About the Society
Historical Notes






The British and Foreign Schools Society was formed in 1808 by Joseph Lancaster and others to give education to all classes but especially the poor. While allowing the use of the Bible, no catechism or creed giving predominance to any one particular denomination was admitted.


Dr Andrew Bell and other members of the Church of England formed the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. In these National Schools, Catechism and Creed were taught and children were expected to attend services of the Established Church on Sundays. Owing to the reluctance of the Nonconformists to accept any outside help in Education, British Schools were not introduced into Aberdare until the end of the first half of the 19th C. Though a National School had been establish as early as 1830 according to the 1847 Report, but there is evidence that a school was set up in 1824 in a letter from the Bute Agent to Dr. Scales.

Morgan Morgan, Richard Edwards and William Erasmus were the first three Masters of the National School.


Returns of the Overseers of the Poor show that there were 22 pupils in 1833, but by the Report of 1847, the New School that had been built in 1829-30 was already overcrowded. One of the Commissioners, R.R. Lingen, visited the School on 39th March 1847: “Buildings in good condition. Accommodation for 90 boys and 45 girls. On books 110 boys and 60 girls.

Under 5: 5 girls;   5-10: 47 girls 92 boys;   Over 10: 18 girls 8 boys.
Average attendance: Boys 60%, Girls 75%

20 Boys and 5 Girls had been there less than a year
60 Boys and 35 Girls had been there more than 1 year but less than 2
30 Boys and 20 Girls had been there more than 2 years but less than 3 No pupil had been at the school for three years or more.”

The School was not well supported by the outlying districts. Aberaman sent 2 boys and 2 girls, Cwmbach 3 boys and 1 girl, Heolyfelin 7 boys and 6 girls and Llwydcoed 5 boys and 3 girls. Only 6 boys came from more than 1½ miles. There were 16 monitors in the Boys Dept and English was the only medium of instruction. The master was aged 36 and the mistress 32. They were husband and wife. Neither had received any training. Up to 1844, the master had been a carpenter. Their joint salary was £60 per annum and a house rent-free.


Result of the Report


Anglicans realised they needed to make far more provision for the Spiritual needs of the Parish and also education hence the Church Building Programme of the Fifties. The Non-Conformists realised that it had exposed their almost complete failure in the field of Education and steps were taken to repair the omission. Action was taken to improve matters.

Credit for the first project for setting up a British School goes to Hirwaun. Even during the investigations of 1847, steps were taken to replace works schools. The workmen decide to build their own school on the British model.


A Public Meeting was held at Ramoth to start the project and £53:10:6 was subscribed at the meeting. In the days that followed, the Rev William William of Nebo and the Rev Benjamin Evans of Ramoth visited works and even went down the pit to collect promises from the workmen. This produced a further addition of £50. The School was to cost £300 but in the early days, the owners insisted on the deductions to maintain the works schools as well.
The workers were advised by the Rev William Roberts (Nefydd) who was the agent for the British Schools in South Wales to apply for a Government Grant.
Item in a minute book of the British Schools Society.

1849 July 20

Hirwaun near Merthyr. Applicant Mr. Williams. For material for a new school about to be opened there. Grant was agreed to. The first Master was Mr. Benjamin Lewis, a native of Pembrokeshire born in 1825. His grandfather was said to be the only man killed by the French when they landed in Fishguard in 1789. Benjamin Lewis was also the father of W.D. Lewis who became the first Headmaster of the Park Board Schools.


Scammell’s Directory gives the master of Hirwaun British Schools as Anthony John. In MSS Journals of the Rev William Roberts.

1856 April 3

"A new British School was opened in connection with and for the benefit of the colliers and miners under R. Crawshay Esq. of Hirwaun. By that time, Crawshay had given them a room in which to hold the school and allowed a Penny in the Pound deduction from the wages to maintain the new school instead of the colliery schools, which were now useless.
The first school to be built in Aberdare itself, resulted from a public meeting at Carmel Trecynon with Evan Griffiths in the chair.

1848 Feb 23

There was a protest meeting at Siloa and a Committee was formed including Alaw Goch, John Jones Druggist, (began business 1827), who was Treasurer and Dr. Thomas Price, Calfaria, who was Secretary; Rev David Price, Siloa; Rev. Joshua Thomas, Saron; Mr. Evan Griffiths, Carmel Trecynon. The remarkable feature was the speed with which they worked. The meeting took place in February and by mid March, a site had been acquired from Bute on Hirwaun Common. Evan Griffiths (Jun.), The Poplars, drew up plans of building which was to cost £550. The foundation stone was laid in March 1848. Subscriptions of £10 each were made by R. Fothergill, H.A. Bruce, Thomas Wayne, Dr. J.L. Roberts of Gadlys Uchaf, David Williams Ynyscynon. Workmen in various collieries and iron works subscribed £20.
An advertisement was inserted in the “Principality”, September 22–29 1848, for a Headmaster at a salary of £50 together with a house and garden, a teacher conversant with the Welsh Language will be preferred, all other qualifications being equal.

1848 Oct 9

The School opened with a monster tea party. 2416 people paid a shilling each thus reducing the debt by a further £100. The history of Park schools is given fully if disjointedly in the Centenary Brochure by W.W. Price.

The leading personalities beside the Headmaster were Alaw Goch, Chairman of the Committee, until his death in 1863, (he bequeathed £100), and was succeeded in the chair by John Jones, Treasurer, and after him the chair was occupied by Richard Pardoe, Cardiff Street Ironmongery, Treasurer John Williams brother-in-law of Thomas Williams Gwaelod-y-Garth. Secretaries until taken over by the School Board in 1876 were Rev Dr. Thomas Price, Rev D.M. Jenkins (Minister of Tabernacle 1861—71), Mr. David Rosser, a local solicitor, Rev Joseph Farr also a Minister of Tabernacle. Besides these, other prominent townsmen served on the committee from time to time: e.g. William Southern Clarke (mineral agent for the Marquis of Bute); Thomas Williams, Gwaelod-Y-Garth; E.D. Howell of Gelli Isaf; John Lewis, Grocer of Commercial Street; Lewis Griffiths, son of Evan Griffiths; Edward Pugh of Croesty Farm; Rees Price a local contractor who helped in setting out the Cemetery; David Davies, Maesyffynnon, and Samuel Thomas of Ysguborwen.


“Seren Cymru” article by Dr. Thomas Price. Personal reminiscences of early education at Aberdare. They were not fortunate in their early choice of Headmasters: Thomas Taylor 1848–51 and John Anthony 1851/2–57.


The Committee appointed Dan Isaac Davies. His contribution to life in Aberdare and Wales have been fully described elsewhere. The DNB and by Ifan O. Jones in Vyrnwy Morgan’s book “Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era”, pp 432–493. When he came to Aberdare in 1858, the British School on Hirwaun Common was in a very low state. There had been 150 Pupils in 1853 but by the last quarter of 1857, the average attendance had dropped to 64. Owing to a local strike, the attendance during Dan Isaac Davies’ first weeks in 1858 was only 45 the fees payable were as follows:


2d. for infant boys

1d. for infant girls

4d. for older boys

3d. for older girls

There was some difficulty in collecting School Pence and probably this was why in 1858 the School Committee decided to apply for Government help.


Minutes of B.S.S. August 17th, “A British School applicant Mr. Price supported by Mr. Roberts. It was agreed that under the circumstances they be allowed to purchase to the extent of £10 at half price.”


Site was conveyed by Deed from the Bute Estate to new Trustees, H.A. Bruce and David Davis, Blaengwawr.


At the end of Dan Isaac Davies first year, there were 181 pupils on the books, by Christmas 1859, the number had risen to 283, and that number was more than doubled in the next five years. By the time he left in 1867, the numbers had doubled again and the average attendance was 885. This includes Girls and Infants Departments that were put under separate Headmistresses in 1864 and 1865 respectively. Such a large increase resulted in overcrowding; therefore, a Building Fund was opened in 1869 to which the local chapels contributed very generously. H.D.C £63, Ebenezer £45, Siloa £35, Heolyfelin £26, Bethania £25, Carmel Trecynon £18, Tabernacle £14, Salem £12, Nasareth £12, Soar £10, English Unitarians £10, Bethel Gadlys £10, Bryn Sion £8, Moriah £5. The Fund was further augmented by private donations and proceeds of eisteddfodau and concerts by the Aberdare United Choir.


There was a gigantic Tea Party on Boxing Day for which 8,000 Tickets were sold.

1865 Mar 13

School Extensions were officially opened.


At the Annual Meeting at the Temperance Hall on July 5th it was announced that the debt was completely wiped out.


Walter Hogg became Head of the Boys Department when D.I. Davies left, and remained until the school transferred to the School Board in 1876.


Several other British Schools were set up in the area.


Llwydcoed, Headmaster Mr. E. Watkins.


Cwmaman, Head in 1866 Mr Joshua Evans.


Cwmdare, first headmistress Miss Mary Jane Jones.


A British School was opened in a chapel in Abernant. Its first Master was one John Jones who rejoiced in the Bardic Title of Mai Ebrill. He was a native of Pencader. He had intended going in for the Ministry and had attended the Neuadd Academy under Thomas Phillips. One of his fellow students was Silyn Evans, but he suddenly gave up his ideas of the Ministry and entered the Printing Office of Josiah Thomas James of Carmarthen, and when J.T. Jones moved to Aberdare, John Jones came with him and became proof reader of “Y Gwladgarwr”. Competent judges say that he was a tolerable poet. He was, however, best as a poet when the worse for drink. David Williams, Alaw Goch, helped him more than once from abject poverty. As Schoolmaster, he taught History, Grammar, Arithmetic, Astronomy and English. He was steeped in the English Classics; his successor at Abernant was John Morris later Clerk to the School Board and father of Lottie Morris, later Headmistress of Park School.


Cwmbach British School. Personal reminiscences of Mr. John Morgan, “Weekly Post” 1913. The first Master was John Williams who had been the Head of St. Fagan’s Church School, Trecynon. He was followed by Mr. and Mrs. Keast who later lived in Unity House.

1866 5th June

“Aberaman, nr. Aberdare, A New School applicant Rev R. Rowlands: £5 agreed.” Boys School was conducted in Saron Hall, the Master was John Jones Griffiths, and his wife Rachel Griffiths kept the Girls School in the C.M. Chapel in Regent Street. 1871–72 British School built.


A British School was established in the Vestry of the Baptist chapel at Ynyslwyd.

1869 Apr 16

“Ynyslwyd New School applicant Rev Thomas John. Agreed that £3 worth be granted”. The Rev Thomas John was the Minister of Ynyslwyd from 1863 to 1877. The British School remained there until the Blaengwawr Board School opened in 1880.


An Infants British School was opened in the Vestry of Tabernacle Congregational Chapel in Duke Street.