No doubt many people living in Gwydir Street have found other people having trouble with the name of their street. You may be asked "Is it Welsh?" It is, and it comes from Baroness Gwydir, who owned the land of this area just before the area was redeveloped (see History). Her husband was Lord Gwydir, whose estates lay in County Caernavon. The forest near Llanrwst is called the Forest of Gwydir, and there is a Gwydir Castle (see left and its website). "Gwydir lieth two bowshots above the river Conwy; it is a pretty place." (Leland, 1536).
Gwydir Castle is the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn family, descended from the kings of Gwynedd and one of the most significant families of North Wales during the Tudor and Stuart periods. It is really what the English would call a manor house. The surviving buildings date from the fifteenth century, with later alterations and additions. It is also notable for its important gardens and for its reputations as being one of the most haunted houses in Wales! The Welsh "Gwydir" is pronounced differently from Cambridge, with the syllables rhyming with "squid" and "beer". Our "Gwydir" in Cambridge rhymes with "rider".
I was interested in what the word "Gwydir" meant. The forest and the castle and a chapel was so-called, yet the family and the local town had a different name. I asked a local Welsh-speaking tour guide, and she said cheerfully "It means 'Field of Blood'. The Wynn family were mercenaries, and so the Welsh thought their land was bought with blood." Charming!
However, I have had a most interesting email from a local Welsh speaker, who disagrees with this, saying:
There is an another word for blood/gore, gwyar, which at first glance seems a more likely candidate for the 'blood' component of the word Gwydir, but when spoken the emphasis (quite pronounced in Welsh words) in the word Gwyardir would fall on the penultimate syllable -ar-, making it unlikely that this syllable would be dropped.
What gwydir does immediately suggest to a Welsh speaker is the word for glass, gwydr: it is quite common in Welsh to find words ending in consonant+r spelt with an extra vowel, repeated from earlier in the word, inserted between these last two letters, as that is how such words are often pronounced. The inserted vowel for gwydr would be 'i' as this would preserve the *sound* of the earlier vowel 'y', whereas a repetition of 'y' in the word-end position would sound differently... Anyway, the connection seems so obvious that I had always assumed until today that the street must have been named after a Welsh-owned glassworks or something that had once existed there.
However, it does seem rather unlikely that land in Wales would derive its name from the word for glass. It's perhaps more likely that the name Gwydir is a corruption of some earlier compound of a word beginning 'gwy-' (there are many) + 'dir', the latter being the part meaning 'land' and therefore a common component of Welsh place names. Possibilities include Gwyndir (white land), Gwydd-dir (wild land, in the sense of wilderness, or plough land) and Gwyrdir (sloping or crooked land).
Another person gives an alternative derivation:-
Further etymology, according to Geiriadur y Brifysgol (University Dictionary) it refers the word "gwydir" to "godir", meaning a piece of valley or wooded land. There is also a reference to similar place names in Scotland meaning slope. Maybe Sloping Street is the best bet after all!
Another person has pointed me to the "Handbook of the origin of place-names in Wales and Monmouthshire" by The Reverend Thoman Morgan, 1887:
This is interesting, as it seems to be the origin of some of the suggestions given above (and below). But the suggestion of "bloody land" is contradicted by a Welsh speaker, above.
If you want to know more about Gwydir Castle, one of the current owners has written a book about their experience of restoring the castle: Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett (published by Ebury Press). She says
I'm not sure if this is relevant, but in the Mabinogion, there is a reference to someone called Gwydre. The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The story of Culhwch and Olwen is a very early story featuring King Arthur. Culhwch goes to King Arthur's court to seek his help in winning the hand of Olwen. There is a long list of Arthur's warriors, including "Gwydre the son of Llwyddeu, (Gwenabwy the daughter of Kaw was his mother, Hueil his uncle stabbed him, and hatred was between Hueil and Arthur because of the wound)." Later on, Culhwch is set tasks by Olwen's father, one of which is to hunt Twrch Trwyth. This is a vicious boar, who kills some of the people on the hunt, including "Gwydre the son of Arthur".
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