Church Maintained Education
Education in Puritan Wales
Griffith Jones and the 'Circulating Schools'

Church Maintained Education

During the Middle Ages the Church was responsible for providing what education was available to the children of the laity. Some parish and chantry priests taught the young of their parishes, while song schools were maintained at cathedrals, at collegiate and at some parish churches. There were grammar schools, too, supported by cathedrals and collegiate churches. At Penllech in Caernarvonshire, at Wrexham, and at Haverfordwest the parish churches maintained grammar schools and at Montgomery another was kept by the guild priest- it is probable that Montgomery was not alone among the old market towns in Wales in this. The contribution of the monasteries is a more disputed question. While there is no direct evidence that any of the Welsh monasteries kept a free school, some parish schools continued to exist when a monastery had appropriated the parishes. It is possible that the monks offered some training in the graces to children of the gentry of their neighbourhoods, and that they provided some kind of training for the novices. It must be remembered that the numbers of monks as well as the numbers of monastical orders was limited in Wales. Inadequate and haphazard as the provision of formal education was in medieval Wales, that opportunities did exist is testified by the not inconsiderable body of Welshmen who became students at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

From the middle of the 16th century, a number of factors operated in favour of the establishment of schools in Wales. Fathers anxious that their sons should be equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that may have been coming their way; a government eager for a body of educated men from whom it could recruit the officials needed; committed religious people hoping to create a literate public in Wales; scholars and other enlightened people desirous of spreading learning and its ideals; wealthy individuals with a social conscience who wished to offer opportunities to the young of their native districts - all these combined to create a demand for schools.

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In 1541 the royal licence for the foundation of Christ College, Brecon, expressed concern at the low level of education in the area. It also gave insight into the Tudor government's objectives - above all, to produce good citizens and loyal subjects, and to this end they should be taught the English language. The school was sited at the house of the Friars Preachers in Brecon and was provided with endowments to pay the salaries of the schoolmaster and usher, a reader of divinity and a preacher whose responsibilities were 'to give instruction in letters, and to expound purely and freely'. No fees were to be required from the scholars or their parents. The leaders of the new Anglican Church followed the lead of their master. In 1561 Bishop Thomas Davies of St Asaph announced 'that teaching of children is very necessary' and enjoined that ' all good Christians in my diocese to pay such stipend, accustomed to be paid the Lady priest, to such schoolmaster as shall be thought meet by me'. There already existed one grammar school in the dioceses, though not in Wales, at Oswestry, founded early in the 15th cent.; but it was not until 1595 that Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster, established another - at Ruthin.

Wealthy laymen also made their contribution. Geoffrey Glynn, advocate of the court of Arches, provided for the free grammar school at Bangor that was founded in 1557. Sir Edward Stradling in 1608 founded his grammar school at Cowbridge that the young of the district might be trained in the rudiments of grammar and so be the more easily furnished with a good character, and thereby ' be the more felicitously imbibe the sacred precepts of religion'. Nor was Stradling alone - Sir Rice Mansell had made provision for a grammar school at Margam and Sir John Wynn was to establish one at Llanwrst. Men who made their fortunes by trade joined them and the professions, John Beddowes, a clothier of Presteign, endowed a grammar school there in 1565 to teach the youth of the town ' virtue and learning'. David Hughes, a native of Llantrisant in Anglesey, who became steward of the manor of Woodrising in Norfolk, established the grammar school at Beaumaris in 1602. In 1603 a grammar school was established at Wrexham through the generosity of Valentine Broughton, an alderman of Chester.

Monarch and merchant, lawyer and scholar - they provided schools or contributed to the education of young men in many of the larger towns in Wales during the second half of the period. In some cases, they made provision for the maintenance of a schoolmaster; in others they founded schools whose lives were of comparatively short duration. But a number of the schools that were established have continued to educate the young of their districts to the present time.

The schools, frequently modelled on older English schools, were intended to bring the young of Wales into contact with the products of the New Learning and to ground them firmly in the Protestant faith

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Education in Puritan Wales

The provision of educational facilities was complementary to the policy of establishing Puritanism in Wales. The importance attached by the Commonwealth government to the establishment of an efficient system of education is shown by the care taken to ensure there were funds available for the maintenance of schools and schoolmasters. Money was set aside from impropriations and tithes to provide schoolmasters as well as ministers; safeguards were provided to exempt from sequestration those revenues of delinquents' estates which had been devoted to colleges and schools, while the salaries of schoolmasters and ushers were protected. The old grammar schools were allowed to function, though certain precautions were taken to ensure that the administration of the schools conformed to the ideas of the new regime. The Commissioners ejected no grammar schoolmaster and there was no interference in the affairs of most of the schools. Schools established by private benefactions, such as those at Llandovery, Llanegryn (Merioneth), and Aberhafesp (Montgomeryshire), were also allowed to continue, as were a small number of private schools, some of which, however, were held in secret by ejected clergymen.

The Commissioners implemented the terms of the Propagation Act concerning education by establishing some 60 free schools throughout Wales. Most of these were set up in towns, though there were some surprising omissions. No such schools were founded, for instance, at Beaumaris, Bangor, Bottwnog, Monmouth, and Presteign. This is probably explained by the fact that there already existed grammar and private schools in these towns. A few of the schools were sited in remote villages - possibly because of the influence of a powerful individual in the locality or because there was a flourishing pocket of Puritanism in the neighbourhood. The schools were not evenly distributed and did not reflect the levels of population. In the county of Denbigh there were 11 schools, in Carmarthenshire not one; in the counties of Montgomery and Brecon there were 8 and 9 respectively, in Anglesey and Caernarvonshire one each. On the whole, the concentration of schools reflected the measure of parliamentary control achieved in the different areas or the response of their inhabitants to Puritan preaching. The schools were free. In some cases open to girls as well as boys. In many of them the education provided was more in the nature of grammar school rather than a primary school, though some, it appears likely, prepared their pupils for grammar schools, especially in those districts were grammar schools were available.

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Most of the teachers were committed Puritans who preached the gospel as well - a number of them were, in fact, later to become ministers. In some cases ejected clergymen were appointed schoolmasters. Of the quality of education provided there is very little evidence - it seems likely that it varied considerably from one school to another. Some of the schoolmasters were men of very considerable learning, whereas it appears that a number were inadequately qualified for their task. Their opponents went so far in some cases to claim that places without these schools were educationally better provided than those which possessed one. It is certain that there were far too few of the schools to achieve much over the country as a whole.

After 1653 there was a marked deterioration in the provision of schools. A number of factors were responsible for this. In some cases schoolmasters lost their positions because of their religious beliefs, or because of 'scandal' - drunkenness and lack of learning, and their schools were discontinued. A number of the schoolmasters were attracted by the greater rewards of the pulpit and became ministers. As schoolmasters they could not hope for a salary of more than £40 a year, while the majority were fortunate to receive some £20 a year. The inevitable consequence was a dire shortage of suitable schoolmasters and the inevitable closure of more schools.

A few of the unfortunately sited schools decayed or were transferred to more populous centres. Of the 60 or so schools established by 1653 there is positive evidence for the continuance to 1660 of only 21 of them.

There is little evidence to indicate the impression that the schools exerted upon Wales of their time. There can, however, be little doubt that they contributed to the progress made by Puritanism in 17th cent. Wales. It is equally certain that they inspired later attempts to provide education for Welsh children. They were the first state-subsidized system of primary education an as such have an important place in the history of Wales. The regulations of the Friars school, Bangor were drawn up Dr Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul's. The principal subjects of the curriculum were Latin and Greek, though English was taught in the lower forms of many schools, and provision was made for religious education. A 'short material Catechism' was prepared for the school at Llanwrst in which the pupils were to be instructed on Friday afternoons; the bishop frequently visited the school at St Asaph to examine the children. The schools offered no instruction in Welsh, and pupils were discouraged from its use even at play.

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Dr Henry Rowlands instructed that the master at the school at Bottwnog had to be an Englishman, while at Ruthin pupils caught speaking Welsh 'shall be deemed faulty and an Imposition shall be given'. Though virtue and learning were keynotes of the schools, one catches an occasional glimpse of less austere activities - Sir Roger Mostyn, after commending the excellent teaching of English at Hawarden, observes that 'there, if you please, they may learn to dance a musician being in town' and Sir John provided a field at Llanwrst 'for a place of recreation and easement for the scholars'.

By modern standards the schools were very small. At Christ College there was provision for twenty 'poor scholars', at Cowbridge the number of free pupils was limited to about fifteen - though fee-paying scholars increased the numbers. When, however, it is remembered that some of the wealthiest families employed private tutors, that many sent their sons to be educated in English schools - Shrewsbury and Hereford, but also Westminster and St Paul's, Eton and Winchester, one need not be too unduly surprised that some thousand Welsh students enrolled at the universities between 1571 and 1621. Humphrey Llwyd assertion that 'There is no man so poor but for some space he setteth forth his children to School' may have little basis in fact, but it is certainly true that these schools offered opportunities which many young Welshmen seized and, thereby, advanced themselves in wealth and social position as well as learning and piety.

For those who required more than grammar schools could offer in the way of education and training there were the universities at Oxford and Cambridge. In 1571 Jesus College, Oxford was founded on the initiative of Dr Hugh Price of Brecon to cater for the needs of his fellow countrymen - but, though Jesus became the 'Welsh' college, it enjoyed no monopoly of Welsh students. At Cambridge, too, though it did not recruit as many students from Wales as did Oxford, there was a growing Welsh element. Many Welshmen became fellows of colleges at one time or other of the universities; some gained considerable distinction as academics and occupied the highest positions in the university teaching hierarchy; others became heads of colleges - and not of Jesus only. Yet others taught in the grammar schools of England and, in some cases, became the headmasters of the most famous schools in the country. The popularity of career in the law guaranteed a regular supply of Welsh students at the Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn and Grays Inn especially; some of whose senior members were Welshmen. Finally, there were those who went farther afield in search of knowledge- they studied at the centres of learning on the Continent, some of them to gain reputations for their scholarship outside their native Wales.

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Griffith Jones and the 'Circulating Schools'

Griffith Jones was a Welsh country parson of Llanddowror in Carmarthenshire. This clergyman was born about 1683 in a farmstead called Pant-yr-Efel, in the parish of Pen-Boyr. His father died a few months after he was born; little is known of Griffith Jones's boyhood, but the lack of a father probably influenced his reactions to later life. One of his contemporaries, a man hostile to him - said in an account published in 1752...'Jones, was a visionary, experiencing, 'as his opponent said, 'Joys and happiness of Heaven, and' all the secrets of the Kingdom of Darkness.' He, Jones, felt himself to be a 'shepherd of men' for saving the souls of men.

He entered the Carmarthen Grammar School to study for the priesthood: after one or two attempts he was ordained deacon, by Bishop Bull of St David's in 1708 and received as a priest in 1709. 1710 saw him installed as a curate at Laugharne in the vale of the Taff. In 1711 he became curate of Llandeilo Abercywyn, and in 1716 vicar of Llanddowror, where he remained until his death in 1761.

As a young curate Jones created an impression of piety and understanding. Sir John Phillips of Picton Castle patronized him; who was a staunch Anglican and a member of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (the SPCK). Sir John was a founder and sustainer of the charity schools in Wales of the SPCK. In 1720 Jones married Sir John's sister Margaret - Jones offered himself as a missionary to go to Madras with Sir John's support- for this purpose he had studied Portuguese, but he did not actually go. He felt he was not suitable for this task and felt his own country was in an extremely miserable state of mental blindness.

He tried to dispel this by eloquent preaching for which he apparently achieved some success. Although his neighbouring incumbents were less impressed by his tendency to preach in other men's parishes: addressing congregations of 3-4000 in the open air. For his impropriety he was summoned before Bishop Otley in 1714, but with Sir John Phillip's backing he overcame his critics - for the next few years until 1731 he was not very much in the public eye. Then, when he was in his late forties, he began the work for which he is remembered. He became convinced that his preaching amid a largely illiterate and ignorant population had only an ephemeral effect, on an audience ungrounded in the Christian faith.

Nearly twenty years later he was to say that of 60 to 80 people who came to his schools not more than three or four could say the Lord's Prayer, and that in a very corrupt and unintelligible manner, not knowing so much as to who 'their Father in Heaven' really was. In England efforts had been made with the Commonwealth Propagation Act, to enhance charitable education, which did some good in Wales but in the end proved an abortive experiment in State-aided schools.

Thomas Gough's Welsh Trust of 1674-81 was a charitable venture organized along the lines of a joint-stock company-, which can be looked on as a typical 18th cent. Philanthropic society. The S.P.C.K. (The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) was founded in 1698-9 and could be viewed as a continuance of the Welsh Trust. It founded 96 schools in Wales between 1699 and 1727 - distributing large quantities of Welsh Bibles and other books. Even before the end of the reign of Queen Anne sectarian differences had taken the steam out of the Society as far as the schools were concerned.

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By the 1720s they had nearly all collapsed. What had worked in urban England was not found suitable in rural Wales. It took an ill-educated Welsh country parson like Griffith Jones to show the insight into what was really needed. Oddly enough, though Jones had early opportunities to observe the work of the SPCK schools he had taken little interest in their activities. It was only when they had dwindled to the point of extinction that he arrived at the conviction they were fundamentally necessary.

At first Jones considered he was carrying on the work of the SPCK, but on the death of his patron in 1737, he felt he to carry the mantle of his former mentor. He, however, found a new patron in Madame Bridget Bevan in whom he found harmony until his own death in 1761. He was very much the director of the concern on whom its destiny largely depended.
In 1737 his schools, which had begun with a single school in Llanddowror, had arrived at a flourishing state and had evolved their own characteristics. These were uncomplicated - designed exclusively for the religious end: the salvation of the poor. Not intending to make their pupil's gentlemen but Christians. Jones did not provide any vocational education but concentrated solely on religious instruction. The essential was to instruct pupils in the Catechism and the principles of religion - the foundation of Christian Knowledge. The necessity of knowing how to read in order to read the Holy Scriptures was the founding point.

Because of time and economy this teaching had to be in Welsh because generally this was all the populace knew. All that the English language schools had been able to do was to get the children, even after two or three years, to read very imperfectly some easy parts of the Bible, without knowing the Welsh for it, nor the meaning of what was said when they repeated their Catechism.

Hence it could be said that for the same money there could be but one taught to read English for twelve now taught in Welsh. He was against trying to get the children to understand English, although he was willing to establish schools for English speaking parts of Wales like S. Pembroke or the Eastern borders where English was commonly spoken.

Teachers were recruited without difficulty, although placed under humiliatingly strict discipline: their pay was only £3.00 or £4.00 per annum. Carefully selected to ensure they were 'tolerably well qualified' and also that they had 'a more religious impression on their minds than is common'.
Before being let loose on their charges, the prospective teachers were trained in a building that stood until the early part of the 20th cent. in Llanddowror known as 'Yr Hen Coleg'. Tuition lasted some weeks: religious instruction in the Catechism, and the development of their competitive skills by asking questions of one another. There was also training in the way pupils and scholars should behave in a Christian society.

The financial backing Jones had was meagre, and he had to live hand to mouth, cutting his costs to the bone. After a decade of running such schools he calculated that for 20 shillings he could teach six poor adults or children - claiming if it pleased God it would produce salutary fruit. No money could be spent on buildings: his normal practice was to enlist the help of parson or some influential parishioners in order to have the pupils taught in the church or chapel. Sometimes well-disposed persons would lend a schoolroom gratis - and when a house had to be rented it had to be on moderate terms.

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Books were requisitioned from the SPCK by the thousand. An adequate supply of Welsh Bibles and Testaments was a source of concern. Throughout the 1740s he urged the need for a new edition of the Bible - one arrived in 1748, priced modestly at 3/6 (3/10 with clasps). Jones reported that there were 20,000 desirous of reading the Bible, but were not able to purchase it.

'Such of them as are able to work usually received the value of their labour in bread-corn, being seldom paid in money'. Two years earlier he had described how 'few of the Welsh people, even the farmers, and scarcely any at all of the labourers, can at present afford to buy any books'.

The schools were conducted 'at such times of the year as the poor could best be spared from the greatest stress of several employments'; which in almost all places was 'between September and May' (the months when farming work was at lowest). A school lasted for 3 or 4 months and then the schoolmasters moved on to another district.
Within 6 or 7 weeks, Jones claimed, the more apt pupils had learnt to read Welsh. The phonetic spelling of the language, no doubt helped people to quickly acquire a reading knowledge of Welsh. But in the English speaking districts of Pembrokeshire they... ' prospered far beyond what could be hoped for at first : crowded with adults and young, they made speedy progress, not only in English, but also in Christian belief and doctrine'.
Jones believed,' that the young were the best learners and would be preserved by their learning, from vice, and error, and profaneness. Adults who are fixed in mind and memory do not always make the best use of knowledge'. However, Jones claimed, that the adults encouraged to attend in most schools made up two thirds of the number taught.

For more than a generation the schools were a resounding success, but the story was not one of uninterrupted growth, like most voluntary concerns the Circulating schools had their ups and downs.

For example, in 1739-40, 150 schools had 8767 pupils, but by 1743 the number of schools had dwindled to 74 with only 4253 pupils. But they survived, so that in 1756-7, despite the outbreak of war, the number had risen again to 220 schools with 9037 scholars. By 1761, the year of Jones's death it was estimated that, since 1737 there had been 3325 schools attended by 153,835 scholars being taught to read, this not counting adults. Though this figure includes all children who enrolled, it does not take account of irregular attendance. But when balanced against a total population of Wales, at the period, numbered only 400,000 to 500,000, it is no mean achievement.

The whole venture was run on a shoe-string. It began with no other fund to defray expenses than what could be spared from other demands on the small offertory from poor country congregations. Thereafter it depended on what its founder could raise by his talents as a collector. His pathetic plea in 1736 'whether parochial officers at the expense of the county stock could not help us' met with as blank a response as might have been expected.

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Fortunately there were some charitable organisations and individuals who did respond to Jones's dedicated and unremitting importunity. As well as Sir John Phillips, Madame Bevan and Sir John Thorrold, who gave generously, three scientists, Stephen Hales, James Stonby and David Hartley, less moved by religious enthusiasm than by the Royal Society's ambition to apply science to the rational solution, made regular and sustained contributions. In N. Wales where it was difficult for Griffith Jones to exercise personal supervision, a number of clergymen form a Corresponding society to carry on the good work. In the last resort, Jones relied more on his fellow clergy than anyone else. Although their financial contributions were limited, without their goodwill in allowing the schools to use their buildings, in raising offertories, and supervising the Catechism, he would have found it difficult to do as much as he did.

Apart from his financial problems and having few active supporters, Jones had to contend with serious opposition to the whole idea of schools. Criticism was concentrated mainly on two aspects of his work; his encouragement of the Welsh language and the alleged connection between his schools and Methodism. To the former charge Jones replied that he was not concerned with what became of the language, 'abstractly considered' but with ' the myriads of poor ignorant souls, who must launch forth into the dreadful abyss of eternity, and perish from want of knowledge'. Methodism was less easily disposed of. It found expression in a number of hostile pamphlets published between 1750-2, the most virulent one was by John Evans, rector of Eglwys Gymun, a neighbour of Jones, entitled - 'Some account of the Welsh Charity Schools, and of the rise and progress of Methodism in Wales'. It was true that Jones and some of his teachers were on friendly terms with the Methodists, but he (Jones) continued to express his devotion to the Established Church. He insisted his schools were conducted under the guidelines laid down by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London for the conduct of Charity Schools.

What was the secret of Jones' success? The concept of ambulatory schools had been tried before. Even the idea of an itinerant schoolmaster had been mooted earlier. Sir Humphrey Mackworth had rejected the notion in 1719. Scotland had tried travelling schools in the Highlands. What Jones had grasped intuitively was that typical English schools, fixed permanently in a single centre, could be no more than marginally useful in Wales - three difficulties were: the desperate poverty: its dispersed and thinly scattered settlement pattern: and its language. By holding his schools mainly in the winter months for only a short period he enabled children, from desperately poor families to attend. At other times their labour would be needed in the fields. Being peripatetic, his schools got round the difficulty of not having many sizeable towns and villages in Wales. Jones had recognized the wastefulness of trying to teach English in Welsh speaking areas and so was more successful in promoting literacy in Welsh. By so doing he was helping to continue the bardic tradition anticipating the national eisteddfodau, which were resurrected later.

Although he always thought of himself as a frail and feeble man his reserves of energy contributed to his incipient ability. But to him England and Wales were profligate countries sinking deeper into degeneracy. He had no doubt he lived in an age when religion was on the ebb. All this criticism was in line with strongly Puritan trend that had remained embedded in the Church of England, in spite of the Civil War. He further impugned other people who in his eyes were against his God - calling up the infidelity of the Jews, the pride of the Babylonians, the lewdness of the Persians, the debauchery of the Romans, the luxury of the Ancient Greeks and the irreligion of the Old Britons.

In this pervasive atmosphere of self-righteousness and the unctuousness of the professional do-gooders, a man with a mission can be as infuriating as he is inspiring. Extraordinarily thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism, he lashed out at his opponents with a vehemence that could be the very opposite of charity. Yet those same hidden springs that gave rise to his weakness were also the source of his strength as they spurred him on with relentless drive and perseverance.

When Griffith Jones died in 1761 Madam Bevan carried on with his work until her death in 1779. By the end of the 18th cent. Thomas Charles, the Architect of Methodist domination in Wales, who readily recognized Griffith Jones as his mentor, was carrying the work forward. Welsh Sunday Schools were for more than a century the most powerful medium of popular education in Wales. It was this that sealed the success of the Methodist Revival and the triumph of Non-conformity. If the Welsh of the 19th cent. Credit for the origin of this unusual respect for education and love of learning in Wales of the 19th cent. is in large measure due to the work of Griffith Jones.

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