Everyday from today onwards (including yesterday…and the day before) Discover the Past will post a historical fact about Wales. So look out for the hashtag ONTHISDAYINWALES on the top right hand side of our homepage, or on the twitter page @discoverthepast. It’s the perfect way to learn something you might not have known about Wales, everyday.
Today’s fact is a certainly a timely one. Had the Mayans been correct in their prophecy today would have been a hellish winter’s day in Wales. But the weather today is rather mild compared to past winters.
On this day in 1890, a a 3-week period of severe winter weather began causing deaths and widespread disruption in many parts of the country. It was, according to BBC weatherman Paul Hudson, the coldest winter for over thirty years. According to one web-based source 20cm of snow fell in Llanfrechfa Grange, Gwent.
Yet that particular source claims the heavy snowfall actually began on the 18th, pointing the finger towards the historical accuracy of Discover the Past’s fact.
So let’s do some shovelling (excuse the pun) and try to uncover a little more about the winter of 1890. And what about other particularly cold or snowy winters in Wales? What about the winter of 1962/63 which saw 20 feet deep?!
169 years ago yesterday, the Welsh traveller Dic Aberdaron died at the age of 63. In a recent blogpost Elin Meredith explains that even though he has been ‘immortalised through song, art and memory’ he is still seen as an enigma.
Born Richard Robert Jones in Aberdaron in 1780, he became known for his incredible skill of learning languages and eccentric tendencies. Completely self-taught, it is thought the wanderer from the small fishing village on the Llyn Peninsula could speak around 15 languages. He began learning Latin when he was only 12 years old and Greek before he was 20!
As Elin Meredith’s blogpost explains, the latest example of his immortilization comes in the form of an oil painting made available through a new project which has made all the UK’s publicly owned artworks available online. The painting by William Roos, who’s collection is at the National Library of Wales can be seen here.
Your Paintings showcases around 200,000 oil paintings, many of which have never been photographed before. It’s a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation and participating collections and museums from across the UK.
Mark Bell, BBC Commisioning Editor, Arts, said: “Mark Bell, BBC Commissioning Editor, Arts, said: “Taken in its entirety, Your Paintings is the story of the country in pictures, but it is the individual discoveries, new attributions and connections that are most exciting.”
And re-disovering people like Dic is part of the fun. Many questions we have about him will remain unanswered, but as Jan Morris, the author of The Matter of Wales writes, “It is often impossible, even now, to disentangle his truth from his fiction…but there are young Welshmen still who see this way of life as admirable – a life full of aspiration and private satisfaction, but utterly outside the usual canons of success.” And for that Dic Aberdaron will forever be remembered.
Pupils at Ysgol Gynradd Bodringallt in the Rhondda learn about the past
Almost all of us have studied history in school. Some, I’m sure, enjoyed it more than others, and some of you are currently in education trying to remember how many wives Henry VIII had. But sift through your history textbooks, how much of an emphasis is put on Welsh history? Not enough you might say? A fair amount maybe? Perhaps even too much?! Well its place on the curriculum may very well change after the education minister, Leighton Andrews, ordered a review into the way it’s taught in school. A little over a month on it’s time to look closer at what place Welsh history should be given.
Where’s the Welsh History?
The major exam body in Wales, the WJEC, suggests that of the eighteen optional GCSE units in the its syllabus, the five units that deal with Germany or the USA account for 72% of registrations in 2012/13. On the other hand the six units that deal with ‘Wales and England’ or Wales only, account for less than 15% of registrations.
Last year around 10,000 pupils in Wales sat the WJEC GCSE history paper. All these candidates would have sat at least one unit, 25%, on aspects of the history of Wales and England. The WJEC do offer one option specifically devoted to Welsh history in the twentieth century. Only 23 candidates sat the paper, all from one centre. Although these figures only account for the WJEC GCSE history syllabus over one year, they make for interesting reading.
John Geraint, one of The Story of Wales directors tweets about an exciting new initiative
At the same time over the last decade there has been a significant growth in interest in the history of Wales, culminating in the BBC’s The Story of Wales with Huw Edwards. Online educational resources to support the study of Welsh history have also continued to grow. The Welsh Government has invested heavily in digitization projects through the National Library of Wales and Cymal for instance. And on November 13th The Story of Wales Director announced via Twitter that they’re versioning the series for classroom use. What better time to consider the place of Welsh history within the curriculum?
The review group, led by Dr Elin Jones, will explore and advise on the future development of the history curriculum and report back in July 2013. The 13 member group was handpicked by Dr Jones and is made up of key individuals with experience in Welsh history and its teaching. The other members of the panel are:
Prof Angela John, Aberystwyth University;
Dr Sian Rhiannon Williams, Cardiff Metropolitan University;
Sion Jones, Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen;
Dr Hugh Griffiths, Ysgol Bro Myrddin;
Paul Nolan, History advisor;
Nia Williams, Education Coordinator, National Museum and Galleries of Wales;
Frank Olding, Blaenau Gwent Heritage Officer;
Dr Stephanie Ward, Cardiff University;
David Stacey, Olchfa Comprehensive School;
Dr Martin Johnes, UC Swansea;
William Rogers, Queen Street School, Blaenau Gwent;
Nicola Thomas, Cornist Park School
‘Lack of Resources’
So is there a lack of Welsh history in the current curriculum? Andrea May, history teacher and Assistant Head at Brynteg Comprehensive School in Bridgend said: “If you actually look at the kind of materials that you get [on Welsh history] they’re not engaging for the students. You’ve got things like NGFL which I think will probably grow even more, but that relies in many respects on teachers feeding into it as well. And if it isn’t being taught you’re not going to get that share in the resources.”
She added that as children went through the year groups there is a decline in how much Welsh history is studied. In Brynteg their A-level course offers only one aspect of Welsh history, and that as part of a unit on Britain.
Is the teaching of Welsh history being overlooked then? Dean Powell, a local historian from Llantrisant believes it is, especially at comprehensive level. Drawing from his own experiences he said: “By the time I went to Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari [a Welsh medium comprehensive] the curriculum was far far wider and then all of a sudden you’re learning everything from the French to the Russian revolution and the rise of Nazism… but actually what you ended up losing was the Welsh history aspect.”
A School Trip
As Dean explains, today’s children are incredibly lucky to have so many resources at their disposable. To see how history is brought to life I joined Year 3 from Ysgol Gynradd Bro Eirwg in Cardiff on their school trip to St Fagans National History Museum and spoke to their teacher Mrs Bethan Elis.
When the review was announced Oliver Hides on his Morning Call show on BBC Radio Wales spoke to Val Williams, a social historian and former teacher who said:
“Take Cardiff for instance; there are kids living in Cardiff whose families came from Somalia – what brought them here? What kept them here? How do they see the past of the city around them?” (Read the BBC story here)
Whether the curriculum changes or not, the opportunities for school children are endless. This map shows the number of museums and places of historical interest in South East Wales. If they don’t inspire our kids then what will?!
On Friday November 23rd, Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen near Pontypridd celebrated its 50th anniversary with a concert in the Reardon Smith Theatre in Cardiff.
In 1962 the school opened its gates for the first time and the 80 pupils who attended that day became the first to be taught in a Welsh-medium comprehensive in south Wales. Coming six years after its predecessor Ysgol Glan Clwyd opened in 1956 in Rhyl, Rhydfelen was seen as a milestone in Welsh language education.
By 1973 the school had grown to nearly a 1000 pupils, but they didn’t all come from the village of Rhydyfelin and Pontypridd. Before Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera in Swansea (1969), Llanhari in Pontyclun (1974) and Glantaf in Cardiff opened their doors Rhydfelen attracted pupils from all over south Wales. Some had to travel over an hour just so they could be taught in Welsh. This is evidence of the commitment parents and pupils had to Welsh language education.
The first Welsh school was established in Aberystwyth in 1939. A private primary, Ysgol Gymraeg yr Urdd was set up by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, the founder of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh League of Youth. Eight years later in 1947 the first publicly funded Welsh school, Ysgol Dewi Sant, opened in Llanelli.
By the 1960s the number of pupils in Welsh language education came from non-Welsh speaking homes. Many thought these schools were offering a higher standard of education.The Education Reform Act in 1988 made Welsh a core subject of the National Curriculum in Wales in Welsh speaking and bilingual schools. In the rest of the schools in Wales it was given foundation status.
If you want to discover more about Welsh medium education visit this BBC site.
History of Welsh Language Schools & Rise of Welsh Secondary Schools in the South East
Rhydfelen at 50
Before the celebrations began on the 23rd I went along to the Reardon Smith Theatre to see how preparations were going. Former pupils Cleif Harpwood, lead singer of the legendary Welsh rock band Edward H. Dafis and Morgan Isaac, Cuba Cuba frontman told me what the night had in store.
So all that is left to say now is happy Birthday. Penblwydd Hapus Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen!