By Mary John


In October 1846, during the last session of Parliament, attention was called to the state of education in Wales by a motion in the House of Commons for an Address to the Queen, praying Her Majesty…

‘…to direct an inquiry to be made into the state of education in the Principality of Wales especially into the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring a knowledge of the English language.’

  Thus, in July 1847, Sir James P. Kay Shuttleworth, Secretary to the Committee of Council on Education, introduced the Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales.

The first Report, Part I, covering the counties of Carmarthenshire, Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire, was produced by the English civil servant, Ralph Robert Wheeler Lingen, a man later to be described as having a ‘xenophobic disdain of the  Welsh’.

Shuttleworth informed Lingen that:-

‘The object of your Commission is to ascertain, as accurately as circumstances will permit, the existing number of schools of all description, for the education of children of the labouring classes, or of adults – the amount of attendance – the ages of the scholars – and the character of the instruction given in the schools…in order that Her Majesty’s Government and Parliament may be enabled…to consider what measures ought to be taken for the improvement of the existing means of education in Wales.’

Much has been debated and written about both the content of these Reports and the attitudes of their authors which to a large extent caused dismay and outrage and resulted in their publication becoming known as the TREASON OF THE BLUE BOOKS. (Government reports were bound in blue covers. )

The Reports, published just a few years after the Rebecca Riots, often contained derisory comments on the social and moral life of some of the communities visited. Their tone was considered hectoring, often based on ill-informed evidence and mostly lacking in empathy for struggling people.

Lingen was to provide a lengthy introduction to his Report, having spent little time himself in the areas concerned, relying on assistants who spoke only English to make visits and interviews and dependent on the views and opinions of local gentry and Anglican clerics rather than the local population which was then largely non-conformist. He was undoubtedly taken up with the impact language had on the three counties under review.

‘My district exhibits the phenomenon of a peculiar language isolating the mass from the upper portion of society; and, as a further phenomenon it exhibits this mass engaged upon the most opposite of occupations at points not very distant from each other: being on the one side rude and primitive agriculturalists, living poorly and thinly scattered: on the other smelters and miners, wantoning in plenty and congregated in the densest of accumulations.’

Of an individual in a Welsh speaking community Lingen later comments that:-

‘…his language keeps him under the hatches…It is a language of old fashioned agriculture, of  theology, and of simple rustic life while all around him is English.’

It is worth remembering that the 1871 Census shows 71% of the Pembrokeshire population speaking Welsh.

The Report was divided into the hundreds of the county and for the survey bases were established at Narberth, Pembroke, Tenby, Haverfordwest, St Davids and Fishguard. At that time in total there were 206 day schools, 72 Dame schools and 223 Sunday schools. All types of schools were reported on – national, British, endowed, charity, dame, private, workhouse and Sunday schools.

One can only assume that the timing of the visits to the schools was driven by the urgency of the Report. Lingen’s assistants were out and about on horses in Pembrokeshire in the winter of 1846-1847. Turning up in parishes in December they found schools closed for the Christmas holiday. St Florence was visited on Christmas Eve and Angle on Boxing Day. The weather was very cold and in some places like Stackpole, Warren and Castlemartin deep snow covered the ground. An assistant visiting the Union Workhouse School at Pembroke reported thus…

‘As soon as the schoolmaster had been apprized of our object he tolled a great bell, and, when the summons had been answered by the appearance of a boy or two in the yard, called out lustily, “Come, turn out there – fall in.” This was very readily done. “To the right –face – march.” Each boy in passing gave a military salute. One of the file had neither shoe nor stocking; scarcely any of them had stockings. There was deep snow on the ground, thawing at the time.’

Lingen and his Assistants found it necessary to dwell on the impoverishment of the communities, detailing the wages of labourers and mine workers. Although there was considerable variation between the parishes, generally agricultural workers could expect between 6 pence and 8 pence per day when the farmer provided food or between 1shilling and 4 pence without food. Masons employed in Yerbeston might expect 1/8 with food or 2/6 without. Female workers got notably less. Live-in male farm servants in Reynoldston might receive between £3 and £6 a year while female servants could expect between 30/- and £3.  Colliers, such as those at Amroth might expect 9 shillings per week.

Traditionally children attending school were expected to pay ‘school pence’. This meant parents finding 1d per week per child to pay the school master. Very often it was not simply a question of cash. There would be very practical reasons why a child could not go to school. Sometimes, as in Yerbeston, many people were too poor to provide clothing for their children to go to school. More importantly for the community, children were needed either to mind younger siblings at home while their parents were at work or to work themselves as they did in the coal mines around Begelly or on the farms, especially at harvest times.

The inspector visiting Clarbeston on 8th of December claimed that the parish was…

‘…entirely destitute of any means of education…A poor widow-woman, into whose house I went, told me that she had a family of eight children, and her only support was her son, a lad about 17 years of age, and a blacksmith by trade. She said she could not possibly give her children education and victuals …The cottage was a wretchedly dirty place. The pig was walking about the house as one of the inmates…’

Unsurprisingly, many of the smaller communities were recorded as having no school, although walking a number of miles to the nearest village school appears to have been acceptable. At least 26 pupils of Rudbaxton school lived more than a mile and a half away.

Certainly the local clergy played a big part in encouraging education for their parishioners, some providing funding or accommodation in church buildings and glebe land. Chapels were noted for Sunday schools, educating children particularly in reading, presumably to allow children access to the scriptures.

Notable was the support of a number of local gentry and landowners. The Earl of Cawdor maintained schools for his tenants and provided for an agricultural school at Warren. Among other benefactors were J. Stokes Esq. (St Issells school), Miss Akland,( Cleddau School at Camrose), Miss Stoke, (Cuffern Day School) and Dale school, (Lloyd Philipps of Picton Castle).

Mrs Mirehouse provided annually £5 for the education of 10 scholars in Angle and towards prints and cards at Castlemartin. Letterston was supported by Charles Mathias Esq. of Lamphey Court. A blacksmith’s shop was converted for Rose Hill School, Slebech by the Baron de Rutzen who also provided £6 for teaching his labourer’s children and a house next door with culm provided for the schoolmaster. Visiting on New Year’s Day the Assistant found the school empty of children as all 22 of them had been invited by the Baroness to Slebech Hall for dinner and tea. There was also evidence of practical help. The girls of Jameston were taught sewing by Mrs Bough Allen.

Generally the Report concluded that at least one third of the school buildings were in a bad state. Many were in the homes of the teachers, in kitchens of farm houses, in outbuildings, above stables, in chapels and churches. Wiston schoolroom was … ‘little better than a hovel, dark and meanly furnishes with tattered leaves of books lying about.’ The iron stove in Walton East gave off insufferable steam. Pupils in Maeclochog had to kneel on benches to write. In Martletwy the space was taken up by a bed and a large coffer. The path along the cliff edge to Tenby school, housed in part of the old castle, ‘…would be considered highly dangerous for English children.’

Very few schools were purpose built, and these were usually the National or British schools which had official funding, one of these being Wolf’s Castle British School where the school house was built in 1834 by William Edwards Esq. of Sealyham, with a parliamentary grant of £170.

The National Schools of which there were very few in the County, benefitted from funding provided by the Committee of Council on Education.  Rudbaxton was amongst those receiving money as was Burton given great praise in the Report and described as ‘the best in the country’.

Most of the teachers had received no training many of them were soundly  criticized. The master at Wiston was a… ‘thoroughly stupid and ignorant man. At St Issells, ‘…age alone was enough to render him incompetent.’

The teacher at Lawrenny Ferry was not considered to be of sound mind… ‘I teaches Latin, plane and spherical trigonometry and the Lunars.’ His employment was discontinued.

Mr. Joseph Lewis’s Day School, Sheep Street, Narberth –

‘The master is one of the most helpless creatures I have ever seen: a cold had fixed in his back when a child, and, having been neglected, had rendered him completely unable to walk. He crawled about the school like a toad, and when he goes to church or chapel, or anywhere out of doors, he is obliged to be carried on somebody’d back. Notwithstanding his helpless state, he managed to keep his scholars in very good order with a rod 6 feet long in his hand, which, as he sat in the middle of a room only 10 feet by 12, reached to every part of it, and maintained discipline without locomotion.’

Teachers were also criticized for their poor command of English as was the master of Llandewi Velfrey.

Inspectors were keen to investigate teaching standards and spent time questioning the pupils. Many questions were related to the bible.  At Jameston, ‘…the children were excessively ignorant, rude and ill behaved…’ We are told they did not know who Jesus Christ was and had never heard of the Virgin Mary.

Some questions were, however, remarkable. For example, pupils in Llanfyrnach did not know …‘,,,the circumference of the globe in miles’ and those at the Newport British School failed to give the inspector… ‘… an explanation of the physical causes of the rainbow.’

While all too often the inspectors’ attention was taken up by smells, dirt and ignorance and they appeared to relish contempt for substandard teachers and ill-kept school rooms it would be their comments on the behaviour of local people that caused outrage. Much of this was based on the opinions of local Anglican clergy.

Parish of Begelly – ‘The Rev R. Buckby, the Rector, gave a deplorable account of this parish…which contains a mining population. Out of 70 marriages, in six only had the brides not been visibly enceintes…Weddings are times of great rioting and debauchery. The intended bride and bridegroom live together for a considerable time previous to the marriage. They brew as much ale as they can, and then sell it, without a licence, to their friends who are expected to give more than the market-price. This is the way in which they raise money to begin the world with.’

Wiston… ‘The inhabitants are generally hard working and sober but there is much cunning, lying and (above all) unchastity among them…public opinion hardly condemns unchastity at all.’

St Florence… ‘the state of farm servants is generally bad…no moral care or controls exercised over them.’

Angle… ‘Wrecking is not confined to the laboring classes but extended also to farmers who would not scruple to take possession of any articles which might be thrown ashore.’

Haverfordwest Workhouse…paupers were ‘excessively filthy in their habits.’

Dewisland… ‘I heard on all hands but one account of the gross immorality prevailing among the unmarried population of both sexes. Little care is taken to separate the resident male and female servants in the farmhouses at night…system of bundling…nightly visits of men to women, prevails extensively…’

Bastardy was prevalent in Llanwnda and St Nicholas.

A number of Pembrokeshire schools, particularly those like Jeffreytson, Cresselly and Newport, receiving funding from local benefactors and outside bodies, would be judged most satisfactory. However, considering that Education and the English language were the inspectors’ priorities, there would appear to have been no excuse for such outrageous comments.