Friday, September 19, 2014

Musical Interlude

They spilt your blood yesterday
They put your head on an oaken post
A little way from your corpse.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Radnorshire, some Scottish connections

Britishness died with the British Empire and the vote in Scotland is more about sorting out the estate of a recently departed and somewhat unloved relative.  While we await the long-delayed funeral arrangements of this increasingly putrid corpse, let's spare a thought for some of Radnorshire's Scottish connections.

When the racing driver Innes Ireland moved to Downton House near New Radnor in 1960 he claimed that it was the nearest place to London that reminded him of the Scottish Highlands and perhaps that has been the motivation for other Scots who made Radnorshire their home.  Despite his Caledonian baronetage there was precious little Scottish about a previous occupant of Downton, Sir William Cockburn of that Ilk.  Cockburn helpfully informed the authors of the Blue Books that "New Radnor was planted as a Saxon colony by Harold, after his victory here over the Britons, two years before his death at Hastings. This people have never since had any sympathies with the Welsh in language, nor many in habits." Hogwash of course but given the prejudices of the time perhaps he thought he was doing his neighbours a favour.  The current occupant of Downton, Sir Andrew Duff Gordon, might well be the last of the Lewises of Harpton, a family that once patronised the bards but which long ago declined into Britishness.

The most famous Scot to find a home in Radnorshire was, of course, James Watt - so famous that he graces the £50 note.  In 1801 he purchased Doldowlod, then a local farmhouse, to enjoy as his summer retreat. We cannot blame the elder Watt for the enmity his family subsequently engendered by their attempts to extract rent from the occupants of the tai un nos on their recently purchased crown manors.  It all led to a court case that had to be retried in Hereford, the local jury having "perversely" found in favour of the squatters.  A minor land war ensued with bailiffs battling the populace and the destruction of the Watt's property by Rebeccaite gangs.

Who knew that Walter Scott's novel The Betrothed had a Radnorshire setting.  It was based on the story of Moll Walbee and the disastrous Welsh attempt to lay siege to Painscastle in 1198.  Don't all rush out to get a copy though, it's been described as a work that "would score high marks in a competition to decide which was the dreariest and stupidest book ever produced by a writer of genius."

A few years ago Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote a tome called the Invention of Scotland, one of those "look what I've discovered works" that excite the metropolitan elites.  Much of what passed for a Scottish identity, the author claimed - including the Osian poems - was made-up. Of course Roper discovered nothing that wasn't well-know to anyone with even a cursory interest in Scotland.  The poems having long ago been exposed, not least by Radnorshire's Edward Davies (1756-1831) - he was born at Hendre Einion in Llanfaredd parish. You can read his book, published in 1825, demolishing the Ossian forgery here.

Scottish bailiffs and gamekeepers could always find employment with local landowners suspicious of devolving responsibility to the untrustworthy locals.  Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame - beloved by arch-snobs everywhere - is descended from one such bailiff called Mackintosh employed by Lord Ormathwaite.  The bailiff's daughter, Fellowes' grandmother, regailed the youngster with tales of life at Penybont Hall where she worked as a maid.  Perhaps Radnorshire should claim a share of the export earnings?

Scottish shepherds also found employment on the Radnorshire hills, one such family by the name of Scott arrived in Cwmteuddwr in the early 1800s from Roxburghshire.  Look at a list of the last Radnorshire natives clinging on to a knowledge of Welsh well into the 20C and the surname Scott is one of the most striking.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Welsh patronyms in Herefordshire c1540

To do a proper job on patronyms in 16C Herefordshire you'd have to use the Lay Subsidy but with second hand copies of Mr Faraday's transcription selling for over £60 I've used his Muster Rolls instead.  These are lists of men aged over 16 liable for military service - against a French invasion in 1539 (it never happened) and a war against the Scots in 1542 which did.

I have counted all names containing an ap and also triple or quadruple names which don't, but which are obvious patronyms eg Davyd John Gwylym Gryffyth.  I could have counted adjectival names such as John Vaure and patronymicals where the ap had disappeared but the apparent 'surname' probably changed in each generation, I chose not to do so.  The map therefore underestimates the amount of Welshness in 16C Herefordshire, where even occupational surnames may hide a Welshman.

Three new hundreds had been formed by the Act of Union from lordships transferred to the county from the March of Wales.  Ewias Lacy was very Welsh as was most of the new hundred of Huntington, Wigmore however was very English with only a handful of small Welsh districts around Presteigne. 

A puzzle is the rarity of patronyms in that part of the old cantref of Ergyng covered by Wormilow hundred.  There are many Welsh placenames in the area and Welsh surnames were common.  Perhaps language shift had already occurred or there was some other cultural factor at work.

The isolated parishes in the east of the county surely shows the impact of recent or even temporary settlers rather than any long term survival.  The same must be true of the road into Hereford from the west and lying north of the Wye.  In Hereford City itself the muster roll for 1539 had 11% Welsh patronyms rising to 14% in 1542. Clearly the city was a magnet for Welsh people in a way that other towns, Leominster for example, were not.

My base map shows modern parish boundaries and these were sometimes different from the townships used in the 16C.  For example there were parts of Eardisley and Vowchurch which were quite Welsh and others which were more English, my map doesn't show these minor variations.

It's easy to spot that the Teme and Lugg valleys were open to the influence of very English areas in North Herefordshire, the Wye valley less so. This would have had an impact on subsequent language shift in Radnorshire.

Monday, September 01, 2014

It's not possible to be a decent person and vote no?

I expect most readers will have already seen former British ambassador Craig Murray's description of the United Kingdom as a rogue state - if not then it's well worth a listen.  Now I don't usually have much time for the tribal nonsense that sees, for example, a Carwyn Jones, or heaven forbid a Tony Blair, as being somehow morally superior to their Tory opponents, so can a 'no voter' be a decent person?  Well I suppose you could argue that as the SNP hopes to remain a  member of both NATO and the increasingly aggressive EU, then plus ├ža change.

What a yes vote will do is pose an existentialist threat to one of the cornerstones of the rogue alliance currently headed-up by America's out-of-control neocons - both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried frankly insane, pro-war opinion pieces this last weekend.  At least the SNP want to kick the nuclear missiles out of Scotland, there are those in Washington and London who sound all-to-eager to use them.

If I was a Scot I would certainly vote Yes, despite the timorous attitude of their leaders towards real independence - a currency and a foreign policy of their own.  I wouldn't think a Yes vote would lead to independence though, the rogue state has a lot more tricks up its sleeve before it would allow that to happen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The County Radnor

As well as being one of the more familiar Irish premiers to those of us this side of the water Garret Fitzgerald also took time out from his official duties to research  the decline of the Irish Language.  Somehow I can't see Carwyn or Cameron doing something similarly esoteric in their spare hours, but you never know.  Fitzgerald's method was to look at the census figures for the 60 plus age group in order to deduce the linguistic situation in a particular district half a century or more earlier.  You can find his work on the 1911 census here - although without the all important maps.

It says something about the relative strengths of Welsh and Irish at the beginning of the 20th century that if thoroughly "anglicised" Radnorshire had been treated as if it belonged in the list of Irish counties, then it would have been 12th in a list of 32 (11.5% of the oldest cohort speaking Welsh) just ahead of Tipperary (11.4% speaking Irish).  In the Rhayader District Council area - roughly the A470 north of Newbridge-on-Wye and the A44 west of Crossgates - the figure was 28.2%, the majority locally born.  Of course this meant little to the Welsh speaking intelligensia of the day; for them every Radnorshire lass in trouble was further evidence of the moral decay they associated with the English language.

Why Ireland should have suffered such a severe language shift - in Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Longford, Offaly, West Meath, Wexford, Wicklow, Antrim, Belfast, Down and Fermanagh Irish speakers were even rarer than Welsh speakers in the Knighton-Presteigne-New Radnor area - has never been that successfully explained.  Clearly a good many had ditched Irish long before the famine. Plantations played a part, a similar 16C plantation in the Llanidloes-Trefeglwys-Llanbrynmair area is remembered now only in surnames like Wigley, Jarman and Peate.  It had no long-term effect on the local language situation, probably because both natives and newcomers were protestants and thus easily assimilated.

Language shift in Radnorshire is similar to that in Ireland, with the language retreating 20 miles in a generation. As for explanations, firstly this from the county's historian Jonathan Williams writing in the early 1800s and speaking of the border parish of Bugeildy:

"An increased intercourse with England, a more general interchange of the commodities and produce of these two countries respectively, and, above all, the introduction of that jurisprudence with which the inhabitants of Wales found it necessary to be familiarized, as well as the diction in which all legal pleadings, deeds, conveyances, processes, &c., are executed, soon undermined that predilection for their mother tongue which was before their distinguishing character, and rendered the study and acquisition of the English language necessary, not only as an accomplishment, but also as a matter of indispensable interest."

Secondly a 19C Irish explanation for language shift in Limerick:

"the growing public feeling that Irish was a dying language, a mark of a degraded people who were not 'decent' - all this combined to produce a new people who from youth were pledged to speak no Irish. And so in West Limerick you had many who persisted in trying to speak a broken English and never again uttered a word in the old tongue they knew so well."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's in a name

I had hoped to post some impressions - not a review, that would be presumptuous - of this, the latest volume in the Oxford History of Wales, but the truth is I haven't been able to get to grips with the book at all.  Perhaps that's down to ageing brain cells or the sheer density of information contained, but it's certainly not as reader-friendly as some of the earlier volumes in the series.  Perhaps there will be a better chance later on in the winter.

A couple of things are already apparent though - although covering a period with only limited documentary sources archaeology doesn't get much of a look in. Then, while the book treats with all the British lands: Wales, Cumbria, Cornwall and Brittany, as well as their relationships with the Irish, Northumbrians etc., interesting British survivals like that in Lincolnshire or in the pedigrees of  Wessex and Mercia don't get considered.

Of course the biggest omission, although completely expected, is the sparsity of references to East Central Wales.  I wonder if those whose cynefin encompasses Gwynedd or Powys or Gwent or Deheubarth  have any idea of how deprived the patriotic Radnorian is of any historical treatment of their gwlad.  Book after book is published with barely a word.

It's not as if East Central Wales wasn't an important strategic region, geographical imperatives rarely change as anyone following the fighting in the Donbas will know.  There's a reason why Llywelyn's last campaign was along the banks of the Wye, why Glyndwr's great victory was at Bryn Glas and why Gwerthrynion and Buellt are associated with Vortigern.  A few decades after the period covered by this book men like Madoc ab Idnerth and his sons are amongst the most important battle leaders in Wales - if you read the source material that is, rather than the history books.

Why the lack of coverage?  Well Gwynedd, Powys, Gwent and even Deuheubarth or Dyfed are pretty catchy names.  Whereas East Central Wales has to make do with a treasure-hunt clue of a name - Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.  Not even a very precise clue, it could be referring to Ledbury or Ludlow, and one cantref, Buellt, isn't even twixt Wye and Severn at all.  Well-meaning souls have come-up with other obscure names from ancient documents to describe this fifth part of Wales more succinctly: Cynllibiwg, Fferyllwg, Fferegs.  I can't see any of them catching on.  I doubt if Madoc ab Idnerth and his sons thought in terms of a unified Rhwng Gwy a Hafren at all.  There were the more local names: Maelienydd, Elfael, Gwerthrynion, Buellt, Ceri - to be defended by the descendants of Elystan Glodrydd and through him to Iorwerth Hirflawdd, progenitor of the Iorwerthiawn one of the gwelygorddau of Powys - and perhaps that's a clue, but don't expect anyone to follow it up any time soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


This coming weekend the European Parliament would like us all to wear black ribbons, having voted in 2008 to designate the 23rd of August a European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. A vote supported by three of the four Welsh members of that institution: Jonathan Evans, Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan.  This is part and parcel of the Prague Declaration which amongst other things envisages the "adjustment and overhaul of European history textbooks so that children could learn and be warned about Communism and its crimes..."

I wonder how much progress has been made in overhauling the textbooks used in Welsh schools?  Surely pupils need to be warned about Communists like the half-Radnorian Arthur Horner, Will Paynter and Dai Francis, men who led the Welsh miners in their misguided struggle against our benevolent coal owners.

The work of Welsh writers tainted with Communism like Gwyn Alf Williams, Raymond Williams and Lewis Jones needs to be closely vetted and all those monuments to the Stalinists of the International Brigades should be demolished.  Instead we could perhaps erect a monument of shame to the 15000+ misguided souls in Rhondda East, who came within 900 votes of ousting the Labour candidate in the 1945 election.  Particular attention should also be paid to re-educating Welsh politicians who make occasional glowing references to half-remembered troublemakers like Paul Robeson or Annie Powell.

Enough of the sarcasm.  What we have here is an attempt to enforce a particular and contentious view of 20C history on the younger generation.  While many authors claim 20-40-90 million fell victim to the purges, less sensationally others say that the archives in Moscow suggest that the figure was less than 2 million.  Still shocking but in the same ball park or even less than the victims of the British Empire and America and its allies - who seemingly don't merit a black ribbon day.

It was once generally accepted that the famine associated with collectivisation was nothing to do with genocide or Great Russian chauvinism, It was even admitted that it made possible the rapid industrialisation which eventually saved Europe from Hitler.  The genocide theory was just a fringe idea cultivated in emigre circles in North America.  Today it's mainstream and academics with opposing ideas are shunned.  And so it goes on, with a re-writing of history regarding the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact and culminating in the Doctors' plot - a genocide which never actually happened, but something of a clincher for those who want to demonstrate the moral equivalence of  Stalinism and Nazism.

I wonder how those proposed revised textbooks will go about explaining to Welsh schoolchildren the Red Army's overwhelming contribution to the defeat of Nazism and how Generalplan Ost, today a footnote in history, was once a blueprint for the elimination of the very nations which are loudest in their condemnation of Communism?  What they must do, of course, is convince the hoi polloi that only Wall Street and the City of London can protect democracy, free speech and a law based society.  Any truck with socialism will inevitably lead to a Stalinist dystopia.

Funnily enough while Communism is roundly condemned, with laws being passed in some EU countries to jail those who argue that its crimes have been exaggerated, all over Eastern Europe pro-Nazis are being rehabilitated and public monuments erected in their honour.  If you want to learn more see this website for example.

As the wartime generation kicks the bucket, the history of those times becomes, more and more, the preserve of the public-school-academics, right-wing nationalists and American neo-conservative and neo-liberal warmongers.  Those with an opposing viewpoint are hardly likely to be invited to make documentaries for BBC2 - certainly not the likes of one Grover Furr, who holds that the Old Bolsheviks were guilty as charged and that Khrushchev's 1956 speech attacking Stalin was a tissue of lies. His website is here for anyone interest in such controversial viewpoints.


I can sympathise with those who say I should stick to my usual Radnorian related material and not bother with Ukraine, I feel the same way myself a lot of the time.  If our mass media, in particular the BBC, were actually reporting the facts on the ground then I could happily ignore this bloody war at the other end of Europe.  People would have the facts to make-up their own mind about the company our government keeps. Instead we are being fed a load of tripe.  In Lugansk there seems, at the moment, to be just one Western freelancer.  In Donetsk you have a handful of Western photographers and a young Asian backpacker/blogger.  The BBC are too busy rehashing fanciful Kiev press releases or chasing after humanitarian convoys inside Russia to ever venture anywhere near the killing fields.

What is not reported are the civilian deaths, the SS-21 missiles being launched at cities, the 700,000 who have fled across the border into Russia - the largest ethnic-cleansing in Europe since the Second World War.  In particular many folk in the West are unaware of the enormous losses suffered by the largely conscript and barely trained Ukrainian army.  At least 11000 killed so far.  Like the civilians, mainly from working class districts, slaughtered by their hopeless shelling, these press-ganged Ukrainians are unpeople as far as the western media is concerned.

Their wives, mothers and surviving comrades are not unpeople however and in this subtitled youtube video you get a sense of the anger welling-up against the oligarchs who sold-out their country in the interests of American and European meddlers.  Facing such losses, a winter approaching without heating and an economy already in ruins, even before the IMF get to work, maybe the Ukrainian soldiers will follow George Bernard Shaw's advice to the British soldiery of a century ago - shoot your officers and go home.

Please turn-on the subtitles

Friday, August 01, 2014


So Powys County Councillor Myfanwy Alexander has caused a stink by using the N word in a cabinet debate.  As expected in these politically-correct times retribution was swift.  Ms Alexander will be sent on an equalities training course and has already apologised for her use of the word - why does this all remind me of Maoist China?  She has also been referred to the unelected Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, which will doubtless lead to more abject apologies and severe reprimands in due course.

Ms Alexander used the unfortunate term during a discussion on the cross-border health arrangements which see many Powys residents treated in English hospitals.  The councillor complained that she and other patients were being mocked for having Welsh forenames.  Some Shropshire based public-servant had told Myfanwy that her name was just "a meaningless jumble of letters."  Furthermore when she had asked if a Welsh-speaking nurse could speak to her father she had been told "that's fine as long as you don't mind your father being considered a racist."

Ms Alexander rightly complained that an Indian patient would not be mocked for having an unfamiliar name.  I'm reminded of a recent BBC "comedy" where a Welsh teacher was humiliated by having his pupils make sheep noises.  Everyone in the show thought this very droll and I was left wondering what the reaction would have been had an African teacher - to use another degrading stereotype - been greeted by monkey sounds.  The councillor viewed such double standards as Welsh people "being treated like n*****s over the border."  What she clearly meant was that Welsh people are now the only minority who can be treated in such a disrespectful way by polite society.  Of course the councillor's substantive complaints are ignored in the hullabaloo and she has become the villain of the piece for transgressing a taboo.

It seems to me that these taboos have become a way for the neo-liberal elite to avoid any suggestion that they are exploiters.  They may not pay their fair share of taxes, they may be economically and socially corrupt but at least they never break politically-correct codes of behaviour.  Why should they, none of them damage the financial bottom line.

So where do we go from here?  A hundred years ago our Radnorshire village had a rather good mixed choir and I've inherited a couple of examples of sheet music from their repertoire.  One piece is an English-language version of Myfanwy by Thomas Walter Price entitled Arabella - some even claim that Price's lyrics predate the Welsh version?  Perhaps Ms Alexander should consider adopting this forename.  It should have sufficient vowels to satisfy even the dimmest English public servant.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meet the Readers

Minding my own business in Builth High Street , a reader sidles up and tells me the blog has got too political, too much Wcrain.
"You need more Radnorshire stuff" I'm advised. 
"What do you suggest?"
"How about the Radnorshire Cobdens?"

The friendly critic soon filled-me-in on the exploits of one Frank Cobden in the 1870 Varsity cricket match.  Oxford needed three runs to win with three wickets in hand when Cobden stepped-up and took his famous hat-trick.  If it happened today you'd suspect the involvement of far-eastern bookmakers.  Instead they  called it Cobden's match and although he was an Englishman there was said to be some Radnorshire connection along the way.

Cobden turned up in Knighton at the end of the 1870s. Heir to a small fortune and with a much older wife he rented The Cottage and took an interest in the market town's sporting activities, football and cricket.  An early initiative was to restart the county cricket side, something that came to pass in 1884 - partial records of the team which flourished until 1889, when Cobden moved away, can be found here.

Playing its games at Bryn-y-Castell in Knighton - the town organised an annual August Cricket week  - this reformed Radnorshire side was clearly dominated by a county elite educated in the virtues of the English public school.  The Evelyn brothers of Kinsham Court, one an Oxford cricket blue, another a Welsh soccer international, were prominent in the batting line-up.  We also find a host of Green-Prices from Norton Manor and the inevitable Cobden dominating the bowling.

With Cobden's departure from Radnorshire the county side folded.  The cricketer moved to Capel Curig, where he is remembered in the name of the Cobden Hotel, formerly Tan-y-Bwlch.  There's a photograph of him here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gladys and the Pipsqueaks

Now here's an interesting snippet of 20C history to ponder, the visit of the Chilean Communist leader Gladys Marin to East Germany in the aftermath of the Pinochet coup.  At that time Marin was busy organising "Solidarity with Chile" campaigns around the world;  later she would return to Chile to participate in the clandestine struggle against the dictatorship and - a telling point this - become the only woman ever to act as general secretary of a major Communist party.

I wonder what our Welsh socialist bloggers think of this?  No doubt many would have a great deal of sympathy with Gladys, a true working-class hero - as the hundreds of thousands who attended her funeral in Santiago in 2005 clearly testified.  But what about some of the others in the video, the well-groomed Erich Honecker perhaps, or Egon Krenz - so obviously enjoying rubbing shoulders with a revolutionary untainted by power?  Suddenly we see that sympathy draining away.  Socialism yes, but East Germany, heaven forbid.

For most of us East Germany is the Stasi and the Berlin Wall.  The likes of Honecker and Krenz may have been trying to build socialism - full employment, health care, educational opportunities, housing, the equality for women from which the scientist Angela Merkel so obviously benefited.  They also stretched out the hand of solidarity to oppressed peoples, hence the large number of Chilean exiles in the crowd.  These party apparatchiks awarded themselves special privileges, that's true, but hardly on the scale of our present day Western elites.  The Stasi?  It could be argued that East Germany was indeed subject to a great deal of CIA, MI6 and BND inspired sabotage and dirty tricks, not all their enemies were imaginary.  The Berlin Wall?  How do you subsidize basic foodstuffs without preventing cross-border exploitation of that cheap resource?  And if you create a wage structure that narrows the gap between the manual worker and the highly trained specialists, how do you keep those specialists at home?  How do you build a socialism that respects individual liberty in a world with very powerful forces intent on its destruction?

I'll leave that for the socialists to answer, but as the memory of countries like East Germany fades away and a younger generation emerges who never knew that any alternative to capitalism could exist, we need to be careful.  Already in certain EU countries it's a crime to deny that Communist persecutions were qualitatively different from those of the Nazis. You can get five years jail-time for propagating such a viewpoint in Lithuania for example.  Communism is equated with Nazism and demands are made at an EU level that the history taught in schools reflect this new reality.  Will the history of the South Wales Miners or our politicians favourite, the International Brigade fall foul of these diktats?

Honecker and Krenz may have been responsible for their fair share of human misery but surely less than Clinton, Bush and Obama.  Less even than America's little British puppets.  Compared to the likes of the brazen cleptocrats currently destroying both Main Street and democracy, their crimes were smaller-beer, their virtues greater. Compared to them I say Hurrah for the Pipsqueaks!