In July I revisited my primary school, Ysgol Pontfadog in the Ceiriog Valley, to hear the school bell ring one final time. The school has now closed after 111 years, and will not reopen in September due to low numbers of pupils, despite 1300 objections sent to the council.
I moved to Wales when I was four years old and started school – and learning Welsh – straight away. Ysgol Pontfadog was a small school then, with around 50 pupils attending when I was there.
It was quite apt, and very emotional, that to mark the end of the school, the bell was tolled. I remember it being an absolute honour if you were chosen as the pupil who got to ring the bell for break times and lunch times. Hearing the bell was either a joyful sound or a disappointing sound – signalling either the start of break or the end and that it was time to return to lessons. This time the bell rang, the feeling was one of sadness. The fact that the closure of the school fell in the exact same week I had attended my PhD graduation ceremony hit home how much I had gotten from the school during my time there.
Former pupil and now PhD graduate Erin Lloyd Jones reflected on her time as a pupil 30 years ago.https://www.bordercountiesadvertizer.co.uk/news/17783151.ysgol-pontfadog-closes-final-time-110-years/
She added: “My family moved here from Yorkshire and I started here aged four learning Welsh – it was absolutely wonderful.
“Because it was such a close-knit community and the classes weren’t too big, you got plenty of attention and made so many close friends.
“I live about an hour away, but I’ve come back for today specifically…
I’m glad I was able to attend the bell ringing one last time and was happy to provide a quote for the newspaper, above. But it doesn’t quite sum up how I feel about the school and how it has shaped my life. I remember all seven of my classmates and those in other years either side, their parents, their siblings, even their grandparents. We learned in the classroom and out in the open air. We explored out in the woods and had fun by the river. We were a tight knit community, despite many of us living outside of the village and further into the valley. Not all of us could walk to each other’s houses, but we were never excluded because of this.
Many ex-pupils will remember my lovely dad, who died far too young last year, as Father Christmas at the school for many years. He was in his element every December visiting community groups, care homes and, most well-known, on the Llangollen Railway’s Santa Specials. It was a sad day to say goodbye to that memory too, which represented yet another important link with my family and Ysgol Pontfadog.
I have fond memories of learning in Welsh and in English, but also of great times playing, and learning by play, too. As well as hundreds of games of rounders and netball, being absolutely convinced that I was Cheetarah from Thundercats, running round and round really really (not really) fast, I also started a ‘detectives club’ where we had to search for clues. Not so different from what I do now – archaeology is a bit like being a time detective!
The logo for Ysgol Pontfadog was a crest with the bridge (“pont” in welsh) and the Old Oak Tree – a once-famous landmark of the tiny village, dating back over 1000 years but which sadly died and was felled a few years ago. All of these things add up and have shaped me to become the person I am today. And I will be eternally grateful for that. Can you thank a building? I can certainly thank what it represents.
I hope that the building can be reused by the community and that it will continue somehow, perhaps informally, being a place of learning and a place where people of the valley come together.
And, if and when that happens, that the bell will ring out once again, tolling across the valley, this time inspiring hope and happiness, as well as heritage.