We have just added a few more places and units, and a lot more names and relationships to A Vision of Britain through Time:
- The 77 new “places” include all remaining “Ancient Districts” — Hundreds, Wapentakes, ancient Boroughs etc — except those in Wales, so they are findable from the home page. We also went through the descriptive gazetteer entries that were so far un-placed, and have created “places” for several interesting ones that were over 1,000 words long and were not linear features; for example, Salisbury Plain and the Carse of Gowrie:
- The 151 new units include the seven “Conurbations” defined by the 1951 census, such as the West Midlands, the useful part being that we include the listings of which local government districts were parts of each; and 84 wards within the four Scottish cities, again as listed in 1951. There are of course many, many more Wards we could add.
- The 2,745 new names and 1,309 new relationships are partly in connection with those new units, but mainly the result of work to systematically link the 1831 census’s parish-level table into the system: the unusually detailed occupational statistics in that table are already accessible within the web site, but many parishes lacked data because the names or other information in the census list did not match. One key aspect of that is that although we have always included the information from Youngs’ Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England about which parish was in which hundred, we were not making practical use of it ourselves so various errors by Youngs and by ourselves persisted. That has now changed, although we have still to re-load the 1831 statistics to make them more complete, and Welsh administrative geography remains a challenge.
Obviously, this has been a general tidying-up operation, and the context is that we are starting to transfer the whole web site to a new server. We will not be announcing any further changes to the content until that migration is complete, in a couple of month’s time; but there will then be a lot of additional features in the software.
Fortunately, there will be plenty of developments with the separate Old Maps Online site in that period, so there will be no shortage of news on this blog.
Has no one considered incorporating Melville Richards’s ‘Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units. Medieval and Modern’ published by University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1969)? This source is still in copyright I understand but is out-of-print. There are a very small number of errors and omissions and some forms reflect standard Welsh form rather than Ordnance Survey and inherited anglicisations but this could be obviated by cross-referencing. Many petty sessional divisions and hundreds in Wales were based on ancient cantrefi and commotes listed by Richards.
We already include almost the entire contents of Melville Richards’ 1969 book! We obtained permission from the University of Wales Press.
The only conscious exception is the information about castles, on the fairly obvious grounds that they are not administrative units. There may be other bits of information we missed by mistake, or data entry errors we made typing the information from the book into our database.
There are also quite a few questions over the information in the book. Some of Richards’s identifications of which names are Welsh and which are English are, to be polite, counter-intuitive. We have also been told that many of his Welsh names do not correspond with modern best practice.
Thing is, nobody in our team can claim to be any kind of expert on Welsh place-names, so we are not qualified to correct Richards. We will certainly correct any errors we made inputting Richards, if users point them out.
The reason why I assumed that Richards’ reference book had been omitted was because I was unable to find large numbers of places in VofB. As a sample, I checked the entries in Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units for Llanwenog. Not one of three chapels-of-ease, one township, and nine hamlets are mentioned in that parish. A check on Llanwnda (Caernarfon) reveals no mention of Uwch Gwyrfai, Is Gwyrfai, Bodellog, and Bontnewydd. The results with Llanwnda (Pembroke) were even worse. I could find only Dew(i)sland, Haverfordwest and Dyffryn out of 24 places (and variant spellings). I could find no cross-reference from Llanilltud Faerdref to Llantwit Fardre, Y Rhws to Rhoose, and no mention of Llanwensan or Rhoslannog. I chose these at random and I wouldn’t even hazard a guess to how many names have been omitted.
I’m not knocking VofB – it’s a remarkable and very useful historical source – but Richards’ knowledge of place-names in Wales was second to none. When he chose a particular form there were nearly always good historical and orthographic reasons for it. His place-name archive at Bangor University is testimony to that. In his book, he chose to use the order found in Elwyn Davies’s Gazetteer which employs the Welsh alphabet – with digraphs such as ll, rh and ch which function as distinct letters in Welsh. That seems logical in Wales where at least 80% of major place-names are incontrovertibly Welsh. He doesn’t actually have entries for castles unless they also happened to be the names of parishes, townships, manors, lordships, etc. Of course, there are minor errors in his work (he died 40 years ago), some corrected by D Geraint Lewis in Y Llyfr Enwau, A check-list of Welsh Place-names (2007). Welsh forms – current or obsolete – are important in the correct identification of places, of course.
I think the issue here is the distinction we make between places and administrative units.
If you were to look at the administrative unit entry for the parish of Llanwenog you will find a long list of relationships to lower level administrative units at the bottom. E.g. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10238043 and of course all these lower level units have their own administrative unit entry.
To access this from the place page for Llanwenog use the “Units and statistics” link in the left side bar and click on the parish name. You arrive at the administrative unit homepage for Llanwenog ancient/civil parish, choose the “relationships and changes” tab to see the listing.
You can also access the administrative units directly via the expert search option, select the “search units” option.
Places on the other hand are vaguer because they do not have defined boundaries. We use this concept to bring the different historical materials together for all the different administrative units geographically associated with a place over time, whether they had the same name or not. Often the smaller the units the more of them there are to match and you will appreciate that in our system this is a very large task. We are just about there in matching down to parish level for the twentieth and later nineteenth century, but we wouldn’t claim to have matched up all units below parish level, or indeed some of more the ancient units as we have also being working backwards.
The matching work is ongoing, but slow as we are a very small team who are currently funded to work on other projects.
Proof-checking of the transcription from Melville Richards would be a useful starting point. Use of hyphens in Welsh is important (inter alia) to show the position of stress and use of the circumflex over vowels a, e, i, o, u and w not only indicates vowel length but distinguishes words of different meaning. There is no z in Welsh to account for your ‘Llanzhangel Yng Ngwynfa’ (Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa) and the entry for this parish has a ghost form of Llaethbwlch. Rhuddlan Uchaf is omitted under Llanwenog.
Townships are administrative units. Loss of historical records means that we cannot always be sure of all their administrative functions but they were used, for example, for the assessment of the lay subsidy 1292-3 in Wales, in some areas they were the basis of tithe collection and civil parish administration (before the formal creation of civil parishes in 1896, abolished in Wales in 1974). Some survived after 1896 as civil parishes. Many manorial surveys record tenants, rents and services by township, not parish. Single township parishes are mainly concentrated in lowland parts of Wales. Multi-township parishes are typically found in upland areas and the English border areas. The usual pattern is a ‘home township’ usually called Llan or Tre’r-llan with anything up to a dozen or more other townships in the parish.
We have omitted all hyphens, and all other punctuation marks in names in all languages as a measure for allowing the names database to be more easily searchable. Instead there is a space in the name. However, we do include any accented characters. There may be names within our database which have corrupted accented characters – this is connected to when we changed databases to a Unicode character set. We have been trying to eliminate these errors, but if you see any specific examples please let us know the urls so we can correct them.
I’ve checked Melville Richards and the spelling ‘Llanzhangel Yng Ngwynfa’ but with hyphens is exactly as it is printed in the second entry from the bottom of page 122. Llaethbwlch township (http://visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10080277/relationships) is within Llanzhangel Yng Ngwynfa parish (http://visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10106278/relationships).
Rhuddlan Uchaf Hamlet (alternate name Rhuddlan Isaf – http://visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10300642/relationships) does appear within Llanwenog parish (http://visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10238043/relationships). Although looking at this entry there is an error, the preferred name should be actually be ‘Rhuddlan Isaf and Uchaf’ (ref: Richards’ page 190), so thank-you for bringing that to our attention.
As we’ve said before, we are not Welsh language experts and would not want to correct Richards’ work without another official authoritative source to use as our authority. As you will note in the above example of ‘Llaethbwlch’ we do include townships (administrative unit type ‘Tn’) in our gazetteer.
The problem about leaving spaces is that it results in false spellings such as Llan deilo Fawr which gives the impression that the place-name is composed of three, not two, words. I could not find Llandyfân (an ancient chapelry) except as a unit under ‘Llan deilo’ and Llandeilo’r-fân appears as ‘Llandeilor Fan’. I can see the usefulness in a search index for this practice but not in the ‘Places’ description which has only the misspelling ‘Llanzhangel Yng Ngwynfa’ for Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa. I think the use of forms such as ‘Conway’ and ‘Port Dinorwic’ very odd. I know that these can be found by ‘Search’ but the use of spellings (under ‘Place’) which were changed years ago simply perpetuates obsolete forms. One useful source that would be worth checking is Y Llyfr Enwau, Enwau’r Wlad: a check-list of Welsh Place-names by D Geraint Lewis (Gomer, Llandysul, 2007). Primacy is given to standard Welsh rather than English and anglicised forms (and there are a very small number of errors) but it would have avoided the perpetuation of printing errors and obsolete forms. Lewis has an index cross-referring English and anglicised place-names to standard Welsh spelling.