Saturday, December 13, 2014

Around Radnorshire - Llanfair Llwyth Yfnwg

While looking at Estyn reports on Radnorshire schools I was taken by this comment in the inspection for Gladestry primary "all learners speak English, although some use the local dialect." How often has mention of the local dialect turned up in an official government publication? What next, official status?

Readers may be disappointed that there's not a lot about the "Radnorshire" dialect on this blog.  The dialect is characteristic of the north and the east of the county rather than the south and west and I do get annoyed at folk, not natural speakers, who put-on "thees, thous, bists and wunnas" as a form of mockery. At the same time a broad Radnorshire accent is a wonderful thing and listening to elderly dialect speakers negotiating a supermarket makes a welcome change from the more usual London and Midlands voices.  

The names of the Gladestry school's catchment area would surely have given Housman a run for his money in the quietest-places-under-the sun stakes: Gladestry, Colva, Michaelchurch-on-Arrow, Burlingjobb, and across the border, Huntington and Brilley.  The quarry at Dolyhir not so much.  I was surprised by the presence of Herefordshire pupils in a Welsh school but seemingly this is quite common, with over 2000 children from England attending state schools in Wales and even more making the journey east.

Census figures which show the Welsh language making ground in East Radnorshire -  the 2011 figures are more realistic than those of 2001 -  have always seemed a bit suspicious. I've put it down to monoglot parents over-estimating the linguistic abilities of their offspring.  Yet perhaps this viewpoint is too pessimistic given the report's description of language use in the school: "Their use of English and Welsh in both oral and written work is extremely advanced and nearly all transfer between the languages confidently and easily."

I'm sure there may be one or two locals who see the revival of the old Welsh placenames of the area as the perverse invention of some rabid nationalist in the county's Highways Department.  Infact the earliest reference to Llanfair Llwyth Yfnwg (Gladestry) dates back to 1291.  Lewis Glyn Cothi came here in the 15C to praise its inns - serving the ales of Llwydlo (Ludlow) and Gweble (Weobley) - and to receive the gift of a mantle from Elis Hol, comparing it in some striking dyfalu to the Golden Fleece and the mantle of Tegau Eurfron.  And of course we are just a mile or so from Hergest, a place of real importance to everything that makes Wales an idea worth defending.

Brulhai (Brilley) was the home of Phelpod ap Rhys, a cyfarwyddyd (storyteller) with a whole world of stories within his head, a master of the seven arts who knew all the chronicles of the island.  Glyn Cothi calls this district Bro Gintun (the vale of Kington) and so did the muleteers of the pre-railroad age bringing coal from South Wales: yn mynd a llawer llwyth o lo, ar hyd y fro i Gyntyn.

The area was still Welsh-speaking in the 18C when a local was taken to court for slander "Di gyrn di dorrws y twlle sydd in di hatt di" - "your horns tore the holes in your hat."  Note the southern verb ending  - ws.  But by the start of the 19C language shift was probably complete, although the Radnorshire antiquarian Mr Cole reported that his grandparents - who farmed Redborough between Llannewydd (Newchurch) and Llanfihangel Dyffryn Arwy (Michaelchurch on Arrow) - still knew Welsh in the middle of that century.  Only Burlingjobb lacks a Welsh name, although 16C spellings such as Byrchop and Berchoppe suggest that, at that time, the name had been cymricised to something like Bersiob.

With the Welsh language spoken in the village school's two classrooms and on public display, at least on the Radnorshire side, we can say that these are small victories in a war whose major battles are being fought, and probably lost, far to the west.


R Tyler said...

Informative and interesting as always

Anonymous said...

Having read your piece this morning I came across a copy of 'Crwydro Sir Maesyfed - rhan 1'' by F G Payne, focusing on Elfael and Llanfair Llwyth Yfnwng. A chance find and it seems like a very intersting book. I'll have to track down part 2 somehow!

radnorian said...

Yes, a wonderful book and a revelation for a young, English speaking Radnorian coming across it at the end of the 60s.

Mr Payne was from Kington so Gladestry was more or less his home patch.