“The Welsh School” Bridgend Road, Pontycymmer

Submitted by David JK Jones

Having lived in Upper Adare Street for a few years after my birth enabled me to attend every educational establishment in Pontycymmer. From Victoria Street Nursery, to Tymeinwr School (just for a few weeks), to Bridgend Road School, to Ffaldau Juniors and finally to the old Garw Grammer School in Hill View which was then Form 1 of Ynysawdre Comprehensive School. We moved to Prospect Place in 1959 and I then attended, what was colloquially called, “The Welsh School”.

However, the correct name for it was “Braichycymmer Junior Mixed and Infants School”. It was a tiny school with a small number of pupils. In my last year there (1963) there were just four in my class, three girls and myself.

I have located the School’s Log books for its entire duration of being open. These are held at the Glamorgan Records Office in Cardiff and make for fascinating reading.

The school opened on Monday 28th September 1903 as “Bettws Pontycymmer New Infants School” and the first ever Head Teacher was Mary A. Davies. Three teachers taught 57 pupils there.

The log shows that all teachers had to sign the “A to Z” at the front. This effectively introduced themselves by name, date of birth, place of teacher training, commencement date and also departure date and ongoing destination. According to the entries, no male teachers ever taught at this school.

The oldest born teacher was Florence Hurley. She was born on 6th July 1876 and served at the school between 14th April and 2nd June 1913.

There are four teachers listed there that I personally remember:-

Einir Hopkins – (5/9/1960 to 13/4/1962) – left for Llanelli Welsh School.

Eirwen Richards – (5/9/1960 to 10/4/1962)

Either Glenis or Gwyneth Bissett. One of these ladies became “Mrs Rust” at Ffaldau School. I’m not sure which one.

Winfred Mary Bissett – Who became Head Teacher from 1st July 1950 until the school’s closure.

 

There were three Bissett teachers:-

Glenis Bissett (dob 2/12/1911) – trained at Dudley Training College

Gwyneth Bissett (dob 2/2/1905) – trained at Truro Training College

Winifred Mary Bissett (dob 28/8/1900) trained at Swansea T.C.

The first recorded child to be absent from this school was Ivor Davies with Scarlet Fever on 9th November 1903. This was followed by three cases of Diphtheria and it seems that serious illnesses were certainly prevalent at this time.

On the 15th December 1903 the school was closed in its entirety due to an outbreak of Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria.

On the 10th February 1904 the pupils are taken up the mountainside to observe a pond, a bird’s nest and to collect various ferns, plants and lichens. The mountainside lessons are a common occurrence.

10th September 1907 We know that a murder took place just a few yards away from the school at lunchtime and remarkably there is no mention of it despite the alarm being raised by two of the pupils.

On the 31st March 1905 there is a record attendance at the school – 92%.

17th December 1906 “Scarletina” and “Whooping cough” are rampant and one of the pupils, Elizabeth Jane Thomas dies “very suddenly”.

6th October 1909 – Celebrations due to the opening of the “Pontycymmer Higher Elementary School” in Hill View.

10th January 1910 – There are 107 pupils on the books. “Ringworm” is rife among the pupils.

12/11/1918 – School to be closed tomorrow (Wednesday) and the remainder of the week to celebrate the signing of the armistice by Germany.

28/2/1922 – School closed for Princess Mary’s wedding

28/1/1936 – School closed for funeral of King George V.

11/9/1939 – Eight evacuees enrolled at the school.

13/12/1939 – Letter from D.R.Williams, Chief Air Raid Warden, thanking the Headmistress and staff for accommodating his men as the school was also used as an Air Raid Post.

5/1/1942 – Gwyneth Bissett appointed as Head Teacher.

(Left 30/11/1948 to become Head of Ffaldau Infants but did return temporarily)

4/7/1950 – Winifred Bissett appointed Head Teacher.

16/7/1951 – Winifred Bissett absent from school with “Shock and Bruising” due to falling down the steps of the school.

26/4/1956 – A “school within a school” was created by the addition of “Yr Ysgol Gymraeg” aka “The Pontycymmer Welsh School”. There were 19 Welsh speaking pupils. They were all from Pontycymmer apart from one from Blaengarw and two from Cefn Cribbwr.

29/6/1955 – School closed for educational trip to Clifton Zoo, Bristol.

8th June 1956 – Electricity and electric lights were installed at the school. It took seven days and the work was undertaken by a firm from Mountain Ash. (Incredibly electric had only been installed just three years before I attended there!)

28/6/1956 – School closed for educational trip to St Fagans Folk Museum. The children sang “Calon Lan” at the reconstructed Chapel there.

6/7/1956 – Mobile cinema arrived at school and pupils shown five “Road Safety” films.

13/3/1957 – Second hand Oak piano,”model 608” delivered to the school. It is 50 years old.

4/6/1957 – School closed – Festival of Britain

 

A report is received of a school inspection that was conducted on 13/11/1956. It states that the school “is in a depopulated area of Pontycymmer” – It further adds that in 1938 the pupils numbered 90 whereas in 1950 they numbered 32. Currently “Thirty three pupils eat lunch at the former British Restaurant in the main street of the village. One of the pupils is as young as 3 years, 5 months”.

The “tiny playground” is only 154 square yards and its tarmac surface is in need of repair.

I remember eating school dinners there very well. We would have to hold hands and went in a long line of twos down the hill and across the square into Oxford Street always being supervised by an elderly lady. My Grandmother, Sally Garfield Rees did it for a while, as did my Aunt Florrie. We would return to school, take our coats off and go to the shop across the road to buy sweets.

 

21/1/1963 – Only four pupils in school. Dysentery and sickness has broken out. Ten pupils have been retained in hospital.

23/1/1963 – School closed. Only two pupils showed up for lessons.

1/2/1963 – There is much illness again and the “school attendance has increased to eleven” !!!

15/2/1963 – There are 13 pupils present at the school. I was there then and I recall that I was in a class of four. Three girls and myself.

 

Even though I was still a pupil there at its closure I was not present on the last day due to being hospitalised for approximately three months. I was wrongly diagnosed with appendicitis, had my appendix removed at Bridgend Hospital, Quarella Road, was still very ill and I spent another eleven weeks at Lansdowne Hospital in Cardiff with suspected typhoid. I left hospital, was no longer a pupil at Bridgend Road and went straight to Ffaldau Juniors.

2/9/1963 – Rita Thomas, Welsh Teacher left for Ffaldau.

20/12/1963 – The final entry to the log is very poignant. In Miss Bissett’s immaculate handwriting it says:-

“The School closes for Primary education at the end of the afternoon session after 60 years and three months. It opened on September 28th 1903 as the “Bettws Pontycymmer New Infants School”. Its title changed to “Braichycymmer Junior Mixed School” and now is “Braichycymmer Infants School”.

“The pupils of the Infant Department are to be transferred to Ffaldau Infants School. The Welsh Junior pupils are transferred to Coety Welsh School. There is much sorrow in the area at this change” .

“Much sorrow”?………..For sure. All that remains today is the considerable lower wall. The school itself was demolished in about the early part of the 1980’s if I recall rightly. The legendary and popular Miss Winifred Bissett died in August 1985.

I only have one photograph of the complete school taken from the rear in a general panoramic view. I don’t think that there are many photos of the entire front in circulation. It was a distinctive landmark in Bridgend Road and most certainly a distinctive landmark in the memories of those fortunate enough to have attended there.

 

By David JK Jones

5 comments Add yours
  1. What a lovely little insight into school days gone by. Recently I was lucky enough to get hold of some of Ffaldau School record books from 1880, of the same type. There is one report of a school concert in 1914 which I intend to put on the webpage for next years WW1 Centenary. Lets hope your story stirs up some photo’s of the school.

  2. My twin sister Denise, and myself were also fortunate to have attended ‘The Welsh School’ in Bridgend Road. Miss Bisset was a lovely lady and loved by all of her pupils. I used to say Missat instead of Miss Bisset and I remember being very confused in Ffaldau school when I was told to call the teacher Miss not Missat. I rememerbeing taught by Rita Thomas – or Mrs Davies as she became but don’t remember her being at ‘The Welsh School’ I don’t think I will ever forget Miss Bisset walking into the classroom carrying a glass bowl full of water and tadpoles – she tripped and dropped the bowl – water and tadpoles everywhere. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  3. Lovely to read this – my Grandmother Mrs Frances Morgans was the infants teacher at the school following her husband’s death in the early 1950’s. He was Head of Bettws school at the time and died very suddenly. She left the school in the early 60’s as far as we know. Would love to find a photo of the school as I barely remember it. Apparently Miss Bissett wasn’t the only one to fall down the steps – my grandmother also fell. Thank you for these memories and history.

  4. I now live in America.I attended the Welsh school from 1954-1961.I lived in Richard Street,Pontycymer.My mother’s name was Mary Harris and my dad Brynley.I remember,Robert, Dewi Thomas, Billy O’neill & Margaret O”Neill, Susan Fox, Jonathan Thomas. Ian & Buddug Russell. Lovely school rember Miss Winnie Bissett and Miss Thomas, regards David

  5. i lived in bridgend rd and attended this school every 1st of may we used to do the maypole dance but one of the best memories was mr majors who lived up higher on the mountain had geese and 2 of them were in our yard terrorising us we as children loved it but the teachers here not happy and sent a note up to him to come and sort it out and in the winter the free milk was frozen and we had a real fire in our class and the milk monitors used to put the bottles around our fire to melt there was 2 sisters working there mrs rust and miss bissett

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