Sunday, October 28, 2012

What's in a Name

As the mail-shot industry is well aware forenames can tell a good deal about gender, age, ethnicity, religion and social class.  After all a Ken or a Margaret is far more likely to be a grumpy sixtysomething rather than a fresh-faced teen and you're unlikely to find many Liams on the Shankhill Road.

If this is true today then it must surely have been true in the past and the lay subsidy assessment of 1544 and the Hearth Tax of 1670, both published in the Radnorshire Society transactions, provide us with the great majority of names of heads of household in the county for those years.  What else can they tell us?

The Act of Union divided Radnorshire into six hundreds which more or less coincided with the traditional Welsh administrative divisions in this part of East Central Wales - Rhayader was basically Gwerthrynion, Colwyn was Elfael Uwch Mynydd, Painscastle was Elfael Is Mynydd, the hundreds of Knighton and Cefnllys covered the old cantref of Maelienydd and Radnor hundred a handful of minor lordships in the east of the county.  Luckily both the 1544 and the 1670 records are based on these hundreds and the parishes that they contained, they allow us to identify differences in naming practices in the various parts of the county..

Firstly it should be said that in 1544 the great majority of the newly designated Radnorians still used the traditional patronymical system, only in and around Presteigne were settled surnames after the English fashion at all common.  Already some of the older Welsh forenames had fallen out of fashion, there were only a handful of Cadwgans, Madocs, Meurigs and Cadwaladrs.  Still we find more than half of the county's men, some 55%, had forenames that were either Welsh in origin or, in the case of Dafydd and Ieuan, understood as Welsh by ancient usage.

Turning to the differences between the six hundreds. In the town of Presteigne just five names accounted for 61% of the male population.  These were John, Thomas, William, Richard and Hugh and their distribution was perhaps typical of the less traditional areas of the county.  In Radnor Hundred as a whole these five names accounted for 44% of the population, in Painscastle 33%, in Knighton 16%, in Colwyn 15%, in Cefnllys 10% and in Rhayader just 6%.  Meanwhile the five most common Welsh forenames, Dafydd, Ieuan, Rhys, Hywel and Gruffudd, made up 56% of the population in Rhayader, 58% in Cefnllys, 54% in Knighton, 48% in Colwyn, 38% in Painscastle and just 23% in Radnor.

Move on to 1670 and we find that the five Welsh names, by then Ieuan had been usually modified to Evan, were far less popular: Rhayader 33%, Colwyn 28%, Cefnllys 25%, Knighton 20%, Painscastle 18% and Radnor 13%.  The fashion for the five new names had seen them spread throughout the county: Rhayader 35%, Cefnllys 40%, Colwyn and Knighton both 43%, Radnor 55% and Painscastle 56%.

Now no doubt this is all fairly predictable and mirrors the decline of patronyms and the language shift that would occur in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Something of a puzzle though are female names - female heads of households do appear quite frequently in both the 1544 and 1670 recods - In the earlier list a majority of Radnorian women had traditional Welsh names like Gwenllian, Dyddgu, Gwenhwyfar, Lleucu and Tangwystl but by 1670 there were just a handful called Gwenllian or Goleu.  Why would male Welsh names survive in substantial numbers whereas their female equivalents largely disappeared?

Talk of the Town

The 2011 Census figures may well show an increase in the numbers of Welsh speakers, but this will only mask the continuing decline of Welsh as a community language or even - to use a useful term from the past - a hearth language.  Although Wales may have the appearance of being a bilingual country, in essence this is not the case - for example, while every public servant in Wales must be able to speak English, a knowledge of Welsh is not a necessity, even in those areas considered to be Welsh-speaking heartlands; while many local and central government policies, far from assisting the language, might just as well have been designed to hasten its demise.

It is with this surface appearance of bilingualism in mind that we should consider Llandrindod council's recent deliberations in respect of placenames in the town.   First up a request that Temple Drive should have a street sign, with the council agreeing that any sign also read  - Rhodfa'r Teml.  To me this is the worst kind of faux bilingualism.  It only serves to provide ammunition to the enemies of the language who could quite justly demand that Lon Cwm also read Valley Lane.  If councils really want fair play for the language then they should ensure that every new street have a name with some historical basis in the locality, which in most cases will mean a Welsh name.

Next the naming of the new court and police building in Llandrindod.  The town council preferring  Parc Neuadd Park but having to accept Powys Council's Parc Noyadd Park.  There are two issues here, firstly the demands of faux bilingualism which require both Parc and Park. Surely no-one would object to the use of Parc alone?  Secondly the use of Noyadd instead of Neuadd.  Now as it happens I'm all in favour of idiosyncratic spellings such as Noyadd, which reflect a traditional pronunciation and/or long historical usage.  It's why I'm quite happy to use Rhayader or Llandegley on this blog.  Mind you the town council did have a point, as this will from 1832 shows.

The original impulse to make Welsh visible as a public language was all well and good, but bilingualism will not be a reality until, for example, any police officer stopping a speeding motorist anywhere in Wales is able to converse  with the miscreant in either of the country's two languages.  Anything less is mere show.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Story Of Knighton - New Book

Knighton. For the very occasional visitor such as myself it's as exotic as any distant holiday destination, with it's eccentric architecture, unexpected shops and the only multi-story car park in Mid Wales.  I actually drove across the county and back about twenty years to pick up a copy of the book in the town itself.  It was pleasing to see the precipitous main street decorated with the flags of St David and Owain Glyndwr.  Clearly the great patriot has been forgiven for laying the place to waste some six hundred years ago.

My major quibble with the new purchase was answered in the first sentence of the foreword, the book "is mainly concerned with the period from the 1770s to the 1970s."  The first 40 or so of its 200 pages do concern earlier times but medieval Kighton is done and dusted in the first 15 pages.  In any case I doubt if the author is as comfortable with the traditional Welsh society of the middle ages as with later periods.  Calling Glyndwr's lieutenant Rhys ap Gethin is revealing - a bit like saying Ethelred the son of Unready.  The book could certainly have done with better proof-reading, a few errors have made it through to the final version, especially in regard to dates, for example the Knighton jockey Garnet Evans is said to have been born in 1887 and killed at Epsom in 1805.   I was also surprised that Mr Parker could not find a few lines to mention a man who should surely be, if not the town's favourite son, at least better remembered, Clem Edwards.

Yet carping aside it's a fascinating book that should be on every Radnorian bookshelf.  A fact-filled volume which left me wanting to know more, to give just one example, about the company of 60 or more Knightonians who enlisted with the Duke of York's Inverness-shire Highlanders in 1795.  A body of men, who I learn elsewhere, were "more partial to the plaid" than some of their Highland comrades.  At a mere £10 with over 50 photographs this is another welcome addition to Logaston's growing list of books of Radnorshire interest.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dorothy Levitt - Update

If the Radnorian blog has done nothing else, at least it has rescued the pioneer sporting motorist Dorothy Levitt from being characterised as some Downtonabbeyesque Edwardian toff.  Her real identity being far more interesting.

A recent blog comment rounds off the story by detailing Dorothy's death certificate:  Died 17th May 1922 at 50 Upper Baker Street, London aged 38 years  - She was nearer 40 - occupation spinster, independent means, daughter of Jacob Levi.  The cause of death as supplied by the London coroner after an inquest held on 20th May: found dead in bed, morphine poisoning while suffering from heart disease and an attack of measles. Misadventure.

So does this suggest that Dorothy was some 1920s Amy Winehouse?  She wouldn't be the only racer of that period to have problems with morphine, for example the aviator and Brooklands racer Gerald Le Champion was convicted in 1925 for possession of the drug.  Like others from that period Le Champion had become addicted as a result of medical intervention, in his case treatment for wounds sustained in the war.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Forgotten Radnorian

This North Korean stamp commemorates the destruction of the General Sherman, a heavily armed American merchant ship, in 1866.  Among those executed after escaping from the burning vessel was a Protestant missionary, Robert Jermain Thomas, who had been engaged as an interpreter.

Mr Thomas, he was born in Rhayader in 1839, is still remembered by Korea's nine million Protestants and many come to Wales to visit sites associated with his life.  This blog has more information.