Aberdare Boys Grammar School


The School Architect
John Henry Phillips, MSA, FRIBA (1860-1921)

J.H. Phillips had commenced independent practice in Cardiff in 1885 and it was just eight years later that he won the competition to design the Aberdare Technical and Intermediate Schools in Trecynon, later to become known as the Boys’ County School and finally as the Aberdare Boys Grammar School.

Phillips was brought up in Talgarth, Breconshire. He was the son of John Phillips, also a native of Talgarth, and his wife Elizabeth from Builth Wells. John, the elder was a monumental sculptor and mason who also kept the Mason’s Arms in Back Lane. The family business was adjacent to St Gwendolyn’s Church and, no doubt, its graveyard was conducive to a prosperous business. There were six children, five boys and one girl, with John Henry being the second born. He attended the British School in Talgarth and progressed to the Normal College in Swansea.

By 1879, he was articled to R.G. Thomas of Menai Bridge, and later in the same year, he became an assistant with William Parslow in Liverpool leaving there in 1883 to take on a similar role with Harry Shaw in London until 1885. During this period, Phillips travelled extensively in Holland, Germany, France, Belgium and Spain.

Probably, as a result of the time spent in North Wales and the north west of England, he met and eventually married Martha Alice Jones of Bangor in 1889.

In the early days of his practice (1887), Phillips used the professional qualification M.S.A. Almost certainly, this indicated membership of The Manchester Society of Architects. This was formed in 1865, and was affiliated to become a branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1891. By 1904, Phillips was successfully proposed as a fellow of the RIBA by E.H. Bruton, E. Seward and the well-known architect of churches in Wales, E.M. Bruce Vaughan.

Phillips’ practice was based in Cardiff, although over a period of eighteen years, he was to be found at a variety of addresses: St John’s Sq (1896); Clive Chambers, Windsor Place (1904); and Pembroke Terrace, Penarth (1914). His private address was Gwylfa, Caerphilly (1914).
Amongst the examples of Phillips work are the following: The Intermediate Schools at Aberdare, Llandovery, Llandyssul, Wrexham and Bangor (Girls). Penarth Elementary Schools, Tonbridge Library and Technical Institute, and Mountain Ash Town Hall. All the above were won by competition. In addition, The Caerphilly Isolation Hospital, Schools for Eglwsilian School Board, and Bedwas and Maesycymmer School Board. There were various business premises in Cardiff and district, as well as residences, warehouses and chapels. Of the last mentioned, in Cardiff, he was the architect for the The Schoolroom (1896) of the Plasnewydd Presbyterian Church, Keppoch St, and of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Crwys Road, 1899; and elsewhere, for the recently renovated William Williams Pantycelyn Memorial Chapel, Llandovery (1886).

Both parents of John Henry Phillips lived to a good age and were able to take pleasure in the success of their son. They retired to West View, Talgarth, just around the corner from their old family home.

Bangor County School was opened in 1897, just one year after the Aberdare School in 1896. It is interesting to ask whether Phillips’ designs for his Intermediate Schools were in any way similar. In at least one case the answer must be yes. Compare the general appearance of the Main Hall in each photo below:

Aberdare and Bangor Schools

Click here to see the Bangor building as it is now. You can find it in College Road, Upper Bangor.

Click here to see a letter written by J.H. Phillips to Rev Benjamin Evans in which the architect accepts the instruction to design School House. Mr Jenkyn Thomas and Mr Cox were the only Headmasters to live in the house. The building is still in existence and is now a private house.

Photograph of Aberdare County School (pre-1901) reproduced with permission of
Rhondda Cynon Tâf Library Service