This week Mark Muller looks into the fascinating history of Haverfordwest VC School.

YOU will have driven passed this building in Barn Street, Haverfordwest innumerable times but unless you’ve had children at school here or perhaps went yourself, you’re unlikely to know much about it. In addition it’s an awkward place to pause for any investigation (unless you’re on foot), but it has a remarkable history.

The full name is, Haverfordwest Church in Wales Voluntary Controlled School and it is the oldest purpose built Primary School in this town – and very possibly much further afield than that. It was founded in the parish of St Martin’s on Christmas Eve 1847. The original Trustees included every major landowner in the county, including, the Earl of Cawdor, Lord Milford and Viscount Emlyn. It also had as governing members, the Bishop of St Davids and the incumbents of all of the parish churches of the town and surrounding area.

Up until this time, little regard had been given to the idea of poor children being in need of education. This was partly because the parents had themselves received little or no schooling, and equally because children were regarded as an asset who were to be used for increasing the family income.

A huge additional burden was that it cost between two and three pence per week per child which many families couldn’t afford and many considered that adult life for the majority of the children was unlikely to need an input of education. Very firmly in existence were Sunday Schools.

The entire subject matter taught in these was religious with the motivation for their creation, largely in the mid eighteenth century, being to provide children with the means, through being able to read the bible that allowed them to lead a life that basically prepared them for death.

There was no thought of providing children with a skill that might advance them socially... that as an option didn’t in any case exist.

A factor that led to education being furthered in Wales was The Rebecca Riots. It was considered by the Government that the rebellious ways of the Welsh were in all likelihood as a result of having had zero education. It was also felt by the Government that the best way of dealing with the Welsh was to educate any rebellion out of them and a Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales was undertaken in 1846/7. The detailed documentation that came out of it has become known as The Blue Books.

The Blue Books, for all their faults, carry an enormous amount of information. They were compiled by Ralph Lingen who gives the population of Haverfordwest at the point of his visit in January 1847 as 6,600. He examined all outlets of education available, (almost all were private with many little more than childcare establishments) and was able to suggest that 13% (of the total population) was attending some sort of school... which initially might not seem too bad given the culture of the time. But the devil, as always, is in the detail and if Lingen’s figures are examined more closely, they reveal that only 4% of those attending did so for more than four years and half of them for less than one year. He also found the quality somewhat questionable.

Following the impact of the Blue Books and the apparent willingness of the Government to support, mainly verbally and not financially, the concept of better education in Wales, Haverfordwest VC School was launched as an ambitious and laudable project; the first purpose built elementary school. The aims, quite clear on the original founding document suggest that it was to be;

“..conducted on the principles and in pursuance of the ends and designs of the incorporated National Society for promoting the education of the poor in the principles of the Established Church”.

The school became operational in 1848. But in 1859, another primary school came into being at the top of Barn Street. And so began the problem; an unremitting vicious problem that was to cost children dear.

Haverfordwest VC was Church, but the other, was Non Conformist. If you want to know the unfortunate detail, well then perhaps you had better read the next instalment.