This article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks (July 2004) with the permission of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society from original material provided by Deric John.
THE LOG BOOKS OF FERRYSIDE SCHOOL 1889-1937
By DILYS JENKINS and Roy DAVIES
THE GROWTH OF FERRYSIDE from a small, scattered settlement to a vital, bustling community was largely due to the development of the railways. The tidal waters of the River Towy were kept at bay by the embankment and, as a result, more dwelling houses were built and the increase in population warranted the building of a school.
This was undertaken in 1856 by the Church Commissioners on land measuring one rood thirty six perches which was the property of John Frederick Cambell, Earl of Cawdor, and John Frederick Vaughan Campbell commonly called Viscount Emlyn of Golden Grove. The trust deed states that the building was to be used as a school for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes in the parish of St. Ishmael.
The management committee was composed of the Minister, Curate and Churchwarden together with seven others who were elected as required by members of the Church of England in the parish. Each parishioner was entitled to one vote for every sum of 10/- which he had contributed to the school funds up to a limit of six votes per person.
Members of the management committee were required to donate at least 21/- per annum to the school, to be members of the Church, to have a beneficial interest in property or to be resident in the parish of St. Ishmael.
The first members of the committee were -
Rees Goring Thomas the elder and Rees Goring Thomas the younger, both of Iscoed.
Apsley Smith of Ferryside. Esquire.
Evan Stephens of Bertwn and Thomas Humphreys of Danylan. Gentlemen.
Walter Brown and Richard Kyrke Penson both of Ferryside. Gentlemen.
Benjamin Jones of Penlan. Farmer.
Contemporary prints show the school building much as it is today except that the bell tower which once graced the centre of the structure has been removed. A cloaked clergyman appears in the picture and the spirited horseman on the road in front of the school has been superseded by the motor car.
Log books from the commencement of the school in 1856 are missing and the first entry is dated September 18th 1889 when W. H. Mitchell who had been headmaster since January 1880 recorded that the attendance was very good. 113 pupils were registered and the average attendance for the year was 105.5.
The remarks of Her Majesty's Inspectors who visited the school make it obvious that the construction of the building left much to be desired. Partitions were needed to separate the classes, the condition of the roof was considered dangerous and stones and boulders littered the playground which was often under water. The doors were ill fitting, there were complaints that the rooms were frequently in a dirty state and that the condition of the outside offices was deplorable. It is interesting to note that today the playground is still subject to flooding, the roof is constantly in need of attention and the doors are still ill fitting. The infant class would appear to have suffered most. Between 25 and 43 small children were taught in a room measuring 12 foot x 10 foot and it was not until February 1898 after much agitation that small desks were provided for them.
The inside temperature of the school also caused concern and on January 25th 1907 the temperature of the main room was 2°F below freezing point. In summer it could rise to 82°F but on these occasions it was the pratice (sic) to hold the classes under the trees in the school garden. Electric light was not installed until 1923 and teachers and pupils had to wait until 1929 for a proper system of heating.
Looking at the school today it is hard to imagine that up to 145 pupils could be crammed into such a small space and it is not surprising that under such conditions infection was rife. In September 1890, 55 pupils were absent suffering from Whooping Cough ; on a number of occasions the school was closed because of Measles ; whole families were absent for months at a time on account of Diphtheria and on November 12th 1894 Dr. Bowen Jones visited the school in connection with the spread of Scarlet Fever. He examined the hands of everey (sic) child present. Other common medical reasons for absence included Typhoid Fever, Impetigo, Scabies, Epidemic Sickness and Ringworm.
Other reasons for absence vary. John Brown's Fair at Carmarthen, sheep shearing at Cwm Mill, the annual influx of visitors from Swindon and potato digging are among the most frequent excuses encountered. Perhaps the most poignant of all is the entry for December 2nd 1937.
" Tommy Thomas absent. No boots ".
An annual distribution of clothing and vouchers for free boots was made throughout most of the period covered by the log books and in January 1896 a free soup kitchen was established with 85 scholars being provided with soup through the generosity of D. W. Drummond, Esq., who lived at Portiscliff.
In addition to individual absences frequent holidays or half holidays were granted for a variety of reasons at the discretion of the headmaster. These included the annual visit of the militia (complete with band) to the village, Sunday School treats, the anniversary of the founding of the Ferryside Branch of the Ivorites Friendly Society, meetings of the hounds and the Kidwelly Fair. Occasional holidays were also given for religious revivalist meetings, exceptionally good attendance at school and satisfactory examination results.
The school was supervised by Her Majesty's Inspectors and by Inspectors from the Diocese. These annual reports are particularly interesting because of their marked difference. The comments on the religious teaching are, without exception, complimentary. The tone of the school is invariably found to be good and the pupils well taught. Both Bishop's and Scholar's certificates were awarded in satisfactory numbers. On the other hand, the remarks of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools show that the state of the buildings and the secular teaching were below standard. It is evident that the school managers were not taking an active interest and H.M.I's report for the year 1890 states,
" Great improvement throughout the school will be expected another year in order to obtain the summary mark 'Fair' ''.
A running battle was fought with the deficiencies of the building and the deterioration of the equipment. On August 12th 1912 the cleaner complained of the leaking condition of the buckets in the girls' toilets and a requisition was sent through the correspondent for
(a) A fresh supply of buckets.
(b) Four padlocks.
(c) Suitable water tap and repair of pipe.
(d) New school clock (second application).
Modest as these requirements might seem the list was returned on September 12th with instructions to reduce the order by one third.
The difficulties of the headmaster *H. V. Mitchell (advised Oct 2013 - should be W H Mitchell) were not lessened by the lack of teaching staff, which was acute. In 1903 the staff of the school was follows.
43 infants (still in their room measuring l2ft. x 10ft.) were taught by Willie Wilson (advised Oct 2013 - should be Lillie Wilson), a first year pupil teacher, assisted by monitors. 20 Standard 1 pupils were taught by a monitress. 22 Standard 2 pupils were taught by Harry Mitchell (the son of the headmaster who later succeeded to the headship when his father retired) a first year pupil teacher.
Standards 3 to 7 totalling 58 were taught by the headmaster.
In spite of the shortage of staff and over-crowded accommodation the scholastic work was ambitious and the subjects taken seem advanced in comparison with the curriculum of village schools today. In 1891 Latin and Greek were taught to Standards 6 and 7. In 1900 Algebra and Geometry and in 1901 Shorthand and Typewriting were started.
In September 1906 Willie Williams obtained Pitman's Second or Theory Certificate for Shorthand. Emphasis was placed on proficiency in sewing and these lessons were taken very seriously. Several entries in the log record that the girls had to be cautioned for talking during their " garments " classes.
Physical exercise was not ignored and military drill was part of the boys' training with particular attention paid to the art of " turning ". There was a boys' soccer team and a girls' hockey team and in the absence of playing fields both these games were played on the beach. In 1901 when sufficient money had been raised by voluntary effort a piano was bought and physical exercises to music became a regular feature of the school day.
In addition to formal teaching advantage was taken of the educational opportunities to be found in the surrounding countryside. Boys were taken on rambles and the girls made visits to local farms where they were instructed in the art of cheese making. Competitions were organised and on one occasion Richard Lewis won first prize for producing sixty different varieties of May flowers.
One unusual venture for a primary school proved very popular. In 1917 the headmaster applied to the Education Committee for permission to hold a Day School Garden. A plot of land near Holcwm, about ten minutes walk from the school, was secured and the boys set about digging and trenching. Garden classes were held for two hours each day and were greatly enjoyed by the children.
Little reference is made in the log books to the teaching of Welsh although from time to time there are suggestions that the study of Welsh literature should be extended. In 1925 a survey was carried out which revealed the following state of affairs.
29 children spoke Welsh at home.
50 children spoke English at home.
23 children spoke both languages at home.
A comparable survey carried out in 1970 shows that of the pupils at present attending Ferryside school only 4 speak Welsh at home.
The log books are by no means a dry and dusty account of scholastic achievements and Inspectors' reports and criticisms. They are enlivened by stories of local events and one wonders at the drama which lay behind some of the entries.
June 27th 1906. A sudden earth tremor occurred at 9-45 a.m. The children were much frightened but quickly recovered themselves.
On April 17th 1912 and again on June 29th 1927 pupils watched the eclipse of the sun. On the latter occasion they witnessed the phenomenon from Trecor Hill and noted that during the eclipse the temperature dropped 12°F.
Wednesday July 7th 1897. All the children were marched up to the shop of Mr. Jonah Thomas during the morning playtime to view a sturgeon caught this day. This fish weighed 3cwt. 3qtrs. was 10 feet long and 56 inches in girth.
July 16th 1926 Emily House 13 yrs. 10 mths. weighed 130lbs.
March 5th 1909. " Ajax " known as the " strong man " visited the school and gave examples of physical exercises and an exhibition of feats of strength.
Close study of the log books reveals several interesting points.
1. A certain discrimination between boys and girls is evident. An impression is gained that academic subjects were considered more suitable for boys and a great deal of the girls' time was spent darning and making "garments ". During playtime the boys were separated from the girls in different play grounds and the gate between them was locked.
2. Latin, Greek, Algebra and Geometry were taught in this village school as a routine and Shorthand and Typewriting were available for those who might benefit from these subjects.
3. Present day religious teaching has become less sectarian and for the first time in its history the school has a nonconformist headmaster. The following letter shows clearly the feelings of one person on this subject.
Dated December 18th 1905.
Dear Mr. Mitchell,
Until this notice is withdrawn I desire you to refrain from giving religious instruction to my child Margaret W. E. Morgan. This is not meant as a reflection upon you but as a protest against the misleading statements made in St. Thomas' Church Sunday week. In the future the despised nonconformist shall give her religious instruction.
4. During the period covered by the log books children remained at the village school until they were 14. Today they leave at the age of 11. Bearing this in mind it is interesting to note that for the past eighty years the number of pupils attending this school has remained fairly constant at or around one hundred.
5. Many of the old names appearing in the early log books are still in evidence in the registers of the present day.
We are greatly indebted to the Vicar of Ferryside, the Rev. Charles Bowen Jones for allowing us to examine the trust deed of the school dated 1856.