- 1892-1916. (Creation)
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Owen Morgan Edwards was a prominent man of letters, author, editor, tutor in history at Oxford University, 1889-1907, and the first Chief Inspector of Schools under the new Welsh Education Department.
O. M. Edwards was born at Coed-y-pry, Llanuwchllyn, Merioneth, on 26 December 1858, the eldest son of Owen and Elizabeth Edwards. With the original intention of entering the nonconformist ministry, he attended Bala College, and subsequently spent the period 1880-1883 at the young University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he studied English, history and philosophy. He spent the academic year 1883-1884 at Glasgow studying philosophy, and the years 1884-1887 at Balliol College, Oxford, where he enjoyed a notably distinguished career, winning three major university prizes, and graduating with first class honours in history in 1887. During this formative period of his life he came heavily under the influence of the aestheticism of Ruskin and William Morris, and of the Dafydd ap Gwilym Society which much enhanced his indigenous love of his native Wales. It was primarily within this Society that Edwards formed an enduring bond of friendship with prominent Welshmen such as Edward Anwyl, J. Puleston Jones, John Morris-Jones and D. Lleufer Thomas
O. M. Edwards spent the year 1888-1889 on the continent, and in the latter year was appointed Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, and tutor in history there and at other colleges. He remained in this position until 1907 and was notable for his dedication to his lecture preparation and tutorial work. His academic publications were few until 1901 when his popular volume entitled Wales - a book on the history of Wales - was published. From 1890 onwards he also became engaged in editing a number of Welsh periodicals that compelled him to spend an inordinate amount of his time in drafting numerous articles and proof correcting. These periodicals included Cymru Fydd (begun in 1890), Cymru (1891), Cymru'r Plant (1892), Wales (1894), Y Llenor (1895) and Heddyw (1897). He also published a number of slim volumes such as Cartrefi Cymru (1896), and set in train a scheme to re-publish considerable numbers of the Welsh classics, primarily in the series Cyfres y Fil. This service was critical in ensuring the survival of a distinctive Welsh culture by providing the Welsh people with a knowledge of their past history and literature, and nurturing a school of young Welsh writers. His contribution in this sphere may be compared with that of Thomas Gee. In 1906 he also established 'Urdd y Delyn', a children's society which was a precursor of 'Urdd Gobaith Cymru' set up by his son Ifan ab Owen Edwards in 1922.
In 1907 Edwards was appointed the first Chief Inspector of Schools under the aegis of the recently established Welsh Education Department. Here, he reformed the Welsh education system by encouraging the teaching of Welsh and improving the atmosphere of Welsh schools. But he did come into conflict with the Central Welsh Board set up in 1896 over his conviction that the new intermediate schools established in the 1890s were severe anglicising influences in Wales.
Following the premature death of Thomas Edward Ellis MP in April 1899, Edwards served for one session as the Liberal MP for his native Merionethshire, but he disliked the reality of political life and decided not to stand for re-election in the general election of 1900. His intense nationalism was primarily cultural rather than political. He was knighted in January 1916 and received the degree of D.Litt honoris causa from the University of Wales in 1918. He died, still in post, at his home Neuadd Wen (an adaptation of Whitehall, the headquarters of the Board of Education in London) Llanuwchllyn, in 1920. His wife, Ellen Davies of Prys Mawr, Llanuwchllyn, had predeceased him the previous year. There were three children of the marriage, but the elder son died in infancy.
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Most of the letters, 1892-1916, are devoted to the writer's researches, writings and editing of Wales, Y Llenor, Heddyw and Cymru for which he solicits contributions from the pen of J. H. Davies. Several letters refer to the death of Thomas Edward Ellis in April 1899, the preparation of his biography and the erection of a memorial statue at Bala. Others relate to J. H. Davies's application for the position of Registrar of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and some to Edwards's duties as Chief Inspector of Schools in Wales.
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Preferred citation: C2/8.