Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Process not an Event

The election of December 1910 might have been the last time that the undiluted voice of  the Radnorian voter was heard on the parliamentary level, but the Sunday Closing votes of the 1960s also saw the old county treated as a single constituency.  At the time these votes were regarded as referendums on "welshness" or at least welshness as it was defined by the upholders of the non-conformist tradition.  In urban Wales that tradition took one hell of a beating, while the three thousand (42%) Radnorians who voted in 1961 to maintain the ban on Sunday drinking were not enough to hold back the brewers, whose Welsh campaign was headed by Mr Baird Murray of Llandrindod.  This and subsequent votes buried that particular version of Welshness and today sobriety is one of the last virtues one associates with Wales.  It went the way of patronyms and partible inheritance as a marker of Welsh identity.

The 1960s were also when the geographer E G Bowen came up with his two Wales model, the theory that the country could be divided into an Inner Wales - a Welsh speaking heartland if you like - and an Outer, less Welsh area encompassing the borderlands and the industrial districts.  These two cultural regions some believed had a distinct identity stretching back for centuries.  The gloriously cockney singer Adele put it more succinctly when she said she was Welsh but not "proper Welsh" like her Nefyn raised and welsh-speaking rival Duffy.

Now Bowen's theory, and modifications such as the Three Wales model, have had a real influence on opinion in Wales.  It is treated as if Inner Wales is a reality rather than the "product of day dreaming over a map."   Take that vote on booze.  Yes, there was a clear division between a dry Inner Wales and the boozy remainder back in the Sixties, but today Duffy can just as easily enjoy a Sunday snifter in the Nanhoran Arms as can Adele in Penarth's Railway Hotel.  The maps might show a coincidence between the Sunday closing vote of 1961, the Welsh speaking districts of that year's census and the medieval principality of Edward the First, but that is what they were - a coincidence.

A map records a moment in time, it's out of date even before it leaves the printers.  What the geographers identified as markers of an Inner Wales were processes, they were misled by their maps.

It's a reproach to Welsh historians that when Radnorians want to learn about their district in the medieval period, they might as well turn to the work of the UKIP parliamentary candidate for the Cheshire seat of Weaver Vale.

We may not accept Mr Remfry's promotion of the name Cynllibiwg to describe the Middle March - although Rhwng Gwy a Hafren sounds more like a geographical description than an actual placename - but he is right when he criticises the mainstream for ignoring Maelienydd and Elfael - the heart of the future county of Radnorshire.

Maelienydd and Elfael play havoc with the Inner/Outer Wales cultural model.  Right up to the death of Llywelyn and even afterwards these districts were an area of contention: between Gwynedd, Deheubarth, the Normans and the greatly underestimated (today) strength of the local rulers themselves.  This was far more Pura Wallia than Marchia Wallia, for although the Normans might, temporarily, occupy a castle or two, their real power like that of the British Army in Helmand Province was limited.  Yet neither of these two cantons proved to be lasting strongholds of the Welsh language as the Two Wales model should predict.

Move on a couple of centuries and the bards of the 15C did not seem to be aware of any great cultural divide between Inner and Outer Wales.  For example over 60 of the surviving poems of Lewis Glyn Cothi were composed for Radnorshire patrons, more than for patrons in any other of the future 13 counties of Wales.

Of course the Inner/Outer Wales model is correct when it says that the east of Wales is more open to new ideas spreading in from England than is the west. That is a geographical reality.  Where it goes astray is to look at moments in time and accord them some great significance, while failing to recognize that what is at work is a process which eventually overwhelms the west as much as the east - the adoption of surnames would be an example.  The Two Wales and the Three Wales models only serve to artificially divide a country with a common past and a common future, whatever that might be.


Fferllys said...

It was a great shame that Ceri was not joined with Maelienydd to become part of Radnorshire, and also Buellt, then Rhwng Gwy a Hafren (or Cynllibiwg if one prefers!) would have retained some historical consistency instead of being cut up in parts. But that's local political imagination, coupled with central government lack of understanding for you.

radnorian said...

Who knows perhaps those 16th bureaucrats were paying our ancestors a back-handed compliment by cutting Radnorshire down to a more manageable size.

Fferllys said...

That is a lovely thought, but I suspect they were simply ignorant...sadly!