Law firm offers legal protection for houses with historic Welsh names
A NEW legal protection to prevent historic Welsh house names from being lost is being put into action by a leading law firm.
Swayne Johnson, which has branches across North Wales and Cheshire, has already used a new covenant-based scheme that stops property buyers dispensing with historic and often evocative names, many of which date back centuries.
The scheme is operated by Welsh language organisation Cymdeithas yr Iaith and was officially launched at the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron although it has been operating since last year.
In order to preserve Welsh language names Cymdeithas yr Iaith created clauses and documents that contain standard covenants available to download on its website.
The idea is that those selling their house can easily access suitable documents so they could insist on conditions on sale protecting a name.
Swayne Johnson is a long-established law firm which employs over 50 staff at offices at Tattenhall, Ruthin, Denbigh, St Asaph and Llandudno and is one of the fastest growing firms of solicitors in the region.
Mared Williams, a Solicitor based at Swayne Johnson’s Ruthin office, said: “I have already put this covenant into practice and am proud to play a part in ensuring that the owners of properties with historic names can protect those names for generations to come.
“There are very many house names in Wales that tell the story of the property and are part of the area’s local history. The house or farm name adds colour and information about the building, the landscape or the people who might have once lived there.
“The name of a property is often an integral part of the story of the place and it’s important that historically and culturally important Welsh place names are protected and not lost.”
It’s been a contentious issue for years and back in June 2018, Welsh comedian Tudur Owen presented a short programme about disappearing Welsh place names, saying “history is lost when Welsh place names are changed”.
The clip, which aired on BBC Wales Live, sparked a debate on social media, with many other famous figures, as well as members of the public, having weighed in on the issue since.
BBC news anchor Huw Edwards wrote on Twitter: “It’s been going on for years. So Porth Trecastell became ‘Cable Bay’ and the historic church of Nantcwnlle – now a private home – became ‘Dunroamin’. I propose replacing London with its old Welsh name ‘Caerludd’. No? Ah. I thought not.”
The new scheme, called Diogelwn, meaning We Will Protect, was drawn up by Simon Chandler, of Manchester law firm Chandler Harris, to give legal backing to the preservation of Welsh houses and even place names.
Simon, 58, an Englishman who learned Welsh in his 50s, said: “The idea that people can arbitrarily change the names of houses and places here seems to me to be an assault on the identity of Wales.
“I learned Welsh six years ago when I was already in my 50s and I was inspired to draft this in response to a Twitter appeal by poet and author Sian Northey who asked whether there was any way of protecting the Welsh name of her house that was about to sell.
“I looked at it from the point of view of a specialist in commercial conveyancing, and the scheme essentially enables sellers to put covenants on their properties with Cymdeithas yr Iaith as their legal custodian. A condition of the sale is that the new owner agrees that the original name will be retained.
“The scheme was then extended to place names earlier this year after it was discovered that, a few years ago at Gorslas, near Llanelli, a new house had been built at a place called Banc Cornicyll (Lapwing Ridge).
The owner called the house Hakuna Matata (from the Disney film Lion King, which means No Problem in Swahili), and that caused the Ordnance Survey effectively to change the place name on the map to Hakuna Matata, which is clearly a disastrous loss of Welsh heritage.
Old maps show the farmland on which Hakuna Matata was built was called Banc Cornciyll, which means a ridge for lapwing or plover birds in Welsh.
When Ordnance Survey updated its map for the area it showed the house name Hakuna Matata but no longer detailed the historic Welsh name.
Welsh language campaigners have been calling for help to stop people buying properties and giving them English names. A deconsecrated church of St Cwnlle in Nantcwnlle, Ceredigion, important in the early history of nonconformist religion, has been converted into a home and renamed Dunroamin.
Chandler, who runs a Welsh language group in Manchester, used his expertise to help the language society’s Diogelwn (Protect) initiative to preserve names using legal covenants.
Anyone selling property can now ask their solicitor or conveyancer to include a clause to prevent the buyers and their successors in title from changing its name. They can also stipulate that any house built on the land must retain the name of the land or a Welsh title that has a connection with the area.
Anyone not intending to sell can sign a contract with the language society and lodge it with the Land Registry to prevent a name change.
In 2017 a private members bill in the Senedd, the Welsh parliament, to protect historical place names in planning law failed by three votes. It proposed a system in which people who wanted to change a historic name would have to seek consent and a general prohibition on changing historic titles.
Ifan Morgan-Jones expressed his opinion regarding Welsh place names being erased on Nation Cymru.
He stated his disapproval of a farm, which had been called Faedre Fach for hundreds of years, had been re-named ‘Happy Donkey Hill’.
Ifan commented: “It’s a process of slow, unwitting colonisation whereby names that have deep roots in a culture going back thousands of years – names that mean something and tell us something about the geographic and cultural history of an area – are done away with.”
However, he then went on to protest the popular village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, sharing his criticism that the name seems to only cater towards the local tourist trade, at the expense of a real understanding of the area’s language and culture.
Carwyn Jones, the former first minister of Wales, said the bill was defeated because if names in Welsh had to be preserved, then so would English designations. He said education was the most powerful tool to teach people about the importance of place names.
“Wales’s first National Poet, Gwyneth Lewis, has likened Welsh place names to time capsules which tell you about the story of a place.
“They’re an incredible asset for Wales because even very old names can still be understood by modern Welsh speakers and so they provide a direct link with the past, whereas English has changed so much since many places in England were named that very few English people understand what they mean.
“It’s thanks to pioneering law firms like Swayne Johnson that these historic Welsh names can now be protected and preserved because they are a precious asset to the nation whether you’re a Welsh speaker or not.”
Mared, a former secretary for Welsh teaching and promotional charity Menter Iaith Sir Ddinbych, added: “It means that if you are selling a property and want to play your part in protecting its historic name we can help you achieve this goal.
“As a firm we are encouraged to play our part in the community so that sense of identity is at the core of what we do and this fits perfectly with that ethos.”
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