A History of Carmarthenshire


Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

With the kind permission of the publishers sundry extracts from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks.

Here is a list of the book's contents and contributors.


Public Elementary and Secondary Education (continued)

Secondary Education

By T H Lewis

The Welsh Intermediate Education Act (1889) soon became popular in Carmarthenshire. In accordance with its provisions, a Joint Education Committee was set up for the county. It was the duty of this committee, which consisted of five members, three appointed by the County Council and two by the Lord President of the Council, to submit to the Charity Commissioners (afterwards the Board of Education) "a scheme or schemes for the intermediate and technical education of the inhabitants of their county, or in conjunction with the inhabitants of any adjoining county or counties" --- or proposals for such a scheme. The members of this committee were ; Mr Gwilym Evans (Llanelly, chairman), Lord Emlyn, Mr J S Tregoning (Ferryside), the Rev W Thomas (Whitland), and Professor D E Jones (Carmarthen, vice, Mr J Glyn Thomas, Llangennech).

Applications for schools came from every district in the county. The committee indicated that it would be guided to some extent by the readiness of the districts concerned to contribute towards the building fund. A sum of no less than £10,000 was voluntarily subscribed and six acres of valuable building land was offered as sites. It was reported at a general meeting of the various Joint Educational Committees of Wales in 1891 that Carmarthenshire had agreed to levy a half-penny rate for intermediate education under the Technical Instruction Act, and a similar rate under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act. According to the County Scheme which was established in 1894, six school districts were formed, namely, Carmarthen, Llanelly, Llandovery, Llandilo, Whitland, and Llandysul. At Carmarthen, the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School was incorporated as a boys' school under the County Scheme, and a school for girls was also established (1895). To Llanelly was allocated a school for boys and one for girls (1895). The school at Llandilo (1894) was originally for boys only and that at Llandovery (1896) for girls only, but both in time became dual schools. For many years, the Llandovery Dual school remained in what must have been the rare position of being in the charge of a headmistress. The Joint Education Committee had proceeded on the assumption that the Collegiate Institution at Llandovery would come under the County Scheme and had accordingly made provision for boys living in that district to hold scholarships at the Collegiate Institution, which, however, in the event remained outside the scheme. The original intention was to make Whitland Dual school serve parts of Pembrokeshire, but that county decided to set up its own county school at Narberth.  Llandysul was a joint school with Cardiganshire. In accordance with the provisions of the scheme, a county school was given in 1914 to the Amman Valley.

The District Governing Bodies were responsible for local finance and the ordinary management of school affairs, while the County Governing Body (which consisted of representatives of the County Council and various other bodies) dealt with such general aspects as arrangements for the inspection of the schools, the provision of  school buildings, and the appointment and dismissal of head teachers. It was the practice of the Chief Inspector of the Central Welsh Board to attend some of the meetings of the County Governing Body to discuss current educational problems with its members. The "technical" aspect of the work in the schools was very definitely kept in mind by the County Governing Body. Its members made it clear in 1899  that "the action of the Central Welsh Board with regard to the Commercial Certificate would largely determine whether the schools of Carmarthenshire should receive any assistance out of a technical rate." Later (1901), they pointed out that, when the County Scheme was formed, cookery, laundrywork, and dressmaking had been considered of more importance for girls than chemistry and botany; they were afraid that, if the new scheme were adopted by girls' schools, they would not be acting in accordance with the spirit of the scheme under which they were established.  The Central Welsh Board, on the other hand, while fully realising the need for preparing the pupils in a general way for careers in agriculture, commerce etc, did not desire the schools to become narrowly vocational. At a meeting with the County Governing Body in 1903, the Chief Inspector of the Central Welsh Board reported that out of 511 pupils in the county in May of that year, only nine received instruction in the Welsh language, while 95% were taught French.  Subsequently, the question of Welsh received special attention, and a marked improvement followed.

The Education Act of 1902 transferred the functions of the County Governing Body to the Carmarthenshire County Council as the Local Education Authority for Secondary Education. Except for the Gwendraeth Valley Secondary school, which was opened (1925) under the provisions of the 1902 Act, the county schools of Carmarthenshire are still governed by the provisions of a scheme regulating the Carmarthenshire Intermediate and Technical Education Fund.

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Epilogue  (to the chapter 'Economic and Social Life')

By E G Bowen

In any review of the social and economic history of this period of four hundred years in Carmarthenshire, it must be emphasised that the changes witnessed during the 19th century were more marked and more rapid than in any preceding age. Such, indeed, was the case over most of the British Isles during this remarkable period. It would appear that large-scale changes in the distribution and grouping of the population , as well as in the nature of their occupations and means of sustenance, followed almost inevitably from the great expansion of industry. It is clear that the magnitude of the change is best seen in those localities where the new industries were concentrated, but marked changes in one area had their repercussions in another, and what was happening in Glamorgan and in the south-eastern corner of Carmarthenshire influenced, in all manner of ways, the lives of those who lived on the lonely moorlands of Penboyr and Cilrhedyn, or in the medieval towns of Llandilo and Carmarthen.

Conditions at the beginning of the 19th century are little changed  from what they had been nearly three hundred years before. Agriculture and its associated industries remained the mainstay of practically all who did not live in the small towns and ports. A visitor at the beginning of the century, if he could have obtained an aerial view of the land in September, would have seen beneath him extensive areas of golden brown, as the grain fields matured at harvest time. Arable farming was much practised, and the green fields and meadows that we now know so well were then much less in evidence. The progress of the Napoleonic wars caused Britain to concentrate more and more on her internal resources. Fields at high altitudes and in moorland country were ploughed up and sown to grain. But as the 19th century wore on, the task of feeding the ever-increasing thousands in Britain who no longer tilled the soil for themselves, but congregated in large towns and cities, became too severe a strain on a countryside which was being rapidly denuded of its better human elements by migration to the industrial areas, there to be fed by cheap imported foods. This factor, together with the depression after the Napoleonic wars, precipitated the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and with them arable farming in Western Britain rapidly declined. Carmarthenshire shared the general depression of the countryside, depopulation was accentuated, and henceforth "progress", as popularly interpreted, lay with the industrial areas.

The general prosperity of agriculture, and of rural estates at the close of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century was reflected in the quickening of life in the older towns. This was still the age of the country squire. We have seen how the Carmarthenshire squires were eagerly interested in bettering the roads and bridges, mainly to enable them to undertake, in relative comfort, the long journeys to Bath and London, or other fashionable centres, and there to join other folk of social standing during the season. With the gradual improvement in communications, there grew up a desire for more and more social life, and local capitals like Carmarthen became centres wherein the squire-archy gathered on social occasions. Carmarthen was the natural focus of the county, and at the same time maintained its traditional function as an administrative centre; it thus was able to outpace the smaller towns, such as Llandilo, Llandovery, and Kidwelly. Public buildings were renovated and improved during these years, and the streets of the town were better paved and better lit. We hear of great balls and dances held in the old inns of coaching days , such as the Boar's Head Hotel and the King's Head in King Street. There was also the Carmarthen theatre, while in the year 1800, a local historian notes with pride that "the Pembrokeshire militia arrive here for winter quarters."  Thus the life of the small market towns, especially those of some size and antiquity, was a very vigorous and colourful one. It would almost seem as if the landed gentry who foregathered in them realised that their own period of privilege and plenty was well-nigh drawing to its close, and that now was their last parade of splendour before they were to be replaced in wealth and influence by the merchants and bankers and captains of industry, whose lives centred in the towns of the industrial age.

The building of roads and bridges, so eagerly championed by the squires for their own convenience, became the means of increasing the mobility of the population as a whole.  No longer was the small tenant or farm-worker virtually bound to the soil or the estate whereon he was born. He moved away to seek his fortune anew as a labourer amidst the smoke and ashes of Merthyr Tydfil or Ebbw Vale, or even in the copper works and coal mines around Llanelly.

This era of rapid change helped to throw into greater relief the social contrasts between landlord and peasant, and with the period of agricultural depression the contrast appeared still more violent. The general election of 1837 had revealed a new political consciousness among the agricultural workers, while at the same time a new spirit of revolt had grown up in the industrial areas which slowly percolated to the countryside. The beginnings of industrial life had been accompanied by intense agitation and frequent disturbances. The thunder of the Chartist movement resounded among the hills of West Wales, and swiftly and suddenly in the summer of 1839, the Rebecca movement broke the peace of the countryside. The force which inspired "Beca" ultimately passed into other movements; trade unionism, demands for public education, temperance, the franchise, and religion. Herein we witness the beginnings of that staunch struggle for, and belief in, democracy, which was such a characteristic feature of our social and political life during the later decades of the 19th century.

The changes that had been taking place in the first half of the century, or perhaps up to 1870, were apparent in all manner of ways. There is, for example, a definite increase in the density of population around Llanelly, and the south-east of the county, generally associated with the expansion of the non-ferrous metal and coal industries of the area. The rapid development of communications, which now included railway transport, not only helped the organisation of the industrial areas, but also brought the farmers into closer touch with the outside world. On the one hand, this meant the gradual introduction of agricultural machinery and imported foods, while on the other, it gave the farmer a wider market. The industrial areas created a demand for food, especially for dairy produce and poultry, so that towards the end of the century most of the farmers in the Towy Valley, and in the area bordering the railway line  from Carmarthen westwards, had become almost exclusively dairy farms. More and more arable land passed into grass, and the golden-brown tints in the September landscape were far less evident than they had been when the century opened.

The gathering of population in the south east of the county in the second half of the century was even more of a spectacular feature than it had been previously. The high birth-rate throughout this period was another factor in the absolute increase of the population. Llanelly, with Burry Port and the towns of the Amman Valley, returned increasingly high densities of population associated with the establishment of the steel and tinplate industries, as well as the rapid opening of the anthracite coalfield. On the other hand, particularly in the south-west and north-east of the county, there were evidences of rural depopulation at almost every decennial ennumeration.  This might be looked upon as the counterpart of the rapid increase of population in the south and east, but one gained more than the other lost, and there is no evidence that the people who moved away from the one area necessarily settled in the other. By the end of the century, also, Carmarthen town had long lost the distinction of being the largest town in the county. Llanelly was already more than two and a half times its size. Nevertheless, the old town retained many of its past functions, still denied to its greater rival. As early as 1789, the famous architect John Nash had begun the building of the county gaol in Carmarthen on the ruins of the medieval castle; although this prison was closed in 1922, the buildings were subsequently used for county administration, and new ones are contemplated on the same site. The assize courts still meet in the town, and so, in all manner of ways, the county town is now living on its past. It retains an importance in relation to the countryside which is quite out of proportion to its size as an administrative centre at the present time.


Gareth Hicks