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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                          Issue No 54 June 1998


This paper seeks to identify the origins of National, British, Board and Council Schools and to place them into their historical context.


The development of education for the bulk of the population in the nineteenth century had two stimuli. Firstly, the requirement of industry for a numerate, literate workforce, and secondly, religion. It might be thought that the requirements of industry were not applicable to a rural market town such as Ruthin. The large conurbations were the centre of a vortex of migrant labour particularly from the rural areas. The more qualified the young migrant worker was, in the simplest terms of that word, the greater the opportunities that awaited him. Therefore, elementary education was an advantage to every son of the soil.
However, religion on the other hand was a poisoned chalice where education was concerned. The established church and nonconformity were at loggerheads until the latter decades of the nineteenth century. All denominations perceived schools as a means of controlling the hearts and minds of the pupils. Initially, Sunday Schools provided the only means of education for the bulk of the population and that mainly by rote. In the early days, the principal subject was reading, but the ability to read and write was thought to be subversive. That said, the Bible was thought to be a mild panacea to revolutionary ideas which were prevalent at that time. This was the era of the French Revolution and the revolt of the American colonies. The great fear was that revolution might spread to Britain.

Teaching in those early days was of a most rudimentary form. The monitorial system of education, where the master selected the brighter older children to teach the young by rote. was practised. This was first tried in India in 1789 by Andrew Bell, an Episcopalian minister who went out to Madras in 1787. Two years later, he became superintendent of the Madras Military Orphanage. Finding it impossible to obtain staff, he developed the monitorial system. On his return to England, he published a pamphlet 'Experiment in Education' and this came to the attention of a Quaker, Joseph Lancaster, who was interested in the education of the poor. In 1798, he implemented the system propounded by Bell. In 1803, he too published a tract advocating the monitorial system and this received much publicity. Nevertheless, the Royal Lancastrian Society was formed in 1808. In the meantime, Lancaster fell upon hard times, but the society evolved in 1814 as the British and Foreign Schools Society. This was a nonsectarian organisation formed to offset the influence of the National Society for promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church.

Initially, both these societies were voluntary bodies, but the pressure for education was such that by 1833 the government agreed to fund partly both organisations and £33,000 was allotted for the purpose. What may seem strange today is that in the first half of the nineteenth century, in nonconformist Wales, teaching the catechism was by far the most common form of education In the first three decades, there were 1,400 schools in Wales linked to the Church of England and only three British Schools. It is difficult to rationalise the nonconformists’ objections to non-sectarian education. In 1843, Hugh Owen, a Methodist from Anglesey and an official with the Poor Law Commissioners in London, published "Llythyr Cymry" ('Letter to the Welsh) in which he proposed a network of schools to be established across the country. He asked the British and Foreign Society to send agents to Wales to assist in forming such a network. John Phillips from Pontrhydfendigaid, mid-way between Aberystwyth and Tregaron, took up this challenge. Over the period 1843 until 1863-he was British Schools’ representative and under this regime a further seventy-nine schools were established. 

This is perhaps the moment to consider the differing objectives between 'National' and 'British' schools, viz. 
In the British schools, the Sacred scriptures in the authorised version were to be taught and read daily. No catechism or other formulary peculiar to any religious denomination were to be introduced or taught during the usual hours of school instruction. Every child attending day school was expected to attend a Sunday School or place of worship in accordance with parental preference.

These might be compared with the more restrictive principles of the National schools which were as follows, viz.,
Children were to be instructed in Holy Scriptures and in the Liturgy and Catechism of the Established Church. These schools were to be subject to the supervision of the parochial clergyman. Children were to be assembled to attend divine service at the parish church or other place of worship under the establishment, except with the approval of the School Managers. The schoolmasters and mistresses were to be members of the Church of England. Reports on the schools were to be made annually to the Diocesan Board or the National Society and the schools were subject to inspection by either or both of these bodies. Differences of opinion between the managers of the school and the clergy on religious matters were to be referred to the Bishop whose decision would be final.

It is evident from the above that the teachings of the established church played a major role in the education of the young people of Wales, albeit the majority of the homes in Wales by this time were of nonconformist/dissenting belief Paradoxically, however, there was firm opposition to the concept of secular, state education particularly on the part of the Independents. Nevertheless, the British and Foreign Society had considerable support from the establishment. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, for example, were subscribers.

Against this background, the 'British' school in Rhos Street, Ruthin, was one of the further 79 schools established during the initial pioneering period 1843 - 1863.



PART II will appear in our next issue.


The Parliamentary Gazetteer published in 1843 provides a fascinating picture of conditions in Ruthin presumably based, at least in part, on the rather unreliable census of 1841. The total population of the town is not quoted, but that for 1831, 3,376, is compared with that for 1801, given as 1,115. By any standard, this is a remarkable if questionable increase when there appeared to be no dramatic housing or other developments to account for such a significant change. These people lived in 747 houses.

The established church was described as a perpetual curacy with the rectory of Llanrhydd, having a gross income of £309. The Independents, Calvinistic Methodists, Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists. and the Society of Friends, all had places of worship. Educational provision seems relatively lavish, although not described in any detail. There were said to be two infants...and five daily schools and one can but assume that at least some of these were private establishments operated for profit. These figures seem to include Ruthin Grammar School funded partly by endowment and partly by fees paid by parents. This school was in a position to offer 6 exhibitions to the universities. Reference is also made to a day and Sunday school chiefly supported by subscription. The day school may well have been the Borthvn School, while the Sunday School could have been "Ysgol y Clochdy" at Llanfwrog. Both that and the Borthyn School would have enjoyed considerable support from the Warden of Ruthin, the Rev. Richard Newcome.

Christ's Hospital in 1837 enjoyed an income of £518.-18s.-6d., while other charities had incomes of approx. £200 per annum. The Poor Rates in 1838 yielded £903.-13.-0d. The Ruthin Poor Law Union covered the areas of 21 parishes with an 1831 population of 16,019 and expended in 1840 £8,793.15s.-0d. Fifty years previously, many inhabitants had been employed in flax-dressing, spinning and weaving, but trade in Irish linens had killed off that. By then, agriculture had become the mainstay economic activity. Market Days were on Saturdays and Mondays with fairs being held on 19th March, the Friday before Whit-Sunday, the 8th August 30th September and 10th November.

The town was governed by four aldermen and twelve councillors. The income of the Borough. chiefly from rents, in 1840 amounted to £134.13s.-0d; whereas expenditure amounted to £129.-9s.-5d. The Assize Courts were held in Ruthin, while the Quarter Sessions met alternately in Ruthin and Denbigh. The Ruthin Lordship Court, having been established in 1284, still met on alternate Saturdays, but, by 1840, no case had been heard for three years. The county jail and house of correction stood on the outskirts of the town and had 23 cells, 4 wards. 8 day-rooms, 8 airing courts, and three tread mills. The number of prisoners in 1835 amounted to 139.


The Denbighshire Free Press of 14th June, 1930 reported the death of Mr. Price Humphreys of Prior Street, who was first employed by Messrs Lloyds Bros.’ Mineral Water Works, then in Prior Street. This later moved and became the Cambrian Mineral Water Works. Humphreys was the patentee of the first ginger beer syphon.


The fact that there are two houses of this name in the Ruthin district can lead to confusion. One is at Rhydvmeudwy, Llanelidan, and the other just off the old Ruthin to Wrexham Road near the A.I. centre. The latter house, but one of many in the district associated with the Thelwall family, is the one with which this paper is concerned.

Its origins are enveloped in uncertainty. It is said to have been built by one of the sons of Bathafarn, Ambrose Thelwall, named after Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, holder with his wife of the Lordship of Ruthin for life, the gift of Queen Elizabeth I.

There were at least three Ambrose Thelwalls. The first was born c.1571 and died in 1653. It was his nephew, whose dates are unknown, who is credited with having built this house. He became High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1710. A deed dated 19th May 1633, conveyed this property as a gift to Ambrose from his father, John Thelwall. Thus, it can be assumed that the house standing on today's site comes from that period. It has been suggested that it was built in 1643, and dates to be found within the house tally.

However, E. Powell, writing in 1914, described Cefn Coch as an ancient mansion probably built in the Cl5th/16th. Another source describes it as of "1550 on early foundations, with 17th and 19th century alterations”. So, the house built by Ambrose may not have been the first on that site. An earlier Thelwall, Simon, Ambrose's older brother, was said to be "of Cefn Coch". This situation is not, of course, unusual. Powell also made the puzzling statement: "the remains of which are now to be seen and was in use up to the 18th century''.

Ambrose was the ninth of ten sons and is believed to have been his father's favourite. In making this gift, John also gave Ambrose permission to fell Bathafarn timber for the construction of his house. The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales describe the house as being of the 'H' plan of timber framing now concealed by plaster. It bears an inscription over a fire-place with the date ‘1643' on some old oak with initials A.T., presumably those of Ambrose Thelwall. The date '1678' is inscribed in the cellar.

Ambrose pursued a distinguished and high profile career. His service under Sir Francis Bacon. High Chancellor of England, and other distinguished courtiers eventually led to his becoming Yeoman of The Robe to both King James I and King Charles I. His portrait, painted in 1632, was one of seven that were still at Bathafarn in 1825. Fortunately, they are still in-the possession of the family.

Cefn Coch was illustrated in water-colour by John Inglebv in a special edition of Pennant's Journey to Snowdon, 1794, now to be seen at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.

Ambrose's descendants failed to produce a male heir and the Cefn Coch estate passed via an heiress, Catherine, on her marriage to Peter Williams of Ruthin. The daughter of that marriage took the estate by her marriage to Maurice Jones, father of John Jones. There is a cupboard fixture dated 1714 with the initials H.J., presumably the initials of one of the Jones family, the new owners. In 1791, John Jones was High Sheriff for the County of Denbigh and his son Wilson Jones of Gelligynan inherited Cefn Coch and married Cecilia Carstairs, the daughter of John Carstairs of Mold. Hugh Maurice Jones adopted the additional name of 'Mortimer' by deed poll in 1874. The family for many years resided at Plas Newydd, Llanfair D.C.

The date of the sale of the Cefn Coch estate is not clear. Although it was put up for auction at the White Lion, Ruthin, on 18th June 1822, there is documentary evidence which suggests that the property remained with the Jones-Mortimer family in 1895.

The house appeared on the "Owen/Bowen" map of 1720 and an inscription on it states that it was the home of "... the truly religious. ingenious and learned Mr. Henry Price...". This was the Rev. Henry Price, Headmaster of Ruthin School. The dates assigned to his headmastership are several. In Ruthin School - The First Seven Centuries', (Keith Kenyon-Thompson) his tenure is recorded as having been from 1655 until 1691. If the latter dates are correct, he would have succeeded Thomas Chaloner. His memorial in Llanfair D.C. Church was erected by one of his pupils, who later became Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, a prominent Jacobite. It would appear that Price too was a supporter of the Jacobites and secretary of Sir Watkin's Jacobite "Cycle Club". Archdeacon D.R. Thomas records in 1684 that Henry Price was son of Ellis Price, Vicar of Rhuddlan and Prebendary of Llanfair D.C. Consistent with his Jacobite leanings, Henry refused to take the oaths of loyalty to William and Mary on their accession in 1688 and was thus obliged to join the non-jurors. This led to the loss of his post and the need for him to lie very low at Cefn Coch.

Cefn Coch, became the seat of Gabriel Roberts, J.P., whose daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of James Franklin Preston of Llwyn Ynn [RLHB. No: 241. Elizabeth bore four sons and three daughters.

Gabriel Roberts, JP.,died 17" January 1879 aged 92; Margaret his wife died at Cefn Coch [RLHB, 54], 4th March 1864, aged 72; Elinor, their daughter,died 1st October 1910, age d 85; All buried at Llandyrnog

A transcript of MSS found at Cefn Coch and edited by Rev. John Fisher, a distinguished local historian of that period, was published in 1899. The manuscripts are mainly of Welsh poetry thought to have been composed in the seventeenth century. The volume was dedicated to the owner of the manuscripts, a Mr. William Lloyd of Cefn Coch. Apparently, they had come into the possession of Mr. Lloyd's father some 50 years prior to publication. There is evidence that indicates that the Rev. Simon Lloyd of Bala was in residence at Cefn Coch in 1835 and the family evidently continued in residence for some time afterwards.

E. Powell recorded in the Denbighshire Free Press of 1914 that Cefn Coch had recently been partly modernised and was then the residence of C. Smith, Esq.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Archdeacon Richard Newcome, History of the Town and Castle of Ruthin, 1829; Nicholas, Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales, 1, 1872; Edward Hubbard, "Buildings of Clwyd", Penguin/University of Wales Press, 1986; Denbighshire Record Office, DD/DM/86/2; Flintshire Record Office, Hawarden, "The Edward Hubbard MSS." and "The Hartsheath MSS"; Jane M. Griffiths, "Jottings from the Parish of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd", 1984; Series of articles by E. Powell which appeared in the Denbighshire Free Press, in 1914; W.R. Williams, The Parliamentary History of the Principality of Wales 1541-1895: privately printed, 1895; my thanks also to Mr. Peter Randall.



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