My maternal grandparents lived in Carmarthen. She was first-language Welsh. He was from a family of North Pembrokeshire farmers who spoke Welsh at home but English for all formal and business purposes. They brought up their three children to speak only English so that they would get on in the world. Mum picked up a bit of Welsh in the playground but was never fluent. She moved to Reading at the age of 19 to join her older sister. They were both teachers. They retained enough Welsh to use it to each other when discussing topics that were unsuitable for their children.
My paternal grandparents were from Swansea. He is shown on censuses as speaking both Welsh and English, but I doubt if he spoke Welsh again after meeting my grandmother. She was half English and very proud of her “well connected” English family. (Later research threw some doubt on this but never mind.) They moved to Reading in 1939. Dad was brought up in Swansea, but joined them in Reading after leaving the RAF. He was a teacher, and met my Mum.
I was born and brought up in Reading. We visited relations in Swansea and Carmarthen, but I don’t recall hearing Welsh spoken except on one occasion when our grandmother took us to see her neighbour Mrs Jones. They spoke Welsh to each other, but, finding that we did not understand, Mrs Jones shook her head sadly and said “No Welsh children any more. Only English children.”
My parents encouraged me to think of myself as Welsh, but I lacked an important attribute – the accent. I had some idea of going to a university in Wales, but the school talked me out of it and I ended up in England. I thought that I might join the Welsh Society, but an aggressive young woman listened to my (lack of) accent and said “Are you Welsh”? I said rather lamely that my parents were, and retreated. Feeling rejected, I decided that I would never be accepted as Welsh, but I could pass for English anywhere, so I would be English. I acquired an English husband, an English surname, English children and English in-laws. I had to bite my tongue on occasions when they complained about people in Wales speaking Welsh.
After retiring, my Dad took up family history, and he and Mum moved to Swansea, where he still had assorted cousins, none of them Welsh speakers. I helped him a bit and got a taste for it. After he died, I carried on where he left off. 7/8 ancestors from Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire/Glamorganshire. 1/8 from England via the “well connected” great grandmother. Wills, tombstones and obituaries were almost all in English, but there were just a few in Welsh. I was walking along the front at Oystermouth one day with Mum, who was suffering more and more with dementia. A young woman passed us, speaking to her small child in Welsh. Mum said in surprise, “I understood that!” Something of the language still remained. On sorting out Dad’s books, I came upon “Teach Yourself Welsh”, with copious handwritten notes on the first few pages, then nothing. Who can blame him?
When I retired I discovered the wealth of learning available online. Having reached saturation point with cell biology, genetics, maths, art history etc., I decided to try a language. Revise French? Build on my very sketchy German or Italian? Italian would help with opera. Duolingo Italian it was. After a while my attention started to stray and I looked at what else was available. Welsh? Well, it might be fun just to have a quick look out of respect for family tradition. No way was I going to start learning seriously. I was hooked. On the Duolingo forum someone mentioned SSiW. Might as well try a different approach as well.
That was 4? 5? years ago. I forget. Anyway, I am still here, and starting intensive Uwch 2 part 2 online next week. I have two shelves full of books in Welsh, of which I have read about half. A family history contact sent me a link to an obituary of a mutual cousin who died young many years ago. It was in Welsh and I only had to look up a few of the more obscure and flowery words. With a smug grin I was able to thank her and say how interesting I found it. I am still discovering how much I missed. Not just the language, but history, culture, everything that might have been my heritage. England is my home and always will be, but I now have a second personality. Why did I choose “Betterlatethan” as my forum name? Obvious.