MORE ON WELSH SCHOOLS
1811-1841 The Founding
of the Societies
1842-1870 The Royal Commissions
The Blue Books
Universal Education Established
The Coercion of Wales Act
Education For All
Despite the success of these measures, instigated by Griffith Jones and his successors,
many parts of Wales were not reached by them or visited by a circulating school,
which lasted only a few months before the teacher moved on.
Into this vacuum came the Sunday Schools. This was an idea first tried in England
and seized upon by the rapidly growing Nonconformist sects in Wales. Here classes
were held on the day most people were available and were open to adults and children
alike. (Pictured left is a building once used as a Sunday School)
Again, basic tuition in reading and writing was based on the scriptures. The success
of the movement led to its adoption by all denominations and a publishing industry
grew to satisfy its need for texts. At first the schools were held in houses and
barns. Later they were often held in purpose-built Sunday school buildings alongside
churches and chapels.
The Sunday Schools created a huge impetus towards universal education and gave huge
support to the Welsh language, but once state education was established their role
remained religious and therefore peripheral to the main thrust of education in Wales.
The early years of Queen Victoria's reign had seen the start of the industrial revolution
in Britain. Particularly in Wales there was a surge in urban development surrounding
the metal smelting sites and the development and expansion of coal mining.
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1811-1841 The Founding of the
The National Society was established in 1811 to set up schools in which
the children of the poor would be taught the Anglican religion. The British and
Foreign Society was established in 1814 to promote non-sectarian education. At
the time there was no state funding of education, and these schools were dependent
on voluntary contributions. However, the National Society had an advantage in benefiting
from the Anglican diocesan system, and also from the readiness of landowners to endow
Anglican education. Therefore by 1833 (when the government made the first state contribution
to the funding of schools) there were 146 National schools in Wales as opposed to
just some 15 British schools. This did not reflect the growing numbers involved in
Nonconformity, and many Nonconformist parents refused to allow their children to
attend the Church schools.
In 1833 the government began to contribute towards the cost of erecting schools.
It was decided to share the money between the National Society and the British Society.
The National Society was better organised to take advantage of this, and during the
period 1833-47 a further 231 National schools were established in Wales. In 1843
Sir Robert Peel's Tory government tried to introduce a bill to establish schools
for the children of the poor. But according to the proposals, the boards which would
have been set up to supervise them would have had an Anglican majority, and in the
face of Nonconformist protests (from both Protestants and Catholics) the measure
was withdrawn. The Nonconformists in Wales had been slow to take advantage of government
grants to establish British schools since 1833 (by 1843 there were still only 28
British schools in Wales). But now more rapid progress was made, and by 1847another
79 had been established, mainly in the north and west.
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1842-1871 The Royal Commissions
In 1842, a Royal Commission, had looked into the state of education in Wales
and noted that some Welsh boys employed at mines in Breconshire were learning to
read English at Sunday School, but that they could speak only Welsh. This
was intolerable to the commissioners. Because of their findings, it was demanded
in Parliament that an inquiry be conducted into the means afforded to the labouring
classes of Wales to acquire knowledge of the English tongue.
The report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales in 1844 lamented the fact
that "The people's ignorance of the English language practically prevents the
working of the laws and institutions and impedes the administration of justice."
It didn't seem to occur to the commissioners that it was their own ignorance of the
language that was obstructing justice!
This led to another Royal Commission, conducted in 1847, at the instigation of William
Williams, Member of Parliament for Coventry. Williams believed that the disturbances
caused by the "Daughters of Rebecca" against the toll charges and the riots
at Newport would have been avoided if the perpetrators had been able to speak and
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The Blue Books
Three commissioners, Ralph Wheeler Lingen, Jelinger Cookson Symons and Henry
Vaughan Johnson, undertook the inquiry. Their report was to have a lasting effect
on the cultural and political life of Wales. The report opened with a commentary
based on the study done in Wales on the moral state of people which resulted in what
the Welsh called 'Brad y Llyfrau Gleision', 'The Treachery of the Blue Books.'
This 1847 investigation into the Welsh education system aroused fury among Welsh
people, who considered that the morals of Welsh women were being denigrated, because
of the practice of going to evening-schools in private houses to prepare the 'pwnc'
for next week's chapel meeting. The 'pwnc' here meant subject. Exception was
taken to the accusation: that 'bundling', as it was called, the meeting of two members
of the opposite sex, who were then to spend hours later together in haylofts. The
women were accused of taking advantage of the walk home after chapel to 'indulge'
themselves. The Welsh were described as backward, dishonest and deceitful - the want
of chastity was the greatest sin.
This was a fairly damning indictment but also a very detailed one, which recognised
the class, and religious divides which hampered progress in education in Wales. Unfortunately,
it also made some severe generalisations along racial and moral lines that outraged
the Nonconformists and led to a further alienation from Anglicanism.
The detailed report, in three volumes bound in blue covers, has become
known as "Brad y Llyfrau Gleision" (The Treachery o the Blue Books), for
the three young and inexperienced lawyers who conducted the report had no understanding
of the Welsh language, nor, it seems, did they understand nonconformity in religious
matters. Bright, intelligent and well-read Welsh-speaking children were unable to
understand the questions put to them in English, and the surveyors pigheadedly assumed
that this was due to their ignorance. The questions were put to clergy in the churches
and the evidence they gave was accepted although at least three quarter of worshippers
were chapelgoers. Their report lamented what they considered to be the sad state
of education in Wales: too-few schools, deplorable conditions, unqualified teachers,
the lack of supplies and suitable English texts, and the irregular attendance of
the children. Examples were given in the report of all sorts of buildings being used
as schools: churches, chapels, vestries, barns and stables. Very little in the way
of furniture and materials were available. None the less damaging was the inadequacy
of the teachers. The writer Daniel Owen in his story "Rhys Lewis" tells
of a school run by a one legged soldier named Robin, a veteran of the Napoleonic
Wars. Rhys Lewis, the hero of the novel, is a victim of cruelty by the teacher as
well as bullying by other pupils.
The teacher in the poor house of Landeilo was also a barber and a 'layer out of the
dead!' At Lanwenog: a Mr Symons gave evidence to the effect that 'I found a cow turned
out of its hovel to give place to the scholars, a man teaching English could neither
talk nor understand it himself '. More often than not the schools were held only
in the winter in order to allow the children to gather the harvest. All this was
attributed, along with dirtiness, laziness, ignorance, superstition, promiscuity
and immorality: to nonconformity, and in particular to the Welsh language. As the
report stated: The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales and a manifold barrier
to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to
over-estimate its evil effects.
One result of the publication of such "facts" led to many of its speakers
being made to feel ashamed and embarrassed. It was a turning point for the Welsh
people; they responded with fury to the accusations levelled at them, and they set
about redefining themselves as a religious people, a people of high moral character,
people who could be proud of themselves. And they succeeded. There may have been
a bit of propaganda in the claim that Wales was the 'Land of the White Gloves' because
circuit judges were symbolically putting on white gloves when there were no cases
at the sessions for them to try. But there is little doubt that by the 1870s Wales
had established a distinct and enduring identity for itself.
The effects of the controversy has lasted until today; it certainly did much to bolster
the position of those who agreed with much of the report and who saw the language
as the biggest drawback to the people of Wales. One drastic remedy, the imposition
of English-only Board Schools did much to further hasten the decline of Welsh over
a great part of the country. In these schools, as in Flintshire a half century earlier,
the "Welsh Not" rule was imposed with severe penalties for speaking Welsh,
including the wearing of a wooden board, the old "Welsh lump" around one's
By a Revised Code of Regulations, from 1862 the head teachers of all schools receiving
a grant were required to make a daily entry in a School Log Book, an invaluable source
reflecting the life of a school.
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