Local Welsh Place Names

As you probably recall, Waldo Williams, one of the poets we read, was from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, both of which are names that show up on the Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses, respectively. Knowing this, I decided to look into the origins of some of the Welsh place names in the area.

I found this website about the “Welsh Mainline” (welshmainline.blogspot.com/), which talks about some nearby towns and their origins. Welsh Quakers settled 40,000 acres west of Philadelphia (Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties). In 1684, they tried to get William Penn to agree to make it a separate county, where government business would be conducted in Welsh, since few of them spoke English. However, their request was unheeded, as the land was divided between different English counties.

A map of the Welsh Tract

When the Pennsylvania Railroad put in the Mainline in the 1800’s, many non-Welsh place names were changed by the railroad in order to give the area more of a unified history and make it more marketable. Following are some local Welsh names and their origins.

Haverford means “goat crossing” in Welsh. As we discussed in class, it was named for the Welsh town Haverfordwest. It was settled in 1681 by Welsh Quakers.

Bryn Mawr was originally Humphreysville, but was renamed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869. However, its Welsh name does have significance (unlike some other towns’ later Welsh names which are just nonsense). It means “big hill” and is named after an estate in North Wales, the farm of Rowland Ellis, a settler who came to Pennsylvania in 1686 fleeing religious persecution.

Brecon was given its current name in 1981, since it was dedicated by a Lady Brecon. Brecon is the name of the county where the town Bryn Mawr is found in Wales.

Radnor (the township, not the dorm) is named after Radnorshire, Wales. It was founded in 1682 on land from William Penn, and the town grew up around a meetinghouse built by the Welsh settlers in 1718, which is the same meetinghouse that stands there today. Many of the Welsh settlers left to avoid high taxes in the late 1700’s. Supposedly, there are monuments honoring their founding of the town; however, I was unable to find information on exactly what these are.

Saint David’s is named after a local Saint David’s church built in the 1700’s. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.

Paoli is not a Welsh name, but is actually named after the Corsican general Pasquale Paoli. The center of the town was an inn, built in 1769, and run by a Joshua Evans, whose father had bought the land from William Penn. Evans named his inn Paoli, because the general was given the last toast in a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at the inn.

Gladwynne is good example of an example of a settlement (although not a census-designated place) that was renamed to fit in with the other Welsh names in the area. It was originally “Merion Square,” which presumably came from Meirionnydd County in Wales. However, this name was apparently not Welsh enough for the casual listener, as it was renamed to Gladwynne in 1891. “Gladwynne” sounds Welsh but doesn’t actually mean anything.