Mary Morgans was born
in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire in 1797. She married Henry Arundel, a saddler in
Sheep Street, Narberth, on 21st November 1819.
In December 1846 she
was reported, in the ‘Blue Books’ on the ‘State of Education in Wales’, to be
running a school; held in the now demolished Island House, Market Square,
Narberth, Pembrokeshire. It was described as taking place in an ‘underground kitchen’ with ‘school furniture consist(ing) of one square
table, one long table and three benches, and the kitchen contained besides many
articles for domestic use’.
Despite less than
ideal conditions for learning, Mrs. Arundel’s school was described as ‘extremely clean and well-lighted by a large
window’. Government inspector, William Morris, placed repeated emphasis on
the standard of hygiene at the school, with the children described as ‘clean and neat’ and the ‘copy books…well-written and kept exceedingly
As with many ‘Dame’
schools from the period, Mrs. Arundel’s school delivered educational provision
for working-class children before the education act was passed in 1870.
Reference to how many of ‘the best scholars were said to be absent, it being
market day, when they wanted to help their parents’ reveals some of the
difficulties experienced by both teachers and pupils in achieving this.
The ‘Blue Books’ report appears to hold little
regard for her efforts, dispassionately commenting ‘Mrs. Arundel is ignorant of Welsh, nor is it the mother tongue of her
pupils, who are mostly very young’. Reference to the quality of education
makes similarly little allowance for background or circumstances, describing
how the pupils ‘read imperfectly’ and
‘could give few answers from what they
read, but appeared to have been well-taught in Dr. Watts’ Catechism of
Scriptural History’. Of the girls’ work, Mr. Morris comments: ‘the samplers appeared to be worked very
neatly and with great care’.
At a time when
education for all was neither compulsory nor freely available, Mary Arundel’s
legacy is one of selfless determination. In her care, working-class children
found opportunity, despite challenging circumstances and other
responsibilities, in an environment that was scrupulously maintained. ‘…Her object in keeping (her school) was not
gain, but for her own amusement and the benefit of poor children…’, many of
whom she taught without pay. She died, in Haverfordwest, on June 14th