A Brief History

The frequent potato famines and the industrial expansion of South Wales led to successive waves of Irish immigrants moving to Swansea, and in turn led to a significant increase in the Catholic population. As a result a new church and school were needed. The Catholic Church across Britain was reluctant to trust the government on educational matters and preferred to organise their own schools and system of education. The aim of the Catholic Schools system was to aid Catholic parents in the academic, physical, spiritual, moral and religious education of their children in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church.[1] The government’s proposal of an Education Bill in 1869 caused concern among the Catholic Church and community of government interference in the religious teachings and school management of the Catholic Schools in Britain.[2]

St. David’s Roman Catholic School was built to “save the Irish and Belgian children of the district from the risk of being brought up in ignorance of their religion, if not losing it altogether”.[3] The school was built in 1851 and cost a total of £325. Funding for the construction of the school was collected from the following sources, £100 was borrowed from the Bishop, £90 was provided by the Poor School Committee and the remainder was paid for by the congregation. The school had a difficulty establishing itself in its early years and had even more difficulty in obtaining a good teacher and had to be satisfied for several years with untrained persons. The poverty of the district led to the school being under-staffed and under-equipped. Due to these unfortunate circumstances many parents removed their children from St. David’s School and sent them to schools which employed qualified teachers. The school saw a constant increase in attendance throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and by 1893 the school had a total of 450 pupils. This continued growth in the school population led to one head mistress in 1912 apologising to the Local Education Authority (LEA) for not keeping the attendance down during the year and for having exceeded the schools accommodation limit, even though they had not admitted any non-catholic children for at least 18 months.[4] graph 2 As a result of this continued growth the school needed to be enlarged and extended. The first recorded redevelopment began in 1876. The aim of this redevelopment was to enlarge the school room and add an additional classroom for the infants, as all pupils had been taught in one room prior to this.[5] The school also felt pressure to improve and modernise in order to meet the ever changing standards and requirements of the LEA. In 1903 the LEA introduced the ‘Rules for Planning and fitting up Public Elementary Schools’. These regulations provided guidance and regulations for the design and planning of corridors, class rooms, lighting, staircases, ventilation, warming and sanitary arrangements of every elementary school in Great Britain. These were all legal requirements and became a requirement for a school to qualify for a maintenance grant; therefore the school was regularly inspected to ensure that they met these standards.

LAC/99/J34, Richard Burton  Archives, Swansea University

Rules for Planning and Fitting up Public Elementary Schools, Item Reference: LAC/99/J34                       Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Despite the constant evolution of the education system in Great Britain throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries St David’s Roman Catholic School has survived to this day and is now located in West Cross, near the Mumbles.


[1] LAC/99/J48, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

[2] LAC/99/J38, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

[3] LAC/99/J48, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

[4] Maurice Whitehead, ‘A View From The Bridge: The Catholic School’ in From Without the Flaminian Gate: 150 Years of Roman Catholicism in England and Wales 1850 – 2000, ed by. V. Alan McClelland & Michael Hodgetts (London: Darton, Longman& Todd, 1999), p. 217

[5] James Arthur, The Ebbing Tide: Policy and Principles of Catholic Education (Leominster: Fowler Wright Books, 1995), p. 17


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