Comparing the tithe system with modern agriculture

Recently the Cynefin project, which is digitising the tithe maps of Wales, has been working with the Farmers’ Union of Wales to compare the tithe system with modern agricultural websites.

Farmers today can record field names on systems such as Rural Payments Wales Online or IACS, whilst in the 1840s field names were recorded on tithe apportionment documents. These documents referred to the tithe maps which were created following the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836. The tithe maps and apportionment documents are available to view on the website.

Tithe maps were created to apportion how much tithe land users had to pay.  Each map also has an apportionment document which lists who lived on the land, who owned the land, and also what use was made of the land.  Looking at these documents and maps you can see evidence of substantial farming across all of Wales, including vast parts of the highlands. Forested areas are shown clearly, and it’s possible to see where there are forests today on formerly agricultural land.

Einion Gruffud, Cynefin’s Project Manager said; “The field names, often in Welsh, tell tales of the past, including references to old methods of farming, or early uses of the land. You can compare historic and contemporary land use on the website. The Cynefin project aims to collect all the information about the names of people and fields and land use in the 1840s and make it easily searchable across all of Wales.”

In partnership with the Farmers’ Union of Wales, Wales’ tithe maps have been on tour through the country, by being showcased at local agricultural shows over the summer. The tithe maps’ journey will end in Usk Show on Saturday 12th September, where the local tithe map will be displayed by the FUW.Tithe map of Usk

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Meifod and Mathrafal – What’s in a name?

This year the National Eisteddfod returns to Mathrafal in Meifod. But what is the meaning of these place-names?


The second element of the name Meifod is bod meaning ‘home, dwelling, residence’, which occurs in many place-names. Traditionally, the first element has been explained as Mai ‘the month of May’, leading to the interpretation of the name as ‘May dwelling’, in comparison to hafod (haf + bod) ‘summer dwelling’. But in fact, what we have here is the element mei- ‘half, middle’. The name Meifod therefore denotes a ‘middle dwelling’, and refers (as stated in Owen & Morgan: Dictionary of the Place-Names of Wales, p. 315) to its position half way between Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain and Mathrafal. The same mei- element is present in Mehefin ‘June, i.e. the middle of summer’ and dimai ‘halfpenny’. It is also occurs in the place-names Meidrum (mei- + trum ‘ridge’) and Meiros (mei- + rhos ‘moor, heath’) in Carmarthenshire.

Further examples of the place-name Meifod can be found across north Wales, e.g. in Abergele, Llanenddwyn, and Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, and it occurs with the definite article in Y Feifod near Llangollen.


Mathrafal is a combination of the elements ma ‘field, plain’ and tryfal ‘triangle’, describing the plain that lies in the fork at the confluence of the rivers Banw and Efyrnwy. The same ma element is present in the names Machynlleth, Machynys, and Mechain, along with the personal names Cynllaith, Cynys, and Cain. (Note that ma causes an aspirate mutation to the element that follows.) In the name Mathrafal, tryfal has been changed to trafal through the assimilation of the y with the two as either side of it in the name.

Prepared by Angharad Fychan in cooperation with the Welsh Place-Name Society

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Royal Welsh Show 2015: Taking a closer look at the origin of field names

The 2015 Show is sponsored by Monmouthshire, and the Show’s President, Mr David Morgan, also lives in the county, at Trostre Court in Trostre parish, north of Usk.

There aren’t many field names recorded on the Tithe Schedule for Trostre parish, but fortunately, there is a reasonably full record of the fields of Trostre Court.  Here we shall look at a selection of those names:

The significance of some of them are obvious, for example Caer Eglwys (‘field of the church’) which borders with the parish church (Trostre church), or Caie Ddwr (containing the elements caeau ‘fields’ and dŵr ‘water’) where a small pool is shown, probably supplying water at one time.  (It is likely that the mutation of the element dŵr is an error, possibly by a transcriber who was not familiar with the Welsh language).

Part of Trostrey Tithe Schedule

Page 9 of Trostrey Tithe Schedule


Further thought must be given to the meaning of other names.  The name Cae Main doesn’t contain the element main meaning ‘narrow’ and referring to the shape of the cae or ‘field’, but rather main, plural of maen ‘stone’, describing a stony field.

The element gwrlod is common in the field names of Trostre Court, for example Wrlod y panta Ishaf and Wrlod Clomendy. Gwrlod is a variant form of gweirglod or gweirglodd meaning ‘meadow or hay meadow’.  The first example has the elements pantau ‘hollows’ and isaf ‘lower’.  It is worth drawing attention to the clomendy or colomendy in the second example, which is a ‘dovecote, pigeon-house’, used in former days for breeding pigeons.  Here is a reminder therefore of an old rural practice.

As one would expect in an area not far from the English border, the names include a mixture of Welsh and English elements.

Directly to the west of Trostre Court house, there are two fields recorded on the Tithe Map as Ffor Lands and Ffor Land Uchaf.  They appear to have forms of the English element foreland meaning ‘land lying in front’, possibly describing the location of the fields in relation to the house.  It occurs in other place-names in Monmouthshire, e.g. Cae’r-foreland, Dingestow (J. A. Bradney: A History of Monmouthshire ii. 64).  The Welsh element uchaf ‘upper’ is probably used to distinguish between the two fields.

Page 10 of Trostrey Tithe Schedule

Page 10 of Trostrey Tithe Schedule


Another example of the mixing of elements from both languages in the field names of the area is Cae Ygen Cover and Thirty Covers.  One field containing the Welsh numeral ugain ‘twenty’, and a nearby field having the English numeral thirty.  But the last element of the names, cover or covers, is worth a closer look.  The English cover is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as an ‘Anglicized spelling of Welsh cyfair’ (with cyfair, cyfer being a measure of land varying in size in different areas).  An example of its use is cited from the beginning of the eighteenth century, but possibly these two examples should be added to the OED’s collection.

Prepared by Angharad Fychan in cooperation with the Welsh Place-Name Society


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Locals prepare for the National Eisteddfod in Montgomeryshire and the Marches

On Wednesday, a group of Cynefin volunteers met at Newtown Library, with a particular task at hand. The aim of the collaborative session was to geo-reference and clip nine neighbouring tithe maps, in order to create a unified map of the Meifod area.

Volunteers at Newtown Library

Volunteers hard at work at Newtown Library

Locals got involved to ensure the work was completed in time for the National Eisteddfod, where the unified map will be exhibited. Visitors to the Eisteddfod will be able to view this large scale tithe map at Y Lle Hanes, a dedicated space for local history.

The Cynefin project would like to thank all the volunteers for their hard work and commitment to ensure all the work was completed in a single day!

Y Lle Hanes, which is HLF funded, aims to create for the first time at the National Eisteddfod a designated local history area on the Maes. It will be a collaboration between the Powysland Club, many local history societies in the Montgomeryshire area, Newtown Area Library’s new Local Resources Centre, Peoples Collection Wales and Cynefin.
The Eisteddfod runs from 1st to 8th August, and Cynefin will be exhibiting in the Y Lle Hanes pavilion and on the National Library of Wales stand. We hope to see you there!

Preview of the unified tithe map

Preview of the unified tithe map


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Chartism and Human Rights

Were the South Wales Chartists, who campaigned for the vote and ultimately marched on Newport in 4th November 1839, concerned about human rights? On the face of it, the six point charter that they wanted to see introduced was about very specific changes to the political system rather than fighting for basic rights, but the historical context suggests their battle was about much more than just the vote.


Chartism was a movement that captured the imagination of middle and working class people in the 1830s, most of whom did not have the right to vote. Members of Parliament at the time were required to be independently wealthy as MPs weren’t paid. They were also required to own property. Those who could vote could not do so in secret and constituencies often didn’t reflect the explosion in population that had come about as a result of the industrial revolution. Many people felt that parliament was not representing the views of most people in Britain.


In addition, Wales had a strong tradition of cyfiawnder or justice, partly based on relatively egalitarian Welsh medieval laws. All of this led many people in Wales to support the Chartist cause passionately. Support didn’t die with the conviction of the ringleaders for high treason. Across Britain, people continued to campaign for the charter to become law and slowly, the political system in the United Kingdom began to change.  Since 1918, all men aged over 21 have been eligible to vote and in 1928 that was extended to include women over 21 too. Human rights, as well as civil rights are also better protected now than they were when the Chartists stood trial.


The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was signed on 4th November 1950, exactly 111 years after the Chartists marched on Newport. It paved the way for other legislation, including Britain’s Human Rights Act, which came into force in October 2000 and which incorporates the ECHR into UK Law. The Human Rights Act includes the right to Free Elections and enshrines in law one of the points of the People’s Charter – the right to secret ballot:

The Human Rights Act requires the government to support your right to free expression by holding free elections at reasonable intervals.

 The elections must enable you to vote in secret.

The right to free elections only applies to those who are eligible to vote under UK law.


What the law says

Protocol 1, Article 3: Right to free elections

The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

 The European Convention of Human Rights is clearly relevant to the early battles of the Chartists, but what would they make of the current Government’s proposed changes? According to the Conservative party’s pre-election manifesto it plans to:

Scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights, so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain.”

  and replace it with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities which will:

  •  Make Britain the ultimate arbiter of human rights in this country – ensuring our Supreme Court is supreme
  • Balance rights with responsibilities”

The Chartists, had a keen sense of what these rights should be. Their legacy lives on in our legislation and in our political system today. 22 of the Gwent Chartists died fighting for the political rights we now enjoy.  The Chartists would have strived to keep our politicians accountable, whatever their political persuasion, to ensure that the rights that they fought for remain enshrined in law, and in today’s context they would certainly have looked very closely at what was being won and lost in changes to the Human Rights Act, and how people’s lives would be impacted.

This letter was written by Baptist Minister Micah Thomas in Abergavenny on 22nd January 1840 to the Marquess of Normanby. In it he is pleading for clemency for John Frost, the Chartist leader recently sentenced to death for high treason.  While he distances himself from the chartist cause himself, he says of Frost: “His notions of what he considered, popular rights, might by moderate men be deemed extravagant, but his humanity and regard for social order prior to the recent catastrophe, have been honourably attested.”

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The Chartists’ Heartland

One of the strongest areas of the campaigners for the right to vote in 1839 was the north of the valleys in the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth. This area can be seen on the tithe maps from the period which have all been collected by the Cynefin project. Below are the maps of Aberdare, Merthyr, Gelli-Gaer, Bedwellty and Aberystruth joined together.

Chartists' Heartland

These maps show clearly that the areas had seen considerable industrial development, with a number of iron works in the area, for example i Tredegar and Rhymney.



On the 3rd of November 1839 the Chartists attacked the town of Newport, this is a part of a tithe map showing the town as it was at the time.


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Vote, vote, vote!

If you are 18 years of age or over and have registered, you have the right to vote in the general election happening across the UK on Thursday 7th May 2015. You may already have done so via a postal vote.

But why does voting matter?

Britain has a proud tradition of popular involvement in politics. Attempts to keep those in charge honest and accountable, whether they were members of royalty or politicians, date back 800 years to Magna Carta. This was Britain’s first ‘people’s charter’ but, politics being what it is, the issue of fair representation didn’t go away. In 1838, a new People’s Charter was drawn up, with the primary aim of securing the vote for all men over 21. Women were not overlooked: their struggle for the vote had already begun. In the spirit of setting achievable goals, however, fighting for rights of men was more realistic. The Chartist movement gained in strength and popularity across the country.

In 1839, Chartism was particularly popular in south Wales. It was an area that had seen huge industrial change over the last few decades and many people felt their working and living conditions were intolerable. Without the vote, they had no power to change their situation.

On 3rd November 1839, about 5,000 men gathered from across Gwent to march through the night in the pouring rain. They were heading to Newport to demand the release of Chartist prisoners. Fearing the power of the Chartists, the authorities were waiting for them at the Westgate Inn in the centre of the town on the following morning. Both sides were armed and no one knows for sure who fired the first shot. What we do know though, is that over twenty men died that morning, fighting for the right to vote. What’s more, ten of them were hurriedly buried in the churchyard at St Woolos Cathedral by order of the authorities.

With their protest in tatters, the chartists fled, but many were arrested and William Frost, Zepheniah Williams and William Jones were tried for High Treason at a sensational trial in Monmouth in January 1840.

Zephaniah Williams Trial

Many more local people were called to give evidence against them. Eventually the three men were sentenced to be hanged and quartered (drawing, the removal of entrails whilst still alive, had recently been abolished.)

Effect of the Crime

Their sentence caused outrage and Queen Victoria, on the occasion of her marriage to Albert, commuted their sentence to transportation to Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land.)

So what was the People’s Charter?

    The People’s Charter contained six key demands:

  • The right for all men over 21 to vote
  • Payment for MPs (
  • Abolishing the need to own property in order to stand as an MP
  • Secret ballots
  • Constituencies of equal size
  • Annual elections

How popular was Chartism?

At one point, about three million people in Britain signed a petition to make the People’s Charter law. The authorites later destroyed it, but this really was people power in action and it was effective: the only demand the Chartists made that hasn’t since become law is the demand for annual elections. Protesters wanted this to ensure that politicians remained accountable to voters, something that’s arguably just as important today.

So, whatever you think of politics and politicians today, if you are eligible, make your voice heard and vote on May 7th. Many people have died and others have made huge sacrifices to give you the right to do so.


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Chartism in the Modern World

Chartism is a hot topic at the moment here in South Wales. At a time when some people are saying that modern politics is broken, some have been asking whether it’s time for a new People’s Charter. As well as commemorating 175 years since the treason trials of those fighting for the vote, it is 800 years since Magna Carta was signed: another potent symbol of people power at work in Britain.
On a more practical level, we’ve recruited over 50 volunteers, some of whom are already hard at work. We’re bringing the sensational Chartist trial of 1840 into the 21st century by ‘tagging’ the 3,500 images we have of the trial documents. While the technical team build the site, a team of volunteers has been working hard to sort the documents into order to make transcription work easier. They have been sorting out how easy or difficult each document is to transcribe, picking out key themes and highlighting the names of those on trial. When the platform is ready for online transcription to begin, those unlocking the words of these men and women 175 years ago will be able to select a document that interests them. Already over 600 documents are ready to go and will be ready to transcribe in the next couple of months.
The first image below is a press account of Zephaniah Williams’ address to the courtroom. It is dramatic and vivid and it is hard not to feel some compassion for Williams.

Zephaniah Williams Press Account

He argues, “I never entertained the least design of revolting against the Queen.” This same edition of the paper, however, tells how he, John Frost and William Jones were sentenced to death for treason and is shown in the second image. It too uses highly emotive language as the judge is quoted as saying “The invasion of a foreign foe would in all probability have been less destructive to property and life.” Strong language to describe men who believed they were representing the views of the people around them and acting to change politics.
The men weren’t killed. They were transported to Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s land) and eventually all were pardoned. Of the six points of the Charter, five are now law:
• adults over 18 now have the vote (the original demand was for this to apply to men over 21)
• voting takes place in secret
• constituencies are roughly equal
• members of parliament are paid
• candidates are not required to own property in order to stand for election
The only point that was not adopted was the call for annual elections, proposed in order to keep MPs accountable. We still demand this accountability, but most of us are probably glad we don’t face a general election every year.

Sentence of Death

Reading the testimony of those on both sides of this debate is an insight into a world that has long since disappeared. It’s hard not to feel a resonance with the world we’re living in today however, as a general election looms. Whether or not we need a new charter, we should never forget the men and women who fought so hard to give us all the right to have a vote and a voice in politics.

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Learn How To use Cynefin

A workshop is being organised at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth on Friday the 21st of November 2014. If you are interested contact Vicky on 01970 632 546

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Map of the month – November


Celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Chartist Uprising, the map of the month for November is of course St Woolos which includes Newport. The map was actually completed in 1845 – six years after the uprising – by Thomas Morris of Newport.

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