During one of the first meetings of the University of Wales Press Board in early April 1923, it was noted that the Board had received copies of the very first book published in the history of UWP exactly a century ago, The Poetical Works of Dafydd Nanmor. The book was edited by the late Thomas Roberts from Borth-y-Gest and revised by his friend and MA tutor at University of Wales College, Bangor, Ifor Williams. As Williams explains in his preface to the book: ‘This work was submitted in 1909 by my friend Tom Roberts as a dissertation for the M.A. degree of the University of Wales, and was approved by the Examiners. Probably he had been attracted to Dafydd Nanmor as a subject by his interest in the historical associations of his native district, for Porth y Gest is only a few miles distant from Nanmor, the home of the poet.’ He goes on to note that Roberts studied Welsh at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, under the guidance of Sir Edward Anwyl, another of the era’s leading scholars. He was then a Welsh master at Grove Park School, Wrexham, for a period before joining the army during the First World War. Tragically, as Williams goes on to explain, ‘On the morning of October 11th, 1918, he was severely wounded in action, succumbing to his wounds on the same day. He lies in the British Cemetery, Bucquoi Road, near Arras.’
Ifor Williams felt a responsibility to honour his friend’s final wishes: ‘In his will, drawn up on the battlefield, he left me his manuscript, to be used as I thought fit in the preparation of the Cywyddau series. I felt, however, that it would be fairer to his memory to publish his Collection of the Works of Dafydd Nanmor in full, as it was the only complete work he left behind him.’ He mentions the difficulties involved in preparing the work for the Press due to his ‘unwillingness to tamper with the work as my friend had left it, but yet one was tempted to emend here and there, if not to recast radically’ before outlining the important work which Roberts completed in gathering Dafydd Nanmor’s extant poems together from scattered collections of medieval manuscripts. His academic colleagues and members of the Press Board, John Ballinger and T. H. Parry-Williams helped him with the work of converting Roberts’s thesis into the final book which was published in the early months of 1923. It was printed by Hugh Evans and Sons, Liverpool, the first of many different printers from Wales and beyond used by UWP in its early decades. As J. Gwynn Williams commented in his history of the University College of North Wales between 1884 and 1927, Ifor Williams ‘performed this moving act of pietas with delicate care’. He would go on to publish many more seminal works on early and medieval Welsh poetry for UWP in between the 1920s and 1950s, making a huge and lasting contribution to the study of Welsh literature in the process.