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Saving Souls on a Shoestring: Welsh Circulating Schools in a Century of Change

  • Paula Yates (a1)


This article examines the phenomenon of Welsh circulating schools from those of Griffith Jones in the mid-eighteenth century, which over nearly fifty years brought the basics of religious education to thousands of poor children and adults, to their successors later in the century under Thomas Charles and, in the nineteenth century, the Bevan Charity. It compares Jones's success with the relatively limited impact of the later schemes and seeks to demonstrate the importance of his flair for publicity, his connections, his use of Anglican networks and his organizational ability. The article considers how the changed political and social climate in the last decades of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth affected the success of later schemes and describes how the schools had to adapt to changed expectations and new educational developments. It argues that the schools provide strong evidence against the view that the charity school movement was motivated primarily by the desire for social control.


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*45 Glynne St, Cardiff, CF11 9NS. E-mail:


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1 Jones, M. G., The Charity School Movement: A Study of Eighteenth Century Puritanism, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1964; first publ. 1938), 297314.

2 Jenkins, Geraint H., ‘“An old and much honoured soldier”: Griffith Jones, Llanddowror’, WHR 11 (1983), 449–68.

3 Geraint H. Jenkins, ‘Jones, Griffith [known as Griffith Jones Llanddowror] (1684–1761)’, ODNB, online edn (23 September 2004), at: <>, accessed 9 June 2018.

4 Gordon Wallace-Hadrill, ‘An Experiment in Education: The Circulating Schools of South West Wales in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, Pembrokeshire Life, September 1996, 26–7; October 1996, 14–15; November 1996, 14–15; December 1996, 14–15.

5 Brown, Roger L., ‘Spiritual Nurseries: Griffith Jones and the Circulating Schools’, National Library of Wales Journal 30 (1997), 2749. For the testimonials, see Griffith Jones [following Jones's death, Madam Bevan], Welch Piety (annually 1737–73). Welch Piety, or a Succinct Account of the Rise and Progress of the Circulating Welch Charity Schools from the Year 1737, to the Year 1761 (London, 1761) announced Jones's death and contained details of the schools over the previous twenty-five years.

6 Jones, Gareth Elwyn and Roderick, Gordon Wynne, A History of Education in Wales (Cardiff, 2003), 3743 (quotation at 40).

7 Jacob, William, ‘Part II: 1660–1780’, in Williams, Glanmor et al. , The Welsh Church from Reformation to Disestablishment 1603–1920 (Cardiff, 2007), 65206, especially 158–64.

8 White, Eryn, ‘Popular Schooling and the Welsh Language 1650–1800’, in Jenkins, Geraint H., ed., The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution (Cardiff, 1997), 317–47.

9 Pryce, W. T. R., ‘The Diffusion of the “Welch Circulating Charity Schools” in Eighteenth-Century Wales’, WHR 25 (2011), 486519.

10 E. Wyn James, ‘Griffith Jones (1684–1761) of Llanddowror and his “Striking Experiment in Mass Religious Education” in Wales in the Eighteenth Century’, in Reinhart Siegert, ed., Volksbildung durch Lesestoffe im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Voraussetzungen – Medien – Topographie = Educating the People through Reading Material in the 18th and 19th Centuries: Principles – Media – Topography, Presse und Geschichte, Neue Beiträge 68 / Philanthropismus und populäre Aufklärung, Studien und Dokumente 5 (Bremen, 2012), 275–89.

11 Mary Clement, The SPCK and Wales 1699–1740 (London, 1954), 22.

12 Ibid. 102–4, 109, 111, 113, 120–1, 126–31, 137.

13 O'Day, Rosemary and Heal, Felicity, eds, Princes and Paupers in the English Church 1500–1800 (Leicester, 1981), 243–4.

14 Jacob, ‘Part II’, in Williams et al., Welsh Church, 160.

15 Welch Piety (1747–8), 3.

16 Griffith Jones to Madam Bevan, 16 December 1736, in Morgan, Edward, ed., Letters of the Revd Griffith Jones, late Rector of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, Founder of the Welsh Circulating Schools, to Mrs Bevan, late of Llangharne [modern Laugharne] near Carmarthen (London, 1832), 194.

17 Morgan, ed., Letters of Griffith Jones.

18 Women are frequently listed as donors by Jones, Charity Schools, and Jacob, W. M., Lay People and Religion in the Early Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1996).

19 Welch Piety (1739–40), 11–14.

20 Welch Piety (1748–9), 44.

21 Ibid.

22 Paula Yates, ‘The Established Church and Rural Elementary Schooling: The Welsh Dioceses 1780–1830’ (PhD thesis, University of Wales, Lampeter, 2007), 145.

23 Jones, Griffith, Welsh Piety or the Needful Charity of Promoting the Salvation of the Poor, being an account of the Rise, Method and Progress of the Circulating Welsh Charity Schools: With the Nature and Antiquity of the British Language, and Objections against continuing the Use of it considered. In Three Letters to a Friend by a Clergyman of Wales (London, 1740), 26.

24 Brown, ‘Spiritual Nurseries’, provides analysis and discussion of the testimonials.

25 Jones, Needful Charity, 3.

26 Jones, Charity School Movement, 313–14.

27 Yates, ‘Established Church’, 163–4.

28 For a brief history of the schools and their rules, see a draft letter from Charles to an unnamed recipient (undated but ‘near Ten Years’ since the schools began), in Yates, ‘Established Church’, 156.

29 Thomas Charles to Christopher Anderson, 4 January 1811, in Jenkins, D. E., The Life of the Revd Thomas Charles, BA, of Bala, 3 vols (Denbigh, 1910), 3: 365.

30 Yates, ‘Established Church’, 156.

31 Thomas Charles to the Evangelical Magazine, 12 September 1808, in Yates, ‘Established Church’, 160.

32 Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales (hereafter: NLW), Minor Deposit 728B (Church in Wales): Minute Book of the Trustees of the Bevan Charity, copy letter in minutes of 1821 meeting.

33 For Charles's sense of Anglican identity, see Yates, ‘Established Church’, 154, 157.

34 Simon Lloyd to David Jones Charles, 8 August 1816, in Jenkins, Life of Thomas Charles, 3: 575.

35 Marion Löffler with Bethan Jenkins, Political Pamphlets and Sermons from Wales 1790–1806 (Cardiff, 2014), 11–12.

36 See, for instance, Yates, Paula, ‘Drawing up the Battle-Lines: Elementary Schooling in the Diocese of Bangor in the Second Decade of the Nineteenth Century’, in Yates, Nigel, ed., Bishop Burgess and his World: Culture Religion and Society in Britain, Europe and North America in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Cardiff, 2007), 135–44.

37 Majendie, H. W., A Charge to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bangor, in the Month of September, 1817 (Bangor, 1817), 29.

38 See, in this volume, Nicholas Dixon, ‘The Political Dimension of the Education of the Poor in The National Society's Church of England Schools, 1811–37’, 290–306.

39 House of Commons, Digest of Parochial Returns made to the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the Education of the Poor: Session 1818, 3 vols (London, [1819), 3: nos 1205 (Aberporth), 1254 (Cilgerran).

40 NLW, Minor Deposit 728B, Bevan Charity Minute Book.

41 Morgan-Richardson, C., History of the Institution once called ‘The Welsh Piety’ but now known as Mrs Bevan's Charity (Cardigan, 1890), 8.

42 I am very grateful to John Richfield of the Representative Body of the Church in Wales for this information. His role includes acting as clerk to the governors of the Madam Bridget Bevan Charity.

Saving Souls on a Shoestring: Welsh Circulating Schools in a Century of Change

  • Paula Yates (a1)


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