Place Names of Gwent
- ISBN: 9780863819568
- Author: Richard Morgan
- Publication August 2005
- Format: Paperback, 183x122 mm, 228 pages
An exploration of the placenames of Gwent, some of which date back to the dark ages and beyond to Roman times.
A professional archivist and author of companion volumes of Radnorshire, Breconshire and Montgomeryshire place-names, Richard Morgan demonstrates his considerable knowledge and expertise in tackling this challenging task.
He gathers together over 500 place-names, using both original and secondary historical sources to analyse each one individually. His concise introduction also paints a broader, fascinating picture of how language, or more specifically place-names, offer us a unique map of a county’s complex history. In understanding the importance of place-names, he tells us, there can be no short-cuts.
Before mass literacy and the development of printed sources such as road-books, maps and eventually road-signs, ‘place-names often had a vitality and a changeability which is now difficult to appreciate’. So too, before the spelling of place-names became fixed, they were open to different interpretations and changes with shifting dialects and language: ‘To put it simply,’ Morgan writes, ‘the man who lives in the village of Llanfihangel Tormynydd in 2005 is very unlikely to use the language of the name of the place in which he lives and may well mispronounce it.’
Naming the book itself was not without its complications. Since the government reorganization of 1996, ‘Monmouthshire’ has only applied to the county borough which covered the eastern part of historic Monmouthshire (1536-1974). Calling the book by the territory called Gwent is intended to avoid misinterpretation and a thorough explanation for its choice is offered in the opening pages.
The author’s analysis in the introduction shows us that although Historic Monmouthshire is the most anglicized of the old thirteen counties, the Welsh language dominated the county through to the mid-18th century. It also makes an interesting reference to the use of Anglican church services to record the movement of language and its people through a certain historical period. The use of these services in the 1750s shows a clear pattern of the distribution of the Welsh and English language, areas where one language dominated over the other and similarly, where there was an overlap. Anglicisation from the 1800s onwards took place-names such as Beaufort and Markham, adopting the names of industrialists, ironworks or collieries.
In his introductory chapter the author sets out his clear aims to do justice to a subject which has yet to receive the attention it deserves. In spite of a county history by Sir Joseph Bradney and other local histories in Wales, he argues that there has been insufficient stimulus to undertake an academic study of the subject. This is even more surprising in the case of Monmouthshire as it is the only county to possess a major historical source of reference in the Book of Llandaf, substantially a 12th century manuscript which is significant not only to the study of place-names but for many aspects of early medieval Welsh history.
This volume certainly offers the subject its deserved attention and strikes a successful balance between academic rigour and the ability to communicate to a non-specialist audience. Its content should prove to be of great interest to amateur historian and academic alike, as well as anyone with an interest in their local history.