THE PARISH HALL
The Parish Hall began its life as the Llandenny Village School. In 1858 the Duke of Beaufort gave some of his land in Llandenny as a site for a school. 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. Others went with their horses and carts to Cefn Tilla Court to make bricks, having been invited by Lord and Lady Raglan, and such was their enthusiasm that enough were hauled, from what is now known as the Brick Yard Meadow, to build the school.
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 coal house. Despite its close proximity to the school however, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors was found writing in 1874 that "The Master should lay more stress on his own personal punctuality".
In 1885 the schoolmaster was Harry Frank FISH, aged 25 from Essex. He was the son of a schoolmaster and married Clara Alice Haggett, the daughter of William Haggett, innkeeper in Llandenny.
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. Desks were used for the older children while the infants sat in the Infants' Gallery. This consisted of 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 Infants' Gallery". Llandenny school was 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.
Before 1870 and for long after there was no school in receipt of Government aid where parents had not to pay for schooling the school pence. 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 was no advantage for a boy to remain at school because he would not afterwards be compensated by a better job. Also, while they were still at a low school age, many children 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 decline 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 Haggett; 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 Haggett 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 Haggett, 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 emphasised 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 was 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 passed in a Government examination".
(author unknown, Llandenny Scrapbook, 1977)
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