The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which replaces the venerable Victorian Dictionary that was long a fixture on the shelves of Llanelli’s Reference Library, consists of sixty large printed volumes, covering some 55,000 people and containing some 62 million words. Reviewers have praised it almost unanimously as one of the most impressive publishing feats of our time, and perhaps of all time. Despite the Daily Telegraph’s enthusiasm – ‘Every home should have a set. Sell the car and buy the new DNB’ – the asking price of £7,500 might prove a little daunting for some, not to mention the inevitable cries of ‘and where, exactly, are you going to put those sixty large volumes?’. Fortunately, the online version is rather more affordable and presents no problems of space management. It is also updated and expanded every six months, adding biographies of those who have died since the printed version was completed.
Llanelli is mentioned in some fifty-five entries in the ODNB, as it is known. Naturally, these include the town’s famous politicians, notably Jim Griffiths and Lord Elwyn Jones, who are the subject of excellent and lengthy essays by Kenneth O Morgan and Emlyn Hooson respectively. Those born in or connected with Llanelli who have been deemed worthy of articles include the Nevill family and such prominent sportsmen as Carwyn James, Albert Jenkins, Jock Stein and John Graham Chambers, son of William Chambers of Llanelly House and founder of the Amateur Athletic Association. Churchmen include Charles Green, Archbishop of Wales from 1934 to 1944, David Rees (the famous nineteenth century minister of Capel Als) and John Miles, the founder of the Baptist movement in South Wales during the 1650s. Representing the world of entertainment and the arts are the painter James Dickson Innes, Rachel Roberts, Dorothy Squires, Donald Swann, the Llanelli-born composer of scurrilous ditties, and the famous clarinettist Jack Brymer, who was evacuated to Llanelli during the war. There is a short essay on Dame Dorothy Brook, headmistress of Mary Datchelor School in Camberwell, which was also evacuated to Llanelli. The area’s total number of entries is boosted by seven mentions of Pembrey, one of which comes in the entry on the Concorde test pilot Brian Trubshaw, and four each of Burry Port and Llangennech. There are a further thirty-eight entries for Kidwelly, most of them relating to prominent noblemen who held the town and castle in the Middle Ages. Two particularly interesting articles relate to members of the Donne or Dwn family: Sir John Donne, who died in 1503 and was the subject of one of the first accurate portraits of a British face, and the seventeenth-century poet John Donne.
All in all, not a bad return for our town in what is meant to be the definitive record of the most ‘noteworthy and influential’ people in the history of the British Isles – although it has to be said that the mentions of Llanelli pale into insignificance alongside the 340 entries for Swansea, and the 355 for Carmarthen!
By Dr. David Davies, Member of Llanelli Community Heritage Advisory Panel