History and Heritage

History of Ystalyfera County School


To cover the history of a school in detail would obviously be a huge undertaking and so, as I prefer to study the social history within Ystalyfera and its surrounding districts I shall endeavour only to touch on some of the ladies and gentlemen that played such an important part in the development of the above school and also where research permits, to include the outcome of some of the original pupils. I am aware that this project will take time as my main research is still ongoing and centred within the local cemeteries, creating a database of each occupant and compiling a history of their former lives.
However, having said that, over 10 years ago I had tackled the fallen of the Tawe Valley concentrating on the War Memorials throughout the Valley and photographing war and remembrance graves in over 200 cemeteries.
Also a few years ago, I completed the Ystradgynlais Maesydderwen School's own memorial to their fallen, but although I have within my box files the notes of the fallen of the Ystalyfera County School, they still need collating and putting in order.
With the beginning of a New Year, 2017, I believe this year YEARGroup should take on another project and what better one than to start collating my notes on the Fallen of the Ystalyfera County School, so although I shall be looking into the history of the school I shall skip a few years and begin with the time when Ystalyfera realised that many of the boys, former boys and staff who had signed up to fight for King and Country, were in fact NOT returning.

Val Trevallion YEARGroup

The Ystalyfera County School: Public subscriptions towards the Ystalyfera School Building Fund were first received in 1891 and when the Glamorgan Scheme received the Royal Assent in May 1896, the school was almost ready to be opened. During July, August and September governors meetings were held in the new school, which was officially opened on 20th October 1896. The fact that the school was built at Ystalyfera, rather than Pontardawe, was largely due to the enthusiasm and diligent work of a most energetic band of men under the leadership of Dr David Thomas, who was then the County Councillor for Ystalyfera. They succeeded in convincing the County Council of the suitability of Ystalyfera as the venue for the new school.

I have researched the life of Dr David Thomas and the article is due to be included at a later date in the Commercial History section of our website under Doctors, so I shall not enlarge here on this gentleman's influence in the building of the school.
Suffice to say that it is believed that Dr Thomas managed to persuade Mr Gough, the wealthiest landowner residing in the district, to become the 'Donor of the site' for this new school. The first extension took place in 1898, but as I said in the beginning I am going to skip the early years for now and concentrate on WWI. With the help of the local newspaper:
The History of Pontardawe, by John Henry Davies and
The First Fifty Years of the Ystalyfera County School

I understand that -

LLAIS 2nd January 1915

The Ystalyfera County School Old Pupils Association was founded on April 8th 1905. Its primary objective was and is, to provide facilities for communications between past pupils of the school and so keep green and fresh, those memories and friendships which are often the firmest and most steadfast that exist between one mortal and another. At Eastertide each year the Association arranges a reunion of the old pupils of the school and the fact that these meetings are still attended by some of the first pupils is sufficient proof that the ties between the scholar and his or her Alma Mater are of the strongest. The Association is thus justified in its existence if only that it recalls and revives these memories and strengthens these ties. In many ways the old pupils through their Association maintained their interest in the activities of the present pupils.
Past v Present cricket and football matches have been taking place practically every year since the foundation of the Association. The school magazine when it existed, has been strongly supported by the old pupils, also -unostentatiously perhaps - evinced a keen interest in all the special functions of the school.
Three of the schools old pupils are on the present staff and this in itself is of great benefit, for an old pupil is naturally stirred to greater efforts for the welfare of his Alma Mater than a stranger. It would be well-nigh impossible to give a complete list of the scholastic and civic successes attained by past scholars. As the years roll on they accumulate and it is essentially one of the duties of the Association to keep a record of these. The number of old pupils is large - approximating to 1000 and among these there are doubtless many whose success has not reached the notice of the Association.

Thus, as it was well recorded by the local newspaper we know each year after its formation, the Ystalyfera Old Boys Association held a reunion. The program for the reunion would be advertised and usually included a Past verses Present hockey and ruby match, followed by tea, whist and dancing. As the popularity of the reunions increased, it was decided to include a Summer Meeting, where outings were organised and picnics to places such as Oxwich Bay or Carreg Cennen Castle were undertaken. Eventually a Christmas meeting was set up within the holiday period which would include whist drives and dancing.


Notification is to hand of the eighth annual reunion of the past pupils of the Ystalyfera County School, to be held at the Schools on 4th April Saturday. The attractions promised, include a football match between up Valley Boys and down Valley Boys and a hockey match between up Valley Girls and down Valley Girls in the afternoon and dancing, songs etc in the evening, and would be participants are required to communicate as soon as possible with the secretary, Miss Morfydd Daniels and Mr G E Chappell BSc.


The eighth annual reunion of the old pupils of Ystalyfera County School held at the school on Saturday was unanimously voted a huge success. The number present far exceeded the usual attendance and totalled almost 100.
The afternoon programme proved very attractive. The Ladies Hockey match ended in a victory for the Up Valley section by a single goal, Mrs Alice Hopkin being the scorer. Then followed the rugby match - an open game with many really clever movements and ended in a draw. Mr H Wade Evans scored for the Up Valley side and Trevor Williams for the Down Valley side. Both games were admirably controlled by Mr John Morgan B Sc.
After the business of the Association had been completed, (see Below) another interesting programme followed: the Headmaster Mr H Rees BA, and two very distinguished Old Boys now at Oxford, viz Messrs H Lewis MA and Emrys Evans MA, delivered interesting addresses and reminiscences of school and college life. Misses A B Clee and A M Jones and Mr R E Thomas contributed musical items.
Dancing and whist concluded the evenings programme.
The reunion socially and financially was a great success and 'Auld Lang Syne' at the close betrayed an element which amply reflected the thoughts and feelings of those who sang it.

During this 1914 annual meeting on 11th April and after refreshments had been served, in the absence of Mr Sully, the late President of the Old Pupils Association, Mr H Wade Evans, one of the oldest 'Old Boys' and a member of the school staff, presided.
The secretary, Mr G E Chappell, presented the annual financial statement which showed a balance in hand of £3 7s 1d. Proceeding to the election of officers, the chairman first commented on the absence of their president and then it was unanimously decided to appoint Mr Henry Rees BA the headmaster, as Honorary President of the Association. The other officers elected were: Acting President Mr H Wade Evans; vice president Mrs L M Roberts; honorary treasurer Mr John Morgan B Sc; honorary secretaries Miss M Daniels and Mr G E Chappell; honorary auditors Messrs G Wade Evans and D R H Thomas. All the local secretaries who constituted the Committee of the Association were unanimously re-elected. Among other matters subsequently discussed with the question of a School Magazine and it was decided to support the present pupils in promoting an official organ for the past, present and future school.

From the amount of Emails Yeargroup receives from abroad enquiring about the development of Ystalyfera and its surrounding villages, it comes as no surprise to read that "it was only to be expected in a locality where the vast majority of the ex pupils left the immediate school area for posts in distant regions of Wales and England and even foreign countries, often to spend their whole life time there, that the Old Pupils Association would receive many letters also reminding the school of the affection in which it was still regarded."

During this time 1914-1918, very few meetings were possible, mainly because many Old Boys and indeed staff members were signing up for active service. The Association had taken measures to secure a list of those who had responded to their countries call and so far as can be ascertained at that time, they numbered nearly 40. The list was as follows:

Commissioned Officers
Capt H Wade Evans, Ystalyfera H Co 3rd Breconshire Battalion SWB
Lieutenant P Myles Rees, late Ystradgynlais
Lieutenant John Jenkins, Cwmgorse
Lieutenant Emily Hopkin, Ystalyfera 10th Division Royal Field Artillery Dublin
Lieutenant H W Godfrey Jones, Pontardawe

Awaiting Commissions
W L Hopkins Cwmgiedd
R E Thomas Ystalyfera

Non-Commissioned Officers
Sergeant D V Williams, Ystradgynlais
Sergeant J E Watkins, Cwmllynfell
Corporal F S Thomas, Ystalyfera
Corporal David Jenkins, Pontardawe

Rank and File
Private D R H Thomas, Ystalyfera Territorials Breconshire SWB
Trooper Albert I Thomas, Ystalyfera
Private L Tascar Edwards, Pontardawe
Private G Wade Evans, Ystalyfera Territorials
Private Evan Rees, Ystalyfera
Private Ernest Williams, Ystradgynlais
Private C P Parmee, Clydach 7th Cyclists Home Service
Private Oswald Jenkins, Pontardawe
Private D Emrys Davies, Ystalyfera
Goner W Alfred Jones, Ystalyfera
Private W Jones Hopkin, Cefnparc
Private Oswald R Maddocks, Ystalyfera
Private T J Extance, Pontardawe Breconshire SWB
Private Gwyn V Donne, Glais
Private Morgan Jenkins, Cwmgorse
Private Wilfred Morgan, Pontardawe
Private Brinley Edwards, Pontardawe
Private Handel Jones, Ystalyfera Breconshire SWB
Private D Arthur Bowen, Trebanos
Private H J Dennis, Clydach
Private Harold King, Lower Cwmtwrch
Private D Arthur Lewis, Clydach
Gunner T D Stanfield, Clydach
Private David Williams, Pontardawe
Private Ivor Evans, Ystalyfera
Welsh Hospital
Orderly D L Davies, Ystalyfera

With the same determination as those had who went off to fight, the ones remaining at home settled down to help their comrades in arms by organising parcels and sending Christmas gifts of cigarettes and tobacco. The Associations secretary Mr G E Chappell forwarded cigars, cigarettes and tobacco to the value of over £3 of the boys. This apparently entailed much trouble, as the school was represented in almost the four corners of the earth, from Swansea to Berwick, Pembroke to Kildare, England to India, but not one had been forgotten and it was hoped that the Christmas of the old boys on service was cheered by a pleasant memory of their not forgetful fellows at home. The Association also felt that something should be done towards the various relief funds. An Old Pupils Fund was organised and district secretaries soon began collecting contributions in their various localities. The money collected was divided amongst the local relief funds. The general secretaries, Miss Morfydd Daniels and Mr G E Chappell Ystalyfera again put themselves forward to acknowledge any contributions forwarded to them. One such meeting resulted in a profit of over 15s, which was devoted to the Old Boys "Smokes" Fund. A substantial sum was also collected towards local relief funds. Below are two articles one: July 1915 and the second: dated November 1916 which was taken from a letter written by Mr G E Chappell, honorary secretary of the Ystalyfera County School Old Pupils Association whereby he stated:

The number of old boys of the Ystalyfera County School who have joined the colours is mounting up remarkably and we are now informed that the total is well over 100. Among them are a dozen commissioned officers and many non-commissioned officers.
There is some talk of scholars at the local County School offering their services for haymaking during the holidays.

Throughout the period of the Great War, the local newspaper The LLAIS, was very instrumental in keeping the news of the fate of the troops up to date but also it took on the sad task of documenting the news of those parents who had been informed that their sons and daughters had been injured or worse still killed in action. Many times however, just after revelations of an act of bravery the next article dealt with the soldiers' fatality and I can only imagine how the parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends must have struggled to continue to live their daily lives with all that uncertainty.
It was then when I read somewhere that the School had maintained a record of the names of their fallen "Boys" but no one had a thought to compile a detailed list of the role the "Old Girls" had played during the war. It has proved very difficult but I am in the process of trying to identify the whereabouts of the young girls who it appears mainly joined the nursing profession or went to work in the ammunition factories. Who knows one day I might uncover some forgotten piece of paper!!!
But for now, in order to honour those who paid the full sacrifice I must jump to the end of the war and see how the Old Boys Association decided to remember their comrades.
It was believed that around 250 Old Boys had served in His Majesty's Forces during the Great War 1914-1918. 53 held commissions and 5 of those won the Military Cross. One Old Boy won the DCM, 3 the MM and 2 the MSM, while 1 won an Italian decoration.
Of the men, 28 made the supreme sacrifice and during 1919 the Old Pupils Memorial scheme was decided upon.


In 1919, in every city town and village in the United Kingdom there was rejoicing over the return to their homes of the boys who for four and a half long arduous years had been fighting the Battle of Freedom. In these same communities to, there were homes from which a man went out to fight, who would never return. These were the boys who made the greatest sacrifice of all and for them war memorials would be raised in noble recognition.
The chief Public Schools of Britain had already taken measures to commemorate the death of "Old Boys". Several Welsh schools also commenced to raise their Memorial fund, notably Swansea Grammar School where a fund of £1000 was sought by subscription amongst Old Pupils of the School.
At Ystalyfera, a preliminary meeting had been held which adopted the principle of a memorial to those old boys of the County School who had fallen in action. On 28th December 1918, a further meeting was held and a committee was appointed to initiate schemes for raising £500, which, it was thought, would provide a suitable memorial for the great sacrifice made by "their" boys. It was felt that the greater part of this sum should be raised by subscriptions from old pupils of the school, whilst in addition, the fund could be augmented by concerts and other functions promoted by the efforts of old pupils. The form of the proposed memorial would naturally depend upon the amount of money which could be raised. Several suggestions had been made, that of a Memorial Scholarship finding the most favour. Such a scholarship could be allotted yearly out of the interest from the fund and could be made tenable at one of the Welsh University Colleges. Or a library of specially bound books could be purchased for use of present and future pupils of the school. Both those schemes possessed an advantage i.e. they would be of lasting benefit to the future generations of students of Ystalyfera County School. However it was still early to discuss the memorial scheme in any detail, however, it should at least be ambitious and a worthy symbol of the sacrifice which it would represent. A portion of the sum raised would, of course, be devoted towards a Memorial Tablet which could be set up in the school hall. On the tablet would be engraved the names of the gallant boys who had so nobly laid down their lives.

The Old Pupils' Memorial scheme at the County School is proceeding apace and a reunion will be held on Saturday 12th April, when important matters will be discussed.

LLAIS 12th APRIL 1919
The Old Pupils at the County School are making commendable progress with their scheme for perpetuating the memory of those old boys who have fallen in action. A systematic canvass is being carried on and a meeting of the old pupils has been arranged to take place shortly.

LLAIS 5th JULY 1919
The reunion of former pupils of the Ystalyfera County School will take place at the County School tomorrow, Saturday, at 3.00pm. This function has been in abeyance since the outbreak of hostilities and every effort should be made by old pupils to put in an appearance. It will be a reunion in more senses than one, as since the last reunion many of the former pupils have served in several theatres of war. Tea will be provided and later the question of a war memorial in memory of those who have made the supreme sacrifice will be discussed, amongst other business. All who possibly can attend are requested to do so. A late train will leave for Swansea at 10.00pm

Collectors, appointed for each district, were to approach all old pupils for their subscriptions. Then at Easter, a mass meeting of all pupils would be held and the state of the fund at that time would be determined.
The numbers who had fallen were still not yet definitely known but there were probably between 20 and 30. Obviously some of the fallen were known, they had studied and played together, won laurels, broke school rules and were punished, even left school and some had gone into the universities or the business world. When Germany broke loose, so many of them volunteered to play the great game of Life and Death where the odds were with Death. In all their robust younger manhood, the old boys of Ystalyfera County School joined those of other schools, for the great battles with German Kultur in France and elsewhere. 500 old boys sacrificed something but some of them sacrificed all. Thus it was thought that it would not be a lot to contribute a few shillings in order to commemorate them.

YEARGROUP has listed the names on the Ystalyfera War Memorial and these can be found on the website. However some of the School Old Boys no longer lived at Ystalyfera or had travelled some distance to the school and therefore were not included on the Ystalyfera memorial. They were still pupils of the school and rightly included on the school memorial but as their parents lived in other parts of the Valley then their sons' names were included on their local memorials.
I have thus concentrated on those Old Boys who are to be found elsewhere but still maintaining a link to the Ystalyfera Boys.