Could we have a thread on Welsh Customs?

OK Dee, will try.

@henddraig If that’s what they called it in Rhossili etc, that’s good enough for me. I was only going by what it says on the website:
“Although the local people sometimes used the name Mari Lwyd to describe these traditions, the Gower horse’s heads came from a different background to the Welsh language Mari tradition, which was widespread in the valleys to the north.”
Have a look at the 4 Gower entries on the Mari Lwyd site I mentioned. The whole thing about folklore & traditions is that these things can vary from place to place, change over time, and there can even be disputes in the same area about the correct terminology and way of proceeding!
Re Harvests - yes all that survives in modern times is what you describe. But historically there were various customs associated with traditional methods of harvesting in the 19C and before, which of course declined as agriculture became mechanised and the Church also took over. The most well known was connected with the ‘last sheaf’ or Caseg Fedi (Harvest Mare) as it was known in some parts of Wales; the tradition has been revived since the War in Cornwall, where it is known as ‘Crying the Neck’.

Here’s Alan’s essay on May Day (Calan Mai) - it’s very interesting reading! Diolch Alan!

May Day -Calan Mai- Essay.pdf (348.8 KB)


Oh, fantastic, thank you, Dee and Alan!

Oh. I didn’t think to mention that we still had strip farming virtually until I left in 2003!! Most of the fields had been brought into single ownership by then, but I think one was still divided and growing different crops, with different owners. I’ve forgotten the name given to the bit of raised earth between strips, the sort of boundary which was just rough grass.
Even many fields that had been farmed as fields for quite a while showed evidence of the past, because one strip would be more fertile than that next to it, or more stony, depending on the care given by a previous strip owner!!
We certainly had a ‘first’ sheaf in the Chapel for the Harvest Service and the centre of the display was a special loaf made to look like a sheaf. Folk from the Church would help decorate the Chapel and come to our service.


[quote=“henddraig, post:44, topic:4068”]
Re Harvests
That’s quite remarkable if they were still doing strip farming up to modern times. I know that in some parts of Dyfed traditional methods lasted well into the 20C, but in the Gower within the last decade - that’s quite amazing. Maybe the area is due for a ‘revival’!

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My friend wrote a dissertation about this as part of her degree in, well, she was 10 years older than me, so I’d guess, about 1954!! In 1974 not much had changed!! It is one particular area on the headland where quality is very patchy. The historical method of splitting land between tenants in a fair way, so each got bits of good and bad seemed to work quite well, so it lingered, even when, in the late 50s a series of death duties led to most folk in the village getting the chance to buy their home and (if there was any) land. I’d say the main change came in about 1980-90 when most of the fields came under this or that farmer’s ownership, but one was still split last time I looked in about 2003!!

Perhaps I ought to see the dissertation! Would your friend’s name have been Margaret Davies, by any chance? I’ve just looked at the NLW catalogue and found two articles by her on ‘Rhosili Open Field and Related South Wales Field Patterns’ (1956) and ‘The Open Fields of Laugharne’ (1955). Or if not, perhaps you could give me more details. On a topic like Harvest Customs, the difference between agricultural history and actual traditions is obviously a very thin one. At the very least, this sounds as if this might deserve a mention in my thesis.

I realise we might have got a little ‘heavy’ on this thread and do hope people have not put off discussing other customs & belief such as Robingoch, where it all started!

No, and she only did it as a bit of a BA or BSc in, I think, Geography. She became a teacher and is no longer alive. She showed me her work, years later and as far as I know there was just the one copy. Margaret Davies is clearly more of a specialist. Doreen just lived on a Rhossili farm which, in her days, probably farmed some of the divided fields!
p.s. There used to be a tendency to spell ‘Rhossili’ with one ‘s’, which, of course would make it sound like ‘Rhoshli’ if said by the rules of Cymraeg. Now it is pretty universally spelled as I spell it!!
I’ll look for Margaret Davies’ article!

I have now looked! The map
may date from 1845, but changes are remarkably few!! The main road runs through Middleton to Rhossili village and above that is totally different. My house (just in Middleton) was one of those now running all along the road, complete with small or large back gardens. There are still no houses the other side of the road, just the stone wall and the strips on the Vile were virtually identical until quite recently!! If you get the latest Ordnance Survey map, you can compare and see what is still there!
p.s. Now I am suffering Hiraeth!!!

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Excellent! I hadn’t got as far as downloading the article but have now saved it. Will look and see if there’s anything I can relate to cynhaeaf but it will make interesting reading, whatever. Diolch yn fawr.

If you have not been recommended this yet, then let me suggest: The Celts [2 Volumes]: History, Life, and Culture by John Thomas Koch, Antone Minard. It covers folklore and customs amongst many other topics. It is a scholarly work, well researched and up to date.


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There was more on traditions, plygain, Mari Lwyd and wassailing in this week’s edition of the Tivy-side Advertiser. It mentions the gathering in Chepstow at the end, and it really sounds like it will be amazing!

I looked on Google Maps, satellite view, and can see evidence of strips still in the Vile. N.B. to the best of my knowledge this doesn’t count as a ‘Welsh Custom’. It was brought to Britain, wasn’t it, by William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy in 1066? Gower was ‘acquired’ by subterfuge by a Norman King of England. Part was successfully won back by its rightful Lord, but the Peninsula and what is now Swansea was run as part of England from that time onward!

@Deborah-SSi Yes Chepstow sounds as if it’s developed into a fantastic gathering.

@MarilynHames I’ve not seen that vol by Prof. John Koch yet but anything written or edited by him is always excellent. And just looking it up on Amazon, at £125 it’s just a snip!

@henddraig I think southern Gower has probably remained more anglicised as a result, a bit like southern Pembs? This of course raises the thorny question of when does an English tradition become a Welsh one? It may also relate to that previous point about the Mari Lwyd having arrived in Gower from further north. But my researches into farming traditions in Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire have shown that parts of them remained more ‘feudal’ up to the early 20C than some other parts of Wales - though this is probably a Welsh feudal rather than an English one.

Well the laws of Hywel Dda, by being totally fair to all acknowledged children, meant that holdings tended to get divided smaller and smaller, but I think that strips were imposed by Norman landowners!

I’ve got happy memories of those fields myself! I ‘helped’ repair some of the drystone walls there when doing some training whilst working for the National Trust years and years and years ago. I say ‘helped’, it was more watch what the farmer was doing, try and do the same, then get whatever I had done torn down and replaced by him :wink:

That’s interesting - what was the subterfuge?

I wouldn’t say myself that the Gower and Swansea were run as part of England - more as a marcher lordship, which was not part of Welsh-run Wales, but was not part of England either - that was why everyone, the Welsh themselves and also the Kings of England had such trouble with them! But I certainly see where you are coming from, there.

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I have mentioned this elsewhere and I’ve forgotten which King, but one suggested or had it suggested to him, that he and the Lord of Gower make a ‘mutual defence and assistance pact’. He managed to con the Gower Lord into swearing the words of fealty, presumably with a bible hidden some place! When the lord’s son died, the King said, “Oh that land isn’t yours! Your father swore to be my liege man, so it’s mine to do with as I will, and I’m giving it to De La Beche, my follower!”
The young Lord wasn’t jumping with joy and had a go at grabbing his land. He got all of what is now the Gower constituency on the mainland and some of north Gower, which remained Welsh speaking.
De la Beche was not a very nice man and I believe deputations went to the King to get fair treatment for the people. I learned this in ‘Local History’ and have forgotten all the details! There is a certain irony in the fact that ‘De la Beche Road’ is in Swansea, universally pronounced ‘Della Beach’ (English).
When were you working on the walls? I remember some students. Some on walls and some, much more recently, on the steps down to Rhossili Bay. Then there were the archaeologists digging the old village on the raised beach.
To @Deborah-SSi @stella and @margaretnock
I have seen that news of the objections to English incomers changing names of places in Gogledd Cymru has reached the BBC. I have great sympathy for anyone trying to preserve their historic records, to say nothing of their language, but also, in our part of Gower, changing a house name was seen as very unlucky! All the names were in English of course. In fact I knew I couldn’t name my cottage ‘Gartre nghalon’ because “We don’t use Welsh here, dear!” or even ‘Home of my heart’ because that would be much too pretentious!!! I guess it means, you have to know your place, your neighbours and what is fitting locally!

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Hah! Typical Marcher politics of crossing deception with the sword! Thanks for that.

I was there at the end of the eighties, just for some training as I say, including repairing stone walls. But the memories stay with you with that place, with the atmosphere and the beautiful views, even in the wind and the rain!

I’ve just come across a (downloadable for free) book published in 1911 on Folklore of Mid and West Wales here:

I haven’t had chance to read it myself yet (I was looking for something else!) but thought it might be of interest to this thread!


I should have mentioned that the 2-vol treatise on the Celts, (including their customs), that I suggested is available in libraries here in Vancouver, so hopefully it graces library shelves in the ‘heartland’ of the culture :thinking: