The Welsh have always valued education, In medieval times, monasteries such as Strata Florida became important political and administrative as well as educational centres. Education meant knowledge and power, and was greatly respected.
Until the early 20th century there were dynion hysbys (soothsayers) working in these rural areas: intelligent men, often selfeducated, who could read and write and had a body of knowledge transmitted orally from one generation to another. They were consulted for the cure of illnesses, the finding of lost people and possessions and for the lifting of curses, and sometimes also for the placing of curses! They were simultaneously feared and respected, but never persecuted. They usually effected their cures by giving a piece of paper on which would be written some words in English or Latin, often accompanied by occult symbols; some of these papers have survived and are kept in the National Library. Many ordinary Welsh people were fully literate in Welsh, so they did not use Welsh in their ‘magi’c’ spells! They were, however, very adept at achieving theindesired results, possibly using psychic skills, and the papers were probably no more than a psychological aid for the client.
Education for ordinary people started early in Wales,and the population was literate by the 18th century. This was due to. a few enlightened individuals, ordained Anglican clergy who had left the Church and set up their own nonconformist religion. It all started in Blaenpennal at the end of the 17th century when a dissenting clergyman called Philip Pugh (1679—1760) set up his own school and chapel in his home at Hendre farm (see chapter on religion).
The nonconformist ministers were educated to a very high standard at their own ‘academies’, often set up at an established minister’s home, as in the case of Philip Pugh. The education was conducted in Welsh but included subjects such as Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew and English, with great emphasis on philosophy and theology. Religious dissent had ceased to be illegal in 1687, but dissenters were still banned from public office and from university education.
Most of the nonconformist chapels ran their own schools and as the chapels proliferated, so did the schools. Their main aim was to teach biblical literacy, in Welsh, for the salvation of souls, but most of them also taught arithmetic and English as a spoken language. During the 1730s another dissenting Anglican and protégé of Philip Pugh, Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, started a network of ‘circulating schools’ which quickly spread throughout Wales. He educated the teachers himself and sent them wherever there was a demand and suitable premises. The schools operated only in winter, as the children were needed at home to work on the farms in summer. There would be some expense involved, as each pupil was expected to bring some fuel for the fire and food for the day, as well as a penny for the teacher in some schools, but they were still accessible to many ordinary people.