Sunday, 4 November 2012

Welsh Language Census 1891/ Adroddiad ar yr iaith Gymraeg Cyfrifiad 1891

 Headline of 1891 Census - Best part of a million spoke Welsh, of that 508,036 people (or 30.4% of the total Welsh population) claimed to be able to speak Welsh only (monoglots).

However some historians question the monoglot Welsh only figures. They claim numbers were over reported due to the rise of national consciousness and a desire to enhance the statistics and popularity of the language. Others claim this is an unfair critique.

English only schools were one of the major factors of anglicisation in many parts of Wales, not necessarily English speaking migrants. However, non-Welsh speakers were generally resistant to a reciprocal process of linguistic change (i.e. learning Welsh) in many majority Welsh speaking areas.

In Blaenau Gwent, the valley quickest and most heavily anglicised (due to high in-migration) in the south, even here,  25% of people could speak welsh in 1891. However by this point, Monmouthshire/Sir Fynwy had been heavily anglicised, only 14.4% could speak Welsh (although still a fair bit higher than the 9% today).Blaenau had been mainly Welsh speaking however, up until 1850s and 1860s when the iron works closed followed by the Welsh speaking chapels.

A point to note in Blaenau is that Welsh monoglot in-migrants were recorded as having English only speaking children/grandchildren. This is believed to be due to reinforcement policies in schools teaching families that the Welsh language served no useful purpose in life.

Furthermore, anglicisation here was in part due to an exodus of welsh speakers moving out and non-welsh speakers coming in /replacing those that left.
  • Rhyl -1891: 59% spoke welsh (8.5% monoglots) - population 5759.
Had been increasingly anglicised over the last few decades, Railway opening between Dinbych (Denbigh) and Rhyl was the final nail in coffin especially due to lack of Welsh medium education.

On opening the railway. E.G. Salisbury declared to the crowd " I, for one, am not ashamed to say - and I say this boldly - that I shall be delighted to see the Welsh people anglicised".

Rhyl, seen as very anglicised now, however had more Welsh speakers in 1891 than the next town - Llanidloes.
  •  Llanidloes: 55.9% total (7.7% monoglot). Welsh had been on decline for years due to lack of Welsh education coupled with railway construction and the arrival of the flannel trade which imported outside labour. English Chapel services became dominant also.
  • Caerdydd/Cardiff - By 1890, English had penetrated almost every household. Language shift first seen amongst the professional and middle classes, though working class Butetown was already very anglicised. There was also huge population growth since the 1801 Census (2000 ppl) up to 1881 (82,761).
    Last time Cardiff was majority Welsh speaking was about 1850s - by 1891 that had declined to 11.2% (1.7% only).- In stark contrast to Glamorgan/Morgannwg in 1891 in which 49.5% could speak Welsh, 22% of which were Welsh monoglots.
  • Rhosllannerchrugog (Wrecsam): 90.9% Welsh speaking (49.3% welsh only)

    The infamous Blue Books report undertaken by Westminster and known for its anti-Welshness described Rhos as "worse" than Merthyr.
    Comparison to Denbighshire (to the west): 65.3% Welsh speaking (33.6% only Welsh).
  • Llanfair ym Muallt (Builth) - Much of Eastern and parts of southern Powys had been undergoing anglicisation since the start of the 1700-1800s. Only 17.1% of people could speak Welsh in 1891 (0.3% only) - Builth rural district was 36.1% however which shows difference between towns and countryside.

    Villages further north towards Rhaeadr Gwy (Rhayader) had been becoming majority English speaking by the 1840s/1850s.
  • Tregaron - On the western slopes of the Cambrian mountains, it was a very different story. In Tregaron: 99.1% could speak Welsh. 83.8 % of residents spoke welsh only!
In the surrounding county of Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion) 95% of people spoke Welsh (74.5% only). These figures were higher than Meirioneth county to the north west. 

Other towns/district figures:
  • Blaenau Ffestiniog (Meirioneth) - 98.9% welsh speaking
  • Pontypridd district - 63.5%
  • Ferndale (Rhondda) - 76.1% (37.8% only)
    -Welsh language was strongest amongst miners. The town had been renamed Ferndale by mine owners (originally: Glynrhedog) as they believed it was easier to pronounce for the English speaking migrants and therefore more attractive to employees.
  • Dowlais - 59.6% (20.3% only)

  • Blaenllechau - 74.8% (45.8% only)
    - Even though 74.8% seemed solid, large language shift was in evidence in 1891. The shift was first seen in the playground where children started to speak in English only. Also, a shift was seen in language distribution in which there was much clustering of Welsh and English speakers seen at street level, an almost 'ghettoisation' of the town.
  • Llwynypia - 94.2% (41.6% only)
  • Cwm Clydach - 73.1% (43% only)
  • Cwmaman (Carmarthenshire) - 99.3% (90.7% only)
*N.b. It should be noted there is debate over whether the monoglot figures are trustable especially in certain parts, as local town mayors and other local officials encourage Welsh speakers to write 'Welsh only' to strengthen the position of the language in the eyes of officialdom.*


  1. Ydw. Dw i'n byw yng Nghaerdydd hefyd. Dim digon o Gymraeg eto.

  2. Diolch. Diddorol.

  3. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.