Saturday 10 March 2018

150 Harri Webb

150 Harri Webb
In Pennard, St Mary’s churchyard contains the remains of three local poets - Nigel Jenkins, who died in 2014 and whose parents lived at what was Kilvrough Manor’s Home Farm, Vernon Watkins, who died overseas in 1967 but whose ashes are in the churchyard, and Harri Webb, who never lived in Pennard, but who was buried in his parents’ grave in 1995.
Harri Webb’s father had been brought up on a farm at High Pennard, while his mother was from Oxwich.  Harry (as his name was originally spelt) was born in September 1920 in Sketty, where his parents lodged.  When he was nearly two years old the family moved to 58 Catherine Street in the Sandfields, which remained the family home for over 70 years.  His father worked at the Strand electricity works, and later at Tir John Power Station.  Harry went to Oxford Street School and Glanmôr Secondary School (at that time a boys’ school), both now demolished.  He was the first Glanmôr pupil to obtain a scholarship to Oxford, where he studied medieval and modern languages at Magdalene College.  During the war he served in the Royal Navy, and his language skills were utilised by the Special Branch.
After the war he began to learn Welsh, joined Plaid Cymru and later the Welsh
Republican Movement (which was wound up in 1957), and edited its newspaper.  He took various jobs until in 1952 he began working at Cheltenham Public Library, and like poet Philip Larkin he became a librarian - at Dowlais branch in Merthyr Tydfil, and at Mountain Ash, where he made innovations by lending LP records, and buying books and periodicals to appeal to a female readership.
Having changed the spelling of his first name to Harri, he described his poetry as “unrepentantly nationalistic”.  His first poetry collection “The Green Desert”, which was published in 1969 and won a Welsh Arts Council prize, concerned the history and social condition of Wales, and in total he had four poetry collections published.  Many of his poems focus on local subjects like Cox’s Farm (Swansea Prison), seaman Edgar Evans, the Rebecca Riots, Vernon Watkins, the Prince Ivanhoe shipwreck and Tir John Power Station.  Harri Webb’s poems reveal his radical Welsh nationalist politics, and include such Welsh subjects as the Senghenydd colliery disaster, the Maid of Cefn Ydfa, the arson at Pen-y-berth which involved Saunders Lewis, Guto Nyth Brân, who inspired the annual Nos Galan runs in Mountain Ash, and Dic Penderyn, about whom he also wrote a play.  His humour emerges in the couplet “Merlin’s Prophecy 1969”:
One day, when Wales is free and prosperous
And dull, they’ll all be wishing they were us.
Harri Webb also wrote pamphlets, such as “Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Rising of 1831”, spoke at political meetings, stood as a Plaid Cymru candidate for Pontypool, wrote poetry in Welsh, and from the 1970s wrote scripts for television.  For three years from 1957 he was chairman of Merthyr Tydfil’s eisteddfod committee.  He translated from Spanish to English, including six of Lorca’s poems, and adapted stories from the Mabinogion for children, published as “Tales from Wales” in 1984.
But after a stroke the following year he was virtually housebound, and in November 1994 was moved to Swansea, into St David’s nursing home in St Helens Road, where he died on New Year’s Eve.  His mother had died in 1939 while he was at University, and his father in 1956, and both had been buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Pennard. Harri Webb was buried in that same grave beyond the east wall of the cemetery.  His Collected Poems were published in December 1995, edited by his friend Meic Stephens, owner of the copyright of his work.  In his memory the Harri Webb Prize for poetry was established.   





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