History of the Centre
Brief history and description
The building which now serves as a community centre for the surrounding area was formerly a famous educational establishment known as the Edward Richard Grammar School or St John’s College.
In 1734 a school was started in Ystrad Meurig by Edward Richard (1714-1777), and was at first conducted in the adjacent St John’s Church*. Its aim was to train boys for the professions, particularly the church, and it soon gained a great reputation in Wales. In 1757 it was legally established and endowed as a grammar school to teach Latin and Greek, ‘the principles of the Church of England as by law established’ and maths (this was to include 12 - later 32 - poor local boys). The present building was erected in 1812-15, and housed the school until it closed in 1972. The number of pupils peaked during the 19th century at over 150, and accommodation for the boys was provided in the local villages.
*The present church was built in 1899 on the site of an earlier church: it was in that church (if not a previous one) that the school had originally functioned.
The connection between the school and the church, and specifically St John’s Church, was strong from the start, and remained throughout its history, with the Headmaster normally also serving as the local vicar. After closing, the building was used as a church hall and general community facility, until mounting repair costs led to its closure in 1992. By now, it had acquired Grade 2* listed status, which meant that any restoration work would as far as possible have to retain its existing features.
A local association was formed in 2000, with the aim of restoring the old building, with its grounds and part of the surrounding wall, as a community centre (which the area lacked): this was achieved in 2005 thanks to a grant from the European Regional Development Fund, with matchfunding from the Local Regeneration Fund and the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, together with locally raised funds and private donations.
This building and St John’s Church are enclosed within an ancient embanked circular churchyard or cemetery; this is why they are situated so close together. The surrounding wall is best viewed from the B4340 coming from Aberystwyth; this part had to be substantially rebuilt in 2005.
The building was originally a long hall, with four gothic windows on the S side (three are visible today), and probably five on the N (only one is in use now), with the E and W walls solid. Around 1900, additions at the back were made to provide a kitchen and toilets; it is not known what earlier structures there were here. In 1934, the large room at the SW corner, of brick, was added, together with a small porch added in front of the old entrance; at this time the whole of the S and W walls were rendered, presumably to provide a uniform appearance. Photos from the 1920s from the SW show the front of the building in, largely, its original appearance.
In the late C19th the windows had (possibly the original) Gothic Y-tracery, leaded panes and outside shutters, all of which provided a much more attractive appearance than today’s plain square-paned windows.
When the 2005 restoration was carried out, a new glassed-over corridor was added at the back, together with a completely new kitchen, toilets and boiler room; these were shaped to follow the curving line of the outside retaining wall. The only other major change was the addition of a doorway from the W end of the main hall into the rear corridor. From the corridor traces of a number of arches higher up the N wall can be seen, suggesting several changes in design on that side of the building. A very early photo seems to shows the W end of this wall, with, probably, a coal chute visible (traces of coal-dust were found inside the building at this point during the restoration work).
The entrance: note the shield with the Welsh dragon above the door – this was placed here when the porch was added in 1934. It shows the old college motto cum dis disce (learn with the gods): this was possibly the creation of John ‘Latin’ Jones (a famous Headmaster of the college, 1870-1915), and when he was criticised for allowing the school to be associated with a pagan plurality of gods, he used to reply that ‘if a man knew the classics there would be little wrong with his theology’. The plaque to the right records the opening of the Centre in 2005 by Richard Jones, grandson of this Headmaster.
To the left is the activities room, formerly the New Library. This is now equipped for a variety of activities, particularly in the arts, and is home to a printing press. The wall plaque refers to the 7th Earl of Lisburne, who died in 1963. The Lisburne family formerly owned most of the land in this area and were benefactors of the old school.
Enter the main building: to the left is the office, formerly the Old Library. This once housed a large and famous library, started by Edward Richard himself in St John’s Church and mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, including a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s two-volume Dictionary of the English Language and many other rare and unique works. These books were transferred to Lampeter University after the school was closed, and have now been fully restored and are kept (as the Ystrad Meurig Collection) in the University Library. On the wall is a rare print of an engraving of Rev. John Williams, the second Headmaster (1777-1818), who was responsible for building the school. The cupboards may to some extent be original, but have clearly been rebuilt. The insides of the doors are covered with graffiti, mainly signatures of students from throughout the existence of the school; the oldest to have been traced dates from 1819. A panel in this room, exposed during restoration work but now covered, is dated August 1815, the year by which the building was completed. On the left of the entrance is a recess without the higher range of cupboards: this is where the missing window on the S side used to be. Today this room is the Community Association office, and it also houses an archive of historical material relating to both the school and the Ystrad Meurig area.
The main hall was formerly divided into two classrooms, for the main teaching. Today this is used for larger meetings and a variety of activities, including plays, concerts, classes, community events, parties, dinners, receptions and exhibitions. Staging is available.
The door at the E end leads into the kitchen; that at the W end into the corridor. The stairs lead to the upstairs room, traditionally known as ‘the Vatican’. This is primarily an IT suite which is mainly used for training courses; this room is also used for small, private meetings and consultations. It was hoped that access to this room for the disabled could be provided by lift, but this was prevented by conservation issues, so IT facilities for the disabled were made available downstairs.
The Centre is managed by Cymdeithas Gymunedol Ystrad Meurig Community Association (Registered Charity No 1086985)