Flemish immigrants

Last updated: 15 August 2008

Back in the 12th century, Flanders - a region of Belgium - had been devastated by floods and was becoming dangerously overpopulated. Many Flemish people, or Flemings, escaped to England. Initially welcomed, they soon began to irritate their hosts.

Henry I's solution to what he saw as a little local difficulty was to shift them en masse to a remote farming settlement in south Pembrokeshire.

It was a move that created a divide in Pembrokeshire that exists to this day, between the native Welsh and the incoming Flemish/English. The legacy of 12th century Flemish incomers is 'Little England beyond Wales'.

Castles were built - the Landsker Line stretched from Newgale to Amroth. The Chronicle of the Welsh Princes records "a certain folk of strange origins and customs occupy the whole cantref of Rhôs and the estuary of the river Cleddau, and drove away all the inhabitants of the land". It was almost ethnic cleansing.

The influx of Flemings was so great that the Welsh language was eradicated south of the divide. Flemish gradually gave way to English but with a distinctive dialect and accent - traces of which can still be heard today.

The region has kept its anglicised culture and sense of separation ever since. Until the 19th century it was the only English-speaking area of Wales away from the English border.

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