Sawyl Academy stands on the hill road between The Angel Inn and Shiloh Chapel. An engraved stone on the facade reads “Sawyl Academy, 1884, J E.”
“J E” is Jonah Evans. He came to Llansawel in 1866 as a preacher and served many years as a school governor. In 1875 he decided that the school was not benefiting the cleverest pupils and had the idea of starting a grammar school, to prepare the best students for the ministry. The school had begun in the church vestry, a small separate stone building near the gate, which still stands today but is dilapidated and uncared for. By 1869, the school had moved to the Town Hall (now known as the Old Courthouse) in the centre of the village.. In May 1875, not long before the present-day school building was constructed , Jonah Evans paradoxically opened his grammar school in the church vestry – his students
were small in number and better suited to the accommodation – and the grammar school was well regarded. Of course the church was Anglican and Jonah Evans was a powerful nonconformist preacher. He must have had frequent differences with his “landlord”, the vicar but the story is that it was political differences, not religious ones, that made it impossible for the school to remain in the vestry. The vicar of the time was a high conservative and Jonah Evans an ardent liberal. When the Liberal candidate won in the ward, one of Jonah Evans’ supporters rang the church bell, enraging the vicar and ending the grammar school’s tenancy.
Jonah Evans had already raised the funds to meet Shiloh Chapel’s remaining debt after it was completed in 1870. (Although strongly associated with the chapel – and preaching there often – he was never its minister – that was Rev Evan Jones of Crugybar, followed, when he retired in 1877, by Mr D B Richards of Llansawel.) Jonah Evans, who, although he looks stern in his photograph, was said to be a genial and charming man, now set about obtaining the money to build Sawyl Academy, which was completed in 1886. It’s just across the road from the chapel, and was also his home. He continued to turn out excellent students for another ten years until his sudden death in 1896, while walking to his brother-in-law’s funeral. He was aged only 55. By this time, following the Education Act of 1870, state education was becoming the norm and Sawyl Academy became a private dwelling.
Jonah Evans’ daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Morgan, lived there for many years. In her last years, her niece, Dorothy Evans, the daughter of Jonah’s son, Tom Eli Evans, came to live with her. Dorothy Evans was a gifted pianist and a warm lively personality. She was great friends with her next-door neighbour, Sadie Jones and when she died, the house passed to Sadie, and now belongs to Sadie’s son, Alun.