Thursday, May 28, 2009

Welsh in Nantmel Parish

The more one looks at the rapidity of language shift in Radnorshire, the more one is reminded of Ireland. Research there shows that it took around 50 years for Irish districts to move from a situation where 100% of children grew up as Irish speakers to one where the figure had fallen to zero, and perhaps a 100 years for the language to disappear altogether.

Something similar certainly seems to have happened in the large Radnorshire parish of Nantmel. Writing around 1818 Jonathan Willaims remarked that the inhabitants spoke both Welsh and English but that "the use of the aboriginal tongue is rapidly declining." Similarly a letter writer spoke, no doubt exaggeratedly, of a place between Llandrindod and Rhayader where there was no English at the start of a particular cleric's ministry but no Welsh by 1845. According to Ffransis Payne, Dolau Baptist chapel ceased it's Welsh services around 1840 and the denomination's historian John Jones writing in 1895 reported that the majority of chapel goers in Nantmel and Newbridge-on-Wye spoke Welsh in his youth but that now it was "not understood in these places except by a few aged people."

There is some census evidence for this rapid abandonment of the Nantmelians' native tongue. If we look at the languages spoken by folk born and still living in Nantmel parish at the time of the 1891 Census, we find 100% of those aged over 80 speaking both Welsh and English - the sample is very low however. For those in their 70s the figure declines to 21%, while for those in their 60s just 7% and less than 3% for those in their 50s. There is only one person under the age of 50 and born in the parish who can speak Welsh, Gertrude Price, the 16 year old daughter of the Breconshire born Baptist minister at Dolau chapel.

These figures suggest that the anecdotal evidence is correct, parents began speaking English to their children in the first decade or so of the nineteenth century and by the middle of the century the language had all but disappeared from the hearths of the parish. Something similar must surely have happened in parishes further east a little earlier and which subsequently remain untraceable in the 1891 census.

Why did this rapid shift happen? Let us turn to Ireland and the opinion of one John Moylan of Rathkeale who lived through the language shift in West Limerick. He cited a growing public feeling that Irish was a dying language, a mark of a degraded people who were not "decent."

A farmer, Stephen Evans, who died in 1914, might be considered the last Nantmel native to speak the traditional Radnorian Welsh learnt in Nantmel at his mother's knee, although, no doubt, one or two others who had moved away from the parish may have lived on later than this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jumbo in Bwgey Wonderland

It's 1848 and a bored elephant goes on the rampage in downtown Rhaeadr Gwy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler was the most celebrated of the 65 Radnorians, including 9 women, transported to Australia between 1788 and 1852. In 1814 Chandler was found guilty of altering three Kington Bank one pound notes and sentenced to death, Judge George Hardinge being unmoved by the fact that the 37 year old forger was pregnant and had seven children under the age of ten - Hardinge of course had also sentenced poor Mary Morgan to the gallows.

Chandler's plight excited a good deal of sympathy in Radnorshire. She was described as "a very jolly good looking woman" and her husband Thomas Chandler of Dolley, Presteigne was said to have kept her short of money and to have treated her cruelly. The hangman was cheated however when Chandler's brothers managed to effect her escape from Presteigne jail in August 1814, she was not recaptured until she was discovered in Birmingham more than two years later. Petitions on Sarah's behalf were subsequently received from many leading citizens, including the High Sheriff and the owners of the Kington Bank. Hardinge's recommendation that she should nonetheless hang was overturned and in 1817 she sailed for New South Wales to commence a life sentence.

All this is well known, but an article in the Northern Star of 1845 provides some further interesting information on Sarah Chandler's background. It seems that Sarah was a member of a notorious family from Bugeildy called Bowen. A family whom the Star claimed lived mainly by plunder and were a terror to the neighbourhood. The article was prompted by the fact that five members of the clan languished at that time in Presteigne jail for various offences. The exact relationships are a little confused but seem to include Sarah's brothers Francis and William and William's son William Bowen Jones held for theft, Francis' son Francis jnr and his wife Ann were also being held for transportation for sheep stealing. A few months before Sarah's son Richard Chandler and her 16 year old nephew Morgan Bowen had been transported for shearing a flock of sheep and selling the fleeces in Newtown. Another of Sarah's sons, Peter, had already been transported in 1824.

Who were these Bowens? A Morgan Bowen of Bugeildy had been prosecuted for attempting to ravish a certain Anne Evans in 1775. Bowen was of gentry status, as was Sarah Chandler's mean-spirited husband. Perhaps they belonged to that class of people called the manwyr by sixteenth century bards in Radnorshire, families of the old bonheddig or noble class who had fallen on hard times after the Acts of Union and who were often a source of dissatisfaction and rebellion.

I don't know what happened to Sarah in Australia. Her brother Francis died in Melbourne in 1853, his wife surviving until 1876. Young Morgan the shearer lived on until 1902.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Billy Griffiths

Billy Griffiths from Llwynypia never rose above the rank of private in the International Brigade's British Battalion, yet he was a private who commanders deferred to and whose work during the Spanish Civil War was singled out for praise by the Comintern. Griffiths' status was not gained through any stirring military exploit. Although his physical courage could never be doubted, he rarely carried a weapon. No, Griffiths was a political commissar, his standing derived from his secret position within the Communist party and the shadowy presence of Stalin's NKVD.

The present-day left in Wales glorifies the International Brigaders, indeed they seem to think far more of the 150 or so Welshmen who fought for Stalin in Spain than for the tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen and women who fought for democracy against fascism. I doubt if our Cardiff Bay leftists have even heard of the Yezhovshchina but if history had turned out differently then Billy Griffiths possessed all the attributes to be a Welsh Beria or Yagoda.

A zealous and fanatical Leninist, Griffiths was quite prepared to mark the cards of his fellow countrymen with the dreaded accusation of Trotskyism - a certain death sentence. Around 50% of his comrades were branded as weak or bad, at a time when countless thousands were being shot in Russia for far less. As it happened shooting Brigaders was not seen as being a good move at the time and at most only five Welshmen received a bullet in the back of the skull from their comrades. One was Griffiths' butty Alec Cummings, who was probably suffering from shell-shock. Cummings had previously survived a court-martial where his old pal had pressed for the death sentence.

Unlike those AMs who worship at the altar of Thirties Spain, Griffiths was a serious revolutionary. He is one of the more interesting characters to have come out of twentieth century Wales. As things are he is largely forgotten and even his memoirs remain unpublished. His story deserves to be better known, but that would involve facing up to some uncomfortable truths, so don't hold your breath.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Builth Writer

Never mind the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, Thomas Prichard, the first Welsh novelist was born in the lively Wyeside town of Builth around 1790. As the correction to the DWB points out, Prichard left Builth in 1839, presumably to return to life as a travelling actor. His wife Naomi and her five small children stayed on in the town where she found employment as a milliner. In 1848 Naomi died, and by the time of the 1851 census, his eldest daughter Tydvil is found living in Broad Street, supporting her sisters and brother by selling books. Edward Poole, a graduate of Cambridge University and the publisher of Prichard's most well known work The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti is living next door, in 1841 he had been living with Prichard's wife. One wonders if he was related to Edwin Poole, the founder of the Brecon and Radnor Express.

No doubt selling books proved unsuccessful and Tydvil and her siblings had moved to Cardiff by 1861, where she worked, like her mother, as a milliner. Meanwhile Prichard continued to write on Welsh topics, for example his Heroines of Welsh History, which you can read here. Interestly Prichard's daughters all had names found in the book: Tydvil Nest, Senena (the mother of Prince Llywelyn), Mevanwy (the earliest use of the name in Wales) and Ellen.

By 1861 Prichard had lost his nose in a duel and was living as a recluse in the Swansea slum of World's End. Tormented by gangs of youths, a public subscription by the town's Cambrian newspaper raised enough money to clean Prichard's house and provide him with food and coal. Within five weeks he had fallen into his new fire and burned to death. His daughter Tydvil died in 1869, while Senena Coles lived on in Clare Road, Cardiff, finally passing away at the age of 80 in 1917.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tawny Reed, Part 2

What a You Tube treat! Cardiffian soul sister Tawny Reed pulls some energetic and frankly erotic moves infront of a roomful of libidinous teens, OK maybe not the guy in the Fair Island sweater. You could think that she was living dangerously but hey this was the Sixties those fellows were probably too shy to even ask her for a dance.

Listen to another track from the Adamsdown aretha here.