Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Welsh Language Circulating Schools in Radnorshire

Between 1736 and 1776 over 300,000 adults and children were taught to read in the Circulating schools established by Griffith Jones and paid for and later managed by the philanthropist Bridget Bevan.

In Radnorshire, schools were held in fourteen parishes up to 1774, and although their impact was certainly less than in many other parts of Wales, in the best year, 1740, around 600 Radnorians were taught to read.

Academics occasionally express surprise that schools were held in parishes where the Welsh language was no longer used in church services. I think the mistake the academics make is assuming that the switch to English-only services denotes that a parish has become wholly English in speech. A more likely explanation is that folk unable to speak any English were no longer a significant factor in the parish. For example the cleric of Abbeycwmhir writing in 1813 confirming that church services had been in English for many years, added: "the young people do not in general understand Welsh, but the old people do understand English." To me this suggests that not only was the older generation bilingual but, in view of the qualifying term "in general," so too were some of the younger.

Incidentally the Welsh school referred to in the letter was held at Wernfawr farm.

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