Friday, June 22, 2012

A Radnorshire History Month?

Unlike a modern caravan, a gypsy vardo took up hardly any room on a grass verge and the numerous brick encased standpipes found, in those days, around every village, provided plenty of clean water.

I remember, towards the end of the 1950s, one such vardo encamped on the chapel turn in our Radnorshire hamlet, I got quite friendly with their children but for some reason ended up in a bout of fisticuffs with one lad in the disused blacksmith's shop we called the pentis. It must have been a good scrap as some of the loafers from the village pub came out to watch, including our respective fathers. Eventually I was well-trounced, rsf, I guess in today's less robust climate such parental behaviour would have seen me whisked off into care.

Now these reminiscences are brought to mind by the current GRT History Month and in particular this article in last Saturday's Western Mail.  Should these three groups be lumped together?  The complaints in the article against the Fat Gypsy Wedding television programmes surely stem from the cultural differences between Romanis and Irish travellers. While discrimination against Gypsies is real enough, as this quote, reportedly from the 1954 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, illustrates:

“The mental age of the average adult Gypsy is thought to be about that of a child of ten. Gypsies have never accomplished anything of great significance in writing, painting, musical composition, science or social organisation. Quarrelsome, quick to anger or laughter, they are unthinkingly but not deliberately cruel. Loving bright colours, they are ostentatious and boastful, but lack bravery."

I do wonder if the eugenicist mentality at the root of such opinions, and which should have been buried along with Hitler, has merely taken on new and often politically correct forms. To such people minority histories can become another stick with which to beat the supposedly bigoted working class.

Back in the real world Radnorshire's gypsies have clearly made a contribution to the life of the county and not just in the preservation of the triple harp.  Incidentally the 1911 census finds the harp-playing family of young Fred Melenydd Roberts - I blogged about him here - living in a house called Melenydd Villa in Llandrindod's Tremont Road.  One wonders how the Roberts family felt when in August 1906 the "German" gypsies (I believe they could more accurately be described as Lovari) were escorted through the county under police guard, before being handed over to the Breconshire constabulary on Builth bridge?  The handover was watched by a crowd numbering in the hundreds before the group were allowed to camp off the Hay Road before being pushed on into Herefordshire the next morning, Today there are local businesses run by folk of gypsy origin, sometimes recognizable by the distinctive decoration on their vehicles.  Llandrindod natives may be interested in this reference to one such local family.

It seems that everyone has a history month nowadays: LGBT, Black, GRT, Irish, UK Disability,  - and that's just on the first page of Google.  So should Radnorshire join in the fun?  Not having a TV I can't be certain but I suspect that Welsh television has engaged more with Romani history than it has with that of Radnorshire.  After all I'm not entirely sure that the attitudes articulated by the following and rather typical Victorian comment have completely disappeared:
 "And if learning is greatest amongst English speakers in Wales, then we should of necessity look for it in Radnorshire. Instead, as everyone who knows Wales is aware, in this county just as much as the English parts of Wales, you will find the most uneducated, ill-informed, empty headed, immoral, uncivilized, and uncultured population of any part of the principality!"  (Translation)

Now it's quite understandable how comments like this arose.  When the haters of all things Welsh blamed the language for the ills of the country it was natural for patriotic voices to point to largely English speaking Radnorshire, which in some aspects - illegitimacy for example - had a "worse" record than its neighbours.

Although it would be amusing to hear television producers claiming their programmes were "an important way of redressing the many prejudices that have always existed against Radnorians" or to see the delightful Shân Cothi wandering the lanes of the border country, I don't really wish to see such a history month. It would be good though if Welsh historians and programme makers finally paid a little more attention to the history of East Central Wales.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gypsy caravans.... I recall a few years ago seeing a nice one resident on flat land by the river , on B4356 past Presteigne, past Rockridge Park and next to the sharp right towards Dolley Green.
Mary's Mill is being rebuilt ..... what does anyone know about the history of that?