Geraint welcomed everyone, and particularly Freda who was attending for the first time. Freda comes from Watford.
In thinking about people who were not able to attend special mention was made of Marion who has broken her leg.
He reminded members about the Heronry walk which will now be on 11th July.
For those who had not been able to go Geraint spoke eloquently about the finding of a house in the ancient settlement at Caertwch on the Common. There is a danger that he might move in soon, if he can find it again under all the grass.
Derek gave his usual apology for being late with notes but they have now been posted.
As Mary and Richard are on holiday, he then introduced Dai Hawkins our speaker for today on the topic: The Decline of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire.
Dai initially made reference to a two day Conference of the Radnorshire Society that will be held at Cwrt Hergest on the 25th/26th June – Welsh Poets and Scholars and their Patrons between Wye and Severn 1300 – 1600.
Dai’s talk is based upon a talk that he previously gave at the National Library and that was following two articles that can be seen in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Radnorshire Society Transactions.
Dai started by addressing the extraordinary relationship that exists between Radnorshire and the rest of Wales. A friend arrived at a B&B in London where he was greeted by a woman from Aberyswyth who asked him where he had come from. He said he had come from Radnorshire, to which he was asked: “Did you have a good voyage?”
There is something of a ‘black hole’ when it comes to the history of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire. As the people of North Wales were often stereotypically referred to as ‘Gogs’ the people in this area were often seen as ‘elvish’. They were unreal and a fantasy people – they do not really exist!
The scholar, linguist and pioneer of St Fagan’s Museum, Ffransis Payne did of course live in Llandegley – in fact he lived in Jane’s house which at the time had a flat roof, which according to Neil leaked regularly. Ffransis, in the 1960’s wrote a book in Welsh entitled “Exploring Radnorshire”. Dai was very grateful to the Radnorshire Society for publishing in the 2008 and 2009 Transactions his translation of the book. In the 2013 and 2014 editions of Transaction Dai has also written Part one and Part two of “History of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire”. (I suspect that Part three will be in the 2015 edition?)
As Ffransis Payne ‘explored Radnorshire’ he commented on the use and decline of the Welsh language. In the 2008 edition, Part one, he starts his journey in what is now Hereford, and explores the evidence of Welsh culture that can still be found in this ancient part of what had been Radnorshire. In the early part of Part two (2009) he is to be found wandering through Penybont from Dolau, he crosses Rhos Swydd Common, into Penybont and then proceeds up through Llandegle and on to the Pales where he comments on the decline of the Welsh language.
He refers to a Lewis Morris who visited Penybont in the middle of the eighteenth century who had commented on the quality of the Welsh spoken by the children. It was clear to Lewis Morris that the children were in fact bilingual. He mentions that many of the children, were at this time, no longer first language Welsh speakers.
Dai told us of an outburst of civil disorder in Rhayader in the Congregational Chapel on Bridge Street in 1851 over the use of the Welsh language between the older and younger generations. In Penybont the tradition for the Welsh Language in the Calvinistic Methodist Church was not followed in the early part of the 20th century.
From around 1830 there was a recognisable challenge to the old order of Welsh being spoken by grand-parents, to the bilingualism of the parents, and then a further move away from Welsh altogether by the children.
Importantly the area known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren (Between the Severn and the Wye) got split up in the Act of Union 1542/3. The new administrative area, Maesyfed or Radnorshire had lost Ceri (Kerry) to Montgomeryshire, Clun and parts of what is now Shropshire, as well as Kington and area to Herefordshire. In the south west it lost the area around Builth to Brecknockshire. At this time Welsh would have been the language spoken throughout the whole of this area. The change brought about through the Act of Union was a major blow to the Welsh language and the decline seems to have gradually spread west across the whole of the County from that time. By 1700 it had reached the new border between Wales and England. Ffransis Payne on reaching the Pales refers to the implications of the Quaker school and the educational side effect of its impact on spoken Welsh from around 1712. By 1866 an Englishman, William Knowles, was appointed as the head of the school. By the middle of the 19th century the decline had reached Rhayader, and by the turn of this century the Welsh language had retreated from all but a few parts of the County.
Dai referred to work that his wife had undertaken on the history of the Welsh language. Before she unfortunately died of cancer she had been a strong support an advocate for the cultural history and identity of Wales.
Tracing the history of the language of today is complex and to some extent controversial as there are very few texts before the Romans arrived to give a clear understanding about the different influences that have given rise to what we now call Cymraeg.
The earliest influences on language began as the last ice age made Britain suitable for human habitation and there was migration of hunter gatherer groups from Europe during the 9th millennium BC – Mesolithic period. Very little if anything is known about the languages of this period and how they impacted on each other.
During the Neolithic period 7000 BC – 2000 BC archaeologists have been able to piece together more information on the culture of the more settled farming communities from the quantities of pottery that have been found. Two main strands of language developed the Uralic Languages of Northern Europe that underpin Finnish and Hungarian; and the Indo-European Languages that include Sanskrit, the Germanic Languages, and the Celtic languages. An early form of Celtic language (Proto-Celtic) was probably spoken during the Bronze Age (from about 1250 BC) There would appear to be two branches within the Celtic groups:- i. Goidelic and ii. Brythonic. It is from the Brythonic group that Welsh emerges, whereas Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic are linked through Goidelic. A Common-Brythonic language was spoken across England Wales and Southern Scotland at the time of the Roman invasions. Latin did have some influence on the language at this time but it was the coming of the Saxons that heralded the use of the English Language which came through the Gaels and Germanic cultures from the 5th century. By the 11th century the Brythonic languages had disappeared from most of England other than Cornwall.
In the 5th century the Brythonic people had either migrated to Brittany or they had been pushed into Wales. At about this time the language underwent some significant changes and what emerged is the Welsh Language in its primitive form. Unfortunately there are no written records of Welsh from this period. What is now known as Old Welsh is the language spoken in the middle of the 8th century. The earliest written text from the 8th century is written on the Tywyn Stone.
As we enter the Middle Welsh period in the 12th century there is Book of Llandaff, written in Old Welsh, and drawing from material back in the 6th century, but it was in the Middle Welsh period that we begin to learn more of the bardic tradition that has long been part of Welsh cultural life. This was a largely oral tradition and the manuscripts that appear at this time in Middle Welsh tell of earlier times. The Laws of Hywel Dda, Taliesin, and the Mabinogion were created long before 12TH Century but were not in manuscript form that has survived until later centuries.
It was however the Historia Regum Brittanniae, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and that gave rise to the Arthurian legends, that had most influence on the culture of Mid Wales as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren. In a twist of fate it was these very legends, and their association with Rhung Gwy a Hafren, that brought my wife and I to Penybont in the first place. A Hungarian Architect, Imre Makovez, was asked by the Prince of Wales to create a building for an exhibition in London. He, Imre, did not want the building to remain in London and had asked that it should find a home in the Arthurian country Rhwng Gwy a Hafren. When the exhibition was cancelled Liz brought Imre and his wife to the area for a week as consolation. Liz fell in love with the area and the rest is history.
Getting back to Dai and the story telling of the bards he told about the time when Einion Clud, son of Elystan Glodrydd, was resident a Crug Eyryr. He met with Gregory of Wales and Archbishop Baldwin at New Radnor and signed up for the Third Crusade. When he got back home the next day with his distinguished guests his wife had persuaded him not to go on the Crusade. This probably cost him a heavy fine but Einion had an unfortunate end when he took part in a jousting tournament and, having defeated Roger Mortimer convincingly, Roger Mortimer was not at all happy about this and ambushed, with others, Einion on this way back to Crug Eyryr, when Einion was killed.
On page 89 of 2014 edition of Radnorshire Transactions Dai has a map showing the many homes of the patrons of the Welsh Bards in the period from 1000 to 1600 AD across Radnorshire. The Bards were people of status in Wales, their status was equivalent to that of their patrons. They would travel on horseback across the hilltops where travelling was easier to visit the homes of their patrons. The Bards or Poets gave richness to the oral traditions of Welsh culture that give rise to and are carried on in the Eisteddfods of today.
More factual information about the Welsh language can be obtained from the Court records and also the records of the visits of the Bishop of Hereford. From these we can say that, despite attempts to colonise Radnorshire in the 14th century the area of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren was almost 100% Welsh speaking. The English speakers were mainly in the towns and even here the numbers showed a significant decline.
In the following two centuries the Bards chronicled the lives of their patrons and the Welsh culture. It is interesting to note that a fifth of all the material recorded by the Bards related to Radnorshire.
The decline in the language that followed the Act of Union as chronicled above is punctuated by the fact that the last Eisteddfod to be held in Radnorshire was in 1777, but there was still enough Welsh being spoken for William Thomas in Penybont to advertise the Central Wales Emporium with a poster in Welsh sometime around 1900.
My attempts to learn Welsh have faltered and I cannot do justice the Dai’s talk on the dialect of Welsh that was/is spoken in Radnorshire. He spoke of his concerns that the new wave of Welsh speaking that is coming out of the schools is a more standard, even correct, Welsh, and is mainly being spoken by ‘incomers’ more that the indigenous population in Radnorshire. His ability however to articulate the dialect was remarkable and it is to be hoped that he can instil his passion for the language of Radnorshire in others.
Geraint thanked Dai for his excellent talk.
The next meeting will be for the walk on Monday 11th July for the walk to the Heronry and on to Cwmroches. Members are asked to meet at the Thomas Shop for coffee and then we will start the walk from there.