The village that lost its Welsh name overnight
Back in January 2015, with the Heads of the Valleys Road widening in full swing, few communities were hit so hard as the two small Monmouthshire villages of Clydach and Llanelly Hill. Caught in the middle, we found ourselves landlocked, polluted by noise and diverted traffic, and witnessed the irreplaceable loss of native beech woodland in a supposed site of special scientific interest in a forgotten corner of the Brecon Beacons.
The scheme overran in both time and millions upon millions of pounds, and has resulted in the life-enhancing impact of an extra lane that is rarely used just in case drivers break the rather bizarre 50mph speed limit.
One change, however, might seem insignificant to anyone but a few remaining locals, but for those who care about the importance of our history and place names, has the power to anger and upset on a cellular level.
Namely, the proactive loss of the Welsh name for Llanelly Hill – Rhiw Llanelli (or Llanelly based on the localised historic spelling from before the standardisation of the Welsh alphabet).
Growing up, attending one of the two local primary schools which have long since closed in the name of progress, the name Rhiw Llanelli was the one and only name for Llanelly Hill in conversation with the handful of local Welsh speakers, in Welsh classes at school, in official Welsh translations, on all signage and on our council tax letters.
Overnight, however, the name was binned in favour of the Google Translate-friendly ‘Bryn Llanelli’. New signs were erected on both entry points to the village declaring the new name Bryn Llanelli in conjunction with the A465 dualling. And that was that.
The original name is thankfully preserved in road names (Rhiwr Road) and house names, (Troed y Rhiw, Ty Rhiw, Pen Rhiw Cottage). The word Rhiw can mean slope, or side of the hill, which more accurately describes this cluster of smaller villages clinging to the side of a rather spectacular gorge – it’s not the entire hill, as Bryn would suggest.
Besides being utterly beautiful, the Welsh language is also pinpoint accurate when referring to place names, and these names matter. The old gravestones, fast decaying, speak of a different Clydach and Llanelly Hill – yr hen iaith fy nhadau being the language of the soil and our ancestors, and many of us today, myself included, have claimed it back and care. Deeply.
Within days of the erection of a new sign for my beloved Rhiw Llanelly (or should I now say, Bryn Llanelli), those of us who had grown up in the area were quite rightly outraged, and whilst most of the outrage ineffectually took place on the local Facebook village group, a few of us contacted Monmouthshire County Council and demanded to know how a place name can be changed overnight with absolutely no local input.
In my case, I backed up my complaint with photos, old documents, anecdotes and historical knowledge. Rather naively, I expected a swift response. Would people in Abertawe, Caerdydd, Aberteifi etc. be happy to wake up with a new name for the place they call home? I gladly think not. So why is this acceptable?
Cue emails back and forth for a while, and an idle threat to contact the Abergavenny Chronicle (horror of horrors!), this didn’t sit well with the Policy and Welsh Language Officer at the council at the time who, for reasons I still can’t get my head around eight years on, decided the best course of action wasn’t to reinstate the original name of Rhiw Llanelli, or to go with the updated reductive Bryn Llanelli, but to absurdly declare the Welsh name to be… drum roll…. Llanelli Hill.
Drivers are now treated to a laughable sign telling them that they are passing by ‘Llanelly Hill : Llanelli Hill’. You read that right – the Welsh for Llanelly Hill is now Llanelli Hill – pronounce that final Ll as you wish. If only we had a word (or multiple words) for hill in Welsh!
Last year, I tried one last time to make the council see sense. Again, I also contacted the Welsh Language Commissioner to try to undo this complete disregard and idiocy and to hopefully have an ally.
The council has rather unsurprisingly gone quiet, but the all-powerful Commissioner did get back to me in November of last year, and I was told that my ‘complaint is valid and meets the requirements of section 93 of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011.
This means that the complaint included sufficient details for me to consider it further’.
Needless to say, my heart leapt and I thought that finally something might be done, but the Commissioner’s word salad continued to inform me that ‘the sign was installed in 2015, before the Welsh language standards came into force. Since the sign was installed before the organisation became subject to Welsh language standards, the standards do not apply’.
So, the sign is fine because of a technicality. A village can have a new name because of a technicality.
Monmouthshire County Council refer to the village as Rhiw Llanelli in only their council tax documents nowadays because, seemingly, no one can be bothered to change it, but elsewhere Google translate users in their offices (or possibly human translators with limited Welsh vocabulary and even less local knowledge) continue to declare the village Bryn Llanelli, as do outside organisations and incoming residents and, again, that’s fine.
Unfortunately for me, however, I don’t think it’s fine.
It grieves me to know how easily this important, evocative and accurate name has been lost, and what it represents on a wider level.
And not only how little it matters to the people whose job it should be to care, but how ineffectual my attempts to be listened to have been. But that’s fine. I should just let it go.
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Welsh, like English, is a language rich in subtleties. Place names are an important link in history. To lose them is yragic
In Newport, on the west side of the river Usk, there is an area called Pillgwenlly (usually called Pill). On the east side there is a Spytty Pill and a Nas Pill.
In Welsh pill canmean a stronghold/castle/fortress.
In English Pill can mean a marshy place or the confluence of a tributary..
Many centuries ago Newport’s big wig was St Woolos – an English corruption of Gwynllyw..
I have no evidence for this, but it pleases to think that on one side we have a.Welsh placename and English on the other
This is very informative and much appreciated. Every time I pass the signs on the A465, what grinds my gears, (and I don’t mean on my truck), is the spelling of Llanelli with a ‘Y’ on the end instead of an ‘I’. This should never be. I thought Bryn Llanelli would be the proper name but it turns out to be Rhiw Llanelli. Either way, this is how it should be spelt and set out, never as Llanelly Hill. By the way, auto correct has just changed my ‘Y’ to an ‘I’ so even that knows how to spell it.… Read more »
And what about Llanoronwy? Some know all with a grade zero in second language Welsh decided it wasn’t a valid name despite it being used and had the bilingual sign removed to leave just Rockfield.
This appears to be a case where Llanelly is actually a historical Welsh dialect localism rather than an anglicisation. I can only think of one other example, Cader Idris (not Cadair) there was considerable argument over that spelling, but it was shown that was the historic local Welsh (unlike Cader, now Cadair Berwyn). The problem is we have a mix of old local dialect Welsh, a national language commission with national standards and local councils with a lack of understanding of Welsh and a fragmented understanding the language. I have seen a sign for the Brecon Beacons in Welsh as… Read more »
I’m afraid we’ve already had an identity change that was provided by the English. Those who call themselves Welsh contribute to it every day. Crazy how the Britons are foreigners on their own island and the actual “Foreigners” have became British. It’s truly sad how easily the Cymro Britons have allowed this to occur. It was so easy thanks to forcing everyone to speak English…We go From Brythonic (British) To Welsh virtually overnight because we are forced to use their terminology.
A very interesting piece. ‘Bryn Llanelli’ does look like a recent coinage. I wonder how old ‘Rhiw Llanelli’ is? Welsh-language sources from the 19th and early 20th century have ‘Mynydd Llanelli’, as here (in the context of the miners’ lodge) https://papuraunewydd.llyfrgell.cymru/view/3120318/3120319/5 and here (with reference to the Baptist chapel): https://papuraunewydd.llyfrgell.cymru/view/4276204/4276214/62
Diddorol iawn! Thanks for that. I can only speak as a native – to us it’s always been to go ‘up the Rhiwr’ (being from Clydach below) if we were meeting friends on their turf, and then in school from the 80s onwards it was Llanelly Hill and Rhiw Llanelli. For my parents’ generation and local Welsh speakers (who still lament the loss of Brecknockshire) it’s always been Rhiw Llanelli in their lifetimes at too. Bryn literally appeared on the sign overnight in 2015 so undoubtedly recent and ill thought. That then vanished to make way for Llanelli Hill. The… Read more »
Diolch Stephen. It’s great to have local information. Darrenfelen and Gellifelen are discussed in this volume (p. 70). It seems that ‘felen’ (mutated feminine form of ‘melyn’) was changed over time to ‘felin’. https://carreg-gwalch.cymru/study-of-breconshire-place-names-a-welsh-heritage-series-9-582-p.asp
The word ‘mynydd’, which in place-names usually means ‘unenclosed land (often but not necesserally upland), a common’, is often translated into English with its other meaning of ‘mountain, hill’. So I wonder whether an original ‘Mynydd Llanelli’ was translated into English as ‘Llanelli Hill’. As Welsh declined in the area and the name ‘Mynydd Llanelli’ was forgotten, I wonder whether ‘Llanelli Hill’ was translated by a later generation as ‘Rhiw Llanelli’ and later again as ‘Bryn Llanelli’. (A very similar process happened in Cardiff with the name ‘Mynydd Bychan’, which was replaced by ‘Y Waun’ [translated from ‘Heath’ in the… Read more »
Maybe time for green paint
Mae gyda ni broblemau tebyg yn Sir Benfro :- y Cyngor Sir yn gosod arwyddion am lwybrau cyhoeddus neu ryw Maes Parcio, neu ardal mewn tref. Weithiau – Meysydd Parcio yn enwedig – gyda chyfarwyddiadau yn y Gymraeg ac yn y Saesneg, ond yr enw yn uniaith Saesneg, fel petasai neb yn y Cyngor Sir wedi poeni i ofyn pobl lleol os oedd enw Cymraeg i’r man ai beidio. Ac wrth gwrs mae ‘na enwau Cymraeg iddynt bron i gyd. Enwau sydd yn dal i gael eu defnyddio ar lafar pob dydd – Mae difaterwch y Cyngor Sir yn hyn… Read more »
Mae’n dda i ddarllen atebiad yn yr iaith Cymraeg. Ddyle mwy ohono ni sudd dal yn gallu siarad yr iaith i ddefnyddio.
I share your pain Stephen. It is an insult both in the change of name and the manner in which it was brought about.
Cytuno, dwi yn siwr bod nhw yn cydymdeimlo efo chi hefyd yn dunvant leckwith narberth,criccieth a hyd yn oed Londonderry.
This happens because they know how weak our politicians and Welsh language campaigners are. There is no need for bilingual placenames on signs that make the whole practice look ridiculous as the example above shows. There is only need for Welsh language placenames. This would save money and signs would be less confusing.
Have you no spray paint? They’ll get tired of replacing the signs eventually
The sign on the A465 looks as if it could be the responsibility of the South Wales Trunk Road Authority-have you tried contacting them?
That’s one of the first places I tried if I remember rightly. I’ve been all around the mulberry bush with this and spoken to the guy who actioned the change before his retirement and in this case it’s on Monmouthshire County Council to sort (unfortunately). They’ve got previous form with signage there.
Shwmae Stephen, I am the guy from the council who retired recently. As a passionate Welsh speaker and supporter I took your concern seriously and did extensive research including contacting Welsh language historical experts and the offices of the Welsh Language Commissioner (place names team) and was unable to establish any evidence of Rhiw Llanelli. As a matter of accuracy the signage was not actioned by me as the signs are trunk road signs and as such the responsibility of Welsh Govt. I sincerely hope you can resolve this issue
You don’t want to spoil this article with facts do you?!
Marc, I liaised with the chap above about all of the changes and the zero consultation and he was the one who dealt with my concerns and took them forward. I don’t know how you’re making out that this is some work of fiction as if I’ve doctored three different signs or something. And you’re picking holes in my experience but overlooking the main point which is that the village I’ve grown up in has multiple new names that none of us were consulted about. To this day, the council are calling it Bryn Llanelli on their site which, as… Read more »
The Welsh Language Commissioner maintains a definitive list of standard Welsh placenames, available to download as a spreadsheet.
For this particular place, the panel of experts have the same in both English and Welsh – Llanelli Hill.
That’s correct yes. And yet the council continue to use the made up Bryn on their own documentation : https://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/app/uploads/2022/03/Bandings-Template-2022-23-1.pdf
Signs on the A465 trunk road are the responsibility of WG not Monmouthshire County Council.
The full complaint is now back with WG as it had been before. I’ve also had confirmation from Traffic Wales that the one above off the B4248 is for Mon CC to deal with:
‘As this matter relates to a location off the Welsh Government’s strategic road network, the matter will need to be investigated by the Local Authority in this area.’
Appreciated your input.
Two short planks syndrome.
This is outrageous 😠 surely they can’t get away with this? Place names are steeped in history, they have no right to change them. Have you tried taking it to the Public Services Ombudsman, assuming the council’s complaints procedure was exhausted? Disappointing the Welsh Language Commissioner couldn’t do anything.
I’ve submitted another complaint to Welsh Gov via Traffic Wales today. And also about the one above that they’ve confirmed is for Mon CC to amend.
I haven’t tried the Ombudsman, no, that’s a great idea. The Wenglish term has just been an open door for Bryn to creep back in even on Mon CC’s recent documentation and I’m at the point where I just think ‘ok pick a name in your office and just stick to that one then’ but they can’t even do that. Thanks for the advice, really appreciated.
For those that read the comments: A new complaint about the A465 signage has gone in to the WG via traffic Wales today (this is not the first by the way as others have suggested). A complaint also went to them about the sign above from the B4248 entry point but I received the following response: ‘As this matter relates to a location off the Welsh Government’s strategic road network, the matter will need to be investigated by the Local Authority in this area.’ Thanks for everyone’s support. Especially Dylan’s historic info. Glad to know others feel the same and… Read more »
Yet here we are reading an article written in English on a English language website with very few comments actually in Welsh.
If you had published the article only in Cymraig I suspect few of the NC readers would have been bothered to copy it into Google Translate. That it is in English has meant that there are folk like me, retired, mono-lingual English speakers, who also care about getting names correct rather than changing them to someething nobody recognises who have worked right through the responses. I have had a number of small battles with banks and other organisations who will not allow me to have my official details recorded with the correct Welsh address name. So now I always use… Read more »
What even is Llanelly Hill? On the Ordinance Survey maps it is just the mountain behind the settlement, the actual villages are Darrenfelen and Waunllapria, surely the signs should point towards them rather than a general geographic area.
Hello Stephen, LLanelli (Scarlets) was changed to LLanelli in 1966 as the spelling of LLanelly was an anglicised version so a petition was made to change LLanelly to LLanelli, the Welsh spelling. Bryn in LLanelli Is located on the top of a hill and has a post code SA14 8 _ _ or SA14 9 _ _. Start a petition, and re instate Rhiw, the English word is ascent, not Hill. Well done for publicising the issue.