Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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ROBERTS , ROBERT DAVIES ( 1851 - 1911 ), pioneer in adult education (and scientist) ;

b. 5 March 1851 , at Aberystwyth , eldest son of Richard Davies Roberts , timber merchant , and Sara Davies . Educated locally and at Oswestry , the Liverpool Institute , University College , London ( B.Sc. , 1st class in geology, 1870 , D.Sc. , 1878 ), Clare College , Cambridge (2nd class natural sciences tripos., 1875 ), he was ( 1876-7 ) temporary lecturer at the University College of Wales , Aberystwyth ; Cambridge University extension lecturer ( 1878-81 ); assistant secretary , Cambridge University Committee for local lectures ( 1881-94 ); Fellow of Clare College and University lecturer in geology ( 1884 ); secretary London Society for Extension of University Teaching ( 1886 ); secretary of the Gilchrist Trust ; and editor of The University Extension Journal ( 1889 ). He was the author of Earth's History: An Introduction to Geology , 1893 . He was secretary of the Cambridge Syndicate for University extension lecturers ( 1894-1902 ) and registrar of the external side of the University of London ( 1902-11 ). He m. ( 1888 ) Mary King , of Brighton , and d. 11 Nov. 1911 at Kensington .

Roberts believed that adult education should be an integral part of the education system of England and Wales , that the Universities should assume this responsibility, and that their numbers should be increased to enable them to discharge it. He was an outstanding figure in adult education , advocating, leading, and experimenting. Each University should have one constituent college for the further education of non-resident students , authorised to award certificates, diplomas, and degrees covering all university subjects. His emphasis on advanced and written work prepared the way for the tutorial class. He organised ‘summer schools’ ; he advocated ‘Mature Matriculation’ and adult scholarships at universities , and the representation of non-academic interests on university extension boards. He strove to extend public libraries and settlements such as Toynbee Hall . Towards the end of his life he was not in step with new developments associated with Trade Unions , the Co-operative Movement , and the Workers’ Educational Association . As a scholar and experienced administrator he helped to establish the University of Wales . He was junior deputy chancellor in 1903 and chairman of its executive committee in 1911 .


  • R. D. Roberts , Eighteen Years of University Extension (Cambridge, 1891) ;
  • id., University Extension under the old and new Conditions ;
  • id., articles in Y Traethodydd , 1889 (March), The Education Review , vii, University Extension Congress, London, 1894. Report of the Proceedings, etc (London, 1894) , 1894 , Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society , 1898 ;
  • B. B. Thomas , ‘R. D. Roberts in Adult Education’ in Harlech Studies. Essays presented to Dr. Jones, Thomas (Cardiff, 1938) .


Syr Benjamin Bowen Thomas, M.A.,(1899-1977), London / Bangor

Published date: 1959