chapter  7
‘UNDER THE HATCHES’
Pages 26

Wales is unique in its official relation to England: it is attached to the larger country for many purposes of civil administration in a way that Scotland, for example, is not, but its status is sufficiently distinct to require this inclusion to be specified (as in ‘the legal system of England and Wales’, ‘the education system of England and Wales’) in a way that Cornwall’s, for example, does not. Descriptions of this relation during the nineteenth century have ranged from seeing Wales as part of ‘the British Empire in Europe’1 to ‘junior partner’ ‘within Imperial Britain’2 to ‘internal colony’;3 this chapter will, rather, focus on the relationship as a clash between two cultural systems unequal in power and status as well as in their self-images. John Berger has usefully distinguished between ‘cultures of progress’ which envision ever-expanding horizons for themselves, and ‘cultures of survival’ which see their future as safe-guarded only by the deliberate maintenance of their distinctive cultural practices;4 this chapter will suggest that the mid-nineteenth-century English ‘culture of progress’ regarded the deliberate maintenance of the distinctive cultural practices of Welsh-speaking Wales as a threat, by its very existence within a supposedly unified Britain, which must be removed in the interests of both communities. Superficial cultural differences which merely offered an enlivening touch of local colour were, of course, acceptable; subordinate nationalisms could be tolerated and even encouraged as long as they operated within a framework that offered no real challenge to the authority of the state or loyalty to the Crown (Bayly, for example, has demonstrated how cultural difference was acceptable in the subaltern states of British India because it operated within ‘the broad framework of loyalty to the Crown and a notion of natural aristocracy’ to establish a ‘tributary patriotism’;5 nearer home from a Welsh point of view, the vogue for tartans, kilts, bagpipes and other outward and visible trappings of the culture of the Scottish Highlands, encouraged by Queen Victoria and her descendants, was

only possible because any real political threat from the Highlands had been defused by the smashing of the clan system and the enforced emigration caused by the enclosures of the eighteenth century.)6 To find fundamental cultural differences where only superficial ones had been expected was, however, felt to be profoundly disturbing and potentially dangerous; something clearly had to be done. I wish to argue that what was in fact ‘done’ represents a prime example of the way a dominant culture represses a minority culture by degrading it in the eyes of members of both cultures, through a discourse whose ideological aim was to crush the challenge to the hegemony of Englishness within Britain. I shall take as the focus of my argument the 1847 Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, which played an important part in the construction of English representations of the Welsh and Welsh representations of themselves f or generations, and which was described by a dominant figure in Welsh twentieth-century cultural and political thinking as ‘the most important nineteenth-century historical document we possess’;7 I will attempt to show that this text can be fully evaluated only by locating it within the parameters of a discourse that asserts the hegemony of Englishness by naturalizing unequal power relationships between two national cultures and the languages through which they worked-relationships that are established and naturalized by those with power.8 In my view, a great part of the Report’s significance lies in its capacity to locate within such parameters a people whose territory was contiguous with England’s, which at an institutional level had been officially joined to England for over three hundred years, and whose ancestors were popularly supposed to have put the ‘British’ in ‘British Empire’. It was the discovery from an official English perspective of an alternative hierarchy of cultural values (with direct political implications and consequences) that fuelled official English anxieties: the realization that a battered but surviving sense of cultural identity had combined with the legacy of the process described by a sixteenth-century writer as ‘those rigorous laws which were provided against the Welshmen [sic] to keep them poor, to deprive them of good education, and to make them uncivil and brutish’,9 to produce a distinct and separate people.