0805e Gwefan Cymru-Catalonia. The Welsh language in 1878. "Along the whole of the Severn, from Llanidloes down to and beyond Newtown, Welsh is gradually being forgotten, although still largely employed in the religious services of the Dissenters and occasionally even in the Established Church." "In Bangor Welsh is spoken except by about 300 natives of England. In Conway [Conwy] only 50 persons are stated not to be able to speak Welsh."


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Y Gymreg yn 1878
Golwg ar diriogaeth yr iaith Gymareg o ddarlith a draddowyd gan E. G. Ravenstein yn y flwyddyn honno

The Welsh language in 1878
E. G. Ravenstein's look at the geographical extent of the Welsh language from a lecture he gave in that year



Part of an article reporting a lecture on "Celtic Languages of the British Isles" by E.G. Ravenstein. It appeared in"Bye-Gones Relating to Wales and the Border Counties", May 1878. It is an interesting resum of the extent of the Welsh language one hundred and twenty-two years ago

SYLWADAU: Gwahanaiethau yn y fersiwn hon o'i chymharu 'r gwreiddilol: (a) Y fi biau'r rhifau ar ddechrau pob rhan; (b) ceir y ffurfiau cywir ar yr enwau lleoedd rhwng cyplysau - Newtown {Y Drenewydd}, ayyb. (c) Mae ambell air ar goll ar fin un o'r ffotocopau - rwyf wedi marcio y geiriau coll felly - {unreadable}.


COMMENTARY: Differences from the original: (a) The numeration at the start of each section is mine. (b) The correct forms of place names are added between braces Newtown {Y Drenewydd}. (c) Some words are missing on the edge of one of the photocopies - these missing words are marked {unreadable}



(1) A paper interesting to all the Celtic race of the British isles was recently read before the Statistical Society at King's College, by Mr E.G. Ravenstein, F.R.G.S.. The subject was, we believe, the first attempt to solve the geographical and numerical relation of the Welsh, Gaelic, Manx and Irish-speaking population of the islands.


(2) The learned and able author summarized the Celtic population (that is those speaking both languages) as under:
Irish Gaels 866,000
Manxmen 12,500
Scotch Gaels 309,000
Welsh 1,606,300
of whom there were 62,000 Welsh-speaking Celts in England.


(3) We give portions of the paper relating to Wales. The author acknowledged that the Welsh were the most important and interesting of the Celtic population of these islands.



(4) I shall begin my survey with the border counties, tracing in every instance the linguistic boundary embracing those districts in which Welsh is spoken by a majority of the inhabitants.


(5) Flintshire {Sir y Fflint} has a mixed population, but that portion of the county which lies within the linguistic boundary is as purely Welsh as any other part of Wales. Im Maelor Saesneg, the Saxon land (43 square miles, 5,948 inhabitants), a detached portion of the county, Welsh has wholly disappeared since the days of Henry VIII. When Defoe visited Bangor Monachorum {Bangor Is-coed}, about 1730, he failed to procure a guide capable of giving the explanation required. At the present day English alone is spoken.

(delwedd 3119)

(6) The linguistic boundary which separates the county proper in two portions of very unequal size begins at Wepre {Gwepra}, at the mouth of the river Dee {Dyfrdwy}, runs south-west, crossing the river Alyn {Alun} above Hope {Yr Hob}, and then follows closely the right bank of the river mentioned. All to the south-east of that line, with the exception that a large number of Welsh labourers are employed in the hamlets of Chemistry, Shotton, Queensferry {Y Fferi-isaf}, Pentre, and Sandycroft, all of them near the Dee, in the Saltney township of Hawarden {Penar-lag}. These labourers, forming about 40% of the population of the township, are immigrants, and their children do not learn Welsh. In the Western portion of the parish of Hope (Hope Mountain {Mynydd yr Hob}, beyond the river Alyn), Welsh still keeps its ground, but with difficulty. In the towns of Welsh Flintshire English is of course the language of business, but Welsh is spoken by the bulk of the people. In Holywell {Treffynnon} (3,540 inhabitants, of whom 95 per cent speak Welsh), and in Mold {Yr Wyddgrug} (3,976 inhabitants) it is said to maintain its ground, but in Flint and St. Asaph {Llanelwy} it is gradually being superseded by English. In the meantime nearly all religious services are carried on in Welsh, and there is hardly a Sunday-school in which it is not employed.

(7) The English portion of Flintshire has an area of 53 square miles, with 18,111 inhabitants, of whom 750 speak Welsh. The Welsh portion embraces 211 square miles, with 58,201 inhabitants, of whom 52,560, or 90.3 per cent, speak Welsh.


(8) Denbighshire {Sir Ddinbych}, with the exception of territory of limited extent, but including the important town of Wrexham {Wrecsam}, is wholly Welsh. The linguistic boundary enters the county a short distance to the west of the river Alyn, runs to the east of Brymbo and Broughton {Brychdyn}to within a couple of miles of Wrexham, then runs along the Great Western Railway until it reaches Offa's Dyke {Clawdd Offa}, that famous old national barrier, which it follows to the boundary of Shropshire {Swydd Amwythig}, with this exception that Ruabon {Rhiwabon}and its immediate vicinity are included within it.

(delwedd 3118)


(9) The territory to the east of the line in English. It has an area of 39 square miles, with 20,315 inhabitants, of whom only 800 speak Welsh. Within it lies the town of Wrexham, which had 8,576 inhabitants at the last census, but now has 10,000, and where Welsh is used by three or four congregations, English by twelve.

(10) Ruabon {Rhiwabon} (15,150 inhabitants in 1871, 18,000 now) lies within the Welsh boundary, all, or nearly all religious services are conducted there in Welsh, and "more Welsh is spoken every day," owing no doubt to the emigration of labourers. Only 600 persons are said to speak English, and 2,000 Welsh and English.

(11) In the parish of Chirk {Y Waun}, the Western portion of which is intersected by Offa's Dyke, there is a Welsh chapel, poorly attended, and Welsh is now understood only by a few old people.

(12) In the parishes of Bersham {Y Bers}, Broughton {Brychdyn}, Brymbo, Minera {Mwynglawdd}, and Esclusham above to the West of Wrexham, which have a total population of 13,250 souls, Welsh is spoken by seven-eighths of the population, and English by the same number, but further in the interior of the country, and more especially in those parts which are at some distance from railroads, the knowledge of English is still very limited, scarcely more than half of the inhabitants being able to express themselves in it.

(13) In the parish of Llansilin, on the boundary of Shropshire, the children are said to know Welsh very imperfectly, and the information I have received tends to show that along the Dee, and in the valley of the Clwyd, up to Llanelidan, it is slowly losing ground, the railways proving its most powerful enemy. In the far greater portion of the county, however, it maintains its ground firmly, and the greater part of the religious services are conducted in Welsh. In Ruthin {Rhuthun} (3,298 inhabitants) Welsh is spoken by 85 per cent. of the inhabitants, and in Denbigh {Dinbych} (6,323 inhabitants) it is employed in eleven out of fourteen places of worship. Very little English is spoken in the country districts.


(14) Radnorshire {Sir Faesyfed}, if the language now spoken by the vast majority of the inhabitants be allowed to decide, is a portion of England and not of Wales. In former ages, however, it was purely Welsh. "The name sof places (villages, farmhouses, hills, rivers, &c.), are almost exclusively Cymraeg. Amongst the inhabitants, however, there is a large admixture of Saxon names, which bespeak a considerable Saxon emigration." As in the Highlands, the natives of the county emigrate in considerable numbers to England, whilst natives of England settle in the county. In 1871 no less than 14% were natives of England. Welsh still lingers in the extreme north-western corner of the county, but elsewhere it is spoken only by a few immigrants. The existence of Welsh Black Letter Bibles like that at Nantmel, which dates back to the year 1620, shows that the extinction of Welsh is not to be measured by centuries. The services of the Church of England throughout the county are conducted in English with one curious exception - "at Rhayader {Rhaeadr-gwy}, where four Welsh sermons must annually be delivered, under a bequest."

(delwedd 3116)

(15) The Welsh language, as I have said, still lingers in the extreme west of that county. At Rhayader (976 inhabitants) 200 persons still speak Welsh, but the younger people have altogether forgotten it. In the neighbouring parish of Cwmto{iddwr? = Cwmteuddwr - unreadable} Welsh is somewhat more general, especially in the valley of Elan, above Nantgwilt, and there are even two or three farmers who understand no English. In the parish of St. Harmon {Saint Harmon} {?some - unreadable} fifty years ago, when one of my contributors was a boy, {?all of the - unreadable} services, with rare exceptions were in Welsh. At the present day Welsh is only spoken by the older people, and a m{?ajority} speak it only in that part of the parish which abuts upon the river Wye. As to Nantmel, Welsh seems to have been g{?} about a hundred years ago. The Vicar now tells me that it is wholly extinct, whilst another informant makes it linger in the north-western part of the parish, towards Rhayader. Practically it is extinct. I believe that a line which crosses the Wye from Rhayader and then runs south at some distance from it, t{?o the} Vale, where there is the only Welsh Baptist Chapel in the county, will be found to include that small portion of Radnosrhire where Welsh is still the language of the majority. This small territory embraces 54 square miles, with 713 inhabitants of whom 470 speak Welsh. Outside of it lies a smaller district of 20 square miles, with 2,000 inhabitants, inclusive of the {?parish} of Rhayader, within which about 530 speak Welsh. All the {?rest} of Radnorshire is as completely English as any county in the land.

(16) Shropshire is an English county, but a small portion of the western extremity is Welsh, including the parishes of Selattyn {Selatyn}, Llanyblodwel, and the township of Sychtyn, which have an area of 19 square miles and 2,469 inhabitants, of whom 900 speak Welsh. The linguistic boundary is formed by Offa's Wall, and by a {?line - unreadable} running through the townships of Sychtyn to Garth-uchaf {?o} Afon Tanat, in the parish of Llanyblodwel. To the west of the line Welsh preponderates, to the east English. In Selattyn Welsh is spoken now only by the older people, but there are still {? - unreadable} services in Welsh to five in English. In the township of Sychtyn, the Welsh are in a majority. In Llanyblodwell Welsh preponderates, in the west English, and the children of Welsh parents are often unable to speak Welsh. The Welsh service in the parish church has been discontinued since 1875, owing to a paucity of attendance. The few Welsh in the neighbouring paris of Llanymynech are immigrants, and Welsh immigrants are indeed numerous throughout Shropshire, and there are Welsh chapels at Oswestry {Croesoswallt}, Shrewsbury {Amwythig}, Houlston, Coed {unreadable}, Bomer Heath, and Cyrnybwch.


(17) Montgomeryshire is one of those border counties in which Welsh is visibly losing ground. In the valley of the Severn {Hafren} up to within a mile or two of Llanllwchaiarn {Llanllwchaearn} and Newtown {Y Drenewydd} {... - unreadable} to the east of that river, Welsh is heard only in the mouths of immigrants and of a few very old people. At Welshpool {Y Trallwng} and Montgomery {Trefaldwyn} Welsh has been extinct among the natives {?during - unreadable} these fifty years. At Newtown {Y Drenewydd}, however, about thirty per cent of the inhabitants are still able to converse in Welsh, and a similar proportion of Welsh speakers is met with as far as Llanidloes beyond which the Severn {Hafren} valley penetrates a territory which is still wholly Welsh. {A footnote adds: Aberhafesp 20 per cent, Llandinam 27 per cent.} Along the whole of the Severn, from Llanidloes down to and beyond Newtown, Welsh is gradually being forgotten, although still largely employed in the religious services of the Dissenters and occasionally even in the Established Church.

.(delwedd 3117)

(18) Welsh has also disappeared from the valley of Lower Vyrnwy {Efyrnwy} next to the Severn the most important river of the county. In Llandysilio it is not spoken at all; in the parish of Llanymynech only by a few old people, and it is only when we enter the parish of Llansantffraid ym Mechain {Llansainffraid ym Mechain} that Welsh is heard more frequently. That parish is divided by the river Vyrnwy into two parts, in the northern part about one half of the older people (say one-third of the population) speak Welsh, which is generally used in the services of the Nonconformists, and once a month by the Established Church. The young people rapidly forget Welsh; in one Sunday school, out of eleven classes there are only two in which religious instruction is imparted in Welsh and these two classes are attented by adults. In the southern part of the parish very little Welsh is spoken. Proceeding {?up} the Vyrwy we first enter the Welsh districts on approaching Meifod.

(19) The linguistic boundary on crossing the northern boundary passes between Llansaintffraid and Llanfechain, strikes the Vyrnwy {Efyrnwy} below and follows that river up to Meifod, thence it runs south to Castle Caereinion {Castell Caereinion}, crosses the river Rhiw between New Mills {Y Felinnewydd} and Llanwyddelan, leaving Manafon to the south. It then proceeds by Gregynog Hall {Plas Gregynog} and Bwlchyffridd {Bwlch-y-ffridd} to Llanwnog, crosses the Cambrian railway at the Pont-dol-goch station, intersects the parish of Trefeglwys, approaches close to the Severn at Dollys {Dl-lys}, passes to the west of Llanidloes, and finally reaches the Radnorshire boundary to the east of the Wye. In the districts which border upon this line in the east Welsh is still spoken, but not by a majority, but to the west of it Welsh is slowly losing ground on the eastern watershed of the county, but on the western slope, in Cyfeiliog, its hold is firm, even immigrants and their children frequently acquire it, and English is used very little in religious services. The following is a summary for the county:


Square miles


Able to speak Welsh only

Able to speak Welsh and English

Proportion per cent. able to speak Welsh

Welsh part (Cyfeiliog)






Welsh part (Eastern slope)






Mixed districts



















(20) Cardiganshire {Ceredigion, or Sir Aberteifi} is Welsh throughout. Even at Aberystwyth, its principal town, the services in 11 out of 16 places of worship are conducted in Welsh, and though most of the inhabitants speak English, there are few who do not also understand Welsh. But while Welsh is slowly losing ground there, it is said firmly to maintain its hold upon the people throughout the rest of the county. Only immigrants and a few "aristocrats" do not understand it. Only in 3 places of worship are the services of the Established Church conducted in English; in 44 they are carried out in Welsh; in 39 in both languages. The Dissenting bodies make but little use of English. At the same time there exists a very general desire to acquire a knowledge of English, which is spoken, more or less fluently by a majority of the inhabitants in the towns, and by many country people. In the more remote districts, however, not 10 in a 100 are able to read and write English correctly. Upon the whole, I believe we may assume that rather more than one half of the inhabitants are able to express themselves in English.

(delwedd 3114)


(21) Merioneth {Sir Feirionnydd} is quite as Welsh as Carnarvon {Caernarfon}, although a knowledge of English is more general. All speak Welsh, with the exception of immigrants and a few persons of the upper classes. All, or nearly all, speak English in towns, and among many of the younger people in the country districts Welsh maintains its ground. A "man of Harlech," 60 years of age, writes that "there is a great increase in the knowledge of English as long since I remember, but I do not think that there is any diminution in Welsh speaking, reading, writing, or preaching. Nearly all religious services, included those of the Church of England, are conducted in Welsh."

(delwedd 3120)


(22) Carnarvon {Caernarfon} is quite as Welsh as its southern neighbour, although owing to the larger number of English immigrants, the number of persons speaking Welsh is relatively smaller. Nearly all religious services are conducted in Welsh, and Welsh maintains its ground amongst young and old. English is "understood by many, spoken by very few." The majority of the older inhabitants do not understand it, except in the principal towns of the south, where its use, for business purposes, is universal. The children of immigrants, I am informed, learn Welsh in most cases. In the town of Bangor, 3,500 persons speak Welsh only. English is employed in one church and two small chapels, whilst the services in three large churches and seven chapels are conducted in Welsh. The Board of Guardians, the Vestry, and the two School Boards of the district, transact their business in Welsh, and the circulation of the two weekly papers is four times that of their two English contemporaries.

(23) In Bangor Welsh is spoken except by about 300 natives of England. In Conway {Conwy} only 50 persons are stated not to be able to speak Welsh, whilst at the favourite seaside town of Llandudno 250 persons speak Welsh only, 2,312 Welsh and English, and 200 English, the Welsh services being four times more numerously attended than the English ones.

(delwedd 3121)



(24) Anglesey {Mn, Sir Fn, Ynys Mn}, in spite of its Saxon name, is thoroughly Welsh, and the knowledge of English is more restricted in that county than in any other portion of similar extent throughout Wales. I am even assured that Welsh "is studied to a greater extent by the younger generation than formerly, and that even English immigrants learn a little Welsh." Welsh is almost exclusively used in all churches, chapels, and Sunday schools, those of the Roman Catholic Irish, who are numerous at Holyhead {Caergybi}, excepted.

(delwedd 3122)



(25) Breconshire is much influenced by its contact with English speaking districts, but for the present the language of the majority is Welsh. English is invading the county from three points, viz., from Builth {Llanfair ym Muallt}, from Hay {Y Gelligandryll}, and Abergavenny {Y Fenni}, on the Usk {Wysg}. The immediate neighbourhood of Builth, including villages having such thoroughly Welsh names as Maesmynis {Maesmynys} and Llanddewi'rcwm {Llanddewi'r Cwm},, has become quite English, and only on rare occasions can a Welsh sermon be heard there. Hay, on the Hereford frontier, and the neighbouring parishes of Llanigon and Aberllunvey {Aberllynfi}, are likewise English, Welsh being spoken only by a few old people and immigrants. It appears to have survived longest at Capelyffin {Capel-y-ffin}, an outlying hamlet of Llanigon {Llaneigon}, near the head of the Afon Honddu. At Talgarth Welsh was common many years ago, but is now spoken by only a minority. At Crickhowel {Crucywel}, on the Usk, it is spoken only by old people, and Welsh services are no longer heard in the Parish Church, though still continued for Dissenting chapels. The neighbouring parish of Llangenny {Llangenni} has become completely Anglicised.

(26) Brecknock {Aberhonddu}, the capital, in the very centre of the country, has become a fourth focus, whence English spreads in all directions. It is used there only by the older people, and declining rapidly.

(delwedd 3115)

(27) Throughout the remainder of the county Welsh remains to the present day the language of the vast majority, it being heard the most frequently in the country extending from the river Usk {Wysg} towards Glamorganshire. In the districts to the north of the Usk {Wysg} it is spoken by about 80 per cent, and in the valley of the Yrfon {Irfon}, in the north-west, by 75 per cent; Lanwrtyd {Llanwrtud}, however, on the Carmarthen {Caerfyrddin} border, being wholly Welsh. The only large town in which Welsh is spoken by a majority is Brynmawr {Bryn-mawr}, on the Monmouthshire {Sir Fynwy} frontier.

(28) Welsh is said to lose ground, in some cases rapidly, nearly throughout, but in the south and extreme west it is said to maintain itself, though English is coming into more general use.


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