Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

With the growth of a variety of industries in the 19th century – mining, iron smelting, copper smelting, tinplate – came the growth of population from the workers in the townships that sprang up. This raised issues of housing, sanitation and education. There had been grammar schools for the affluent from the 16th century but the lack of state education meant that up until the 1840s in Wales education was provided by National and British Schools (see article ‘Early Education in Wales’), private schools, Sunday Schools and works schools. Generally the state of education in Wales was grim, a ‘destitution’ shared also by housing and sanitation.

It was factory legislation that not only gradually improved conditions but also facilitated education for those children and young people in their industries. However, the legislation did not apply to Wales. Yet although the proprietors of works were not obliged to provide schools, many of them did. At first there was opposition: from those who favoured the Sunday Schools since they were free, all age and did not conflict with the weekly work, and also from those who did not regard schooling as necessary for their employment. However, generally the people of Wales were enthusiastic about receiving an education.

Other issues affected progress in the development of education in Wales. One was the issue of the Welsh language since, although teaching in the Sunday Schools was in Welsh, lessons in the day schools were in English. This applied to the works schools particularly with the owners, proprietors and officials predominantly English speaking.  The second issue was religion. Certainly the government had viewed education as philanthropic and the responsibility of voluntary societies and works proprietors, and many people resisted state intervention seeing the move as secularization in the education system. Yet the main problem had always been resentment of the nonconformists towards any attempt to impose an Anglican system. This was at the heart of the tension between the two voluntary societies, one Anglican and one nonconformist in essence, through whom the government channelled grants to schools.

Between 1852 and 1855 there was a marked increase in the number of works schools and these needed to affiliate to one of the two voluntary societies in order to qualify for a government grant for buildings, salaries and equipment.  The Llanelli and Pembrey Copperworks schools aligned themselves with the British and Foreign Schools Society which was non-denominational and would have appealed to the predominantly non-conformist working classes. In such schools the men were happier to pay the obligatory school pence. The tension gave rise to a more inclusive non-denominational or non-sectarian school in Wales.

Probably the first works school in South Wales was established in Neath in 1705 by Sir Humphrey Mackworth for 40 children of his mine workers. But most were set up in the beginning of the 19th century by the owners of the copper smelting works. The largest and most successful were built by the Vivians of Swansea and the Nevills of Llanelli.

Swansea statue of John Henry Vivian Wikimedia Commons

The first Swansea works schools, the Kilvey Copperworks Schools at Foxhole,were linked to the White Rock copper companies and their proprietors Grenfell and Freeman. The schools, for girls, boys and infants, opened in 1806 and were maintained by a stoppage of 1d from the workmen. Grenfell says that he visited the infant school and heard a ‘gallery lesson’: there was stand with a frame into which scriptural prints were placed and discussed. The boys went on to the ‘juvenile’ school but the girls stayed with the infants. In the 1840s a new girls school was built to accommodate 500.

Hafod Copper Works School – Copyright unknown

The Hafod copperworks schools were built in 1847 by the Vivian family who were deeply aware of the lack of educational facilities in the Swansea district. They saw education, as essential for industrial efficiency and the schools were regarded as outstanding examples of their type. They were run efficiently with fully trained teachers assisted by pupil-teachers, and based on child-centred Pestalozzian principles – head, hands and heart. The first building had a wooden partition along the length of the school with boys on one side and girls on the other, but the rooms soon became overcrowded.

Llanelli Copperworks School – Copyright Graham Davies

In Llanelli the school built by the Nevills, developed from a free school originally in the yard of the Copperworks, opened in 1846 for boys and infants with the girls’ school following in 1852. It served the employees of the many industrial companies of the Nevills, but also admitting other children. It was financed by stoppages and school pence. Regarded as one of the best in Wales, the curriculum also included scientific and technical subjects and offered a variety of evening classes.

Opened in 1855, The Pembrey Copperworks School consisted of two schoolrooms, for boys and girls, each 62 x 20 ft. and one for infants, 30 x 24ft. The building cost £1,700 and the fees initially were: for boys and girls of the works’employees,1½d each week deducted from the workmen’s wages; and for other children, 2d. This raised around £90 each year, whereas the expenditure was about £200. The deficiency was covered by the proprietors of the Copper Works as was also the cost of slates and books.  By 1868 (Reports from Commissioners, Inspectors of Factories, 1868-9) the fees had risen to 2d and 3d and the majority of pupils at the school were ‘outside’ children – 265 as opposed to 214 workmen’s children.

Pembrey Copperworks School – Copyright Ray Hobbs

The school displayed some the man characteristics of the works school including an infant school and an extended curriculum compared to the day schools. The larger works schools offered a more advanced curriculum akin to the German schools of the day. Llanelli Copperworks School, for example, taught land surveying, algebra, geometry, astronomy and practical and inorganic chemistry for older boys. In Pembrey the curriculum was taught through the medium of English and focused on the ‘3 Rs’. In addition the girls were taught scripture, geography, sewing, cutting out, knitting and domestic economy, and the boys scripture, history, vocal music and mapping.

Works schools generally provided a superior education to the days schools, were able to pay teachers a higher salary and many offered apprentices’ day classes and evening schools.  At the time when use of the monitorial system was decreasing and more teachers were being employed, Pembrey School used the popular pupil-teacher strategy while still retaining monitors. Most of the works school affiliated to one of the two voluntary societies through which the government gave grants for employing teachers and training pupil-teachers. Many benefited both from the grants and the ‘poundage’ collected from the employees. In fact Pembrey was able to receive poundage and fees from external pupils (school pence).


  • ‘Copper-Works Schools in South Wales during the Nineteenth Century’, Leslie Wynne Evans, National Library of Wales Journal, 1959, Summer Volume XI/1.
  • Education in Industrial Wales, Leslie Wynne Evans, 1971.
  • Copperopolis, Stephen Hughes, 2000.
  • A History of Education in Wales, Jones and Roderick, University of Wales Press, 2003.
  • Hafod Copperworks School, Hafod History Society, 2002 (First published 1905)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.