Welsh Not

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The Welsh Not (also Welsh Knot, Welsh Note, Welsh Stick, Welsh Lead or Cwstom) was an item used in Welsh schools in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to stigmatise and punish children using the Welsh language.

Typically The Not was a piece of wood, a ruler or a stick, often inscribed with the letters "WN". This was given to the first pupil to be heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard using Welsh, The Not was taken from its current holder and given to the latest offender. Whoever was in possession of The Not was encouraged to pass it on to any of their Welsh-speaking classmates by informing the teacher that they had caught someone else speaking Welsh. The pupil in possession at the end of the day was subjected to corporal punishment or other penalty (some reports suggest the punishment was administered at the end of the week, or at the end of each lesson).[1]

"Endeavoured to compel the children to converse in English by means of a piece of wood. Offenders to be shut in after school hours."

Extracts from the Llansantffraid board school log book. 8th February, 1870.[2]

Language policy[edit]

Within the Walls of Westminster, the removal of the language was widely discussed, this is evident in the published 'Parliamentary Papers - Volume 16' [1844], which reads; 'as far as your experience goes, there is a general desire for education, and the parents are desirous that their children should learn the English language?--Beyond anything.' and later reading mentions: 'There is the greatest anxiety to catch one another speaking Welsh, and there is a cry out immediately, "Welsh not."' [3][4]


The effect of The Not was to stigmatise the use of the Welsh language among children, and engender the idea that English, as the preferable medium of instruction, was the language of moral progress and opportunity.

The practice and wider social changes of the nineteenth and the beginning of the 20th century saw many Welsh speakers come to view the speaking of Welsh as a disadvantage.[1]


"Cannot get the children from the habit of talking in Welsh; the school as a whole is backward in English."

Extracts from the log book of the British School, Aberaeron. Written by the head teacher. 5th November, 1880.[5]


The use of "The Not" was recorded as early as the 18th century, and there is strong evidence of numerous incidents in both Anglican and Nonconformist schools throughout Carmarthen, Ceredigion and Meirionnydd, it was commonly known as the cwstom, the 'Welsh stick' or the 'Welsh lead' (if a lump of lead was used).[6]

Cultural impact[edit]

"Among other injurious effects, this custom has been found to lead children to visit stealthily the houses of their school-fellows for the purpose of detecting those who speak Welsh to their parents, and transferring to them the punishment due to themselves."

Extracts from Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of Education in Wales, 1847.[7]

The most frequent use of the Welsh Not in schools appears to be in the first decades following the publication of the government's Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales in 1847.

The reports noted that schools in Wales were inadequate, with English monoglot teachers and English textbooks in use in areas where the children spoke only Welsh. It concluded that the Welsh as a race were "ignorant", "lazy" and "immoral", and that one of the main causes of this was the continuing use of the "evil" Welsh language.[8]

The Reports had great influence in Wales, becoming known as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (the Treachery of the Blue Books) among Welsh speakers, and supporting the removal of Welsh as a moral endeavour. In linking the Welsh language with low educational standards and poor morality, the report also highlighted the effective use of the "Welsh Not" and, while it did not officially endorse its use, it popularised the method as an effective tool for educators throughout Wales.[9]

Later use[edit]

"The speaking of Welsh in school was strictly forbidden; any boy or girl guilty of the offence was given the Welsh Not, which he or she handed on to the next offender, the unfortunate one who held the Welsh Not at the end of the school session becoming the scapegoat who bore the punishment for the sins of all.

Mother, being a lively child, was in frequent possession of the Welsh Not, but was never allowed to pay the penalty; a chivalrous boy cousin always asked for it in Welsh and took the punishment himself."

Account of the writer's mothers experiences in Welsh Outlook, May 1931.[10]

The use of the "Welsh Not" appears to have decreased with the introduction of compulsory education in the later decades of the 19th century. After the school boards were absorbed by the county councils following the Local Government Act 1888, instruction in Welsh became the norm in primary schools in Welsh-speaking areas. However, incidents of the "Welsh Not" were still reported.[11]

Owen Morgan Edwards describes his experience of the Welsh Not in school in Llanuwchllyn in his book Clych Atgof.

Susan Jones, Member of Parliament for Clwyd South, claimed in 2010 that the use of the Welsh Not, including caning as the punishment, persisted in some schools in her constituency until "as recently as the 1930s and 1940s".[12]

See also[edit]

Similar policies in other countries[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Welsh and 19th century education". BBC. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  2. ^ Council, Ceredigion County (18 September 2007). "Welsh Not". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Parliamentary Papers - Volume 16, p102.
  4. ^ "Parliamentary Papers". 1844.
  5. ^ Council, Ceredigion County (18 September 2007). "Welsh Not". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2006
  7. ^ Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of Education in Wales. London. 1847.
  8. ^ Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of Education in Wales. London. 1847.
  9. ^ "Part 3: North Wales, comprising Anglesey, Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint, Meirioneth and Montgomery - Report". Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales. 1847. p. 19.
  10. ^ "The Welsh Outlook". May 1931. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, p 455
  12. ^ Lowther, Ed (29 June 2010), A bevy of maidens, BBC News, retrieved 9 December 2012

External links[edit]