Famous for: Writing novels such as Traed Mewn Cyffion (Feet in Chains)
Greatest Achievement: Establishing a Welsh medium School in Denbigh, Ysgol Twm o’r Nant
Kate Roberts was born in Rhosgadfan in the heart of the slate mining areas of Caernarvonshire. When Kate was four and a half-years-old, the family moved from Bryn Gwyrfai to Cae’r Gors. She was educated at Rhostryfan Council School between 1895 and 1904, then won a scholarship to Caernarvon County School, where she remained until 1910.
She became a student at Bangor University College in 1910, travelling every day from Caernarvon on the train during the first year. She studied Welsh under the tutorship of John Morris Jones and Ifor Williams. Whilst there, Kate Roberts took a prominent part in public debates, including the Intercollege Debate in 1913, and every other week she wrote articles for the Brython journal about events at the college. She graduated with Honours and gained a Teaching Certificate.
After leaving college, and following a period teaching at Dolbadarn, Llanberis and Conwy Elementary Schools, she became the Welsh teacher at Ystalyfera County School in 1915. Between 1917 and 1928, she taught at Aberdare Girls County School. She taught Welsh, History and Geography there, and studied the short story styles of Chekhov, de Maupassant, Katherine Mansfield and Sinclair Lewis.
She met her husband-to-be, Morris T. Williams as a result of their shared interest in the Welsh National Party, Plaid Cymru, after she joined the fledgling party in 1925. They met at Groeslon railway station when they were both setting off for Plaid Cymru’s first Summer School at Machynlleth. They were married in December 1928 and Kate gave up teaching the following January. They lived in Rhiwbina in Cardiff until 1931, then at Tonypandy. Then in 1935 they moved back to North Wales when Morris Williams bought the Welsh publishing firm, Gwasg Gee, settling in Cilgwyn, Denbigh. Following the death of her husband, Kate took over Gwasg Gee.
Kate Roberts’s written work is split into two definite periods. The early period starts with Deian a Loli in 1925 and ends with Ffair Gaeaf in 1937. Rural life and the slate-mining community provides the background for much of her work during this period, and she often draws on her childhood memories as a quarryman’s daughter. This is true of her best-known novel Traed mewn Cyffion published in 1936.
The second period begins 12 years later, following the death of her husband in 1946. She took up her literary writing once again and in 1949 published Stryd y Glep. She continued to write until 1981 when Haul a Drycin was published. She published 11 books between 1949 and 1981, with the lonliness of old age being the dominant theme during this period, rather than poverty.
Her motivation to write was a result of family bereavement. Her brother, Evan, was wounded in the battle of the Somme, and her other brother, David, died of his wounds in a hospital in Malta in 1917. Later, she suffered more bereavement. Her mother died in 1944, then two years later, her husband Morris died, and once again she was spurred on as a writer by her grief and loneliness following his death. In one of her letters to Saunders Lewis, Kate Roberts notes that it was her brother’s death during the war that inspired her to write in the first place. She felt that she had to write to avoid suffocation and that it was a form of therapy. This was true of both writing periods.
She was a regular contributor to Y Faner, one of the papers published by Gwasg Gee, under her directorship. Y Faner was prominent in its support of Plaid Cymru against the Ministry of Defence during the late 40s and 50s, and also against the drowning of Tryweryn Valley. She also contributed regularly to Plaid Cymru’s newspaper, Y Ddraig Goch.
She received a number of honours during her lifetime, and, in 1950, her commitment as a writer and nationalist was recognised when she was awarded a University of Wales D.Litt. degree. She was also successful in her bid to establish a Welsh-medium school in Denbigh, initially held at Capel Mawr Schoolhouse, before becoming Ysgol Twm o’r Nant in 1968.
Kate Roberts died on 4 April 1985. She was 94 years of age.