“The School Boards were set up to supervise schools in their area.”

The growth of elementary educational provision in South Wales.

1.Abstracts from the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, 1847, for the four South Wales counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan, Brecon, and Carmarthen

In 1846:

(a) 199 National Schools:  11,724 Pupils.

(b) 20 British Schools:       2,809 pupils.

(c) 37 Works Schools:       5,532 Pupils.

2. The following figures show the extent of the Works Schools System compared with the two main Voluntary Societies in the industrial areas of Wales up to 1865-1870:

(a) National Schools:   1865:166 S.Wales    

(b) British Schools:      1865:122 S.Wales     

(c) Works Schools:      1870: 88 S.Wales

Pupils in attendance, 1865:

(a) National Society Schools:                         17,705.

(b) British and Foreign School Society Schools: 17,230.

(c) Schools of the Works Schools System,       1865-1870:16,081.

The two abstracts above illustrate the growth of elementary educational provision in South Wales between 1846 and 1870. Note that the number of pupils in attendance at Works Schools in 1865 is very nearly 50% of the combined Voluntary Schools. This indicates the success and popularity of this method and that it has become distinctive enough to be considered an essential part of the Voluntary System. In the industrial areas of Wales during the greater part of the nineteenth century the Voluntary System of establishing and promoting elementary education for young children had, by 1870, become an integral and indispensable element in the organisation and provision of popular education. In 1870 Foster's Education Act brought in Board Schools which took over from National and British schools. The School Boards were set up to supervise schools in their area and build schools where there were none. The schools were to receive money from the government and from the local rates and were to be regularly inspected. The law also said that children between 5 and 12 had to attend school--elementary education was now compulsory.

.1880 Education Act. School attendance made compulsory between the age 5 and 10. Local Authorities now had duty to ensure that the children in their area were being properly educated.

·1889 Secondary Education Act. Welsh Intermediate Education Act - spread of secondary school education in Wales

·1893 Education Act. Age for compulsory school attendance increased to 11 years of age

·1899 Education Act. Age for compulsory school attendance increased to 12 years of age

“Does this article increase our understanding of what life was like for my ancestors Philip, Daniel, Noah and Benjamin Fletcher?”

Prosperity through Industry

So, what do the bare facts and the history books tell us about what life was like for the people who populated these areas and worked in these industries? The jigsaw of knowledge I alluded to earlier can be pieced together somewhat by the research into this topic. More relevantly, how does this research improve our understanding of what life was like for my relatives Philip, Daniel, Noah and Benjamin Fletcher? Their lives and livelihoods were centred on industrialisation in South Wales and I can speculate that their lives and those of their families typified working-class people of industrialised Wales in this period.

From this research, and from general history of this period, it would seem that life for these people was harsh and tough by our standards. The people who were employed in these industries such as my ancestors had difficult, taxing, laborious jobs that meant long hours of labour in grim conditions. Strength, stamina and resilience both physical and mental was needed to do these jobs and live these lives. Industry demanded it of them and of their children.

Lack of education would seem to be a failing in their lives by our standards. Wales has since rejected child labour in most industries but as this research shows there were few options open to those born in this period into these areas. Industry needed an inexhaustible supply of workers. Men and women needed occupation to survive and feed their families and children needed the skills for gainful employment that would one day feed their families.

As I stated earlier lack of proper hygiene, lack of adequate sanitation, poor nutrition and overcrowded living spaces meant that child mortality was high, disease was hard to suppress and people died relatively young. It would appear to our standards that these factors made life grim and depressing. It would seem that there were few civilising factors in the lives of these people, especially in the rural areas.

However, if one goes past first impressions it is possible to see the positives in the lives of these people. Industry did bring many good things, and i wish to touch upon that. The growth and expansion of industry throughout Glamorgan brought prosperity for some and I believe that with each successive generation, our four Victorian ancestors prospered and their lives, and that of their families, became better. At Noah and Sarah’s wedding in 1874, he was able to sign his name on the Register and Ben, their son (born 1878), would have attended a state run school. Many South Wales towns grew in size and population and provided good employment opportunities. Transport between places improved from the early common use of horse through to the passenger trains.

The Public Health Acts of 1874/5 created new local authorities with responsibility for public health. Urban areas such as towns/boroughs were to form Urban Sanitary Districts. Public health care improved and local health board authorities were responsible for providing better medical treatment for the young, sick and old in hospitals. The first system of vaccination against diseases was introduced and new reservoirs and wells were built supplying fresh clean water into towns. Other hygienic measures that made healthier physical environments included the purification of water, improved disposal of sewage, removal of refuse, better food preparation techniques and the supervision of food handling.

By the end of C19th, the rate of infant mortalities was in decline. This decline in mortality can be linked to the reduction in diseases, particularly tuberculosis, cholera, typhus, typhoid, scarlet fever and diarrhoea and the better standards of living and public health care. The main positive feature was the boost it gave to the economy of the areas. In a time of poverty and few opportunities for the working class, it provided a much needed helping hand to the areas and its inhabitants. People such as my ancestors were given a wide variety of opportunities to work and further themselves thanks to industrialisation in Glamorgan. Those who were out of work or starving now had the ability to gain employment and work towards a better life. Industry would have flooded the areas with jobs and roles for men, women and children that were not there before. People could thrive due to industry and put food on the table, even though the work was hard and the conditions unpleasant.

This is reflected in the increase in the populations of the areas, despite high mortality rates and the prospect of a life of hard labour. Rather than resisting industrialisation, it would appear that people welcomed the chance for work and flocked to the areas that provided it.        

The inflows of Welsh and non-Welsh manual labour into the coal and iron making communities of Glamorgan impinged upon all aspects of social development.

It could be speculated that by the relative standards of the day people would have seen an improvement in their lives. Even though it may appear that there were few civilising factors in the areas, there were positive features to life. Church and chapel going was an important part of daily life, the thriving religion in towns and villages would have played a part in educating and “civilising” people. The dense population of the areas and the overcrowding due to housing meant that family ties would have been strong and extended families would have supported each other.

Industry brought big changes and astonishing advancements into the lives of Philip, Daniel, Noah and Benjamin Fletcher. Industrialisation not only gave jobs but brought labour saving devices that improved life at work and in general. Mechanisation would have eased aspects of their lives. Industry, commerce and culture came together to create a new world of leisure. Leisure pursuits, home décor, gadgetry, art and clothing was changed and became more accessible for the masses. They would have seen the invention of the motor car and what a revolution that became, travel became easier and more accessible especially with the developments in rail. By the end of Benjamin's life health, hygiene and sanitation had all improved. Education improved and the class barriers were starting to break down giving more opportunities for the working class. Indeed, in each of their lifetimes, the standard of living improved and this was undoubtedly due in part to industrialisation.

Created by John Fletcher

I am very grateful to my daughter Sketty for her contribution to this essay.

Date created: Swansea,Wales,UK,September 2007 with revisions in January 2010.


1. http://home.clara.net/

2. http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/Cholera.html#top

3. John Williams, “Was Wales Industrialised?”, Gomer Press 1995

4. Stephen Rowson and Ian L. Wright, “The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals” Vols. 1 (2001) and 2 (2004) ISBN 095330289X,     www.lightmoor.co.uk  

5. Forster’s Education Act 1870: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elementary_Education_Act_1870



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