Skip to main content

THE LINGUISTIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PEMBROKESHIRE LANDSKER Brian S. John, M.A., D.Phil. INTRODUCTION There can be few administrative units in the British Isles which present linguistic features as fascinating as those of Pembrokeshire. These features are related largely to the presence of the Landsker, an ancient frontier which has been a marked linguistic and cultural divide between north and south Pembrokeshire for almost a thousand years (Charles and Owens, 1972). The effect of this divide upon the elements of the cultural landscape has been significant, as shown by the distributions of church-types and Welsh and non-Welsh place- names in the county (Davies, 1939) (Fig. 1). Other contrasts between the two areas are emphasised, for example, by Lockley (1957), Rees (1963), Wight (1971) and Evans and John (1972). The Pembrokeshire Landsker has changed its nature, and its position, several times since its establishment. An early physical divide between the forested and non-forested parts of Pembrokeshire was possibly established by Neolithic times (Taylor, 1957), but it was not till the period of Scandinavian raiding and colonisation that a real ethnic divide between north and south Pembrokeshire came into being (Charles, 1934). Davies (1950), Bowen (1957) and Dicks (1967) accept that the later Norman Landsker developed as a fortified frontier between the southern colonial enclave and the northern territory held by native Celts. However, it is just as likely that the Landsker of this time followed a line of administrative, rather than military, convenience. The divide passed along the boundaries, as defined by Richards (1969), between Pebidiog and Rhos in the west and between Cemais and Daugleddau further east. From near New Moat the original boundary is more difficult to define in the church lands of Llawhaden, but thence it seems to have followed the northern boundary of Narberth before passing eastwards to the estuary of the Taf in Carmarthenshire (Fig. 2). Thus the line of frontier castles (Stickings, 1972) defines the Landsker only in part, and during the medieval period it is certain that it changed its position (especially in the centre of the county) several times as the extent of Anglo-Norman influence in the Welshry varied. The political instability of the whole Landsker zone is thought by Margaret F. Davies to have been reflected in a barren "rhos", or no-man's land, between Welshry and Englishry. This belt of country can still be defined on the contemporary parish map by a series of anomalously large parishes between Roch and Lampeter Velfrey (Fig. 3).