Bridget (Vaughan) Bevan aka Madam Bevan
Bridget Bevan was born
at Derllys Court, Llannewydd in Carmarthenshire, in 1698. She was the youngest
daughter of philanthropist John Vaughan, (a patron of the Society for the
Promotion of Christian Knowledge), and his wife, Elizabeth Thomas.
Bridget shared her
father’s interest in philanthropy and, in 1731, she used her inheritance to
support local preacher, Griffith Jones, in the establishment of an experimental
school in Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire. At this time
there was no compulsory education in Wales and most people could not read or
This led to the birth of an innovative
system of teaching known as the Welsh Circulating Schools system. The schools
would move from parish to parish, teaching local people how to read for 3
months at a time. The teaching was carried out through the medium of Welsh
(literally and figuratively ‘speaking’ to people in their own language) and was
based around the teachings of the Bible. Madam Bevan became chief patron and
advisor to Griffith Jones and poured her wealth into funding more circulating
Later, Jones lived with Bridget following
the death of his wife in 1755. When he died in 1761, she singularly assumed
management of the project, displaying ‘considerable
business acumen and organisational skills’. Between 1736 and 1776, 6,321 schools were founded and 304,475 scholars
of all ages were taught. It is estimated that at this time half the population
of Wales had attended a circulating school, and that the nation achieved one of
the highest literacy rates in Europe. The educational initiative was hailed as
a huge success and, in 1764, Catherine the Great of Russia, ordered her
ministers to make enquiries about the scheme.
Bridget Bevan died at
Laugharne, Carmarthenshire in 1779, and left £10,000 to the circulating schools.
However, some of her family disputed her will and the case went into Chancery,
where it remained for thirty years. During this time, her legacy grew to over
£30,000 and when it was released in 1804, it was utilised for the educational
purposes intended by Bridget.