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The Welsh Not or Welsh Note or Welsh stick was a punishment used in some schools in Wales in the 19th century to dissuade children from speaking Welsh. It comprised a piece of wood, inscribed with the letters "WN", that was hung around the necks of children who spoke Welsh during the school day. There are many surviving examples in Wales today.

The "not" was given to any child overheard speaking Welsh, who could pass it to a different child if they were overheard speaking Welsh. By the end of the day, the wearer of the "not" would be punished. The purpose of the "not" was to discourage pupils from speaking Welsh, at a time when English was considered by some to be the only suitable medium of instruction. Headmasters were required to seek the approval of parents before implementing a "Welsh not" policy. There is strong evidence of use of the Welsh Not in schools prior to 1870, however it was never official government policy.[1]



The use of the "not" was recorded in the 18th century; it was also commonly known as the 'cwstom', the 'Welsh stick' and the 'Welsh lead' (a lump of lead).[2] The practice was mentioned in the 1847 Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales,[3] which became known as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, the Treachery of the Blue Books.[1] Though critical of many aspects of Welsh culture, some of the inspectors commented on the existence of the practice of using "nots" as being arbitrary and cruel. The reports did not endorse the practice, and also made it clear that the vast majority of education in Welsh-speaking communities was still conducted in Welsh.

In the later decades of the 19th century, education was compulsory but the Welsh "not" was used only in a minority of schools, and 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.[4] There is no evidence that the secondary schools, in which instruction was almost universally in English, made use of the "not".

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".[5]

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  1. ^ a b "Welsh and 19th century education". BBC. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  2. ^ The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2006
  3. ^ "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. 
  4. ^ John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, p 455
  5. ^ Lowther, Ed (29 June 2010), A bevy of maidens, BBC News, retrieved 9 December 2012 

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