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  Dinah Eiluned Lyon Williams (1911–2009), by Arvid Parry-Jones, 2002 Dinah Eiluned Lyon Williams (1911–2009), by Arvid Parry-Jones, 2002
Williams [née Jones], Dinah Eiluned Lyon (1911–2009), organic farmer, was born on 23 July 1911 in Crugiau, near Aberystwyth, the second of three children of Abel Edwin Jones (1875–1924), senior lecturer, and later professor of agriculture, at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and his wife, Bessie Lyon, née Brown (1879–1963). Both parents brought together an appreciation of their farming roots with a desire for knowledge which could be applied on the farm and a flair for livestock husbandry. Her father was one of eight children of a Welsh farmer; his academic achievements came in spite of his background, and his sympathies remained with the practicalities of farming. Dinah's maternal grandparents were tenant farmers on the Glamis estate near Dundee. Her mother, after a two-year agriculture course at Glasgow University, had joined the newly established agriculture department at Reading University in 1897 to study dairying, where she was an outstanding student. At the young age of twenty-one she was appointed the first dairy instructress at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where she met Dinah's father.

Dinah Jones showed an aptitude for handling livestock at an early age, milking cows daily from the age of five, showing the family farm's prize-winning Guernsey cows, and winning first prize in a milking competition at the London dairy show at the age of twelve. The death of her father from leukaemia soon after was a great blow. Her mother continued to farm, relying increasingly on Dinah (a pupil at Aberystwyth county school) to help run the farm. Passionate about the role of nutrition in health (‘The whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead’ was a favourite saying), Dinah was already an advocate of what she called ‘natural’ farming methods, including crop mixes, rotation in land management, and the use of organic fertilizers, which she had learned from her parents, and an opponent of the use of chemical fertilizers.

Dinah Jones married Stanley Owen Williams, who had been a student at Aberystwyth, in 1941, and during the 1940s they moved to a much larger farm, Brynllys, also near Aberystwyth, with views out to sea. This suited her husband, who had wanted a sea-going career, but ill health had prevented this. As farming was not his first love he left Dinah to take the lead, working increasingly away from the farm as a livestock officer. They brought up their family of four children while modernizing the farm and building up their herd of pedigree Guernsey cattle.

Over a long life Dinah Williams gave continuity to the developing organic farming movement. In addition to the huge influence of her parents she got to know a number of leading agriculturists when still young. In the late 1930s she travelled with Sir John Russell, director of Rothamsted Experimental Station, on one of his trips to the Soviet Union to visit Soviet collective farms. She frequently saw Sir George Stapledon, who had taken up a chair of agricultural botany at Aberystwyth, and became director of the nearby Welsh Plant Breeding Station in 1919. Stapledon had a vision of society with a reinvigorated rural community based around the small-holding. In 1952 she met Lady Eve Balfour, whose book The Living Soil (1943) had led to the establishment of the Soil Association. During the 1950s Williams became active in the fledgling Soil Association, sharing a platform with Balfour at a time when farming audiences were largely hostile to the organic farming message. Brynllys became the first certified organic farm in the UK, demonstrating what many dairy farmers in Wales already knew—that Williams's organic farming system produced outstanding results.

After Stanley's death in 1966, when her daughter Rachel and husband Gareth Rowlands took over the running of the farm (and began making organic yoghurt, the start of the hugely successful Rachel's Dairy), Dinah Williams was able to devote more time to off-farm activities. She was an internationally renowned judge of Guernsey cattle, travelling the world and attending world Guernsey conferences; she was elected a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1977 and served as president of the English Guernsey Cattle Society in 1981–2. She was appointed to various farming organizations, such as the Milk Marketing Board and Grassland Society. She joined the Soil Association council in 1971, and the first meeting of the west Wales group of the association took place at her home. Thereafter she became something of a maternal figure for this dynamic group of organic farmers and growers, travelling with them to Soil Association meetings and giving farming advice and good counsel. Among their number was Patrick Holden, one of the principal movers in the development of the Soil Association into an organization which reunited consumer and producer through organic values. Dinah Williams provided continuity as the Soil Association went through an uncomfortable transition, and the new generation took the controls. After her death Holden described her as ‘an inspiration and mentor to countless organic farmers’, adding that ‘The Soil Association has lost its matriarch’ (Soil Association Producer e-news, September 2009).

Dinah Williams's farming was underpinned by a strong ethic, derived from her family's traditional farming approach. It was based on a belief that good husbandry depended on working with the grain of nature rather than fighting it. Through skilful management and good husbandry she demonstrated that organic farming methods could deliver outstanding results, and she provided a link between the pioneers of organic farming, of which she was one, and the activists who took over the movement in the 1980s. She remained fit and sprightly into old age, and attributed her good health to good food, a daily cold bath, and an active life; she distrusted modern medicines, and was an advocate for naturopathic remedies. She died of heart failure at Brynllys on 3 September 2009, and was survived by her four children. Her funeral was held on 15 September at Llangorwen church, Clarach, Aberystwyth, and she was cremated at Aberystwyth crematorium on the same day.

James Robertson


P. Conford, ‘“Somewhere quite different”: the seventies generation of organic activists and their context’, Rural History, 19 (2008), 217–34 · T. Bevan, They dared to make a difference (2009) · Western Mail (15 Sept 2009) · The Times (25 Sept 2009) · The Guardian (19 Oct 2009) · Daily Telegraph (24 Oct 2009) · Guernsey News [newsletter of English Guernsey Cattle Society], Christmas (2009) · Soil Association Producer e-news, Sept 2009, www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=YRAM6Yrph24=, accessed on 2 May 2012 · b. cert. · d. cert.


A. Parry-Jones, photograph, 2002, priv. coll. [see illus.] · obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

under £103,000: probate, 30 Oct 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales