The National Church of England School Abertillery.
The National School, Church School was situated on what was to become High Street, Abertillery. Its exact spot is where the Bus-Stops are today opposite S. M. Ash. The School was a part of St Michaels Church.
Abertillery in the 1830s-40s was practically non-existent, a few farms and one main small Iron Works owned by Mr Richard Walker of Trevethin, father-in-law to Mr William Webb, Brewster of Aberbeeg. His Iron Works were situated where Tesco’s Supermarket is today. In the mid 1840s Mr Walker went Bankrupt and he sold the works. I am not sure if Messrs Conway and Pearce purchased it from him at the time or a while later? Though Messrs Conway and Pearce later re-opened the works as a Tin Plate Manufactory and soon expanded their workings. About the same time, the Cwmtillery Collieries were in full swing along with the sinking of Penybont Colliery in 1848-1850 and the once small village of Cwmtillery/Abertillery began to grow.
Up to this point all religious activity was centred around either Blaenau Gwent, St Illtyds in Llanhilleth or St Pauls, Blaina and the people of Abertillery had to travel to attend Religious Services. A small group of Churchgoers decided to hold services at Abertillery and they hired a room at the Royal Oak Inn (later to become the club house of Blaenau Gwent RFC, now demolished) for such purpose.
A while later a fund was set up for the purpose of building a Church and School in Abertillery town. Messrs Conway and Pearce along with Messrs Brown’s of the Blaina Works, Messrs Price of the Penybont Colliery etc donated to the Church and School fund, to provide religious activity and education for the people of Abertillery.
On Friday 27th August tenders were invited to build the Church and School House, one advert though the Tenders had to be sent in separately for each build. The plans of which were in the office of Mr John Conway at Abertillery and information will be given by Mr Charles Medhurst of Abertillery who will show the site of the intended buildings. The Tenders had to be sent in by the 7th September 1852 to Mr John Conway Esq.
The Tenders of Mr J. H. Evins of Abergavenny was accepted to build both Church and School under the supervision of the Architect Mr Norton of London.
In May 1854 the St Michaels Church was the first to be erected, by the design of the Architect Mr Norton and at an estimated cost of £880. The Rev Daniel Rees Rector of Blaina was the first Curate in charge.
The Official Opening of St Michaels Church.
On May 18th 1854 St Michaels Church was officially opened. It was noted that it had been erected by the most liberal assistance of the Tin Works Proprietors Messrs John Conway and John Pearce and others. On the day a special train was placed upon the Western Valley’s Railway which left Newport conveying a large number of residents to take part in the opening ceremony. The service commenced at 11 o’clock and the works in the neighbourhood was stopped for the occasion.
Those present were Clergy – Lord Bishop of the Diocese; Von Archdeacon Williams of Llanvapley; Chancellor Williams of Bassaeleg; Rev Canon Jenkins of Dowlais; Rev Thomas Prothero of Malpas one of the Queens Chaplains; Rev Canon Price of Llanarth; Rev Canon Jones of Tredegar; Rev-Williams of Trinity Abergavenny; Rev Howard Williams Garth; Rev Letward Hawkins of St Woolas Newport; Rev Thomas Lavis of Trevethin; Rev Edward Lee of Bedwelty; Rev James Hughes of Llanhilleth; Rev Daniel Rees of Blaina; Rev J Morgan of Nantyglo; Rev William Evans of Usk; Rev Charles Lewis of Ebbw Val; Rev David Davies of Risca; Rev Thomas Evans of Goytre; Rev M. Phillips of Risca; Rev David Lewis of Cowbridge; Rev Jones; Rev James Price of Brecon; Rev Steele of Llanferrin; Rev John Jones of Blaenavon; Rev Griffiths of Llanelly, Breconshire; Rev Marsh of Wiltshire and numerous other clergymen whose names were not readily available.
Among the numerous visitors were – Sir Thomas Phillips; Mrs Thomas Brown Lady of the High Sheriff, and Daughters; Miss Oliphant and party; Mr John Powell Esq the High Sheriff of Brecon; Mr W. H. West Esq of Gliffaes; Mr John Price Esq of Brecon; Dr Larkins of Abertillery; Mr W. Webb Esq of Aberbeeg; Mr Thomas Prothero Price and Mr D. Price and Misses E. and M. A. Price of Brecon; Mr Edward Tucker Esq of Abersyschan; Mrs Thomas Llewelly Brewer of Blaina; Mr and Mrs Johnson; Mr and Mrs Dixon; Rev and Mrs Marsh; Mr W. Adams Williams Esq of Llangibby Castle; Mr Thomas Powell Esq and Lady of the Gaer; Mr James Brown Esq and Lady Brown of Bryn Glas; Mr John Conway Esq and Misses Conway; Mr John Pearce Esq of Abertillery; Mr Christopher James Esq of Merthyr; Mr Frederick Levick Esq of Blaina; Dr Stack of Newport; Miss Prothero of Malpas; Mr Charles Prothero Esq and Mrs Prothero of Llanvrechva Grange; Mr Henry Latch of Newport; Mr Joseph Latch Esq; Mr Thomas Phillpotts Esq of Newport;Mr Huckwell of Llandaff; Mr David Harrhy Esq and Misses Harrhy of Newport; Rev Wilcox the Weslyan Minister of Brynmawr; Mr George Gethin jun Esq of Newport; Miss Lewis and Miss Wightman of Ty-Dee; Mr T. M. LlewellynEsq of Newport; Mr William Lane Esq of Newport; Mr William Llewellyn Esq and Mrs Llewellyn of Abercarn; Mr Hugh Williams Esq and Mrs Williams and Miss Williams of Bassaleg Rectory; Mr R. Roden Esqof Ebbw Vale; Mr and Mrs Williams of Maesyruddyd; Mr John Jayne Esq of Nantyglo; Mr William Morgan Esq and party of Abergavenny; Mr John Jones Esq and party of Bristol; Mr James Woodfield Esq; Mr Thorne of Newport and Mr Ford and party of Brynmawr:
The usual formularies of consecration were commenced by the Bishop at the entrance of the Church aided by Messrs Conway and Pearce and thirty two other dignitaries of the Church, they proceeded to the altar where prayers were read. Later Rev Daniel Rees, Curate, read the service for the day after which Sir Thomas Phillips and Mr James Brown made a collection which amounted to £50. Later the party was treated to lunch by Mr Hallen of the Westgate Hotel Newport, where he provided a cold collation in a superior style of over 70 various dishes spread under a large Marquee which was erected in the grounds and provided by Mr Pearce from the stores of Mr Francis of Llanelly.
After the meal the chief party accompanied the Mayor of Newport Mr James Brown to a piece of ground a little further down the vally where the Church Schools were to be erected. Here after all the preliminaries were arranged, the foundation stone of the new schools was laid by Mr James Brown. The trowel with which he laid the first stone was an elegant piece of work in Silver, bearing the following inscription – “Industria et Probitate” the arms of Mr Brown. The trowel was presented to Mr Brown the Mayor of Newport by his friend Mr John Pearce of Lydbrook on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the Church of England Schools, Abertillery Monmoutshire. “May 18th 1854” After the stone had been properly adjusted by the Builder Mr J. H. Evins of Abergavenny and the Architect Mr Norton the ceremony was fully carried out by Mr Brown who concluded his duty by a series of raps on the surface of the block with an Ebony Hammer after which he delivered an excellent address in which he read a few telegraphic despatches from the scene of the Eastern War.
Mr James Brown was the Son of Mr Richard Brown of the Ebbw Vale Iron Works and Brother of Mr Thomas Brown the manager of the Blaina & Cwmcelyn Iron Works and founder and owner of the Cwmtillery Collieries 1842-1847.
After the Church was erected the provision for the donations for the School could be started from the services held and it wasn’t long before the School was erected and furnished.
The official Opening of The National Church Schools.
I believe the National School (left) opened on the 1st January 1856, records show that the School had an Infants Room on the lower level 34 feet by 18 feet with a House for Teachers attached. On the upper level there was a large Classroom for mixed classes 55 feet by 18 feet and a Classroom 19 feet by 18 feet. As stated Mr Norton was the Architect and Mr J. H. Evins was the Constructor. The estimated cost was £1,200. To the left is an artists impression of the National School with the view of the back facing the British School across the valley. The trees in the foreground would now be on the path leading down to the Library from the Bus Stops.
In The 1850s Sir Thomas Phillips and Messrs T. P. and D. Price opened a Reading Room in rented premises in Abertillery Town close to where the Arcade is today. Later they moved and opened a new Reading Room and Library at the Church School, they were helped by Mr James Brown and Mr Conway they acquired a room and filled it with books and periodicals of the day in English and Welsh. Their aim was to educate the population and encourage the Welsh language.
Sir Thomas Phillips was from Llanelli and was the Mayor of Newport during the Chartists Riots and while attempting to peacefully negotiate with the movement he was shot in the arm, he was awarded a Knighthood for his services to Newort. Mr Thomas Prothero Price and his Brother David were Bankers from Brecon who were the original owners of the Penybont Tillery Colliery 1848-1864.
Sometime in the mid 20th century the National Schools closed as a teaching establishment and was turned into a Library. In the late 1960s early 1970s the new Library was built between the Bush Hotel and the Abertillery Fire Station. About the same time the Palace Cinema on Carmel Street closed and the National School was turned into a Cinema House and renamed the Scala Cinema. The Scala later closed in the late 1970s and demolished in 1982-83 along with the Globe Hotel just a little further South in preparation for the new one-way street system.