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Welsh Romani

A form of the Romani language was spoken in North Wales until at least the 1960s.  Abram Wood, considered the first  Romani to live exclusively in Wales, arrived from Cornwall in around 1730, making his way with his family North to the Snowdonia area, his family settling throughout North Wales. Indeed, so large in number were Wood’s family that the term, ‘Abram’s Family’ became a generic term for Romani.  Indeed, in a lecture at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, Lord Thomas of Gresford claimed ancestry to Abram Wood.  The parish register at Llangelynin in Conway County, reputedly the site of Abram's grave and dated 1800, reads, ‘Abram Wood travelling Egyptian’.


The Wood family were renowned musicians, and Abram it is claimed introduced the fiddle into Wales.  Their talent seems to have been largely inherent and profound, and many of Abram’s children, grand children and great grand children were excellent harpists.  Devout Christians, the Wood family became very much a part of the fabric of North Wales, and attended and took an active part in various Eisteddfod, usually playing the harp, the instrument for which they became justly famous. They even played to royalty, with John Wood Jones playing to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.


Edward Wood, a great grandson of Abram Wood lived in Bala and Ruthin, and was also a famous harpist, playing to Queen Victoria and the future Edward VII.  He also helped John Sampson, librarian at Liverpool University, who had rented a home in Betws GG, to compile a book on the language.  Another Wood, Matthew would also help Sampson with his work, and famous for his story telling abilities, Sampson would write down Edward’s folk tales.


Matthew’s eldest son was Harry ‘Turpin’ Wood, who lived in Betws GG and so loved the story of Dick Turpin that he took the highwayman’s name.  He was known to play his fiddle in local inns while his brother, Howell was famed for his clog dance.  Indeed, Howell can be seen dancing on a table in the 1947 British film, ‘The Last Days of Dolwyn’, notable as Richard Burton's film debut.  On Howell’s death in 1967 it is thought the last fluent speaker of the Romani language passed from North Wales.

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