Mary Arundel

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 clean’.

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 1855.

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