Little Wales in Cambridgeshire (1950s)


I grew up in Stapleford, just outside Cambridge.  As our parents were pretty much the only Welsh people in the village, some of the words and phrases we commonly heard and used at home were very different to those of our neighbours.  Like many other Valleys' people, they were English-speaking with some knowledge of Welsh which flavoured their language.  Mum grew up in Caerau (Ffyllon valley, near Maesteg) and Dad was from Cymmer (Avon valley, near Port Talbot).

We never ever ever heard our parents, relations or anyone else say boyo, look you or indeed to goodness.  We never experienced anyone talking in English then switching to Welsh when we arrived


Individual words.

cawl (stewing beef with potatoes, swede, parsnips, onions and a bit a parsley if you were feeling fancy.  Done in the pressure cooker)

broth (exactly the same as above)

steam (potatoes, onions, swede steamed together in a large frying pan with a lid - see uch a fi)

bara (bread)

bara brith (fruit loaf)

teisen (cake - usually with dried fruit, not a gateau)

caws (cheese - usually 'mousetrap' i.e. cheddar)

pobi caws (cheese on toast)

dravers (knickers)

butty (workmate, not a sandwich)

arion (money)

gambo (homemade kids' cart with pram wheels.  Turns out to be derived from the Welsh for a haycart)

ty bach (toilet)

twp (stupid)

cwtch (verb - cuddle up; noun - a small place like under the stairs)

gwynt (wind - personal and meterological)

Twll (hole, often in a tooth)

Bakestone (a griddle for Welsh cakes, etc)

Mun (mate)

Cochyn (a redheaded person)

Tidy (proper; several - e.g. how many carrots - oh a tidy few)

Daps (plimsolls - a West Country word)

Pwp (poo)

Bach (endearment)

Shoni Wynwns (onion seller - originally from Brittany)

The Crachach (now offensive but Mum used it to describe the dominent group of Welsh people in Cambridge in the 1950s - Welsh-speaking North Walians with important jobs at the University, doyens of the Cambrian Society etc. i.e. not like us)


All around Will's mother (all around the houses)

You could ride to London bare-arsed on it (about a blunt knife)

She didn't come up on the down train (not stupid - didn't go up the valley on the train that was coming down)

He wouldn't call the King his uncle (very happy)

She's a big piece (overweight)

... on the edge of a wet Echo (i.e. South Wales Echo but I can't remember what this means)

There's no shape on her (she's all over the place, disorganised)

She's belonging to you (related to you)

There we are then (a summing up phrase meaning 'ok that's done and over')

Like giving a donkey a strawberry (a pathetic little amount)

Isht now (be quiet)

Cae de geg (shut up - rude)

Now in a minute (means NOW, not soon)

In under-the-stairs

Bethere (there)

Beyere (here)

Twti down (crouch down)

Dressmaker's food (lettuce i.e.not fit for a working miner)

Nos da (good night)

Over the bwlch (over the mountain pass and down into the next valley - used more than you might think even though we lived near the Fens!)

She looked a sketch (a complete mess)

Twll din pob sais (arseholes to the English - never said offensively, said as a joke so we could say 'arseholes')

The flying banana (a yellow bus that went over the bwlch and on through Mum's village)

It's picking to rain (beginning to rain)

Mochyn bach or mochyn du (little or black pig as in 'messy pup')

Tamping a ball (bouncing a ball, usually annoyingly)

Tamping mad (furious)

Tamping down (raining hard)


uch i fi (exclamation of disgust and disapproval)

Iesi mawr (Great Jesus! Good God!)

Duw duw (as above but less forceful)

Duw annwyl (dear God!)

Cythraul (devil)

Dwikes cadwm pob (God save us all)

As Welsh people share just a handful of surnames (ours was Jones), we knew that back in Wales many people went by nicknames:Tommy Twice (Thomas Thomas)Tommy Twice (Thomas Thomas)

occupational - e.g. Jones Electric (our grandfather's nickname in Cymmer)

locational -  e.g. Will Cymmer (same grandfather's nickname with his family back in West Wales), Howell Cambridge (Dad)

address - Thomas number 6

First name same as surname - e.g.Tommy Twice (Thomas Thomas - my family includes Lewis Lewis and William Williams)

Mum's favourite joke on the subject of surnames

A Russian spy was dropped by parachute in the Welsh hills with instructions to contact a Mr Jones in the small village of Llanfair and give him the coded message: ‘Swansea Bay is frozen over.’

Arriving at the village, he asked a small boy where Mr Jones lived and was directed to a small cottage.  He knocked on the door and the owner emerged:

'Are you Mr Jones?'

'I am.'

“Swansea Bay is frozen over’.

Mr Jones stared at him in amazement, then smiled: 'Ah.  You’ve got the wrong house, mun.  It's Jones the Spy you want.'