The British Schools – Abertillery Central School

The British Schools – Abertillery Central School

The British Schools – Abertillery Central School.
There was a sort of education in Abertillery through the Church and a school had been in existence in connection with the Baptist Chapel in Blaenau Gwent for many years. The British/British and Foreign Schools were different from the National or Church schools in as much as they were subject to examinations periodically by the Government Inspector. Also the children would not be be compelled to attend any particular place of worship, creed would have nothing to do with the instruction, the children or the teachers, in fact the school would be perfectly nonsectarian.

Mr Thomas Bevan.
In 1850 Mr Thomas Bevan came to Blaenau Gwent and taught at the Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel old Vestry on a wage of 18s per week. During this time many inhabitants felt it was time to secure better educational facilities for the children, a few got together and called on Rev W. Roberts (Nefyd) of Blaina for assistance. Mr Roberts was occupying an official position under the British School Society, he came to the assistance and formed a Committee which was composed of the following gentlemen – Mr Watkin Rowland; Mr Phillip Mills; Mr Joseph Edmunds; Mr Joshua Davies; Mr Thomas Bevan; Mr William Prosser; Mr Edward Jones (Post Master); Mr William Harris; Mr Edmund Williams and Mr David Jones of Ty Sammy: The Committee decided to build a new school and that it would be called the British School.

It was proposed to be built in Abertillery in the mid 1850s, on land given by Messrs Bailey of the Nantyglo Iron Works. The school was also part built on land owned by Mr Edmund James who gifted a section for access to the School.

On 16th September 1853 the British Schools Committee engaged the Architect Mr John Norton of London who prepared the plans for the School and School House.

On Monday 13th March 1854 the foundation stone was laid. The scene was well presented by Mr George M Scott the reporter from the Monmouthshire Merlin who was present and wrote the following –

“On Monday afternoon a large concourse of persons assembled on the elevated ground on the right of the picturesque valley of Abertillery to witness the interesting ceremony of laying the first stone of the new British School. The weather was delightful the occasion, one for rejoicing, the spectacle, of the most attractive kind. On the other side of the valley, covered with sunlight, stood the majestic Arael Mountain, in the rear Twyn Silvania, Twyn Pentre and Pentre Parc raised their summits heavenward. Assembled in the midst of this magnificent scenery, were children who lack education, parents who lament their own want of culture, wealthy individuals who carefully lend their assistance in the cause of progress and ministers who properly countenance and promote the mental improvement of the people”

The ceremony of the Stone Laying was then commenced, a hole had been prepared in the block, into which was placed a bottle containing an inscription and the following coins – A Farthing, Victoria 1847. A Fourpenny-piece, Victoria 1843. A Sixpenny-piece and Shilling, Victoria 1844 and a coin struck on the marriage of the Queen and Prince Albert, February 1840 and bearing the words “Victoria born May 24th 1819, Crowned June 28th 1838.

The inscription was Welsh and written by Rev Thomas Rees, Independent Minister of Beaufort and was as follows – Y gareg-sylfaen hon a osodwyd ar y 13eg o Fawrth, 1854. Gan y Meistrad Edmund James, yn mhresenoldeb gwein-idogion a boneddigion yr ardal, a Mr J. M. Scott, cynnrychiolydd y Merlin, Mr George Turner, Is-olygydd y Star of Gwent as amryw creill. Mr Norton, o Lundain, Cynllunydd. Mr Aneurin Jones, Gelligroes, Adeiladydd. – English transcription – This Foundation Stone was laid on the 13th March 1854 by Master Edmund James, in the presence of the ministers of the neighbourhood, the resident gentry and Mr George M Scott reporter of the Merlin and Mr George Turner, sub-editor of the Star of Gwent and many others. Mr Norton the Architect, Mr Aneurin Jones of Gelligroes the Builder.

The Court Case Between the Builder and the New School Committee.
The British School, as mentioned, was built by Mr Aneurin Jones of Gelli Groes. After the construction the Committee couldn’t pay the builder the final fee of £100 so the builder Mr Jones kept the key and put a Manager in charge of the school until the payment was made. Mr Joshua Davies and his son John regularly visited the school and one of the daily visits found a door open with the key still in the latch. They crept in, took the key and locked the door barring entry to the Manager, Mr Davies ordered his son to go and fetch the rest of the Committee and to bring down all the furniture. Upon hearing the news, Mr Aneruin Jones the builder went to the school to evict them, all his efforts were in vain so he had no option other than to take legal action.

The Committee were ordered by the court to pay the £100, the Free Churches of the district came to the assistance of the Committee and paid the builder his sum of money. The Churches that took part in this effort were – Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel, the Primitive Methodist, Wesleyan and the Calvinistic Church of Carmel. When the school was later taken over by the Aberystruth School Board they gave the Committee £400, which the Committee in turn divided the money between the four churches mentioned.

The Official Opening of the British School.
On August 1st 1855 the British School was opened.

Mr Thomas Bevan.
The first Headmaster was Mr Thomas Bevan of Abertillery.

The School being small was soon unfit for purpose with the increasing population, Mr Bowstead and Dr Roberts (Nefydu) visited the school with a view of placing it on the list of Government aided Schools.  For many years Mr Thomas Bevan laboured there until the building got too small and the Committee, with himself became security for the debt which was contracted on a larger building. This was chiefly due to the fact that they failed to get aid from the Education Department promised for the want of title deeds from the Crawshay Bailey Estate who owned the site. They had to devise a way to get funding, Mr Bevan gave to the fund generously and gained public sympathy and aid. He eventually succeeded in erecting an Infants School with a portion of funds that had been accumulated from a poundage given by the Tin Works employees.

After this extension the School was for a time large enough for the children then attending but within a few years it again became too small to meet the requirements of the Education Department. The Committee were burdened with the encumbrance already on the building, the interest which was being met for many years by the Headmaster Mr Bevan, by training children, holding tea-party’s, concerts and lectures, after 30 years of severe struggle to maintain the school in an efficient manner they transferred it to the Aberystruth School Board on condition they accept the debt in lieu of the School and School House.

In 1887 the Aberystruth School Board built a new School for the boys (as seen in the photograph above) the old School was used for the girls and the infants. Mr Bevan with his sons started Art Classes and added Science Classes, these classes became known as the Abertillery Science and Art Classes. In connection with these classes, lectures were given by the county organiser Mr E. Small M.A. by Principal and Mrs Viram Jones of the Cardiff University and by local educationalists. These classes paved way for the localising of the Intermediate Schools. Through the aid of the classes many students were able to gain county scholarships entitling them to free tuition at Cardiff University, several of them had qualified themselves for higher positions in life, one of the number having taken the degree of B.A. Mr Bevan had also superintended the Sewing Classes at the day schools.

In 1888 Miss Esther Davies became the Headmistress at the British Schools, she was aided by Mrs Abraham and Mrs Austin.

Under the Headmastership of Mr Thomas Bevan at the British School, Abertillery over thirty teachers had been apprenticed to him. Ten of his pupils had entered the Ministry, three had entered the Legal profession, all of whom became Barristers. One became a Coroner and a great number had entered the Commercial world and figured prominently in the same. Mr Bevan resigned his position as Headmaster of the British School, Abertillery in November 1899 a position he had held since it’s opening 44 years before.

In July 1897 a Girls School was added to the British School, Tenders were sent out to be received on the Monday 12th July 1897. I have no other information or details of the new Girls school except that it is featured on the 1901 maps so was built sometime between 1897 and 1901. The original British School was demolished and the Girls School was built on the site of the original British School in the same style of the Boys School built a few years earlier.

In 1899 Mr Thomas Bevan retired, his son Mr Albert James Bevan of the Poplars, Abertillery was appointed as Headmaster in 1900. Mr A. J. Bevan was the Headmaster at the Queen Street Schools.

The Abertillery Central School.
The British School was later known as the Abertillery School and in 1901 was mentioned in an Education Committee report as being turned into a Central School. Between 1901 and 1906 it was turned into a Central School (More information needed).

In 1919 the School was re-opened after being refurbished and Mr A. J. Bevan was still the Headmaster with Mr W. Stanley Hodges as Assistant Master.

In March 1920 Mr A. J. Bevan sadly passed away and was replaced by Mr Gathorne Hardy Jenkins, of Henwain Villa, Abertillery Road, Blaina.

In May 1925 Mr Jenkins sadly passed away and was replaced by Mr James Davies of Graig View Terrace, Llanhilleth Headmaster of the Crumlin Council Schools.

In September 1925 Mr W. Stanley Hodges was transferred to the Idole Council School, Carmarthen as Headmaster.

british-school-mugA Commemorative Mug.
This Mug was produced to commemorate the British School. It features the opening and closure dates.

The British School closed on the 21st July 1987 and was demolished. Later Cwrt Mytton a Private Nursing Home was built on the site.

Mr Thomas Bevan 1833-1906 – Headmaster.
Mr Thomas Bevan was born in Nantyglo in August 1833. His father a Baptist Minister had a Boot and Shoe business at Nantyglo. Thomas Bevan left home in 1849 and entered into teaching at the Grammar School at Brecon, he returned home to open a private school at Nantyglo. In 1850 he returned to Brecon and received further training at Christ College, then onto Borough Road Training College, London. Upon his return he was asked by the agency to take charge of the Day School held at the Vestry of Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel, kindly lent free of charge in the interest of education. Upon the completion of the British School he was transferred there in August 1855.

In September 1899 Mr Thomas Bevan retired, as mentioned above, his son Mr A. J. Bevan was transferred from Queen Street School, Abertillery to the Central Schools as Headmaster. Mr Thomas Bevan sadly passed away in September 1906.


Points of interest –
Interesting features on the above image from 1896 include (Bottom left to right -The Lymes House – later Club). The original Station Hotel, later rebuilt. The original British School (far left with what looks like a Bell Tower) as mentioned. Gladstone Street, Clyn Mawr Isaf Farm on the site of the Job Centre. The Bush Hotel being constructed in place of the old Bush Inn that was on the same site since the 1700s.

The second built Railway Station can be seen behind the Chimney Stack in the bottom centre, where the Library is today, its position was on the old railway route which ran close to the Station Hotel, North of the Lymes House, later re-routed South of the Lymes constructed with a series of embankments and bridges, one of which can be seen bottom left.

Bottom (centre left) can be seen the Tin Works Feeder emerging from under Station Hill with 2 sluices. The Feeder’s route was from the River close to Harcourt Terrace and it ran down the valley to this point and into the Pond at the Tin Works to power the Water Wheel at the Forge Works. It was common belief that the River was used for the running of the Tin Works thought if you stand on the Tin Works site the River is about 15 to 20 feet below the level. The sluices to the Feeder in the Park is about 30 feet above level, this is the reason they constructed the Feeder. When Glandwr Street and Carlyle Street was built the Feeder was discontinued.

Outside the Station Hotel can be seen a Haulier, his cart is on the position of the old Level Crossing which was there before the major re-route of the railway. A major factor in the re-routing of the railway and a new station at this point was the doubling of the line and the safety issues at these junctions. During a survey in 1889 for the need for a bridge across the valley it was found that in a 24 hour period 21 trains travelled up the Cwmtillery Valley through the junction behind the Bush Hotel, that was without taken into account the trains travelling up or down the valley from Newport to Blaina.

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