Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Moss Races in Wales

Although Stirling Moss dominated races all over the world, his one excursion west of Offa's Dyke back in 1952 was hardly a success. Driving Swansea born manufacturer Cyril Kieft's works car, Stirling crashed out, while trying to avoid a melee of spinning cars, on the very first corner of his heat of the 500cc Championship of Wales race.

Alan Brown's Cooper ran over the Kieft, clipping Stirling with its wheel. Luclily the boy wonder was unhurt and a great career didn't meet a premature end. Of course the crowd were disappointed at not seeing the star driver in action, so an invitation race was hastily arranged which Brown proceeded to win, with Moss, in a borrowed Kieft, finishing third.

The Championship race itself was won by George Wicken, with Brown second and Les Leston third, all in Coopers. Although he did complete in a couple of non-championship F1 races, Wicken is one of the forgotten men of Fiftes motor sport. A steady driver, the most unusual thing about him seems to have been his membership of an obscure Victorian religious sect called the Jezreelites.

Welsh TT, Eppynt Medal

A regular reader enquires about the origin of this badge. He has good reason to believe that it was a bronze medal awarded for a third place in the Epynt motorcycle races of the late forties and early fifties.

There's no inscription on the medal, so perhaps it came from a stock of unused medals left over when the races ended.

Maybe there's someone out there who has seen a medal like this? It's quite small, no bigger than a 50 pence piece ..... but then they were never given to extravagance south of the Wye!

By the way there's some interesting stuff about the old Epynt community, the wartime evictions and post-war motor sport here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

St John Hankin

St John Emile Clavering Hankin is hardly a name that trips off the tongue, even the tongues of Llandrindod's robustly nostalgic Victorian perambulators. Back in 1909, however, he was one of the country's leading literary figures and his suicide by drowning in Llandrindod's Rock Park made headlines around the world. You can read about him here.

Perhaps one of his plays should be revived during the town's annual festival, although the Edwardian period may be a bit too modern for Llandrindod.

Gone South

During the Nineteenth Century, while the decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire proceeded with amazing rapidity, a great many local folk migrated to the South Wales mining valleys. Many of these migrants either had to learn or maintain their Welsh, at a time when their country cousins were turning their backs on the language.

Now migrating to the coalfield was not the same as going to America. There was still plenty of contact between Radnorians in the South and their relations back home. A good deal of work needs to be done on these links and the light they throw on the linguistic complexities of the period, something that the family historian is well-equipped to do.

As an example let us examine the lives of five brothers born in and around the Crossgates area of Radnorshire in the middle years of the century. John Mantle was born in 1839, his brother Thomas in 1843, Price in 1846, Evan in 1850 and Septimus in 1855. Their father, another John Mantle, was born in Llandinam and was shown to be bilingual in the 1891 census, their mother Ann was from Llandrindod and died before the census bothered about the Welsh language.

Given the time and place that they were born, none of these five would have been expected to have learnt Welsh at their mothers knee. Eventually all five would end up in the coalfield, three in Fochriw and one in nearby Pontlottyn, with the fifth in Treharris.

Two of the brothers, Septimus and Price married girls from Dowlais. Given this fact it is not wholly surprising that they are both recorded as being bilingual, their children are also shown as bilinguals and indeed Welsh seems to be the language of the hearth in both households. Two of the brothers John and Evan moved to the coalfield much later than the others, their wives were from Radnorshire and their children had been born there. Both their households are shown as being English speaking. The real surprise comes with Thomas and his Nantmel born wife Hannah Morris. Both are shown as being bilingual and it is obvious that Welsh is the language of the hearth, indeed their eldest son, who had left home by the time of the first language census, is recorded as a Welsh monoglot. This suggests to me that Thomas and Hannah already spoke some Welsh when they came to the coalfield. Back home in Radnorshire such bilingualism would have been ditched as the century progressed but in Fochriw this was not the case.

The five brothers kept in close contact both with each other - John, Thomas and Price for example lived in the same street in Fochriw - and with relations back home in Radnorshire. Welsh speaking cousins from the South, coming home to Victorian Radnorshire for holidays and to help with the harvest must have been a familiar sight. Indeed a number of this second generation married locally and moved back to Mid Wales. The Welsh language cannot have been as much of a stranger to local families as the bare census figures of the time suggests.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Few More Thoughts on the Welsh Language in Radnorshire

If the decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire has been addressed at all, it has been done so from the viewpoint of geographers. A typical example is the article The Geography of Cultural Transition: The Welsh Borderland 1750-1830 which appeared in the Winter 1979 edition of the National Library of Wales Journal. The article summarises the geographers viewpoint as follows "the upland mass of the county is located between major avenues of anglicisation, the Severn and the Wye Valleys, and so it was cut off from the major Welsh speaking areas to the west."

Ffransis Payne dismissed this viewpoint as "lol i gyd, cynnyrch breuddwydion uwchben y map." ("a load of nonsense, the result of daydreaming over a map.") The truth of Mr Payne's words are well illustrated by one of the maps accompanying the NLWJ article which shows that Welsh language church services persisted in Wye valley parishes such as Boughrood, LlandeiloGraban and Llansteffan long after the language had been dismissed from parishes in the north of the county. The truth is, that far from being an avenue of anglicisation, the Wye valley was something of a stronghold of Welsh, something that the author of the article might have spotted if he had bothered to look at his own maps.

In reality anglicisation spread from the border towns of Presteigne and Knighton, making early inroads - for reasons we will investigate later - into the parishes of the Ithon valley.

The census of 1891 and 1901 shows Welsh persisting at that date to an extent in Cwmteuddwr, Rhayader, St Harmon and parts of Nantmel. There is precious little evidence for it elsewhere in the county, even amongst those who would have been born early in the nineteenth century in parishes where you would have expected at least a few old folk to be recorded as using Welsh. In part this is because the census was asking about language use rather than language ability. I also believe that there was an element of prejudice in Radnorshire towards the language. As an example I know that my great grandmother from Carmarthenshire spoke Welsh occasionally with her husband born in Diserth in the 1850s. In the Diserth census she is listed as bilingual while my great grandfather is not. I spoke about this once with one of my great uncles born in the 1890s. He was most upset at the suggestion that either of his parents spoke Welsh, I might as well have accused them of being thieves.

In order to gain some insight into the position of the language in the first third of the nineteenth century, I have examined the 1891 census for 263 individuals listed as being born in Radnorshire before 1820 but living outside the county itself. Of course it is quite likely that some of these individuals left the county at an early age, while others might have picked up Welsh in the mines of South Wales. Infact hardly any of these Radnorshire migrants went to the Welsh speaking rural counties and surprisingly few to the more Welsh speaking industrial areas. The great majority went to parishes just across the border in Brecon and Montgomery, to rural English speaking Monmouthshire and the more anglicised towns of the South Wales coalfield such as Tredegar.

Of our 263 Radnorshire born individuals aged 70 or over at the time of the 1891 census 29% were bilingual and 4% spoke only Welsh - 67% were English monoglots. When we look at the birth places of these migrants we find that 60% born in Rhayader Hundred use Welsh - those that can't are mainly from Nantmel or have moved to anglicised areas; from Colwyn Hundred the figure of Welsh speakers is 34%, and from Painscastle Hundred 24%. When we look at the Hundreds of Knighton and Cefnllys the position is quite different with only 10% listed as Welsh speakers and most of those coming from Cefnllys parish itself. The figure for Radnor Hundred is 12% but the number of individuals involved, fourteen, is really too small to be of much use.

I believe that these figures provide a fairly accurate view of the position of Welsh in Radnorshire during the first third of the nineteenth century. Welsh is still widely spoken as a hearth language in Rhayader Hundred with English making rapid inroads into Nantmel. A fair amount of Welsh is still spoken in Colwyn parishes such as Diserth, but English is rapidly gaining the upper hand. there is still some Welsh spoken in parishes lower down the Wye such as Bochrwyd and Glasbury but, as a hearth language, Welsh has already disappeared from the north and the east of the county.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Welsh in St Harmon in 1901

The 1901 census shows that around 25% of the population of St Harmon's parish were recorded as being able to speak Welsh at the start of the twentieth century. A good number of these Welsh speakers were actually born in the neighbouring parishes of Llangurig and Cwmteuddwr; among those who were recorded as being born in St Harmon parish itself the number of Welsh speakers fell to 19%. While a majority of locally born people over the age of 60 spoke Welsh and nearly 40% of those aged between 40 and 59, in the 20 to 39 age group the figure falls to 12%, with only 8% of those under 20 being listed as Welsh speakers.

A useful term used in the Victorian period was the language of the hearth, the language spoken by the family around the fireside. It is a good indication of the real strength of the language in a given area. Although there were no Welsh monoglots in St Harmon parish, the fact that everyone in a household was able to speak Welsh suggests it was the hearth language. Of the 138 households in the parish just 19 could be classed as Welsh speaking, 67 were wholly English speaking and 52 had a mixture of bilinguals and English monoglots, indicating that the language of the hearth must have been English. Although a majority of households in St Harmon included at least one Welsh speaker, the fact that in just 14% of homes Welsh was the language of the hearth shows that the parish was approaching the final stages of language shift at the time of the 1901 Census.

It is interesting to look at the position of Welsh amongst children aged 10 and under. This was the era of large families and 20% of the total population of the parish fell into this category. Of the 123 children in this age group just 9 were bilingual, 8 being children of bilingual couples and just 1 having a bilingual father and an English speaking mother. 71 were children of English speaking monoglots, 16 were children of bilingual parents but being brought up as English speakers and a further 27 were English speaking children with one or other of their parents being able to speak Welsh.

Long distance migration was not a factor in the process of language shift in St Harmon, indeed there were only two English households in the parish, although one of these was inevitably the home of the school mistress. The parish did not have a gentry house which probably explains why Welsh language services in the parish church lingered after they had been abandoned in the more Welsh speaking parish of Cwmteuddwr. What we have here is bilingualism, allowing Welsh speaking parents to bring up their children as English monoglots, and the slow wave of language shift hastened by short distance movements of families and marriage partners from neighbouring parishes which had already sunk beneath the tide of Anglicisation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Questions than Answers

A one page article about the old Epynt motorcycle circuit in the recent July issue of Classic Bike magazine causes a few thoughts to cross the mind. The most obvious being, you're not going to even begin to do justice to the subject in one page.

Luckily the post-war Epynt races are the subject of one of the best Mid Wales resources on the web, the silverdragons site. Now this may not be the best designed site - in my experience Firefox seems to dislike it intensely - but as far as content goes, well it's irreplaceable. And there's another point, what if it gets taken down? Whereas a book or a magazine is always going to be available, a web site can disappear over night. Perhaps websites are going to be like medieval manuscripts, surviving by sheer chance because someone, somewhere, made a copy.

A final point, Mid Wales may not be famous for very much, but in motorsport terms it has something of an international heritage. So why do local councils and schools not do a lot more to exploit that heritage for the benefit of the local community? Most local people have grown up with and support motorsport, it's a pity that our public bodies don't embrace the fact.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rebecca's Law

The recent oil price rise seems to have provided an excuse for all manner of businesses to hike their prices. Back in 1854 the good citizens of Mid Wales seem to have had fairly radical ideas of how to deal with such opportunism.

Perhaps we might see an historical reenactment during Llandrindod's eagerly awaited but somewhat overly genteel Victorian Festival?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

You may kiss the Bride ..... not you Stirling.

Interesting piece of memorabilia for sale on ebay at the moment. A press photograph of Innes Ireland's wedding to Edna Humphries at Caxton Hall on 7th December 1967. It was Innes's second marriage and Stirling Moss was the bestman, I believe Miss Humphries was employed as a secretary at the British Racing Partnership.