Aberbeeg School

The Growth of Education in the Valley.
It was seen by many who had studied the progress of education that Wales was sorely neglected in the past and that early educational facilities were not afforded to it as they should have been and as it fully deserved. The Welsh nation proved itself the great stumbling block in Wales. The Welsh children were prohibited from conversing in their native tongue under the penalty of the Welsh nation, which was supposed to be proof of a great crime. Nevertheless, it must have been a blessing in disguise, because they found that bilingual districts in Wales seemed to be far ahead of the one language districts with brighter, more precocious children, with much higher results.

It was stated that the first attempt at education was made by the monks, priests and clergy, which in itself was seen as a great difficulty and a stumbling block. Sectarianism and party politics should have never been allowed to dominate the domain of education. In the early years many precious hours were spent in cramming the children with catechism when they should have been learning facts and the true principles of education.

From 1662 there were hundreds of clergymen getting a big slice of their living by what had been called “keeping school” it should really have been “schools keeping them”. At that period the main object of the schoolmaster was to prepare the young men for the colleges. There was a mighty effort to establish free popular education – education for the people, for the masses. The idea was conceived by Rev Griffiths Jones of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, otherwise known as Jones Llandowror.

Rev Griffiths Jones.
Rev Griffiths Jones was born in 1684 and was ordained by Bishop Bull of St Davids in 1708, (other accounts say it was 1711) in 1762 Rev Griffiths Jones passed away, after serving his country and his church for 54 years. During his lifetime Rev Jones established two hundred and twenty schools. In 1737 he had 37 schools with 2,400 pupils. In 1747 there were 110 schools and 5,633 pupils and in the year 1757 he had established 220 schools with over 900 pupils attending them, though in 1858 the number of schools had decreased to 210 though the number of scholars had risen to 9,834. In 1761 the year before his death the number of schools had decreased to 210 and the pupil numbers were down to 8,623. It was seen that the movement started by Rev Jones was seen as the start of education in these parts.

St Illtyd Church School, Llanhilleth.
The movement had reached many, if not all parts of Wales and there seemed no doubt that the Church School at St Illtyd, Llanhilleth was built at this time. The old school building was said to have been at the entrance to the graveyard, on the left-hand side and in the later stages of its existence was used as a dwelling house, a one storey oblong building with a partition separating the living quarters from the bedroom, it had three large windows on one side with two on the other. The first person connected with the school was was Mr Henry Milsom, who was also clerk to the Parish Church and also the general factotum. Mr Milsom was followed by Mrs Jones afterwards by Mrs Williams, the mother of Mrs Morrell.

Mrs Williams taught for many years, several children in the neighbourhood attended, among them were Mr Phillip Morgan of Six Bells, Mr E. J. Williams J.P., and his brother Dr Williams of the Limes House, Abertillery and Messrs J. and T. Webb of Aberbeeg. It can be seen that several of the boys taught there later went on to occupy important positions.

Miss Blackburrow.
Another little school was kept by Miss Blackburrow, daughter of the miller who worked the Mill at Aberbeeg, Miss Blackburrow used to conduct the school on the line of a church school and a number of her scholars were some of the wealthiest children in the district.

Mrs Mary Roderick.
The Nonconformists also started a school over the old Smiths Shop that was situated between the two rows of houses on the east side of the railway and Mrs Mary Roderick was the teacher there.

Rev Morgan Morgan.
The Glandwr Baptist Chapel opened in 1838 and a school was started in the vestry. The Rev Morgan Morgan took charge and spent many years as its master.

There were other smaller schools in the area, one was kept by Rev Samuel Jones at Llanhilleth, another by Mrs Farr at Aberbeeg in one of the dwelling houses of the late Mr E. Edmunds, a Grocer. At Six Bells there was a small private house in which Mrs Purnell kept a school.

Mr Peacock.
A National School was later built at Crumlin in connection with the Anglican Church and one of its masters was a Mr Peacock. Mr Peacock spent seven years in that position though died in 1872. Soon after a move was made to have a school built at Aberbeeg by Rev James Hughes rector of Llanhilleth Parish Church.

Rev James Hughes.
Rev James Hughes was rector of the Llanhilleth Parish Church, St Illtyd. He set about collecting money to build the school at Aberbeeg with the approval of several of the parishioners and both the Anglican and Nonconformists in the area. A piece of ground was given by Mr Powers and the building went ahead.

The information above is from a piece of work titled “The Growth of Education in the Valley” by Mr David Edwards of St Illtyd, Aberbeeg from 1912, printed in the South Wales Gazette in the same year.

Llanhilleth School Board.
On Friday 2nd of February 1872, a meeting of the parishioners of Llanhilleth was held at the schoolrooms, Crumlin to consider the desirability of making application to government for permission to elect a school board for that parish. The Rev James Hughes was voted to the chair. The attendance was small but amongst those present were – Mr H. N. Maynard; Mr T. Dart; Mr D. Thomas; Mr Clark; Mr J. Andrews; Mr T. Phillips and Mr T. Jones:

On Thursday 18th of April 1872, the School Board for the parish was appointed. The following gentlemen were elected – Rev James Hughes, Rector (Chairman); Mr J. J. Williams a Surgeon (Vice-Chairman); Rev J. Hughes a churchman; Mr W. Webb a churchman; Mr G. Clark a churchman; Mr J. J. Williams a churchman and Mr Thomas Jones a Conservative dissenter:

Aberbeeg School.
Aberbeeg School (as seen in the main featured image above and right) was planned to be built as a Church of England School by the National Society, a voluntary church or national school controlled by the clergy. Apparatus chiefly supplied by the National Society and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.). The manager and correspondent was Rev James Hughes, chairman of the Llanhilleth School Board.

Rev James Hughes.
Rev James Hughes was rector of the Llanhilleth Parish Church, St Illtyd. He set about collecting money to build the school at Aberbeeg with the approval of several of the parishioners and both the Anglican and Nonconformists in the area. A piece of ground was given by Mr Powers and the building went ahead.

On Thursday 10th of April 1873, the Llandaff Diocesan Church Extension Society held a meeting at the Town Hall, Cardiff. The Lord Bishop of Llandaff presided. A committee meeting was held prior to the general meeting at which Mr Watson read the list of grants made for increased accommodation in the various parish churches and schools in connection with the society. He stated a grant of £25 for a school-chapel at Nantyglo and the sum of £30 for a similar building at Aberbeeg, Llanhilleth.

The Official Opening of the Aberbeeg School.
On Tuesday 1st of July 1873, the Aberbeeg School was officially opened. The school was situated on the eastern side of the valley just south of Webb’s Brewery and overlooking the Aberbeeg Railway Station. There were no official reports of its opening in any known newspaper of the time.

The Contractor and Architect.
The contractor of the Aberbeeg School was Mr H. B. Sketch of Newport.

The hours of attendance were 9.00am – 12.00pm and 2.00pm – 4.30pm. More than 200 children were admitted during the month of opening – Pupils from Aberbeeg, Six Bells, Llanhilleth and Trinant attended the school. The older children were grouped into 4 classes and the infants grouped into 2 divisions. The school fees were – 1d, 2d, 3d and 4d per week according to the parent’s circumstances.

Mr George F. and Elizabeth Thatcher.
Mr George F. Thatcher was the first master at the school, Mrs Elizabeth Thatcher was appointed sewing and assistant mistress.

In August 1873 the master moved into the schoolhouse and paid £1 for four weeks lodgings for himself and family. At the same time a monitor was appointed to assist the master and mistress in teaching. An application was made for loan of the Aberbeeg Reading Room to accommodate classes when rooms at the school were overcrowded.

In September 1873 an ex-pupil teacher from Abersychan National School was appointed at Aberbeeg as assistant mistress on a salary of £30 per annum, payable monthly.

In December 1873 Mr Stanfield presented the school with two trams of coal.

In May 1874 the chairman of the Llanhilleth School Board Rev James Hughes and the treasurer of the school, decided that the fees were too low and were raised to 4d. per week for pupils in standard 4 and 5, raised to 3d. per week for pupils in standard 1, 2 and 3, and raised to 2d. per week for the infants.

In September 1874 it was recorded that a boy pupil was tried out as a monitor and paid 1s. shilling per week for carrying out his duties.

Colliery Managers and Child Workers.
In September 1879 Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines informed local colliery owners that they must obtain certificates of efficiency for all boys under 14 years of age working in their mines. As a result, many of the boys from the mines attended school. The master remarked “This improved attendance at the school but lowered the tone”. In 1880 all boys over 12 years of age went to work irrespective of attainment or standard passed. Some took up employment before reaching the age of 12 years of age.

In 1880 the subjects taught at the Aberbeeg School were – Reading, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, recitation, paperwork, needlework and singing. Latin and mathematics were introduced as special subjects. At this time the master’s salary was raised to £100 per annum and the mistress’s salary was raised to £60 per annum.

In 1880 the Aberbeeg School was under the control of the Llanhilleth School Board though the church authorities were allowed use of room for church services.

In January 1881 a meeting of the ratepayers was held at the Crumlin Schools to appoint school managers, Dr W. E. Williams presided. The following gentlemen were elected managers for the ensuing year – Mr J. R. Webb; Mr Phillip Morgan; Mr John Morgan; Mr John Lewis; Mr John Stanfield and Mr Henry Thomas:

Teaching Staff 1882.
In 1882 the teaching staff were as follows – Mr George F. Thatcher, certified 1st class master, Mrs Elizabeth Thatcher, sewing mistress. Mr Alex D. Colquhoun, assistant master. Mr Lewis Rogers, pupil teacher. Miss Ann Jane Barclay, paid monitor. A short while later Mr Colquhoun retired from stress and the vacancy was filled by Miss Annil Mary Morris, Miss Morris’s salary was listed as being £37. 10s. 0d. fixed. Later Mrs Thatcher finished and Miss Lizzie Miles was appointed sewing mistress.

In 1883 the Aberbeeg School was being supplied with coal from the Aberbeeg North Colliery.

Enlargement of the Aberbeeg School.
In April 1884 Contractor Mr David Vaughan of Tredegar commenced work on building additional rooms, retaining wall on the lower approach road. The contract was £705. Other alterations were made to the school, with doorways and windows being moved and added etc and by October the new rooms were finished. The infants moved into the new rooms with the old rooms intended to be used for the mixed school.

The Aberbeeg School Ledger.
The original 24 page official School Ledger (as seen left – which is in my personal collection) recorded what went on at the school between 1873 and 1884, the Llanhilleth School Board wrote disciplinary procedures, attendance problems with many of the pupils from mining families that could not attend as of the then present unemployment, the other pupils who were from farming backgrounds and their families kept the children home to help on the farms. Also, the absenteeism resulting from the many epidemics that hit the area.

In 1890 Mr George F. Thatcher the master at the Aberbeeg School retired.

Mr John Evans.
In September 1890 Mr John Evans took over as headmaster though he sadly passed away in November of the same year at a young age after only serving 9 weeks as master and was replaced by Mr Theophilus Evans.

Mr Theophilus Evans.
After the death of Mr John Evans, Mr Theophilus Evans became the headmaster at the Aberbeeg School. Mr Theophilus Evans was from Trecastle, Breconshire.

In November 1891 tenders were invited by the Llanhilleth School Board for alterations to the Aberbeeg School. Plans and specifications in the hands of Mr James McBean. Applications to be handed to C. W. Carpenter. The alterations were to the cloakroom and lavatory, though only one tender was received and was deemed too high. Tenders were again invited to which that of Mr Noel Bagley, contractor of Oak Street Abertillery was accepted.

In December 1891 Miss Mary Rosser of Abertillery was appointed infant’s mistress at a salary of £40. per annum.

In 1892 Miss A. Bryant joined the staff at Aberbeeg School. Miss Bryant was a native of Pontymister though was teaching at Barnsley when she was transferred to fill the post vacated by Miss Rowland.

In September 1894 tenders were invited by the Llanhilleth School Board for the post of two assistant mistresses, one at the Infants School and one at the Mixed School both with a salary of £50. per annum, another tender for an assistant master with a salary of £70. per annum and lastly a tender for a head mistress for the Infants School. Applications to Mr C. W. Carpenter, clerk to the board.

Mr H. J. Lewis and Mrs M. A. Badger joined the teaching staff at the Aberbeeg School at this time. Mr Lewis was a native of Pentwynmawr, Newbridge, was a pupil teacher at Abercarn and was trained at Bangor College.

Technical Instruction Committee.
Sometime in the late 1890’s Mr D. J. Badger joined the teaching staff at the Aberbeeg School. A Technical Instruction Committee was formed and the lessons taught there for the 1898-99 season were as follows – Magnetism and Electricity by Mr Theo Evans, every Friday evening. Physiography, and Mathematics by Mr D. J. Badger every Thursday evening. Classes were held between the hours of 4.30pm and 8.00pm. There was also Art Classes in connection with the Technical Instruction Committee, Freehand and Model classes by Mr J. E. Rowland, every Tuesday evening between the hours of 7.00pm and 9.00pm.

In December 1898 Mrs E. J. Jones was appointed assistant mistress at the Aberbeeg School with a salary of £65. per annum. Mrs Jones was a native of Ebbw Vale though had been previously employed at Beeston, Nottingham.

In December 1898 at a meeting of the Llanhilleth School Board it was decided to teach geography to the girls in the Llanhilleth Schools. It was to be introduced as an experiment though if successful it would be generally adopted.

In June 1899 a school survey showed that the Aberbeeg Infants School had 146 pupils on the register, 120 average attendances. Aberbeeg School has 265 pupils on the register with 220 average attendances. It was reported it showed satisfactory progress.

In September 1899 the post of a cleaner and caretaker was advertised with a wage of £3 per month. At this time Mr H. J. Lewis left the Aberbeeg School to become headmaster at the Six Bells School.

In February 1900 Mr Williams of Llanhilleth was supplying coal to the school at the cost of 14s. shillings per ton. At this same time Miss Minnie Jones was appointed probationer at the Aberbeeg School and Mrs Rachel Jones was cleaner. Mrs Jones wages were £3. per month.

In March 1900 during a meeting of the Llanhilleth School Board, Mr T. Harris the attendance officer reported that he had visited Aberbeeg, Six Bells and Llanhilleth over a two-week period and had made some 664 visits to parents in that time. He stated the attendance was very poor and also submitted names to the board of those that he thought should be prosecuted. At this meeting a letter was read from the secretary of the Quakers Yard Truant School, stating that they were prepared to receive boys for terms of three months at 7s. shillings per week. They would then be allowed home on license, if they still did not attend school they would have their license revoked at spend a further three months at the Truant School.

In August 1900 Mr F. J. Skenfield of Chester joined the teaching staff at the Aberbeeg School, at the same time Mrs M. A. Badger resigned.

In June 1905 Mr Theophilus Evans was transferred to the newly opened Gelli Crug Schools, Abertillery and Mr T. B. Martindale was appointed headmaster at the Aberbeeg School.

Mr T. B. Martindale.
Mr Thomas Bunyan Martindale was a teacher at Abertillery and became headmaster at the Aberbeeg School on the departure of Mr Theophilus Evans. Mr Martindale was from Bishop Auckland, County Durham on coming to Abertillery he initially lived at 94 Tillery Street, Abertillery as a lodger with his wife Matilda Lois Martindale nee Pack from Bromley in Kent. They later moved into the School House at Aberbeeg. Miss Rowland was also on the teaching staff at this time.

In September 1905 Mr T. Harris the attendance officer was reportedly receiving a salary of £1. 17s. 6d. per week and Mr M. J. Curtis was a cleaner at the Aberbeeg School.

Teaching Staff 1908.
By July 1908 the staff at the Aberbeeg Schools were as follows – Mr B. T. Martindale. headmaster. Miss Broom, assistant in the infant’s department. Miss Thomas, headmistress in the infant’s school.

The Proposed Open-Air School at Aberbeeg.
In October 1912 a meeting of the Abertillery Education Committee took place at the Council Chambers, Abertillery, Mr David Smith presided. The following attended – Mrs H. King; Messrs W. Williams; W. Harris; R. Downs; M. Cole; J. Carter; G. Jones; J. T. Boots; J. E. Rowland; D. Edwards; W. J. Fahy (Councillor and landlord of the Clyn Mawr Hotel, Blaenau Gwent) and Mr N. J. Llewellyn (Secretary): At this meeting they proposed to have an “Open-Air School” built on the mountain at Aberbeeg, the plan was to have two teachers, a cook and a caretaker.

There was an open-air school in use in London so that the children could get some fresh air though the idea to have one similar built at Aberbeeg with a running cost of £10. per week was said to have been too costly, also the children’s parents would have found it hard to send the children with the train fares or other transportation costs and the children were healthy enough without sitting outside taking school lessons. Mr J. T. Boots was reported as deleting the idea for the time being.

Mr H. J. Lewis.
In the 1920’s Mr H. J. Lewis was the headmaster at the Aberbeeg School and Miss S. J. Gatfield was the headmistress at the infant’s school.

The Closure of the Aberbeeg School.
The Aberbeeg School closed in July 1959. The school buildings were later demolished, the area was cleared and nothing has been built on the site ever since.

(More information to come).

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