Thursday, May 12, 2011

Radnorshire Names - Introduction

I suppose the classic work on Welsh surnames is the book of that name by T J and Prys Morgan, the father and brother of the blessed Rhodri. Another book well worth purchasing is The Surnames of Wales by John and Sheila Rowlands. I particularly like this latter book, which maps the geographical distribution of surnames based on marriages from the period 1813-1837. The maps reveal overlooked facts and pose a variety of questions. For example surnames as supposedly ubiquitous as Jones and Davies are shown to have quite striking regional strengths and weaknesses, being comparatively absent from some administrative hundreds.

Radnorshire contributes its share of puzzles, it falls for example within the South Wales range of the surname Gwynn which disappears in North Wales to be replaced by Wynn. Meredith seems to be a particularly Radnorian surname although one which spreads north west into Montgomeryshire and Merioneth. Of course Radnorshire, along with North Breconshire, is also the heartland for surnames formed from AP - Powell, Price, Prosser, Probert etc.

One wonders if these local variations are purely random or whether they reveal some cultural difference. If you look at Christian names in the 1670 Hearth Tax for Radnorshire you find some distinct variations between Rhayader and Painscastle Hundreds. In Painscastle names like Roger and Robert are fairly common whereas they are rare in Rhayader. Conversely Edward is a common Christian name in Rhayader Hundred but virtually absent from Painscastle. Does it mean anything?

Anyone growing up in Radnorshire would be aware of local surnames that don't quite fit the usual pattern of those names derived from the Welsh patronymic system - the Joneses, Davieses, Evanses and so on. You could call them English surnames if you wished, although some would have originated in the east of the county or just across the modern day border - Knill, Hargest, Rodd, Gummey, Whitney etc. and many others - Jarman, Cleaton, Ingram, Kinsey, Bound etc. - spread into the county from Montgomeryshire. Certainly numbers of such surnames have been in Radnorshire for as long as the "Welsh" surnames, since these were only adopted by Radnorshire folk in the late 16th to 18th Centuries - tor example there were Mantles living in Llanbister by the end of the 16C and the Buftons appeared on the scene before the Civil War.

While most Radnorians will be familiar with surnames like Hamer, Bywater, Bumford, Wosencraft, Weale, Wilding and so forth, some old names might well have dipped beneath the radar. In my case I wasn't aware of the longevity of surnames like Minton, Boulter and Tudge. It seems to me that it would be well worth examining the story of various Radnorian surnames (and Christian names) on the blog, not forgetting the added spice of the surnames of the Presteigne area, which are somewhat different to the rest of the county. Expect more posts on these topics.


Gwenddolen said...

Harley, Maund, and my all-time favourite Lello (remember Peter Lello?) alias Llywelyn. . . . what an ace idea you've had there.

Arbiter said...

An excellent piece of work precedes the books you mention.
It is TE Morris's "Welsh Surnames in the Border Counties of Wales", and is to be found in Y Cymmrodor, 1932, vol. 43, pp. 93 - 173 together with lists up to No. 8.
(I have referred to it in my paper
"Welsh-Border Surnames from 'ab Edmond' which appears at .)
As far as I know, Y Cymmrodor is not yet available on-line.

old radnor said...

Gwenddolen - Yes I do, although maybe it's one of those names that survived mainly in Hereford and Salop. One I like is Bengry - well known in the Rallying world - and derived from Pengrych (curly headed).

Arbiter - I think you can find that article here:

Arbiter said...

Full marks, Old Radnor. I had found the article on-line, went to post it, but you had got there first!
It is well worth reading, for TE Morris presents information which is not contained in the two books cited in 'Radnorshire Names'.