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Welsh History Review


Vol. 17, nos. 1-4 1994-95

Arthur Acland, Tom Ellis and Welsh education : a study in the politics of idealism /

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THE minority governments of Gladstone and Rosebery (August 1892 to June
1895), which were dependent on Irish Nationalist support, obstructed by the
House of Lords, and riven by ideological differences and personal
antipathies, eventually fell apart. Yet it was during those inauspicious years,
and possibly prospering from the fragmented nature of the Liberal Party,
that Welsh affairs gained a hearing at Westminster. A Welsh Church
Suspensory Bill was presented in 1893, and two Disestablishment Bills in 1894
and 1895.1 None of them completed its passage through Parliament, but they
served as models for the later successful Bills of 1912-14. Likewise, a Welsh
Land Commission, also appointed in 1893 and reporting in 1896, had no
immediate impact on the situation, but drew authoritative attention to the
social tensions which racked the Welsh countryside. More positive advances,
however, were made in education, the third of the issues that excited Liberal
Wales. The direction and form of those advances were determined largely by
two men, Arthur Acland and Tom Ellis, who, from the day of their first
meeting in the 1886 Parliament, established a close political partnership
based on their joint conviction that Wales presented the most fertile testing
ground for the politics of Idealism. The purpose of this study is to assess their
contribution to Welsh education in that light.
Coming from such different backgrounds, their partnership appears at first
sight to have been an unlikely one. Ellis (born 1859) was the only son of
Thomas Ellis, a Calvinistic Methodist tenant farmer with little English,
whose relationship with his landlord in Merioneth personified the social
divisions and feelings of injustice that were then so prevalent in rural Wales.2
By contrast, Acland, thirteen years older than Ellis, was the third son of Sir
Thomas Dyke-Acland, one of the largest landowners in England, and an
Oxford 'double first' and Fellow of All Souls.3 Brought up in a High Church
household, Arthur was educated at Rugby and at his father's old college,
'For the general context, see Kenneth O. Morgan, Wales in British Politics (Cardiff, 3rd edn., 1980), pp. 120ff.;
also idem, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 (Oxford, 1981), pp. 26-58.
For details of Ellis's background and upbringing, see N. Masterman, The Forerunner (Swansea, 1972), pp.
21-57; see also T. I. Ellis, Cofiant Thomas Edward Ellis (Liverpool 1946), vol. 1, pp. 9-45.
'For Acland's background, see A. H. D. Acland, Sir Thomas Dyke-Acland: A Memoir and Letters (privately
Printed, Scarborough, 1902).
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