Monday, May 13, 2013

A Rock and a Hard Place

So you're an inquisitive child in Victorian Radnorshire and, thanks to the gradual introduction of elementary school education, you're able to read.  Read a book like the liberal scholar E A Freeman's - he would soon be appointed Regius Professor of History at Oxford University -  Old English History for Children.  What would the young reader make of Freeman's celebration of the Anglo-Saxon takeover of lowland Britain, and, yes, he's honest enough to call the dispossessed natives Welsh, not Celts or Romano-Brits:

"it has turned out much better in the end that our forefathers did thus kill or drive out nearly all the people whom they found in the land ...... (otherwise)..I cannot think that we should ever have been so great and free a people as we have been for many ages."

Meanwhile the Liberal MP for Herefordshire considers the Welsh a "miserable race of Celtic savages" and various scientists are running around the countryside measuring heads and noting down hair colour - a kind of proto-DNA research. Radnorians had a "nigrescence" score of 57.3% and scored particularly highly for "Celtic-eye", a dead give away for all those Anglo-Saxon obsessives who wished to identify the lesser breeds within the kingdom.

Now everyone in Wales had to put up with this nonsense but the poor Radnorians also got it in the neck from their fellow countrymen.  The animus shown towards Radnorshire in the Welsh Language Press of the period is at least understandable and can surely be traced back to the Blue Books.  These accused the Welsh of ignorance and immorality and blamed her language for the country's woes.  What better riposte to point to, by then, largely English speaking Radnorshire, a county with, for example, the highest illegitimacy rate in Britain.

Here are a few examples:

it is one of the darkest and most backward parts of the whole kingdom in terms of morality and learning. It is as if the human mind has disappeared from view as regards the population in general. Only the animal aspect of humanity can be seen living there. - Baner Cymru 1858 

Everywhere which has lost or denied the Welsh language ... those districts are full of immorality, cursing, blasphemy and prisons.  If you want proof look at Radnorshire. - Aberystwyth Observer 1876

There's no more pagan county in Wales than Radnorshire - Y Celt 1896

Fie Radnorshire! But there again, what can be expected from a people with no regard for their country's language and customs.  It's said that on the whole the natives of Radnorshire are remarkably ignorant and unable to speak either Welsh or English with any great alacrity - Tarian y Gweithiwr 1910

Even when someone came to the county's defence, such as Painscastle's Baptist minister, it serves only to illustrate the widespread prejudice against the county.

I note that an ill-founded impression of Radnorshire has arisen that its people are ungodly, ignorant and without morals - Seren Cymru 1885

My favourite quote of all comes from Iorwerth Peate, writing in 1933 he described the inhabitants of Radnorshire as "a deracine people, a people fallen between two stools a community of half-things."  I wonder what his colleague Ffransis Payne made of such sentiments?

Have such attitudes completely disappeared?  I doubt it.  

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