Griffith Jones' School (1738)

This is where Griffith Jones had one of his Schools.

Jones will be most remembered for his educational work with Circulating Schools in Wales. At this time there were 25 to 30 Grammar Schools and the schools established through the work of Thomas Gouge and others. Also, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge had provided several schools since it was set up in 1698. We have no evidence, however, it is likely that these schools were infected with the general malaise that went through society at this time and therefore not performing at their best.

Jones’ vision is described in a letter of his dated 1738 (edited). He was catechising (testing on religious truths) some of his people when he noticed that, “the greatest part of those who most wanted such kind of instruction, and the application of it, stood off; being old in ignorance, they were ashamed to be thus taught and catechised publicly. In compassion to the poor, public notice was given in Church on Sunday to summon them, I mean all the poor people, to come thither, at the same time with the rest, to receive a dole of bread provided for them with part of the money the communicants gave at the Sacrament. A few plain and easy questions were asked them, with great tenderness and caution not to puzzle or give them cause to blush. This being repeated once a month, the number of the elderly people increased; and all came willingly, giving opportunity to proceed from easier to harder questions. It pleased God to give such a blessing, that they all improved much, and many of them became visibly conscientious in a good conversation and all religious duties.”

The first school began in 1730 and was paid for by the offerings of his congregation. By 1738 there were 37 schools teaching 2,400 people both old and young.

Jones tells us in his own words how the schools worked. “Where a Charity School is wanted and desired or likely to be kindly received, no pompous preparations or costly buildings are thought of, but a church or chapel, or untenanted house of convenient situation, is fixed on; and public notice is given immediately, that a Welsh School is to begin there at an appointed time, where all sorts that desire it are to be kindly and freely taught for three months (though the Schools are continued for three months longer, or more, when needful; and then moved to another place where desired.) The people, having no prospect of such an opportunity but for a short limited time, commonly resort to them at once, and keep to them as closely and diligently as they can, though some can afford to come but every other day, or in the night only, because the support of themselves and their family requires their labour. The masters are instructed, hired, and charged to devote all their time, and with all possible diligence, not only to teach the poor to read, but to instruct them daily (at least twice every day) in the principles and duties of religion from the Church Catechism, by the assistance of such explanations of it as they and the scholars are provided with, which they are not only to repeat out of book, but also to give the sense thereof in their own words, with a Psalm and prayer night and morning after catechising. Every master is also obliged to keep a strict account of the names, ages, condition in the world, and progress in learning, of all the scholars; and of the books they learn, and the time and number of months, weeks and days that everyone of them continued in the school; that the masters may be paid accordingly. This account every master is to bring in writing at the end of three months, with proper certificates of the truth thereof, and of their own behaviour, signed by each clergyman as condescended to inspect them, as well as by several other creditable persons living near the Schools.”

To begin with very few could say the Lord’s Prayer, but in six or eight weeks many could not only read fairly well, but repeat by heart the Church Catechism in Welsh and make pretty good answers to plain questions on faith. It should be remembered that Welsh is easier to learn than English. Generally, after three months the school would move on to another district, but when required they might stay for a second or third term or they might come back for another three months later. These schools were so successful that by 1748 they were in every county in Wales except for Flint. It was calculated that 150,000 people were taught in this way by Jones, but this did not include those who could only come at night to be taught and so this would greatly increase the figures. In 1744 he wrote “The poor people desire and thirst for the knowledge of God, and flock in great numbers to these schools in several places…when they can hardly get bread enough to satisfy their hunger, and were never oppressed with so much poverty before in this country in the memory of man.”

Men and women of all ages came to the schools and some parents learnt at home what their children had been taught in the school. One blind woman in her eighties, went to one of the schools to hear the children being taught, but stayed so that she too could learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments etc.

Jones had his hand on every area of the Circular Schools. He thought that they were vital for the revival of religion and he threw all his energies into making them a success. He had to be very watchful so that none of the money he was entrusted with was wasted. He had to be careful that clergymen did not just want a school so that they could receive payment for teaching in it; he had to ensure that the quality of the teaching was up to standard and that the pupils were progressing. He would open schools, raise money for them, advertise them and supervise them. They were not all Welsh speaking schools; if an English speaking one was asked for he was happy to supply it.

Jones was grieved that the system of catechising had fallen into disuse among the churches and like Samuel Walker of Truro (see this website) he believed that this was one of the main reasons for the poor state of religion in the country at this time. He wrote books to help clergy and masters to carry out this necessary work. He had found that the deep ignorance of the people meant that they could not understand much of the preaching he had done for years, and so the schools and catechising created more fertile ground for the sermons of the clergy to do their work.

The limiting factor in this venture was always money. Money was needed to paymasters and in 1741 there were 150 schools with approximately 250 employed masters. Money was needed at times to rent rooms, pay local clergy and inspectors, bread that sometimes was given to the poor and to pay for the vast numbers of books, including Bibles that were required for the pupils. Jones wrote that he had little to expect from his own country as most of the people were unable to contribute and the remainder were unwilling. However, Jones trusted in God and He provided when money was required. He writes in 1746, “Though there is still no settled fund, and sometimes not stock enough in hand to defray half the expense of the current year; yet the spontaneous subscriptions, or free will offerings of some benevolent persons or other, have never hitherto failed to come in time, to pay off fully and punctually all debts contracted for this good undertaking.” Apart from a few wealthy sponsors, Jones always received strong support from the Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge who supplied over the years, many of the books he needed.

These Circulating Schools had a lot of opposition from clergy and gentry alike. Why is it that so often, when there is a work that is so clearly from God which is equally clearly benefiting the local people; it brings with it such opposition from the very people who should be helping and promoting it? A little over a hundred years later William Booth experienced the same opposition when he began his work with the poor of London. There is no doubt that his enemies made life difficult for him as he was often had up before the Ecclesiastical Courts for disobeying church rules, but Jones was such an avid churchman that it is highly unlikely that there was any substance to these accusations. Possibly the only written evidence of opposition is a pamphlet that a rector published against Jones in 1752. This attack has a whole list of accusations against Jones; most of which try to make him out as a Nonconformist, such as pointing out that he studied Hebrew under a Nonconformist. Another was that nine-tenths of his communicants were Dissenters, who would not enter any parish church but his. He is described as a vile hypocrite, a cruel tyrant and a liar and his followers as thieves, idlers, adulterers and ignorant enthusiasts.

The main evidence of opposition comes from Jones’ letters and reports. He mainly blames the bishops who appointed clergy who were wholly unsuitable and for turning down men who would make really fine vicars. He writes of ‘violent enmity’ and of ‘malicious slanders and calumnies.’ He also writes, “although my endeavours are left to stand alone, without any encouragement, or rather under great discouragement from my brethren the clergy.” Being the type of person Jones was; anything he wrote would have been understated. However, he must have received some support from the clergy because many of his schools were opened at their invitation and there is no doubt that after ten or fifteen years; once the Schools were proved, the opposition subsided, although the pamphlet mentioned above was an exception to this.

There was a great need for good quality school teachers and Jones set himself the task of training them. He established a seminary at Llanddowror for the training of the teachers. Unfortunately, he could not find enough quality men from the Established Church and had to employ a considerable number of Nonconformists to fill all the vacancies. This was a source of considerable embarrassment for him as his enemies amongst the clergy and gentry were never slow in firing arrows at him and his employment of Nonconformists gave them a lot of ammunition.