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Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in the Seventeenth Century

by BENJAMIN HOWELL, M.A., the Present Headmaster (1966)

[This article is an appendix to the account of the school by A. G. Prys-Jones, O.B.E., M.A., contained in the previous number of Carmarthenshire Local History Magazine and is an expansion especially of the information to be found on p.21 of that issue.

Most of the Rev. Nicholas Roberts' correspondence related to Pembrokeshire; some of Roberts' observations — e.g., on the birds of Ramsey, the sea-weed near St. Davids from which the local people made "a sort of food called Lhavan" and the noise made by the Bosherston pool on the approach of a storm—were sent by Lhuyd to the antiquarian Edmund Gibson, who included them in his 1695 edition of Camden's "Britannia".

Roberts prepared a description of Carmarthenshire for Lhuyd but forbore to send it for fear it would "suell yr Book to too great a Bulk". He did, however, send a list of some of the MSS. (mainly pedigrees, and genealogies) at Rhyd y Gors house (a letter dated Janury 13th 1696). B.H.]

Considerable information concerning the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Carmarthen, in the seventeenth century is provided by some letters written in 1673-4 by the Rev. Nicholas Roberts, the Headmaster at the time. The letters, which now form part of the Wase Collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, were written to a Christopher Wase, of the University of Oxford, in response to a questionnaire sent by him to the Grammar Schools of the day.

Home A transcript of the longest and most informative of the letters is given below; a photographic reproduction of the actual letter also appears. This letter is a shortened version of one that went astray in the post (a reminder of the postal system of those times will be found at the end of the letter). The details supplied give a picture of the School over a period of some thirty years, beginning in the early 1640s, at the time of the Civil Wars — and the repercussions of those wars on the School's "large library" are duly noted in the letter.

The School had recently been endowed by Morgan Owen, Bishop of Llandaff, himself a former Headmaster; but Nicholas Roberts is at pains to point out that it had existed "long before" the endowment. As for the School building, which was in Priory Street, it is explained here that it was erected at public expense (doubtless from funds raised by subscription). Roberts states in another letter to Wase, however, that Owen gave a house "in Priory Street Ward to be ye Schole house (and so it is) with An Acre of Land thereto adjoyning".

Concerning the endowment, to provide an annual stipend of £20 for the Schoolmaster, Roberts says elsewhere that "the Common Counsell of ye Town are ye Trustees, who may (if they shall judg fitt) dispose of ye 20. to bind boyes apprentices," presumably if the School should cease to exist.

The list of Headmasters is an instructive one. It seems remarkable that there should have been so many in the short space of thirty years, but most of them, it will be noted, were men in holy orders, who, after a few years of schoolmastering, usually left to take up appointments in the Church. Of those named here the best known is Archdeacon William Jones, who was, like Owen — and indeed, many others — a generous benefactor of the School. But Nicholas Roberts himself is not without renown, especially in the field of Welsh antiquities. His estimate of the value to "the advancement of the Commonwealth of real learning" of the manuscripts and ancient documents which he mentions changed completely, because some years later — he was then incumbent of Llanddewi Velfrey in Pembrokeshire — we find him giving enthusiastic support to the antiquarian and philologist Edward Lhuyd, in compiling the " Archaeologia Britannica". The many letters which he wrote to Lhuyd are also preserved in the Bodleian.

In the transcript which follows the spelling of the original has been modernised and the abbreviations have been extended.

Sir,—Yours of the 9th post came not to my hands until Friday last, wherein you intimate the miscarriage of a letter giving you an account of Carmarthen School, which I assure you I did send, but how it was miscarried, after so long a time, I cannot come to learn: for your so long silence gave me cause to suspect that my endeavour did not satisfy your expectation nor correspond with your design and therefore I desisted to prosecute it any further, but since I received this letter I have sect [sought] to enquire more particularly of Brecon and Devynock adjoining, whereof I shall (God willing) shortly satisfy you.

You shall herein receive a brief of what my former gave at large in relation to this School:

  1. The fabric whereof was built at public charge about the beginning of the late rebellion.
  2. Endowed by Morgan Owen, Bishop of Llandaff, with £20 per annum charge upon the Impropriation of St. Ishmaels in this County, payable yearly November 3rd. He in his lifetime paid it quarterly but by his will (Anno 1644) ordered it to be paid as above in one gross sum: the Schoolmaster is to be approved of by the Mayor and Common Council consisting of 22.
  3. The succession of masters since the endowment (for many eminent persons taught here long before, whereof the Bishop himself was one) is as followeth:
    1. Adrian Hawkins, M.A.
    2. John Blencow (of St. John's College, Oxford, query whether M.A. or LL.B.).
    3. Lambrock Thomas S.Th.D. (he took his degree at Franekera."1 where he brought his exercise printed and distributed it ; the subject was de Peccato).
    4. John Parry, M.A.
    5. Richard Dean, M.A., Dublin (afterwards Dean of Kilkenny, this error I desired Mr. Davis to rectify for I had sent in my former Ossory).
    6. William Jones, M.A., a very worthy person and a great friend of mine (now Archdeacon of Carmarthen).
    7. Rice Jones, B.A.
    8. Mr. Edward Fisher (supposed to be the eldest son of Sir Edward Fisher, Worcestershire, reduced to exigence) the same as in Haverfordwest.
    9. Thomas Franklyn, M.A., now Fellow of Jesus College and Chaplain domestic to the Lord President (or Marquiss of Worcester) sometime Schoolmaster of Abergavenny.
    10. David Phillips, M.A.:, of St. John's College, afterwards of your Hall.
    11. Nicholas Roberts.
  4. This School had a large library before the late Civil Wars, but not one book left, until of late I have procured of several gentle-men a considerable number of books in order to refurnish it and a small sum of money.
  5. MSS. Our country is barren of excepting some few antiquated Welsh pedigrees and genealogies, imperfect chronicles and unintelligible prophecies, that lie dormant in some private hands of little use (I suppose) to the advancement of the Commonwealth of real learning.

We have had several eminent personages that taught school in this Town and County, viz. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Nicholson, late Bishop of Gloucester, and William Thomas, now Dean of Worcester, etc.

In my next I will endeavour to give you a relation of the School (once endowed though at present alienated) of Llandovery; because I am now so straightened in time that I can only say that I shall be very ready to promote any public undertakement and design as far as my interest or knowledge will reach and that you may assure yourself of the readiest service of

Your very friend and servant,

Nic. Roberts.

Carmarthen April 1st, 1674.

Excuse my scribbling for I knew not of the carrier's being in Town until he was ready to take horse. If in anything (either in this or any other letter of mine) you are not satisfied let me understand it and I shall endeavour to remove the scruple.
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