Little England beyond Wales

Little England beyond Wales

Little England beyond Wales is a name applied to an area of southern Pembrokeshire and southwestern Carmarthenshire in Wales. Although distant from the English border, it has been English in language and culture for many centuries. Although it is probably much older, the first known [Awbery, Gwenllian M, "Cymraeg Sir Benfro/Pembrokeshire Welsh", Llanrwst, 1991, ISBN 0-86381-181-7] use of the term was in the sixteenth century, when Camden called the area "Anglia Transwalliana". Most of the area is known in Welsh as "Sir Benfro Saesneg", meaning "(the) English-speaking (part of) (the) county (of) Penfro" [ [ Online Welsh dictionary] ] .


The area was formerly part of the kingdom of Deheubarth, but it is unclear when it became distinguished from other parts of Wales. Charles [Charles, B. G., "The Placenames of Pembrokeshire", National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1992, ISBN 0-907158-58-7, pp xxxv-lii] gives a survey of the evidence for early non-Welsh settlements in the area. The Norse raided in the 9th and 10th centuries, and some may have settled, as they did in Gwynedd further north. There are scattered Scandinavian placenames in the area, mostly in the Hundred of Roose, north and west of the Cleddau river. "Brut y Tywysogyon" [Jones, Thomas, (ed.), "Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth MS 20 Version", UoW Press, Cardiff, 1952] mentions many battles in southwest Wales and sackings of Menevia (St David's) in the pre-Norman period. Sometimes these were stated to be conflicts with Saxons, sometimes with people of unspecified origin. The first explicit documentary evidence is that of Giraldus Cambrensis and "Brut y Tywysogyon"; "Flemings" were settled in south Pembrokeshire, soon after the arrival of the Normans in the early 12th century. Giraldus says this took place specifically in Roose. The previous inhabitants were said to have "lost their land", but this could mean either a total expulsion of the existing population, or merely a replacement of the land-owning class. The development of Haverfordwest as the castle and borough controlling Roose dates from this period. This plantation occurred under the auspices of the Norman invaders. The Normans placed the whole of Southwest Wales under military control, establishing castles over the entire area, as far north as Cardigan.

That Flemish might have continued to be spoken is born out only by a statement of 1577 that a few families could still speak Flemish. However, Ranulf Higdon in his "Polychronicon" (1327) states [Lockwood, W. B., "Languages of the British Isles past and present", Andre Deutsch, 1975, ISBN 0-233-96666-8, p 235] that Flemish was by his time extinct in southwest Wales, and Owen in 1603 was adamant that Flemish was long extinct. As for placenames, the greatest concentration of Anglo-Saxon names is in Roose, while there are considerable numbers of Welsh placenames in the rest of Little England, although these areas were certainly English-speaking. Flemish names are rare, and those that exist are based on personal names of landowners.

At the end of the Tudor period, George Owen of Henllys produced his "Description of Penbrokeshire" ("sic") [Owen, George, "The Description of Pembrokeshire" Dillwyn Miles (Ed) (Gomer Press, Llandysul 1994) ISBN 1-85902-120-4] , completed in 1603. He produced what amounts to a geographical analysis of the languages in the county, and his writings provided the vital source for all subsequent commentators. He is the first to emphasize the sharpness of the linguistic boundary. He says:

yet do these two nations keep each from dealings with the other, as mere strangers, so that the meaner sort of people will not, or do not usually, join together in marriage, although they be in one hundred ( and sometimes in the same parish, nor commerce nor buy but in open fairs, so that you shall find in one parish a pathway parting the Welsh and English, and the one side speak all English, the other all Welsh, and differing in tilling and in measuring of their land, and divers other matters."
Of Little England, he added:
(they) keep their language among themselves without receiving the Welsh speech or learning any part thereof, and hold themselves so close to the same that to this day they wonder at a Welshman coming among them, the one neighbour saying to the other 'Look there goeth a Welshman'.
He described the linguistic frontier in some detail, and his 1603 line is shown on the map. His description indicates that some northern parts had been re-colonised by Welsh speakers. The disruptions of the post-Black Death period may account for this.

Although Little England is described by several later writers, they do little but quote Owen. Quantitative descriptions of the linguistic geography of the area start with that of Ravenstein [Ravenstein, E. G., "On the Celtic languages of the British Isles; a statistical survey", in "Journal of the Royal Statistical Society" XLII, 1879, 579-636] , around 1870. This shows a further loss of territory since Owen's time. From 1891 onward, linguistic affiliation in Wales have been assessed in the census, and the situations in 1901 and 1981 are shown in the map. The overall picture is that the boundary has moved to a significant, but small degree. Furthermore, the boundary has always been described as sharp. John [John, Brian S., "The Linguistic Significance of the Pembrokeshire Landsker" in "The Pembrokeshire Historian" 4, 1972. pp 7-29] , in 1972, said of the linguistic boundary that it "is a cultural feature of surprising tenacity; it is quite as discernible, and only a little less strong, than the divide of four centuries ago."

Little England today

As mentioned by Owen, the cultural differences between Little England and the Welshry extend beyond language. Manorial villages are more common in Little England, particularly on the banks of the Daugleddau estuary, while the north has characteristically Welsh scattered settlements. Forms of agriculture are also distinct [Davies, M. F., "Pembrokeshire", Part 32 (pp 75-170) of Stamp, L. D. (Ed.), "The Land of Britain, Report of the Land Utilisation Survey", London, 1939] , although this mainly accords with land fertility rather than culture. Parish churches often have a characteristic tall, narrow castellated tower, in contrast with usual tower-less Welsh design. In domestic architecture, the "Flemish chimney" - a detached cylindrical structure - is characteristic of Little England, although it is also occasionally found in North Pembrokeshire. The name is typical of the semi-mythical nature of the "Flemish" influences: no such structures are to be found in Flanders, but they are to be found in southwest England, and this is the probable origin of both the chimneys and their builders. None of these distinctions is anything like as clear-cut as the difference of language. The language of Little England is a dialect most closely related to the English of Somerset and Devon.

On the other hand, Little England and the Welshry have many similarities. Typical Welsh surnames of patronymic origin (e.g. Edwards, Richards, Phillips etc) were almost universal in the Welshry in Owen's time, but they also accounted for 40% of names in Little England. A Y-chromosome study in Haverfordwest [Capelli, C., "et al", "A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles", in "Current Biology",3, 2003, pp 979-984] revealed a singularly undiluted "Celtic" population. According to John ["John, ibid", pp 19-20] , the majority of English-speaking Little England natives today regard themselves as Welsh, as did Giraldus Cambrensis, who was born on the south coast in 1146. Nonetheless, Little England natives are as protective of their language as are the natives of the Welshry.


Further reading

* Aitchison, John W., and Carter, Harold, "The Welsh Language 1961-1981: an interpretive atlas", UoW Press, 1985, ISBN 0-7083-0906-2
* Bowen, E. G., (Ed.), "Wales: a Physical, Historical and Regional Geography", Methuen, 1957
* Davies, Thomas, "Penfro Gymreig a Seisnig a’i Phobl" in "Y Berniad" 4, 1914, pp 233-238.
* Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) "The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution", UoW Press, 1997, ISBN 0-7083-1418-X
* Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) "Language and Community in the 19th Century", UoW Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7083-1467-8
* Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) "The Welsh language and its social domains 1801-1911", UoW Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7083-1604-2
* Jones, Emrys, and Griffiths, Ieuan L., "A linguistic map of Wales: 1961", in "The Geographical Journal", 129, part 2, 1963, p 195
* Pryce, W. T. R., "Welsh and English in Wales, 1750-1971: A Spatial Analysis Based on the Linguistic Affiliation of Parochial Communities" in "Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies", 28, 1978, pp 1-36.
* Thomas, J. Gareth, "The geographical distribution of the Welsh language", in "The Geographical Journal", 122, part 1, 1956, pp 71-79
* Williams, D. Trevor, "Linguistic divides in South Wales: a historico-geographical study", in "Archaeologia Cambrensis" 90, 1935, pp 239-66
* Williams, D. Trevor, "A linguistic map of Wales according to the 1931 census, with some observations on its historical and geographical setting", in "The Geographical Journal", 89, part 2, 1937, p 146-51

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