Monday 9 May 2016

Botwnnog School 400: A Tribute

In the year we celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary we also (appropriately enough) celebrate the 400th anniversary of my old secondary school. Overlooking the small village of Botwnnog in Gwynedd, North Wales I attended Ysgol Botwnnog (Botwnnog School) from 1990 through to 1995 and now, my daughter is a pupil there. The school will be commemorating its 400th anniversary with a book and exhibition devoted to its history later this year. In the meantime I thought I would celebrate by creating two pieces dedicated to two people that helped me during my time there. I am not the most confident of men, but what confidence I have was achieved through the help and dedication of these two gentlemen and I dedicate this post to him.

Mr Peter ‘Pete’ Wyn Hughes 
Mr Peter ‘Pete’ Wyn Hughes was born in Dyffryn Clwyd in Northeast Wales in 1948 and having worked as engineer, a frame maker, carpenter, and maintenance engineer he became a teacher at Botwnnog School in 1989 teaching design and technology (CDT) until his retirement in 2007. A father of two daughters (Rhiannon and Manon), he seemed the most human of all the teachers. We were all intrigued to learnt that he was in fact a 3rd dan black belt in Karate and one of the founding members and chairman of the Welsh Traditional Karate Federation, coaching athletes to international standard. He was also chief instructor of Sakura karate club in Caernarfon up to his untimely death of cancer in 2009.
He was an immensely kind and supportive man, armed with a rare trait within the teaching staff of a sense of humour. His popularity with the pupils would manifest each December when all the cards he had received would line up his classroom window.
I was fortunate to be taught by Peter Hughes during my first year at Botwnnog, as he taught both science and CDT one of the first things he had us doing was designing posters that highlighted safety in the lab. I made a poster featuring 3 pupils running amok as Hyde-esq monsters having foolishly consumed the chemicals in the lab and he was extremely complimentary of my work and when my drawings were featured in a local paper a few months later he pinned the article on the classroom wall. Although this did me no favours as far as being accepted by my fellow pupils it did however boost my confidence in my art. I remember being immensely impressed to find The Great Cartoon Stars: A Who's Who by Denis Gifford on his reference book shelf, a book he very kindly lent me on several occasions, this book would play a part in my cartoon styling. From time to time he would try to get me break from cartooning and encourage me to draw from life but when word got round that I was drawing caricatures of teachers he commissioned his own. This portrait (performing a Karate chop to break a plank of wood in two instead of a saw) was pinned on his notice board for some years.  When the time came to leave school armed with our brand new National Record of Achievement (NRA) folders Peter Hughes wrote inside, “Arfon has some very original and imaginative ideas. He has shown a rare talent with some aspects of his artwork. I hope that he will pursue this in some way”. I did, and I will always be grateful to him for the time and encouragement he gave me.

Mr. Roger Ioan Stephens - Jones
(1943 -2016)
Born in Aberpennar in the Cynon Valley, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales he was raised by non welsh speaking parents but took up Welsh as a subject at Ysgol Ramadeg Howardian in Cardiff. He then enrolled in the Aelwyd yr Urdd and Tabernacle Chapel in Cardiff in order to master the language. Having graduated from Jesus College, Oxford with a B.A. in English literature in 1965, he stayed on to complete a B.Lit. on the works of Milton completing a thesis entitled The Epic Similes in Paradise Lost in 1967. He then emigrated to Canada with his wife Ann having accepted a position at the English department at Carleton University Ottawa in 1967. 7 years later they returned to Wales, now a father of two (Gwenllian and Huw) he took the position of head of English department at Botwnnog school in 1975 and remained there until he took early retirement in 1996.
Throughout my early academic years I struggled with my spelling and grammar and although teachers often addressed it they attributed it to laziness or a reluctance to learn on my part. That was until I attended Mr. Stephens - Jones’s English class in 1990 he believed that I was in fact Dyslexic and requested that I be assessed, he was right I was. This changed everything and thanks to his teachings and his belief in me I was able to turn things around somewhat. He taught me the value of a Thesaurus, how to play Chess, enjoy classical music and to understand and enjoy the works of Shakespeare. Most teachers would dash to the staff room during breaks but he would stay in his class and eat his lunch there, the room was open to all pupils to come in to play chess, drafts or discuss their work (he even let us play Lemmings on the school computer!) 20 years since leaving school I can’t remember a single poem, hymn or prayer taught to me but I can still recite Puck’s opening speech to A Midsummer Night's Dream, a testament to his abilities and talent for teaching. A man of many talents Mr Stephens - Jones had a great assortments of interests such as art (he exhibited his work at the National Eisteddfod), gardening, religion, politics, rugby and all manner of music (excluding country). He loved literature, ranging from academic works to children’s literature and would also write poetry and pros (once winning the Daniel Owen prize at the Llanrwst Eisteddfod). We sadly lost Mr Stephens – Jones just as I started working on these tributes, I had hoped that this would be a way of thanking him for believing in me and for helping me all those years ago. Although he didn’t get to see it, the sentiment still stands I will always be grateful to him.

© Arfon Jones 2016. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.


  1. Nice tributes to both gentlemen, AJ. Sadly, all my schools were demolished a while back, and 'though new school buildings rose in their place, it's not quite the same thing, is it? Incidentally, a week or so back, a message purporting to be from you, with a link, appeared in my spam folder. Is it genuine, or from a would-be hacker?

    1. I remember the school being made up of buildings of varying age (mostly Victorian and 1970’s) when I went back there 15 years later some building had been leveled with new ones built in their place. The school does seem to tell its own story… Sorry about the e-mails Kid, please dismiss it! I'm not sure what happened there!

  2. Lovely tribute. And your school is so old! I've no idea when mine was founded, it's fairly modern, but I'd happily go back with a wrecking ball to knock it down...

    1. I know what you mean Mim, It wasn’t until I went back there with my daughter to look round that I realised how much nostalgia I had for it. If I had gone back in time and told my younger self-that I would some day look back on it with (some) fondness I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed it! ;)



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