A new legal protection to prevent historic Welsh house names from being lost is being put into action by a leading law firm.
Swayne Johnson, which has branches across North Wales and Cheshire, has already used a new covenant-based scheme that stops property buyers dispensing with historic and often evocative names, many of which date back centuries.
The scheme is operated by Welsh language organisation Cymdeithas yr Iaith and was officially launched at the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron although it has been operating since last year.
Mared Williams, a Solicitor based at Swayne Johnson’s Ruthin branch, said: “I have already put this covenant into practice and am proud to play a part in ensuring that the owners of properties with historic names can protect those names for generations to come.
“There are very many house names in Wales that tell the story of the property and are part of the area’s local history. The house or farm name adds colour and information about the building, the landscape or the people who might have once lived there.
“The name of a property is often an integral part of the story of the place and it’s important that historically and culturally important Welsh place names are protected and not lost.”
It’s been a contentious issue for years and back in June 2018, Welsh comedian Tudur Owen presented a short programme about disappearing Welsh place names, saying “history is lost when Welsh place names are changed”.
The clip, which aired on BBC Wales Live, sparked a debate on social media, with many other famous figures, as well as members of the public, having weighed in on the issue since.
BBC news anchor Huw Edwards wrote on Twitter: “It’s been going on for years. So Porth Trecastell became ‘Cable Bay’ and the historic church of Nantcwnlle – now a private home – became ‘Dunroamin’. I propose replacing London with its old Welsh name ‘Caerludd’. No? Ah. I thought not.”
The new scheme, called Diogelwn, meaning We Will Protect, was drawn up by Simon Chandler, of Manchester law firm Chandler Harris, to give legal backing to the preservation of Welsh house and even place names.
Simon, 58, an Englishman who learned Welsh in his 50s, said: “The idea that people can arbitrarily change the names of houses and places here seems to me to be an assault on the identity of Wales.
“I learned Welsh six years ago when I was already in my 50s and I was inspired to draft this in response to a Twitter appeal by poet and author Sian Northey who asked whether there was any way of protecting the Welsh name of her house that was about to sell.
“I looked at it from the point of view of a specialist in commercial conveyancing, and the scheme essentially enables sellers to put covenants on their properties with Cymdeithas yr Iaith as their legal custodian. A condition of the sale is that the new owner agrees that the original name will be retained.
“The scheme was then extended to place names earlier this year after it was discovered that, a few years ago at Gorslas, near Llanelli, a new house had been built at a place called Banc Cornicyll (Lapwing Ridge).
The owner called the house Hakuna Matata (from the Disney film Lion King, which means No Problem in Swahili), and that caused the Ordnance Survey effectively to change the place name on the map to Hakuna Matata, which is clearly a disastrous loss of Welsh heritage.
“Wales’s first National Poet, Gwyneth Lewis, has likened Welsh place names to time capsules which tell you about the story of a place.
“They’re an incredible asset for Wales because even very old names can still be understood by modern Welsh speakers and so they provide a direct link with the past, whereas English has changed so much since many places in England were named that very few English people understand what they mean.
“It’s thanks to pioneering law firms like Swayne Johnson that these historic Welsh names can now be protected and preserved because they are a precious asset to the nation whether you’re a Welsh speaker or not.”
Mared, a former secretary for Welsh teaching and promotional charity Menter Iaith Sir Ddinbych, added: “It means that if you are selling a property and want to play your part in protecting its historic name we can help you achieve this goal.
“As a firm we are encouraged to play our part in the community so that sense of identity is at the core of what we do and this fits perfectly with that ethos.”
Swayne Johnson is a long-established law firm which employs over 50 staff at offices at Ruthin, Denbigh, St Asaph, Llandudno and Tattenhall, in Cheshire, and is one of the fastest growing firms of solicitors in the region.
For more on Swayne Johnson go to http://www.swaynejohnson.com/ and to download a copy of the covenant go to https://cymdeithas.cymru/dogfen/CS-cynllun-gwerthiannau-ty-gyda-neu-heb-dir for the Welsh version or in English to https://cymdeithas.cymru/dogfen/SSC-sales-house-with-or-without-land.