Rhobert ap Steffan: Tireless campaigner for Welsh patriotic causes

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The magnificent menhir that commemorates Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, killed by English forces at Cilmeri near Builth in the middle March on 11 December 1282, is the focus for several hundred patriots who gather there on the anniversary of his death every year.

Drums are beaten, speeches made, books sold and poems read, and some of our bolder politicians address the motley crew who come to remember the last Prince of independent Wales, "our Prince" as the inscription nicely has it.

Prominent among them was Rhobert ap Steffan, who from his teens was devoted to the memory of Llywelyn and those others who have given their lives in the cause of their country's freedom down the centuries. He never missed the occasion, not once in 40 years, and when, last December, he failed to turn up there was a sense of unease in the nearby pub to which the crowd had repaired. Something was seriously amiss if Castro, as Rhobert was known, was not there to join in the act of remembrance. It was he, after all, who had done much to convene the rally over the years. What most present didn't know was that he had just been diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of cancer and had only a month to live.

His zeal for commemorating the heroes of the Welsh Pantheon never faltered. In 2001 he led a campaign to put up a statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ap Fychan in the centre of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire. This man, a local squire, of whom few had heard up to then, was a staunch supporter of Owain Glyndwr, who took the King's men on a wild-goose chase across upland mid-Wales in order to buy time for Owain to muster elsewhere.

Captured in 1401, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his intestines burnt before his eyes, but he refused to divulge Owain's position, and for this reason he has been called "the Welsh Braveheart". The splendid stainless steel monument, created by the brothers Toby and Gideon Petersen, is now an admired feature of Llandovery's townscape.

Rhobert was also one of the leaders of the large Welsh contingent who travelled to Mortagne-sur-Gironde, some 40 miles south of Bordeaux, for the inauguration of a memorial to Owain Lawgoch, known to the French as Yvain de Galles, a soldier of fortune and claimant Prince of Wales, who was killed during the siege of the castle at Mortagne in 1378. The statue, with a lapidary inscription in Welsh and French, was unveiled by Rosemary Butler, Chair of the National Assembly's Culture Committee, in 2003.

Rhobert was a tireless campaigner in the cause of Wales. He took a very active part in the anti-Investiture campaign of 1969, seeing in the pageantry at Caernarfon castle in July of that year a celebration of English dominion over Wales and a measure of the devastation which had been wrought on the Welsh people's sense of their national identity. His articles in the magazine Cambria, of which he was Editor at Large, were informed with a wit and sense of the absurd which made him an attractive commentator on current affairs in Wales and abroad. Conversation with him always ended in laughter.

An associate of Cayo Evans, and other leaders of the Free Wales Army, he was never openly implicated in its clandestine activities, preferring to put his skills to good use in stagingprocessions and rallies. It was on such occasions that the arms of the House of Gwynedd ('quarterly de Gu et Or en les quartiers leopards passans de contre couleur'), outlawed after 1282, first made a comeback; the red-and-gold flag is now widely seen in Wales, often flying from public buildings together with the Red Dragon. The same fondness for heraldic devices prompted Rhobert to found the annual St David's Day Parade which enlivens the streets of Cardiff every 1 March.

He also supported the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign when, in 2010, it was proposed to move the boundary with Devon some miles to the west, making a comparison with the status of Monmouthshire before it was declared an integral part of Wales. Indeed, he had contacts and friends in all the Celtic lands as well as in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

He shared the general sense of outrage when it was announced that the 2001 Census form would not allow Welsh people to declare themselves to be of Welsh nationality. The way he chose to protest was typically original and effective: he made a coffin in which he collected many thousands of spoiled forms and drove it all over Wales in a hearse, often to applause as it passed through villages and towns. The move contributed to a change of heart by the Office of National Statistics which has given an assurance that there will be a Welsh tick-box in the Census due to take place this year.

Rhobert's energies were sometimes put to purposes charitable rather than patriotic. In 2008, with the naturalist Iolo Williams, he went on a sponsored trek through the Andes in a bid to raise money for Mencap Cymru. Walking 12 miles a day for five weeks, he visited many of the Welsh settlements in Patagonia, taking copies of textbooks and the recently-published Encyclopaedia of Wales for presentation to schools and libraries there, and this out of gratitude for having first learnt Welsh in the colony as a young man of 19. A member of the Patagonia Support Group, he was among those who helped Shirley Edwards, a young Welsh-speaker from Patagonia, to spend some time in Wales after she had been refused entry by the Border Agency.

Rhobert ap Steffan was born in Hove, Brighton, in 1948, the son of a Welsh army chaplain named Hinton who was stationed in England and Germany. Brought up in Treorci in the Rhondda, he was educated at Porth Grammar School and Cirencester Agricultural College; after nearly a year in Patagonia he trained as an Art teacher at Barry College of Education. His first teaching job was at Bishop Hedley Roman Catholic School in Merthyr Tydfil; he took early retirement from a similar post at Ysgol Pantycelyn, Llandovery, where he had been Head of the Art Department, devoting his last years to photography, history and patriotic causes. The decision that defined the course of his life was that, while still in his teens, he changed his name to a patronymic form, using no other thereafter and passing it on to his three children.

Rhobert ap Steffan (formerly Robert Hinton), Welsh patriot: born Hove, Sussex 4 February 1948; married 1977 Marilyn Walters (two sons, one daughter); died Llangadog, Carmarthenshire 11 January 2011.

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