The former Intermediate School for Girls’ in Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan was built in 1895-6 and was the first throughout England and Wales to be built specifically for the secondary education of girls as a result of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889.
It stands as an attractive monument to a pivotal moment in Welsh history which paved the way for equality in women’s education. However, it is under imminent threat of demolition to make way for housing.
The school was listed on the Victorian Society’s Top 10 Endangered List in September 2019 and is a treasured part of the historic town of Cowbridge. The community, alongside heritage experts, have been campaigning hard for its sympathetic conversion rather entire demolition but time is running out with its future set to be determined next month.
As well as being the first girls’ intermediate school to be built in Wales and England, Cowbridge school was also built amid notorious local acrimony, which resonated at a national scale. Cowbridge was one of nearly 100 schools built as a result of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act.
However, it was highly unusual in including accommodation for boarders at the outset and for being funded to a great part by a local benefactor. This private funding made it possible for girls from outside of the area to attend the school when they would have been unable to otherwise.
As well as being important from an historic aspect, the school also is a grand and attractive building. Despite being derelict for a number of years due to restrictions over its redevelopment, its original character survives intact to a very high degree, both externally and internally, including the original layout, staircase and roof beams of the main hall.
Far from conforming to the standard ‘county’ school image, it has many unusual features including its dormers, prominent corner chimneys and a ‘baronial’ style dormitory range with a pretty oriel window which was the matron’s room.
The architect of the 1895-6 part of the school was Robert Williams who originated in Wales but went on to work in London and later Cairo in Egypt where he designed many buildings for the Davies Bryan family (who were linked to Aberystwyth University).
A strong advocate for Welsh culture and language, he was also known as a radical, prominent and early advocate of building conservation and a national pioneer in terms of social housing.
After years of standing empty and neglected due to an educational covenant preventing its redevelopment, the school is now subject to an application for complete demolition to make way for blocks of flats.
The group campaigning to save the school from demolition have tried to engage with the developers, Hafod Housing Association, to find a solution to ensure that housing can be provided whilst also protecting this important heritage asset. However, citing financial reasons, Hafod are continuing with their plans to completely demolish the building.
As a result, the community is now calling on the Welsh Assembly to intervene and urge the Welsh Government to protect this important heritage asset for generations to come. The petition will close next week with the Petitions Committee set to consider their requests later this month.