Descriptions of costumes, 1780s
For an explanation of recording conventions, see Chronological survey.
Reach Bala, a small town in the parish of Llanyckil, [Lanycil] noted for its vast trade in woollen stockings, and its great markets every Saturday mornings, when from two to five hundred pounds worth are sold each day, according to the demand. Round the place, women and children are in full employ, knitting along the roads; and mixed with them Herculean figures appear, assisting their Omphales in this effeminate employ. During winter the females, through love of society, often assemble at one another’s houses to knit; sit round a fire, and listen to some old tale, or to some ancient song, or the sound of the harp; and this is called Cymmorth Gwau, or, the knitting assembly.
Much of the wool is bought at the great fairs at Llanrwst, in Denbighshire.
Pennant, Thomas, The Journey to Snowdon, (1781), p. 67
Tours in Wales, by Thomas Pennant, Esq; 1778-1781 by the Editor, John Rhys, (1883), Volume 2, p. 204
They manufacture their own cloaths; and dye their cloths with Cenn du y Cerrig, or Lichen omphaloides; and another Cenn, the Lichen parietinus; native dyes, collected from the rocks.
Pennant, Thomas, The Journey to Snowdon, (1781), p. 161
Tours in Wales, by Thomas Pennant, Esq; 1778-1781 by the Editor, John Rhys, (1883), p. 325
The women, young and old, wear round nab [nap?] hats, which gives a smart, and becoming appearance.
Byng, John, Right Hon, (later Viscount Torrington) Andrews, C Bruyn. (Editor). The Torrington diaries: Containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, (London, 1934), vol I, p. 148
In the Night of Saturday July 2d, 1785, a male child, appearing to be about three weeks old, was left in a cart-house, in the parish of Llanfihangel Penbedw, in the county of Pembroke, by a woman about 30 years of age, five feet two inches high, dark brown hair, long visage, and pale complexion, speaks the Southern Welch dialect: had on her head a plain riding, or silk hat, and a red-stamped handkerchief; an old white stamped handkerchief, with a few red spots on it, about her neck, a blue cloak, upper petticoat blue, dark coloured short cloth jacket, blue yarn stockings, footed with black. Whoever will give information to Mr Thomas Hassall, of Kilrue, near Cardigan, so that the said woman may be apprehended, shall receive, on her being secured, a reward of five guineas [note this would be about £300.00 in today’s money].
(1786) Britton Ferry
Simplicity made the lovely appearance in the persons of two modest and handsome young Welch females who came leading their horses towards the ferry for a passage.
They appeared to be farmer’s daughters who were returning from Swansea Market where they had been to dispose of their butter and eggs. They were dressed, after the Welsh fashion, in blue jackets, and black beaver hats, with ribbands and roses depending [sic] from them, and white handkerchiefs wrapped round their heads and necks. They were comely and delicate without cosmetics – and had a genuine air of conscious and unsuspecting innocence.
Matthews, William, (of Bath), The miscellaneous companions. Vol. I Being a short tour of observation and sentiment, through a part of South Wales. (Bath, 1786), pp. 82-3
1786 [St Clears to Tenby]
On turning my head, I spied a young Welsh woman on a fine white English horse, travelling a little to my left hand, at the rate of about 10 miles an hour. She soon passed by me, and I was in expectation of seeing a servant in attendance as she had the appearance, though not of a modern English lady, yet of superior station in a Welsh region’. [He decided to catch her up to find out whether she was scared of him, but she increased her speed, and he was only able to catch her up on a hill.] ‘she … ventured to peep at me through her muffled head-dress, consisting of two or three handkerchiefs, under her black beaver hat. They continued together for about three miles. ‘She had ideas of many pleasures and advantages peculiar to her native country, the land of her fathers; … but was looking forward to a journey to London where ‘superior pleasures were to be found’. He warned her about the dangers of London ‘And although I allowed, that by changing her mode of dress, from the more useful to the gay … she might be better pleased with herself … she would … leave behind her in Wales much of her more useful and ornamental simplicity of heart’.
Matthews, William, (of Bath), The miscellaneous companions. Vol. I Being a short tour of observation and sentiment, through a part of South Wales. Bath, 1786, p. 165
The round hats worn by the Welsh women are, when new, very becoming; and being enlarged, the modern fashion in London.
Byng, John, Right Hon, (later Viscount Torrington) Andrews, C Bruyn. (Editor). The Torrington diaries: Containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, (London, 1934), vol I, p. 280
The women universally wear a petticoat and a jacket fitting close to the waist, of striped woollen cloth and a man’s hat. A blue coat many of them had, but it is reserved for dress, and in common they wear a long piece of woollen cloth wrapped around the waist. I have a hundred times seen a woman carrying a pitcher of water on her head, a child or loaf in this wrapper and knitting as she walked along. [The jacket may be a short bedgown or gŵn bach]
Copies of Catherine Hutton’s letters to her brother Thomas at Birmingham, Aberystwyth, July, 1787, Birmingham City Archives, MS 3597; published in Hutton Beale, Catherine, Reminiscences of a Gentlewoman of the last century; letters of Catherine Hutton (Birmingham, Cornish Brothers, 1891), pp. 43-54.
In 1787, Elizabeth Richards was given a jacket, skirt, petticoat, handkerchief and wood shoes, and in 1788, Catherine Davies was given two new blankets, a bet gown [sic?], petticoat and smok [smock] and Lettice Richard was given a flannel shift.
Evans, G.E., (1903), Cardiganshire…p. 101, quoting the Book of Caron
I was really pleased with noticing a long bench … rented by a row of Welsh women decently dressed in woollen and black hats silently enjoying the triumphs by thinking hard and knitting.
Oliver, Peter, A tour to North Wales, 1788, British Library, Egerton Papers, 2672-3, vol II transcript, p. 634