Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Seen in Llandrindod

I hope Y Dysgwr Araf won't mind me pinching this snap, cheered me up on a cold day::

I was recently sent some pictures of  trade union activists - is that the right word? - outside the town's Colonial Office on Budget Day:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Accent on Knighton

There was an interesting piece on the BBC breakfast show this morning featuring the Knighton rugby club or Tref y clawdd to give the team its proper name.  The point of the segment was to highlight the Wales/England rivalry at a club whose pitch straddles the border.  Pleased to say that most of the players support Wales - I've noticed that a few grumpy Welsh bloggers have been unfairly pooh-poohing what they call 80-minute-patriots recently.  My own view is far better that than a no-minute-patriot.

One of the young players said that although they didn't have a Welsh accent his father had always told him that the border folk were the first line of defence for Wales.  In part that's very true - after all the Saxon advance was pretty much stopped at Knighton and the Normans didn't fair much better.  Indeed the tide of language-shift took nearly a thousand years to travel from Knighton to Rhayader.  One thing the lad did get wrong was the accent bit - there isn't one Welsh accent there are many, and an East Radnorshire accent is just as much an authentic Welsh accent as anything heard from the mouth of Robin McBryde or Neil Jenkins.

In the meantime here's a youtube channel with some fabulous pictures of 20C Knighton.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rooster Cogburn's Cat

Why do so many black Americans have Welsh surnames?  It's a question that is regularly asked on the internet and the answer, more often than not, is unsatisfactory.  The Welsh must have been great slave owners say some; no it's because Welsh preachers were so well respected say others, clutching at straws!

The truth seems to be that, despite all the 1960s talk of "slave names," most  former slaves did not take the surname of their owner.  Until the conclusion of the American Civil War most slaves didn't have an established surname and with emancipation they became free to adopt any name that took their fancy.  Many chose Welsh surnames because the Welsh element in the South was so strong.  Former slaves adopted surnames they were familiar with, and these were often names of Welsh origin.

We tend to think of the Welsh in America as having migrated in the 19C to places like Scranton and Wilkes Barre.  Radnorians will remember the far earlier migration of Quakers and Baptists to Pennsylvania in the 1680s.  For example Sarah Stephens, daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth Evans, formerly of Llanbister, was the first European child born in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania. That was as far back as May 1686.  Yet even those Radnorshire pioneers were late comers compared with the Welsh who poured into Virginia earlier in the 17C.  The result was that, by the time of the first American census in 1790, Welsh surnames were far more common among the free population of the Southern states than in the North - 14% in North Carolina, 12% in Virginia, 10% in South Carolina and Maryland.

Sterling Price, the soldier not Rooster Cogburn's cat, was just one of dozens of Confederate generals with Welsh surnames or acknowledged Welsh ancestry - a leading Confederate naval commander was even named Catesby ap Roger Jones!  Price's ancestors included Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire patrons of the bard Lewis Glyn Cothi and although they had washed up in America as early as 1611, contemporaries still described him as a "Welsh Celt."  Indeed proponents of the controversial "Celtic thesis" estimate that 50% of the population of the South were of Celtic - mainly Scotch-Irish and Welsh - descent and that this is central to understanding the divide between North and South.  It's an interesting topic encompassing literature and music as well as politics, although bedevilled by racism and its distant cousin - political correctness.

Getting back to Welsh surnames: Williams is the 3rd most popular surname in the United States, 49% claiming to be white and 47% black.  For Jones (5th) the division is 58% white, 38% black.  Davis (7th)  - this has long been the usual American spelling  - 65% white, 31% black.  Two surnames which are more typical of Radnorshire than most Welsh counties are Powell (91st) 70% - 26%  and Price (59th) 76% -20%.  Some other examples Evans (48th) 71% - 25%, Lewis (26th) 61% - 34%, Thomas (14th) 68% - 28%.

You would expect a  name like Griffiths (369th) to be higher placed than it is, perhaps it gave rise to surnames like Griffin.  Certainly Rees became Rice (169th) or Reese (405th)  and Lloyd (493rd) had to share the limelight with Floyd (469th).  The difference between Owen (496th) with a 93% - 2% division and Owens (126th) 68% - 28% is striking.  Perhaps Owens belongs mainly to the 17C migration and Owen to that of the 19C.

What we can say is that black Americans were more likely to adopt the very common Welsh surnames like Williams, Jones and Davis, rather than those that were less common but still numerous, for example Morgan (62nd) 78%-16%, Morris (56th) 76% - 19% or Phillips (47th) 79% -16%.  These names were adopted because they were familiar and were not necessarily connected with slavery or actual Welsh descent.  At the same time although American slavery had an African origin, slavery itself descended through the mother.  This soon resulted in some slaves having 50% or 75%  white ancestry.  Condoleeza Rice recently had her DNA tested on a PBS TV show, it was 51% black, 40% white and 9% Asiatic probably Native American, no doubt a not untypical result.   Even if Welsh surnames are no guide it would seem safe to assume that a fair proportion of the population of the South - white and black - have at least some Welsh ancestry.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Small Victory for Radnorshire

The English, according to the American writer Paul Theroux, only take an Irishman seriously when he's holding a gun.  It follows that the Welsh, who have long foresworn the use of such extreme violence, are rarely taken seriously at all.  No doubt because of this laudable moderation, authority has often seen fit to ride roughshod over Welsh interests, most famously at Tryweryn.

In the late 1960s the Severn River Authority plotted to flood the Dulas Valley in Radnorshire.  A reservoir of some 18000 million gallons was proposed, necessitating the flooding of around 25 farms and the removal of 150 people from their homes.  A local Defence Committee was immediately set up and its chairman Mr Iorwerth Thomas declared "we may be Welsh peasants but we are the backbone of the country."  Now this may well have been true but which country? Certainly not that recognized by the Malvern based River Authority.

The Defence Committee installed an old air raid siren which on at least three occasions was used to summon scores of local people to eject River Authority officials from private land.  If officialdom wanted to survey Cwm Dulas they would at least have to go through the courts and enter legally.  In all their contacts with the press the Committee stressed that they wanted no part of the then current MAC bombing campaign.  Of course, merely by mentioning the matter they were giving the authorities pause for thought.  A public enquiry was held in Llanidloes in February 1970 and in December of that year the new Tory Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Thomas, announced that the flooding of the Dulas Valley would not be allowed to proceed.  Things had moved on a little.

A Liverpool bureaucrat mocked a Trywern family by claiming that the city didn't drink the water of Llyn Celyn but rather used it to flush their toilets.  In 1970, in the Dulas Valley at least, that arrogance was sent home to think again.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013