Sunday 5 March 2017

99 Y.M.C.A. and Bobby Williams

99 Y.M.C.A.
Swansea’s branch of the YMCA began in 1868 in Herbert Place.  The initials stand for Young Men’s Christian Association, founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, a draper.  It is the oldest and largest youth charity in the world, aiming to support young people to belong, contribute and thrive in their communities.  George Williams wanted to help young men adjust to urban life, aiming to put Christian principles into practice to develop a healthy "body, mind and spirit" - hence the red triangle of the logo.  YMCAs began as prayer and Bible study groups, which widened into public lectures and education classes.  George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894, and after his death he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, and commemorated by a stained-glass window in Westminster Abbey.
The Swansea branch’s steady growth led to a move to Dynevor Place, beside Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and when those premises were outgrown the branch secured the freehold to ‘Longlands’, former home of copper merchant and ship-owner Henry Bath, on the corner of Page Street and St Helens Road.  With steel magnate and philanthropist Roger Beck as treasurer, a New Building Campaign raised £12,000 in twelve days (this was in 1911!), in order to demolish ‘Longlands’ and erect a new building.  Beck heartily approved of the YMCA’s aim of “instilling into youth the necessity for conscientious performance of duty”.
The new four-storey block in red brick and Portland stone was probably designed by Glendinning Moxham, architect of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, the University Sports Pavilion and Wind Street’s former Barclays Bank.  The new Page Street premises were opened in October 1913 by Lord Kinnaird, president of the YMCA and principal of the Football Association, with a plaque in the foyer stating “To the glory of God and for the good of man”.  In 1920 the Llewellyn Hall was added, where Dylan Thomas appeared with the Little Theatre Players.
Gerald Gabb’s “Jubilee Swansea II” states that in 1894 Swansea YMCA had a lecture from the manager of the Grenfells’ copper works on “The Inspiration of the Bible”, and in 1899 a Dr David Evans was giving health talks.  During the 1890s the sports activities included an athletics club captained by High Street photographer and future Mayor Henry A. Chapman, and a tug of war team, and Swansea YMCA sponsored a bicycle gymkhana in Mumbles.
The YMCA’s first holiday centre was established in 1873 on the Isle of Wight, and their first gymnasium in Britain opened eight years later.  The movement spread overseas, with American YMCAs in the 1890s devising the sports basketball and volleyball.  The first purpose-built YMCA hostels were opened in 1912 - in London and Cardiff.
Swansea YMCA’s top floor gymnasium (now used as a Martial Arts Centre) used to display a framed photograph of British gymnastic champion Bobby Williams, regarded as a strong medal hope for Britain for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.  This was after Welshman Lyn Davies had won the gold medal for the long jump at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.  But tragically the twenty-five-year-old electrician from Townhill was killed early on Easter Sunday morning 1967, when his MGB sports car mounted the grass intersection on Fabian Way and hit a metal lamp post as he was driving to work at the Baglan Bay plant of British Hydrocarbon Chemicals: in those days Olympic athletes competed as amateurs.  Graham Harcourt, who had represented Britain in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, described the death of Bobby Williams as “a tremendous loss to Welsh and British gymnastics”.  He had been a member of Swansea YMCA gymnasium for 17 years.
For decades the Llewellyn Hall was regularly used for donor sessions by the Welsh Blood Transfusion Service, and now Swansea YMCA is open seven days a week, offering a diverse range of sporting activities, educational services and social support for men and women of all ages.            


  1. I was training in the gym on the Sunday morning Bobby was killed.
    I took the phone call and had to find Mr Walsh who was (Bobbies and my coach) to tell him the terrible news !!

    1. Hi My name's Enid Williams and I'm Bobby's cousin. I'd love to talk to yourself or Mr.Walsh about him as I was only a child when he died. I'm also interested when his birthday was. My email is not this one but Many thanks Enid

  2. There is a memorial card and photograph of Bobbie Williams on ebay at the moment under the seller puzzlepixie. Hope this is of some help.