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A Book of Welsh Birthplaces


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by John May

Here is another of the very useful reference books produced by John May in recent years. Perhaps not as useful as his various compendia of important dates, but still of interest to collectors of trivia, makers of speeches, etc. "Do you know the famous sons and daughters of your village, town or city?" asks the cover blurb.

Naturally, I went straight to my home town, but it was irritating to find several of its districts listed as separate places, the only cross-reference being the name of the local authority - the present one, that is - in brackets. There is, however, an alphabetical index of names at the back, so, if you can't find Anthony Hopkins under "Port Talbot", you only need to refer to the index and discover that he is listed under "Taibach". All the same, it was disconcerting to find "Aberavon", with its one entry, co-existing with Port Talbot's twenty.

I moved on to the Vale of Glamorgan, where I live now, and discovered numerous worthies born in Cowbridge, most of whom, I admit, were unfamiliar to me. That's the whole point, though. The only really famous person I could think of from the area was Iolo Morganwg - not born in Cowbridge, even though he is commemorated there. Where exactly was he born, I wondered? Turning to the index, I could find no mention of him under either "I" for "Iolo" or "M" for "Morganwg". Then I had a brainwave. Was it possible he could be listed under his real name only? Sure enough, there he was, Edward Williams. The only snag, of course, is that nine out of ten people who have heard of him will be unaware that Iolo was a pseudonym, and therefore will never find out where he was born - not from this book, anyway.

I was very surprised to find no mention of J K Rowling under what I thought was her birthplace, Chepstow, or anywhere else in the book. She is probably the best-known person alive today with such strong Welsh associations. Her exclusion suggested, wrongly, that the author was concerned to exclude those whose contributions to public life are ephemeral. Yet there are plenty of sportsmen and women, entertainers, and fiction authors within the covers. I later discovered I was being unjust: Rowling was born in Gloucestershire, and only moved to Chepstow as a child. No place for her here.

The idea of including birthplaces outside Wales is an original and pleasing one, although the contents of this section must necessarily be a little arbitrary. It seems churlish to find fault with a book that is such a good idea. Most reference books have similar problems in attempting to please all potential readers, and the smaller the book, the harder it is to include all the information that might be desirable in the most retrievable form. (My only remaining quibble is with the cover price, which seems a little excessive for what is essentially a pocket guide. ) John May has clearly spent a long time researching this work, and the results, if incomplete, are impressive. He is to be congratulated.

birthplaces.jpg

ISBN 0 7154 0739 2
Published by Christopher Davies, 2002
142pp, paperback
Retail price 7.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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