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The chief feature of the history of Wales during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries is the growth of a system of education.
The most democratic, the most perfect, and the most efficient method
is still that of the Sunday School. It was well established before
the death of Charles of Bala, whose name is most closely connected
with it, in 1814. It soon became, and it still remains, a school for
the whole people, from children to patriarchs. Its language is that
of its district. Its teachers are selected for efficiency—they are
easily shifted to the classes which they can teach best; and, if not
successful, they go back willingly to the "teachers' class," where
all are equal. The reputation of a good Sunday School teacher is
still the highest degree that can be won in Wales. Plentiful text
books of high merit, and an elaborate system of oral and written
examinations, mark the last stage in its development.
The Literary Meeting is a kind of secular Sunday School. The rules
of alliterative poetry and the study of Welsh literature and history,
and sometimes of more general knowledge, take the place of the study
of Jewish history, and psalm, and gospel. The Literary Meetings feed
The Eisteddvod passed through the same phases as the nation. It was
an aspect of the court of the prince during the Middle Ages. In
Tudor times it was used partly to please the people, but chiefly to
regulate the bards by forcing them to qualify for a degree—a sure
method of moderating their patriotism and of diminishing their
number. In modern times the Eisteddvod is a great democratic
meeting, and it is the most characteristic of all Welsh institutions.
Its chairing of the bards is an ancient ceremony; its gorsedd of
bards is probably modern. But the people themselves still remain the
judges of poetry; they care very little whether a poet has won a
chair or not, while a gorsedd degree probably does him more harm than
Elementary education, in its modern sense, began with the circulating
schools of Griffith Jones of Llanddowror in 1730. They were
exceedingly successful because the instruction was given in Welsh,
and they stopped after teaching 150,000 to read not because there was
no demand for them, but on account of a dispute about their
endowments in 1779, eighteen years after Griffith Jones' death. They
were followed by voluntary schools, very often kept by illiterate
Between 1846 and 1848 two organisations—the Welsh Education
Committee and the Cambrian Society—were formed; and they developed,
respectively, the national schools and the British schools. After
the Education Act of 1870, the schools became voluntary or Board;
education gradually became compulsory and free; and in 1902 an
attempt was made to give the whole system a unity and to connect it
with the ordinary system of local government.
The training of teachers became a matter of the highest importance.
In 1846 a college for this purpose was established at Brecon, and
then removed to Swansea. From 1848 to 1862, colleges were
established at Carmarthen, Carnarvon, and Bangor.
The history of secondary education is longer. It was served, after
the dissolution of the monasteries, by endowed schools—like that of
the Friars at Bangor—and by proprietary schools. By the Education
Act of 1889, a complete system of secondary schools, under popular
control, was established. Two of the endowed schools still remain—
Brecon, founded by the religionists of the Reformation, and
Llandovery, the Welsh school founded by a patriot of modern times.
It was principally for the ministry of religion that secondary
schools and colleges were first established. Schools were founded in
many districts, and important colleges at Lampeter (degree-granting),
Carmarthen, Brecon, Bala, Trevecca, Pontypool, Llangollen,
Haverfordwest. Many of these have a long history.
Higher education had been the dream of many centuries. Owen
Glendower had thought of establishing two new universities at the
beginning of the period of the Revival of Letters; among his
supporters were many of the Welsh students who led in the great
faction fights of mediaeval Oxford. Oliver Cromwell and Richard
Baxter had thought of Welsh higher education. But nothing was done.
In the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth until 1870, the Test
Act shut the doors of the old Universities to most Welshmen; the new
University of London did not teach, it only examined; the Scotch
Universities, to which Welsh students crowded, were very far. In
1872, chiefly through the exertions of Sir Hugh Owen, the University
College of Wales was opened at Aberystwyth, and maintained for ten
years by support from the people. The Government helped, and two new
colleges were added—the University College of South Wales at Cardiff
in 1883, and the University College of North Wales at Bangor in 1884.
In 1893 Queen Victoria gave a charter which formed the three colleges
into the University of Wales. Lord Aberdare, its first Chancellor,
lived to see it in thorough working order. On Lord Aberdare's death,
the Prince of Wales was elected Chancellor in 1896; and when he
ascended the throne in 1901, the present Prince of Wales became
The tendency of the whole system of Welsh education is towards
greater unity. There is a dual government of the secondary schools
and of the colleges, the one by the Central Board and the other by
the University Court—a historical accident which is now a blemish on
the system. The Training Colleges are still outside the University,
but they are gravitating rapidly towards it. The theological
colleges are necessarily independent, but the University offers their
students a course in arts, so that they can specialise on theology
and its kindred subjects. The ideal system is: an efficient and
patriotic University regulating the whole work of the secondary and
elementary schools, guided by the willingness of the County Councils,
or of an education authority appointed by them, to provide means.
The rise of the educational system is the most striking and the most
interesting chapter in Welsh history. But the facts are so numerous
and the development is so sudden that, in spite of one, it becomes a
mere list of acts and dates.
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