Brief History of Ruabon Grammar School
I am indebted to Dennis W. Gilpin for the material for this article, which
is only a fraction of that contained in his book ‘Ruabon Boys Grammar School
– A Collection of Pictures’ (ISBN 1-872424-77-5). The book contains a
wonderful collection of pictures and can be bought in local bookshops.
Many of the early records of the school were lost in the great fire at
Wynnstay Hall on Saturday 5th March 1858. The records had been taken there
by a Chaplain who was researching the history of the parish of Ruabon and
had borrowed from the then Headmaster, the Rev. A. L. Taylor. Incidentally
the parish records would have suffered the same fate, had not the Vicar of
Ruabon at the time insisted they be returned each evening. As you can
imagine, the destruction makes it very difficult for a detailed record of
the early days of the School to be compiled.
1632 was generally accepted as being the year the school was founded. This
date came from parish records and also the will of a Thomas Levett (verified
by Somerset House) who in 1633 left the sum of £2 a year to the schoolmaster
in Ruabon “for the better maintenance for Teaching of poore man’s children”.
Incidentally, Thomas Nevitt is referred to in the parish registered of
Ruabon as Thomas Ednyfyd, Nevitt being the anglicised form of the name.
However, further research by the Rev. T.W.Pritchard confirmed it was
originally founded in 1618. The evidence coming from documents in the
National Library of Wales, in the form of a letter or petition dated 9th
June 1637 and addressed to ‘William Doctor att Lawes and Chancellor of St.
Asaph and Bangor’. These documents confirm the school was supported by the
people of the parish of Ruabon and provided free education for the children
of that parish with provision for other children outside its boundaries and
that the founder was Dr. Richard Lloyd. This period, following the
Reformation, enabled people to become aware of the importance of education
on both economic and political fronts and provides the context for its
It was in 1626 that the first schoolmaster was appointed to the school. Rev.
Jeremiah Davies, A.M. remained as schoolmaster until 1637 until replaced by
Rev. Edward Pritchard B.A., M.A.. Records are sketchy for the period
following 1637. However, the Civil War must have made the transfer of money
under the terms of Thomas Ednyfed’s will very difficult. There are no
records about the number of boys on the school at this time.
The Rev. John Robinson was at the school for 31 years and he was responsible
for the school becoming endowed in 1703 when he bequeathed the ‘Cinders Farm
in the parishes of Ruabon and Bangor Is-Y-Coed’ together with lands. This
produced an annual income of £12 which largely went to the master of the
school. Later bequests in 1753 revealed he left a total of £400 in money and
that the interest was not only to supplement the masters salary but also
educate gratis six nominated poor children. A condition of this arrangement
was that the children were to have ‘blew coates and caps, shoes and
stockings provided yearly and given to them at Christmas by the Vicar of
Ruabon’. Indeed up to the late 19th century the school was referred to as
the ‘Blue Coat School’. This endowment continued until 1872 incidentally,
when it was replaced by ‘Vicar’s prizes’. During this period other citizens
of the parish endowed the school. Ironically the conditions imposed by these
benefactors, whilst obviously giving greater financial security, made it
difficult for the school to continue as a ‘classical’ grammar school. For
example these endowments meant the school became botha grammar school and a
public elementary school in the same building. The conditions of such a
grammar school at that time included the teaching of English as well as the
great antiquarian languages of Latin and Greek. Indeed older boys at the
school were made to speak Latin or Greek at all times. The speaking and
learning of the native Welsh tongue did not seem to feature at all.
During the eighteenth century education continued at the school with the
number of boys fluctuating between 20 and 60. In 1824, Mr George Bagley was
appointed headmaster and in 1825 he built, at his own expense, a kitchen and
brewhouse, and rooms over them. This cost £200 and ‘allowed 81 boys to be
Mr Bagley continued to run the school for some years. This was a period of
political unrest following the ‘Rebecca riots’ and in 1846, after much
lobbying, a ‘Commission of Enquiry’ was launched into the state of education
in Wales. This enquiry was led by three men considered by many to be unfit
for the task. Their report, known as the ‘Blue Book’ because of colour of
its cover, caused outrage. It blamed Welsh people, through their lack of
morals and intellect for the poor state of education in Wales. The fury of
the Welsh people was clearly evident with the report being denounced as Brad
y Llyfrau Gleision. – the treachery of the Blue Books. The report also
slated the conditions in Ruabon school. Mr Bagley (who had been ill for some
time) in his defence blamed the lack of support from a succession of
curate’s and the foundation of the local National Schools in Rhosymedre and
Rhosllanerchrugog. However inaccurate the report was it did focus attention
on the state of education Wales and inspired people to seek change.
A new National School was opened in Ruabon in 1847. In 1853 the Ruabon Boys
Grammar School was reconstituted with new trustees and Mr Bagley was granted
a pension and resigned under pressure.
In 1855 Alfred Lee Taylor was appointed headmaster and remained as such
until 1903. From its foundation in 1618 the school had stood in the corner
of the Church yard on Ysgoldy Hill. The new trustees were dissatisfied with
this arrangement and in 1858 the school moved to a location near Offa’s
Dyke. This move, the new buildings, the support of the new trustees and the
teaching of Mr Taylor all improved the situation considerably. Frank Harris,
the celebrated Edwardian novelist, was a boarder at the school in the 1860’s
and describes his experiences at the school in his book My Life and Loves.
He recounts being taught Latin, Greek, mathematics and enjoying the
facilities of the well stocked library. He also details the visit of a
Cambridge professor to present a pupil with a scholarship to attend the
In 1864, the numbers of pupils at the school can be confirmed as 24 day
scholars and 26 boarders.
Following a report in 1881 into the state of higher education in Wales and
Monmouth, known as the ‘Aberdare Committee’ report, a new education Welsh
Intermediate Act was introduced. This Act was the catalyst for new school
buildings being opened in 1896. Indeed the buildings were the first built in
Wales as a direct result of the Act. These buildings consisted of a
schoolroom, classroom, science room, chemistry and physics laboratory and a
workshop. The local press at the time reporting the high standard of the
features and facilities.
In 1903 the initiative began for Welsh to be taught at the school. The
chairman at the time, Alderman E Hooson, proposed the replacement to the
resigning assistant master should be able to teach Welsh. This initiative
was met with opposition from the local vicar but after a prolonged
discussion the proposal was carried. Many years later two heads of the Welsh
department brought great honour to the school: Dr Geraint Bowen won the
chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1946 and Mr Bryan Martin Davies was
Crown Bard at National eisteddfods held in Rhydaman in 1970 and Bangor in
The Rev. D.J. Bowen. having been on the staff for many years, was appointed
headmaster in 1920. He was of the opinion that the school had been founded
in 1575 (rather than in 1618) by the then vicar Dr. David Powel who acted as
the first headmaster until his death in 1598. Dr. Powel assisted in
translating the Bible into Welsh and also wrote a history of Wales. This
confusion may have come about because the Rev. Bowen may have confused the
names of curates appearing in the parish register were headmasters.
Regardless, during his time as headmaster he changed the school badge to
include the date 1575 and also included Dr Powel’s arms into the badge.
In 1925, at the annual Prize Distribution day, it was noted that the school
had 211 pupils and ten of which were moving to university. In 1928, new
building were erected and officially opened on November 13th of that year.
This was a significant development and resulted in ‘the quad’ being
encircled by a range of classrooms, and a chemistry laboratory and physics
laboratory amongst others. The total cost was £8,100 and a further £750
being spent on furniture.
By the time the Rev. D.J. Bowen retired in 1938 he had been on the school
staff for 48 years and there were now 270 boys at the school and 14 staff
Further extensions were opened in 1941 and included a library, prefect room
assembly hall, gymnasium and medical room. The total costs of these
extensions was £21,250.
In 1967 the Ruabon Boys Grammar School amalgamated with the Girls Grammar
School and became a single comprehensive school thus ending a tradition
stretching back some three hundred and fifty years. At this present time the
‘lower school’ site which once occupied the Boys Grammar School is being
vacated with new buildings being erected on the ‘upper school’ site across
the road. The future of the historic buildings on this site may now be under
threat and there are rumours that a housing development may replace these