Little England beyond Wales

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The Landsker Line in 1901

Little England beyond Wales is a name applied to an area of southern Pembrokeshire and southwestern Carmarthenshire in Wales, which has been English in language and culture for many centuries despite its remoteness from England.


The name "Little England beyond Wales" denotes a part of south-west Wales that has been English in language and culture for many centuries despite its remoteness from the English border. The language boundary between this region and the area to the north where Welsh is more common, sometimes known as the Landsker Line, is noted for its sharpness and resilience. Although it is probably much older, the first known approximation of "Little England beyond Wales" was in the 16th century, when William Camden called the area Anglia Transwalliana.[1] Most of the area is known in Welsh as Sir Benfro Saesneg, meaning "English Pembrokeshire".[2]


The area was formerly part of the kingdom of Deheubarth, but it is unclear when it became distinguished from other parts of Wales. B. G. Charles gives a survey of the evidence for early non-Welsh settlements in the area.[3] The Norse raided in the 9th and 10th centuries, and some may have settled, as they did in Gwynedd further north. There are scattered Scandinavian placenames in the area, mostly in the Hundred of Roose, north and west of the River Cleddau. The medieval Welsh chronicle Brut y Tywysogion mentions many battles in southwest Wales and sackings of Menevia (St David's) in the pre-Norman period.[4] Sometimes these were stated to be conflicts with Saxons, sometimes with people of unspecified origin. The first explicit documentary evidence is that of Gerald of Wales and Brut y Tywysogyon, which record that "Flemings" were settled in south Pembrokeshire soon after the arrival of the Normans in the early 12th century. Gerald says this took place specifically in Roose.

The de Barry family, the Lords of Manorbier near Tenby, originally came from Barri near Tournai in Flanders. Gerald de Barry (better known as Gerald of Wales) says that the family name was previously Barri, which changed to de Barry when they were ennobled as a reward for their participation in the invasion of Wales. He says that the name was taken from the island of Barry, which became part of their holdings. The Flemish were noted for their skill in the construction of castles, which were built throughout the Norman territories in Pembrokeshire.

The previous inhabitants were said to have "lost their land", but this could mean either a total expulsion of the existing population, or merely a replacement of the land-owning class. The development of Haverfordwest as the castle and borough controlling Roose dates from this period; this plantation occurred under the auspices of the Norman invaders. The Normans placed the whole of Southwest Wales under military control, establishing castles over the entire area, as far north as Cardigan.

That Flemish might have continued to be spoken is borne out only by a statement of 1577 that a few families could still speak Flemish.[citation needed] However, Ranulf Higdon in his Polychronicon (1327) states that Flemish was by his time extinct in southwest Wales,[5] and George Owen in 1603 was adamant that Flemish was long extinct.[6] As for placenames, the greatest concentration of Anglo-Saxon names is in Roose, while there are considerable numbers of Welsh placenames in the rest of Little England, although these areas were certainly English-speaking. Flemish names are rare, and those that exist are based on personal names of landowners.

At the end of the Tudor period, George Owen produced his Description of Penbrokshire (sic), completed in 1603.[6] The work is essentially a geographical analysis of the languages in the county, and his writings provide the vital source for all subsequent commentators. He is the first to emphasize the sharpness of the linguistic boundary. He says:

[Y]et do these two nations keep each from dealings with the other, as mere strangers, so that the meaner sort of people will not, or do not usually, join together in marriage, although they be in one hundred ( and sometimes in the same parish, nor commerce nor buy but in open fairs, so that you shall find in one parish a pathway parting the Welsh and English, and the one side speak all English, the other all Welsh, and differing in tilling and in measuring of their land, and divers other matters.[6]

Of Little England, he added:

(They) keep their language among themselves without receiving the Welsh speech or learning any part thereof, and hold themselves so close to the same that to this day they wonder at a Welshman coming among them, the one neighbour saying to the other "Look there goeth a Welshman".[6]

He described the linguistic frontier in some detail, and his 1603 line is shown on the map. His description indicates that some northern parts had been re-colonised by Welsh speakers.[6] The disruptions of the post-Black Death period may account for this.[citation needed]

Proportion of Welsh speakers (2011 census)

Although Little England is described by several later writers, they do little but quote Owen. Quantitative descriptions of the linguistic geography of the area start with that of Ernst Georg Ravenstein, around 1870.[7] This shows a further loss of territory since Owen's time. From 1891 onward, linguistic affiliation in Wales has been assessed in the census. The overall picture is that the boundary has moved to a significant, but small degree. Furthermore, the boundary has always been described as sharp. In 1972, Brian John said of the linguistic boundary that it "is a cultural feature of surprising tenacity; it is quite as discernible, and only a little less strong, than the divide of four centuries ago."[8]

The differences in the proportion of Welsh speakers persists and is illustrated by the map derived from the 2011 census.

Little England today[edit]

Carew Chimney (Flemish chimney)

Due to the sharp distinction between the English- and Welsh-speaking populations, the two groups are often divided into the "Englishry" and the "Welshry", terminology that is also used on the Gower Peninsula.[9] As mentioned by Owen, the cultural differences between Little England and the "Welshry" extend beyond language. Manorial villages are more common in Little England, particularly on the banks of the Daugleddau estuary, while the north has characteristically Welsh scattered settlements. Forms of agriculture are also distinct,[10] although this mainly accords with land fertility rather than culture.[citation needed] Parish churches often have a characteristic tall, narrow castellated tower, in contrast with usual towerless Welsh design.[citation needed] In domestic architecture, the "Flemish chimney" - a detached cylindrical structure - is characteristic of Little England, although it is also occasionally found in North Pembrokeshire.[citation needed] The name is typical of the semi-mythical nature of the "Flemish" influences: no such structures are to be found in Flanders, but they are to be found in southwest England, and this is the probable origin of both the chimneys and their builders.[citation needed] None of these distinctions is anything like as clear-cut as the difference of language. The language of Little England is a dialect most closely related to the English of Somerset and Devon.[citation needed]

On the other hand, Little England and the Welshry have many similarities. Typical Welsh surnames of patronymic origin (e.g. Edwards, Richards, Phillips etc.) were almost universal in the Welshry in Owen's time, but they also accounted for 40% of names in Little England.[citation needed] According to John, the majority of English-speaking Little England natives today regard themselves as Welsh, as did Gerald, who was born on the south coast at Manorbier in 1146.[11]

Blood and genetic studies[edit]

The Welsh scientist Morgan Watkin originally noticed high levels of Group A blood in the area, which are 5-10 per cent higher than in the surrounding areas. Watkin suggested that it was due to a substantial Viking settlement, instead of from the forcible transfer by Henry I of a colony of Flemish refugees from the Netherlands and Belgium in the early 12th century. Brian Sykes commented on the "Flemish" explanation that the levels of blood group A in the Low Countries are not particularly high, but that it is not possible to decide from blood sampling whether the high levels in 'Little England' were caused "by rampaging Vikings or by a few cartloads of Belgians".[12] But from his Oxford Genetic Atlas Project genetic data Sykes said that the lack of patrilineal Y-chromosomes from the "Sigurd" clan in South Wales (and very few in other parts of Wales) is strong evidence against any Norse Viking settlement in Wales, and means that the Viking explanation of Morgan Watkin for the high frequency of blood group A in 'Little England beyond Wales' is wrong.[13]

A 2003 Y-chromosome study in Haverfordwest revealed an Anglo-Celtic population similar to populations in South West England.[14]

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics reported in 2015 "unexpectedly stark differences between inhabitants in the north and south of the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire" in DNA signatures.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Awbery, Gwenllian M, Cymraeg Sir Benfro/Pembrokeshire Welsh, Llanrwst, 1991, ISBN 0-86381-181-7
  2. ^ Online Welsh dictionary
  3. ^ Charles, B. G., The Placenames of Pembrokeshire, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1992, ISBN 0-907158-58-7, pp xxxv-lii
  4. ^ Jones, Thomas, (ed.), Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth MS 20 Version, UoW Press, Cardiff, 1952
  5. ^ Lockwood, W. B., Languages of the British Isles past and present, Andre Deutsch, 1975, ISBN 0-233-96666-8, p 235
  6. ^ a b c d e Owen, George, The Description of Pembrokeshire Dillwyn Miles (Ed) (Gomer Press, Llandysul 1994) ISBN 1-85902-120-4
  7. ^ Ravenstein, E. G., On the Celtic languages of the British Isles; a statistical survey, in Journal of the Royal Statistical Society XLII, 1879, 579-636
  8. ^ John, Brian S., The Linguistic Significance of the Pembrokeshire Landsker in The Pembrokeshire Historian 4, 1972. pp. 7-29
  9. ^ "Gower: Historical Processes, Themes and Background". The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved 2005-07-06.
  10. ^ Davies, M. F., Pembrokeshire, Part 32 (pp 75-170) of Stamp, L. D. (Ed.), The Land of Britain, Report of the Land Utilisation Survey, London, 1939
  11. ^ John, pp. 19-20.
  12. ^ Sykes, Brian, Blood of the Isles (Bantam, 2006) page 90
  13. ^ Sykes, Brian, Blood of the Isles (Bantam, 2006) pages 227, 238
  14. ^ Capelli, C., et al., A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles, in Current Biology,3, 2003, pp 979-984
  15. ^ The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population. 519. Nature. 19 March 2015. pp. 309–314. Retrieved 10 April 2015. (Subscription required (help)).
  16. ^ Roman invasion left no genetic legacy. New Scientist. 21 March 2015. p. 10.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aitchison, John W., and Carter, Harold, The Welsh Language 1961-1981: an interpretive atlas, UoW Press, 1985, ISBN 0-7083-0906-2
  • Bowen, E. G., (Ed.), Wales: a Physical, Historical and Regional Geography, Methuen, 1957
  • Davies, Thomas, Penfro Gymreig a Seisnig a'i Phobl in Y Berniad 4, 1914, pp 233–238.
  • Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution, UoW Press, 1997, ISBN 0-7083-1418-X
  • Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) Language and Community in the 19th Century, UoW Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7083-1467-8
  • Jenkins, Geraint. H., (ed) The Welsh language and its social domains 1801-1911, UoW Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7083-1604-2
  • Jones, Emrys, and Griffiths, Ieuan L., A linguistic map of Wales: 1961, in The Geographical Journal, 129, part 2, 1963, p 195
  • Pryce, W. T. R., Welsh and English in Wales, 1750-1971: A Spatial Analysis Based on the Linguistic Affiliation of Parochial Communities in Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 28, 1978, pp 1–36.
  • Thomas, J. Gareth, The geographical distribution of the Welsh language, in The Geographical Journal, 122, part 1, 1956, pp 71–79
  • Williams, D. Trevor, Linguistic divides in South Wales: a historico-geographical study, in Archaeologia Cambrensis 90, 1935, pp 239–66
  • Williams, D. Trevor, A linguistic map of Wales according to the 1931 census, with some observations on its historical and geographical setting, in The Geographical Journal, 89, part 2, 1937, p 146-51