Welsh Not

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A Welsh Not from 1852 on display at St Fagans National Museum of History[a]

The Welsh Not was a token used by teachers at some schools in Wales in the 19th century and early 20th century to discourage children from speaking Welsh at school, by marking out those who were heard speaking the language. Accounts suggest that its form and the nature of its use could vary from place to place, but the most common form was a piece of wood suspended on a string that was put around the child's neck. Terms used historically include Welsh not, Welsh note, Welsh lump, Welsh stick, cwstom, Welsh Mark, and Welsh Ticket.


"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."

Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, 1847.[2]: 452 

During the 19th century the primary function of day schools in Wales was the teaching of English.[3]: 437  The teaching of English in Welsh schools was generally supported by the Welsh public and parents who saw it as the language of economic advancement.[3]: 453, 457  Some schools practised what is now commonly called total immersion language teaching[3]: 438  and banned the use of Welsh in the school and playground to force children to use and become proficient in English. Some of these schools punished children caught speaking Welsh with the Welsh Not. The Welsh Not was brought about by teachers and school organisations, such as the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, rather than government policy, and its use came about via convention rather than law.[4] The Not was used in schools from as early as 1798,[5] throughout the early 1800s,[6][2] as late as the 1870s[7] and the early 20th century.[8] Strong evidence exists of its usage in Carmarthen, Cardigan and Meirionnydd prior to the 1870s.[4]

The Welsh Not came in several forms and with different names (Welsh not,[9] Welsh note,[10] Welsh lump,[11] Welsh stick, Welsh lead, cwstom,[12] Welsh Mark,[13]: 24  Welsh Ticket[13]: 24 ) and was used in different ways. It was a token typically made of wood often inscribed with the letters 'WN' which might be worn around the neck.[12] Typically, following the start of some prescribed period of time, a lesson, the school day or the school week, it was given to the first child heard speaking Welsh[14] and would then be successively passed on to the next child heard speaking it. At the end of the period, the child with the token or all children who had held the token, might be punished. The nature of that punishment varies from one account to another; it might have been detention, the writing out of lines, or corporal punishment.[14][15][16][17]: 94 [18]


[Question] "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?" [Reply] "Beyond anything."

Anglican clergyman from Pembrokeshire giving evidence to the Inquiry for South Wales in 1843[19]

The use of corporal punishment was legal in all schools in the United Kingdom until it was mostly outlawed in 1986;[20] flogging or caning was in widespread use in British schools throughout the 1800s and early 1900s.[21]

Recreation of an old school classroom at the West Wales Museum of Childhood, Llangeler, with a Welsh Not, threaded on white string, on the right-hand side of the desk

Under Henry VIII the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 simplified the administration and the law in Wales. English law and norms of administration were to be used, replacing the complex mixture of regional Welsh laws and administration.[17]: 66  Public officials had to be able to speak English[17]: 66  and English was to be used in the law courts. These two language provisions probably made little difference[17]: 68  since English had already replaced French as the language of administration and law in Wales in the late 14th century. [22] In practice this meant that courts had to employ translators between Welsh and English.[23]: 587  The courts were 'very popular' with the working class possibly because they knew the jury would understand Welsh and the translation was only for the benefit of the lawyers and judges.[23]: 589 

The use of English in the law courts inevitably resulted in significant inconvenience to those who could not speak English.[17]: 69  It would also have led to the realisation that to get anywhere in a society dominated by England and the English, the ability to speak English would be a key skill.[17]: 69 

Martin Johnes, a professor of history at Swansea University, writes that as the Act granted the Welsh equality with the English in law, that the result was "the language actually regained ground in Welsh towns and rural anglicised areas such as the lowlands of Gwent and Glamorgan" and that thus "Welsh remained the language of the land and the people".[17]: 69  Furthermore, Johnes writes that the religious turmoil at the time persuaded the state to support, rather than try to extinguish, the Welsh language.[17]: 69  In 1546, Brecon man John Prys had published the first Welsh-language book (Welsh: Yny lhyvyr hwnn, "In This Book"), a book containing prayers, which, as the Pope disapproved of it, endeared it to the Crown.[17]: 69  The result of the 1567 order by the Crown that a Welsh translation of the New Testament be used in every parish church in Wales (to ensure uniformity of worship in the kingdom) was that Welsh would remain the language of religion.[17]: 70  Davies says that as the (Tudor) government were to promote Welsh for worship, they had more sympathy for Welsh, than for Irish in Ireland, French in Calais, and than the government of Scotland had for Gaelic of the Highlands. The Tudors themselves were of partly Welsh origin.[24]: 235 

Among the common folk of Wales, at the time of the Welsh Not, hostility towards English was widespread.[24]: 392  This was compounded by the three-part Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, often referred to as the "Treason of the Blue Books" in Wales; published by the British Government in 1847, which caused uproar in Wales for disparaging the Welsh; being particularly scathing in its view of nonconformity, the Welsh language, and Welsh morality.[12]: 2  The inquiry did not lead to any governmental action and the hostile reaction was mainly aimed at the comments about Welsh morality.[17]: 96 

Reactions and impact[edit]

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

British School, Aberaeron, Log book. 5 November 1880.[25]

According to the Encyclopaedia of Wales, "Welsh patriots view the Welsh Not(e) as an instrument of cultural genocide",[12] but "it was welcomed by some parents as a way of ensuring that their children made daily use of English".[12]

The use of the Welsh Not created a stigma in using the Welsh Language. However, work from groups such as the Society for the Utilisation of the Welsh Language (of 1885) after the passing of the Education Act 1870 tried to fight for the right to speak Welsh and learn through the medium of Welsh in schools, and to advocate bilingualism in classrooms. Although their campaigning resulted in the encouragement of teaching Welsh history and geography within schools, the education system continued to become further dominated by the English system.[26]

In 2012, Conservative MP David TC Davies stated that the British Government had not been responsible for suppressing the Welsh language in the 19th century, saying that the practice took place before government involvement in the education system began with the Education Act 1870, and that "the teachers who imposed the Welsh Not were Welsh and its imposition would have been done with the agreement of parents".[27]

Professor Martin Johnes writes that neither the Welsh Not nor the efforts to prevent the use of the language in schools were official state policies, instead coming down to actions taken by individual teachers; but that the Welsh Not nonetheless remains "a powerful symbol of the oppression of Welsh culture."[28][17]: 100, 102 

Cultural Interaction[edit]

In 2024, the Welsh message of 1923 Welsh Women's Peace was translated into Okinawan language from the perspective of the similarities between the Okinawan dialect card and the history of Welsh Not in Wales.[29]

In literature[edit]

  • Myrddin ap Dafydd (2019). Under the Welsh Not, Llanrwst, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch ISBN 978-1845276836

See also[edit]

  • Dialect card Hōgenfuda (方言札, "dialect card"), used to promote standard speech in Japanese schools.
  • Symbole, a similar object used in French schools as a means of punishment for students caught speaking regional dialects.



  1. ^ Dimensions: length 58 mm (2.3 in); width 20 mm (0.79 in); depth 12 mm (0.47 in)[1]


  1. ^ "Welsh not". National Museum Wales.
  2. ^ a b Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales. London: William Clowes and Sons. 1847.
  3. ^ a b c Jones, Gareth Elwyn (2000). "15 The Welsh Language and the Blue Books of 1847". In Jenkins, Geraint H. (ed.). The Welsh Language and Its Social Domains. University of Wales Press. pp. 431–457. ISBN 978-0708316047.
  4. ^ a b "BBC Wales - History - Themes - Welsh language: The Welsh language in 19th century education". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  5. ^ Warner, Richard (1800). Second Walk Through Wales (2nd ed.). R. Cruttwell. p. 262. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  6. ^ "Welsh Not". Ceredigion Museum: The Museum Collection. Ceredigion County Council. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  7. ^ Smith, Robert (2000). "17 Elementary Education and the Welsh Language 1870-1902". In Jenkins, Geraint H. (ed.). The Welsh Language and Its Social Domains. University of Wales Press. pp. 48–504. ISBN 978-0708316047.
  8. ^ "The Welsh not or Welsh note punishment system". Wrexham History. Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  9. ^ Breverton, T. (2009). Wales A Historical Companion. United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781445609904.
  10. ^ Edwards, Thornton B. "The Welsh Not: A Comparative Analysis" (PDF). Carn (Winter 1995/1995). Ireland: Celtic League: 10.
  11. ^ Williams, Peter N. (2003). Presenting Wales from a to Y – The People, the Places, the Traditions: An Alphabetical Guide to a Nation's Heritage. Trafford. p. 275. ISBN 9781553954828.
  12. ^ a b c d e Davies, John; Baines, Menna; Jenkins, Nigel; Lynch, Peredur I., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 942. ISBN 9780708319536.
  13. ^ a b Jenkins, Geraint H. (2000). "'Wales, the Welsh and the Welsh Language': Introduction". In Jenkins, Geraint H. (ed.). The Welsh Language and Its Social Domains. University of Wales Press. pp. 1–35. ISBN 978-0708316047.
  14. ^ a b "Welsh and 19th century education". Wales History. BBC. Archived from the original on 28 April 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  15. ^ "English Education in Wales". The Atlas. 22 January 1848. p. 6.
  16. ^ Ford Rojas, John Paul (14 November 2012). "Primary school children 'punished for not speaking Welsh'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Johnes, Martin (2019). Wales: England's Colony?: The Conquest, Assimilation and Re-creation of Wales. Parthian. ISBN 978-1912681419.
  18. ^ Maelor, Lord (15 June 1967). "Welsh Language Bill Hl". Hansard. 283. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  19. ^ Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales. London: William Clowes and Sons. 1844. p. 102.
  20. ^ "Country report for UK". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. June 2015.
  21. ^ Gibson, Ian (1978). The English vice: Beating, sex, and shame in Victorian England and after. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-1264-6.
  22. ^ O'Neill, Pamela (2013). "The Status of the Welsh Language in Medieval Wales". The Land Beneath the Sea. University of Sydney Celtic Studies Foundation. pp. 59–74.
  23. ^ a b Ellis Jones, Mark (2000). "21 'The Confusion of Babel?: The Welsh Language, Law Courts and Legislation in the Nineteenth Century". In Jenkins, Geraint H. (ed.). The Welsh Language and Its Social Domains. University of Wales Press. pp. 587–614. ISBN 978-0708316047.
  24. ^ a b Davies, John (1994). A History of Wales. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-014581-8.
  25. ^ "Welsh Not". Ceredigion Museum: The Museum Collection. Ceredigion County Council. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  26. ^ Khleif, Bud B. (1976). "Cultural Regeneration and the School: An Anthropological Study of Welsh-Medium Schools in Wales". International Review of Education. 22 (2): 177–192. Bibcode:1976IREdu..22..177K. doi:10.1007/BF00598649. ISSN 0020-8566. JSTOR 3443088. S2CID 144270635.
  27. ^ Shipton, Martin (17 November 2012). "Welsh Not 'a myth to stir up prejudice against the British Government'". WalesOnline. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  28. ^ Johnes, Martin (2015). "History and the Making and Remaking of Wales" (PDF). History. 100 (343): 667–684. doi:10.1111/1468-229X.12141. ISSN 1468-229X.
  29. ^ Global Peace and Goodwill Message translated into Uchinaaguchi for first time

External links[edit]