Tuesday, May 31, 2011


If Dansey/Danzey is an unusual forename that often hints at a Radnorian origin then Gwlithyn might be considered its distaff equivalent. Certainly the name is to be found more commonly along the Upper Wye and its tributaries than anywhere else. I used to think this was because it was the made-up name of a character in a novel by a local author - something by Hilda Vaughan perhaps? But no, the first recorded use of the forename dates back a little earlier to the birth of Gwlithyn Pugh of Coedmynach, Cwmteuddwr in October 1877.

The child Gwlithyn was commemorated in a weak poem probably composed by a regular paying guest at Coedmynach, a retired solicitor from Bridgnorth called Hubert Smith. The poem was for many years pinned to the inside of a cupboard door at the farm and the tale written up in the Radnorshire Transactions for 1965, with a follow-up letter in the 1966 edition identifying the young girl's family. Gwlithyn's parents Llewelyn Pugh (1850-1899) born in St Harmon, and Catherine Evans (1857-1930) born in Cwmteuddwr, are both recorded as Welsh speakers in the Census returns, something which was not true for any of their fourteen children. What an impact on the linguistic position in the area if the parents of large families like this had chosen not to raise their children as English monoglots. In the Victorian period failure to pass on the language didn't neccessarily indicate a rejection of Welsh identity, the Pughs being quite happy to give Welsh names to some of their children - Gwlithyn, Llewelyn, Esyllt, Aneurin.

Hubert Smith was the author of a book Tent Life with English Gypsies in Norway and it was in that country in 1874 that the 51 year old town clerk married the teenage Romani juval Esmeralda Lock - photo, the groom proudly announcing the fact in the Times - in the Romani language. Smith and his bride spent a fortnight at Coedmynach in the autumn of 1874 but the spirited Esmeralda soon eloped to Cardiff with the young folklorist Francis Hindes Groome. The subsequent divorce case in 1876 was the subject of much hilarity in the popular press, with the cuckold Smith admitting that he occasionally boxed Esmeralda's ears, in self-defence, he claimed, and she always replied in kind. It's said, possibly in error, that Esmeralda Lock was a model for the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she eventually left Groome and returned to the open road, dying in a traffic accident in Rhyl in 1939.

No comments: