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Emyr Estyn Evans : The Formative Years By Lauren C. Ferguson. A Borders Childhood

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Emyr Estyn Evans : The Formative Years

By Lauren C. Ferguson

  • A Borders Childhood
  • Recollections of a border childhood is an unpublished memoir which was written by Estyn Evans over some length of time during his latter years, and which has been edited and pieced together by his son, Prof. Alun Evans.
  • It is a short document, 14000 words, detailing the environment in which Estyn grew up.
  • Estyn discusses at great length the physical attributes of the countryside surrounding him, as well as personalities encountered, including local craftsman, farm workers and travelling women selling eels.
  • A Child of the Manse
  • Family life is also discussed – his father had also written memoirs, and may indeed have been an inspiration for this work.
  • His memories of his father are not flattering, and do not depict a caring, nurturing figure, despite, or possibly because of, his religious convictions. Despite his unfond memories, Estyn does acknowledge his father’s passion for education, most likely driven by his own experience, and indeed his originality – something which Estyn clearly inherited.
  • Mother is portrayed more kindly, indeed suggesting an altogether more fun loving spirit and attitude in child rearing.
  • Religion in Wales
  • Estyn was born in 1905, in the height of the Welsh Revival. During this time, Welsh Non Conformist Chapels saw an unbelievable resurgence in attendance numbers and conversions, with emphasis placed on charismatic leaders preaching to large congregations.
  • This religious revival was short lived in terms of conversions, excitement and sensationalism, however attendance of chapel did not wane for more than thirty years.
  • Evans recounts his knowledge of religious order in Wales during his childhood, as being comprised of Anglicans, Chapel Non Conformists, and “Ranters” – the collective term applied to the Primitive Methodists, and the gospel hall Brethren.
  • Nationalism and identity
  • Welsh national identity was a huge social issue in the early years of Estyn’s life.
  • 1839-43 - Rebecca Riots – wave of nationalist idealism, and uprising against the Anglican Church. Action was directly related to taxation, and as such, the toll roads were an easy target.
  • Industrialisation led to rise of the labour movement, socialism, and a general disaffection with religion among the working class and youths. 
  • Two generations after the Rebecca riots, Welsh nationalism was almost engrained in the nation, with rise of Welsh language, heritage and culture being forefront in both education and society.
  • Welsh nationalism did not strive for independence or self government, but rather disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales.

“Evangelical religion and choral singing had provided my father with an avenue of escape from the coal mines and from deprivation, to education, comparative comfort, and to a respected place in the community.”