Park Street School

Following the announcement, in September 2018, of the proposed demolition of Park Street School, Blaenavon, it was resolved by the Blaenavon Civic Society that a record should be made of the site and its significance. The following provides a brief description of the site written by Dr Nathan Matthews in January 2019. A full history and photographic record of the site will be available at the Blaenavon Community Museum with Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall.

Park Street School was built by Monmouthshire County Council in 1937 on the site of the former British and Foreign Society School [1871-72] (known as Park Street Council School from 1902). Constructed at a cost of £10,549, to a design by the county architect Colin Lancelot Jones FRIBA, the site is an example in material form of the progressive, modern style of school architecture advocated by educational reformers in the 1930s and realised by the Monmouthshire Education Committee during its radical reorganisation of the county’s educational provision in the interwar period.

Constructed from red brick, Park Street School was built in a modern, severe style, without ornamentation but with prominent fenestration on all elevations, giving the building a light and airy aspect. The main building has two storeys, with the ground floor being approached by two sloping walkways and small flights of steps.

At the time of its completion, the school accommodated nine classrooms, a science laboratory, an assembly hall, cloakrooms and staff rooms. The rooms, albeit with subtle changes of use during the building’s life, remain extant, as does the toilet and janitorial block of 1937 in the main yard. Later buildings added in the principal schoolyard, separate to the main school building, remain, including a brick-built canteen, a 1950s demountable teaching block (previously used as a music room) and a late twentieth century brick building latterly used for adult learning activities. Various shelters on the site have been removed since the closure of the school in 2012.

The main playground, to the south of the school, is accessible from a flight of external steps and two gates leading upwards from Park Street, with a second playground on the rooftop of the main building, accessible via a staircase from the upper floor of the school. The rooftop playground is the earliest surviving in Gwent and Park Street was only the second school in the county to pioneer the feature; the first being Colin L. Jones’s contemporaneous Park Terrace School, Pontypool, of 1936 (demolished 2003).

To the west of the school are gardens, comprising lawns and trees. A grassed area to the north-west of the main building was used for an additional playground for junior children c.1996, with a small redbrick wall added in the playground. A gymnasium was added by c.1960 and, from the 1980s, was connected via a sheltered walkway, to the main school building. The gymnasium, which had latterly been used as an assembly hall, was demolished in c.2006 and a new playground was constructed on the site, slightly below the schoolyard of c.1996.

Initially built to accommodate 400 pupils, the building served as the town’s only provider of post-primary school education from 1937 until September 1980 when Blaenavon Secondary Modern School merged with other schools in north Torfaen to form Abersychan Comprehensive School further down the valley. Following a period of renovation, the Park Street building reopened as St. Peter’s CV Primary School at Easter 1982, when the primary school moved from its original site on Church Road (now Blaenavon World Heritage Centre and the Ramfield Centre) to take advantage of the superior, vacant building in Park Street.

Ancillary buildings within the complex were utilised for community activities such as evening youth clubs, luncheon clubs and adult education. The town’s library relocated from Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall in the early 1980s and was based on one half of the lower floor of Park Street School (parallel to Lower Waun Street) until 2001, accessible from a separate entrance on Park Street, independently of the school. The library rooms were reincorporated into the school following the transfer of the library service to a new library in the restored former Municipal Offices in Lion Street.

Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary School was formed in September 2011 following a merger of St. Peter’s CV Primary School and Hillside Primary School. The pupils of Park Street School were transferred to a new school site at Middle Coed Cae in Easter 2012. Park Street School was subsequently closed and fell into dereliction. In September 2018, it was reported that Torfaen County Borough Council intended to demolish the school in early 2019 owing to health and safety concerns following a series of break-ins.

Opinion as to Significance

When the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape was inscribed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in December 2000, it was held that:

the area around Blaenavon bears eloquent and exceptional testimony to the pre-eminence of South Wales as the world’s major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century. All the necessary elements can be seen in situ – coal and ore mines, quarries, a primitive railway system, furnaces, the homes of the workers, and the social infrastructure of their community.

Blaenavon was inscribed under criterion (iii) and criterion (iv):

  • Criterion iii: The Blaenavon Landscape constitutes an exceptional illustration in material form of the social and economic structure of 19th century industry
  • Criterion iv: The components of the Blaenavon Landscape together make up an outstanding and remarkably complete example of a 19th century industrial landscape

The current school building, dating to 1937, was built in a later period than that which justified World Heritage Site status and does not in itself contribute to the outstanding universal value of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape.

However, the Park Street school site, as the location of the now-demolished British and Foreign Society School, has relevance to ‘intangible heritage of the development of early industrial society’ and relates to the attributes and components of the World Heritage Site’s outstanding universal value, particularly in respect of the role of Welsh religious nonconformity in the nineteenth century. The former school represented an arena and focal point in which the tensions between the Liberal nonconformists and the Established Church were contested and articulated in the late nineteenth century.

Nevertheless, there is no obvious physical evidence remaining of the original school. The current buildings rather reflect the changing educational trends in the twentieth century, particularly the growth of state education and the role of local education authorities in ensuring educational provision. To a large extent, educational developments in Monmouthshire represent a microcosm of trends across England and Wales. However, Monmouthshire County Council certainly acquired a reputation for the enthusiastic way it implemented educational reforms following the Education Acts 1902 and 1918. The Park Street site is perhaps of county interest because of the innovative modern design by the county architect.