Education in Wales (1848)

Education in Wales
The full text of the reports.


Education in Wales (1848)

Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1848
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.


Background notes

Historical context

The first government department with responsibility for education in England and Wales was the Committee of the Privy Council on Education, set up in 1839 with Sir James Kay (later, Kay-Shuttleworth) (1804-1877) as its first Permanent Secretary. Its main task was to administer government grants to schools, most of which were owned and run by the churches.

(There were no state schools in England and Wales until 1870, when the 1870 Elementary Education Act required school boards to fill the gaps in church provision of elementary schools; and no universal education until the 1880 Elementary Education Act made elementary education compulsory.)

  • For more about the Committee of the Privy Council on Education see Government papers relating to education 1833-1862 and chapter 5 of my history (search for '1839 The Committee of Council').

    The reports on education in Wales

    In October 1846, in response to a motion in the House of Commons, the Committee appointed three Commissioners to inquire into the State of Education in Wales. The motion asked Her Majesty

    to direct an inquiry to be made into the state of education in the Principality of Wales, especially into the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring knowledge of the English language (page i).
    The resulting reports were:

    Area coveredCommissioner
    Carmarthen, Glamorgan and PembrokeRalph Lingen
    Brecknock, Cardigan, Radnor and MonmouthJelinger C Symons
    North WalesHenry Vaughan Johnson

    The Commissioners

    Ralph Lingen (1819-1905) was educated at Bridgnorth Grammar School and Trinity College Oxford and elected a Fellow of Balliol College Oxford in 1841. He was called to the bar in 1847 but instead of practising as a barrister, he accepted the post of Secretary to the Education Department in 1849 (following the retirement of Kay-Shuttleworth) and served in this role until 1869, when he was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Treasury.

    Jelinger C Symons (1809-1860), a graduate of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, was a barrister, school inspector and writer. He served as a commissioner for a number of government enquiries.

    Henry Vaughan Johnson (1820-1899) was educated at Sherborne School and Trinity College Cambridge and became a barrister and civil servant. In 1859 he was appointed Joint Secretary to the Lord Chancellor, and later held various positions relating to the administration of justice.

    The Reports online

    The reports are presented as copiable and searchable text in a single webpage.

    Preparing the text was a slow process because of the age of the document: the resulting poor print quality and browning of the paper made it difficult for my OCR software to produce an accurate text. I have therefore had to check it word by word. If you spot any errors, do please let me know: contact details are here.

    Notes on the text

    I have updated some of the punctuation and corrected twenty or so printing errors.

    The reports contain hundreds of references to Welsh towns and villages and there is some inconsistency in the spelling of these place-names. I have endeavoured to render them as printed.

    Sums of money are often mentioned: Britain's pre-decimal currency consisted of pennies (pence, d.), shillings (s.) and pounds (for which I have replaced the archaic l with ). There were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. Pennies were subdivided into half-pennies and farthings (a quarter of a penny).

    Distances, lengths, areas and weights in the reports are given in imperial measures: miles, yards, feet, square feet, acres and cwt (hundredweight). I have provided the metric equivalents.

    I have also provided explanations for some archaic words.

    Anything I have added to the text is shown in [square brackets]. Incidentally, the original also contains a handful of pairs of square brackets, for no obvious reason. To avoid confusion, I have replaced these with (round brackets).

    In the original, lengthy quoted passages are printed in smaller type. For convenience on a computer screen these passages are shown instead in indented paragraphs.

    Almost every paragraph in the printed version has a marginal note summarising its content: I have not reproduced these here.

    The reports contain more than 120 tables: all but a handful of smaller ones are presented here as images.

    A larger folio edition of these reports was also published: its contents are listed on the last page (536) of this volume.

    Explanations of some terms which appear in the reports:

    • a school's outbuildings (usually the lack of them): toilets;

    • a hundred: a subdivision of a county or shire which had its own court;

    • a normal school or normal college: a school or college in which teachers were trained;

    • Borough Road School in Southwark: Joseph Lancaster's first school for poor children, opened in 1798. By the time these reports were written, it was run by the British and Foreign School Society as a 'normal' school - ie where teachers were trained;

    • Chartism: the first mass movement driven by the working class. It was established in response to the 1832 Representation of the People Act (the 'Reform Act'), which gave a million middle-class property owners - but not workers - the right to vote. For more on Chartism, see chapter 5 of my history - search for 'chartism';

    • The Rebecca riots: protests by farmers and agricultural workers in West and Mid Wales between 1839 and 1843 against high levels of taxation, and particularly the use of toll-gates. The rioters were often men dressed as women - hence the name. For more on the Rebecca riots, see this Wikipedia page;

    • The truck system: the practice - to the advantage of the employer - of paying workers in kind (goods or services, or credit with retailers) rather than in money. Attempts to ban the system were made in a series of Truck Acts between 1725 and 1940. For more information about the truck system see this Wikipedia page.

    My comments

    These reports are an invaluable resource for both educational and social historians. They paint an appalling picture of what life was like for the poor in mid-19th century Wales (and no doubt in the rest of the UK). Many families lived in hovels hardly fit for animals, sometimes with heaps of human excrement outside the front door. The children were often poorly fed and dressed in rags. And if they were lucky enough to receive any education at all, it was usually little more than learning by rote the church catechism and other religious claptrap. Indeed, it seems to me that much of it was mental cruelty verging on child abuse. (But then I write as an atheist: you are, of course, perfectly entitled to take a different view.)

    Alcohol was also a huge problem, with poor workers' wages being spent in public houses on Friday evenings rather than on food for their families.

    The reports' authors do a remarkable job in describing what they found but, for me, some of what they write has a rather sneering tone about it. Lindgren, for example, is often critical of the children's poor grammar and syntax, yet his own writing is not without faults. And in his report on North Wales (page 459), Henry Johnson criticises a teacher for pronouncing 'British' as 'Brutish'. He describes this as an error. I can't help wondering if it was a comment ...

    See also

    It is interesting to compare these reports, in which the Commissioners were required to report on 'the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring knowledge of the English language', with Welsh in Education and Life (1927), produced by a committee whose aim was the promotion and preservation of the Welsh language.

    The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 30 March 2023.