Monday, April 22, 2013

Forgotten Radnorian

Live long enough and perhaps you'll achieve a whit of fame.  This is what happened to Evan Edwards of Torquay, described in the Edwardian press as the oldest Baptist minister in the world.  Born in Nantmel in February 1815, Edwards died just a few weeks before his 100th birthday in January 1914.  At the time of his death he had been a Baptist minister in Somerset and Devon for more than 80 years and was one of  the last witnesses to the preaching of such men as John Elias and Christmas Evans.

I'm more interested in his brief comment about the Nantmel of his youth and Dolau Baptist chapel:

"Cymraeg oedd iaith addoliad yn y capel ac yr aelwyd foreu a hwyr, ond ymledai y Saesneg i Faesyfed a mwy cyfarwydd oedd y plant yn y Saesneg"

"Welsh was the language of worship in the chapel and at home morn and night, but English had spread to Radnorshire and the children were more familiar with English."

Now this confirms that Ffransis Payne had the right idea when he wrote that Dolau Chapel turned to English around 1840.  It also shows how unreliable - in Radnorshire at least - it is to rely on the language of Anglican church services to estimate the date of language shift.  Nantmel parish church turned to English in 1755* and this very large parish (8 miles by 5) is consequently shown as thoroughly English on the published maps that illustrate language shift in Wales. Before the 1891 census such maps are mostly based on Anglican services.  I tend to think the dropping of Welsh services in the churches marked the disappearance of the last generation of monoglots rather than the demise of all local Welsh speakers as the maps assume.

Evan Edwards' family lived on the eastern side of the parish and it's a pity that no-one thought to ask him in greater detail about the linguistic ins-and-outs of his youth. The 19C Welsh language press was too busy trumpeting what a thoroughly pagan, immoral and stupid lot the Radnorians were to bother over-much about reporting on their recent history.  Even the Western Mail joined in the fun saying that the county's inhabitants lived in an "intellectual twilight, so inactive that a game of football would be a godsend to them."

* Nantmel is said to have had a monthly Welsh language service until 1807 but this has escaped the attention of the mappers.

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