The End of Britishness

The other night I watched Dewi Prysor on S4C, tracking down the Men of the North, telling us of Taliesin’s poetry, visiting the natural fortress of Dumbarton Rock, and trying to establish the relationship between the Picts and the Welsh (or, if you prefer, Brythons / Britons) of southern Scotland and north west England. Worth watching because a Welsh person who knows the history of our people (rather than the history of an area called ‘Wales’) will never regard Scotland as a totally foreign country, and nothing that happens as a result of the referendum will change that.

I’ve tried to explore a little of this history on my recent vists to Scotland. For example, after becoming aware of the separate Scottish version(s) of Merlin / Myrddin I made up my mind to take a detour to the village of Stobo, near Peebles, long associated with the legend. This Merlin is not the advisor and mentor to Arthur but bard to a local ruler named Gwenddoleu, and he was driven insane after witnessing the slaughter at the battle of Arfderydd in 573, becoming the wild man of the woods (Merlin Sylvestris). It’s conceivable of course that this ‘Scottish’ Merlin is the original for the later Welsh or Norman / Breton Merlins.



As I say, on one of my trips I promised myself a visit to Stobo, but I missed the turning (the wife was probably nattering). So we drove on and arrived at our destination where, after booking in, I wandered about a bit and found, on land not far from the ruins of the abbey, old headstones, and the first one I read was dedicated to a woman with the surname Stobo. I don’t normally believe in ‘things like that’, but the coincidence did make me pause. And promise myself that I would definitely make the trip to Stobo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Which is a rather out-of-the-way place, but well worth a detour. Stobo Kirk has some remarkable old stones and a little window showing Myrddin being baptised by Saint Kentigern. Though in Scotland Kentigern is more usually known as Mungo, patron saint and founder of the city of Glasgow. In Welsh he is Cyndeyrn, the founder of Llanelwy (St. Asaph). Not far from Stobo, along the B712, you can find the ‘Altar Stone’ opposite the entrance to Altarstone farm. This, it is said, is where the unbaptised Merlin would practice sacrificial rites and / or where he was baptised by Kentigern. (The rest of the stone may be in Stobo Kirk.) Despite the stories of this Scottish Merlin being confusing, and from a cultural context that has been lost, details were retained that probably meant nothing to those repeating them, especially following the adoption of Christianity. Such as the legend telling of Merlin’s triple death, which is pure Celtic, ritualistic and sacrificial. It was the death suffered by Lindow Man and many others whose remains have been found in peat bogs in Ireland and on the continent.

I’m telling you this to explain the affinity I feel for Scotland, particularly the south. Obviously I am supporting a Yes vote in Thursday’s referendum because as a Welsh nationalist I believe the referendum will have major implications for Wales; but there is another, perhaps atavistic, reason for wishing to see these old Welsh territories free of English rule.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd headstoneUPDATE 20.09.2014: Something I left out of the original piece (because I didn’t have a photograph to show you) was the intriguing headstone in the graveyard behind the kirk. Having visited Stobo again on my visit to Scotland this week, I can now show you the headstone and explain – as well as I can – who the lady was it commemorates. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was of course Welsh; the daughter of an Edward Lloyd of Rhyl, though she appears to have been born at Aberpergwm, near Neath, in 1860. Her mother was (and here I quote): ” . . . Matilda Susannah, only dau. and heiress of Lieut.-Colonel Edward Smyth of Castella, co. Glamorgan, by his wife, Rosamond Matilda Bushe of Burcot, co. Oxford; born 17 February 1818; marr. at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London (by the Rev. Francis Llewelyn Lloyd, B. D., Senior Fellow of St. John’s CollOwain E W Greaves headstoneege, Cambridge), on Thursday, 17 September 1857; marr. 1stly William Williams of Aberpergwm, co. Glamorgan, who died, aged 67, 17 March, and was buried at Aberpergwm 21 March 1855″.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was married on St. David’s Day 1881 to Edward Seymour Greaves, who himself had been born in 1849 at Tremadog, one of the Greaves family of Blaenau Ffestiniog slate fame. (You’ll see that Rosamund married twice, the second husband being Lord Henry Grosvenor. The Dukes of Westminster, perhaps the richest landowners in this island, are Grosvenors.) I’m not sure how many children Rosamund and her first husband produced but one was Owain E W Greaves, whose stone is next to that of his mother.

But I still couldn’t understand why mother and son were buried in Stobo kirkyard, for neither of Rosamund’s husbands had any obvious connection with Stobo Castle. Then I ran across this, which told me that, “In 1939 Stobo Castle was bought by Wenefryde Agatha Scott, 10th Countess of Dysart”, obviously the Wenefryde referred to on Owain’s headstone, and presumably buried with him. Since 1978 Stobo Castle has been a luxury health spa.

As I mentioned earlier, the Stobo area is associated with Kentigern / Mungo / Cyndeyrn, who is credited with founding the religious settlement that became the cathedral at Llanelwy / St. Asaph. (See the picture above of the window in Stobo kirk.) When Edward Lloyd died in December 1882 Letters of Administration were granted to his daughter Rosamund by the authorities at St. Asaph cathedral. Small world.


I say “English rule”, because this referendum has exploded the myth of ‘Britishness’, and if Scotland votes Yes then the very term becomes obsolete. We have, as former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason has observed, seen the BBC placed on a war footing, casting off all pretence at impartiality and switching to propaganda mode, as if Scotland was Iraq, and Alex Salmond Saddam Hussein. We have heard big banks forecast plagues of locusts, and supermarket chains warn of frogs . . . the oil is running out . . . a nuclear-free Scotland could never join NATO (most members are nuclear free!) . . . Scotland will be offered Devo-max if she says No to independence (the same Devo-max No 10 wouldn’t allow on the ballot paper?) . . . lie after threat after lie. With humour provided by John Prescott, arguing that if Scotland says Yes we’ll never have Team GB to beat the Germans!

Perhaps it’s possible to be even more specific than simply saying ‘English rule’, for what’s really being protected is the interests and prestige of an English elite, one overwhelmingly concentrated in the south. As this report tells us. Judged on wealth, housing, health, crime levels, etc., the 50 most desirable places to live in Britain are all in southern England. Or to put it another way: Of the 50 most desirable places to live in the UK not one is in Wales, Scotland, northern England or Northern Ireland. What an indictment of a state in which we are all supposed to be equal beneficiaries of what it has to offerNigel Dix. Yet as I write this, London politicians and their local lackeys are telling the Scots they would be mad to leave this wonderful UK! They would be mad to stay.

It’s no different in Wales. Our Glorious Leader, Carwyn ‘the veto’ Jones, embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth. Fortunately, few people in Wales pay him any heed, and none outside Wales. Moving lower down the Labour totem pole, I was struck by a letter in this morning’s Wasting Mule from Councillor Nigel Dix of Caerffili. (Click to enlarge.) Right-on socialist, our Nige; yet he sees no contradiction in lining up with bankers and big business to oppose what he sees as “nationalism”. It seems that Dix is not only unable to recognise propaganda of a very unsubtle kind, but also believes that the only thing driving the Yes campaign is Alex Salmond, the SNP, and ‘nationalism’. Pay attention, Dix! you might learn something. If there is a Yes vote on Thursday it will have been achieved due to Labour voters in Scotland wanting to escape the corruption and inequalities of the UK. Even if the Yes vote falls short of the 50.1% needed, hundreds of thousands of Scottish Labour voters will have defied the Labour leadership, and the party may never see them again. Think about that.

Tomorrow I shall head north; not to campaign or canvass, just to be there and savour the atmosphere of a nation’s re-birth; for make no mistake, nothing will ever be the same again, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Rest assured that I shall have more to say when I return.


23 thoughts on “The End of Britishness

  1. trampie

    Britishness as we know it now is a made up entity used to placate the locals back in the day, Romans as well as the Germanic tribes used this tactic.
    Certain imperialists try to keep order by fostering an environment of we are all the same, we are all in it together, they will even hold up a native hero as their own, King Arthur being a prime example.

    1. Perhaps the telling difference is that the city and surrounding areas making up Greater Glasgow voted Yes in the referendum which, effectively, means they voted SNP. In population terms, social / industrial background, and political history west central Scotland is the population equivalent of Swansea Bay and the Valleys in Wales. By comparison, Plaid Cymru’s vote is weakening in its heartlands due to colonisation and the realisation on the part of its former supporters that it’s talked the talk for almost 90 years but been unable to walk the walk. There’s now more chance of Ukip ousting Labour from the Valleys and Swansea Bay than there is of Plaid Cymru making inroads.

  2. treforus

    I’m late to this thread having been away but when I see a reference to a Williams at from Aberpergwm I wonder whether we’re dealing with a member of the family of the “Greatest Englishman”, Oliver Cromwell, whose father was a descendant of a younger son of the Williams family of Aberpergwm House and whose grandfather changed his surname from Williams to Cromwell because of his wife’s kin to Thomas Cromwell. Few people now seem to know of Cromwell’s Neath connection .The house was destroyed by fire many years ago whilst owned by the Coal Board but the Williams family still exist.

    1. I had some vague knowledge that Cromwell’s original family name had been Williams, but not the exact origin. What took his grandfather to England?

      1. treforus

        I think it was a great-grandfather who went to England having fought with the Tudors at Bosworth and prospered thereafter. Cromwell made no great declaration of Welsh descent other than on his coat of arms (strikingly Welsh) but accepted it and played on it when dealing with Welsh politicians (some things never change). One of his sons reverted to Williams after the restoration as the name of Cromwell had become notorious.

  3. I’m afraid that this is not what you want to hear, Jac, but I don’t see any sign of an end to Britishness. I do foresee decades of debate over the Barnett formula and the Westlothian Question. I don’t detect any great enthusiasm for change in Scotland. Indeed the rush to register to vote may be connected to that lack of desire for change, but perhaps you’re in a better position than me to judge.

    1. You may be missing the point in that the greatest rejection of Britishness may be happening in England. And I don’t understand how you can possibly argue that there’s no great enthusiasm for change in Scotland when polls are showing almost half of those polled wanting independence and many of the others wanting greater devolution. Only a minority is opposed to any further constitutional change.

  4. You must understand that Dix is fundamentally anti-Welsh and very pro British. Although not that old he displays all the reactionary views of someone brought up to believe that the British state is the best in the world and unfortunately on the basis that you can’t educate pork he is beyond redemption. Sadly he represents the views of a sizeable though thankfully diminishing minority in the British Labour party. When Scotland gets its freedom evn Dix and co will have to admit “The times they are a changing” and most certainly for the better!

  5. Do you have any view on what will happen to us in Wales if the Scots do leave? Or do you think there are too many variables to make a guess?

    Enjoy your trip.

    1. If the Scots win their referendum then there will, as you suggest, be many variables to take into account. First, the reaction of England; for having lost one colony, England will be determined not to lose another. Second, ‘Welsh’ Labour, which will have to come to terms with an England swinging to the political right and no Scottish Labour MPs to count on. Third, Plaid Cymru. Is Plaid, after 90 years of stunted growth, finally going to blossom into a national party? If it does not seize the opportunity then a new party must emerge before the 2016 Assembly elections. Fourth – and perhaps most importantly – how will ordinary people in Wales react?

      My belief is that after a Scottish Yes vote Wales will be faced with a stark choice – independence or assimilation, for devolution with the current levels of colonisation can only have one outcome.

      1. Jac, if Scotland becomes independent, it will be a strong support of the Scottish to Wales to follow them, and Welsh will start to realize and learn about his own different history, future and economic possibilites. Now 17 % of Welsh are supporting Wales independence,with about 13 % of Don’t knows, 69 % against it ( a recent poll I read). Not a bad start, taking in consideration, 20 % of people living in Wales are English ( which will be the biggest obstacle to get over).

  6. Dafis

    once a twpsyn, always a ………twpsyn ? ……,or possibly worse, a dyed in the wool uncle Dai hanging on every word that comes from those orifices in Westminster/Whitehall/City of London. Dix by name, dick head by nature. He’ll have to be offered a “relocation package” when the time comes.

    1. If the day ever comes when Wales achieves independence he should, to be intellectually consistent, leave of his own volition. That said, seeing as he’s opposed devolution all along, he should, if he believes what he spouts, find it difficult to live with any more devolved powers.

  7. Glyn Erasmus

    Nigel’s running true to form. Leading light in “True Wales” Not the sharpest tool (Pun intended) in the box.

    1. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that by opposing what he views as ‘nationalism’ he is in fact defending a very exclusive form of English nationalism where wealth and power are concentrated within fifty or so miles of the City of London.

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