eisteddfod events can be found here and the programme of events from Aberystwyth University can be found here.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

150 years…now there’s a thing…at least 2 leading lights from the Senedd went to Aber…

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
1 year ago

I thought

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
1 year ago

Da iawn

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
1 year ago

The university at Aberystwyth holds a very special place in Welsh history. The pennies from the people to create the university epitomises the heart of Welsh culture. However, the current state of the Old College in Aber is a national disgrace. As a nation we should be ashamed of how we have let such an iconic building fall into disrepair. The Old College at Aberystwyth is the home of Welsh higher education. Would an Oxford college be let to crumble like the Old College? The answer is never. Shame on the Welsh government and the university for letting it crumble.… Read more »

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