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Ruabon Grammar School

A 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 formation.

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 accommodated’.

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 university.

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 1971.

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 members.

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 famous buildings.


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