Monday, March 02, 2015

In a Vale of Windows

Bryndraenog is only two fields away from England, although as Mr Payne pointed out the Teme hereabouts is no real border, either geographically or historically.

Around the time Bryndraenog was built - the timbers were felled in 1436 -  the bard Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal came to sing a praise poem to the new building and it's owner Llywelyn Fychan.  Llywelyn Fychan did not trace his ancestry to the main descent group in Maelienydd, that of Elystan Glodrydd, but rather to  one Hywel Athro.  Perhaps Llywelyn was rhingyll or reeve to the local estates of Richard of York who had inherited the Mortimer lands in 1425 - Bryndraenog is at the entrance of a small valley called Cwmyrhingyll.  This is all discussed in the RCAHM volume Houses & History in the March of Wales Radnorshire 1400-1800, a book that really should be in every Radnorian's library. The volume also includes a partial translation of Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal's poem, but as there seems to be no translation of the entire poem readily available here's my rough translation:

The night the generous Son of Grace was born a star appeared as a sign to drag a thousand from the fiery pit and the blind from their darkness.  And a second time after Jesus, the journeying star of Owain: it was brighter than, woe for many, a myriad of smaller stars.  There is a star in Maelienydd, a proud maid of lime and wood, daughter of the king of sunshine, this court is the countess of summer.  Bright daylight, all praise to her, is seen at night in our land.  The duke has many houses, none of them surpass this, many do not know whether this is the moon or daylight?

Llywelyn Fychan, my draught of mead, the son of Ieuan owns it, the stout, generous line of Ieuan of our land, in the eighth degree from the line of Hywel Athro.  Great is his praise on the top strings, the line of Meurig, miracle of the bards.  There's no praise of the privileged ranks without the topstring of Bugeildy.  How pleasant, by St Chad, to come to him through yonder Teme.  He'll win words of greeting, a famous man with a pleasant office; he'll know amusement, joking tales, he'll know the refined words of wise men. I'll study when I alight, eyeing the shining white lime and see, between me and home, a looking-glass from heaven's goldsmith.  There's patronage here for me, in a vale of windows.  Like the city of Rome, a countless number of patterned glass and stone.  None who comes could swear, was it a man or an angel who built his house?  If it was a man he built well.  Joints, trusses, a knot of Tristan, packed crossbeams, a virtuous Christian, the good craftsmanship of the new hall's sanctuary. a chapel amidst great bays, a court like the houses of Cheap, its face covered in lime.  A holy framework, by the rood, a young man's ancient fortress; the sun's candle, chieftain of the close, the wise son of Ieuan's Celliwig; heaven's kinswoman, white-smocked, a stone cloister, St David's glebe;  allow the lord, a collared hart, the life of Noah in his new hall.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nothing Special

A bit of autobiography

Growing-up in Radnorshire in the early 1950s you wouldn't have heard much Welsh.  Indeed I can actually remember the occasion when I became aware of  the existence of the language.  Travelling on a Crosville bus between Llandrindod and Crossgates, my mother plonked me down beside another little lad in order to gossip with the boy's mother on the opposite seat.  Being a friendly sort I tried to make conversation, without any success, prompting the mother to explain that her offspring didn't speak English - which she then proved by launching into an incomprehensible stream of sound to which the previously mute boy happily responded.

A little while after this incident I discovered  that I, too, was a Welsh child of sorts.  Our cottage might not have had electricity or even running water, except for a near-by council standpipe, but we did have a splendid battery powered Ever Ready radio - my family's first step on the road of consumerism.  Wikipedia tells me that the date was 22 October 1955 and my father went crazy when Derek Tapscott scored a goal.  The radio confirmed that Wales had beaten England 2-1 and as a suddenly aware young Welshman I was over the moon.

 Simple Faithful Folk

My mother was born in Abertysswg but moved to Radnorshire, where her mother had relatives, during the swift disaster of 1926.  Later the family moved-on to Harrow - described in 1932 as "largely Cymric" where she and her siblings joined the YCL - for the socials she told me.  The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact didn't prevent her joining the WAAFs, aged just 19, in the summer of 1939 and by 1940 she was serving at RAF Uxbridge.  Churchill and his wife were frequented visitors.  Her opinion of Winston - a drunk, and Clemmie - too interested in the younger officers.  I wish I'd talked to her more about her early life but isn't that always the case.

It's fascinating how as the older generation kick-the-bucket the elites, who now control so much of academia as well as the main stream media, feel able to rewrite the history of the Second World War.  Stalin is painted as worse than Hitler, the role of the Soviet Union diminished to the point where you would think their only contribution was the post-victory rape of every female in Berlin.  Just look at the comments on any Second World War You Tube video for a taster of how these views have entered the mainstream..  Let's forget Anglo-American bombing aimed primarily at the German working class - the main group who actually opposed the rise of Nazidom - and the callous nuclear weapons dropped on an already defeated Japan.

This is a picture of the Ford plant in wartime Cologne.  The factory - at the centre of the snap - remained undamaged while the slave-labour barracks (below it) had been thoroughly bombed.

We're told that this was as the result of the fortunes of war rather than any deliberate plan to preserve the Ford company's property.

Radical Wales seems to be particularly proud of the film Pride, based on a London based lesbian and gay group who raised funds for the mining families of Onllwyn during the great strike of 1984-85.  How safe, how cosy, but then we've always been partial to a pat on the back from our betters.  The main character is an American, which can't have hurt sales to the USA.  Wisely no mention was made of the fact that said hero was General Secretary of the YCL - which even in its revisionist 1980s guise wouldn't have been much of a selling point.

I seem to remember that the miners of Donbas collected millions of pounds for the striking miners, all forgotten now by a radical Wales that can't even be bothered to find out what is happening in present day Ukraine.  Please let's never again mention that Donetsk was founded by a Welshman, it will only serve to remind us of the parochialism and irrelevance of our modern day national movement.  Heaven knows what Gwyn Alf would have made of it all.

Welsh Jokes

I can't remember the Welsh being objects of ridicule in the past, although that certainly seems to be the case today.  Disliked perhaps, but never a joke.  Perhaps it was the influence of Lloyd George and Nye Bevan, seen as being responsible for two of the great social reforms of the 20C - pensions and free health care.  I think it is something different though, and I'm talking about the disregard of the nobs rather than some UKIP bloke from Wolverhampton.  No, I think the old-school-tie brigade have lost their fear of the Welsh working class.  Up until the last great miner's strike there was still a possibility that the established order might topple.  Nowadays that's - perhaps foolishly - not seen as being the case and the Welsh have suffered more than most from Hooray Henry disdain.

The Kurds

When the siege of Kobani started I thought the Americans were engaged in PR bombing to impress the media gathered on the Turkish border overlooking the town. In reality the American action was far more subtle, an average seven bombing runs a day was just enough not to dissuade ISIS reinforcements from reaching the town.  Like wasps attracted to a jam jar they were being lured to their death, pehaps as many as 2000.  Of course this meant that the YPG/YPJ fighters were also being used.  Still treated as terrorists by the US and the EU, they fought the war mainly with AK47s, being largely denied supplies of even anti-tank weapons and night-vision equipment.  Perhaps 500 Kurds died in Kobani, many of them the young women who temporarily became objects of media attention in the West.   Take a look at some of their faces here, they deserve that at least.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Writing the Welsh Out of Popular History

The other night's moon halo occurred exactly 554 years after the battle of Mortimer's Cross, an event marked by the appearance of a similar atmospheric phenomenon, a parhelion.

That battle resulted in the defeat of the Lancastrians and the subsequent execution of their commander Owain Tudur. The majority from what would later became Radnorshire fought on the victorious Yorkist side and their leaders benefited greatly as a result: Ieuan ap Philip was constable of Cefnllys, a fortress which he rebuilt and ruled with the help of a still existing copy of Hywel's laws.  Llywelyn ap Rhys was constable of New Radnor castle and Dafydd Goch - he was from Y Fron close to modern day Crossgates - was granted the small Marcher lordship of Stapleton by Presteigne. In this way the descendants of the old princes of Maelienydd continued to rule their ancestral lands, at least at the local level, maintaining the language, literature, law and traditions of the Welsh.

Check out popular English histories of the War of the Roses and you'll find little about the Welsh just as books on Tudor times rarely mention Wales; and this reminds me of something published the other day on the Daily Wales blogsite.  The article, see here, entertained its readers by including nearly every smidgen of historical balderdash ever dreamt-up about/by the Welsh.  Welsh Israelites - tick; Welsh Indians - tick; the Old British church - tick; Coelbren y Beirdd - tick.

Now what is interesting about this flummery - and  there's nothing new about any of it - is why these legends came about and what effect they had on reality.  Gwyn Alf Williams, for example, wrote a marvellous book about the Welsh Indians, see here although he certainly didn't belive that such a tribe ever existed outside the minds of men.  The Daily Wales article, however, sees the dismissal of these myths as part of some English plot to write the Welsh out of history - their fire may be wildly off target but their heart is in the right place.

Anyone who watches Time Team should play a game and count-up the number of occasions that great leveller Tony Robinson (sorry Sir Tony Robinson) mentions the Anglo-Saxons.  British survivals in Lindsey, Elmet, amongst the Magonsaete and as ancestors of the royal houses of Wessex and Mercia etc. are ignored.  Even when the programme makes a rare foray into Wales you'll more likely hear Baldrick droning-on about Anglo-Saxons.  It's a very one dimensional view of post-Roman Britain.

Then what about King Arthur?  The Matter of Britain is one of the foundation stones of vernacular literature from Germany to Portugal, yet despite obvious Welsh characters and backgrounds any Welsh transmission is downplayed, perhaps the result of lowly tavern minstrels. Never mind that a princess of Deheubarth was rolling around in the bed of the King of England, who by the way was really a Frenchman.

And so it goes on with the BBC the worst offender.  Here's a revealing factoid I've mentioned before in connection with Janina Ramirez' series on the Hundred Years War: Kent was the English shire asked to raise the most men - 280 - for the army that went to Crecy, for many English counties the number was less than 60.  The figure for the cantrefi that went to make up the future county of Radnorshire was 430.  Did the Welsh get a mention, did they hell.  As for Dimbleby's Seven Age's of Britain, who can forget his statement that Britain was pagan until a few Irish monks turned up in Scotland in the mid 500s.  Heaven knows where he thought St Patrick came from.

Fergal Keane's Story of Ireland was little better, the conquest of Ireland being achieved by the English or, at best, the Anglo-Normans. A better term for these half-Welsh conquerors, few of whom would have even been able to speak English, is Cambro-Normans. Frustrated by their failure to make progress in Wales these descendants of Princess Nest turned to a more profitable field of conquest. I suppose Irish pride is better served by blaming the English rather than admitting the role of men like Robert Fitz Stephen who boasted of his Trojan, that is his Welsh blood:

"We derive our descent, originally, in part from the blood of the Trojans, and partly we are of the French race. From the one we have our native courage, from the other the use of armour. Since, then, inheriting such generous blood on both sides, we are not only brave, but well armed."

And so it goes, Ieuan Brydydd Hir got it right some 240 years ago:

The false historians of a polished age
Show that the Saxon has not lost his rage,
Though tamed by arts his rancour still remains:
Beware of Saxons still, ye Cambrian swains.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jessica's Radnorshire Roots

Not having access to a television - well at least one where I have any control of the remote - I'd never heard of the actress Jessica Raine, she was the star of the BBC series Call the Midwife.  I came across her name while checking out some Kington history, Raine is an ex-pupil of the town's Lady Hawkins school.

Like another ex-pupil, the singer Ellie Goulding, there seems to be some ambiguity about Jessica's nationality, she being described in various mainstream articles as a Welsh actress.  The cause of this mix-up in Goulding's case was the inability of Warburton's Wales's national newspaper to distinguish between Kington and Knighton.  In the case of Raine it seems to stem from an early interview where she said she was from near Hay-on-Wye, no doubt correctly surmising that this was the only place anywhere near her home in Eardisley, Herefordshire a London journalist might conceivably have heard of.

Ms Raine herself has had something to say about borderland ambiguities, remarking on the "Welsh twang" of her local accent and that she "grew up in Herefordshire on the borders with Wales, so it was neither one nor the other."  All quite interesting but more was to follow when I discovered that her real surname was Lloyd and that she was connected to the Lloyds of Baynham Hall, Michaelchurch-on-Arrow, a branch of the well-known family of Radnorshire bonesetters.

In the days when agriculture was less mechanized than it is today a bad back could easily bring ruin to a family.  Radnorshire farmers had little faith in the medical profession to be of any assistance, whereas bonesetters were trusted and sought after.  An interesting article here.  Many of these local bonesetters were descendants of Hugh Lloyd 1770-1856, as indeed is Ms Raine.  In 1969 Jessica's father unveiled a memorial tablet in Michaelchurch parish church to commemorate the original Hugh Lloyd.  The memorial repeats the verse on the bonesetter's original tombstone.

A talent rare by him possessed
T'adjust the bones of the distressed
Whenever called he ne'er refused
But cheerfully his talent used
But now he lies beneath this tomb
Till Jesus comes t'adjust his own.

A few year's ago I may have done something to cast doubt on the family's connection with that figure of local folklore Silver John, see here.  It was not my intention as there is usually some element truth in these old legends.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Welsh DNA

Dafydd Iwan "descended from Welsh kings who ruled England" said the headline in the Daily Post, which seems all to typical of the high falutin' claims that usually ensue when DNA meets MSM.

This was all publicity of course for an upcoming project, backed by S4C, the Post and the Western Mail:

Other celebrities will be tested including Kath and Bryn and also members of the general public who will have paid up to £200 for the privilege - I'm guessing the celebs will get a freebie.  So what we have here will be a self-selecting sample and a good deal of what the project may well tell us we already know.  South Wales is full of folk with ancestors from Ireland, the West of England and further afield for example.

Mind you even more rigorous sampling gets things wrong, remember the Blood of the Vikings series which picked out Llanidloes as a likely place to find Welsh DNA.  Of course the town is slap bang in the middle of the 16C Arwystli plantation, typified by surnames such as Wigley, Ashton, Chapman, Jarman, Peate etc.  You could end up with Y-chromosome results more typical of Derbyshire and Lancashire than Montgomeryshire.

Of course a large sample of Welsh DNA is to be welcomed and hopefully that is what the project will achieve. It could find out more about the supposed Balkan hotspot around Abergele or the hinted "Pictish" DNA in Central Wales or who knows what else.

A large pinch of salt however, conclusions in this branch of science are open to frequent revision.  Time was  there was no Neanderthal blood in modern humans, then there was, then there wasn't, now there is.  Same goes for the out-of-Africa theory.

Meanwhile things could get a bit bothersome for S4C as a result of the controversy between the scientists behind the project and those at UCL.  It's already been the subject of an editorial in the magazine Nature and UCL have dedicated a section of their website to the matter.  Scroll down on this page to 24 September 2014 for a taster.

Anyone interested in joining the project can do so here.  Hopefully they'll get involved in the hope of uncovering something about the prehistory and unrecorded history of Wales and the Welsh people rather than just to bore the pants off us all with daft claims of being descended from Svein the Viking.  

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Old Block

Feeling a bit of sympathy for Andy Mountbatten - hasn't the guy done his level best to win Central Asia for the West?  And how is he repaid?  By having his face splashed all over the front page.  What is the point of the cleptocracy owning the media if they can't keep an officer and a gentleman out of the papers.

Anyway this blog needs to get in touch with its yé-yé girl roots, so for Andy and especially his dad here's the best-connected woman in the history of pop to sing a little ditty:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Radnorshire's lost plygain tradition

If you were to sum up Wales with one of those fashionable hundred-object lists then surely a recording of this plygain carol would have to be included.

There was a time when the plygain tradition held sway in Radnorshire. Ffransis Payne recounted the evidence of a Glascwm farmer, born circa 1820, who recalled the Christmas morning plygain service held in the parish church. The church bells were rung from 3am until the service commenced at 05.30, then traditional carols and hymns would be sung in the highly illuminated building - a lesser known element of the tradition -  and all this in the Welsh language.

Rhayader's plygain was abandoned, seemingly because of drunkenness, while in Llanbister the service was called pelygen.  After the tradition retreated from the state church it lived on in the chapels and even farmhouses.  In St Harmon the local chapel was still holding plygain services in the 1870s and the Primitive Methodists of Presteigne persisted until the 1890s, although this last example would have certainly been conducted in English.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Black Belt, Hillbillies and Reds

My previous post on the national question in the USA, see here, was written before I saw this fascinating map detailing individuals' perceived ethnic origins as recorded by the 2000 US census. The map shows the largest group in each county.  It illustrates some of the issues discussed before - the French element in New England and Louisiana and the Hispanic element in the South West, these being cultures which did not migrate to the United States but were already in situ when the US expanded to take over their lands.  We can also see the scattered remnants of the original inhabitants of the continent and how, for example, Hawaiians have been overwhelmed while indigenous Alaskans still have some degree of territorial integrity.

Turning to the mainstream - those who willingly migrated or were forcibly removed to America - it's interesting to note that the most widespread ethnicity mapped are not the English but the Germans.  In fact it's possible to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific without leaving a German predominant county.

Two other groups stand-out, the African Americans of the deep South (there are around 100 counties with an absolute black majority) and the group, mainly in the South, especially Appalachia, who do not list any ethnicity other than being American.

In 1928, at the behest of activists like Harry Haywood, the Comintern accepted that the African Americans of the Black Belt constituted a nation as defined by Stalin "a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture."  This led to the CPUSA defining the inhabitants of the Black Belt as an oppressed nation with the right to national self-determination, up to and including secession from the United States.  This line was largely abandoned in 1935 but is still held by small leftist and black nationalist groups.  Communist activity in pre-Second World War America has largely been forgotten - there were 2000 CPUSA members in Alabama alone - so it is easy to underestimate the strength of this idea at a time when sharecropping was still a major economic factor affecting millions.

There are those who would argue that the poor whites of southern Appalachia also have the characteristics of a distinct nation. The problems associated with internal colonialism and post-industrialisation echo those of South Wales.  I'd argue that the mockery directed at rednecks and hillbillies also has echoes in Wales, these being communities elites feel able to denigrate without any of the comeback associated with political correctness.

The small independence movements in Texas and Alaska don't seem to have much interest in their Spanish speaking or native American minorities, instead they are usually dismissed as being right-wingers unhappy with Washington rule.  As Washington rule is so closely allied with clepto-capitalism that's not necessarily a bad thing and perhaps we need to be reading Ralph Nader's book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Oh and here are some Americans dancing in the days before the corporations started filling their food with high fructose corn syrup.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Around Radnorshire - Llanfair Llwyth Yfnwg

While looking at Estyn reports on Radnorshire schools I was taken by this comment in the inspection for Gladestry primary "all learners speak English, although some use the local dialect." How often has mention of the local dialect turned up in an official government publication? What next, official status?

Readers may be disappointed that there's not a lot about the "Radnorshire" dialect on this blog.  The dialect is characteristic of the north and the east of the county rather than the south and west and I do get annoyed at folk, not natural speakers, who put-on "thees, thous, bists and wunnas" as a form of mockery. At the same time a broad Radnorshire accent is a wonderful thing and listening to elderly dialect speakers negotiating a supermarket makes a welcome change from the more usual London and Midlands voices.  

The names of the Gladestry school's catchment area would surely have given Housman a run for his money in the quietest-places-under-the sun stakes: Gladestry, Colva, Michaelchurch-on-Arrow, Burlingjobb, and across the border, Huntington and Brilley.  The quarry at Dolyhir not so much.  I was surprised by the presence of Herefordshire pupils in a Welsh school but seemingly this is quite common, with over 2000 children from England attending state schools in Wales and even more making the journey east.

Census figures which show the Welsh language making ground in East Radnorshire -  the 2011 figures are more realistic than those of 2001 -  have always seemed a bit suspicious. I've put it down to monoglot parents over-estimating the linguistic abilities of their offspring.  Yet perhaps this viewpoint is too pessimistic given the report's description of language use in the school: "Their use of English and Welsh in both oral and written work is extremely advanced and nearly all transfer between the languages confidently and easily."

I'm sure there may be one or two locals who see the revival of the old Welsh placenames of the area as the perverse invention of some rabid nationalist in the county's Highways Department.  Infact the earliest reference to Llanfair Llwyth Yfnwg (Gladestry) dates back to 1291.  Lewis Glyn Cothi came here in the 15C to praise its inns - serving the ales of Llwydlo (Ludlow) and Gweble (Weobley) - and to receive the gift of a mantle from Elis Hol, comparing it in some striking dyfalu to the Golden Fleece and the mantle of Tegau Eurfron.  And of course we are just a mile or so from Hergest, a place of real importance to everything that makes Wales an idea worth defending.

Brulhai (Brilley) was the home of Phelpod ap Rhys, a cyfarwyddyd (storyteller) with a whole world of stories within his head, a master of the seven arts who knew all the chronicles of the island.  Glyn Cothi calls this district Bro Gintun (the vale of Kington) and so did the muleteers of the pre-railroad age bringing coal from South Wales: yn mynd a llawer llwyth o lo, ar hyd y fro i Gyntyn.

The area was still Welsh-speaking in the 18C when a local was taken to court for slander "Di gyrn di dorrws y twlle sydd in di hatt di" - "your horns tore the holes in your hat."  Note the southern verb ending  - ws.  But by the start of the 19C language shift was probably complete, although the Radnorshire antiquarian Mr Cole reported that his grandparents - who farmed Redborough between Llannewydd (Newchurch) and Llanfihangel Dyffryn Arwy (Michaelchurch on Arrow) - still knew Welsh in the middle of that century.  Only Burlingjobb lacks a Welsh name, although 16C spellings such as Byrchop and Berchoppe suggest that, at that time, the name had been cymricised to something like Bersiob.

With the Welsh language spoken in the village school's two classrooms and on public display, at least on the Radnorshire side, we can say that these are small victories in a war whose major battles are being fought, and probably lost, far to the west.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Herefordshire's Welsh Field Names

After bragging-up access to historical records in Wales as compared to England, I have to admit that this is not the case with 19C field names, where we certainly lag behind some of the border counties - see Herefordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire.

The Herefordshire and Cheshire databases are searchable, so to get a quick idea of the distribution of Welsh survivals what better element to look-up than the word cae - field.  I was surprised that this element is found fairly widely in two Cheshire parishes - Malpas and Shocklach.  The Shropshire maps aren't searchable, so I'll leave them alone and instead  look forward to the publication of the planned volume on Welsh placenames in that county.

The map shows those Herefordshire parishes which in 1841 had at least six fields containing the cae element. Most have far more - 83 such fields in Michaelchurch Escley, 61 in Clifford, 47 in Rowlestone, 45 in Craswell and so on, nearly 600 in total.  As you can see there is a pretty close correlation with the parishes where Welsh patronyms were common in the 16C - see post below.  I don't believe there is any great antiquity to most of these field names, instead they reflected a fairly recent acquaintance with the Welsh language.

Despite the widespread occurrence of Welsh surnames there's little evidence for any surviving Welsh national feeling in this Cambria irredenta. I did identify a greater tendency in the 2011 census to opt for a British identity rather than an English only identity in a selection of these parishes - see below.  Perhaps that that reflects some ethnic ambiguity?

On the whole though, while I dislike the use of the term anglicised for any population within Wales, its use here is appropriate -  just like the Germanised Slavs who make up a fair proportion of the  population of eastern Germany.

Let England keep these parishes, although you would think that the locals might take some interest in their own history.

Herefordshire average:  English-only 64% Welsh-only 4% British-only 16%
Clifford:  English-only 52% Welsh-only 8% British-only 28%
Cusop:  English-only 51% Welsh-only 15% British-only 19%
Dorstone:  English-only 54% Welsh-only 7% British-only 26%
Newton:  English-only 55% Welsh-only 9% British-only 27%
Abbeydore:  English-only 55% Welsh-only 5% British-only 23%
Longtown:  English-only 53% Welsh-only 11% British-only 21%
Llangarron:  English-only 56% Welsh-only 8% British-only 24%
Welsh Newton:  English-only 47% Welsh-only 8% British-only 30%
Ganarew:  English-only 50% Welsh-only 12% British-only 26%
Rowlestone:  English-only 50% Welsh-only 8% British-only 26%