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Who was Sir Hugh Owen?

Statue of Sir Hugh Owen in Central Library Hugh Owen was one of the pioneers of higher education in Wales.

He was born on Anglesey in 1804 and moved to London at the age of 21 to work as a solicitors clerk. He moved to work for the Poor Law Commission in 1836, eventually becoming Chief Clerk in 1853.

He rendered inestimable services to the cause of education, and more especially to the University College of Wales (Aberystwyth), of which he was chief founder.

He became involved in the British and foreign Schools in London and in 1843 published a letter to the people of Wales, advocating the need to establish British and Foreign Schools in Wales. As a non-conformist he supported the idea of non-denominational day schools in Wales. In 1843 he was instrumental in the appointing of an agent for the British and Foreign schools Society in North Wales and then in South Wales at a later date.

In 1846 he became honorary secretary of the Cambrian Educational Society and published another letter advocating the establishment of British Schools in Wales. His campaign led to the establishment of a number of Schools in Wales but this highlighted another problem - a shortage of trained teachers.

In 1856 he was one of the founder member of a movement to establish the Normal College at Bangor for teacher training. His vision included another teacher training college in South Wales; one specifically for women in Swansea and a university for Wales. In 1863 a committee was formed to raise the funds to establish a University for Wales in Aberystwyth. In 1867 the Committee were able to buy the old Castle Hotel cheaply and by 1872 the University opened. It was not financially stable and Hugh Owen retired so that he could focus on raising funds to clear the debt and raise more money to secure the future of the University. This he did.

Hugh Owen recognised the need to improve the education in intermediate schools so that there were suitably qualified entrants for the new University. At the National Eisteddfod in Caernarfon in 1880, Hugh Owen read a paper to members of the Society of Cymmrodorion on 'Intermediate Education in Ireland and Secondary Education in Wales'. This eventually led to the passing of a new law; The Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889.

His life was devoted to the service of his country, not only in long and successful official labours, but also in various voluntary efforts. He was knighted in August 1881 but died 3 months later.

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