Education in Llandenny

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Nineteenth Century education in Llandenny

When Monmouthshire is compared with the west rather than with the east, with Glamorgan rather than with Gloucestershire, it can be seen that what is distinctive in its early pattern of education has come from Wales and not from England.

The two kinds of schools distinctive of this Welsh tradition are the Celtic Monastic Schools and the Welsh Circulating Charity Schools of the eighteenth century. From 1738 - 1775 Llandenny was visited by the latter, but the difficulty of maintaining them on a county wide basis, and the preference for the English rather than the Welsh language caused their decline, and thus paralysed the greater part of primary education in Monmouthshire.

There is reason to believe however that the movement began the tradition of education in many parishes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and that this tradition was maintained. For example there was a school in Llandenny Church which was reported to be still in existence in 1802, and by the year 1807 it was said of several parishes including Llandenny that "There are schools not endowed kept upon times in each of these parishes to teach children to read and write and cast counts". The irregularity of the picture would have been very different, until 1829 at least, if the English had followed the example of the Scottish parliament, which made it obligatory for local landlords to provide parish schools.

Thus it was that Llandenny was not mentioned when the first survey of primary schools to be undertaken by the State, was made after parliament had appointed the 'Select Committee on the Education of the Lower Orders' in 1816.

But in 1833 during a debate on compulsory education an Address of the House of Commons provided for another survey, and the results published in 1835 showed that Llandenny had two day schools, one established in 1829 and held at the Blacksmiths and the other, a Primitive Methodist School established in 1833. It had also at this time two Sunday Schools, many of which in the nineteenth century gave a 'secular' as well as a religious education, sometimes by paid teachers.

However in 1846 Llandenny was again without a school according to a National Society Survey and this situation prevailed until 1858. before that year children of the more prosperous farmers were obliged to attend boarding schools, while others were left to learn what they could from an old gentleman who took lessons in the Church porch.

The disappearance of the two schools was probably due to the great burden they imposed on a small community, especially when educational standards rose and made it impossible to maintain them on a purely voluntary basis.

Thus during the first half of the nineteenth century there had been some traditions of schooling in Llandenny, and there had been also the arrival of a new dominating factor upon Monmouthshire educational development. From 1811 - 1879 primary education throughout the country was either controlled or inspired by the two great societies, The British or Foreign Schools Society, and the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. It was probably due to their influence that in 1858 the Duke of Beaufort gave some of this land in Llandenny as a site for a school - to be built and conducted upon the principles set out in a deed of gift.

Thus the land was given freely to the village, but the school had yet to be built. Various farmers and their wives, including Anne and John Pritchard from the Pergoed and William and Mary James from the Village Farm sponsored the collection of the money to assist in the building, (which they could well afford to do since these were years of prosperity for farmers). There went others with their horses and carts to Cefn Tilla Court, having been invited by Lord and Lady Raglan, to make bricks, and such was their enthusiasm that enough were hauled from what is now known as the Brick Yard Meadow, to build the school.

The Education Department, Whitehall had set out the required dimensions of primary schools to which Llandenny and all others built in the nineteenth century conformed. They were 35 feet 3 inches by 12 feet 3 inches by 77 feet 4 inches with a boys and a girls cloakroom. The building was situated in an isolated spot at the end of a short lane leading from the village street. hedges formed all the boundaries to the school and the school house which adjoined it. The house occupied by the schoolmaster rent free, was a small cottage containing a parlour, kitchen, back kitchen, two bedrooms and a coalhouse. Despite its close proximity to the school however, on of her Majesties Inspectors was found writing in 1874 that "The Master should lay more stress on his own personal punctuality."

Llandenny School, until it was taken over by the Monmouthshire County Council in 1903, consisted of one classroom in which all the seven standards were taught together. A typical description of any schoolroom in a rural area at this time was "dirty and close, a rudely constructed desk for the Master occupies one corner, forms and desks for the children are ranged along the walls and from side to side." Llandenny school was not unlike this, desks were used for the older children while the infants sat in the Infants' Gallery. This was six long stone steps built along the back of the room on which they were obliged to sit despite the suffering caused by having to use muddy boots as a back-rest. Later in the century an Inspector's report stated that "backs are required for the Infant's gallery". Llandenny school as also worthy of the description "dirty and close". In 1879 a H.M.I. reported that "the room should be oftener washed", and in 1893 that "the position of the closets is not satisfactory", and further "that the school is not well ventilated" and remarks that a proper outlet in the roof is wanted and means of letting in fresh air without draughts. Also the surface and roof water drains discharged into the meadow adjoining the school with the result that in 1871 a H.M.I. wrote that "the drainage requires immediate attention, the Master complaining that the water for the house was contaminated sometimes". No water supply was provided and the nearest drinking water was five minutes walk from the school

The accommodation was judged on a 10foot basis, which meant that there was room for sixty children, the attendance however was extremely irregular - the average being 34. There was no informed public opinion in favour of educating children at this time and there is much evidence to show that parents were reluctant to send their children to school This reluctance is generally attributed to poverty and this may well have been the reason in some cases, especially in rural areas. Before 1870 and for long after there was no school in receipt of Government aid where parents had not to pay for schooling the schoolpence. The Committee of Council had laid down in its minutes of 1853 that a charge of one penny to fourpence per week per pupil should be made in aided schools. Such was the poverty of some families however that such an entry in the school log book for April 1881 was not infrequent - "Luke and Matilda griffiths are still absent because requested to pay their school fees."

If the schools were not voluntary in the sense that education was free, they were voluntary in the sense that no one was obliged to attend them. The resulting low and irregular attendance was attributed not only to poverty but to the conditions then prevailing which placed a premium on unskilled labour, it did not pay a boy t remain at school for he would not afterwards be compensated by a better job. Also, while they were still at a low school age many were absent owing to the country business of haymaking etc, often in the summer "Pupils were obliged to stop at home to help with the hay harvest", and during one week in July 1872 the school was "very thin on account of haymaking." Later in the year the annual cider making took place and Clifford Davies, whose parents kept one of the four inns in Llandenny, was in october 1889 "absent all week picking apples", a week later he was "absent two days cider making."

Non-attendance was also caused by the delcine of the old village games, due mainly to the influence of Puritanism, and combined with the lack of any other popular amusement to take their place this increased the monotony of life in farming communities. Thus, one Friday afternoon in 1877 "several of the elder children were absent to attend a circus that was staying at Usk", and in may 1880 the "school was very thin owing to Usk fair". Often these amusements were so popular that the schoolmistress was obliged to close the school completely, in April 1884 she wrote that "so many children asked leave for this afternoon to attend a wild beast show at Raglan, I thought it advisable to give a holiday", and in August 1884 the schoolmistress "was obliged to give a whole holiday, the children wishing to go to a review in Raglan".

In october 1880 "Elizabeth Price was absent from school", the schoolmistress recorded that "Mrs. Price sent me word she was sick .... but found it a false tale. Elizabeth was well and playing in the village. Thus in 1890 a H.M.I. remarked that "The school is very well instructed in spite of the attendance which, to judge from the returns in Form 1X is unusually bad even for a country district".

The discipline of Llandenny School it appears was equally as bad as the attendance figures. even during the first week "some children had been plaguing a poor man by throwing stones at him and calling him nicknames", so the schoolmistress punished them as she had "cautioned them only the day before".

Some cases were especially bad, for example that of Thomas Hagget, one entry in the school log book for October 1877 states that "On Friday had occasion to punish several of the elder children for talking in school, Thomas Hagget went home instead of doing the lesson that was given him as a punishment. In the afternoon I whipped him." In April 1878 the schoolmistress wrote that "I had just cause for punishing Thomas Hagget, whereupon he kicked and struck me several times. Had not his parents taken him from the school he would have been expelled."

Order was a strong influence on Victorian society, belief in a common moral code, based on duty and self-restraint was shared by most groups in society, and institutions like the school emphasized the maintenance of these values which held their society together. So, in April 1881 the schoolmistress "spoke to the children on the necessity of being honest and faithful in word, in deed," stating that she "never could try to make children clever in Arithmetic, at the same time endeavouring to train them to be good." It ws made even more difficult for the schoolmistress to maintain discipline when the parents refused to co-operate. In July 1872 she "had occasion to punish Mary Pugh "for which she received a very saucy note from her father, "and in July 1888 she wrote that "Edith Owen's sister came here today and spoke in a most impudent manner because Edith had to take her turn to clear out the courtyard. So - only once could a H.M.I. report that "The order and discipline are excellent."

With such an irregular attendance and ill maintained discipline the schoolmistress was frequently obliged to record, as in April 1878 that she had once again "commenced in right earnest, the children being very backward particularly in Arithmetic," and that when the Friday after she "gave an examination ... the children did very bad, only about five would have p-assed in a Government examination."

Their academic standard remained fairly constant - late in the century a H.M.I. reported that "The results of the examination are in the main good but they are not yet good enough to justify the recommendation of a full grant." Nineteenth century schools were given grants for each subject according to the proficiency shown in those subjects by the children. The subjects taught included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English, Grammar, Spelling, Composition, Recitation, Geography, Needlework, Singing, Form and Colour, Object lesson and Scripture which was taught often by the Vicar of the parish. The influence of the Nineteenth century Church over the schools being very strong.

In 1811 the Church had claimed that it was her right and privilege, as the historic Church of the land to provide a national system of Education. Asserting this claim she could look back over a thousand years during which she had been virtually the purveyor of education in this country, so that historically her claim was unanswerable. This resulted in the greater part of primary education in England and Wales being given in Church Schools, as A.J. Leach wrote "In England from the first education was the creature of religion, the school was the adjunct of the Church." This was especially true in Llandenny. In 1872 the schoolmistress recorded that "The Reverend T.C. Bridges visited and wished the children to go to Church. As I had not given a Scripture lesson I took them." later he taught the children to sing the fifth hymn from "Hymns, Ancient and Modern" so that they may sing it when we open school every morning." But the clergy did not always "confine themselves to their calling" - a month later the Vicar "took the little ones in a reading lesson", he was also customarily one of the five Managers of the school together with three local landowners and Lord Raglan.

The inhabitants of Cefn Tilla Court showed a great interest in the school at this time. In April 1872 "Lady Raglan visited with some small books for the children," and a few months later she "sent some work for the little ones." When later one of the Somerset family became Vicar of Llandenny the interest was intensified. Not long after his induction "Lord and Lady Raglan visited the school," taking the Reverend Somerset with them. "The children wang several pieces at her Ladyship's request.:" However the interest shown by the 'nobility' was not always welcome, especially when Lady raglan went to the school and "asked if the children could finish the nightshirts for Mr. Somerset," the schoolmistress "promised they should but had to go from the timetable in order to have them done." One child's mother later complained that she "did not wish her daughter Elizabeth to spend all her school time sewing the Vicar's nightshirts." There were compensations however, one Tuesday afternoon in September 1878 "the children had a treat at Cefn Tilla in honour of Lady Raglan's eldest son being of age," and in May 1881 the schoolmistress "took the children to Cefn Tilla Court at 3.15 where they were regaled with tea etc and sport."

Llandenny School had one schoolmistress and one pupil teacher. Pupil teaching had developed from the system initiated by the leading figures behind the two National Societies, and applied to primary education. It was not new since it had already existed in medieval grammar schools. The system was that the master taught the monitors and the monitors taught the children, later this method became more refined when it developed into the pupil teaching system. no other educational method at this time could have dealt with the social problem created by the great economic changes between 1801 and 1841 when the population of Monmouthshire rose from 54,740 to 151, 021. The main hope for the future lay with the pupil teachers, he was an advance upon his predecessor, the monitor, for his training earned a Government grant for the school, and consequently opened the door to the Government Inspector.

author unknown, Llandenny Scrapbook, 1977

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