The closure of Cwm school in 2010 was the end of a little piece of history. A place which has been a focal point for a small community and holding so many important memories for so many people.
I had the great privilege of examining the school log books and they are a fascinating insight, not only into the history of the school, but also into the social history of the area. They were carefully compiled over almost a hundred years in by Head teachers, often in elegant flowing longhand. Much of the first book was written by Ann Bevan who was Head of Cwm Board School Infant Department for 34 years following her appointment in 1879. The books record attendance, the appointment of staff, inspection reports and daily activity.
The first thing that strikes you is how important the weather was. Indeed, the school record in some ways becomes a detailed record of the rain.
When it rained heavily then the children couldn’t come to school, probably because they only had one set of clothes. If they got wet they had nothing else. The teachers could do little themselves to dry them, especially if the fireplaces were broken or the fires not lit. What else could the mothers do?
And of course it rains a lot in Swansea, so there was frequent disruption. The log keeps saying ‘School closed due to the severity of the weather.’ The teachers would do their best to dry them and then amuse them with “singing and games” until it was dry enough to send them home. On 15 February 1900 it rained so heavily that only 9 children turned up.
Attendance was compounded by illness. Dangerous, deadly ,diseases could run through the school almost unchecked. ‘Many of the children are in delicate health,’ it says in 1903.
They were at the mercy of epidemics of childhood diseases, especially in the winter months. Diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever are all regularly recorded. The school would be closed or holidays extended in an attempt at infection control. Does that sound familiar?
In May 1898, 80 children were absent, 75 with measles, 4 with scarlet fever and 1 with influenza. In 1911 they closed for 3 weeks due to a measles outbreak. In September 1919 it is recorded that ‘one child died this week in hospital suffering from diphtheria.‘ These must have been awful times for parents, facing these silent killers.
What the children were taught in school also reflects the priorities of the time – the marching lessons, the knitting and the sewing and the darning. After all, you didn’t replace your clothes, you mended them.
There was also a sense that the school represented its community and responded to the wider world in a way that we do not. They didn’t have the constant entertainment we have. Theirs were much simpler times. So the school would be closed for fairs in Llangyfelach and Llamsamlet or when a Barnum and Bailey show came to town. One day they all went off to see Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie and a good time was had by all. They closed for a parade of horses in Swansea, a cyclist’s carnival, the Band of Hope Competitive Festival, the relief of Mafeking in the Boer War, the assassination of President McKinley. In 1896 they closed the school for the afternoon so the teachers could attend a bazaar in aid of the NUT at the Albert Hall in Swansea.
But the school day was also interrupted for more chilling reasons.
The log book tells us that ‘Recreation was suspended this morning until 11.20 am to enable the children to see the troops pass on the Great Western Railway.’ It was 28 October 1914 and they were going to war.
My latest book has now been published, Grave Tales From Wales. In it, I tell the stories represented by 30 different graves from across the whole of Wales – a fascinating window into our past in so many ways.
Swansea is represented by the story of the Bleeding Stone of Adulam, a terribly sad story that comes from Cefn Road, not far away from Cwm School.
You can find out about the book either by looking for Grave Tales From Wales in the menu or by clicking here.
The cover price is £15 and I am selling them here on the website for £12.50. This price includes packaging and delivery. Just go to the How To Buy page in the menu or by clicking here.