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History of Llandeilo National School

by J.M.L. ROWLANDS

Originally published in five parts in The South Wales Guardian from 6th July–3rd August 1972

Part 1 - The Background

There were many schools of a sort in Wales at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but on the whole, they were far from being satisfactory. They were not enough, and they were not good enough. Daniel Owen has given us an immortal picture of one of these schools in his novel, Rhys Lewis. "Robin the Soldier" was not the only type of schoolmaster in early nineteenth century Wales, but unfortunately his type was all too common, and a man who had failed at other trades or callings was often tempted to open a school.

Bearing in mind all the limitations, the school buildings, the school books, and in particular the qualifications and the salaries of the teachers, this is not surprising.

Jack of all trades

When Eben Fardd opened his school at Clynnog in 1827, the Vicar agreed to pay him £3 per quarter for teaching 24 children to read, and an additional 5s. for making his accounts for the Vestry Meeting, while the parish contributed another 8s.

It is not astonishing to learn that in 1834, in addition to conducting his school, he was running a shop, binding books, and baking and selling bread.

Such a man also seems to have lived in Llandeilo in the 1830's, who apart from running the Workhouse School, was also an odd-lob man, whose chief delight in life was the cutting of the boys' hair, in a manner which would have pleased the medieval monks of Talley Abbey,

The Societies

Early in the nineteenth century, two Societies were formed in England to promote the education of he poorer children. One of them was the British and Foreign School Society (1808) and the other the National Society (1811).

Joseph Lancaster was the apostle of the one and Dr. Andrew Bell of the other. But whereas the National Schools were to teach the principles of the Church of England, religious teaching in the British Schools was to be entirely un-denominational.

Blue books

The National Society made enormous progress in the Diocese of Bangor, where there were 72 National schools alone by 1838. This was very much due to the industry and skill of Dean Cotton of Bangor (1838-1882).

But what was happening in Bangor was not shared by the rest of Wales, as the infamous 1846 Report (The Blue Books) illustrated. Symons, one of the Commissioners, stated:

The incompetency of the masters is avowedly great … the position of the majority of schoolmasters is one midway between a pauper and an able-bodied labourer. Many of them had begun to teach because they were either to old or too young for hard work, while others bad been induced to undertake their calling by the loss of a. limb, by blindness, deafness or some calamity. The buildings, the equipment, the curriculum and the teachers were pathetic.

Thirwall

"Enough is enough"—at least, that is what Connop Thirtwall must have thought when he was appointed to the See of St. David's in 1840. He was declared by Gladstone to be one of the most masculine, powerful, and luminous intellects that had for generations been known among the Bishops of England.

He was an expert not only in theology and in the Greek and Hebrew languages, but also in logic, history and philosophy.

There is much that stands to his credit, as may be seen from the record of many new schools that he was chiefly instrumental in establishing in the various parishes of his diocese; from the record of the training College at Carmarthen, which he opened in 1846.

No better proof of his sincerity could be found than in his own generosity, for he devoted the sum of £40,000, during his episcopate, to the founding of schools, the augmentation of poorer benefices, the building and rebuilding of churches, the restoration of the cathedral and other objects. .

Lord Dynevor

If Thirwall was the main incentive for the improvement of education on the Dioscesan level, the local inspiration at Llandeilo was found inevitably in the person of Lord Dynevor.

Although Llandilo Primary School started as the National school in 1860, the school building existed a considerable time before that.

It is recorded that a traveller in 1813, arriving at Llandeilo by the old road from Carmarthen, saw a recently constructed edifice. This was the new schoolhouse, built by Lord Dynevor at his own expense.

Deeds

Lord Dynevor had a young teacher instructed at a certain Dr. Bell's Academy, now unfortunately forgotten, so that the teacher could take charge of the new school institution.

The original object of the establishing of the School in 1860 is contained in its Title Deeds, which states, among other matters (and here we quote from the Deeds), that the buildings is to be used as and for the education of children and adults or children only of the Labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes in the parishes of Llandilovawr and Llandyfeisant.

Part 2 - 1860 to 1922

W. Samuel, in his book, Llandilo — Present and Past, published by "The Welshman" Printing Office in 1868, writes:

Going along the upper part of Carmarthen Street, we come to another monument of Lord Dynevor's benevolence — the National Schools, attached to what was formerly the Charity School, built and carried en for many years at the sole charge of the late Lord Dynevor and carefully and assiduously superintended by those excellent ladies, the sisters of the present Baron.

There, a few, if not many a Llandilo sexagenarian was aided in his early scholastic struggles. The National School buildings have been made over by Lord Dynevor to trustees for the public benefit… They are very ample and commodious, and deserving of inspection of the tourist and of the gratitude of the humane.

A portion of the old school-house is converted into the master's dwelling; and part of that is the present "locale" of the Literary Institution, which has had a chequered existence of some twenty years: its present state is perhaps the best it has ever enjoyed.

Wages

The log-books of the school date back to 1863. Compared even with contemporary teachers' salaries, schoolmasters were not exactly well paid in the Church-Schools of Victorian Wales.

The Headmaster of Llandeilo for instance, received a three months' salary of six guineas, but in return, he entered in the log book for one day, "I punished a great number for talking in class."

P.T. in those days stood for pupil teachers; these students were instructed at 7 a.m. by the Headmaster, who then went on to teach the schoolchildren at 9 a.m.

Details such as weather and attendances were dutifully recorded in the log-book. The entry for one hot day read: "Teachers and taught were rather drowsy today"

Efficient

From 1876 to 1922, C. G Phillips was the Headmaster of the School.

Apart from being the Churchwarden of the Parish Church, he was also the organist at Llandyfeisant church and the head of the Sunday School.

He seems to have been the epitome of the Headmaster of the late Victorian Age — competent, efficient and, above all, a disciplinarian.

An old pupil is recorded to have said, "It was very hard in those days in the School. If the master didn't have a cane, he would send us to the shop for one."

New mistress

On February 4, 1884. Kate Harries, who had been trained at Cheltenham, was appointed Mistress in charge of the infants, who ranged from the age of five to seven.

A. G. Adamson, the Diocesan Inspector, visited the School on May 23, 1884, and reported thus:

The new Mistress, who only came to the School this year, seems to conduct the Religious Instruction in the right spirit. I was also pleased with the quiet manner of the P.T.

The children know all their repetition, and (what is more important) they said it reverently. The knowledge of Group 1 was satisfactory; a few more should answer, especially in the meaning of the words in the Creed.

Impressed

The Diocesan Inspector, C. H. Davies. was equally impressed with the School when he visited it on June 4, 1889.

Class 3 should have been taught simple events of Old and New Testament History, especially about Our Blessed Lord's birth and childhood.

These little ones should not be forced in any way, but it may be mentioned that in some Infants'

Schools they are able to present a considerable amount of each subject of the Syllabus.

They should, of course, be taught very simply. Class 2 — more might have been taught. Class 1 — the correct meaning of the word "Hell" in the Creed should be taught. It does not mean "the grave.

This school is in excellent order and passed a highly creditable examination. The repetition, however, was very superior to the "Religious Knowledge." The singing was very nice.

Happy

In November, 1898, Miss M. .T. Davies was appointed Mistress. Trained at Nottington. the Diocesan Inspector, Hilary Lewis, wrote this about the new Mistress and the School on her visit on May 7, 1900. "The children have been excellently taught, and seemed bright, tidy and happy. They all seemed eager to answer, and reflect credit on their teachers."

Agreement

A memorandum of agreement was drawn up on January 13, 1914, between. Rev, Robert Williams, the Vicarage, Vicar of Llandeilo; Lewis Bishop of Bryneithin. gentleman; Richard Jones, surgeon and Mrs. Annie L. Thomas of Caeglas, all of LLANDILO in. the county of Carmarthen, on behalf of themselves and their successors, (herein called the Managers) of one part, and Mary Evans, Assistant Mistress (herein after called the Teacher), of the other part, whereby it is agreed as follows:

  • The teacher shall serve as Assistant Mistress at the National School, Llandilo, and shall teach the scholars under the superintendence of the Head Teacher in accordance with the requirements of the Board of Education, and in accordance with the regulations (if any) from time to time established by the Managers.
  • The Teacher’s salary shall be according to the scale of the Carmarthenshire Education Committee.
  • On the termination of the agreement the Teacher shall be paid a proportionate share of salary, calculated down to the date of such termination.
  • The holidays of the said school shall not be less than six weeks in each year.
  • The Teacher shall not be required to perform or abstain from performing any duties outside the ordinary school hours or unconnected with the ordinary work of the School.
  • The agreement may be terminated after one month's notice in writing has been given by any party, and if such notice be given by the Managers, it shall be given in accordance with a Resolution passed at a Meeting convened by Notice sent to every Manager four days at least before the Meeting, stating that the termination of the Teacher's agreement will form part of the business of such a meeting.
  • The Teacher shall be liable to instant dismissal for misconduct of a gross kind.

Part 3

Many changes had occurred on the national educational front since 1860. Forster's Education Act of 1870 increased the Government Grants to the Voluntary Schools and declared that new schools should be built wherever they were needed.

School Boards were to be elected in each parish, which were to take steps to build a Board School which would be supported by Government Grants, local rates and school fees.

The voluntary schools could still teach their own religious doctrines.

Fees go

In 1880, an Act was passed which made it necessary for all children to attend school until they were thirteen. In 1891 school fees were abolished.

The 1902 Balfour Act created in each county a Local Education Authority, and these authorities from now on were responsible for the Council Schools in their area, as the Board Schools now came to be called.

Education, which in the 1860’s was the main concern of the church, had even by 1902 become one of the main duties of the State. What were the church schools to do? Did they still think they had a distinctive contribution to make to the education of the land?

New Head

In 1922, J. Price succeeded C. G. Phillips as the head-teacher of the School. He was in no doubt that the Church, disestablished though it was after the Act of 1920, could still play a great part in local education.

Mr. Price had been taught at Trinity College, Carmarthen, and had taught at Kingston-upon-Thames and at Brecon before the outbreak of the First World War during which he served in the R.A.M.C.

He became head of Myddfai Church of England School in 1918 and was appointed by Archdeacon Robert Williams to the headship Llandeilo in September, 1922. 'For twenty-four years, he diligently kept the School in the van of progress.

Infants

Throughout this period, the Infants’ Department was taught by two ladies by the name of Evans. The Second Class was taught Mary Evans who had been appointed on April 21st, 1914, to her position while the First Class was in the very capable hands of Margaret Elizabeth Evans who was made the Head of the Infants’ Department on January 1st 1915 at the age of twenty-six.

Throughout the 1920’s and 1930's the Diocesan Inspectors were consistently impressed with the high standards, achieved by this Department. In 1940 there were 131 children at the School, 43 of whom were In the Infants’ Department.

Link

The close link between the Church and the School, which had always existed under C. G. Phlllips and Archdeacon Williams, was maintained in 1933 when the Rev. Alf Bartlett succeeded the Rev. Robert Williams as the Vicar of Llandilo.

Bartlett is a famous name in ecclesiastical circles and the children of the National School were very fortunate to have such a fine scholar as their Vicar. He had a First Class Honours Degree In History from St. David's College, Lampeter, and a Second Class Honours Degree from St. John's College. Oxford. He was Vicar of Llandeilo from 1933 to 1949.

Distinctive

Dudley Jones was appointed Headmaster in 1946. A native of Conwil Elved, he was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Carmarthen, one of the oldest and most famous seats of learning in Wales, and at Trinity College, Carmarthen. In 1949 Miss Margaret Morvenna Lewis was made head teacher of the Infants and Miss Gwvneth Ann Williams was appointed as a teacher in the infants in 1955. There were at this time 33 children in the infants department.

As Llandeilo always remained a church school in the 1940's, the person of the vicar was always important and it was essential that a close link was forged between the headmaster and himself.

This was the distinctive nature of such schools as Llandeilo — the daily matins were important, as was the teaching of the catechism.

Services

Two annual services were regularly held at the parish church: the Festival of Lessons and Carols and the service on Ascension Day. This was to be expected in the 1890's: the fact that it was still rigidly maintained in the 1940’s is a wonderful testimony of the way that the church school was able to maintain a true Anglican witness of the Christian faith in Llandeilo.

Vital Role

In 1949, the Rev. Alf Bartlett was appointed to Llanelli and was succeeded as vicar by the Rev. Tudor Hughes, who had been a curate at St. Paul's, Llanelli, where he had been the chairman of the Cymrodorion Society, and was formerly Vicar of Cwmamman, where he had maintained a constant interest in the maintenance of the Diocesan School.

Once again, the school was fortunate to have as vicar of the town, a man who thought that the Church had a vital role to play in the education of the young.

V.C. School

In 1951, under an Order made on July 23, by the Minister of Education, the school became a Voluntary (Controlled) School.

Six managers were appointed: two foundation managers, the Vicar of Llandeilo, Rev. Canon Tudor O. Hughes and Lady Dynevor, Dynevor Castle; two managers were appointed by the local education authority, Councillor J. M. Davies, Wedgewood House, and D. J. Hughes, Irlwyn, Alan Road; and two managers appointed by Llandeilo urban council, Councillors D. Price Evans, 1, Sawel Terrace, and A. Victor Lewis, Swan, Nantyrhibo.

Part 4 - The Centenary

In 1960 the Centenary of the School was celebrated. A large number of present and former pupils gathered at the Dynevor Church Hall.

The principal guests were the Lord Dynevor, the Lord Bishop of St. David's and Mrs. Richards, the Vicar and Mrs. Hughes, Mr. G. I. Thomas, the Deputy Director of Education for Carmarthenshire, Mrs. T. R. Jones, the language organiser for the County, Alderman Thomas Davies, Chairman of the County Education Committee, and the Managers of the School: Mrs. M. A. Lewis, Mr. D. L. Davies. Mr. D. J. Hughes, Mr. D. D. L. Jones, the Headmaster, and his staff.

New Testaments were presented to pupils by Mrs. J. R. Richards, a film of the School's activities was shown, and Mr. Hugh Williams, an ex-pupil, gave a conjuring exhibition.

In the evening re-union, a full day's holiday was announced for the School.

Signatures

Introduced by Canon Hughes, the Bishop congratulated the School on its centenary. "I am here," he said, "because there has always been a connection between this School and the Church. There have been tremendous changes — we cannot imagine what life was like 100 years ago, and the School has made a great difference to life in Llandeilo.

"Out of 72 marriages performed before the School came, two-thirds of the signatures were made with an "X"; after the School was set up, the standard of literacy was greatly improved."

The Bishop wished the School success for the future and hoped that the School and Church would always work together.

Mr G. I. Thomas said: “I had the pleasure of taking tea with the children this afternoon. They were a credit to you, and you must be proud of your School In Llandeilo."

Mrs. M. A. Lewis commented, "I esteem it a great honour to speak at the Centenary. There is something hallowed about the School that attracts me."

1960 - 1972

Miss Venie Davies was appointed head of the Infants in 1962 and was succeeded in 1965 by Miss Gwyneth Williams, a former pupil of the School.

In May, 1964, the Rev. Group Captain Philip Bowen succeeded Canon Hughes as Vicar. He was educated at St. David's College, Lampeter, where he was the captain of a very great rugby fifteen, and trained for the priesthood at St. Stephen's House, Oxford.

He also played rugby with distinction for Llanelli during the 1930's and is a former President of the Old Maridunians Association.

Last Head

In September, Dudley Jones was appointed Headmaster of Llandeilo C.P. School and the last Headmaster of the Church School was W. Lewis Rowlands.

An Honours Welsh Graduate of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth where he was a Cynddelw Prizewinner. Mr. Rowlands was a former Assistant Master at Carmarthen, Llanelli and Barry Grammar Schools, and a former Headmaster of St. Clears National School where he had worked with the late Canon J M. Hughes, Capel Dewi C.P. School and Llanllwni C.P. School.

Traditions

In these last eight years the Headmaster and the Vicar made every effort to maintain the old traditions of the School Matins were sung every morning in a manner that would have doubtlessly pleased the monks at Talley and the festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was still held annually in the Parish Church.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the religious education of these last years was he constant emphasis on the modern Idiom in worship, in a way that could be thoroughly enjoyed by the pupils themselves as by the teachers and even the congregation.

Worship

Worship is important in Education. This above all perhaps is what a National School like Llandeilo has always fundamentally believed in. Matins, Carols: God can be worshipped in a host of ways but in the end all children at Llandeilo National School were taught this fundamental belief about life during these last eight years, as during the last century.

It is not a million miles from the nursery classes in the Soviet Union implanting the germ of communism in tiny minds to the infant catechism class implanting beliefs which the same child later in life finds it all but impossible totally to reject

Morality

It is a dangerous argument to claim that Christian indoctrination of tiny children is all right because Christianity is true, and Communism indoctrination Is wrong because Communism is false.

Yet we believe that small children should be encouraged to worship God, for sound moral, spiritual and educational reasons.

Children should be taught to worship God in the Church Schools because the very nature of childhood demands that they should worship something, and the Christian God is manifestly a better "object" of worship for our children than any available alternative.

Significant

It is not without significance that in Communist countries there are simple acts of worship directed towards love of the state, or of the State's founders.

In the United States, the school day includes an act of worship directed towards the nation and the flag.

With our traditions in Wales, which do stem back to the fourth century Celtic Church it is surely reasonable to direct our children's worship to the God who is the Father of Jesus and who invites us to call him "Father."

It is hard to believe that a simple, loving trust in him ever led a child astray, or blighted his later life with depressions and complexes.

Part 5 - For whom the bell tolls

This week, Mr. J. H. L. Rowlands concludes his series on the history of Llandeilo National School.

Mr. Rowlands was educated at Capel Dewi C.P. School, and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Carmarthen.

He graduated in history at St. David's College, Lampeter in 1968, and in theology at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1970.

A member of the Theology Seminary, Westcott House, Cambridge, he is engaged in post-graduate research in church history, and is entering Holy Orders.

Mr. Rowlands is the son of Mr. W. Lewis Rowlands, a native of Glanamman and the last headmaster of Llandeilo National School.

For whom the bell tolls

On May 25, 1972, the National School was closed, the managers at that time being the Vicar of Llandeilo, Rev. Desmond Price; Miss V, Stephens, Myrtle Hill; County Councillor Elfryn Thomas; Mr, D. J. Hughes; Councillor L. A. German, and Councillor D. R. Williams.

The National School had ceased to exist. From a historical and theological viewpoint, the historian must be impressed with the records.

The founding of the school was part of a national movement. It is true to say that the foundation of popular education in Wales was laid by the Church. For centuries, the only provision was that made by the Church; without it, the Renaissance Movement in Wales, on its educational side, would not have reached its present state of development.

Significant

In that respect, on the local level, the history of the school has a significance that goes far beyond the boundaries of the parish of Llandeilo Fawr.

In The Life and Work of a Priest (published May 1972, by Mowbray's). Robert Martineau, the Bishop of Blackburn writes: "If the parish is fortunate enough to have a Church School, an opportunity is given to the Church to exercise its ministry and establish a link between the school and the worshipping community . . ."

For 112 years, this was the case in Llandeilo.

Sad Occasion

But like the Dissolution of the Monasteries which affected the people of Llandeilo no less, the closure of the National School is also a sad occasion.

At the recent Diocesan Conference held in Carmarthen, the Archdeacon of St. Davids, the Ven. Alec Lewis, commented about the closure of Llandeilo National School thus:

It is a sad commentary that at a time when the importance of education is so universally accented, the very body that pioneered the cause of education in the country, and which made such sacrifices and efforts to erect schools, should find itself through the force of circumstance having to restrict its involvement in education

We are faced with the prospect of losing the majority of our Church Day Schools in the near future, unless it is our will to find ways and means to amass a fund to enable us to embark on a reasonable building programme and a reserve to ensure adequate maintenance afterwards.

The Archdeacon also commented that the Church of Rome was still able to maintain its influence over education — especially at Llanelli with the Blessed John Lloyd School.

To mark the official closure of the school, headmaster Lewis Rowlands attempted to have the old School Bell rung for the last time, but time had taken its toll.

Perhaps he was thinking: of John Donne:

No man is an island, entirely of itself; every man in a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea. Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if any of thy friends were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee