The Welsh, and 'little England beyond Wales'


Little England beyond Wales is a name that refers to the southern half of Pembrokeshire and just over the border into the far south of Carmarthenshire.

It is a term used frequently by the people who live there to describe themselves and their use of the English language. Indeed it is hard to find Welsh spoken in everyday use in this area – the language and culture being English from the time of the Norman occupation. The boundary between 'Little England beyond Wales' and the more Welsh speaking areas to the north of Pembrokeshire is refered to as the Landsker Line (see below).

Despite this ‘Englishness’ however, local people feel passionately that they remain a part of Wales. Rugby teams abound and several key members of the Welsh international rugby squad come from here. There are thriving Welsh Language Units within every school, and an excellent Welsh Senior School in Crymych. St David’s Day is never forgotten, and there is a uniqueness in the south Pembrokeshire accent – although regrettably this is now dying out.

The following description is taken from Wikipedia, and describes the situation in more detail.

Landsker Line is a term commonly used for the language boundary between the Welsh-speaking and English-speaking areas in southwest Wales. The English-speaking areas, known as Little England beyond Wales, are notable for having been English linguistically and culturally for many centuries despite being far from the border with England. The line is noted for being sharp, and for having moved only slightly over the past several centuries.

During the 11th and 12th centuries both invaders and defenders built more than fifty castles during a complex period of conflict, effectively to consolidate the line. The southernmost was Laugharne; others included Wiston, Camrose, Narberth, and Roch. These are often referred to as "frontier castles" but they were in fact set back a considerable distance from the frontier itself. In the heart of the Normanised colony, the two great fortresses were at Pembroke and Haverfordwest. There were other fortresses within the colony as well, including Manorbier, Carew and Tenby.

The Landsker has changed position many times, first moving north into the foothills of Mynydd Preseli during the military campaigns of the Early Middle Ages, and then moving southwards again in more peaceful times, as the English colonists found that farming and feudalism were difficult to maintain on cold acid soils and exposed hillsides.

When historians began to gain interest in the strange linguistic divide which was incredibly sharp in the early part of the 1900s, they started to use the term "landsker." Since then, it has stuck, and remains in common use. Local people may or may not know what the word means, but they certainly all recognize that the language divide stretching from St Bride's Bay to Carmarthen Bay remains very distinct.

So how did south Pembrokeshire become an English-speaking area?

The Normans who displaced the settlements around Pembroke (both Welsh and Welsh-speaking) spoke Norman French and this continued for some three centuries. Irish and Norse would also be recognised and known in the area - so why English?

The answer is that in a successful attempt to keep the Welsh from returning to their former homes the area was re-populated with settlers from Flanders and Wessex. Henry I, as well as encouraging English settlement here also transferred Flemish settlers to the area - many having come to England some time before. It was claimed that England contained so many of these Flemings that the country was overburdened with them. These newcomers soon mastered the English language which was similar to their own tongue, and when they came to ‘Little England beyond Wales’ they settled in villages to which they gave English names. Eventually the Welsh language was displaced entirely, and it is interesting to ponder that had the Flemish not been here it may have become known as 'Little Normandy Beyond Wales'!