Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Bells of Rhymney

You'd be hard put to find a more comprehensive website than this, celebrating the life and times of Fochriw, a hill village between Merthyr and the Rhymney valley.

I'm interested in Fochriw because my grandmother, who was born at the old Clywedog Arms in Gwystre, spent her childhood and early adulthood in the village. Just one of the thousands of Radnorians who found a new life in the South Wales coalfield.

It's interesting to note that in 1901 over 90% of the population of Fochriw spoke Welsh, making it a more "Welsh" place than anywhere in present day Gwynedd. Yet within the space of a few years the language was to virtually disappear amongst the younger generation. Such is the impact of language shift.

There's an interesting little verse on the site, written in the style of Idris Davies, which says a lot about the process of language shift:

Betty Evans knew her Welsh
And so did I at four,
Until I played with friends outside
And children from next door.

Something similar must have happened in the villages of Radnorshire, with a certain amount of Welsh spoken here and there behind closed doors, while the public arena was given over to English. There's a little evidence for this when we examine the amount of Welsh spoken by those Radnorshire migrants to the coalfield.

Taking a sample of 272 Radnorshire born folk aged over 55 and living in Glamorgan at the time of the 1891 census, we find that 38% can speak Welsh, a much higher figure than that for the stay at homes. Of course the obvious conclusion would be that these folk had picked up their Welsh in the South, but if that was the case then we would expect to see similar percentages from parishes across the county. Infact this is not the case. For those born west of the Ithon the figure of Welsh speakers is 66%, while for those from the Wyeside parishes from Diserth down to Clyro the figure is 33%. For the rest of the county the figure drops to 12%.

What I think this shows is that a certain amount of Welsh continued to be used in families in parishes such as Nantmel, Llanyre and Diserth during the Nineteenth Century. When such folk moved to areas where Welsh was more widely used as a community language, their "hidden" Welsh came into the open. The figures also provide some evidence to show that F G Payne was correct when he dismissed the view that the Wye valley was a major conduit for the anglicization of Radnorshire, a view that is still the norm in academic circles.

1 comment:

Ifor Coggan said...

Many thanks for the complement re my site. I am still looking for additional material on any topic related to Fochriw so if you have any information, however trivial, it would be greatly appreciated. Please send to fochriwhistory1@tiscali.co.uk.
Ifor Coggan