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Harri Webb was born on 7 September 1920 in Swansea, at 45 Ty Coch Road on the outskirts of the city, but before he was two the family moved to Catherine Street, nearer the city centre. Growing up in a working class environment, in 1938 he won a Local Education Authority scholarship, and went to the University of Oxford to study languages, specialising in French, Spanish and Portuguese - a period of his life to which he made virtually no reference in his writings. While he was at university his studies were affected by the death of his mother; he graduated with a third class degree in 1941.
Webb immediately volunteered for the Royal Navy, with whom he served during World War II as an interpreter, including work with the Free French in the Mediterranean region, with periods in Algeria and Palestine, and action in the north Atlantic. He was demobilised in Scotland in 1946.
Following his return to Wales in 1947 his life was outwardly uneventful. For some eight years he worked in temporary jobs, including working for Keidrych Rhys in Carmarthen, and a brief period in Cheltenham.
In 1954 Webb moved to Merthyr Tydfil to work as librarian in Dowlais and, in his own words, to fully absorb himself into the national experience. Two years later he published Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Rising of 1831, a pamphlet in which he somewhat imaginatively retells the story of the rebellion. ‘In defiance of any rational career structure’ he stayed at Dowlais for ten years, before becoming librarian in Mountain Ash in 1964. While in Merthyr Tydfil, Webb lived in Garth Newydd, an old house that had been given to the town during the Depression, and subsequently seemingly belonged to nobody; when Webb first moved in it was occupied by a group of pacifists. He lived in the house with Meic Stephens and others, and it became almost a nationalist commune.
In 1964 Webb began to work in Mountain Ash, the Cynon Valley previously having been the largest borough in Wales without a public library service. He made innovations such as lending LPs, and buying books and periodicals to appeal to a female readership, activities that sometimes angered some sections of the public.
His first collection of poetry, The Green Desert, was published in 1969. Webb carried on living in Garth Newydd and commuting to the next valley until 1972, when he moved to Cwmbach near Aberdare, before finally retiring in 1974, the year that A Crown For Branwen appeared.
This was followed by Rampage and Revel in 1977, and finally Poems and Points in 1983, soon after which Webb virtually ceased to write poetry, suffering a serious stroke in 1985.
Webb remained in Cwmbach before moving into a nursing home in Swansea shortly before his death on New Year’s Eve 1994. His funeral was held on January 6, 1995, at St. Mary’s Church in Pennard, Gower, where his grave is to be found.
Webb's poetry is marked by his radical Welsh nationalist politics and a quasi-Christian sensibility. In form it was often simple and comic, in order that it might influence a wide audience.
- The Stone Face and other poems, ed. M. Stephens (2005)
- Looking up England's arsehole, ed. M. Stephens (2000)
- A Militant Muse (1998)
- No Halfway House: selected political journalism 1950-1977, ed. M. Stephens (1997)
- Collected Poems, ed. M. Stephens (1995)
- Tales from Wales (1984)
- Poems and Points (1983)
- Rampage and Revel (1977)
- A Crown for Branwen (1974)
- The Green Desert: collected poems 1950-1969 (1969; repr. 1976)
- Our National Anthem (1964)
- [with M. Stephens, P. Griffith] Triad (1963)
- Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Upsrising of 1831 (1956)
- B. Morris, Harri Webb (1993)