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

Elementary Education

By T H Lewis

The early part of the 19th century may conveniently be taken as a starting-point for a brief survey of the history of public elementary education. This period witnessed the founding of the National Society for promoting the Education of the Poor, etc (1811), and that of the British and Foreign School Society (1814), the first Treasury grant towards the building of schools (1833), and the formation of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education (1839). State control of education developed, however, but slowly. For some years no school was subject to any inspection by Government officials, while attendance at school was entirely voluntary until the Education Act of 1870. According to evidence furnished to the Select Committee of 1818-19, Carmarthenshire at that time had twenty-six educational endowments which provided instruction for a total of 732 children, together with seventy-five unendowed schools in which instruction was provided for 2,016 pupils.

Applications for grants from the county to the Committee of Council on Education came very slowly. Only about a dozen National schools were in receipt of these grants by the year 1845 and the general position was officially regarded as unsatisfactory. There is no reference to any British school in Carmarthenshire in a survey of those schools in South Wales, carried out about the same time.

A detailed, and in the main, an accurate survey of the provision for education in the county was made in the well-known Blue Book Reports of 1846-7, which followed the special enquiry into the state of education in Wales by three Commissioners.  Carmarthenshire was part of the area assigned to Mr R R W Lingen, who commenced his enquiry at Llandovery in October, 1846. His subsequent itinerary was by way of Llandilo, Carmarthen, St Clears, and Llanelly. He reported having enjoyed  "a most friendly and hospitable reception". This exhaustive enquiry referred to all types of educational institutions (whether in receipt of parliamentary grant or not), including even workhouse schools and Sunday schools.

The total number of children in attendance at the day-schools was stated to be 7,191. This figure represented only 17 per cent of the available school-population, and compared unfavourably with the corresponding figure (25 per cent) for the neighbouring counties of Glamorgan and Pembroke.  Of the 179 day-schools in Carmarthenshire, the vast majority were housed in buildings which were held merely by tenure-at-will, but about two-thirds of the total of day-school buildings were described as being in good repair. The average wage of a schoolmaster was about £20 per annum. Except for four British schools and those of "private adventure", the majority of the day-schools in the county were National schools.

It is clear that the Welsh language received hardly any attention in the day-schools and that the parents did not wish their children to learn Welsh in the day-schools, as distinct from the Sunday schools. According to the 1846-7 Blue Book Reports, in not one of the Carmarthenshire day-schools was Welsh exclusively used. Welsh and English were found only in nine of them. The Vicar of Llandeilo testified how he had arranged to have the older children taught to read their Bibles at the day-school in their mother-tongue, Welsh, as well as in English; but the parents had objected that their children could "learn Welsh at home". Even at the Capel Als Sunday School, Llanelly (the pastor of which was the militant Nonconformist stalwart, David Rees), "some of the parents whose children were going to a day-school objected to their being taught Welsh on Sundays." In its attitude towards the use of the mother-tongue in the day-schools, Carmarthenshire was typical of the spirit of that age in Wales.

Traces may be seen in the 1846-7 reports of the "religious problem", which was some years later to become more acute. One witness from Llandovery stated that, while he did not object to the children of Dissenters learning "portions of the Church Catechism, provided that of Dr Watts were taught at the same time", he certainly objected to the children being compelled to attend the Church service on Sundays against the wishes of the parents.  Similarly, the headmaster of Ffrwdvale Academy indicated how the master of a day-school was too much under the control of the clergyman, who could close the school-room at his own pleasure. The apprehension of Dissenters generally was excited rather by the fear of clerical interference and domination than against the principle of "mixed education". Were those apprehensions removed (and the building of school premises on Church property was a fruitful source of them), the election of schoolmasters would be made with reference to the professional fitness of the man and to his denomination.

School pence, which usually provided about three-fifths of the total school-income, amounted to 11/2 d per week. Arithmetic, like writing, was normally an "extra", for which an additional penny per week was demanded.

Conditions in the five workhouse schools (Llandovery, Llandilo, Carmarthen, Llanelly and Llandysul) were, as might perhaps be expected, somewhat cheerless. At Llandilo, the schoolmaster united "with his educational duties the somewhat anomalous functions of porter, barber and layer-out of the dead". Furthermore, "the children's hair was cut in a sort of tonsure, only they were clipped where a priest would be shaven". The day-schools directly concerned with particular works (and maintained wholly or in part by a compulsory stoppage from the wages of the workmen) tended to be superior to most of the others, because it did not rest with individuals to provide books etc.  Although the general state of education in Carmarthenshire, as described in the 1846-7 reports, was by no means satisfactory, yet one ought to view that survey in the light of contemporary conditions, rather than of the more exacting educational standards of today.

In 1846-7, the British and Foreign School Society had made but little progress in the county. While the National Society inherited to some extent the experience, prestige, and resources of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which had been active in Carmarthenshire as in other Welsh counties, the British and Foreign School Society was for some time hampered by the growth of the "voluntaryist" movement, which sought to provide educational facilities without any Government help. Shortly after the issue of Mr (afterwards Sir) Hugh Owen's appeal for British schools in Wales (1843), the supporters of the "voluntaryist" movement had a conference in 1845 at Llandovery. David Rees was one of the secretaries of that conference which, after discussing an address delivered by Professor Griffiths of Brecon College, decided to set up a Normal School for Wales.  It was intended that tis college should train teachers for work in the principality, which hitherto had been obliged to depend on teachers trained elsewhere.

Although this "voluntaryist" movement ceased to be an important factor in the life of Carmarthenshire and Wales after about ten years, it represented what was, to many, a definite attitude of mind in that period. Individualism, as distinct from Government control, was still a powerful and, indeed, a predominant creed; and many lovers of liberty still suspected any system of education which was in any way directed or controlled by Government.  Nonconformists, moreover, had been stirred by the proposal in Sir James Graham's Factory Bill (1843) to put "religious instruction" largely on a basis of Church doctrine. The problem of finance proved , however, too great a difficulty for the "voluntaryist" movement. Thus, certain Llanelly schools which had been carried on since their opening (1848) on a voluntary basis, due mainly to the efforts of Rees, accepted Government grant and inspection in 1853.

The National Society had in the meantime been actively interested in educational matters in Wales. As a result mainly of the Blue Book Reports (1846-7), it appointed a "Welsh Education Committee". This new body in 1848 decided to ask the Committee of Council on Education for inspectors specially assigned to Wales, and to suggest that any such inspectors "should be natives of the Principality, acquainted with the Welsh tongue." This bore fruit soon afterwards in the appointment of the Rev H Longueville Jones as an Inspector for Church Schools in Wales.  His general reports, which appeared for many years in the Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education, including specific references to the state of education in the Church Schools of Carmarthenshire. During the period 1840-74 Connop Thirlwall was Bishop of St David's; his interest in education was most marked, and shown not least in that of Carmarthenshire.

Mr Longueville Jones's report for the year 1849 pointed out that many Church schools in the county were in what might be called a transition stage. Although they would most probably become effective in course of time, the general position in the county did not appear to him "to correspond with the great wealth and prosperity of what was one of the most important counties in the principality." In the following year, it was pointed out that comparatively few Church schools were under Government inspection. After noting that new ones had arisen at Newcastle Emlyn, Llangeler and Llandybie, the report went on to state; "From what I know personally of this district, I am still induced with regret to infer that the advantages of education are not appreciated as they ought to be." Carmarthenshire was in that period clearly inferior to Pembrokeshire in this respect. A more optimistic note pervades the reports for the next few years.

Even in those early years many of the schools had some charming characteristics. One rural school is described as "a simple village school in very humble circumstances, but conducted with so much good feeling and good sense on the part of the master that the limited extent of the instruction conveyed was, I am inclined to think, amply made up by the good tone of moral and religious feeling induced within its walls." And of the same school, a year later, he says : "Now, as then, the infants on leaving school climbed on the old master's knees and kissed him. This year, some of them extended the same affectionate compliment to the Inspector."

With the formation of archidiaconal boards of education in the diocese of St David's, marked progress was made in the building of Church schools in the county.  In 1865, the greater part of Carmarthenshire had been reasonably well supplied by such schools. Only the northern and western parts of the county were still unprovided with "adequate means for the instruction of the working classes."  No separate infant school under a certificated teacher existed as yet in the county.

With the appointment of an agent for the British and Foreign School Society in South Wales (the Rev William Roberts, Blaina, a Baptist minister known as "Nefydd") in 1853 and the decay of the "voluntaryist" movement, greater activity was shown in the building of British schools in the county. Already by 1860 these numbered twenty-two. It is, perhaps, worthy of note that David Williams, headmaster of the Llanelly Copper Works British School, was appointed in 1863 a colleague of Roberts and later sole agent. Madam Bevan's Charity Schools remained until their abolition (circa 1854), when they were nine in number --- Llanelly, St Clears, Llangan, Llanllwch, Eglwysfair--glantaf, Llanllawddog, Ystrad Ffin, Llandilo, and Llanfihangel Rhosycorn.

The "religious question" became an acute problem in the county in the late "fifties" and in the "sixties". In his general report for 1854-5 on the British and similar schools, Mr J Bowstead had referred to South Wales as "a land of Dissenters" and had put forth a plea for vigorous action to supply schools in keeping with their needs. According to the data given a few years later by Mr Longueville Jones, only just over one-third of the children in the Church schools of Carmarthenshire were "Church of England".  These figures, he suggested, proved how willingly Dissenters of all denominations combined with the clergy in the education of their children. Bishop Thirlwall strongly contested the accuracy of Mr Bowstead's statements. The controversy which followed showed that the Bishop himself was in favour of interpreting generously the "conscience clause" in the management of National schools and that there was in Carmarthenshire a strong Nonconformist element which desired to provide undenominational schools for the children of Dissenters. Feeling became very acute when the Committee of Council on Education in 1862 announced its readiness to make a grant towards the building of a National school at Llanelly, provided there was a "conscience clause". This proviso proved to be unacceptable and the offer was refused.

The Education Act of 1870 formed an important landmark in the development of educational provision in the county. This Act provided for the formation of School Boards, some measure of compulsory attendance, and the levying of a local rate for the support of the Board schools, but not of the "voluntary schools".  In the case of the Board schools, the "Cowper-Temple" clause of the Act ensured that no religious catechism or religious formulary distinctive of any particular denomination should be taught in them. The "conscience clause" applied to all elementary schools which received government grants.

During the year 1870, several annual-grant schools in the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen "had been established by means of temporary assistance given to them by the archidiaconal board of education. The board had for some time previously determined, with the aid of an another educational society, to make a grant of £15 a year, guaranteed for three years, to poor schools, provided the managers employed certificated teachers and placed the schools under inspection with a view to obtaining Parliamentary grants. " This plan appeared to be working satisfactorily. The three years donation enabled the managers to start the schools with sufficient funds to pay the schoolmaster whilst the school was low and the annual grant, consequently, small. In no town in Carmarthenshire was the National school overcrowded; but it was anticipated that with the passing of the 1870 Education Act, a fair number of such schools would have to be built in the southern and eastern parts of the county.

When this Education Act came into force Carmarthenshire had ninety schools which received annual grants. Forty of these were British, thirty-nine were National, and eleven were otherwise described. These figures illustrate the rapid growth in the number of schools during the "sixties", and particularly of British schools. Much "unhealthy rivalry" in the matter of building schools followed the 1870 Act, for the introduction of a "time-table conscience clause" was hardly sufficient to remove the objection of Nonconformists to Church schools. The various parishes accepted the general arrangements made by the Committee of Council on Education and no public enquiry under the provisions of the Act was held in the county.

Despite the difficulties caused by the constant drain of population from the rural parishes to the industrial areas of Carmarthenshire and elsewhere, the 1870-80 decade was one of marked educational progress in the county. By 1882 it could be said that the need for schools had been amply and suitably met. The percentage of passes in the "annual examination" was higher than the average for England and Wales ; elementary education was being more highly valued in Carmarthenshire than in the neighbouring county of Breconshire. Particularly noteworthy was the vigorous and enlightened way in which the Llanelly School Board discharged its duties.

The subsequent decade (1880-90) saw a quickening of interest in the matter of the use of Welsh in schools. Since the issue of the Revised Code (1861), which, in effect, had introduced the system of "payment by results", Welsh did not function as a grant-earning subject. But, owing largely to the efforts of "The Society for Utilising the Welsh Language in Education" (founded in 1885, largely through the efforts of a native of Carmarthenshire, Dan Isaac Davies), Welsh became a grant-earning "specific subject", and during this decade received more attention in the elementary schools of Wales.

Yet Carmarthenshire moved but slowly in this matter. A typical school log-book entry for 1866 had read as follows ; "I gave two boys twenty lines to write out for talking in Welsh during school-time." Later, the "Welsh Note" was in use in Gwynfe School, even when its schoolmaster was none other than Beriah Gwynfe Evans, who became the first secretary of "The Society for Utilising the Welsh Language."  Shadrach Pryce, who, on taking up his official duties, had favoured the use of Welsh in schools, indicated quite bluntly that, after an experience of twenty years as an inspector, he (unlike some of his colleagues) was certain that, the less Welsh was spoken in a day-school the more popular that school would be with the parents. Even as late as 1896, bilingual readers were not much in vogue in West Carmarthenshire, where the teachers complained that the "classical Welsh" in those books was far from being intelligible to the children of South-west Wales.

Up to the year 1884, no cookery had been introduced into the curriculum of any elementary school in Carmarthenshire, although the subject was taught in several other Welsh counties. Llanelly was the first to take this step (1894).

The Education Act of 1902 made the County Council responsible (inter alia) for elementary education in the county, except in Carmarthen Borough and Llanelly, which became autonomous areas for that purpose. Both "board schools" and "voluntary schools" --- or as they were now designated , "council " and " non-provided" schools --- were to be maintained by the local education authority. The principle of maintaining the "voluntary" schools from public funds did not commend itself to Carmarthenshire Nonconformists , but opposition to administering the Act ceased in due course. The basic structure of the educational system laid down by the 1902 Education Act continues to a large extent unaltered, despite much subsequent legislation, to this day.


Gareth Hicks