Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Cymru / Wales – Place Name Research

This page has been created to post periodic articles about the continuing place-name research into the Welsh uplands that Aled Williams and I are conducting.  This research started over eight years ago and is ongoing.

Visiting the Bodleian Libraries University of Oxford – Weston Library

Over three hundred years ago around 4000 questionnaires conceived by Edward Llwyd entitled ‘Parochial Queries in order to a Geographical Dictionary, etc., of Wales’ were printed.  In time these ‘Parochial Queries’, or more importantly their returns, would form an intrinsic part of the historical documentation of Welsh upland place names.

The research into this historical documentation is similar to a large jigsaw puzzle, with pieces encompassing a variety of sources such as maps, plans, conveyances, books, poetry and manuscripts.  The replies to these ‘Parochial Queries’, hereafter referred to as the ‘returns’, are such jigsaw pieces and represent the earliest documentation for some hill names.

Now over 300 years old; one of the 'returns' to Edward Llwyd's 'Parochial Queries'

Edward Llwyd (historically as Lluyd or alternatively Lloyd) was born in 1660 at Loppington, Shropshire, which is a few miles east of the Welsh–English border.  He attended Oswestry Grammar School before furthering his educational studies with a move to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1682.  However, by 1684 he had been appointed the Assistant to Robert Plot, the Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, eventually replacing him in 1690.

Llwyd’s ‘Parochial Queries’ were a simple but ingenious concept.  Each form had a set number of questions on it, split into two parts: ‘Queries in order to the Geography, and Antiquities of the Country’ and ‘Queries toward the Natural History’, with a range of 16 questions relating to the former and 15 questions to the latter.  These questions were extensive and will not be detailed in their entirety here, but they range from ‘Seats of the Gentry; with the Names and Quality of the present Proprietors, & their Arms & Descent’ to ‘Manuscripts; of what Subject and Language; in whose Hands; whether ancient or late copies’.  However, the questions that relate directly to this article and the ones that interest us the most were those described as ‘The Names of the most remarkable Mountains, Rocks, Parks, Woods, Commons, Warrens, &e. together with such names of any other Places, not comprehended under these Queries, as seem so obscure as to be scarce, if at all intelligible; with brief Descriptions of them, and Conjectures of their Signification’.  Following this question are two others of note; one to ‘The Names of all the Rivers…’, and the second to the ‘Names of the Lakes and Remarkable Springs’.  Following each question is a blank space for the reply.

The ‘Parochial Queries’ were distributed to each parish in Wales, being sent to the gentry and clergy of the day, for example: ‘About 50 to the parson of Dolgelheu, a parcel to Mr. Price of Wrexham; Mr. J. Davies took with him a good parcel for Anglesey, and about a douzen to the Schoolmaster of Bangor’.

Llwyd’s approaches were ahead of their time and his interests have led to his renown as naturalist, geologist, geographer, linguist and antiquary.  Amongst his friends were some of the luminaries of the day, including Sir Isaac Newton.  One of his legacies is the scientific name for ‘brwynddail y mynydd’ (Snowdon lily); Lloydia serotina (now Gagea serotina).  His linguistic interest was centred on the Celtic languages of Britain and Ireland, and his work on ‘Cornish Grammar’ is credited as being a key source in the twentieth century revival of that language.

The centuries have not proven kind to Llwyd’s ‘Parochial Queries’ as their returns were sold in lots at auction, with many subsequently lost in two separate fires.  Those that survived were compiled and reproduced by Rupert H. Morris in supplements to the journal Archeologia Cambrensis.  These three supplements (1909, 1910 and 1911) were later combined in one book entitled ‘Parochialia: being a summary of answers to “Parochial Queries in order to a Geographical Dictionary, etc., of Wales” issued by Edward Lhwyd. Parts I, II and III’.  Morris’s compilation has made the analysis of the ‘Parochial Queries’ convenient, however transcriptional errors do exist as well as missing sections of text and in part, it was some of these issues that we wanted to check.

The three supplements contributed by Rupert H Morris to the journal were later amalgamated into one book

Many of the surviving returns are now housed in the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford.  We reserved what was described as a ‘large portfolio’ at the Weston Library and travelled down to Oxford in early September.  The Weston Library forms part of the Bodleian Libraries and is housed just off Broad Street in the centre of Oxford.  We visited mid-week and with opening hours between 9.00am – 7.00pm our research could be conducted at leisure.  After parking and taking the park and ride into the centre of Oxford we treated ourselves to a substantial breakfast, and were applying for our Reader’s Ticket at 9.45am with our proofs of identity and our filled-in forms detailing our reason for visiting.  Once complete we dropped off our bags in the lockers and walked up to the first floor, where the Reader’s Room is situated and where our ‘large portfolio’ awaited.  This ‘large portfolio’ was housed in a box containing an old leather-bound manuscript with ‘E. Lhuyd’s Parochial Queries and Miscell Papers.  Letters to Whiteside’ printed on its spine.  We had found our quarry.

The Weston Library is just one of a number that form the Bodleian Libraries

The Reader’s Room at the Weston Library is similar to most large research centres and has a variety of resources at hand, including a full range of Ordnance Survey maps and a wealth of reference books.  We chose our table and placed the portfolio on it, its contents proved a joy to behold as within the manuscript were some of the original returns to Llwyd’s ‘Parochial Queries’.  These papers are now almost 320 years old and their contents are of national importance, preserving priceless information useful to a variety of subjects.

The Reader's Room at the Weston Library with the 2nd portfolio of manuscripts relating to Edward Llwyd

Although we knew that we had sufficient time for the day’s research we still had many things to examine, thankfully the Weston Library allows photography (without the use of flash) and free of charge; this is welcome as many research centres charge for this privilege.  One by one I turned the pages as Aled photographed each in turn.  At the start it took a while for us to accustom ourselves with the layout of the manuscript as the majority of its contents were letters on different subjects.  Only occasionally would a return present itself, but when they did we poured over the detail.

The portfolio and its manuscript is of national importance

One of the delights of upland place-name research is finding a name that has been documented in a source outside of the Ordnance Survey as these instances represent name validation, which often occurs when making local enquiries.  The returns we were examining were fascinating, and it was remarkable to see hill names that appear on maps written 100-150 years prior to the surveys conducted by the Ordnance Survey.  Two such names were the mountains documented as ‘Drygarn’ and ‘Eppint’.

Surviving the passage of time, the names of Drygarn and Eppint are now represented as Drygarn Fawr and Mynydd Epynt on current Ordnance Survey maps

We quickly realised that the contents within the manuscript did not fully compliment those within Morris’s book and therefore we asked the staff if the Bodleian Libraries housed other material relating to Edward Llwyd.  This process can be difficult when references are obscure, but fortunately the librarians managed to locate two further portfolios relating to Llwyd.  As it would take approximately two hours for them to become available, we decided to take a dinner break followed by a quick visit to the Ashmolean Museum to look at their excellent Egyptian collection.

The Ashmolean Museum where Edward Llwyd was appointed keeper in 1690

Part of the Egyptian collection housed at the Ashmolean Museum

By the time we had returned to the Reader’s Room in the Weston Library it was only a few minutes before the first of the two additional portfolios was delivered.  This consisted of three large leather-bound manuscripts, each seemingly thicker than the last.  These again proved a delight to look through as they transported the reader back to a time when letters were signed ‘faithfully your servant…’  These books also housed ‘Parochial Queries’.

Aled studying part of the 2nd portfolio

The second part of the additional material was soon delivered to us in the form of a much smaller notebook.  Morris mentions this and states that this ‘copy, though contemporary, does not appear to be in Edward Lhwyd’s handwriting, but there are several corrections made in process of writing, as will be noticed in our transcript’.  Morris’s transcription of this notebook is quite faithful, meaning that the missing text and errors from this source predominate from the original transcription.

The portfolio containing the small notebook proved one of the highlights of the day

With two of Morris’s sources now examined in their original form we are keen to analyse the rest.  However, these could be housed in either another one of the Bodleian Libraries or at the National Library of Wales, therefore it will take further research before our examination of Edward Llwyd’s ‘Parochial Queries’ for upland place names is complete.

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