York Town Square

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Were the Welsh quarrymen from York County, Pa.’s, Delta-Peach Bottom region big readers?

York countian Dianne Bowders captures the interior of a quarryman’s cottage in the restored town of Coulsontown, Peach Bottom Township, in the southeastern tip of York County. She wrote in ‘Your Photos’, ydr.com’s reader-submitted photo section: “The interior of the Coulsontown cottages have changed little over the years and are typical of stone homes found in North Wales. The first floor housed a combination kitchen, parlor, and adult bedroom. Fireplaces were used for both heating and cooking. Upstairs were two bedrooms for children. Four remaining cottages are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” Dianne also submitted several photographs of the cottage exteriors. Also of interest: Stone structures tell York countians how their ancestors lived and Delta-Peach Bottom slate shingles: ‘Nothing works as good as this’ and Old York County town jails: ‘They’re kind of hidden history’ and Delta Welsh homecoming offers opportunity to learn about culture of slate miners.

You look at the inside of the Welsh quarrymen cottages in Coulsontown (see photo above), and you wonder if the fireplace mantle held books. Or were some stuck in the corner cupboard, left of that fireplace.
The prospect of hyper-literacy of the Welsh who came to the Delta-Peach BottomTownship area about 1850 has fascinated me since reading the August/September 2008 “Books and Culture” review of Jonathan Rose’s “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes.”
Rose writes about self-taught Welsh coal miners, among others workers in Britain, who, according to reviewer Timothy Larsen, “found their way to knowledge and culture despite substantial obstacles.” … .

The reviewer pulls from Rose the fact that the Bible was a source of literary inspiration:
“The Scriptures opened up lush and beautiful terrains; the Bible was great literature that inculcated habits of appreciation for great literature.”
The book covered about the period that Welsh quarrymen worked slate hills of southeastern York County – circa 1850 to World War I.
I wrote about this interest in my York Sunday News column (7/3/11): Books open us to new worlds .
In that column, I tell about asking one observer of the York County Welsh about the quarryman’s literacy, and he said he was not aware that the quarrymen were big readers. He said a legacy of such literacy is not evident today.
In the column, I gave some examples from Rose that the Welsh in Britain were highly literate.
I can’t resist giving some others, according to Larsen’s review:

– To address labor shortages in World War I, companies would provide educational and cultural lectures for their employees.
– One visitor was surprised to overhear two miners discussing Einstein’s theory of relativity.
– When one worker lost at billiards, he would cheer himself up by rehearsing the philosophical theories of George Berkeley.
– One miner spent his weekends collecting fossils from the mine’s rubble.

Here in York County, the informative “River and The Ridge,” gives the best published look at the Welsh.
The authors of this wonderful 350-plus page book do not explore the topic of literacy directly, but discuss the fact that Welsh communities in America had at least one resident poet.
In Delta-Peach Bottom, two have been identified.
And their handiwork remains public.
They inscribed poems, in Welsh, on tombstones.
Two translated examples:
About Hugh Williams:

“I see a place in his wounds for a guilty one to rest, where I’ll abide through troubled life, A Sanctuary for the blessed.”

About Magdalene, wife of Griffith R. Thomas:

“Nasty words and gossip – she never used to upset her neighbors, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were all this wise lady said.”

All this said, wouldn’t the literacy of the local Welsh quarrymen make for a significant master’s thesis or dissertation?

A slate tombstone at Slateville Presbyterian Church cemetery.
Also of interest:
– For additional Diane Bowders’ photographs showing the Coulsontown cottages, see Your Photos.
The Delta-Cardiff slate splitters? (It’s not a musical group.)
– Order “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes” at amazon.com.
All York Town Square posts from the start. Then use “find” function on browser to search for keywords.
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square posts on Google. For example, when you search for yorktownsquare and Delta Welsh, you get this.