Sunday, August 07, 2011

Radnorshire's Brainy Brides

In 1894 O M Edwards launched a magazine called Wales, a National Magazine for the English Speaking Parts of Wales. In his introduction to the new magazine Edwards makes the following comment which was hardly likely to win him friends amongst the working classes of Radnorshire:

"It is to be hoped that, some day, the Radnorshire farmer will be as fond of reading as the Lleyn farmer, the working man of the Montgomery borders will be as intelligent as the working man of Cardigan or Merioneth, that the peasant of eastern Monmouth will be as intelligent as the peasant of Arvon or the Vale of Towy."

Now Radnorian believes that there was a prejudice in Welsh speaking Wales towards anglicised districts like Radnorshire dating back to the Blue Books of the 1840s. These had condemned the Welsh as being ignorant and immoral, placing the blame on the continued use of the Welsh language. What better way to refute this libel than to point to largely English speaking Radnorshire which had, for example, the highest illegitimacy rates in the principality.

Of course this is a prejudice that still lingers today but was Edwards right? Were the somewhat mythical gwerin of Welsh-speaking Wales more learned than their English-speaking compatriots?

A rough estimate of literacy levels in 19C Wales is found in the Registrar General's returns detailing the numbers signing the marriage registers rather than making a mark. Look at the closest available figures to when Edwards was writing, those for 1884, and he has a point. 20.1% of Radnor men used a mark compared with 12.3% in the Pwllheli district. Likewise men in the English speaking districts of Montgomery and Monmouth were marginally more likely to make a mark than those in the districts to which they were compared in the quote above.

The really remarkable figures are those for women. Now we find that Radnorshire brides are far more likely to sign than any of their fellow countrywomen elsewhere. Here are the figures for women signing the marriage register in 1884 for example: Monmouth 76.2%, Glamorgan 73.7%, Carmarthen 72.7%, Pembroke 84.4%, Cardigan 70.5%, Brecon 74.7%, Montgomery 81.8%, Flint 74.9%, Denbigh 74.8%, Merioneth 80.4%, Caernarfon 79.5%, Anglesey 77.2, and Radnor 90.3%. Indeed throughout the Victorian period Radnorian women head the lists with 56.9% signing the register in 1845 and 99.1% sixty years later.

Of course these figures were for registration counties, which in Radnorshire's case included many parishes in Herefordshire and Shropshire. But if we look at the Rhayader district for 1884, which contained no English parishes we see that 91.9% of brides signed the register, an even higher figure than for the county as a whole. The district in Wales with the highest figure of all was Hay with 94.2% signing and the Hay district contained most of Southern Radnorshire. Compare these figures with the dim sisters of say Pontypool 71.1% signing or Merthyr 65.3% or Lampeter, a mere 56%.


IfeeldisenfranchisedsoI'mgoingtosh*tonmyowndoorstep said...

Nothing unusual there. I would suggest that the number of farmers wives in Radnorshire who complete all the paperwork for the business would be broadly similar - despite having other job(s) to do and despite some subsidy claim forms requiring, for the most part, the insertion of crosses in the appropriate place.

Mind you, it would help if the information on the claim form was right in the first place.

radnorian said...

We all feel your pain Assembly boy