Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some Radnorians from the 1911 Census, No 1

"All is safely gathered in, except the rakings at Ty Gwyn"

Well that, according to the old people, was what the less respectful farm boys would sing at harvest festivals in Howey's Providence Baptist chapel.  Nowadays Ty Gwyn, which is found on the backroad between Howey and Llandrindod, takes paying guests and has a website, but in 1841 it was home to a young lad called John Lewis, the five year old son of an elderly farmer and his much younger wife.

I first noticed John, a carpenter, in the 1901 census when he was lodging at 1 Springfield Cottage ... the return said he had been born at Ty Gwyn and that, unusually, he spoke both Welsh and English. He was a lodger at the home of his nephew James Lloyd, as he had been in 1891. Indeed John Lewis seems to have been something of a sitting lodger since he was still there in 1911, although by then his nephew's family had moved on. In all three census returns John's bilingualism was recorded.

The 1841 Census showed that both his parents were locals - from Llandrindod and Diserth - and in subsequent returns Builth, in 1861, was the furthest he'd strayed away from Radnorshire. In 1851 he'd been a farm servant at Brynhir, the neighbouring farm to Ty Gwyn, his father having died the previous year. In 1871 and 1881 he was living at Cwmhowey with his step-father, he never seems to have married.

I suppose John Lewis could have learnt Welsh when his mother and step-father opened a grocer's shop in Llanfihangel Fechan in Breconshire - they were there in 1861  - but I like to think that it was the language he spoke to his father (born in Llandrindod c1776) as a child at Ty Gwyn and that he was just too old-fashioned and guileless to pretend he couldn't. Llandrindod's very own Ned Maddrell* perhaps?

* Of course in John Lewis's day Llandrindod would have had other locally born people who could speak Welsh but they would have been returnees from the industrial south or the children of incomers.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this - http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/welsh-history/articles/2012/04/04/welsh-history-month-pumlumon-and-the-elenydd-91466-30692769/ - by the way?

"Its mountainous geography so effectively slowed the march of the English language that by 1801, when almost nine out of 10 of the inhabitants of Radnorshire were English speakers, Cardiganshire, across the hills, remained a bastion of the Welsh language."

Any idea where those figures come from?

old radnor said...

There are no official or reliable figures merely speculations and informed or uninformed guesswork.

There have been attempts (by WTR Pryce especially) to reconstruct the process of language shift in Wales with reference to the language of Anglican church services. A church that uses only Welsh means the parish was monoglot Welsh, a parish that uses only English means monoglot English and a parish with mixed services lies within a transition zone.

All very neat and tidy but I dont think it is totally accurate at least in Radnorshire. Around the 1750s for example parishoners in Glascwm complained that the church had switched to English, a language many of them did not understand. Nantmel and Cwmteuddwr churches also switched to English at an early date when quite clearly they were not monoglot English parishes.

I think it might be true to say that by 1801 nine out of ten of Radnorshire's economically active population had some grasp of the English language. In the west and south of the county this grasp would have been pretty variable depending on factors such as age, class, family circumstances etc.

To say nine out of ten were "English speakers" as if they had no grasp at all of Welsh is far too pat. Language shift is a process not an event as someone might have said.