Methodism in Wales, 1730–1850
Methodism in Wales, 1730–1850

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Methodism in Wales, 1730–1850

8 The Treachery of the Blue Books

Described image
Figure 6 Page 66 of the Blue Books, part 2, no. 9, by R. R. W. Lingen, Jellynger C. Symons and H. R. Vaughan Johnson, 1847, the British government- commissioned report. Here the commissioners cite Welsh as the root of many of the evils that they perceive in Welsh society.Image © National Library of Wales

One of the most significant events in the history of Calvinistic Methodism, and indeed of Welsh Nonconformity more broadly, occurred in 1847. This was the publication of the ‘Reports of the commissioners of inquiry into the state of education in Wales’, or the ‘Treachery of the Blue Books’, as they came to be known in Wales.

These reports were commissioned by parliament in Westminster, and written by three Anglican churchmen from England. They were commissioned specifically to provide a justification for the reform of education in Wales along anglicising lines (Roberts, 1998, pp. 168–179). It is therefore no surprise to learn that the three ‘commissioners’ cast the Welsh populace, and particularly the Nonconformist majority who by that period constituted over three quarters of Welsh churchgoers, in an extremely negative light. What’s more, much of the blame for their alleged deficiencies was apportioned to the Welsh language, as the page image to the right shows.

Listen to historians Ioan Gruffydd, Neil Evans and Hywel Teifi Edwards explain the origins and findings of the ‘Blue Books’ report. This extract is from the BBC Wales radio programme The People of Wales (1999).

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 2 The Treachery of the Blue Books, BBC Radio Wales, People of Wales (1999)
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Transcript: Audio 2 The Treachery of the Blue Books, BBC Radio Wales, People of Wales (1999)

NEIL EVANS
Many people in London and within Wales thought that something had to be done about these communities.
NARRATOR
Neil Evans.
NEIL EVANS
And one of the most frequent arguments used was that education was the way to stabilise them and to civilise them. Many people had used this argument. Then, in 1846, it was proposed that there should be a specific inquiry into education in Wales. William Williams, who instigated it, thought that Wales was being held back economically by its lack of English.
VOICEOVER 1
The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of its people. It is not easy to overestimate its ill-effects.
NEIL EVANS
There was also a concern about the social turbulence of South Wales in the period. And that some people felt, certainly, that the Welsh language was a language of sedition, that people could plot in the Welsh language, which was not understood by the gentry and by the iron masters and the professional classes.
IOAN GRUFFYDD
What you had was three commissioners, all educated either in Oxford or Cambridge. All highly qualified lawyers. None of whom could speak Welsh. They came down to Wales, they appointed ten assistant commissioners, seven of whom were Anglicans, three only of whom were Nonconformists, and one of those certainly didn’t last the course. They took evidence from hundreds of witnesses, the vast majority of whom were Anglicans.
NARRATOR
The result of all the evidence and investigation was the 1847 Report on the State of Education in Wales. To the Welsh, this soon became better known as the Treason of the Blue Books. In some respects, though, the reports give a fair assessment of the state of Welsh education.
Whilst the Sunday schools were undoubtedly something to be proud of – even the commissioners could see that – the English language private venture schools and most of the village schools linked mainly to the Anglican Church, which provided education during the week, left a lot to be desired.
IOAN GRUFFYDD
They were held in ordinary rooms, outhouses, and barns. Mud floors, no ventilation, in the winter, cold.

[ROOSTER CROWS]

The description of the teachers is equally lamentable. In many instances, people who’d been disabled in other jobs, for example, and had nothing else – people who just picked up a smattering of English in some sort of a job that they’d been doing – and, they’d set up a school.
NARRATOR
The commission’s findings on the state of schools were, by and large, fair comment. But it was what they said about the Welsh people themselves that gained the report its infamy.
VOICEOVER 1
The evils of the Welsh language is obviously and fearfully great in the courts of justice.
IOAN GRUFFYDD
They said there are very few serious crimes in Wales, but there is a tremendous amount of cheating, lying, avoidance of justice. The Welsh don’t know the difference between truth and falsehood, that sort of thing.
VOICEOVER 1
It distorts the truth, favours fraud, and abets perjury, which is frequently practiced in courts. And escapes detection through the loophole of interpretation. This public exhibition of successful falsehood has a disastrous effect on public morals and regard for the truth.
VOICEOVER 2
The young people often meet at evening schools in private houses for the preparation of the pwnc. And this tends to immoralities between the young persons of both sexes, who frequently spend the night afterwards in haylofts together.

[GIRL GIGGLES]

IOAN GRUFFYDD
They said the morality of the Welsh women is very low, they lack of chastity. They use the occasion of evening services to get together with men on their way home. So it was linked more hurtfully with religious activity. And, of course, particularly with Nonconformist religious activity.
VOICEOVER 1
The unmarried menservants in the farms range the country at night. And it is a known and tolerated practice that they are admitted by the women servants at the houses to which they come. I heard the most revolting anecdotes of the gross and almost bestial indelicacy with which sexual intercourse takes place on these occasions.

[GIRL GIGGLES]

VOICEOVER 2
It is said to be a customary matter for them to have intercourse together, on condition that they should marry if the woman becomes pregnant. But the marriage, by no means, always takes place. Morals are generally at a low ebb. But want of chastity is the giant sin of Wales.
IOAN GRUFFYDD
And so they produced a report which was extremely offensive to the Nonconformists. But it was coached in such extreme terms that it was also offensive to the Anglicans. And so the response to the Blue Books was dramatic.
HYWEL TEIFI EDWARDS
They arose, as it were, as one man …
NARRATOR
Professor Hywel Teifi Edwards.
HYWEL TEIFI EDWARDS
… to decry these accusations levelled against the Welsh – well, for their immorality. That they were an immoral people, untrustworthy, and so on and so forth. Much given to perjury. The Welsh got up, as it were, on their hind legs and rejected that accusation out of hand.
End transcript: Audio 2 The Treachery of the Blue Books, BBC Radio Wales, People of Wales (1999)
Audio 2 The Treachery of the Blue Books, BBC Radio Wales, People of Wales (1999)
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As Evans points out, what the reports had to say about education in Wales was overshadowed by their claims that the Welsh language led to deceit and sedition, that Welsh women were immoral and that Nonconformist practices were to blame. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the reports provoked a furious response from Welsh Nonconformists. Even some Welsh Anglicans were outraged. The poet and historian Jane Williams, for example, argued that:

The Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales, have done the people of that country a double wrong. They have traduced their national character, and in doing so, they have threatened an infringement upon their manifest social rights, their dearest existing interests, comprised in their ordinary modes of worship and instruction, their local customs, and their mother tongue.

(Williams, 1848, p. 5)

This was an uncompromising start to a systematic refutation of the report’s findings which ran to some 62 pages of text. In 1854, meanwhile, the Baptist bard Robert Jones Derfel coined the phrase ‘treachery of the Blue Books’. This referred to the apocryphal ‘treachery of the long knives’ in which Saxon invaders had supposedly duped and then murdered a group of Welsh chieftains some fifteen hundred years earlier (Morgan, 1984). The speed with which the name stuck suggests that, for many Welsh people, 1847 marked a similarly heinous betrayal.

One lasting consequence of the Blue Books was that they caused the Calvinistic Methodists to join with Wales’s older Nonconformist denominations against what came to be seen as the Anglican enemy. The denominational rivalries that had characterised Nonconformity during the first half of the century seemed unimportant in the face of this vicious Anglican attack. The result was the creation of a new self-consciously Welsh Nonconformist identity in Wales (Morgan, 1984). This is a crucial point because that newly unified sense of Nonconformist solidarity was to prove pivotal in the development of Welsh national aspirations later in the century.

The leading Welsh historian Geraint Jenkins has called the Treachery of the Blue Books ‘a seminal event … which shaped the future of political and cultural life in Wales for several generations’ (2002, p. 213). It hardened support for Nonconformity, led to a revival in religious education initiatives, and reminded the Welsh of the need to trumpet the value of their own culture.

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