Sunday, September 18, 2011

Radnor on Taff

Your blogger has been looking at the 1901 Census for the town of Merthyr Tydfil, specifically at Radnorian migrants. At not much more than 1% of the population Radnorshire born folk were not a major element in the town, but with over 250 households headed by a Radnorian and an additional 90 householders having a Radnorian wife, they were not an insignificant contingent in Radnorshire terms. Indeed with some 750 sons and daughters in those households in 1901, a number which would have been swelled by off-spring who had already left home or had yet to be born, the town's influence on our county must have been sizeable.

What can we say about these migrants? Well the great majority were industrial workers, mainly in the mines (over 40%) but also in the steel works and on the railways. The town attracted it's share of craftsmen and traders - builders, tailors, drapers, half a dozen publicans, a watchmaker, even a town crier, one Richard Lewis Williams from Nantmel. A handful of residents of the town were even listed as agricultural labourers.

They came from every part of Radnorshire including places like Presteigne and Knighton. In the 1851 census migrants from those border towns were absent and one wonders if this was because much less English would have been spoken in Merthyr at the earlier date? Could migration figures perhaps reveal which parts of Radnorshire were more at ease moving to an over-whelmingly Welsh speaking locality in the days before the census took an interest in linguistic matters?

30% of the Radnorshire born householders had married spouses born in the county, 57% were married to wives from elsewhere in Wales and 12% had married English women. When we look at the Radnorshire born wives of non-Radnorian householders we find 45% had married Englishmen. Now getting on for half those marriages involved men from parishes just across the border in Herefordshire and Shropshire but there is a marked difference between the marriage preferences of men and women. One wonders why?

Some 17% of Radnorian householders in Merthyr in 1901 could speak Welsh, the figure was nearer 30% for their wives (remember this figure includes wives born elsewhere), around 17% of sons and daughters in Radnorian households could also speak Welsh - not necessarily in households where a parent was bilingual. Merthyr was in the process of language shift at this time and Radnorian migrants would obviously have contributed to the anglicisation of the town. As a supporter of bilingualism Radnorian was pleased to see that his great great uncle, Septimus Mantle, originally from Crossgates, spoke both languages, as did his wife and four offspring.

Of course there were many other valley towns to which Radnorians had migrated: the Rhondda Valleys (which had at least as many Radnorians as Merthyr), Aberdare, Ebbw Vale, Tredegar - over 500 household heads in Monmouthshire, more than a 1000 in Glamorgan in 1901. Far from being "backward and beautiful" as the seekers after a rural idyll are prone to suggest, even the remotest Radnorshire farmstead would have had family ties with the vibrant, proletarian culture of the despoiled industrial south.


Anonymous said...

Also worth noting that, at the other end of South Wales's industrial history, the fund-raising South Wales Striking Miners Choir during the 1984/5 dispute was run by one Keith Bufton of Neath.

Elfael77 said...

Interesting article. My grandfather moved from Aberedw to Abertridwr, Caerphilly sometime in the 1900's. He was a miner at Senghenydd at the time of the mining disaster in 1913 and having survived that signed up for service with the Royal Field Artillery in July 1915 and was sent the the Somme the following month. He moved back to Newbridge in 1928 and then back to Aberedw a couple of years later. A true Radnorian survivor.