Usk, Mon.

4th June 2011. Here we are in Usk for 2 gigs. The town is Usk, and the river is the River Usk. What does this mean? Don’t worry: it’s quite a common phenomenon. The river was usually called something else originally. But eventually it got called after some settlement or town that developed on it. It’s called ‘back-formation’. There are many examples. The River Cherwell in Oxfordshire is named after the town of Cherwell; in Staffordshire the little River Penk is named after Penkridge, through which it flows. Likewise here.

The River Usk. This is the third time we have come to Wales this year. We are now in the extreme south of Wales, Monmouthshire. This was contested territory, and was in England for many centuries. IIRC, it was formally returned to Wales in the early 1950s. A strange thing happened at that time concerning radio amateurs. A radio amateur who lived in Monmouthshire before the transfer would have had an English call-sign. Let us say G3DEF. If he had lived in Wales, it would have been GW3DEF. When Monmouthshire returned to Wales, radio amateurs who lived in the county were actually offered the option of adding, or not adding, the W to their call-signs. All they had to do was to notify (or not notify, I forget which) the GPO, who ran radio at the time. This must have been an unusual thing for foreign amateurs who contacted people in Monmouthshire. They would naturally have thought the G3DEF was in England, and GW3DEG was in Wales. Yet they might both have been in Monmouthshire. Very curious, if now irrelevant…