Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Coming from the border means that I feel like I am from Wales."

A couple of months ago I was quite unkind to Ellie Goulding - for any old fogeys reading, she's a rising young pop singer - because, bamboozled by the hopeless Western Mail, I believed she was from Knighton, a fact which she seemed to ignore on her twitter page. Now it turned out that the WM had confused Knighton with Kington, well it is a long way north of the Gabalfa flyover, so apologies to Ellie who actually hails from Lyonshall. What is interesting is that Ms Goulding herself does on occasions express a certain ambiguity about her ethnicity.

Perhaps someone will remind me who it was remarked that the border between England and Wales was a gradual progression, with England proper not starting until east of Llanllieni (Leominster). Anyway, I've always been interested in those snippets of history, uncontaminated by academic veracity, which ordinary folk believe - the kind of thing you read on tea-towels about Welsh being the oldest language for example. One such is the belief that Herefordshire used to be a Welsh county but that every hundred years or so a Welsh county is transferred to England. This belief actually contains a grain of truth, namely that, objectively, the aim of the powers-that-be has always been the destruction of a separate Welsh identity.

According to the historian Percy Enderbie, writing in 1661, Welsh was spoken over a large part of Herefordshire. Not just in the districts of Erging (Archenfield) and Ewias, south of the Wye, but also in the old Marcher lordships of Clifford, Winforton, Willersley, Eardisley, Huntington and Lugharness - the parishes of Stapleton, Willey, Kinsham, Combe, Rodd, Nash, Lttle Brampton and Titley. No doubt Welsh disappeared from these areas fairly soon after Enderbie's time, although a browse through the field names of some of these places north of the Wye will show plenty of examples of Welsh names surviving until the mid-nineteenth century.

Of course the real stronghold of the Welsh language in Herefordshire was south of the Wye in parishes such as Craswell, Clodock, Longtown, Llanveynoe and Michaelchurch Escley. Here eight out of nine defamation cases between 1712 and 1774 were in Welsh and a 19 year old from Michaelchurch Escley who came before a court in 1757 was described as a "strainger to the English tongue." It's usually cited that the last speakers of Herefordshire Welsh died in the mid-nineteenth century and an initial glance at the 1891 Census doesn't show any residual bilingualism amongst folk from Herefordshire parishes who had migrated to the coalfield.

Even before DNA, bloodgroup evidence suggested a divide between the east and west of the county and surnames are another example of the Welsh origins of many Herefordians. How Welsh any of these folk actually feel is debatable however, perhaps someone could research the loyalties of public house boozers during Wales/England rugby matches. Unlike Cornwall, there seems little evidence of Herefordians acknowledging it's old language and culture.

Over the years there have been various half-hearted calls for parts of Herefordshire to be included in Wales. I remember a parish council in the 1960s, Brilley perhaps, voting to join Radnorshire. More recently an NFU official caused a stir by claiming that Herefordshire farmers would be better off in Wales. The subsequent comments on a local BBC website are interesting as some of the most vehement opponents of reunion are those with Welsh surnames, one can hazard a guess as to why.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Forgotten Radnorian

The former Mrs Gibson-Watt

Favourite tweet on Ms Hewitt's £3K a day price tag " .... is she a perm footballer?"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interlude Musical

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book of the Month

Radnorshire is fortunate to fall within the area of interest of the Logaston Press, if the county had to rely on Welsh publishers alone, then good books of local interest would be few and far between. It's also noticeable that the Herefordshire publisher seems to survive without recourse to the public purse. The county is also fortunate to have an author such as Mr Parker, who on this occasion has turned his attention to the local politics of the nineteenth-century.

The first half of the book details the elections to the county's two Parliamentary constituencies - the county seat and the Radnor Boroughs seat, which survived until 1885. This is the tale of local gentry rivalries, alliances and accommodations told in a lucid manner with excellent illustrations of the protagonists and their mansions.

In the second half we move on to a Welsh dimension with the widening of the franchise and the emergence of more modern politicians such as the Liberal MP Frank Edwards. The author also has three chapters covering those extra-Parliamentary activities of the small farmers and labourers: the cottagers revolt against the Enclosures, the Rebecca Riots and the later Rebeccaism of the salmon poachers. Although the author recognizes the positive outcomes of such challenges and the local establishment's fear of and willingness to compromise with the commonality, I do notice a hint of disapproval of, for example, the cottagers' champion Cecil Parsons. While an old established family like Lewis of Harpton refused to enclose long established encroachments onto the common, the newcomer James Watt was less cautious. Thomas Weale's wife Margaret may well have had an ungovernable temper and was carried, in her bed, and dumped on the floor of a local public house rather than out on the common, but the fact remains that the Weale's home was demolished and the family and their six children evicted into the snow. Likewise Richard Page and his wife may have been evicted for the non-payment rent, but what is not recorded is that the couple were in their eighties.

Although mentioned in passing, I would also have liked to have seen a separate chapter on the party politics of the new county and district councils of the 1890's, Radnorshire's passion for Independent councillors came only later. Like Mr Parker's previous Radnorshire book, this is a thoroughly researched and well-written work, at £10 it should be in the library of every Radnorian with an interest in the history of our county.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Llandingdong Bells

There's a new blog set amidst the urban decay of 21st century Llandrindod. Should be worth checking out.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Book Review

Now I admit that I have no qualification whatsoever to review a book about Herefordshire placenames, but, hey, even the author Mr. Coplestone-Crow admits that he himself is no expert. Indeed he has relied heavily on placename guru, the late Dr Margaret Gelling who also provides a less than glowing foreword.

On the face of it untangling English placenames is a fairly straightforward business - you take a familiar element, the ley in Litley for example, meaning a clearing and then add on some random Saxon forename, in this case Lutta ,to give Lutta's clearing. OK I'm joshing a subject which I know nothing about - but it would be useful to know a little bit more about names like Lutta, and if there is any other evidence for their presence in the localities to which they supposedly gave their names.

It is in Mr Coplestone-Crow's treatment of the old district names of Herefordshire that the book has great value. Of course I was aware of the old Welsh districts of Ewyas and Erging, although not the extent of the latter. The district of Mawfield or Maes Mail Locheu was news to me, while my confusion concerning the location of Lugharness - it means Lordship on the River Lugg and according to Percy Enderbie was Welsh in speech in the 17C - was cleared up. Oh and doesn't the observation that Geoffrey of Monmouth made a copying error, confusing the D in what is now Doward with CL to give Cloartius as the location of Vortigern's last stand, rather suggest that he was using older sources rather than his own imagination?

Not a book which will be of much interest to Radnorians, except for the occasional irridentist such as myself, Herefordians, no doubt, would be well advised to snap it up.