WHEN Cardigan was given a free school in the 1600s, it was to educate just eight boys, according to historical records.

It was established following a plea from town elders who said other than the area's "best sort of gentry" no one could read or speak English - and it was claimed they could therefore not benefit from preaching.

The petition, asking for a free school for Cardigan, was filed from the burgesses of the town on January 23, 1647.

The school was a necessity according to petitioners because “there was no free school within forty miles, and the inhabitants are so poor that they are not able to have their children educated in any other county.

“None save the best sort of gentry read or speak the English tongue, so that preaching does not at all edify them, they being not capable of understanding for want of breeding.”

When the school was founded by Cardigan Borough Council in 1653, it was the sixth grammar school in Wales. The records say the school provided for “eight poor boys taught to read, write and cast accounts.”

The school was built on land purchased by the parishioners – which today is the site of the Guildhall and Market Hall.

Admission to the school was to be free and the provision of uniform and food was made out of the treasury.

The first schoolmaster was a Mr R Owens – believed to be Roger or Richard – and his assistant was an usher called Owen Picton, however, the following year, Mr Picton was in charge of the school and had an increase in salary, which suggested that Mr Owens had left.

The school had a number of schoolmasters in the first decade, with a non-conformist preacher Rev Charles Price taking on the role at some point between 1654 and 1662, he was succeeded by fellow non-conformist preacher Rev James Davies in 1662.

Just two years later the role was taken on by Mr Ryland.

In 1686, it is believed that the school was extended using materials from the town walls. Two years later, Rev. David Jenkins, clerk of Bridell, became the master of the school after Bishop Thomas of St David’s granted a licence to allow it.

In 1704, references are made to John Laugharne and his wife Anne of St Brides giving “a pair of old walls” to the school.

On April 29, 1723, Rev James Price was appointed the schoolmaster and then on October 5, 1730, he was replaced by Owen Picton, who is believed to be a descendant of the first usher and temporary schoolmaster of the same name.

In 1731, the school was given an endowment of £717 by Lady Laetitia Cornwallis, which the school received in 1784.

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The schoolmaster on October 2, 1732, was Richard Lee, being replaced by Josuah Evans on September 30, 1734.

Mr Evans quit the post the following year, with minutes from a Cardigan Borough Council meeting stating: “…contrary to expectations and without our privity and consent, quitted the said school in a very unhandsome and ungracious manner…”

David Davies became the schoolmaster following this, being replaced himself on October 1, 1739, by Rev David Jones, the then curate of Cardigan.

Two years later on October 5, he was replaced by Richard Watkins, who remained in the post until 1747, being replaced by Rev. John Davies.

Thomas Watts took on the role in 1751. He was replaced at an unknown time by Mr Meyrick, who resigned in 1774, being replaced by Rev Charles Harries who remained in the post until 1787 when Rev John Rice took over.

There were plans to rebuild the schoolhouse on April 6, 1791, and in 1806, Rev Thomas Morgan took on the schoolmaster role and the same year, the school was given a playground with the addition of a new piece of land.

Cardigan Grammar School’s singing master, David Jenkin Morgan, was praised in 1811 for teaching 34 pupils, more than any other school in the region.

The schoolmaster died on July 2, 1813 and was replaced by Rev George Griffiths who had taken over as curate of St Mary’s Church, a position held by Rev Morgan.

A brief stint was held by Rev William Richards in 1815, however he resigned before the year was out.

The school had no master between August 1815 and January 1817 until John Jones took on the role, however, he died in July the following year.

Rev Thomas Watkin William Thomas was master of the school from an unknown period following the death of Mr Jones, but it was known he was master of the school on June 1, 1821 and August 11, 1823.

He was succeeded by Rev David Evans in September 1824 and six years later, there were six supported pupils at the school and 20 paying pupils.

There was only one room in the school in 1835 and Rev Evans had resigned as schoolmaster in July 1839, being replaced by Daniel Thomas.

By August 9, 1843, Rev John Griffiths had become schoolmaster and Cardigan Borough Council requested on that day that he “…return immediately to superintend the school himself or to send his resignation in writing to the mayor.” With the position being advertised shortly after.

With thanks to Glen Johnson for the in-depth information.