'Members of the Norwich Welsh Society determined to keep it going' by Gareth W Phillips
This article has been taken from 'Yr Enfys' Summer 2021 edition and is written by Norwich Welsh Society president, Gareth W Phillips.
In 1965 a group of Welsh friends, nostalgic for their homeland, decided to go out for a meal on the first day of March to celebrate St. David’s Day. The idea of forming a Norwich Welsh Society came from this gathering.
(These friends may not have known that there had been, at least, two previous attempts to form such a society. The first, in the 1920’s was very short lived but the second had been more successful but had agreed to close down soon after the start of WWII).
The dinner plans continued and a second celebration was held in 1966 but then, when plans for the formation of the Society were almost complete, the driving force behind the idea (and due to be the first President), Mr. Trevor Jones, was required to leave Norwich. However, this was not allowed to prevent the birth and the first President, Mr Horace Rowley, was duly elected at the inaugural meeting of the Norwich Welsh Society in 1967.
The new Society rapidly gained a membership in excess of fifty and settled into a programme of monthly meetings from September to May with at least one outside meeting in the summer (often accompanied by Welsh rain!) The high-point of the year has always been the St David’s Day Dinner and church service on the closest Sunday.
For many years, the Society has supported the Welsh charity TENOVUS (known for
its research work on cancer and its care of cancer patients) with collections during the St. David’s Day celebrations.
The Gwalia Male Voice Choir from London at Chapel Field Methodist Church in September 2018. There were over 550 people at the concert to raise funds and awareness of Pancreatic Cancer in memory of Welsh speaking Carolyn Phillips, who was President of the Society in 2007 and in 2017. Carolyn died in December 2017 at the age of 67, within a month of her diagnosis, and is buried in Capel y Graig, Trelech.
The monthly meetings were held at the Assembly House in Norwich but were brought to a sudden end by a fire in 1995 which caused severe damage to this wonderful building. This was almost the beginning of the end of the Society; meetings were becoming less well attended and the forced change of meeting place triggered an accelerated reduction in the audience, causing embarrassment to those who did attend.
This reached a crisis in 2002 when it was suggested at the AGM that the Society should close but the membership responded with a determination to prevent it. A new format for the annual programme was agreed which introduced more social meetings; outside in the summer and inside for the rest of the year. This does involve BBQ’s, a garden party and since 2006 an annual Coach outing, in addition to the St David’s Day Dinner and St David’s Day service, it also involves Welsh cultural topics such as musical or poetry evenings, and in recent years groups have met to discuss Welsh history.
Covid has clearly changed matters and as we come through lockdown we shall restart our monthly programme of events and to think about our St David’s Day Dinner in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Norwich in March 2022, and the St David’s Day service, but in the meantime there is lots of catching up to do with Society social events, along with several visits back to Wales where I am sure there will be a welcome on the hillsides as well as the vales. Whilst the Society was founded for people who are Welsh by birth or descent we also welcome new members who are non-Welsh but have a love of Wales, its language and culture.
Anyone who would like to join us is invited to complete the contact form on our website - norwichwelshsociety.org.uk