W M Williams on ‘Kinship and the Wider Family in Wales’


“My grandparents, my grandfather was a coal
miner and steelworker. My father died when I was very young, and
my mother went into the Civil Service and became Manager of the Labour Exchange, which
was remarkable – I didn’t realise, at the time, that it was quite remarkable for
a woman to become a Manager of a Labour Exchange in the forties – and moved around, so I
was brought up by my grandparents, who were Welsh-speaking, so I grew up in a Welsh-speaking
household. Do you think that that gave you an interest
in kinship, possibly? I don’t know about interest, it certainly
… I mean, I took for granted that people had kindred, and that you could identify them. I remember that, on one occasion, two people
turned up from Risolven (?? – ph – 096), which is north of Swansea, and Risolven was
a remote place, and when they turned up, they were explained to me as being second cousins
of my mother, I think, and the links were established. In great detail I was told how they were connected,
and they would add to this by saying, “Well, of course, you know, so and so’s married
someone else” and so on, and I assumed that everyone behaved like this, that everyone
had this extended family, very extended family, and that you located people in terms of family. And so the Welsh habit of asking people … the
first question you ask someone, in South Wales, is where do they come from? Right? And having asked them where they come, you
then try to establish … you say, “Ah! I’ve got an uncle who lives in Risolven”,
something like this, and you then try to locate them in terms of your own kinship system in
Risolven. If they come from somewhere where you don’t
have kindred, you ask a different set of questions to try to locate them. And I, I mean, this is how it was. I had a map in my head, of the families scattered
– the Griffiths’s and the Williams’s scattered all over South Wales – and if you
went to any of these places, you’d be expected to call in, not to write in advance, but simply
to call in and say, you know, “I’m passing through”. And I found an example of this, an odd example
of this, actually, a long time later. I went to a conference in Brighton, on the
NHS, and I was talking to a group of people, and one of them said, of me, “Everybody
in Wales either went to school with him”, right? “or worked for him, or was a relative
of his”. And I said, “Don’t be silly!” As I was saying that, someone came up and
said, “Hello, Bill. Do you remember me? (LAUGHS) “I once worked for you”, and
everybody roared with laughter! And this was to do with this kind of Welsh
networking, because Wales is a … is a small country, and I grew up being accustomed to
friendship networks, work networks, kinship networks and so on. And, of course, when I went to … when I
then went to Gosforth, I regarded myself as going to a foreign country, and when I got
off the bus in Gosforth, there was absolutely – I don’t think I put this in the book,
I’m sure I didn’t – absolutely a beautiful example of this, which made me convinced I’d
come to the right place, because I got off the bus, and there was a woman coming down
the road, on a white horse, and she stopped outside the shop – Barnes’s shop – and
Mr. Barnes came out and said … and actually touched his forehead, said, “Good Morning,
Miss Keene”, and she said, “Good Morning, Barnes”, like … (LAUGHS) … you wouldn’t
do that in Merthyr! (LAUGHS) And she then gave him her order,
and he wrote it down and said, “Yes, I’ll bring it up this afternoon, Miss Keene”,
and off she went. And I discovered that Miss Keene was actually
the Rector’s daughter, and the Rector’s daughter clearly belonged to a different social
class from Mr. Barnes. And I thought, “Here is the English class
system in action!” (LAUGHS) And it … it couldn’t be more
different from industrial South Wales, where there was a strong egalitarian ethos.”

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