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Survival of the Welsh Language

Survival of the Welsh Language

Министерство образования и науки Украины

Таврический национальный университет

Им. В.И. Вернадского

Факультет иностранной филологии

Кафедра английской филологии

Гура Егор Николаевич

Реферат на тему: «The Survival of the Welsh Language»

Дисциплина «Лингвострановедение»

Специальность 7.030502

«английский и немецкий языки и литература»

курс 4, группа 42

Симферополь 2001

Contents :

1. Introduction


2. Part I


3. Part II


4. Part III


5. Part IV


6. Part V


7. Part VI


8. Part VII


9. Part VIII


10. Part IX


11. Welsh language guide


12. List of used sources



It is the eighth wonder of Wales that is the most wondrous of them all, the

survival of the Welsh language in the face of almost impossible odds.

Sometime in the seventh century, a Welsh Bishop heard an Englishman's voice

on the bank of the River Severn and was filled with foreboding at the

sound.. He recorded his unsettling experience thus: "For the kinsman of

yonder strange-tongued man whose voice I heard across the river. . . will

obtain possession of this place, and it will be theirs, and they will hold

it in ownership."

The bishop was wrong. More than twelve centuries have passed since the

strange tongue of the Saxon was heard on the borders of Wales, centuries

during which the ancient tongue of the Bishop and his fellow Britons had

every opportunity to become extinct and yet which has stubbornly refused to

die. The survival of the native language is truly one of the great wonders

of Wales, to be appreciated and marvelled at far more than any physical

feature or man-made object, and far more than the so-called seven wonders

of Wales.

It is a something of a shock when visitors travel from England west into

Wales, for, almost without warning, he may find himself in areas where not

only the dialects become incomprehensible, but where even the language

itself has changed. The roadside signs "Croeso i Gymru" (accompanied by the

red dragon, the ancient badge of Wales) let it be known that one is now

entering a new territory, inhabited by a different people, for the

translation is "Welcome to Wales" written in one of the oldest surviving

vernaculars in Europe. For amusement with the language, after getting used

to names such as Pontcysyllte, Pen y Mynydd , or Glynceiriog, one can take

a little detour off the main route through Anglesey to Ireland and visit

the village with its much-photographed sign announcing the now-closed

railway station:


To account for the abrupt linguistic change from English into Welsh, one

must journey far, far back into history.

Part I

It was about 1000 BC that the Celtic languages arrived in Britain, probably

introduced by small groups of migrants who became culturally dominant in

their new homelands, and whose culture formed part of a great unified

Celtic "empire" encompassing many different peoples all over Northern

Europe. The Greeks called these people, with their organized culture and

developed social structure Keltoi, the Romans called them Celtai.

In spite of the fact that they were perhaps the most powerful people in

much of Europe in 300 BC, with lands stretching from Anatolia in the East

to Ireland in the West, the Celts were unable to prevent inter tribal

warfare; their total lack of political unity, despite their fierceness in

battle, ultimately led to their defeat and subjugation by the much-better

disciplined armies of Rome. The Celtic languages on Continental Europe

eventually gave way to those stemming from Latin.

The Celts had been in Britain a long time before the first Roman invasion

of the British Isles under Julius Caesar in 55 BC which did not lead to any

significant occupation. The Roman commander, and later Emperor, had some

interesting, if biased comments concerning the native inhabitants. "All the

Britons," he wrote, “paint themselves with woad, which gives their skin a

bluish color and makes them look very dreadful in battle" (De Bello

Gallico). It was not until a hundred years later, following an expedition

ordered by the Emperor Claudius, that a permanent Roman settlement of the

grain-rich eastern territories of Britain begun in earnest.

From their bases in what is now Kent, the Roman armies began a long,

arduous and perilous series of battles with the native Celtic tribes, first

victorious, next vanquished, but as on the Continent, superior military

discipline and leadership, along with a carefully organized system of forts

connected by straight roads, led to the triumph of Roman arms. In the

western peninsular, in what is now Wales, the Romans were awestruck by

their first sight of the druids (the religious leaders and teachers of the

British). The historian Tacitus described them as being "ranged in order,

with their hands uplifted, invoking the gods and pouring forth horrible

imprecations" (Annales)

The terror was only short-lived; Roman arms easily defeated the native

tribesmen, and it was not long before a great number of large, prosperous

villas were established all over Britain, but especially in the Southeast

and Southwest. Despite defeats in pitched battles, the people of

mountainous Wales and Scotland were not as easily settled; their scattered

settlements remained "the frontier" -- lands where military garrisons were

strategically placed to guard the Northern and Western extremities of the

Empire. The fierce resistance of the tribes in Cambria meant that two out

of the three Roman legions in Britain were stationed on the Welsh borders.

Two impressive Roman fortifications remain to be seen in Wales: Isca

Silurium (Caerleon) with its fine amphitheatre, in Monmouthshire; and

Segontium, (Caernarfon), in Gwynedd.

In Britain, at least for a few hundred years after the Roman victories on

mainland Europe, the Celts held on to much of their customs and especially

to their distinctive language, which has miraculously survived until today

as Welsh. The language of most of Britain was derived from a branch of

Celtic known as Brythonic: it later gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton

(these differ from the Celtic languages derived from Goidelic; namely,

Irish, Scots, and Manx Gaelic). Accompanying these languages were the

Celtic religions, particularly that of the Druids, the guardians of

traditions and learning.

Though the Celtic tongue survived as the medium of everyday speech, Latin

being used mainly administrative purposes, many loan words entered the

native vocabulary, and these are still found in modern-day Welsh, though

many of these have entered at various times since the end of the Roman

occupation. Today's visitors to Wales who know some Latin are surprised to

find hundreds of place names containing Pont (bridge), while ffenest

(window), pysgod (fish), milltir (mile), melys (sweet or honey) cyllell

(knife), ceffyl (horse), perygl (danger), eglwys (church), pared (wall or

partition), tarw (bull) and many others attest to Roman or Latin influence.

When the city of Rome fell to the invading Goths under Alaric, Roman

Britain, which had experienced hundreds of years of comparative peace and

prosperity, was left to its own defences under its local Romano-British

leaders, one of whom may have been a tribal chieftain named Arthur. It

quickly crumbled under the onslaught of Germanic tribes (usually

collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons) themselves under attack from

tribes to the east and wishing to settle in the sparsely populated, but

agriculturally rich lands across the narrow channel that separated them.

More than two hundred years of fighting between the native Celts, as brave

as ever but comparatively disorganized, and the ever-increasing numbers of

Germanic tribesmen eventually resulted in Britain sorting itself out into

three distinct areas: the Britonic West, the Teutonic East, and the Gaelic

North. It was these areas that later came to be identified as Wales,

England, and Scotland, all with their very separate cultural and linguistic

characteristics (Ireland, of course, remained Gaelic: many of its peoples

migrated to Scotland, taking their language with them to replace the native


From the momentous year 616, the date of their defeat at the hands of the

Saxons in the Battle of Chester, the Welsh people in Wales were on their

own. Separated from their fellow Celts in Cornwall and Cumbria, those who

lived in the western peninsular gradually began to think of themselves as a

distinct nation in spite of the many different rival kingdoms that

developed within their borders such as Morgannwg, Powys, Brycheinion, Dyfed

and Gwynedd. It is also from this period that we can speak of the Welsh

language, as distinct from the older Brythonic.

In a poem dated 633, the word Cymry appears, referring to the country; and

it was not too long before the Britons came to be known as the Cymry, by

which term they are known today. At this point, we should point out that

the word Welsh (from Wealas) is a later word used by the Saxon invaders of

the British Isles perhaps to denote people they considered "foreign" or at

least to denote people who had been Romanized. It originally had signified

a Germanic neighbor, but eventually came to be used for those people who

spoke a different language.

The Welsh people themselves still prefer to call themselves Cymry, their

country Cymru, and their language Cymraeg. It is also from this time that

the Celtic word Llan appears, signifying a church settlement and usually

followed by the name of a saint, as in Llandewi (St. David) or Llangurig

(St. Curig), but sometimes by the name of a disciple of Christ, such as

Llanbedr (St. Peter) or even a holy personage such as Llanfair (St. Mary).

Part II

It is in Wales, perhaps, that today's cultural separation of the British

Isles remains strongest, certainly linguistically, and for that, we must

look to the mid 8th Century, when a long ditch was constructed, flanking a

high earthen rampart that divided the Celts of the West from the Saxons to

the East and which, even today, marks the boundary between those who

consider themselves Welsh from those who consider themselves English. The

boundary, known as "Offa's Dyke," in memory of its builder Offa, the king

of Mercia (the middle kingdom) runs from the northeast of Wales to the

southeast coast, a distance of 149 miles.

English-speaking peoples began to cross Offa's Dyke in substantial numbers

when settlements were created by Edward 1st in his ambition to unite the

whole of the island of Britain under his kingship. After a period of

military conquest, the English king forced Welsh prince Llywelyn ap

Gruffudd to give up most of his lands, keeping only Gwynedd west of the

River Conwy.

Edward then followed up his successes by building English strongholds

around the perimeter of what remained of Llewelyn's possessions, and

strong, easily defended castles were erected at Flint, Rhuddlan,

Aberystwyth, and Builth., garrisoned by large detachments of English

immigrants and soldiers. Some of these towns have remained stubbornly

English ever since. Urban settlement, in any case, was entirely foreign to

the Celtic way of life.

In 1294, the Statute of Rhuddlan confirmed Edward's plans regarding the

governing of Wales. The statute created the counties of Anglesey,

Caernarfon, and Merioneth, to be governed by the Justice of North Wales;

Flint, to be placed under the Justice of Chester; and the counties of

Carmarthen and Cardigan were left under the Justice of South Wales.

In the year 1300, the situation seemed permanently established, when "King

Edward of England made Lord Edward his son [born at Caernarfon Castle],

Prince of Wales and Count of Chester," and ever since that date these

titles have been automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the

English monarch. The Welsh people were not consulted in the matter,

although an obviously biased entry in Historia Anglicana for the year 1300


In this year King Edward of England made Lord Edward, his son and heir,

Prince of Wales and Count of Chester. When the Welsh heard this, they were

overjoyed, thinking him their lawful master, for he was born in their


Following his successes in Wales, signified by the Statute of Rhuddlan,

sometimes referred to as The Statute of Wales, Edward embarked on yet

another massive castle-building program, creating such world-heritage sites

of today as Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris in addition to the

earlier not so-well known (or well-visited) structures at Flint and

Rhuddlan. Below their huge, forbidding castle walls, additional English

boroughs were created, and English traders were invited to settle, often to

the exclusion of the native Welsh, who must have looked on in awe and

despair from their lonely hills at the site of so much building activity.

Their ancestors must have felt the same sense of dismay as they watched the

Roman invaders build their heavily defended forts in strategic points on

their lands.

The Welsh were forbidden to inhabit such "boroughs" or to carry arms within

their boundaries (even today, there are laws remaining on the statute books

of Chester, a border town, that proscribe the activities of the Welsh

within the city walls). With the help of the architect Master James of St.

George, and with what must have seemed like limitless resources in manpower

and materials, Edward showed his determination to place a stranglehold on

the Welsh. Occasional rebellions were easily crushed; it was not until the

death of Edward III and the arrival of Owain Glyndwr (Shakespeare's Owen

Glendower), that the people of Wales felt confident enough to challenge

their English overlords.

Owain Glyndwr was Lord of Glyndyfrdwy (the Valley of the Dee). He seized

his opportunity in 1400 after being crowned Prince of Wales by a small

group of supporters and defying Henry IV's many attempts to dislodge him.

The ancient words of Geraldus Cambrensis could have served to inspire his


The English fight for power; the Welsh for liberty; the one to procure

gain, the other to avoid loss. The English hirelings for money; the Welsh

patriots for their country

The comet that appeared in 1402 was seen by the Welsh as a sign of their

forthcoming deliverance from bondage as well as one that proclaimed the

appearance of Owain. His magnetic personality electrified and galvanized

the people of Wales, strengthening their armies and inspiring their

confidence. Even the weather was favorable.

The Welsh leader's early successes released the long-suppressed feelings of

thousands of Welshmen who eagerly flocked to his support from all parts of

England and the Continent. Before long, it seemed as if the long-awaited

dream of independence was fast becoming a reality: three royal expeditions

against Glyndwr failed: he held Harlech and Aberystwyth, had extended his

influence as far as Glamorgan and Gwent, was receiving support from Ireland

and Scotland; and had formed an alliance with France. Following his

recognition by the leading Welsh bishops, he summoned a parliament at

Machynlleth, in mid-Wales, where he was crowned as Prince of Wales.

It didn't seem too ambitious for Owain to believe that with suitable

allies, he could help bring about the dethronement of the English king;

thus he entered into a tripartite alliance with the Earl of Northumberland

and Henry Mortimer (who married Owain's daughter Caitrin) to divide up

England and Wales between them. After all, Henry IV's crown was seen by

many Englishmen as having been falsely obtained, and they welcomed armed

rebellion against their ruler. Hoping that The Welsh Church be made

completely independent from Canterbury, and that appointments to benefices

in Wales be given only to those who could speak Welsh, Glyndwr was ready to

implement his wish to set up two universities in Wales to train native

civil servants and clergymen.

Then the dream died.

Part III

Owain's parliament was the very last to meet on Welsh soil; the last

occasion that the Welsh people had the power of acting independently of

English rule. From such a promising beginning to a national revolt came a

disappointing conclusion, even more upsetting because of the speed at which

Welsh hopes crumbled with the failure of the Tripartite Indenture. Henry

Percy (Hotspur) was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and the increasing

boldness and military skills of Henry's son, the English prince of Wales

and later Henry V, began to turn the tide against Glyndwr. Like so many of

his predecessors, Glyndwr was betrayed at home. It is not too comforting

for Welsh people of today to read that one of the staunchest allies of the

English king and enemy of Glyndwr was a man of Brecon, Dafydd Gam (later

killed at Agincourt, fighting for the English).

A sixth expedition into Wales undertaken by Prince Henry retook much of the

land captured by Owain, including many strategic castles. The boroughs with

their large populations of "settlers," had remained thoroughly English in

any case, and by the end of 1409, the Welsh rebellion had dwindled down to

a series of guerilla raids led by the mysterious figure of Owain, whose

wife and two daughters had been captured at Harlech and taken to London as

prisoners. Owain himself went into the mountains, becoming an outlaw. He

may have suffered an early death. for nothing is known of him either by the

Welsh or the English. He simply vanished from sight. According to an

anonymous writer in 1415," Very many say that he [Owain Glyndwr] died; the

seers say that he did not" (Annals of Owain Glyndwr). There has been much

speculation as to his fate and much guessing as to where he ended his final

days and was laid to rest.

There is an expression coined in the nineteenth century that describes a

Welshman who pretends to have forgotten his Welsh or who affects the loss

of his national identity in order to succeed in English society or who

wishes to be thought well of among his friends. Such a man is known as Dic

Sion Dafydd, (a term used in a satirical 19th century poem). The term was

unknown In fifteenth century Wales, but, owing to the harsh penal

legislation imposed upon them, following the abortive rebellion, it became

necessary for many Welshmen to petition Parliament to be "made English" so

that they could enjoy privileges restricted to Englishmen. These included

the right to buy and hold land according to English law.

Such petitions may have been distasteful to the patriotic Welsh, but for

the ambitious and socially mobile gentry rapidly emerging in Wales and on

the Marches, they were a necessary step for any chance of advancement. In

the military. At the same time, Welsh mercenaries, no longer fighting under

Glyndwr for an independent Wales, were highly sought after by the new king

Henry V for his campaigns in France. The skills of the Welsh archers in

such battles as Crecy and Agincourt is legendary.

Such examples of allegiance to their commander, the English sovereign, went

a long way in dispelling any latent thoughts of independence and helped

paved the way for the overwhelming Welsh allegiance to the Tudors

(themselves of Welsh descent) and to general acquiescence to the Acts of

Union. The year 1536 produced no great trauma for the Welsh; all the

ingredients for its acceptance had been put in place long before.

The so-called Act of Union of that year, and its corrected version of 1543

seemed inevitable. More than one historian has pointed out that union with

England had really been achieved by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284. Those

historians who praise the Acts state that the Welsh people had now achieved

full equality before the law with their English counterparts. It opened

opportunities for individual advancement in all walks of life, and Welshmen

flocked to London to take full advantage of their chances.

The real purpose was to incorporate, finally and for all time, the

principality of Wales into the kingdom of England. A major part of this

decision was to abolish any legal distinction between the people on either

side of the new border. From henceforth, English law would be the only law

recognized by the courts of Wales. In addition, for the placing of the

administration of Wales in the hands of the Welsh gentry, it was necessary

to create a Welsh ruling class not only fluent in English, but who would

use it in all legal and civil matters.

Thus inevitably, the Welsh ruling class would be divorced from the language

of their country; as pointed out earlier, their eyes were focused on what

London or other large cities of England had to offer, not upon what

remained as crumbs to be scavenged in Wales itself, without a government of

its own, without a capital city, and without even a town large enough to

attract an opportunistic urban middle class, and saddled with a language

described by Parliament as "nothing like nor consonant to the natural

mother tongue used within this realm."

From 1536 on, English was to be the only language of the courts of Wales,

and those using the Welsh language were not to receive public office in the

territories of the king.

Part IV

It was the arrival of the Welsh Bible, however, that brought the language

back to a respected position.

In 1588, the translation of the whole Bible itself, the climax of the whole

movement, made Welsh the language of public worship and thus much more than

a generally despised peasant tongue. Perhaps it is to this that much of the

present-day strength of the Welsh language is owed, compared to Irish

(which did not get its own Bible until 1690) and Scots Gaelic (which had to

wait until 1801).

The Welsh Bible, a magnificent achievement, was completed after eight years

by William Morgan and a group of fellow scholars. In 1620 Dr John Davies of

Mallwyd and Richard Parry, Bishop of St. Asaph, produced a revision of

William Morgan's Bible. Most of the nearly one thousand copies of.the

earlier book had been lost or worn out, and this revised and corrected

edition is the version that countless generations of Welsh people have been

thoroughly immersed ever since, it has been as much a part of their lives

as the Authorized Version has been to the English-speaking peoples or

Luther's Bible to the Germans.

In 1630, the Welsh Bible, in a smaller version (Y Beibl Bach), was

introduced into homes in Wales and as the only book affordable to many

families, became the one book from which the majority of the people could

learn to read and write. Other, poorer families, unable to afford the

Bible, were able to share its contents in meetings held at the homes of

neighbors or in their churches or chapels. Later on, countless generations

of children were taught its contents in Sunday School. It is in this way,

therefore, that we can say the Welsh Bible "saved" the language from

possible extinction.

It has been touch and go all the way since, however, with determined

efforts coming from both sides of Offa's Dyke to stamp out the language for

ever. Yet every time the funeral bells have tolled, the language has

miraculously revived itself.

For the continued survival of the language, however, there had to be a

groundwork laid in the field of general education among the masses. There

were still too many people in Wales who could not read or write. As so

often in Welsh history, help came from outside the country itself.

In 1674, a charitable organization, the Welsh Trust, was set up in London

by Thomas Gouge to establish English schools in Wales and to publish books

"in Welsh." Over 500 books were printed in 1718 and 1721 at Trefhedyn and

Carmarthen respectively. Many of these were translations of popular English

works, Protestant tracts that encouraged private worship and prayers, but

along with the six major editions of the Bible that appeared during the

same period, they had the unpredicted effect of ensuring the survival of

the language in an age where many scholars were predicting its rapid

demise. Of equal importance were the cheap catechisms and prayer

books.highly prized by rural families who read them (along with the Beibl

Cymraegd) in family groups during the long, dark winter nights.

So successful were educators, benefactors and itinerant teachers that

perhaps as many as one third or more of the population of Wales could read

their scriptures by the time of Griffith Jones' death in 1761. Jones had

realized that preaching alone was insufficient to ensure his people's

salvation: they needed to read the scriptures for themselves. Though not

intended by such as Jones (the rector of Llanddowror and therefore not a

Nonconformist minister), his writings created a substantial Welsh reading

public primed and ready to receive the appeal of the ever-growing

Methodists, whose ability in such preachers as Hywel Harris was matched by

their eloquence in the pulpit, and who obviously filled a great need among

the masses.

One influential convert was Thomas Charles who joined in 1784, and who set

up the successful Sunday School movement in North Wales that had such a

profound and lasting influence on the language and culture of that region.

Another preacher of great influence was Daniel Rowland, who had converted

in 1737 after hearing a sermon by Griffith Jones. With Hywel Harris, he

assumed the leadership of the Methodist Revival. Rowland's enthusiasm along

with that of his colleagues, attracted thousands of converts, and though

their initial intention was to work within the framework of the established

church, opposition from their Bishops, all of whom had little real interest

in Wales and knew nothing of its language and culture, led finally to the

schism of 1811 when an independent union was founded.

This was the Calvinistic Methodist Church (today known as the Presbyterian

Church of Wales). Providing the excitement and fervor that the established

church had been lacking for so long, it did much to pave the way for the

rapid growth of the other non-conformist sects such as the Baptists and

Independents. The movement also was responsible for producing two names

that are outstanding in the cultural history of Wales: William Williams and

Ann Griffiths (dealt with at length in my History of Wales).

Part V

The result of the coming of heavy industry to south Wales in the 19th

century could not have been foreseen, especially its twofold effect on the

language and social life of the area. First, with so many Welsh speakers

moving into the area in search of jobs, bringing their language (and their

chapels) with them, a Welsh culture survived in many fields of valley


Such a heavy toll came to so many areas of the southern valleys. In the

counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth, the long, verdant valleys quickly

filled up with factories, mills, coal mines, iron smelting works (and

later, steel works), roads, railways, canals, and above all, people. Houses

began to spread along the narrow hillsides, filling every available space

upon which a house could be set, small houses, crammed together in row

after row, street after street, town after town all strung together on the

valley floor. Houses separated only spasmodically by the grocery store, the

somber, grey chapel, or the public house. Above them all loomed the

blackened hillsides and the slag heaps of waste coal or industrial refuse.

And all this brought about by the discovery of coal.

In the southern valleys, an Anglo-Welsh character came into being; one that

came to dominate the political, social and literary life of Wales, and it

was here also that a new and particular kind of Welshness was forged,

symbolized by the cloth-capped, heavy drinking, strike-prone, English-

speaking, rugby fanatic of the Valleys..To such a character, and to a

certain extent, to the majority of the three large urban areas of Cardiff,

Swansea and Newport, the people of the West and North, the Bible-toting,

chapel-going, teetotal, parsimonious, and above all Welsh-speaking were

totally alien beings who might have come from another planet. The

repercussions are felt strongly today as only one in five of the

inhabitants of Wales use Welsh as a language of everyday affairs.

In other areas, the Welsh language had been in decline for over 100 years.

In Flintshire, so near to the large urban areas of Merseyside and Cheshire

there had long been deliberate attempts to stamp out the Welsh language.

Other areas did not suffer the loss of the language.

Some of the letters published in The Cambrian in the mid 19th Century show

an attitude of many Englishmen towards the Welsh language that has

persisted until today. In one of them, the writer was amused by the

proposal to have the infant Prince of Wales (eldest son of Queen Victoria),

instructed in the Welsh language. He wrote that the prince, by trying to

pronounce the Welsh "ll" or "ch" would be perceived as having spasmodic

affections of the bronchial tubes "that would lead to quinsy or some

terrible disease of the lungs and jugulum and would alarm everyone."

Part VI

By the middle of the 19th century, Victoria's views notwithstanding, the

tide was running heavily against Welsh. In 1842, a Royal Commission,

looking into the state of education in Wales, noted that some Welsh boys

employed at mines in Breconshire were learning to read English at Sunday

School, but that they could speak only Welsh. This was intolerable to the


It was demanded in Parliament that an inquiry be conducted into the means

afforded to the laboring classes of Wales to acquire a knowledge of the

English tongue. The report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales

in 1844 lamented the fact that "The people's ignorance of the English

language practically prevents the working of the laws and institutions and

impedes the administration of justice." It didn't seem to occur to the

commissioners that it was their own ignorance of the language that was

obstructing justice!

The report led to another Royal Commission, conducted in 1847, which was to

have a lasting effect on the cultural and political life of Wales. The

report, in three volumes bound in blue covers, has become known as Brad y

Llyfrau Gleision (The Treachery of the Blue Books, for the three young and

inexperienced lawyers who conducted the report had no understanding of the

Welsh language, nor, it seems, did they understand non-conformity in

religious matters.

Bright, intelligent and well-read Welsh-speaking children were unable to

understand the questions put to them in English, and the surveyors pig-

headedly assumed that this was due to their ignorance. Their report

lamented what they considered to be the sad state of education in Wales,

the too-few schools, their deplorable condition, the unqualified teachers,

the lack of supplies and suitable English texts, and the irregular

attendance of the children. All these were attributed, along with

dirtiness, laziness, ignorance, superstition, promiscuity and immorality:

to Nonconformity, but in particular to the Welsh language.

One result, of course, of the publication of such "facts" led to so many of

its speakers being made to feel ashamed and embarrassed. The effects of the

controversy thus stirred up has lasted up until today; it certainly did

much ot bolster the position of those who agreed with much of the report

and who saw the language as the biggest drawback to the people of Wales.

One drastic remedy, the imposition of English-only Board Schools did much

to further has ten the decline of Welsh over a great part of the country.

In these schools, as in Flintshire a half century earlier, the "Welsh Not"

rule was imposed with severe penalties for speaking Welsh, including the

wearing of a wooden board, the old "Welsh lump" around one's neck.

In Caernarfon, Gwynedd, an area still predominantly Welsh-speaking in the

1990's, there is a high school named after Sir Hugh Owen, a pioneer in

education in Wales. Owen's untiring efforts to secure a university for

Wales led to a commission to promote the idea in 1854, the university

itself to be established through voluntary contributions. Owen's pleas to

the government for financial help were unheeded, and it was public

subscription that brought to fruition the old dream of Owain Glyndwr. In

1872 Aberystwyth University opened its doors to twenty-six students in a

very impressive building on the seafront designed as a hotel, but which was

fortunately vacant at the time. For the first few years of its existence,

the college depended greatly on voluntary contributions from the

nonconformist chapels, but it attracted many who would come to have

profound influence on the culture of their nation. In so many areas it

provided the foundations that led to the national revival of Wales in the

late 1890's.

The work of Owen M. Edwards, in a period of language decline, was crucial

in this renaissance. A native of Llanuwchllyn on the shores of Llyn Tegid

(Bala Lake), Oxford University lecturer and later Chief inspector of

Schools of the newly-created Welsh Board of Education, Edwards did much to

popularize the use of Welsh as an everyday language. Alarmed by the decline

in the language, he published a great number of Welsh books and magazines,

with particular interest in works for children. In 1898 he founded Urdd y

Delyn, a forerunner of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the largest youth organization

in Wales and one that still conducts its activities through the medium of


Despite the success of organizations such as Urdd, one problem has remained

for the survival of Welsh ever since the Acts of Union in the middle

1500's. The Welsh language has considered to be a great hindrance to one's

feeling of Britishness. Even before the First World War, when British

soldiers from all parts of the kingdom marched off under the Union Jack to

fight the Boers in South Africa, the feeling took hold that "...side by

side with the honourable contribution which the Welsh could make to the

British Empire, the Welsh language could be considered an irrelevance..."

This idea was implanted even more firmly in the Welsh mind by the intention

of the leaders of the Welsh-speaking community to show that the

peculiarities of Welsh culture were not a threat to the unity and

tranquility of the kingdom of Britain. When ideas of a separate government

for the Welsh people began to take hold in the late 19th century, once

again, the idea of a British national identity found itself overwhelming

the purely local, isolated, and all too often ridiculed, aspirations of

those who wished for a Welsh nationhood.

In mainly English-speaking South Wales in particular, feelings on the

matter were sharply expressed. At a crucial meeting in Newport,

Monmouthshire, in January 1898 it was firmly stated (by Robert Byrd) that

there were thousands of true Liberals who would never submit "to the

domination of Welsh ideas." With few exceptions, this seems to sum up the

attitude of most Welsh politicians of the next one hundred years. There

were too many in Wales whose close ties with English interests made the

idea of home rule repugnant and one to be fought against at all costs.

Welsh-speaking Lloyd George, future Prime Minister, who was howled down at

the meeting, questioned if the mass of the Welsh nation was willing to be

dominated by a coalition of English capitalists who had made their fortunes

in Wales. Yet even his motives were held with suspicion as being entirely

self-serving. And, as a fluent Welsh speaker, he was mistrusted by many in

the audience who looked with suspicion upon those who could speak a

language that they could not.

In 1881, the Aberdare Commission's report showed that provisions for

intermediate and higher education in Wales lagged behind those in the other

parts of Britain; it suggested that there should be two new Welsh

universities, Cardiff and Bangor. It was found, however, that there was a

lack of adequately trained students for these new colleges and thus, in

1899 the Welsh Intermediate Act came into being that gave the new county

councils the power to raise a levy (to be matched by the Government) for

the provision of secondary schools.In 1896 came the Central Welsh Board to

oversee these schools.

The result was that thousands of Welsh children from all levels of society

were able to continue their education at a secondary level. Another result,

however, was the continued decline of the status accorded the Welsh

language, for the new secondary schools were thoroughly English, only very

few even bothering to offer Welsh lessons. An educated class of Welsh

people was thus created that fostered the cultural traditions of their

country in the language of England.

Part VII

In the meantime, in an age where radio and movies began to play important

roles in the regular everyday life of the people of Wales, the language

continued its precipitous decline. North Wales got its news from and

followed the events in Liverpool; South Wales was more tied to happenings

in Bristol or even London. Links between the two areas of Wales were

practically non-existent; roads and rails went West to East, not North to

South, and the flow of ideas and language went in the same directions. Any

sense of a national Welsh identity was disappearing rapidly along with the


In an attempt to stop the rot, a new party came into being in 1925, Plaid

Genedlaethol Cymru (The National Party of Wales) that was fiercely devoted

to purely Welsh causes such as preservation of the language and culture. In

1926, Saunders Lewis took over the presidency, but the party received very

little general support and, in some areas of Wales, was the object of

ridicule. It was to take forty years before Plaid Cymru was taken seriously

and gained its first seat in Parliament. Much had been happening until then

to further erode Welsh as a common language and the idea of the Welsh as a

common, united people worthy of their own government as part of a greater


The views of Henderson and Lewis, as imaginative and forward-looking as

they were, did not appeal to the majority of the Welsh people' at the time,

those who thought the politician and the poet were those of a very small

minority indeed. In the meantime, the process of anglicization continued

unabated; more people living in Wales considered themselves Anglo-Welsh

than Welsh. Much of the blame (or for some,the praise), can be placed on

the educational system that, even before the outset of the Second World War

was geared to producing loyal Britons.

When World War ll finally arrived, there was much more unanimity of support

throughout Britain than there had been for the First World War. And there

was less trauma inflicted upon the people of Wales, for this was a crusade

against Fascism and Nazism and Hitler that almost everyone could subscribe

to. It was also a fight to preserve the Empire. The heavy bombing meant a

large exodus of children from the targeted larger English cities into the

more rural areas. In Wales, thousands of refugees learned Welsh, but in

many areas their English language overwhelmed the local speech.or tipped

the scales against its survival.

To counter the linguistic threat to the Welsh culture at Aberystwyth, a

private Welsh-medium school was established.by Ifan ab Owen Edwards, the

son of the famous educator. Apart from this little school, however, it

wasn't until Llanelli Welsh School began in 1947 that the idea of teaching

children through the medium of Welsh began to take hold in earnest. Other

schools followed, so that by 1970, even Cardiff had its Ysgol Dewi Sant

(St. David's School) one of the largest primary schools in Wales, teaching

through the medium of Welsh. The increase in the Welsh primary schools was

accompanied by a demand for a Welsh secondary education, and the first such

schools opened in Flintshire, Ysgol Gyfun Glan Clwyd and Ysgol Maes Garmon

in areas in which the great majority of the parents were monolingual

English. The success of these schools were followed by Ysgol Rhydfelen in

Glamorganshire in 1962 and by many others by the 1980's.

It may have taken a long while, and for many, it might have been too late,

but the change in the attitude of the Welsh people toward their language

has been dramatic since 1962. Not only that, but great strides have been

made in convincing immigrants to Wales that their children would not suffer

the loss of their English language if they were to be taught through the

medium of Welsh, and that a bilingual education may well be superior to one

that confines them to a single language. Many a non-Welsh speaking parent

is now anxious to point with pride at the achievement of their children in

the Welsh language. It is no longer fashionable in Wales to refer to the

language as "dying," and the activities of the Eisteddfod as "the kicks of

a dying nation," sentiments the author heard at Swansea in 1964. What

caused the sea-change?

One place we can start to look for the answer is the media, especially

public radio. Beginning in 1922, the BBC broadcasts in Wales were eagerly

awaited. Its voice, however, was one that gave prestige and authority to

its views, the voice of a public-school-educated upper-class Englishman. In

addition, the majority of broadcasts led a majority of British people to

believe that a BBC accent was not only desirable, but was the correct one,

and that their own accent, dialect, or in the case of much of Wales, their

language, was inferior. It was Radio Eireann, the voice of the Irish

Republic, that broadcast the only regular Welsh language material,

beginning in 1927.

At time, and for a long period afterward, incredible as it now seems, the

head of the BBC station in Cardiff ignored protests from devotees of the

Welsh language who wished to hear Welsh language programs. There were then

almost one million speakers of Welsh. But aided by such attitudes of those

in authority, a rapid decline was about to begin. This was not inevitable.

Perhaps the language would have even advanced, given sufficient air time in

the late 1920's and early 30's. The problem was that most Welsh listeners

enjoyed their English language programs; it was only the few who realized

that their enjoyment was coming at the expense of their cherished, native



One who did take notice, and one who provided the second place to look for

the answer was Ifan ab Owen Edwards, whose father Owen M. Edwards had

founded Urdd y Delyn in 1898. The son, in his turn, established the most

influential of all youth movements in Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru in 1922;

the movement has involved countless thousands of Welsh boys and girls ever

since, conducting their camps, sports activities, singing festivals,

eisteddfodau, etc. all through the medium of Welsh and proving that the

language was not one that should be confined to an older, chapel-going,

puritanical generation. Continued protests against the policies of the BBC,

unable and in most cases unwilling to cater to the new, younger generation

eventually led to the BBC studio at Bangor broadcasting Welsh language

programs. In 1935, and in July of 1937 the Welsh Region of the BBC finally

began to broadcast on a separate wavelength. Radio Cymru, however, had to

wait until 1977.

Another pivotal figure in the fight for survival of the Welsh language, and

one who made good use of the power of the radio broadcast was the poet and

dramatist Saunders Lewis. Like Ifan ab Owen Edwards, Lewis was greatly

concerned that, unless something was done, and done quickly, the Welsh

language as a living entity would disappear before the end of the century.

Lewis, a major Welsh poet and dramatist, generally considered as the

greatest literary figure in the Welsh language of this century, was born in

Cheshire into a Welsh family; he later became a lecturer at the newly

established University College, Swansea. Heavily influenced by events in

Ireland and the struggle for national identity in that country that took

place in the political sphere, he was one of the founders of Plaid Cymru in

1925 at the Pwllheli National Eisteddfod, becoming its president in 1926.

Lewis envisioned a new role for the people of Wales that would transform

their position as a member of the British Empire into one in which they

could see themselves as one of the nations that helped found European

civilization. As he viewed it:

What then is our nationalism?...To fight not for Welsh independence but

for the civilization of Wales. To claim for Wales not independence but

freedom. (Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb, 1926)

Ten years later, with two companions, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine,

Lewis deliberately set a fire at Penyberth in the Llyn Peninsular, North

Wales, a site that the military wished to use for construction of a bombing

school. The three then turned themselves in to the authorities and were

duly indicted and summoned to appear in court. The failure of the court to

agree on a verdict at Caernarfon, a town sympathetic to their cause, meant

the removal of their trial to London, where they were each sentenced to

nine months imprisonment. Lewis was dismissed from his teaching post at

Swansea even before the arrival of the guilty verdict at the Old Bailey.

Leading Welsh historians agree that The fire at Penyberth should be

regarded as a cause celebre in the struggle for Welsh identity; it

certainly had its impact on Welsh thinking, an impact that was not wholly

dampened by the onset of Word War ll which again focused the people of

Britain on their shared identity in the face of an enemy that threatened

their survival as a nation. The pacificism of Lewis was an affront to many,

even within Plaid Cymru who saw the need to defeat as overriding any other


Part IX

The improvements in the road system meant that many areas in Wales were

easy to get to. Their beauty and tranquility became an irresistible magnet

to thousands ready to retire from the squalor and overcrowding of the big

industrial cities of northern and middle England. Welsh communities,

especially along the North Wales coast, found themselves inundated with a

flood of newcomers who were either too old to learn the language or

couldn't be bothered. Many of the younger couples had no idea that Wales

had a language of its own, or when they did find out were adamant that

their children be educated through the medium of English. Far more

significant was the fact that it was far too easy to get by perfectly well

in Wales without knowing a word of its language.

The whole north Wales coast, known as "the Welsh Riviera" became first a

weekend playground for, and then an extension of, Merseyside. The mid-Wales

coast, similarly was transformed by a huge influx of people from the

Midlands. LIverpool accents were more common in Llandudno than Welsh;

Birmingham accents common in Borth, or even Aberystwyth. The author vividly

remembers visiting a pub in Bangor where every customer but one could speak

Welsh, but all of whom used English to defer to a monolingual Englishman

(who had been in the area forty years without learning a single word of

Welsh). The same situation was found throughout much of North Wales.

The result of such massive invasions, often by retirees, certainly by those

with little incentive to learn Welsh was drastic. From almost a million

Welsh speakers in 1931, the number fell to just over 500,000 in less than

fifty years.despite the large increase in population. Strongholds of the

language and its attendant culture were crumbling fast, and it seemed that

nothing could be done to stem the tide. In 1957 occurred an event that

exemplified the situation: the Liverpool Corporation got the go-ahead from

Parliament to drown a valley in Meirionydd (Merionethshire) called

Tryweryn, which housed a strong and vibrant Welsh-speaking community. The

removal of the people of Tryweryn to make way for a source of water for an

English city convinced many in Wales that the nation was on its way to

extinction. The survival of the Welsh language seemed irreversibly doomed,

and no-one seemed to care.

Then something happened; someone seemed to care after all. At Pontarddulais

in 1962, at the summer school of Plaid Cymru, a new movement began. Mainly

involving a younger active post-war Welsh generation, many of them college

students, the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) decided

to take matters in their own hands to try to halt the decline of the

language by forcing the hand of the government. Saviors to many, scoundrels

and troublemakers to others, frustrated members of the Society had been

galvanized into action by a talk given on the BBC by Saunders Lewis in

February, 1962.

In his talk, entitled Tynged yr Iaith (Fate of the language) Lewis asked

his listeners to make it impossible for local or central government

business to be conducted without the use of the Welsh language. This was

the only way, he felt, to ensure its survival. Plaid Cymru could not help,

as it was a political party, so the banner was taken up by Cymdeithas yr

Iaith Gymraeg. At narrow Trefechan Bridge, Aberystwyth in February, 1963,

members of the society sat down in the road and stopped all traffic trying

to get into town over the bridge, or trying to leave town on the same


Undeterred by prison sentences for disturbing the peace and for their

subsequent destruction of government property (mostly road signs), and led

by such activists as Fred Fransis, and folk-singer Dafydd Iwan, the society

began a serious campaign. In the face of much hostility from passivist

locals and prosecution from the authorities, Cymdeithas pressed for the

right to use Welsh on all government documents, from Post Office forms to

television licenses, from driving licenses to tax forms. In particular, the

society engaged in surreptitious night time activities, removing English-

only sign posts and directional instructions from the highways or daubing

them with green paint. All over Wales, in early morning, motorists were

faced with the green paint and daubed slogan that mysteriously had appeared

overnight. It became frustrating and expensive for local authorities and

the Ministry of Transport to keep replacing road signs.

Eventually, in 1963, faced with an ever-growing campaign, increased police

and court costs, destruction of government property, and the vociferous

demands for action by an increasingly angry and frustrated national

movement, the central government decided to establish a committee to look

at the legal status of Welsh. Its report, issued two years later,

recommended that the language be given "equal validity" with English, a

diluted version of which was placed into the Welsh Language Act of 1967.

There came about a new feeling in the land. The young people of Wales were

answering the call of Saunders Lewis; the older generation began to

reconsider their passiveness. Dafydd Iwan and many of his contemporaries

inaugurated a whole new movement in popular Welsh music, translating

English and American pops into Welsh, or writing stirring new lyrics and

music or protest. The popularity of mournful, funereal hymns sung by male

voice choirs found a competitor, the loud, heavy rhythms and rebellious

music of new bands. Groups such as Ar Log and Plethyn rediscovered ancient

Welsh folk music and brought it up to date. The National Eisteddfod entered

into the spirit, each year erecting a Roc Pavilion, where such groups could

attract the younger audiences. Wales began to finally shake off the shrouds

cast by the Methodist Revival of over a century before.

Since the 1960's, in the author's birthplace Flint and in other towns in

Clwyd, attempts to reintroduce the Welsh language in the schools have been

warmly welcomed by many of the townsfolk, and a whole new generation of

children who can speak, read and write Welsh may help ensure the future of

the language (and ultimately, of Plaid Cymru) in such heavily anglicized

areas. Other areas, such as the Cardiff region and the Valleys have already

experienced some growth in the numbers of those able to speak Welsh.

Factors for this increase include the rise of a Welsh bureaucracy; further

expansion of the Welsh-oriented mass media; the continued activities of

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, with its appeal to the young generation; and

the effects of the Welsh Language Act of 1967. Perhaps most important is

the subtle change in attitude towards the language brought about by the

advantages that can be gained by its speakers in both social and economic

fields. Of crucial importance in winning the hearts and minds of the non-

Welsh speakers who have young children has been Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin

(the Welsh Nursery School Movement) founded in 1971.

In the anglicized areas of Wales, we may yet again read such sentiments as

that given by Sir Walter Scott, in a letter to his son, dated December,


You hear the Welsh spoken much about you, and if you can pick it up

without interfering with more important labours, it will be worth while

In the late 1990's, as we shall see, one of the more important labors of

many of the Welsh people has been to continue the fight to preserve their

language, and with it, much of the culture upon which it depends. To

preserve this language, the ancient, magnificent tongue of the British

people for so many, many centuries, will be indeed, a labor of love to make

up for so much past pain.

Supplement 1

Welsh Language Guide

The language of Wales, more properly called Cymraeg in preference to Welsh

(A Germanic word denoting "foreigner"), belongs to a branch of Celtic, an

Indo-European language. The Welsh themselves are descendants of the

Galatians, to whom Paul wrote his famous letter. Their language is a

distant cousin to Irish and Scots Gaelic and a close brother to Breton.

Welsh is still used by about half a million people within Wales and

possibly another few hundred thousand in England and other areas overseas.

In most heavily populated areas of Wales, such as the Southeast (containing

the large urban centers of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea), the normal

language of everyday life is English, but there are other areas, notably in

the Western and Northern regions, (Gwynedd and Dyfed particularly) where

the Welsh language remains strong and highly visible. The Welsh word for

their country is Cymru (Kumree), the land of the Comrades; the people are

known as Cymry (Kumree) and the language as Cymraeg (Kumrige). Regional

differences in spoken Welsh do not make speakers in one area unintelligible

to those in another (as is so often claimed), standard Welsh is understood

by Welsh speakers everywhere.

Despite its formidable appearance to the uninitiated, Welsh is a language

whose spelling is entirely regular and phonetic, so that once you know the

rules, you can learn to read it and pronounce it without too much

difficulty. For young children learning to read, Welsh provides far fewer

difficulties than does English, as the latter's many inconsistencies in

spelling are not found in Welsh, in which all letters are pronounced.

THE WELSH ALPHABET: (28 letters)

A, B ,C ,Ch, D, Dd, E, F, Ff, G, Ng, H, I, L

Ll, M, N, O, P, Ph, R, Rh, S, T, Th, U, W, Y

(Note that Welsh does not possess the letters J, K, Q, V, X or Z, though

you will often come across "borrowings" from English, such as John, Jones,

Jam and Jiwbil (Jubilee); Wrexham (Wrecsam); Zw (Zoo).

THE VOWELS: (A, E, I, U, O, W, Y)

A as in man. Welsh words: am, ac Pronounced the same as in English)

E as in bet or echo. Welsh words: gest (guest); enaid (enide)

I as in pin or queen. Welsh words: ni (nee); mi (me); lili (lily); min


U as in pita: Welsh words: ganu (ganee); cu (key); Cymru (Kumree); tu

(tee); un (een)

O as in lot or moe. Welsh words: o'r (0re); don (don); dod (dode); bob


W as in Zoo or bus. Welsh words: cwm (koom), bws (bus); yw (you); galw


Y has two distinct sounds: the final sound in happy or the vowel sound in

myrrh Welsh words: Y (uh); Yr (ur); yn (un); fry (vree); byd (beed)

All the vowels can be lengthened by the addition of a circumflex (д), known

in Welsh as "to bach" (little roof). Welsh words: Tдn (taan), lдn (laan)


Ae, Ai and Au are pronounced as English "eye": ninnau (nineye); mae (my);

henaid (henide); main (mine); craig (crige)

Eu and Ei are pronounced the same way as the English ay in pray. Welsh

words: deisiau (dayshy), or in some dialects (deeshuh); deil (dale or

dile); teulu (taylee or tyelee)

Ew is more difficult to describe. It can be approximated as eh-oo or

perhaps as in the word mount. The nearest English sound is found in English

midland dialect words such as the Birmingham pronunciation of "you" (yew).

Welsh words: mewn (meh-oon or moun); tew (teh-oo)

I'w and Y'w sound almost identical to the English "Ee-you." or "Yew" or

"You": Welsh words: clyw (clee-oo); byw (bee-you or b'you); menyw (menee-

you or menyou)

Oe is similar to the English Oy or Oi. Welsh words: croeso (croyso); troed

(troid); oen (oin)

Ow is pronounced as in the English tow, or low: Welsh word: Rhown (rhone);

rho (hrow)

Wy as in English wi in win or oo-ee: Welsh words: Wy (oo-ee); wyn (win);

mwyn (mooin)

Ywy is pronounced as in English Howie. Welsh words: bywyd (bowid); tywyll


Aw as in the English cow. Welsh words: mawr (mour); prynhawn (prinhown);

lawr (lour)


For the most part b, d, h, l, m, n, p, r, s, and t are pronounced the same

as their English equivalents (h is always pronounced, never silent). Those

that differ are as follows:

C always as in cat; never as in since. Welsh words: canu (Kanee); cwm

(come); cael (kile); and of course, Cymru (Kumree)

Ch as in the Scottish loch or the German ach or noch. The sound is never as

in church, but as in loch or Docherty. Welsh words: edrychwn (edrych oon);

uwch (youch ), chwi (Chee)

Dd is pronounced like the English th in the words seethe or them. Welsh

words: bydd (beethe); sydd (seethe); ddofon (thovon); ffyddlon (futh lon)

Th is like the English th in words such as think, forth, thank. Welsh

words: gwaith (gwithe); byth (beeth)

F as in the English V. Welsh words: afon (avon); fi (vee); fydd (veethe);

hyfryd (huvrid); fawr (vowr), fach (vach)

Ff as in the English f. Welsh words: ffynnon (funon); ffyrdd (furth);

ffaith (fithe)

G always as in English goat, gore. Welsh words: ganu (ganee); ganaf

(ganav); angau (angeye); gem (game)

Ng as in English finger or Long Island. Ng usually occurs with an h

following as a mutation of c. Welsh words Yng Nghaerdydd (in Cardiff:

pronounced ung hire deethe) or Yng Nghymru (in Wales: pronounced ung


Ll is an aspirated L. That means you form your lips and tongue to pronounce

L, but then you blow air gently around the sides of the tongue instead of

saying anything. Got it? The nearest you can get to this sound in English

is to pronounce it as an l with a th in front of it. Welsh words: llan

(thlan); llawr (thlour); llwyd (thlooid)

Rh sounds as if the h come before the r. There is a slight blowing out of

air before the r is pronounces. Welsh words: rhengau (hrengye); rhag

(hrag); rhy (hree)

The most common expressions that Welsh-Americans come across are Cymanfa

Ganu (Kumanva Ganee); Eisteddfod (Aye-steth-vod); and Noson Lawen (Nosson


While preparing the essay the following publications and resources were


Publications by Professor R. Rees Davies, M.A., D.Phil. All Souls College,


1. The Age of Conquest. Wales 1063-1415, Oxford, 1991

2. The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr (Oxford, 1995)

3. The Matter of Britain and the Matter of England, Oxford, 1996

Internet resources:

1. www.bbc.co.uk/history

2. www.planet-britain.com


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