Carmarthen Academy (c.1703-1795)


Carmarthen (c.1703-1733), Llwynllwyd? (1735-1741) and Haverfordwest (1741-1743), Carmarthen (1743-1757), Carmarthen (1757-1784), Swansea (1784-1795)

Carmarthen (c.1703-1733)

William Evans, Independent minister at Pencader, Carmarthenshire, moved to Carmarthen town in 1703 or 1704. He opened a charity school that was on the list of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1710, but his support was withdrawn because he was a dissenter. He also opened an academy, where in 1710 he had five or six students preparing for the dissenting ministry. During the early years the teaching was conducted, most probably, in Priory Street, where a small Independent congregation met. There is no record of the Presbyterian Fund Board paying him as a tutor, but one of his students received payments of £5 a year from the Board. From other sources it is known that there were at least twenty students preparing for the Independent ministry. Dr Daniel Willliams ordained that £10 should be given to William Evans to support students 'to preach the Word of God in Wales' (Davies, Hoff Ddysgedig Nyth, 30 n.39).

In 1709 William Evans occupied a house in Lammas Street, bordering on Friar's Park, where he died in 1718; Thomas Perrot followed him as tutor in 1719. On 25 November 1720 Dr Williams's trustees paid him twelve months' salary to Michaelmas 1720. In the same year, the house occupied by William Evans came into the possession of John Corrie, one of the church members. In 1725 Corrie presented the house and some land to a body of trustees, the agreement declaring that part of the house had been used as a meeting house 'for some years' (NLW, Heol Awst Collection, 2). It is possible that the congregation had moved from Priory Street to Lammas Street before William Evans's death, but it is most probable that they moved in 1720, when the house came into Corrie's possession. The building was adapted as a chapel in 1726, but it was not finished completely until 1732. It became the home of the academy. Numbers increased, and by 1733 around 150 students had been educated at Carmarthen, including some Anglicans.

Llwynllwyd? (1735-1741) and Haverfordwest (1741-1743)

After the death of Thomas Perrot in 1733, there was much uncertainty regarding his successor. Vavasor Griffiths of Maes-gwyn, Radnorshire, was invited to take over the academy in 1734; he initially postponed his response because of ill health, but eventually agreed in 1735. Both the Congregational and Presbyterian Fund Boards supported the academy, probably at Llwynllwyd, Breconshire, but other locations have been suggested. Fourteen students are known to have been supported by either the Congregational or the Presbyterian Fund. After Griffiths's death in 1741, the academy moved to Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, to be under the care of Evan Davies, Independent minister at Pembroke town. Three of Griffiths's students joined Davies.

Carmarthen (1743-1757)

The academy returned to Carmarthen in 1743. Samuel Thomas, one of Thomas Perrot's former students, had a grammar school in the town, and it was amalgamated with the academy; Thomas was made assistant tutor. Lack of discipline posed a problem, as did the matter of doctrine. The Presbyterian Fund Board did not impose a doctrinal test on candidates, and welcomed Arminians and Arians, as well as those of an orthodox Calvinist persuasion. The Congregational Fund Board, however, demanded an orthodox confession of faith from its candidates. Because of strained relationships, the Congregational Board decided to establish another academy at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, in 1757.

Tutors at Carmarthen received financial help both as tutors and as ministers. The Presbyterian Fund Board allowed Thomas Perrot £10 p.a. (£6 as minister and £4 as tutor). He also received £10 from Dr Williams's Trust, established by the will of Daniel Williams. Both London Funds supported Vavasor Griffiths: the Presbyterian Fund Board allowed him £6 as minister, and £10 as tutor; the Congregational Fund Board £5 as minister and £10 as tutor. Evan Davies received £10 as tutor and as minister, £5 from the Presbyterian Fund Board and £6 from the Congregational Fund Board. Sums paid to students varied from £4 to £6, but became more regular at £6 from 1743.

The course of study was for four years, although occasionally a student was allowed an extra year. Lodgings were arranged in different homes in the town. The academy day started at 7 a.m., with prayer in the lecture room. Lectures continued through the week, including most Saturdays. One of the students under Evan Davies summarised the curriculum as comprising divinity, liberal arts, and sciences (NLW, 5456 A). The principal works studied for divinity included a translation of Theologia Christiana by Benedict Pictet, professor of theology at Geneva; Puffendorff's De officio hominis et civis for ethics; and the works of Watts and Locke for logic. Latin was studied, as were the biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek. Natural philosophy had an important place in the curriculum. John Keill's Trigonometry was studied a number of times during the week, and scientific experiments were carried out by tutors and students.

In addition to attendance at lectures, other work expected from the students included preparing and transcribing sermons, and preaching. Preaching in English was an ordeal for the Welsh-speaking students, some of whom were monoglot Welshmen. There was time for relaxation as well. Some of the students enjoyed going to the coffee house to read the papers. Walking along the river gave pleasure to others, while some preferred visiting one of the many public houses in the town.

Future tutors were educated at the academy: Samuel Thomas and Jenkin Jenkins, both future tutors at Carmarthen; Solomon Harries, tutor at Swansea; and David Jardine, tutor at Abergavenny. Other noted students were Matthias Maurice, minister at Olney and Rothwell, and David Williams, the political pamphleteer and founder of the Literary Fund (later the Royal Literary Fund).

Carmarthen (1757-1784)

It was difficult for the academy to settle down in 1757. A few students had left to join the new Congregational academy at Abergavenny. Others had left to find work other than the Christian ministry. There was also tension between the tutors Evan Davies and Samuel Thomas, and the latter's Arminianism was not acceptable to the more orthodox. In 1759 Davies left for Billericay, Essex, giving ill health as the reason for doing so. Samuel Thomas was appointed tutor, and Jenkin Jenkins, who was ministering at Llanfyllin, north Wales, joined him as assistant tutor. The Presbyterian Fund Board was so pleased with the response that they voted £15 each to the tutors instead of the usual £10. At Carmarthen, Jenkins was responsible for the grammar school, and Thomas's main subject was theology. When Thomas resigned in 1764 because of ill health, Jenkins took his place as the only tutor in the academy. The Presbyterian Fund Board decided that no candidate under the age of twenty-one or twenty-two should be accepted as a student at the academy. There were encouragements for the students. As the result of an endowment, nine of them were provided with higher scholarships.

With the curriculum covering classics, theology, biblical languages, logic, and natural philosophy, as well as the homiletic aspect of the course, it was impossible for one man to do justice to the students. Jenkins was an able scholar, but he could not cope with such a wide-ranging curriculum. In addition, he became involved in the doctrinal controversies of the day. At the annual meeting of the academy, the Arminian and Arian ministers had the upper hand, causing a critical response by the Calvinist ministers. Slowly the two parties drifted apart; division came to a head when the Calvinists published the Vindication, a declaration of their faith, in 1771. One of the leaders of the opposition to those demanding subscription to orthodox doctrine was Jenkins. The controversy led to a separation between Independents and Presbyterians, with the latter becoming more clearly Unitarian. As minister of Heol Awst, as well as tutor in the academy, Jenkins was involved in the affairs of the chapel. The lease was withheld from the congregation, and the minister had to liaise between the Dissenting Deputies and the interested parties. It was, however, returned, and a new lease made, otherwise the academy could have been without a home.

Jenkins was not a popular lecturer; doctrinally, he was the most unorthodox of all the academy tutors, was hard of hearing, and was no disciplinarian. The situation became so bad that the Presbyterian Fund Board made two important decisions. They insisted on replacing Jenkins with a new tutor, and they decided to find a new location for the academy. In 1779 the academy moved to Rhyd-y-gors, a mansion just outside the town; Robert Gentleman of Shrewsbury, who was brought up under the ministry of Job Orton, was chosen as tutor. The new tutor was also the English minister at Heol Awst. Benjamin Davis of Ciliau was appointed assistant tutor, and was responsible for the Welsh services at the chapel. The Presbyterian Fund Board made an effort to apply strict rules at Rhyd-y-gors. This was necessary because of past experience, and because the students were now living together under the same roof. The rising bell was rung at 6 a.m. for most of the year, and at 7 a.m. during the winter months; fines were levied for late arrival at meetings, and students had to preach regularly in English and Welsh.

The move to Rhyd-y-gors did not prove successful. Davis left in 1783, and Gentleman could not cope with some rebellious students. He was in a languishing state of health, and the Presbyterian Fund Board granted him £30 to take the waters at Bath. Gentleman left at Midsummer 1784, leaving the students without supervision. The Presbyterian Fund Board had no choice but to close the academy, and the lease on the premises at Rhyd-y-gors was given up. Two of the students continued their studies at Daventry, and two were admitted to the Coward Trust's academy at Hoxton. The only solution for the Presbyterian Fund Board was to move their institution to another location.

Swansea (1784-1795)

In 1784 Solomon Harries of Swansea offered to take care of the students. The Presbyterian Fund Board was so pleased with his offer that they paid him £30. Initially, only three students responded to his invitation; before the end of 1786 the number of students increased to eleven. From 1785 to 1795 a number of persons lectured at the academy. Josiah Rees, the Unitarian, joined Harries in 1785, but the latter died that year, and Rees left in 1786. William Howell was in charge from 1786 until 1795, assisted in turn by Thomas Lloyd, David Peter (while still a student), and John Jones. The students did not take lightly to the fact that one of their numbers was assistant tutor, and made that known to Peter and Howell. When the Presbyterian Fund Board was informed of the unrest, it supported Peter. Jones's critical spirit, and his uncontrollable temper, destroyed the peace of the academy. Faced with such a situation, the Presbyterian Fund Board relieved him of his duties, and decided in 1795 to move the academy back to Carmarthen.

The academy and its associated school produced some outstanding men. They included Dr Abraham Rees, a pupil at the school, who was to be secretary of the Presbyterian Fund Board for forty-seven years and a leading London nonconformist. Benjamin Davies became tutor at Abergavenny academy, and later lecturer at Homerton. Thomas Charles was converted during his time at the academy when he went to hear Daniel Rowland, the Methodist revivalist, preach. Charles was renowned for his work with day and Sunday schools in Wales, and through his efforts supplies of Bibles were obtained for the Welsh-speaking people. He was one of the leading figures of the secession of 1811, when the Calvinistic Methodist denomination was formed. After the disturbances that had taken place at Swansea, the academy returned to Carmarthen where it was reopened in 1795 under David Peter and David Davies.

Noel Gibbard


Information about the Carmarthen Academy can be found in the minutes of the Presbyterian Fund Board (DWL, MS OD68-74) and the Congregational Fund Board (DWL, MS OD 403 & 405). The National Library of Wales holds 'A list of Tutors and Students at Nonconformist Academies in Wales from 1696 to 1800' (NLW, ADD MS 373C), the papers of the Revd W. T. Owen (NLW, MS A1997/136), and the diary and notebook of Thomas Morgan (NLW, MS 5456-7). Morgan, a student at Carmarthen under Evan Davies and Samuel Thomas, provides a detailed account of the life of a student in a mid-eighteenth-century dissenting academy. Details of Jenkin Jenkins's negotiations with the Dissenting Deputies can be found in minutes from the 1760s (Guildhall Library, MS 3083/1-2).

Published sources

Davies, Dewi Eirug, Hoff Ddysgedig Nyth (Abertawe, 1976).
Davies, W. T. Pennar, 'Episodes in the History of Brecknockshire Dissent', Brycheiniog, 111 (1957), 35-9.
Evans, E. D. Priestley, History of the New Meeting House Kidderminster (Kidderminster, 1900), 21-4, 43-8.
Gibbard, Noel, 'Datblygiad yr Eglwysi Annibynnol yn Nhref Caerfyrddin a'r Tri Chwmwd, 1725-1841', unpublished MA thesis, University of Wales (1973).
Griffiths, G. Millwyn, 'A Visitation of the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen, 1710', National Library of Wales Journal, 18 (1974-5), 294; 19 (1975-6), 315, 316, 319.
Owen, Geraint Dyfnallt, Ysgolion a Cholegau yr Annibynwyr (Abertawe, 1939).
Owen, J. Dyfnallt, Hanes Eglwys Heol Awst, Caerfyrddin (Caerfyrddin, 1926).
Owen, W. T., 'Myfyrwyr yn Academiau Caerfyrddin, y Fenni a Wrecsam', Y Cofiadur, 33 (1963), 40-4.
Roberts, Gomer M., 'Annibynwyr a Llythyrau Trefeca', Y Cofiadur, 22 (1957), 11-13.
Roberts, H. P., 'The History of the Presbyterian Academy Brynllywarch-Carmarthen', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 4:4 (1930), 333-64.
-----, 'Nonconformist Academies in Wales, 1662-1862', Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 111 (1928-29), 13-35.
A Vindication of the Conduct of the Associated Ministers in Wales (Carmarthen, 1771).

Noel Gibbard, 'Carmarthen Academy (c.1703-1795)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, June 2011.