Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Attitudes to Radnorshire in the 19C, part one

The government's 1847 report on education in Wales has long been notorious for blaming all the country's supposed social ills - deceitfulness, illiteracy, illegitimacy, drunkenness - on the Welsh language. Of course these criticisms proved intolerable to the Welsh speaking chapel based intelligentsia, who sought to counter the libels against the nation.

Now the county in Wales, indeed Britain, with the highest level of illegitimacy was Radnorshire, a county notorious for Rebeccaism and for the drunkenness associated with its fairs and, heaven forbid, parish wakes. With something like 90% of the households in the county speaking the English language around the hearth, Radnorshire was an easy target for the 19C Welsh language press in their efforts to prove that Welsh was not the cause of civic backwardness.

In language that matched the 1847 report at its most prejudiced, the supposed depravity said to be typical of Radnorshire was laid at the door of the county's recent anglicisation, here is a typical example:

"What for example has Radnorshire gained from that? ..... it is one of the darkest and most backward parts of the whole kingdom in terms of morality and learning. It is as if the human mind has disappeared from view as regards the population in general. Only the animal aspect of humanity can be seen living there." - Baner Cymru 19/5/1858

These attitudes towards Radnorshire persisted into the 20C and are well illustrated by the Montgomeryshire born Iorwerth Peate writing in 1933. For him Radnorians were "a deracine people, a people fallen between two stools a community of half-things." Even today such prejudices can be seen in the perfunctory and ill-informed treatment of Radnorshire topics by some historians coming from the Welsh-speaking, non-conformist tradition.

No comments: