Monday, May 26, 2008

Ffransis Payne

"Et nous, dont le nom connu des goélands et des cormorans, Fut banni de tous les langages humains, De toutes les bibliothèques, de toutes les cartes terrestres"

Having been educated in 1960s Radnorshire it was an easy thing to relate to the words of the Breton singer Alan Stivell. Our history, too, was untold, buried in dusty manuscripts, replaced by stories that had no place for our heroes, our writers, our songs. My first real inkling of all this came in 1968 in the sedate surroundings of the Ty John Penry bookshop in Swansea's St Helen's Road. Here I came across two recently published volumes by Ffransis G. Payne, Crwydro Sir Faesyfed.

Supposedly part of a travelogue series covering the thirteen Welsh counties, the two Radnorshire volumes contained much more, the broad outlines of a suppressed and forgotten history. Two books written about, rather than for, the people of Radnorshire, folk who were, in Payne's words, unaware that the fragrant names of their parishes and farms sparkled like gems in works that would be an adornment for any literature. Struggling to understand these books with the help of a Spurrell's dictionary, I soon became aware of another truth about Wales in the Sixties. Payne's elegant prose was quite beyond many of my Welsh-speaking friends, the education system had left them practically illiterate in their mother tongue. Clearly the liberation struggles of 1968 needed to be fought far closer to home than many imagined.

Ffransis Payne was born in Kington, Herefordshire in 1901 and it was perhaps the tomb of Elen Gethin and Tomas ap Rhosier Fychan in the local parish church, where he was a choirboy, that awakened his interest in the history of Radnorshire and the border lands. In the 1920s Payne got on his bike and cycled west, working as a farm labourer in order to learn the Welsh language. In 1936 he found a post as an assistant keeper at the National Museum of Wales, coming to wider notice in 1943 when a collection of his essays was hailed as a modern classic of Welsh prose. Despite his lack of academic qualifications, Payne's meticulous scholarship saw him appointed as deputy curator of the Welsh Folk Museum in 1948. In later life Payne did infact study for a degree and had the amusing experience of having to answer a question on one of his own essays in his final examination. In 1969 Payne retired from the Folk Museum and moved back to Radnorshire, he died in 1992.

They were not followed by their betters was Payne's judgement on the old uchelwr class who sustained the civilised society in Radnorshire deep into the Sixteenth Century. As a scholar of Radnorshire and her history a similar judgement can surely be passed on Payne.

1 comment:

dafydd said...

Sear kjj and anyone else interested in Ffransis Payne and the Welsh language in Radnorshire, please phone Dai on 01597 823 105
Hwyl fawr
Dai