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Place-Names of Glamorgan

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by Gwynedd O Pierce

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ISBN 1 898937 57 5
Published by Merton Priory Press, 2002
xxpp, paperback
Retail price 14.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher

If I have one major quarrel with Professor Gwynedd Pierce's book, it is the title. More apt than Place-Names in Glamorgan would have been Welsh Place-Names in Glamorgan, because that is pretty well all it includes. There's no use looking here for the origins of names like Port Talbot, Bonvilston or Colwinston; such places are mentioned only in passing. On the other hand, you can find out how tiny villages such as Brombil and Llantriddyd, or even, in some cases, individual farms, came by their names.

This approach becomes easier to understand when we discover how the book came into being. It began life as a series of Welsh-language articles in the Western Mail. Why this should be thought a suitable basis for a reference book I am not sure. The articles, apparently, "evoked interest and a lively correspondence". The author nevertheless feels obliged to apologise, in his introduction, for the "random nature of the choice of material". Would it not then have been better to take a completely fresh view of the subject, and choose a more appealing format?

The proliferation of mini reference books about Wales and various aspects of Welsh life is now such that few subjects remain untouched, and Welsh non-fiction publishing seems increasingly preoccupied with finding alternative ways of presenting the same information. Professor Pierce's book is, I feel, neither one thing nor the other. It is certainly not a book you can read from cover to cover; neither is it a quick-reference guide. The individual articles, arranged in alphabetical order, bear the marks of a translation from Welsh and are hardly concise. They are in fact the work of several different contributors, and it is easy to understand the view that the considerable research that has been done on the subject should not be lost to posterity. However, little thought appears to have been given to the reasons why people might want to pick up such a book.

As to the likely readership, presumably that will consist of people like those who joined in the "lively correspondence", perhaps arguing whether there might ever have been a "St Twit" resident at Llantwit Major, or whether Leckwith is on enough of a slope to merit being named "Llechwedd". Whether these eager students of etymology will be prepared to pay 14.99 for such a book, however, I doubt. The market will mainly, I suspect, be libraries and serious students of the subject, and they deserve something more comprehensive.

I know virtually nothing about the oddly-named Merton Priory Press, but the book is another quality production from Dinefwr Press of Llandeilo, printers who have been serving the small publisher faithfully and efficiently for many years now. The cover caught my eye because, like one of my own book covers, it features a view of the Worm's Head on Gower. This happens to be one of the few English place names to which any attention is devoted -- though I think we could all have a fairly good guess at the origins of that particular name.