Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Coming from the border means that I feel like I am from Wales."

A couple of months ago I was quite unkind to Ellie Goulding - for any old fogeys reading, she's a rising young pop singer - because, bamboozled by the hopeless Western Mail, I believed she was from Knighton, a fact which she seemed to ignore on her twitter page. Now it turned out that the WM had confused Knighton with Kington, well it is a long way north of the Gabalfa flyover, so apologies to Ellie who actually hails from Lyonshall. What is interesting is that Ms Goulding herself does on occasions express a certain ambiguity about her ethnicity.

Perhaps someone will remind me who it was remarked that the border between England and Wales was a gradual progression, with England proper not starting until east of Llanllieni (Leominster). Anyway, I've always been interested in those snippets of history, uncontaminated by academic veracity, which ordinary folk believe - the kind of thing you read on tea-towels about Welsh being the oldest language for example. One such is the belief that Herefordshire used to be a Welsh county but that every hundred years or so a Welsh county is transferred to England. This belief actually contains a grain of truth, namely that, objectively, the aim of the powers-that-be has always been the destruction of a separate Welsh identity.

According to the historian Percy Enderbie, writing in 1661, Welsh was spoken over a large part of Herefordshire. Not just in the districts of Erging (Archenfield) and Ewias, south of the Wye, but also in the old Marcher lordships of Clifford, Winforton, Willersley, Eardisley, Huntington and Lugharness - the parishes of Stapleton, Willey, Kinsham, Combe, Rodd, Nash, Lttle Brampton and Titley. No doubt Welsh disappeared from these areas fairly soon after Enderbie's time, although a browse through the field names of some of these places north of the Wye will show plenty of examples of Welsh names surviving until the mid-nineteenth century.

Of course the real stronghold of the Welsh language in Herefordshire was south of the Wye in parishes such as Craswell, Clodock, Longtown, Llanveynoe and Michaelchurch Escley. Here eight out of nine defamation cases between 1712 and 1774 were in Welsh and a 19 year old from Michaelchurch Escley who came before a court in 1757 was described as a "strainger to the English tongue." It's usually cited that the last speakers of Herefordshire Welsh died in the mid-nineteenth century and an initial glance at the 1891 Census doesn't show any residual bilingualism amongst folk from Herefordshire parishes who had migrated to the coalfield.

Even before DNA, bloodgroup evidence suggested a divide between the east and west of the county and surnames are another example of the Welsh origins of many Herefordians. How Welsh any of these folk actually feel is debatable however, perhaps someone could research the loyalties of public house boozers during Wales/England rugby matches. Unlike Cornwall, there seems little evidence of Herefordians acknowledging it's old language and culture.

Over the years there have been various half-hearted calls for parts of Herefordshire to be included in Wales. I remember a parish council in the 1960s, Brilley perhaps, voting to join Radnorshire. More recently an NFU official caused a stir by claiming that Herefordshire farmers would be better off in Wales. The subsequent comments on a local BBC website are interesting as some of the most vehement opponents of reunion are those with Welsh surnames, one can hazard a guess as to why.


Anonymous said...

Didn't Brilley petition to join Powys when Hereford and Worcester were shackled together by the Heath government?
I'm shocked by the ignorance of Buffalo Bill Wiggin on that BBC page. Was he really that ignorant of the course of Offa's Dyke?

old radnor said...

You're probably right about Brilley ..... but isn't it Bungalow Bill - as in "nothing upstairs?"

It says a lot about the Tories and Wales that Mr Wiggin was Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Anonymous said...

No that was Bill Wiggins, Joan Collins' pal