The Carmarthen School of Art

The Carmarthen School of Art was founded 1854 after the Prince Consort had encouraged the art school movement by suggesting that art schools should be extended throughout the provinces. The school was housed in what had been the National School for Boys in Parade Road -'a dingy barn-like building'. (1)

The school maintained a continuous and more or less prosperous existence until about 1870. The school then suffered financial and administrative difficulties, as was reported in the Carmarthen Journal of June -16 1871. Mr. F.F. Hosford, who succeeded Mr. Davies as Master, resigned and went to Swansea. Although he came over once a week to take classes at Carmarthen, these were poorly attended. The Journal called upon the organising committee to find a way to repair the building and continue classes. 'The study of art', the Editorial proclaimed, 'is one of the most expanding, interesting and hunanising occupations in which the mind can be engaged.' Whether these inspiring words helped the art school cause or not, a night school was certainly formed in the autumn of 1871 and the school struggled on for some time, but eventually had to close.

However, in the late 1870s Mr. H. Howell, one of the founder members of the school, took a prominent part in the formation of a committee to work for the re-opening of the school. This took place in 1880 and Mr. William Jones, a former pupil of Mr. Hosford, and at that time in a lucrative post at Barnsley, was approached and he agreed to accept the position of Master.

The school prospered under Willliam Jones - in 1880-1 there were 72 pupils; in 1881-2 there were 96, and in in 1883 there were in a1l 230 pupils, with classes in Llanelli, Tenby and Haverfordwest. William Jones was highly thought of by the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington as for a number of years he was invited to attend lectures there in the summer.

At the prizegiving held in February 1883, the Mayor congratulated the school on its achievement but was very scathing about its premises saying it was a misnomer to call it a School of Art 'as there was nothing artistic about it' and he hoped a proper place would be found to house it. The school added to its reputation when a pupil, David Cure, won a prize in a National Competition for drawing in 1887.

The Carmarthen Journal published a report from an Inspector from the Department of Science and Art at the South Kensington Museums in its issue of March 30 1888. The Inspector was most critical of the premises on the Parade - he described the persistent damp and mould on one wall, caused by a large mound of earth which abutted the wall outside. He referred to a suggestion to build a second storey, but this, he said, would only make the damp problem worse. The best solution was a new building: and he promised that if new premises were built in Church Lane, the Department would give favourable consideration to an application for a grant.

The following month an exhibition of paintings from the School of Art was held at the Assembly Rooms; included were oil pairntings, watercolours, and architectural drawings. The prizegiving ceremony was held in evening and the chairman, Alderman N. de G. Warren, reported that the number of pupils had increased and it was 'very gratifying that the working classes were better represented' (!) He referred to the deplorable state of the building, describing it as a 'squalid, wretched place' and reading out the damning report of the Inspector. He added that if they could get a better building it would become 'a very prosperous and flourishing school'. Mr. Lewis Morris, who gave a very long address ranging over the whole field of visual and literary art, was described by the Rev. A.G. Edwards, Vicar of Carmarthen, as 'surely the greatest exponent of English poetry'. (Sadly, hardly anyone now reads his poems.)

In November of this year (1888), the Journal reported that the management committee of the School of Art had purchased a plot of land in Church Lane, opposite St. Peter's Church. In January 1891 a tender of 1,165. 10s. was accepted for building the new school, the architect being George Morgan of 24 King Street and the builder Thoma Morris of Water Street (2). Subscriptions were invited for the building fund and events held to raise money, including 'Ye Fancye Fair' held in July 1891. The school was opened on September 22 1892, the Principal continuing to be Mr. William Jones. (His son, Ernest Harold Jones, was appointed a pupil teacher in September 1894 1 at a salary of 15, and he went on to become well known as an artist, archaeologist and Egyptologist.)

Other pupils who became well respected as artists were Wyndham Lewis (who won a prize in 1896), James Dickson Carr, and E. W. Ttristram. B.A. Lewis, the Manager of Carmarthen Gas Works in the first decades of the 20th century, obtained his Art Master's Certificate through the school, and his son, Morland, was also a student there for two-and-a-half years. Mr. P.A. Wise, the Principal in 1925, said of Morland that 'he had made rapid and exceptional progress as an artist I have great confidence that he has a successful future before him.' Morland was indeed gaining an international reputation as an artist until his death on active service in 1943. One of .B.A.Lewis's grandsons was also a student at the School of Art, and before the outbreak of the Second World War he was involved in a project to photograph all the most notable buildings in Carmarthen in case they should be damaged or destroyed by enemy acticon.

In the early 1950s Carmarthen County Council took over control of the Art School and moved it to a large house in College Road. In 1971 the Carmarthen School of Art combined with Llanelli to form the Dyfed College of Art, and in 1979 a new modern college was built in Job's Well Road. (3) The building in Church Lane, a rather splendid piece of late Victorian architecture, is now, of course, the contemporary art gallery Oriel Myrddin.

References: (1) The Story of Carmarthen by Joyce and Victor Lodwick, St. Peter's Press, 1994

(2) ibid (3) ibid

Barbara Lewis Webb