Madame Bevan – The Woman Who Helped Wales Read (Guest post by Claire from the Hisdoryan)

Today on Some Sources Say we have a brilliant guest post by Claire from the Hisdoryan (which is one of my favourite history blogs!) Keep up to date on her latest blog posts by following her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Without any further ado, read below to find out more about Madame Bevan, the woman who helped Wales read…

On National Literacy Day I thought it would be apt to talk about an underappreciated figure from Welsh history who helped Wales become one of the most literate nations in the world in the 18th Century – Bridget Bevan, otherwise known as Madame Bevan.

Who was Madame Bevan?

Madame Bevan was born as Bridget Vaughan at Derllys Court in Carmarthenshire, in 1698.

At this time Derllys Court was a centre of religious, educational and philanthropic life. Given her father John’s strong philanthrophic background, it was perhaps only natural that Bridget follow in his steps when she came of age.

In 1731 she financially supported local rector Griffith Jones to establish a new type of school, which eventually led to the Circulating Welsh Charity School system. These were schools that moved from village to village, educating children and adults alike, throughout Wales. At this time there was no compulsory education in Wales and most people could not read or write.

Teaching was carried out through the medium of Welsh and was based around the teachings of the Bible. Classes were held at times more convenient to the working classes, being especially active in the winter months when Wales’ agricultural economy was a bit quieter.

Madam Bevan became chief patron and advisor to Griffith Jones and poured her wealth into funding more circulating schools.

Madam Bevan courtesy of Carmarthenshire County Museum

Legacy of Madame Bevan

When Griffith Jones died in 1761, Bridget assumed management of the schools. Over a forty year period, 6,321 schools had been founded and 304,475 scholars of all ages were taught – It is estimated that half the population of Wales attended one of these schools.

Wales achieved one of the highest literacy rates in Europe. And it didn’t go unnoticed. In 1764 Catherine the Great of Russia ordered her ministers to write a report about the circulating schools and their success. Some historians also argue that, without a literate population, the forthcoming rise in non-conformism wouldn’t have taken hold in Wales so strongly.

And Madame Bevan’s charitable legacy continues even to this day. Bridget Bevan died in 1779, and left £10,000 to the circulating schools. However, some of her family disputed her will which resulted in a very drawn out legal case.  The money grew to over £30,000 and when it was finally released it was used how Bridget intended. The charitable trust still exists to this day, carry on Madame Bevan’s philanthrophic legacy.

Fancy learning more about wonderful Welsh women from history? Then check out this post on the Hisdoryan blog.


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