Why the Senedd needs to look again at protecting Welsh place names

Porth Trecastell (not Cable Bay) on Anglesey. Picture by Jeff Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Dai Lloyd MS, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for South Wales West

It is often quoted that ‘a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’.

This week, Plaid Cymru once again called on the Welsh Government to make the teaching of Welsh history, and the teaching of black history, compulsory within the new curriculum.

Wales has a rich history, but for many in Wales this history is not something that is known to them. For generations, we have not taught our own history to our own people. It is unsurprising therefore that there is little appreciation for Welsh history, and how it relates to the Wales of the present day.

This needs to change. Every child needs to know, and understand, the history of our nation. Roots are important in nurturing the tree.

The teaching and protection of our history are intrinsically linked. Without understanding, there can be no appreciation.

We see this lack of appreciation in Wales on a regular basis – house names and welsh place names are lost, often without a second thought. Unfortunately, this lack of respect to our history is commonplace, and often stems from deficiencies in the way that we teach our history.

 

Missed

However, over recent times it is clear that many individuals and groups across Wales are growing increasingly frustrated with politicians in Wales who are failing to address these issues.

The current petition which looks to give Welsh house names legal protection is an example of people challenging the status quo, and looking for ways to protect our links to the past. With over 15,000 signatures it will now proceed for a debate in the Senedd. I very much welcome this. But we have been here before.

Indeed, it was a desire to protect historical place names in Wales which led me to propose a Bill in the Senedd in 2017. I wanted to give historical place names in Wales some legal protection, and had consulted widely with a number of interested parties and organisations on the matter.

The Bill’s objectives were clear, but unfortunately the Labour Members of the Senedd in addition to Kirsty Williams and Dafydd Elis-Thomas, voted against the Bill. It was a missed opportunity.

There is an increasing awareness of the high-profile examples of historic place names which have been lost, or are at risk of being lost. They have often received media attention as a result, and we know that the Welsh place names are often being replaced by English names that non-Welsh speakers find easier to remember or say.

Changing ‘Maes-llwch’ in Powys to ‘Foyles’ for example, ‘Cwm Cneifion’ in Snowdonia to ‘Nameless Cwm’, and ‘Faerdre Fach’ farm near Llandysul, which is now promoted as ‘Happy Donkey Hill’.

Porth Trecastell in Anglesey now referred to as Cable Bay, and Llyn Bochlwyd in Eryri sometimes referred to as ‘Lake Australia’, are among countless other examples.

Indeed, across Wales, the names of farms, fields, historic houses, natural features and landscapes are being lost. Our place-names often reflect the topography of an area, association with a historical or notable person, association with past events such as famous battles or periods that have had an impact.

We also find connections to the cultural history of a setting with links to traditions, industry and local legends. Losing these names means that we are losing our local and national heritage.

We have to stand up to this form of historical vandalism.

‘Appalling’

It is not acceptable for our nation’s history to be undermined and eroded in this way. Our history, and our language needs to be respected and we have a responsibility to preserve them for the next generation.

In terms of the current petition around protecting Welsh house names, we have seen senior Labour politicians such as former First Minister Carwyn Jones MS, and former Minister Alun Davies MS call for the protection of place names.

Carwyn Jones has referenced the sad loss of the’ Tregyb Arms’ in Brynamman which is of historical significance due to its importance in the formation of the Coal Miner’s Union.

Calling for the new owners to rethink, as the former First Minister has done however, is simply not enough. We need legal protection to ensure it can’t happen. This is precisely the argument that I put forward in 2017, and this is why I was so disappointed that Labour members at the time failed to back my Bill.

In discussing the loss of Welsh house names, Alun Davies MS recently stated that, “This has been appalling for years. It demonstrates no respect for our culture, history or heritage.”

I agree with him, but taking to Twitter to complain once in a while is not going to save these historical names.

We need to see legal protection, and I hope that when this new petition comes before the Senedd for debate, that Labour members will have reflected on that 2017 vote, and will now look to support proposals to protect our history.

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