Monday, March 17, 2014

Damned Statistics

One of my better buys was a very cheap second hand copy of a book called Statistical Evidence relating to the Welsh Language 1801-1911, part of that excellent series Cyfres Hanes Cymdeithasol yr Iaith Gymraeg.

Now the book comes with a health warning that is particularly relevant to Radnorshire and which deserves to be featured more prominently than it is "there are various pitfalls for the unwary."

The chief pitfall is that many of the 19C census figures refer not to the historic counties but to registration counties, a very different kettle of fish.  Radnorshire, more than any other county in Wales is affected by this statistical confusion.and it's surprising just how many authors fall into the trap.

Nineteen parishes containing around a quarter of Radnorshire's 19C population were actually consigned to Breconshire as parts of the districts of Builth and Hay.  The Rhayader district is correctly listed as in Radnorshire although it did contain the Breconshire parish of Llanwrthwl.   The Presteigne registration district, before it was abolished,  was more in England than in Wales - some Radnorshire parishes subsequently ending up in the English district of Kington. A large part of the population of the Knighton registration district was also made up of parishes in Shropshire and Herefordshire.

How did this come about?  Well a future Govenor General of Canada,  Edmund Head - a man who translated Icelandic sagas but considered the Welsh to be a "miserable race of Celtic savages" - was the commissioner responsible for Central Wales and Herefordshire. One of his tasks being to set-up the six Poor Law Unions covering Radnorshire - Rhayader, Builth, Hay, Knighton, Kington and Presteigne.

Head deliberately sought to weaken Radnorian influence over these districts claiming that "the inhabitants of the central part of Radnorshire are exceedingly ill disposed towards the Board ... the only way of enforcing the Act is to unite as many (parishes) as possible with unions in England or on its borders."

By doing so Head wanted to "raise the character of the Radnorshire farmers." elected to serve as Guardians overseeing the work of the Unions with the hope, presumably, that they would learn from the superior - I would suggest he might consider the Germanic - character of their fellow Guardians from east of the Dyke.

A failure to understand that much of the census material relating to 19C Radnorshire actually refers to parishes in the neighbouring English counties and that a good deal of the county was included in the Breconshire figures is certainly a pitfall that needs to be, but frequently isn't, avoided.

Some say that Monmouthshire was included in the English court circuits because of the strength rather than the weakness of its Welsh character.  In the same way I think that Radnorshire should take some pride in the fact that it was considered a problem for the Malthusian and Teutonic claptrap rattling through the brains of the Victorian elite.


Dr R. Tyler said...

Excellent point

William Dolben said...

Dear Radnorian,

Illuminating as ever, thanks for this insightful article.

You mention that "A large part of the population of the Knighton registration district was also made up of parishes in Shropshire and Herefordshire". Were Welsh speakers recorded in those English counties in 1891?

radnorian said...

Yes I believe so, unfortunately there wouldn't have been any locally born Welsh speakers by that date.

It's also unfortunate that the parishes in the Oswestry area - which certainly would have had a lot of indigenous Welsh speakers - were in English centered registration districts and weren't asked.

William Dolben said...

Do let me know when you have sight of the records...I think maybe 10% of those resident in English parishes might have been born in Wales or even up in Oswestry and it would be interesting to see if they stated their language on the census.

Underestimation of Welsh speaking was probably the case until 1971 as you have commented in earlier posts (now it's quite the opposite in Wales!) and there are some interesting articles by G.B. Adams on underestimation of Irish in the census between 1851-81 in Ulster Folklife

radnorian said...

Yes you're correct about the post 1971 figures especially amongst youngsters in English speaking areas being over recorded as Welsh speaking. Some of the figures for East Rads were daft. I think the position was more accurate in 2011 though.

I did once look at Shropshire born folk - Selattyn, Llanyblodwel, Sychtyn - living in the neighbouring Denbighshire parish of Llansilin in 1901. I'd say a large majority were Welsh speaking and no doubt it was the language they learnt at their mother's knee.

Perhaps I should mention that it's not so much Welsh language stats that are distorted in Radnorshire but things like population growth and decline, where like is not being compared with like.

Then you have misleading figures such as 36% of the county's population being born in England in 1851. This high figure is because these English born folk were actually living in England, in places like Leintwardine, Kington, Brampton Bryan etc.

The 1851 Religious Census is also highly misleading with large numbers of Anglicans living in England being counted as if they lived in the historic county of Radnorshire, making it appear a good deal less non-conformist than it actually was.

william dolben said...

Thanks for the insight. I read some of your posts on Shropshire the north west corner of which was quite Welsh until recently. As late as 1946, 5 out of 46 pupils in Selattyn school spoke Welsh. Have you seen the article entitled Little Wales beyond Wales by Mark Ellis Jones?
here is a link