Sunday, July 27, 2008

Are Radnorians really Gogs?

In 1897 the great Welsh scholar Sir John Rhys (1840-1915) produced this rough sketch of Welsh dialects in a letter he sent to Sir Edward Anwyl. Rhys believed that dialects could be differentiated by vowel sounds and was hoping to set up, what today would be called a working party, in order to map these vowel changes.

Unfortunately this proposal came to nothing, perhaps because Anwyl believed that there was no method available at the time to gauge the vowel sounds scientifically. Anwyl believed that collecting word lists would be more useful.

This word list approach was followed by Alan R Thomas when he produced his Linguistic Geography of Wales in 1973. Unfortunately, for some reason, that book ignored the Welsh still being spoken at the time in parishes to the east of Llanwrtyd, an unfortunate omission.

For me Rhys's approach seems far more sensible. After all using words originating in rhyming slang doesn't make me a Cockney. What is interesting about the map was that Rhys placed Radnorshire in the same dialect area as Welsh speakers in Meirionydd and South West Montgomeryshire. Rhys came from Ponterwyd and was well acquainted with Welsh speaking natives of the Rhayader area, so here his opinions have great validity. But did the folk of Aberedw speak a different dialect to the folk of Erwood? And while the similarities between the North Radnorshire accent and that of the Welsh speaking areas of Montgomeryshire is plain enough, would Welsh speakers in Clyro have sounded differently from their neighbours in Talgarth? I'm sure that these dialect differences have some bearing on the decline of Welsh in Radnorshire, but what?

These are interesting questions and more than a hundred years after Rhys made his proposal I'm not aware that it has been addressed by our academics. If anyone has any views or comments on this topic I'd be pleased to hear from you!

Didn't Get Very Far

Who knows what you'll find when you're wilfing around the internet and here's a classic from the archives of Mid Wales Motor Sport.

No sign of two of the club's competition stalwarts C H Jones and W S Griffiths, perhaps they were still in the bar. Anyway Mr Griffiths is being encouraged to pen an account of his, never less than colourful, 28 year career around the lanes and forests of Wales. Can't see it happening myself but at least he's come up with a suitable title for the book. I've borrowed it for the title of the post!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Welsh in Cwmteuddwr Parish 1901

According to Professor Geraint Jenkins' Introduction to Language and Community in the Nineteenth Century a volume in the series A Social History of the Welsh Language, of which the Professor is the General Editor: "the sparsely populated county of Radnorshire had lost its native tongue by the early nineteenth century." Here's a little tip Professor, check out the 1901 Census figures for Cwmteuddwr parish.

Infact the 1901 Census figures show 4% of the population of the parish speaking only Welsh, 70% speaking only English and 26% speaking both languages. Of course these figures are distorted by the presence of large numbers of workmen employed on the Elan Valley schemes. This has inflated the number of Welsh monoglots, but, at the same time, has also inflated the figure speaking only English. If we look only at those individuals actually born within the parish itself, a different picture emerges. Now we find that 36% of the Cwmteuddwr born residents are shown as Welsh speaking. In the over 60 age group the figure is 80% and even in the 20-40 age range 49% are still being recorded as Welsh speaking. Only in those aged under 10 does the figure able to speak Welsh fall below 10%.

What we have here is a process of language shift, a generation or so more advanced than that seen in Llanafanfawr. What is incontrovertible is that the viewpoint expressed by the academics that Welsh had disappeared from Radnorshire by the early nineteenth century is wrong, and that the story of the decline of the Welsh language in the county must be told parish by parish.

The Decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire - Language Shift

The first census to bother itself with the Welsh language was that of 1891, and of subsequent enquiries, only that of 1901 has so far been published in detail. By that time the process of language shift in most Radnorshire parishes was complete, but in order to gain some insight into how the process would have occurred we can examine the 1901 Census figures for the nearby Breconshire parish of Llanafanfawr.

The language of an area can change in two ways: by the replacement of the original population by newcomers, as has happened in Tasmania for example; or as in Tipperary, to take another example, by the original population ditching the old language in favour of the new. Despite some ridiculous claims to the contrary it is this second process that swept across the Radnorshire countryside in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The key to this shift is bilingualism, individuals must speak the new before they can turn their back on the old.

Turning to Llanafanfawr we find that in 1901 the parish could still be considered part of Y Fro Gymraeg with 72.6% of the population being able to speak Welsh. Yet the process of language shift was well under way with the 10% of the population unable to speak English already outnumbered by the 27% who claimed to know no Welsh.

If we examine those individuals speaking English we can see just how language shift occurs. In 15 households we find Welsh speaking parents bringing up their children to speak only English. If we add a further two households where locally born parents claimed, somewhat suspiciously, to speak only English, then these children account for 43 of the 117 English only speakers in the parish.

There are 7 households where a local partner has married a spouse from a nearby but already anglicised parish, here the children are again being brought up as monoglot English speakers. There are also 4 households where families from nearby anglicised parishes have taken farms in Llanafan. Together these account for a further 45 English speakers, mainly children. The fact that the local schoolmaster and his family are also listed as English monoglots is a further nail in the coffin of Welsh.

The reasons why families should want to switch to English are plain enough, after all it was the language of officialdom and, to an ever increasing extent, commerce. The schools, the Anglican church, the railways, the press were all factors driving out Welsh. At the same time bilingualism is largely achieved by day to day contact with the new language and it was the gradual tide of English spreading from Radnorshire and into the Irfon valley, which by 1901 had placed Llanafanfawr in the frontline of language shift.

It is interesting to note that there are 18 households employing English speaking servants. In a number of cases the only domestic servant in a Welsh speaking household was an English monoglot speaker. It seems to me that this may well have been quite deliberate, a means whereby the household could improve its grasp of the English language by daily contact with an English speaker. It is in these ways that the language shift that affected Radnorshire and then much of Builth Hundred would have been achieved.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

High Flyers

Discovered some more information about forgotten Brooklands racer Irene Schwedler, I've posted about her before, in the Royal Aero Club records. It seems her full name was Ilse Charlotte Schwedler and she was born in Schwanheim, Germany on 26th January 1906.

The photo isn't Miss Schwedler by the way, it's another lady pilot from the 1930s called Marjorie Clair. A resident of Pinner in Middlesex, she gave her birthplace as Llandrindod Wells. Anyone know who she was? Oh and her house in Pinner was called Cefnllys.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Work of the Forge and not the File

It's a puzzle why so many supporters of the Union think their cause will be furthered by being rude about the Scots and the Welsh. Perhaps they are secret nationalists although somehow I doubt it. Anyway the recent publication of Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Invention of Scotland has certainly given the little England brigade plenty to pontificate about.

Roper's book "identifies" three Scottish myths: the clan tartan, the forged Ossian poems and the ancient Scottish constitution. Now, of course, these three myths were thoroughly debunked long ago, but never mind, it at least gives our friends the frisson of having made some great discovery. Something similar happens quite regularly here in Wales when a visiting journalist hits on the revelation that the Gorsedd and the Welsh National costume were "invented!!"

Of course the really important point, which escapes them, is why the clan tartan or the Welsh costume became so popular or why the Ossianic forgeries had such an influence on the wider cultural scene.

Roper certainly did not identify the Ossianic forgeries as some of his reviewers hint. That was done long ago, not least by Radnorshire's Edward Davies (1756-1831) - he was born at Hendre Einion in Llanfaredd parish. You can read his book, published in 1825, demolishing the Ossian forgery here.

Of course Roper the historian is best remembered for falling hook, line and embarrassing sinker for the forged Hitler Diaries. A sweet irony.

Down Memory Lane

It's September 1962 and your blogger attends his first Formula One event, the Gold Cup race at Oulton Park.

Earlier in the year Stirling Moss had suffered his career ending crash at Goodwood and here we see him attending his first race meeting since leaving hospital.

Old chum Innes Ireland looks pleased to see the maestro back at the track, as does the gentleman with the cap standing between them, Innes's father Bill.

Race winner was Jim Clark in a Lotus 25, so smooth he was boring! The star of the day was undoubtedly Welsh Rhodesian Gary Hocking, killed just a few weeks later, before ever starting a World Championship event, and thus a non-person as far as the encyclopedias are concerned.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire - Introduction

The 1891 Census shows two young sisters living at the remote farm of Claerwen in Cwmteuddwr parish. Margaret Lewis was 25 and her sister was 23, they were both born in Radnorshire and neither could speak English. They would surely have agreed with the shepherd girls of Pumlumon who so charmed George Borrow with their guileless hospitality: "What should we do with English here?" In 1891 there were still hundreds of thousands of Welsh people who spoke no English; a third of the population of Merthyr, two thirds of those in the Swansea Valley, a fifth of those in Swansea itself. Even in the Irfon valley parishes to the west of Builth there were hundreds who knew only Welsh.

Radnorshire appeared to be quite different from the rest of Wales. There were less than eighty Welsh monoglots like the Lewis girls in the whole of the county. While the great majority of Radnorshire folk spoke only English, Welsh was still spoken by many in the parishes of Rhaeadr, Cwmteuddwr, and St Harmon, but this was not apparent from the published figures. These were local people and they must have spoken what are now the lost Welsh dialects of Radnorshire. Although many lived on well into the twentieth century, no academics ever bothered to record their speech. Perhaps these professors agreed with the influential scholar Iorweth Peate when he declared that Radnorshire folk were "a deracine society, a people fallen between two stools, a community of half-things." In any case the fact of Radnorshire people speaking Welsh was ignored and the story of the decline of the language in the county, on the rare occasions when it was even addressed, littered with inaccuracies and prejudices.

It is my intention, over the next few months, to address these inaccuracies and prejudices in a series of posts dealing with the decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Radnor for Obama?

Other than stirring up a language controversy, there's nothing the Western Mail likes better than finding an obscure Welsh connection to someone in the news. Given the number of Welsh folk who emigrated to America at an early date - and after all the continent is named after a Welshman! - finding a Welsh ancestor for presidential hopeful Barack Obama was going to be a dawdle.

Now lets get one thing straight, the township of Radnor in Delaware County, Ohio was not founded by Obama's Anglesey ancestor. No, the Ohio township was founded and was given its name by David Pugh of the parish of Llandeilo Graban in Radnorshire.