Church Maintained Education
Education in Puritan
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
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
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
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
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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
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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