THE LATEST update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was published on Thursday 7th January 2016 and adds the biographies of 222 men and women who left their mark on British life, and who died in the year 2012. The Oxford DNB is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history, worldwide, from prehistory to the year 2012 and from January 2016 the Dictionary includes biographies of 59,879 individuals, written by 14,188 contributors.
In the Welsh additions this year are rugby union player Mervyn Davies (1946-2012); campaigners for the Welsh language, Eileen Beasley (1921-2012) and her husband Trefor Beasley (1918-1994); lawyer and politician Emlyn Hooson (1925-2012); and the artist Evelyn Williams (1929-2012).
Mervyn Davies (1946-2012) or, ‘Merv the Swerve’, made his first appearance for Wales in 1968 against Scotland at Murrayfield. He remained a fixed point at number eight for nine seasons, during which Wales won four outright and two shared Five Nations championships; grand slams in 1971 and 1976; and three triple crowns. In these years the Welsh national side never finished lower than second. Davies’s thirty-eight Welsh caps were then a record for a forward, and he played all eight tests for the unprecedentedly successful British and Irish Lions teams in New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974. Raised unexpectedly to the Welsh captaincy in 1975, Davies was hugely successful. However, his playing career came to an end in the following year when he suffered a brain haemorrhage while playing for Swansea against Pontypool. In 2002 he was voted Wales’s greatest ever number eight and captain.
Described as the ‘mother of direct action’ in Wales, teacher and Welsh language campaigner Eileen Beasley (1921-2012) was born at Henllan Amgoed, Carmarthenshire. At university in Cardiff she joined Plaid Cymru and, while visiting Brittany, learned Breton and became acquainted with a number of Breton nationalists. Through Plaid Cymru she also met her future husband, Trefor Beasley (1918–1994) who became a fellow campaigner for the Welsh language. In the 1950’s the Beasleys repeatedly refused to pay council bills that were issued only in English, leading to numerous court appearances, public attention, and declarations of support. In 1960 Llanelli rural district council finally capitulated and agreed that demands for rates would be printed bilingually, at which point the Beasleys paid promptly. The Beasleys’ campaign was championed by Plaid Cymru’s leader, Saunders Lewis, as a significant example of non-violent civil disobedience in his seminal BBC radio lecture, ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (‘The fate of the language’), broadcast in February 1962. Trefor Beasley was later imprisoned for refusing to pay road tax until a Welsh-language tax disc was issued.
Emlyn Hooson (1925-2012) was born at Henllan, Denbigh, and grew up in a Welsh-speaking family in a strongly nonconformist rural area. He trained in law and became a distinguished barrister; high profile cases included his defence of Ian Brady in the Moors murder case of 1966. In 1962 Hooson had been elected Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire. In local Welsh affairs, he was a progressive force, urging long-term policies of regional and rural development. However, he was a strong critic of policies of nationalization; more remarkably, he was the one Liberal MP to oppose British membership of the European Common Market, which he saw as disastrous for Welsh hill-farming. In the late 1970s he became an active promoter of Welsh devolution. He lost his seat of Montgomeryshire at the 1979 election, before quickly becoming a Life Peer in the House of Lords.
The artist Evelyn Williams (1929-2012) was born in London into a family of Welsh descent. During the Second World War she was evacuated to the Ffestiniog area of north Wales an area she likley drew inspiration from for the slate-coloured seas, grey rumbling skies over, often a heaving terrain that became traits of later reliefs and paintings. In 1961 she won the John Moores sculpture award; fellow recipients from that year included Peter Blake and David Hockney. Examples of her highly introspective art works are now held in the Contemporary Art Society for Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales).
You can access there biographies and many others on the Oxford DNB in public libraries or online at www.oxforddnb.com/