Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Welsh on the March

Which was the last county in England to have indigenous native speakers of a Celtic language? I guess most people would say Cornwall but infact Herefordshire and Shropshire are more certain candidates.

The last speaker of Herefordshire Welsh is said to have died in the parish of Clodock in 1883, although Ffransis Payne maintains that five or six native speakers lived on into the twentieth century in the Golden Valley. In 1878 the statistician E G Ravenstein found that the Shropshire parish of Sychtyn was overwhelmingly Welsh speaking, as was the western half of Llanyblodwel, with substantial numbers also found in Selattyn. Looking at the 1901 Census for the neighbouring Denbighshire parish of Llansilin it is apparent that the great majority of those born in the Shropshire parishes noted above and also in Oswestry itself are listed as Welsh speakers. The Welsh language must have survived well into the twentieth century in these "English" districts.

What I find interesting about this is the complete lack of interest in this survival of the Welsh language in Shropshire and Herefordshire. The topic does not seem to excite those interested in the history of either county. Why on earth is it that such an important part of each county's heritage is ignored? Do local historians in the two counties perhaps have some psychological hang-up about the subject?


Anonymous said...

I agree the survival of the Welsh language east of the border is indeed a fascinating subject which recalls the settlement pattern of these islands by the anglo-saxons. It gives creedence to the seperateness of the indentities of the English and Welsh peoples in the marches.
Rumour has it that Welsh is still spoken in western Shropshire (around Trefonen)by peoples indigenous to the area. Worth investigating ??

kjj said...

I really wish I could find a way of being notified when I get fresh comments. I miss interesting stuff like this. I guess I could go for full moderation but I don't want to do that.

Back to the comment .... given the fairly strong position of the language in the parishes on the Welsh side of the border, I guess there has to be a good chance of native born speakers on the Salop side. Certainly worth investigating. It's a puzzle that there's not more interest in these survivals of Celtic speech in England long after Cumbria and Cornwall.

Alan said...

It's a shame that there wasn't a 'language spoken' section on the 1891 Census for the western parishes of Herefordshire and Shropshire. If the Welsh Language was still spoken, be it by the older generation, in Cwmyoy in 1891it is quite possible that there were a few speakers residing on the English side of the border. Returning to the Welsh census is is also regretable that the language section was not added earlier to Welsh censuses which would have given a much clearer picture of the use of Welsh spoken in the eastern counties (Hoff iawn o'r wefan yn enwedig y pytiau ar Gymreictod ac ar hynt yr iaith Gymraeg ym Maesyfed)

SiƓnnyn said...

WHy don't you write to S4C and ask Dai Llanilar (Cefn Gwlad) as I am sure I saw him talk, a few years ago, to an indigenous farming family from across the border who spoke lovely Welsh.

Evs said...

Very interesting. I'm sure on a walking trip in the Olchon Vallley last year I overheard a farming family speaking Welsh. I was surprised but considering the isolated location I suppose it's not out of the question that the language is still spoken. The 2001 census shows that 162 people in nearby Crucorny (8.6% of population) speak the language so it's not out of the question that the language is still prominent in South West Hereforshire. I wouldn't be surprised if Welsh is still spoken in places such as Longtown and Clodock - if you walk through the villages it's amazing how many of the houses have Welsh names.

This is a fascinating topic and you are right to say it's a real shame there isn't more academic research to uncover the strength of the language over the border.

Im always pleased to see that the banks in Oswestry offer bilingual services and I know of one nursery in the town where Welsh is taught to the children - my sister in law teaches it there.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting post and a subject which certainly merits further investigation.

Difyr dros ben!

radnor redivivus said...

I'm sure that traditional Herefordshire Welsh is long dead, although the occasional family from off may indeed speak Welsh. One or two individuals born in the detached part of Herefordshire called Ffwthog would have continued to speak Welsh into the 20C. It was transferred to Monmouthshire in 1893 though.

Shropshire is a different kettle of fish. In 1945 the headmistress of Selattyn village school confirmed that 5 of her 46 pupils were fluent Welsh speakers and there were still Welsh speaking miners working in the Salop colliery of Ifton when it closed in 1968. I'd say there was a good chance that there were still indigenous speakers of Shropshire Welsh living in the county.

By indigenous I mean familes who have been natives of the area for some generations. Of course there will be plenty of folk who have moved, or their parents have moved into the county.

Isochest said...

I think it is great there's a nursery teaching Welsh to the children. Given how many parents in England send their children across the border to Welsh medium schools why don't they campaign for bilingual schools in the English Marches?

Tommycdr said...

Really interesting subject, sorry to come so late to it. I recall hearing Welsh being spoken among the staff in a bakery in Ellsmere in about 1983 when I was holidaying in the area. I also heard it spoken in other rural localities on the English side of the border. It has always stuck with me. Of course the speakers I witnessed could have been Welsh and merely working/visiting on the English side of the border but my impression was that Welsh was still spoken vestigially in that area. I am Cornish by descent and have always taken an interest in such matters since my grandfather told me about our language when I was a boy. Studying and documenting the decline of the Welsh language on the English side of the border, I feel, could offer very interesting insights into the demise of the Cornish language.