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Kate Roberts, 'Queen of our Literature'

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Childhood in Rhosgadfan

Kate Roberts was born in Rhosgadfan on 13 February 1891 to Owen and Catrin Roberts. Kate was the first child of the couple's second marriage and they had three other sons; Richard, Evan and David.

Her father Owen was a slate quarryman and her mother worked on the family's smallholding, Cae'r Gors, to try to make ends meet. The Rhosgadfan area, and nearby Rhostryfan, grew in the wake of the slate industry, and the area is full of smallholdings and fields typical of slate quarrying families' homes.

Kate was educated at Rhostryfan Council School, before moving on to Caernarfon County School after she won a scholarship. She studied Welsh at University of Wales, Bangor, between 1910 and 1913, graduating with honours and receiving a Teaching Certificate.

She went to teach at Dolbadarn, Llanberis and Conway Elementary Schools after leaving college, before moving to teach Welsh at Ystalyfera County School in 1915. Two years later she moved to the Girls' County School in Aberdare where she taught Welsh, History and Geography.

Married Life and Gwasg Gee

Her interest in politics developed during this period and she joined Plaid Cymru when it was formed in 1925. She met her husband, Morris T. Williams, through Plaid Cymru. The pair met in Groeslon train station as they were about to travel to Plaid's first Summer School in Machynlleth. Following their wedding in December 1928, Kate gave up teaching and the pair lived in Rhiwbina in Cardiff until 1931, and then in Tonypandy.

After this period in the South, Kate and Morris returned to North Wales, making their home in Denbigh after they had bought Gwasg Gee Press in 1935. Gwasg Gee was one of the most important and oldest printers in Wales, and was founded by Thomas Gee during the 1830s. The firm published Welsh, Nonconformist material mostly, and the newspaper 'Baner Cymru' (The Welsh Flag) in 1857. The paper's name was changed to 'Baner ac Amserau Cymru' (The Welsh Flag and Times) in 1859 when it incorporated 'Yr Amserau' newspaper.

Whilst she lived in the South, and after moving back to Denbigh, Kate published a number of volumes, including her most famous work, the novel 'Traed Mewn Cyffion' (Feet in Chains), published in 1936. She was moved to write by family sadness; 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. She said that writing was therapy for her; a means of coping with loss. This can clearly be seen as her work is split into two periods, the first when she lost her brother and the second after losing her mother in 1944 and her husband Morris in 1946.

Her work

She took up her literary work once again by publishing 'Stryd y Glep' (Tittle-tattle Street) in 1949. She continued to publish until 1981 when she reached her final volume, 'Haul a Drycin' (Sun and Storm).

The rural community and life of her childhood are regular themes in her work. A number of her novels are based in the area of her birth, with the community and  life in the quarries a background. It is obvious that she wrote using memories of her childhood as a slate quarryman's daughter as inspiration. Perhaps her novel 'Traed Mewn Cyffion' is the most popular example of life during that period which exists in the Welsh language. Thousands of school pupils and students have come to learn about the harshness of the slate quarrying family's life during the period by reading this novel. Kate Roberts portrays the life of her area in an unique way by embracing the dialect and phraseology of her native area to complement that picture. She was also fond of portraying the role of girls in society and included her ideas on the independence of girls' opinions, and of their importance within the family unit.

As well as her creative work, Kate Roberts also contributed regularly to the 'Faner' newspaper which was published by her press, and to the 'Ddraig Goch' (Red Dragon), Plaid Cymru's newspaper. Her political opinions were very important to her and she believed it was essential that books be published in the Welsh language to encourage and promote the language, especially amongst children and young people. Kate was also central to the fight to establish a Welsh school in Denbigh, and Ysgol Twm o'r Nant school opened in 1968.

Kate Roberts died on 4 April 1985, aged 94 years.

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