Welsh Connections

In this occasional series, we will explore the connections of society members to Wales and the Welsh.

John Morgan Richards

Growing up Welsh

John was son, grandson and great-grandson of clerics, John had been brought up in Cefn Meriadog, a small village near Denbigh, Merionethshire. He had been forbidden to speak Welsh at school in Wales – the fashion at the time was that those who did would have a slate with “He speaks Welsh” written on it, tied around their neck as an invitation for the others to kick and punch. 

His brother, Hugh, who died about 4 months after John in Victoria, Canada, went to a different school and so was able to retain his Welsh. In later years, after John re-learnt the language, they would often Skype each other and talk animatedly of the goings on in that small village and at the English boarding school they had both been sent to during the War – “towards the bombing” as John would always say with a laugh.

The conversation would be  by turns Welsh and English, but always hysterical, the years rolling away as they remembered the many funny events and people. The deaf grocer and his blind horse, the absurd adventures of the physics club, National Service and so on.

L’Entente Cordiale

John’s other passion was French, which he learnt from his close friend, Michele Cornet, who had an evening class in Loughborough. He would go on trips to France right up until the last year of his life – often having “adventures” along the way, whether losing his passport, or almost missing his flight, or having to avoid the strikers’ barricades in Alsace. Somehow he would escape from these with another story to relate with a laugh. 

He was proud of Wales, and would always try to get people to visit whether they were friends, acquaintances or just folks he met. “Winning people over to Welsh” he would say.

Neither Adam or Christina Richards, hail from Wales, but they do have a Welsh connection…

Members of WASNC who attended the Nosun Lawen in November 2016 may remember an older gentleman who took part in the presentation of the new words to the traditional song, “The Ash Grove”. 

That was John Richards, Adam’s dad, who sadly passed away Christmas Eve that year back in his home in England aged 86. 

His role on that occasion was as author, because, dissatisfied with the Victorian sanitizing of the original, he had undertaken a new translation, based on his firm grasp of Welsh. But that grasp was a relatively recent development – he had taken up learning language in his late 50s using immersion courses run by the University of Bangor, North Wales.

Eventually John was able to talk to the locals in North Wales, but he said they always could spot him for an outsider. When asked about it, they said it was because he used the correct words, not the the ones in general use.  His Welsh was “proper” in other words.

Welsh to the Core

John was Welsh not only in heritage, but also in attitude. Like many of the sons and daughters of Wales he lived and worked “abroad” – in his case as a University Lecturer on Electrical Engineering in Loughborough, a market town near Nottingham. But he never forsook the Principality for long, because he had inherited a small Welsh mill cottage right on the edge of the island of Anglesey, which was bought in the year of his birth by his father, and to which he would repair every summer for months at time all but one of his 87 years.

Felin Wen –
a work continually in progress

John’s Anglesey cottage was a very physical connection to Wales which required very practical upkeep – it was always in danger of rotting and rusting away in the damp salt air.  This led him into many interactions with the farmers and tradesmen, many of whom spoke limited English.  A favorite expression on Anglesey was “am hosib” – “impossible” the inevitable response to the question “when can this be done?”.  Usually, however, this was to be followed by the responder turning up at the most inconvenient time – frequently when the family had already departed in the sailing dinghy  for a picnic. Just as they were as far away as possible a tiny figure could be seen waving from the area around the cottage. “Amhosib, indeed!” my father would say, going about to tack back..