Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Forgotten Referendum

The current talk of referenda and national identity reminds me of a largely forgotten referendum, that of the Radnorshire border parishes who opted to stay with the Church of England at the time of Welsh disestablishment.

There's a fair bit of disinformation out there about these votes:  when were they held, who took part, which parishes were involved.   First off any parish wholly within Wales but which had previously been part of an English diocese was transferred, without a vote, to the Church in Wales.  This was the fate of Knighton and New Radnor for example.  Likewise parishes which were wholly within England but had been part of a Welsh diocese were transferred to the Cof E.

The vote was restricted to parishes that actually straddled the border.  Presteigne parish for example covered quite a sizable chunk of Herefordshire, as did Old Radnor.  Brampton Bryan must have strayed over the border to include a few Welsh acres, so it, too, was given a choice; as was the parish of Brilley (England) and Michaelchurch (Wales).

The vote for seventeen cross-border parishes, including those in Radnorshire, was held in February 1915; everyone within the parish being allowed to vote - although there were plenty of moans about the fairness of the process:

Brampton Bryan:  For Wales 23, For  England 168
Old Radnor: For Wales 99, For England 344
Presteigne:  For Wales 289, For England 595
Brilley and Michaelchurch: For Wales 27, For England 168

Keen eyed patriots travelling into Wales along the A44 can blame this vote for the sight of the flag of St George brazenly displayed on Old Radnor church.

The full results for the seventeen cross-border parishes voting in February 1915 can be found in a parliamentary reply shown here.   The two parishes who did not declare were Rhydycroesau which voted for England and Llansilin which, uniquely, voted for Wales 255-228.  Two other parishes, Whitewell and Trelystan, were also subsequently adjudged worthy of inclusion in the English church.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Are Scots Lazy and/or Stupid?

I didn't see last night's Newsnight but according to twitter the eminent psephologist Professor Curtice came up with an explanation as to why the 2011 Census showed a majority of Scots opting for the Scottish only box.  It seems they only did this because it was the first option on offer.

Unionists can get away with such claptrap because the Scottish figures are only broken down to local authority level.  In Wales, where the census is available at a community and ward level, its accuracy becomes apparent.

In Wales, too, the "Welsh only" choice was the first on offer.  This did not prevent 79% of the population of the historic border town of Presteigne ignoring that welcoming "Welsh only" box.  In nearby Knighton 72% skipped the inviting first choice and in New Radnor 76%.   Are the residents of these border townships really more conscientious at form-filling than the Scots?

In parish after parish the figures reflect the reality on the ground. For example in the community of Diserth, with its two large retirement parks, we expect a low "Welsh only" figure (33%) while in the neighbouring market town of Builth a higher 52% comes as no surprise.  There is a quite obvious correlation between birthplace and national identity.

Isn't this an example of how Unionism views the mass of the Scottish people .... too lazy and/or stupid to fill out a form accurately never mind run a country?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Scottish Identity

I wonder if the unionists regret including a national identity question in the 2011 Census?  Little-England-Beyond-Wales?  Completely shot out of the water by the revelation that folk from southern Pembrokeshire feel just as Welsh as the rest of us*. Likewise the locals in Maelor Saesneg, an area which in the 1880s was considered so anglicised it was planned to hand it over to Shropshire.

Today we got the results from Scotland.  How often have the unionists banged-on about how it's not Scotland's oil because the folk in Orkney and Shetland aren't even Scottish?  The reality revealed by the census: Orkney 62% Scots only identity, Shetland 60% Scots only - and remember that some 20% of these islands' population weren't even born in Scotland.  Oh and before someone claims there was no Orcadian or Shetlander box to tick, well there was no Cornish box either, but more than 73000 of its citizens took the trouble to write-in a Cornish identity.  Nothing similar to that in the figures from the northern isles.

Comparing Wales and Scotland we find that 62% of Scots opted for a Scots only identity while 57% of those in Wales chose Welsh only.  We have to remember that more than 20% of our population was born in England whereas this applied to less than 9% of those in Scotland.  If you compare the Welsh-born total with Welsh-only identifiers you get a figure of 80%.  The Scottish equivalent is 75%.  One up to Wales.

Another difference is the figure for Welsh/Scottish and British identifiers 18% in Scotland, just 7% in Wales.  I'd guess that the independence debate has polarised things a bit, you can imagine tribal-Labour supporters ticking this box.  In Scotland just 8% opted for a British-only identity while in Wales the figure was nearer 17%.  This is easily explained by the fact that twice as many in Wales were born in England.  People who may for example feel like the author of this blog comment:

"Maybe it's Englishness that no longer regards itself as such and yet doesn't think it has earned the right to call itself Welsh.  Take me, for example. I was born and raised in England, yet I and my children speak Welsh (extraordinary though that may be in Maesyfed), and regard Wales as 'our' country. Indeed, later this week we will all be spending a few days at the Urdd Eisteddfod as we do every year.  Did I list myself as Welsh on the census form? No: I felt the obligation to tick the British box, simply because it was the closest approximation to what I am"

Around 11% of the population of Wales had no such well-mannered qualms, listing themselves as English-only.  Here is another major difference with Scotland where just 2.3% distinguished themselves in this way.

*  This doesn't mean I believe in an homogenised Wales, far from it.  I get as annoyed as the next when someone claims, for example, that Cwmteuddwr isn't the correct spelling or pronounciation of Cwmteuddwr.  Regional differences within Wales should be celebrated, they're what make us a nation and not, well, a region.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Radnorshire, the South, Senghennydd

Visit Llandrindod during its Victorian Festival and you'd think that the average Radnorian of the period must have been a swaggerer with a top hat and a cane.  Those not given to such fantasies might guess that the agricultural labourer would be a more honest representative of the pre-World War One county.  Up to a point they'd be right, but would also be forgetting that just as many, perhaps more, Radnorshire folk had found work in the mines and ironworks of South Wales.

A small county - even the next smallest Welsh county had twice as many people - Radnorshire cannot be expected to have had much impact* on the Valleys, but the coalfield would certainly have had a great impact on Radnorshire.  Look at the 1911 Census and you'll find that nearly a quarter of family heads born in Radnorshire lived in industrial South Wales, mainly in the Merthyr, Pontypridd and Bedwellty registration districts

Far from being a world apart from industrialised Glamorgan and Monmouthshire - as modern-day seekers after tranquility might imagine - there can have been few Radnorshire families without close relatives who had gone off to work in the south.

Over the next month or so we'll hear a good deal about Senghenydd and 1913.  It was not a village that had attracted many Radnorians.  Certainly among the 41 victims of the disaster who had a home in Commercial Street we find 21 year old George Herritts of Presteigne and Edward Thomas, a 51 year old from Old Radnor.  Evan Jones (32) of Kingsley Place, a native of Rhayader, was one of 43 with that surname to be lost.  There may have been others amongst the victims with Radnorshire connections not so easy to spot.

The local MP for East Glamorganshire was Knighton born Liberal Clem Edwards.  He played a frustrated part in the rescue work - offering to organize a trainload of much needed sand to fight the fire, the offer was turned down - and subsequently representing many of the relatives at the public inquiry into the disaster.  It's interesting to note that when Edwards won his seat in 1910 he had pushed Labour's syndicalist firebrand C B Stanton into third place.  Both would end up as National Democratic Party MPs after 1918, with Edwards defeating Arthur Henderson in East Ham.  No doubt disasters like Senghenydd did much to win support for the emerging Labour Party and its centralist,  top-down version of socialism.  Salopian Alfred Onions would win the new Caerphilly seat in 1918, with Radnorshire native Charles Edwards, he was from Llangynllo, topping the poll in neighbouring Bedwellty.

It will be interesting to see what the remembrancers make of the Universal colliery's manager Edward Shaw, he was certainly fined £24 for eight violations of the Coal Mines Act in the aftermath of the disaster.  A 41 year old Welsh speaker and Baptist, Shaw must have been popular with the villagers since as an Independent he had recently topped the poll in the local council election.  Shaw too had a Radnorshire connection, recently married, his wife Jessie Lloyd was from Llandrindod.

*  We shouldn't forget the Radnorshire family background of movers and shakers like Arthur Horner and Nye Bevan.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Welsh Slackers

Head out of Crossgates on the Aberystwyth road and you can't fail to notice a rather pretty building in the mock Tudor style.  Originally called Glanclywedog, it was rebuilt by a Wolverhampton industrialist - one Luther Greenway  - and imaginatively renamed Greenway Manor.

In June 1915 Mr Greenway threw open the doors of his Welsh pile to the general public.  A problem had been identified and the great and the good wanted to do something about it - the youth of Radnorshire were failing to rally to the colours in sufficient numbers.  Parents were said to be encouraging their sons to stay at home, indeed married men were more likely to come forward than the single - what does this tell us about Radnorshire wives.  Many young men were echoing a popular local refrain "they would not go, until they were fetched."

After the public meeting had been entertained by the bands of the Shropshire Light Infantry and the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry, Radnor's Lord Lieutenant and former Tory MP Sir Powlett Milbank reassured the mothers present that it was "better to be the parent of a dead hero than a living coward."

Not to be outdone the prospective Liberal candidate for the county, a Liverpool based shipowner, William Lewis launched into a fierce attack on his potential constituents.  Young men who needed to be fetched "were not worth fetching", they would only "soil a soldier's uniform" and were "cowardly and unworthy of the traditions of their race."

The star speaker of the evening was Mrs Lloyd George herself and there is a familiar ring to her comments.  She had been reading the Bryce Report - a government concoction of alleged German rapes and child murders in Belgium.  There were some who were reluctant to believe such tales, the good lady admitted, but the report proved that a "wild beast had been let loose in Europe" and "such deeds of cruelty had been wrought, that had not been seen for 300 years."  The Germans had, Maggie Owen declared, "gone back to the dark ages."

At the end of the meeting "several" new recruits came forward to the colours.  It seems small reward for the expenditure of so much hot air.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

From Ramallah to Radnorshire

It's well-known that the Catholics include Hereford within their Cardiff archdiocese, although that may be because of  the West-British outlook prevalent at the time of its formation. Another institution with an ambiguous attitude towards Hereford's identity was the British Army.  Why else would the Herefordshire Regiment - whose ranks included many young Radnorians -  have campaigned as part of the 53rd Welsh Division in both World Wars?

So it was that in December 1917 two Llandrindod brothers - Frank and Tom Edwards, sons of a local watchmaker -  found themselves engaged in the Battle for Jerusalem.  During a break in the fighting, the brothers took the opportunity to visit the newly 'liberated' town of Ramallah.  They wanted to meet the town's mayor, one Elias Audi.  The Sheikh was of interest to them because they knew his brother Joseph Audi Debeni, a popular Llandrindod figure and owner of the Spa's Oriental Bazaar.

By his own account Joseph Audi was born around 1860.  He was almost certainly educated at Ramallah's Quaker school and had originally come to Europe in order to study medicine in Edinburgh.  When Audi's daughter Zarifeh visited England in the early 1890s, she and her companion were described in the press as being the first Arab women to have entered the country - can that be true?

Audi subsequently earned a living as a lecturer on Middle Eastern topics and as a guide accompanying travellers to the Holy Land on behalf of the once well-known travel agency of Henry Gage and Son.  By the mid-1890s he'd opened his Oriental Bazaar (see poster) in Station Crescent's Britannia House; spending the winter months in Palestine conducting tour parties.

Audi was described as a quiet, dignified man, with many friends in the town, and in August 1913 he was granted British nationality.  The Great War put paid to anymore visits home - this photo includes members of Joseph's family, including his mother - and early in 1919 Joseph Audi died.

I wonder if any readers know where Joseph Audi Debeni is buried?  He was a Christian Arab, as were the overwhelming majority of Ramallah's population at that time.  Ramallah is often in the news and it's estimated that nowadays 25% of its 27000 inhabitants are Christians; many of its former citizens having migrated to the United States and South America.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Widows and Spinsters

You don't find much written about the Welsh businesswomen of the Victorian and Edwardian period.  Such females did exist of course, although it helped to be a widow or a spinster or otherwise unencumbered with a spouse.

The Hotel trade in pre-First World War Llandrindod was no small beer, as the buildings of the town, now somewhat decayed, still testify.  And it was a trade which was dominated by the women who owned, or managed, the majority of the most important such businesses in the town.

Look at the 1911 Census and you'll find Miss Duggan and her sister, they were from Hundred House, the owners of Duggan's Temperance Hotel.  Then there was the Llanyre born Miss Sheen, manager of Plas Winton - now the Commodore.  Miss Ace ran the Waverley, Miss Jenkins York House and Miss Smith the Montpelier.  If they weren't spinsters they were widows like Mrs Bentley of the Spring Hotel and Mrs Smith of Ye Wells - currently occupied by Coleg Powys's Llandrindod campus.

The largest hotel in the town, indeed in the whole of Wales, was the Pump House; with its posh clientele and Continental cuisine - one of my aunts married the son of a Swiss chef from there.  It was managed for many years by the Monmouthshire born Miss Duffield, who interestingly enough was elected to the town council in 1900.

 The great rival of the Pump House was the Bridge, which would eventually supplant it as the largest hotel in the country.

Like many of the businesses in the town it was originally built and operated by local Radnorshire families.  For even though Llandrindod has been described as "not a Welsh town, but a town in Wales," most of the entrepreneurial spirit that built the place was Welsh.  In 1897 the five Wilding sisters and their two brothers sold the Bridge Hotel to the redoubtable Mrs Miles (see picture) for a tidy £7850.

Born in Treforest in 1847, Elizabeth Miles (nee Spencer) was the daughter of Pontypridd innkeepers.  Married at 20, she found herself widowed by the age of 24, and with two young sons to boot.  Perhaps because of this setback Elizabeth went on to own or lease some 10 hotels in South Wales, including the Angel in Cardiff.  A Welsh speaker - and so were her two sons - Mrs Miles eventually changed the name of her Llandrindod purchase to the Metropole Hotel.  This was for the rather frugal reason that she had bought a quantity of bankrupt linen and crockery, all  inscribed with the letter M.

So why aren't such women, and others like them elsewhere, better known?   Well, apart from the fact that history has largely been written by men, such successes may not have suited the agendas of those who tend to sell Wales short.