IT is home to one of the most successful clubs in Welsh football, the hometown of Wales’ greatest golfer and is a regular host of a touring annual eisteddfod as well as to a Welsh language bookshop, chapels and even a play group. But one thing it is not is in Wales. 

Lying just five miles from the border, Oswestry is a classic ‘frontier town’ - a meeting point of different cultures and languages – and known in Welsh as Croesoswallt. 

A visit to the town prompted Leena Farhat, in her column for The National, to ponder the link between speaking Welsh and being Welsh after she was struck by the presence of the Welsh language east of Offa’s Dyke. 

A quick Google search reveals the question over whether Oswestry is in Wales or England is asked more often than whether the town, in Shropshire, is a “nice place to live”. 

As former US Masters champion Ian Woosnam is its most famous son and football club TNS boasts a record-breaking haul of 13 Welsh championships it is perhaps not surprising that there is confusion over which country the town is in. 

But it isn’t just its sporting connections that mean Croesoswallt is often mistaken for being a Welsh town – or a town in Wales. 

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Its Welsh connections stretch back centuries, and the town changed hands many times during medieval wars, before ending up in England following the 1536 Act of Union and subsequent legislation that formalised the border. 

The National Wales: Champions of Wales: TNS, The New Saints of Oswestry, celebrate another Welsh football championship titleChampions of Wales: TNS, The New Saints of Oswestry, celebrate another Welsh football championship title

Perhaps the most visible, or rather audible, indication of Croesoswallt’s Welshness, is the Welsh language. 

“Oswestry is in England,” confirms Lowri Jones who runs Siop Cwlwm, the Welsh gift and bookshop in the town centre and who compares Oswestry, population 17,000, to Wrexham or Welshpool, that are around 15 miles away north and south. 

“We’re similar to Welshpool, Newtown or Wrexham, we just happen to be on the other side of the map.” 

Though born in Oswestry, where she now lives with husband Dylan  - “pronounced Dyl – an, not Dillon, he’s very keen on that” - and their two children, Lowri grew up on the Welsh side of the border at Penybont Fawr in the Tanat Valley, Powys. 

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Dylan, 51, is an “Oswestry born and bred” Welshman, raised in a Welsh speaking household, who attended his local school in the town. 

Lowri, who knew both Dylan’s parents through the Welsh community in Oswestry, doesn’t feel as if she’s ever moved away from where she has grown up. 

The National Wales: Lowri Jones who runs Welsh book and gifts Siop Cwlwm and helped set up the Cylch Ti a Fi in OswestryLowri Jones who runs Welsh book and gifts Siop Cwlwm and helped set up the Cylch Ti a Fi in Oswestry

“I grew up in Wales and consider it all to be the same area, I don’t feel as if I’ve left my home area,” explains Lowri of the local geography and how it was only the different Covid regulations, introduced last year, which at times meant an enforced border between Wales and England, that had really made a noticeable difference to which country she lived in. 

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As well as selling Welsh language books, and books of Welsh interest, Lowri is involved with Cylch Ti a Fi Croesoswallt (You and Me Circle). 

Like hundreds of other playgroups backed by Welsh medium provider Mudiad Meithrin it hosts play and learning sessions for pre-school children.

The only difference being the group (due to restart in the new year following a Covid hiatus) which has met since launching in 2018 at Capel Horeb does so in Victoria Road, Oswestry, England rather than a community building in Wales. 

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Horeb is one of Oswestry’s two remaining Welsh chapels, at one time there were five, and collective worship would once bring the residents of the Tanat, Ceiriog and Llanfyllin valleys into the town on Sundays. 

Weekend attractions also drew Lowri to the market town, the urban centre of the surrounding countryside: “I moved as it was easier for nightlife as you like to live where you go out. I think any rural area has a town at its centre and it just happens for this area of mid Wales it is Oswestry and it is in England. 

The National Wales: Seion Welsh Chapel in Oswestry was built 152 years ago and first founded in 1813 to meet the demand for Welsh servicesSeion Welsh Chapel in Oswestry was built 152 years ago and first founded in 1813 to meet the demand for Welsh services

“You will hear a lot of Welsh spoken in Oswestry, there are Welsh solicitors, doctors, nurses but the Welsh Language Measure (the legal framework for delivering public services through Welsh in Wales) doesn’t apply, so in a way it is more organic, it’s not a statutory thing, but it is definitely a bilingual town.” 

Lowri, who opened her shop in 2010, and says its customer base are either Welsh people, or those with an interest in Wales, says the Cylch Ti a Fi is just one element of the town’s Welsh identity. 

“Historically it has been centred on the chapels, there are two now, but there is also a Merched y Wawr, the Welsh WI. In the shop our best selling products are things with ‘nain’ or ‘taid’ on them as a lot of people in Oswestry who don’t speak Welsh call their grandparents nain and taid and when the Six Nations is on there are lots of Welsh supporters, but also England supporters, so it is not just Wales fans like it would be in a town in Wales.” 

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Before last year’s lockdown around 12 to 15 pre-school children were attending the Cylch Ti a Fi and Lowri’s own daughter is a pupil in the reception class at Welsh medium Ysgol Llanrhaeadr in Powys, sharing lifts with another family from England for the 20 minute journey by car. 

The National Wales: Golfer Ian Woosnam, who represented Wales, is Oswestry's most famous sonGolfer Ian Woosnam, who represented Wales, is Oswestry's most famous son

Accessing Welsh education is seen as key to maintaining the Welsh language in Oswestry. 

Enid Thomas is considered a stalwart of the Welsh language community in Oswestry and is entertainment secretary of the ‘three C’s’  - Clwb Cymraeg Croesoswallt – Welsh club which she helped form more than 30 years ago. 

“I was determined we would carry on having a Welsh input in Oswestry,” says Enid who grew up in a Welsh speaking household on a farm in Denbighshire though the farm gate was in Shropshire. 

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The former district nurse said working commitments meant sending her daughter, who is now in her 40s, to school across the border wasn’t practical and on the school yard in England her Welsh “didn’t stand a chance”. 

She praises those, such as the club chairman David Ellis, who were able to support the language by sending their children on the short trip across the border for school. 

“Bit of both I think, but predominantly Welsh,” explains David when asked if he is English or Welsh having been born in England and grown up in a Welsh household on the eastern outskirts of Oswestry at Whttington. 

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David, whose four children are now adults aged between 27 and 35, thinks growing up on a farm, in the village where the 67-year-old has lived all his life, has helped maintain Welsh as the language of the household. 

“The children were isolated a bit, on the farm, so couldn’t mix with English speakers so much. If we lived in town it wouldn’t be the same. The wife was very, very keen for them to have the Welsh language and as she didn’t have to work was able to drive them to town so they could get the bus (to school).” 

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The four attended the Welsh stream at Ysgol Llanfyllin in Powys which, until 2018, had provided transport collecting pupils from Oswestry. That was stopped when Powys council said it should not be using school funds to bus in pupils from areas outside its catchment.  

Last year, in a separate development, Powys council said it would write to its counterpart in Shropshire to see if there could be cooperation on school transport costs to help those from the English county seeking a Welsh medium education. 

The Welsh authority is currently considering the future of primary schools, including those in the north of the county, and Bryn Davies the Plaid Cymru councillor who represents the area bordering Oswestry has suggested Ysgol Bro Cynllaith in Llansilyn, which is right on the border, should be designated a Welsh medium school. 

He said that would retain Powys pupils who are leaving the area for the Welsh medium primary in Llanrhaeadr as well serve families from Oswestry who are already making the longer trip. 

The National Wales: Market day in OswestryMarket day in Oswestry

Lowri is positive about the future of Welsh in Oswestry, encouraged by responses in her shop and the support for Welsh education including through the Cylch Ti a Fi.

But she would like to see the Welsh Government support the language on her side of the border, as Mudiad Meithrin has, and also says she was told, by the government, her shop couldn’t be included in a Welsh business directory as it isn’t in Wales. 

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She also questions what Welsh independence would mean for the Welsh community in Oswestry: “A lot of my friends are in Yes Cymru but I don’t know how that fits with the situation we’ve got in this border area. I just raise the point that Welsh speakers over the border is something independence supporters should consider.” 

Clwb Cymraeg chairman David says he is uncertain what the future holds for Oswestry as a Welsh speaking spot in England noting that the patterns of modern life have already impacted the use of Welsh in the town. 

“People from the valleys worked in Oswestry but 40 or 50 years ago people wouldn’t travel by car so they would lodge in town, and maybe go home on the weekends, and there was a vibrant Welsh society then. 

“I’d like to think Welsh has a future here but it’s a difficult one to answer. If people reverted to travelling by train and bus, and got rid of their cars, and were living in Oswestry again it might be quite different.” 

The Welsh language has had to continually adapt to changing times and circumstances to survive and Oswestry provides another example of that. 

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