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The Welsh Not (also Welsh Knot, Welsh Note, Welsh Stick, Welsh Lead or Cwstom) was an item used in Welsh schools in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to stigmatise and punish children using the Welsh language.



"Endeavoured to compel the children to converse in English by means of a piece of wood. Offenders to be shut in after school hours."

Extracts from the Llansantffraid board school log book. 8th February, 1870.[1]

Typically "The Not" was a piece of wood, ruler or stick, often inscribed with the letters "WN". This was given to the first pupil to be heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard using Welsh, "The Not" was taken from its current owner and given to the latest offender. Whoever was in possession of "The Not" could also pass it to any of their Welsh speaking classmates if they informed the teacher that they had caught someone speaking Welsh. The pupil in possession at the end of the day was subjected to a flogging or other punishment (some reports suggest the punishment was administered at the end of the week, or at the end of each lesson).[2]

The effect of "The Not" was to stigmatise the use of the Welsh language among children, and engender the idea that English was the preferable medium of instruction, however this was never official government policy.[2]


"Cannot get the children from the habit of talking in Welsh; the school as a whole is backward in English."

Extracts from the log book of the British School, Aberaeron. Written by the head teacher. 5th November, 1880.[3]

The use of "The Not" was recorded as early as the 18th century, and there is strong evidence of numerous incidents in both Anglican and Nonconformist schools throughout Carmarthen, Ceredigion and Meirionnydd, it was commonly known as the 'cwstom', the 'Welsh stick' or the 'Welsh lead' (if a lump of lead was used).[4]

The most frequent use of the Welsh Not in schools appears to be in the first decades following the publication of the government's Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales in 1847.

The reports noted that schools in Wales were inadequate, with English monoglot teachers and English textbooks in use in areas where the children spoke only Welsh. It concluded that the Welsh as a race were "ignorant", "lazy" and "immoral", and that one of the main causes of this was the continuing use of the "evil" Welsh language.

The Reports had great influence in Wales, becoming known as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (the Treachery of the Blue Books). Linking the language with low educational standards as well as poor morality, the report highlighted the effective use of the "Welsh Not" and, while it never endorsed it's use, it certainly contributed to its popularity.[5]

The use of the "Welsh Not" appears to have decreased with the introduction of compulsory education in the later decades of the 19th century. After the school boards were absorbed by the county councils following the Local Government Act 1888, instruction in Welsh became the norm in primary schools in Welsh-speaking areas. However, incidents of the "Welsh Not" were still reported.[6]

The Welsh Not was not controversial in its day. Most Welsh working-class parents wanted their children to learn English since it would give them employment opportunities. They supported whatever means teachers chose to do that and most teachers were Welsh speaking. Indeed, at a time when attendance was not compulsory, the primary motivation for parents wanting their children to be educated in 19th century Wales was to teach children English. Thus although the domination of Britain by English power and prestiege set the context which the Welsh Not operated in, the actual motivation for it came from within Wales.

Owen Morgan Edwards describes his experience of the Welsh Not in school Llanuwchllyn in his book Clych Atgof.

Susan Jones, Member of Parliament for Clwyd South, claimed in 2010 that the use of the Welsh Not, including caning as the punishment, persisted in some schools in her constituency until "as recently as the 1930s and 1940s".[7] A woman in a village in Wrexham Maelor stated that the Welsh Not was in use in her school in the 1940s. In 2018, Gwyn James, then living in another Wrexham Maelor village, and a monoglot Welsh-speaker as a child, was reported to have had the board placed around his neck in school in the 1930s for not using English in the classroom.

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  1. ^ "Welsh Not". 
  2. ^ a b "Welsh and 19th century education". BBC. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Welsh Not". 
  4. ^ The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2006
  5. ^ "Part 3: North Wales, comprising Anglesey, Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint, Meirioneth and Montgomery - Report". Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales. 1847. p. 19. 
  6. ^ John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, p 455
  7. ^ Lowther, Ed (29 June 2010), A bevy of maidens, BBC News, retrieved 9 December 2012 

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