Monday, August 25, 2008

Gone South

During the Nineteenth Century, while the decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire proceeded with amazing rapidity, a great many local folk migrated to the South Wales mining valleys. Many of these migrants either had to learn or maintain their Welsh, at a time when their country cousins were turning their backs on the language.

Now migrating to the coalfield was not the same as going to America. There was still plenty of contact between Radnorians in the South and their relations back home. A good deal of work needs to be done on these links and the light they throw on the linguistic complexities of the period, something that the family historian is well-equipped to do.

As an example let us examine the lives of five brothers born in and around the Crossgates area of Radnorshire in the middle years of the century. John Mantle was born in 1839, his brother Thomas in 1843, Price in 1846, Evan in 1850 and Septimus in 1855. Their father, another John Mantle, was born in Llandinam and was shown to be bilingual in the 1891 census, their mother Ann was from Llandrindod and died before the census bothered about the Welsh language.

Given the time and place that they were born, none of these five would have been expected to have learnt Welsh at their mothers knee. Eventually all five would end up in the coalfield, three in Fochriw and one in nearby Pontlottyn, with the fifth in Treharris.

Two of the brothers, Septimus and Price married girls from Dowlais. Given this fact it is not wholly surprising that they are both recorded as being bilingual, their children are also shown as bilinguals and indeed Welsh seems to be the language of the hearth in both households. Two of the brothers John and Evan moved to the coalfield much later than the others, their wives were from Radnorshire and their children had been born there. Both their households are shown as being English speaking. The real surprise comes with Thomas and his Nantmel born wife Hannah Morris. Both are shown as being bilingual and it is obvious that Welsh is the language of the hearth, indeed their eldest son, who had left home by the time of the first language census, is recorded as a Welsh monoglot. This suggests to me that Thomas and Hannah already spoke some Welsh when they came to the coalfield. Back home in Radnorshire such bilingualism would have been ditched as the century progressed but in Fochriw this was not the case.

The five brothers kept in close contact both with each other - John, Thomas and Price for example lived in the same street in Fochriw - and with relations back home in Radnorshire. Welsh speaking cousins from the South, coming home to Victorian Radnorshire for holidays and to help with the harvest must have been a familiar sight. Indeed a number of this second generation married locally and moved back to Mid Wales. The Welsh language cannot have been as much of a stranger to local families as the bare census figures of the time suggests.


Anonymous said...

Hello kjj,

Incredibly, I happened to find you Radnorian site a few moments ago.

The Mantle family you mention in your "Gone South" article are my relatives.

I would be very interested where you found the information about them.


Anonymous said...

I was also fascinated to read your article. The Thomas and Hannah you write about are my great- grandparents. I would also be interested to know where you got your information from and whether you have any more about the family. Thank you.

radnorian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
radnorian said...

Hey guys you never replied to my emails, did you get them?