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Professor Gwynedd O. Pierce


Professor Gwynedd O. Pierce passed away at his home in Cardiff on 4 May 2022, a few days before what would have been his 101st birthday. Professor Pierce was head of the Department of Welsh History at University College Cardiff from 1974 until his retirement in 1987, having first been appointed as an assistant lecturer in 1948. He had a wide range of interests but was recognized above all as a pioneer in the field of Welsh place-name studies.

Gwynedd Owen Pierce was born in Caernarfon on 12 May 1921. He was educated at Caernarvon Grammar School (as it then was) and then at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he was commissioned and saw active service in Burma. Upon graduating in 1948 he took up his first post as an assistant lecturer in Welsh and Welsh History at Cardiff. This became a full lectureship in 1951 which was redesignated as a lectureship in Welsh History in 1953. A senior lectureship followed in 1966. Gwynedd was appointed as chair and permanent head of the Department of Welsh History in 1975.

At Bangor, Gwynedd had studied under Professor Ifor Williams, one of the greatest Welsh scholars of the twentieth century. In 1945 Williams had published a short volume called Enwau Lleoedd (‘Place Names’) which proved very popular amongst the Welsh-speaking public, being reprinted several times. Although Williams’s scholarship shone through on every page, the volume also drew attention to a fundamental lack of quality research on Welsh place names. Gwynedd Pierce would soon show himself to be a pioneering scholar who was able to face this significant challenge, opening the way for others to follow.

Having moved to Cardiff, Gwynedd was inspired by the work of G. J. Williams (the head of the Department of Welsh) on the Welsh-language culture of the Vale of Glamorgan. He completed an MA on the place names of the hundred of Dinas Powys in 1953 and this led to the publication of the magisterial The

Place-names of Dinas Powys Hundred in 1968. Not only did this work set the bar for Welsh place-name studies in terms of its methodology, but it also threw light on centuries of interplay between languages in the Vale. It showed in fascinating detail how the complex relationship of Welsh and English – not to mention other languages such as Latin, Norse and French – was interwoven into the toponymy of the area. In so doing it also drew the attention of an international audience to the fact that Wales is a treasure trove of place names in a range of languages.

Gwynedd was also committed to sharing his research with a wider audience. He was a regular contributor to a Welsh-language newspaper column in the Western Mail and published popular — but no less rigorous — works such as Place Names in Glamorgan (2002). He was an instrumental figure in the Glamorgan History Society (founded in 1950) and served as joint-editor for the first twenty volumes of the society’s journal Morgannwg (1957–76). His expertise was recognized beyond Wales and he was elected as the second president of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland (1996–9). When the Welsh Place-Name Society was established in 2011, it was only natural that Gwynedd should be chosen as its first Honorary President in the following year.

Alongside his academic work, Gwynedd was also a keen sportsman and the standards he set on the playing field were as high as those he set academically. He celebrated his ninetieth birthday with a special competition at Radyr Golf Club and even at that age he played off a handicap of only twenty.

After first moving to Cardiff, when the BBC were based on Park Place, he started contributing to the Welsh-language news service on the radio. His voice later became recognized throughout Wales as a reporter on football,

especially Cardiff City. Gwynedd did much to shape the language of football in Welsh at a time when his colleague Eic Davies was doing the same for rugby.

Gwynedd was a great supporter and encourager of colleagues in his fields of expertise. On a personal level, I can attest to his kindness and also his playful sense of humour, alongside his readiness to answer toponymical queries of any kind at the shortest of notice. When he reached his ‘century’ in 2021 (a worthy achievement for one who had also been a talented cricketer), it was a great honour to be able to present Gwynedd with a collection of essays in his honour, Ar Drywydd Enwau Lleoedd (‘In Search of Place Names’). This is the first volume to be published by the Welsh Place-Name Society, a society whose very existence owes so much to Gwynedd’s scholarship, hard work and encouragement.

Gwynedd is survived by his wife Marjorie, two sons, Iolo and Emyr, and four grandchildren.

Dr Dylan Foster Evans