Despite the geographical paradox already discussed, the rule that minority languages tend to survive better in rural areas is certainly present in Conwy; although truly welsh speaking towns do exist in Gwynedd and Anglesey, in Conwy everywhere where a majority of children speak Welsh at home is rural. Llanrwst is the most welsh speaking of Conwy's towns, but even there, only 25.6% of pupils in the town's primary school speak Welsh at home. Llanrwst is a key example of where the Census can be quite deceptive; the 2011 Census recorded that 61% of the population could speak Welsh, potentially giving one completely the wrong impression as to the actual state of Welsh in the town.
So how far back would you have to go to find a predominantly Welsh speaking Conwy? Figures for Conwy as a whole don't go back very far, since the area as a unit of local government only came into existence in 1996. What are available however, are the individual figures for different urban and rural districts, and in particular, the percentages for each age group are available for the 1911 and 1921 censuses (but not after!!.) So what was the situation then? Below are the percentages of children aged 3-4 speaking Welsh within each town at the censuses of 1911 and 1921 with every town except for Llanrwst and Betws-y-Coed being located on the 'coastal strip' across the north of Conwy:
Both inland towns had very high percentages of children speaking welsh at home and neither of them saw a decrease at this time and thus they had not yet diverged from their rural surroundings. The coastal strip, however, was a different story; Llandudno and Colwyn Bay had already ceased to be primarily Welsh speaking by as early as 1911, while the other four seaside towns, although majority Welsh mother tongue at both censuses. all experienced spectacular decreases during the 1910s. I therefore think it is highly likely that none of the coastal towns would have had a majority of their children still speaking welsh at home by the era of the Second World War. The fate of Welsh in Conwy can therefore be described as having first lost the coastal strip to, it seems, seaside tourism, in the first half of the twentieth century, and then much (but not all) of the scenic and mountainous hinterland in the second half of the twentieth century with the arrival of the motorcar.
Conwy, is thus today an area where only a minority of people are able to speak Welsh overall and where an even smaller minority of children speak it at home. However, even though it has lower overall percentages than say, Ceredigion, this is more than made up for in my opinion by the fact that genuinely welsh speaking areas genuinely do exist in Conwy. As for why Conwy is so much less welsh speaking than Gwynedd, and has such a low percentage overall, an obvious factor is the fact that Conwy is simply closer to England, while other factors include the fact that the county has such a sparsely populated hinterland, and a densely populated but incredibly anglicized coastal strip. The lack of a significant slate industry in the interior meant that the hinterland did not see the growth of the slate mining towns that Gwynedd has, and which provided the interior of that county with urban centres of population which are also heavily Welsh speaking.
Talking of Gwynedd, if you are interested in reading my blog on the status of Welsh there, click here, whilst I have also written blogs on Anglesey and Ceredigion.