W. Rhys Nicholas was born on 23 June 1914 at Pen-parc, Tegryn, Pembrokeshire, the fifth of the nine children of William Nicholas (died 1933) and his wife Sarah. The preacher-poet T. E. Nicholas was a cousin of his father. He was educated at the local school and at the age of 14 was sent to the celebrated Grammar School founded by John Phillips at Newcastle Emlyn. While there he contracted tuberculosis, and spent a long period at Sealyham hospital and the sanatorium at Bronllys, near Talgarth.
The family attended the Independent chapel at Llwyn-yr-hwrdd, and in his early twenties, inspired by his minister, Stanley Jones, Rhys decided to offer himself as a candidate for the ministry. He went to the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen and from there to the University College of Swansea, where he graduated in Welsh in 1941 and served as Student President. He then returned to Carmarthen to take a degree in theology. He was ordained a minister on 7 November 1945 at Llwyn-yr-hwrdd and was appointed assistant to the General Secretary of the Union of Welsh Independents, E. Curig Davies. While there he served as secretary to the committee preparing the new edition of Y Caniedydd, the hymnal of the Welsh Independents, which eventually appeared in 1960. But in 1947 he left to become minister of the Independent church at Bryn, Llanelli, until 1952 when he moved to Horeb and Bwlch-y-groes in Ceredigion. From there he moved to Tabernacl, Porthcawl; after his retirement in 1982 he continued to live in the Porthcawl area. While there he was particularly active in support of the Welsh language, helping to found Welsh schools and the community newspaper Yr Hogwr.
From an early age he displayed an interest in literature and his poems appeared in the Swansea College magazine, Dawn. While serving at Horeb and Bwlch-y-groes he developed a close relationship with the Gomer publishing house at Llandysul, editing a large number of works for them. He was also joint editor of the literary periodical Y Genhinen, and for ten years editor of Cyfansoddiadau a Beirniadaethau, the volume of compositions and adjudications published annually by the National Eisteddfod. In 1990, at Cwm Rhymni, he delivered the Eisteddfod literature lecture on his fellow poet Crwys.
He acted as overseer of Gwasg John Penry, the official press of the Independents, for a number of years, and was President of the Union of Welsh Independents in 1981-82, the title of his presidential address being 'Maen Prawf ein Cristnogaeth' (The Touchstone of our Christianity).
He published two volumes of poetry, Cerdd a Charol (1969) and Cerddi Mawl (1980, with a new expanded edition in 1991), and a number of works of devotion. He is known primarily as one of the most prominent Welsh hymnwriters of the last quarter of the twentieth century. His prizewinning hymn text 'Tydi a wnaeth y wyrth, O Grist, Fab Duw', written for the Rhys Thomas James Eisteddfod at Lampeter in 1967, and sung to the tune 'Pantyfedwen' by M. Eddie Evans, is amongst the most popular of modern Welsh hymns. There are 23 of his hymn texts in the interdenominational collection, Caneuon Ffydd, published in 2001. Nicholas learnt much about hymns by serving as secretary to the Y Caniedydd committee, of which he subsequently became chairman. He also chaired the committee which prepared Caniedydd yr Ifanc, a collection for young people, published in 1980. He was very active in the work of Cymdeithas Emynau Cymru, the Welsh Hymn Society, and was invested with the society's Fellowship.
In 1946 he married Elizabeth Dilys (Beti) Evans (1921-1985) of Rhydargaeau. There were no children of the marriage. Rhys Nicholas died on 2 October 1996, and his funeral took place on 7 October. His ashes were interred with those of his wife in the Porthcawl municipal cemetery.
Published date: 2018-12-18
Article Copyright: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
The Dictionary of Welsh Biography is provided by The National Library of Wales and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. It is free to use and does not receive grant support. A donation would help us maintain and improve the site so that we can continue to acknowledge Welsh men and women who have made notable contributions to life in Wales and beyond.
Find out more on our sponsorship page.