Monday, 7 March 2016

The Welsh Not (Welsh History)

In 19th century Wales there was little provision for education for ordinary people, except that provided by the churches. The National (Anglican) and British (Nonconformist) Societies ran Sunday Schools and voluntary classes, otherwise there were only Reformatory Schools for delinquents.

In recent posts I wrote about the industrial explosion and the consequent huge influx of population to work in the refineries, mills, works, mines and factories. The riots over the awful conditions led to a government look at education, among other things. It was felt that the Welsh language was divisive, and an attempt was made to stamp it out.

It is not known how widely it was used, but many schools used the 'Welsh Not'. This was a wooden board with 'WN' on it, hung round a child's neck who was caught speaking Welsh. The child could only get rid of it by passing it on to another child speaking Welsh. The child left with the Welsh Not at the end of the day was given a thrashing by the teacher.

Apart from preventing children from using their native language, the practice of the Welsh Not encouraged lying, tale telling, and spying on others. It was in use particularly in Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Meirionnydd.

Although it was never actually government policy, and was even condemned in a report, the Welsh Not was in use for decades.

The Treason of the Blue Books

The government report, published in 1847 in traditional blue covers, made a scathing attack on the standard of education in Wales. Some of the authors were Anglican clergymen, yet Wales was largely Nonconformist, and none of the authors spoke Welsh.

They called the Welsh lazy and immoral, ignorant and depraved. They decided that a large part of the problem was the use of the Welsh language, and things would only improve when all children were taught the English language. The report was condemned by the Welsh as The Treason of the Blue Books.

[adapted from Highlights of Welsh History by Phil Carradice]

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