Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Musical Interlude - songs of the defeated

I can't say I know much about these happy Polish hippies but they're performing a popular Serb folk song from Kosovo: "A dense fog has fallen over the plain of Kosovo"

With politicians like Hague and Hollande eager to intervene in Syria it might be worth reading John Pilger on Hague prosecutor (won't happen) Carla del Ponte's The Hunt: Me and War Criminals.

Ms Del Ponte was in the news recently when she raised the possibility that the Syrian rebels were using sarin. She seems a little off-message, wasn't she copied into the emails?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

British Identity in Radnorshire, 2011 Census

The 2011 Census allowed respondents to choose between any number of multiple ethnic identities although in reality very few opted to do so. In the Radnorshire communities the great majority chose a single identity and that meant choosing between a Welsh-only, an English-only, or a British-only ethnicity.

The British-only identity trailed in third. Only in New Radnor (31.8) and Whitton (31.9) did Britishness emerge as the most popular choice.  In a number of communities (see map below) the British-only option dropped below 20%, although mostly the score was a respectable figure in the twenties - 22% in Knighton, 26% in Presteigne, 24% in Llandrindod for example.  So who were these Radnorshire Britons?

Turning from ethnic identity to place of birth we find that only in 11* of Radnorshire's 27 communities did the Welsh-born outnumber those born in England.  This is partly explained by the use of Herefordshire maternity hospitals although it's clear that this has had only a negligible effect.  The real reason is, of course, in-migration.

When we compare the ethnicity chosen by the Welsh-born and English-born we find an interesting contrast.  Below is a table showing how the Welsh-born are far more likely to opt for a Welsh-only identity. 

Welsh-only/English-only identity shown as a % of the Welsh-born/English-born for the 27 Radnorshire Communities:

The English-only identity choice is lower than the figure you would expect from the number born in England because substantial numbers of in-comers opted to describe themselves as British-only.  The locally born were far less likely to do so.  Conclusion:  In the 2011 Census for Radnorshire at least Britishness is essentially Englishness dressed up in a more polite garb.

* Rhayader, Abbeycwmhir, Aberedw, Glascwm, Llanbadarnfynydd, Llanbister, Llanelwedd, Llanyre, Penybont, St Harmon and Glasbury.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Forgotten Radnorian - A Nantmel Abolitionist

It's plain enough from the Laws of Hywel that slavery existed in medieval Wales.  It would be strange if it hadn't since it was an institution that was found in nearly every human society, from the Maoris of New Zealand to the Aleuts of Alaska.

For most of us slavery means the chattel slavery found in North America and the Caribbean - a somewhat Eurocentric outlook on such a universal and continuing phenomenon  - and as S4C have gone to some trouble to point out the Welsh played a part in all of this.  How else could John Henricus, for example, a runaway slave from New York in 1727, be described as speaking very good English and the Welsh dialect. Incidentally runaway bond servants were just as numerous as runaway slaves and pursued with equal vigour, they sometimes ran away together.

A rare exception to those who saw slavery as just a normal part of life was a Pennsylvania Quaker named Cadwalader Morgan, who, in 1696, after much pondering over the practicalities of owning a slave, decided that he had "no freedom to buy or take any of them upon any account."  He took his message to the Quaker's Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which, although it rejected the call to forbid slavery, did agree that Friends "be careful not to encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes."

Cadwalader Morgan had emigrated to Pennsylvania from Merionethshire but, as Charles Browning's Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania points out, his will of 1711 shows him to have been the son of James Morgan from the township of Faenor in Nantmel parish.  Cadwalader, who had married into a Merionethshire Quaker family, migrated to Pennsylvania in 1683.  His parents, three brothers and a sister sailed out to America in 1691; both father and mother died on the voyage.

It's interesting that Morgan based his opposition to slavery on practicalities rather than principle - he felt that owning a slave could have a negative moral impact on the owner and his household.  The abolitionists of 19C America also had to face practical concerns; how exactly could one emancipate what, in some states, amounted to 40% of the population without causing economic and social chaos.  In the end the matter was decided on the battlefield, with one soldier dying for every six slaves freed.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Radnorshire Redneckery

The previous post highlighted some of the less than complimentary statements about Radnorshire found in the Welsh language press of the Victorian era.   In reality, apart from the decades long, politically astute and well-organised activities of the Radnorshire Rebeccas, the county was noted for its lack of crime; for example, in its 90 year plus existence the Radnorshire Constabulary only had to investigate four murders.  Even in matters of religion the locality was not quite as pagan as the devout scribes of Pura Wallia would have it, see here. .  ........ But hang on, what if those Bible punchers were onto something, what if Radnorshire was indeed the pagan, immoral and ignorant place the press described.

In the past I've made the point that we should differentiate between language shift and anglicization.  Radnorians were certainly better able to pick up fluency in the English language than those living far away from the border.  It was mainly a matter of geography. With the Teme, the Lugg, the Arrow and the Wye all running eastward into England and much of the county lying within the orbit of English-speaking market towns, surely sparsely populated Radnorshire should be praised for holding back the tide of language shift for so long?

The language aside it seems that Radnorshire maintained many of the traditions of Hen Gymru Lawen and in these aspects, at least, it was less anglicised than it's respectable Welsh speaking neighbours. Take this report from 1861 concerning Aberedw published in Baner ac Amserau Cymru:

The other day I was in Aberedw, to see the ruins of the castle and Llywelyn’s cave. Aberedw is a place on the Radnorshire side (of the Wye). We went to sit for a while in a house that was known to one of our company. The niece of the man of the house happened be there on a visit.

“When are you going home?” someone asked.
“I’m not going home” replied the young girl, “ until after the feast.
“When is the feast?”
“Next Sunday”
“What feast is that” I asked.
“Aberedw Feast” said the girl.
“What sort of feast is that?”

But the young lady could not give an explanation, other than it was Aberedw feast, a little amazed that I should enquire about a subject of which everyone was aware.

"Gwlabsant” explained her uncle “that’s the feast.”
“Perhaps.” he said “you don’t know what gwlabsant is?”

I knew a little from history, but only from history. I had never before been in a district where the gwyl y mabsant, the feast of the patron saint was still alive.

Even the very mention of a saint’s feast has died out long ago in every other part of Wales. There’s barely one in a thousand who even knows the meaning of the word. The Sunday schools have extinguished virtually all of the old country customs except in Radnorshire. Here they have a refuge and a burial place.

Here's another description of the gwyl y mabsant in the parish of Betws Diserth, it appeared in the  Radnorshire Standard in 1898 but was recalling events much earlier in the century:

"I remember well attending the Betws Feast ....... Early on Sunday morning the guests would be in high spirits, and eager to exhibit their prowess in wrestling, jumping, ball playing, fighting etc.  The parson would arrive at the usual hour to hold a sacred service at the church, but suddenly his prayer would be interrupted by roars of imbecile laughter from the maudlin brains outside.  Some hundreds used to attend this gathering from all parts of Radnorshire and the neighbouring counties.  Here could be met the champion wrestler as well as the champion fighter of the county.  On the following Monday the hounds would be brought, the disciples of Diana would forsake Bacchus for a few hours.  Here for a whole week drunkenness and debauchery might be witnessed."

Even in Radnorshire respectability eventually managed to outlaw the merry-making associated with the parish wakes - although if Builth during show week is anything to go by, that may well have been a good thing!  There were those who regretted the passing of the old world.  In 1893 a correspondent to a Swansea paper recalled conversations with an old footballer who had played for Breconshire against Radnorshire at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  This, of course, was football as a mass-participation sport ranging over the countryside.  The writer remembers a couple of technical footballing terms from the time, namwn and hanner namwn, although I don't think you'll find these in the University's Geiriadur.

Regretting the passing of country sports and dancing the writer turns his ire on what he sees as the downside of chapel life:

"The Welshman had all the manliness preached out of him.  He became afraid of his landlord, afraid of the agent, afraid of the Set Fawr and the preacher, till his life became a burden to him, and there naturally developed in him low cunning and deceitfulness and so it has come to pass that Wales has acquired an unpleasant notoriety for untruthfulness and want of straightforwardness."

Of course now we are back with the prejudices of the Anglo-Saxon head measurers who were saying much the same thing:

"To paint the character of the sly, insincere, deceptive and cunning Welshman i.e. those unfavourable features which may be considered to distinguish him from his fellow subject of England, would take up too much space."

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Rock and a Hard Place

So you're an inquisitive child in Victorian Radnorshire and, thanks to the gradual introduction of elementary school education, you're able to read.  Read a book like the liberal scholar E A Freeman's - he would soon be appointed Regius Professor of History at Oxford University -  Old English History for Children.  What would the young reader make of Freeman's celebration of the Anglo-Saxon takeover of lowland Britain, and, yes, he's honest enough to call the dispossessed natives Welsh, not Celts or Romano-Brits:

"it has turned out much better in the end that our forefathers did thus kill or drive out nearly all the people whom they found in the land ...... (otherwise)..I cannot think that we should ever have been so great and free a people as we have been for many ages."

Meanwhile the Liberal MP for Herefordshire considers the Welsh a "miserable race of Celtic savages" and various scientists are running around the countryside measuring heads and noting down hair colour - a kind of proto-DNA research. Radnorians had a "nigrescence" score of 57.3% and scored particularly highly for "Celtic-eye", a dead give away for all those Anglo-Saxon obsessives who wished to identify the lesser breeds within the kingdom.

Now everyone in Wales had to put up with this nonsense but the poor Radnorians also got it in the neck from their fellow countrymen.  The animus shown towards Radnorshire in the Welsh Language Press of the period is at least understandable and can surely be traced back to the Blue Books.  These accused the Welsh of ignorance and immorality and blamed her language for the country's woes.  What better riposte to point to, by then, largely English speaking Radnorshire, a county with, for example, the highest illegitimacy rate in Britain.

Here are a few examples:

it is one of the darkest and most backward parts of the whole kingdom in terms of morality and learning. It is as if the human mind has disappeared from view as regards the population in general. Only the animal aspect of humanity can be seen living there. - Baner Cymru 1858 

Everywhere which has lost or denied the Welsh language ... those districts are full of immorality, cursing, blasphemy and prisons.  If you want proof look at Radnorshire. - Aberystwyth Observer 1876

There's no more pagan county in Wales than Radnorshire - Y Celt 1896

Fie Radnorshire! But there again, what can be expected from a people with no regard for their country's language and customs.  It's said that on the whole the natives of Radnorshire are remarkably ignorant and unable to speak either Welsh or English with any great alacrity - Tarian y Gweithiwr 1910

Even when someone came to the county's defence, such as Painscastle's Baptist minister, it serves only to illustrate the widespread prejudice against the county.

I note that an ill-founded impression of Radnorshire has arisen that its people are ungodly, ignorant and without morals - Seren Cymru 1885

My favourite quote of all comes from Iorwerth Peate, writing in 1933 he described the inhabitants of Radnorshire as "a deracine people, a people fallen between two stools a community of half-things."  I wonder what his colleague Ffransis Payne made of such sentiments?

Have such attitudes completely disappeared?  I doubt it.