Descriptions of Welsh costume 1810-1819
For an explanation of recording conventions, see Chronological survey.
Parish of Denyo [Deneio] Pwllheli
At this place only within Caernarvonshire I observed the custom of women going about with naked feet to be established and common. The custom may be ridiculed or reprobated or pitied … but that it is contributive to cleanliness I have myself no doubt. The practice is for the females coming to market, church, etc., to bring with them in their hands their shoes and stockings until they reach the stream nearest their place of destination. There they sit down, perform their ablutions, and clothe their feet, which have thus the advantage of going to the assembly freshly washed.
[note] Mr Jones in his History of Brecknockshire has strongly advocated the practice (1805, pp. 282-283). The custom at Pwllheli and in its neighbourhood I have described as common but all over the county instances of it may be occasionally met with. Naked feet indeed seem to have an allowance in their favour, but naked legs I understand to be disreputable. A stocking, therefore, footless, but with a loop going over the middle toe, saves this quantum of character whatever may be the reason for the distinction.
Hall, Edmund Hyde, A Description of Caernarvonshire (1809-1811)
University College of North Wales, Bangor, Penrhyn add. ms. 2942, p. 294
Jones, E Gwynne, (ed.), A Description of Caernarvonshire, Transaction of the Caernarfonshire Historical Society, (1952), p. 284
Habits of the poor at Carmarthen
There is a singularity in the dress of the poorer female inhabitants through these western counties, that always takes the notice of strangers; they are the manufactory of the country, flannel of coarse woollen cloth; their under dresses are mostly of the former, with dark brown jackets and mantles of the same hanging loosely over their shoulders, their heads are bound with a handkerchief, and they have hats of felt, the same fashion as those worn by men; some suppose these habits were taken from the Flemmings who made their settlement in Pembrokeshire about 600 years ago. They have a beauty in their persons; and among those of fashion there generally appears an elegance in their deportment, an affability of manners, and a generosity of disposition that distinguishes them.
Holdsworth, Rev., [probably], The Tenby guide : comprehending such information, relating to that town and its vicinity, as could be collected from ancient & modern authorities., (Swansea, printed by J Voss, 1810), p. 101
Walter Davies cites Holdsworth as the author and comments that it contains ‘a description of the female dress of the Pembrokeshireans. Not approved’ NLW MS 1659B, p. 86.
‘The women in the mountainous parts are generally about the middle size, and their features are often traces with much beauty – though their complexions are somewhat sallow. They wear long blue cloaks (note: Welsh proverb ‘True blue keeps its hue’), that descend almost to their feet, and are generally seen with them even in hot weather, – owing most probably to the sudden showers which the attractions of the mountains renders them liable to. The disuse of shoes is general in many parts except on a Sunday or market day but even then they often carry them in their hands as they journey along the roads. [This is probably based on an earlier published account]
Bruce, William Joseph, ‘A Peregrination through part of the Counties of Somerset, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire with a portion of South Wales and a tour round north Wales as performed in the Autumn of the Year 1810 …’ NLW, mss. 19405 C, p. 291
‘Y gwir lâs, ni chyll mo’i liw’ (True blue keeps its hue)
Jones, Edward, Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh Bards, (3rd edition 1808), vol. 1, p. 9
description of colours of fabrics
Potts, Thomas, Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1810
1811 On the road between Ellesmere and Llangollen
‘The women were quite sound, in their blue cloth jackets and round black felt hats – they seemed brisk and entire, but their mates were all fractured, more or less.
Hogg, Thomas Jefferson, (1792-1862), The life of Percy Bysshe Shelley with an introduction by Edward Dowden, 1 volume, (1906), p. 202
Nor during our rambles did we see anything so completely Welsh. The women were all in blue or red whittles with black hats and at a distance might be seen striding along the road knitting or smoking and disencumbered of their shoes and stockings till they approached the town.
Ann Bletchley, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service, SY 49
We were highly amused at seeing a group of market women on horseback sitting with panniers on each side, laden with butter, cheese eggs and poultry. The striking difference between the youthful and the elderly part of this group attracted our attention – the former were mounted on handsome horses and dressed so completely in the present fashion, that had not the farmers told tales, they might have passed for persons of a much higher station in life, the latter were mounted on heavy carthorses with long tails and at least a century behind in the fashion. pp. 43-44
The lower orders of people dress in the Welsh style and have so much of the Welsh twang in their dialect as to be almost unintelligible. p. 62
The same style of dress prevails with the women and children; men’s hats over a mob cap fastened back at the ears, long blue cloaks that descend almost to their feet. These are seldom to be met without on account of the frequent showers a mountainous country is liable to; during the hot weather the cloak is thrown back and displays a short camlet gown buttoned from the throat and petticoat of the same material. On their legs they wear blue stockings without feet, they keep them down by means of a loop fastened round one of the toes. Many who are above the lowest order wear this dress, the simplicity of which appears preferable to the variety worn by many of our countrywomen. p. 73
Anon, (probably Henrietta Hurrell, Suffolk), A Journey through England and Wales, 1812, John Rylands Library, Manchester, Eng mss. 421,
At Glanhafren, near the town, is a flannel manufactory; a very considerable concern, belonging to Messrs Herbert and Brittain. This manufacture is of the most beautiful and delicate texture and from the improvements lately made in it by these gentlemen, we may fairly auger that it will become a very powerful rival, in the shape of shawls, to those imported from India, and made of the fine hair of the Tibet Goat which are frequently sold in England for forty guineas each, and upward.
Pugh, Edward, (1761-1813), Cambria Depicta: A Tour Through North Wales illustrated with Picturesque Views, By a Native Artist, (London : 1816), p. 226
The round hat and mob cap yet abounds but shoes and stockings are become general. (p. 8)
Ferry over the Conway ‘with a most picturesque beggar, a fine tall figure with a white beaver hat of battered condition’ (p. 23)
Drawing: Welsh girl knitting (bare feet, man’s hat, bonnet or handkerchief under hat) (p. 44)
Drawing: ‘Heterodoxy’ man in pulpit. Women in men’s hats, listening (p. 46)
Duncan, John Shute, (Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Tour Through Wales 1813, NLW MS16715A
Ayton found that the Welsh female peasants were ‘beyond all sufferance dirty and slovenly’ and ‘as they unfortunately dress alike, there is no competition between them’. I, p. 69
Their beauty is not set off by the national dress, and indeed it is strong proof of its transcendency that it appears so striking in spite of it. They indulge in no showy or sprightly colours, no gay ribbons, nor finery of any kind, such as distinguishes the country lasses of England; rough, dark woollen garments form both their summer and winter clothing; add to these a dark blue or brown cloak of coarse cloth, and a man’s hat, and you have a Welsh beauty in all the pride of her dress. II, p. 25
Ayton, R., A voyage round Great Britain : undertaken between the years 1813 and 1823 and commencing from the Land’s End, Cornwall, with a series of views illustrative of the Character and Prominent Features of the Coast drawn and engraved by William Daniel, A.R.A., 2 vols., (London, 1816)
[Raw wool imported from England and processed into cloth, but it wasn’t profitable so sold it to Mr Dare] who has confined the manufacture to a few articles ; and among others, to scarlet shawls of high prices, in imitation of the provincial dress called the Gower Whittle ; and which have now become winter garbs of much request with the ladies. … the domestic manufactures of the country : consisting of cloths, flannels, blankets, hosiery, linseys of flaxen warp and woollen woof [weft] or cotton woof, or a mixture of woollen and cotton woof, etc for home use. p. 441
Upper part of the County of Brecon
The only branch of manufactory carried on in this place is the working of stockings. These are sold at the markets around, at 8d a pair. A woman … may card, spin and knit four pairs of stockings each week; one pair of these stockings weighs near half a pound, which at 10d a pound is 5d out of the 8d, some pairs, however, weigh only 7 ounces, but as there is 1d of oil requisite for every pound of wool, we may fairly state the raw materials of each pair of stockings to be worth 5d.; hence the woman has only 3d for carding, spinning and knitting these stockings or 1/- a week. [quoting Mr Clark, Original report, 1794, p. 45, pp. 442-43
Davies, Walter, General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, Vol. 2, (London, 1815)
Purchased some Welsh whittles and gave 24/- each for them. (p. 9)
There is a … a woollen factory a mile & half [from the town] The Whittles are made there. (p. 10)
Coare, Mary, Diary, 1816?, Kent Record Office U1823/8Z4
1816 north Wales
An old flock bed, the bed clothes mean
The streets, though very coarse, were clean
And now came out the affecting drift
(‘You take me’) changing shirt for shift
This done, she’s wrapped up in a whittle
Gown and blue cloak, fit to a title.
Walter, John, ‘A tour of north Wales taken by a gentleman and a lady, scurrilously called Dandys’ Bangor, UCNW, 27, 28 (in verse).
The south-west of Gower is inhabited by the successors of a colony of Flemings, who do not understand the Welsh language. They are distinguished by their dialect and provincial dress. … The women wear what is called a whittle, made on fine wool, and dyed scarlet ; it is nearly two yards square, with a fringe at the bottom called ddrums. It is thrown across the shoulders, and fastened with a pin or broach; anciently it was fastened with the prickle of the blackthorn.
Swansea Directory, 1816, also published as a note in Hall, Mr S.C., and Mrs, The Art Journal, 1860, ‘The Companion Guide (by Railway) in South Wales’, note p. 312 and in Hall, Mr S.C., and Mrs, The Book of South Wales, the Wye, and the Coast, (1861), p. 349
We were much struck with the common dress of the women here, and in Wales, who even in their Sunday finery, wear men’s black round hats, with a little cap below it; a headdress which looked very becoming with youthful round faces, but disfigured women of a more advanced age very much.
Spiker, Samuel Heinrich, Dr (1786-1858), Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the year 1816. : Translated from the German, (1820), 2 vol. p. 35
At this place we first observed signs of having entered the Principality of Wales. The women being universally clad in long blue cloaks with men’s hats appear very different from our smart? country girls. …
The crowd of people greatly exceeding any assemblage of the kind in our part of the world, presented by their national costume and to us singular appearance an extraordinary spectacle … the women in their long blue?? cloth cloaks, striped linsey-woolsey petticoats and men’s hats particularly attracted our notice forming such a complete contrast to the neat ????? country girls that attended our English markets.
Scrope, Frances,? (1794-1858), ‘Journal of an excursion into North Wales, 1817’, North Yorkshire Record Office, ZPY5/18/5/3, p. 9, 11
Kington, Market day
Most of the women being dressed in the Welch costume with black round beaver hats and blue cloth cloaks (p. 8)
All the fashionables, both male and female, seemed to be assembled at the morning service; and their dresses were calculated to astonish the Welch from whose ancient and almost invariable costume they differed so widely. In one pew sat an English lady with a high Leghorn bonnet and trimmings, a green veil and a muslin dress; and by her side a fat Welsh woman dressed in a grey stuff gown, a large shawl, and a long thick blue cloth coat. Her head-dress consisted of a mob cap, a black silk handkerchief tied under her chin and a low black beaver hat. Methought these females formed a ludicrous contrast to each other, and their meeting seemed almost as strange as would be that of the opposite antipodes. (p. 19)
Fisher, Paul Hawkins, A Three weeks tour into Wales in the year 1817 (Stroud, 1818)
1817 (about) near Tintern
They are covered only with a few rags ehich seem to be of a stuff something like plaid.
British Library, Cole collection as quoted in Skeel, C.A.J., The Welsh Woollen Industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1924, p.15
[It isn’t unusual for visitors to note that the people along the Wye looked poor. Many were employed by the various industries along the banks of the river. Tintern is one of the places where beggars were noticed.]
1818 Basingwerk abbey [near Holywell]
The dress of the women is very characteristic – a long blue cloak, reaching to the bottom of the petticoats, a neat white mob cap under a round black hat.
Alderson, Harriet, Gwynedd Record Office, XM/2600
The contrast between this and the English towns we had been used to was very striking; not a word of our own language could be heard, everything was Welch; the dress was different, all the women wore round hats the same as men, a sort of bedgown with loose sleeves and a dark or striped flannel petticoat, mostly without shoes or stockings. (p. 35)
We thought at first the Welsh dogs had an objection to our stockings, but that could not be the case as the Welshmen constantly wear them though very often without feet to them, keeping them down by a kind of loop put round one of their toes; the knees of their breeches are open and red garters tied below. (p. 36)
Neath, Angel Inn
The landlady or waiter was ‘dressed in the true costume of her country, with a flowered bedgown of a pattern apparently a century old.’ (p. 38)
[on the road from New Inn to Tenby]
Flemmings and their characteristics
The dress differed in some respects from what we had seen before: the jacket or gown was of a plain uniform colour, generally brown or some other dark colour with long skirts made to fit close to the body over a blue or striped petticoat; round their beaver hats they wear broad velvet bands and with very few exceptions make use of shoes or stockings. The whole effect of their dress is very pleasing. They do not in general speak the Welsh language. (p. 63)
[leaving Carmarthen for Lampeter]
From Pembrokeshire to Carmarthen the people and their cottages appeared to be very dirty, today there was a little improvement … The dress was also different from that of the Pembroke people, being somewhat similar to that worn in Glamorganshire – many of the women wore whittols [whittles]; the distinctive feature of the dress in this part of the country is an ugly fashion of wearing a handkerchief (generally coloured) bound round the face as if they were all afflicted with mumps or the toothache. (p. 79)
Sandys, William, (1792-1874), Sandys, Sampson, (1797-1880) (brothers)
‘A Walk through South Wales in Oct. 1819’, Cwrtmawr MS 393C
Part quoted in Jones, T., A Walk Through Glamorgan, Glamorgan Historian, II, (1994), 116
Their aversion to the gaudy dress and unwarranted levities which disgrace the streets of our metropolis is such that is any of their kinsfolk … differ in the least from the plain costume of their neighbours they are continually subject to the sneers and reproaches of their equals who maintain with tenacity their original neatness. The custom among the women of wearing hats seems on the decline and with few exceptions more respectable inhabitants now appear in bonnets.
Mr and Mrs Woolrych, Tour, 1819, NLW, 16630B, p. 149
I was pleased with the countenance and manner of [his wife at their house], she was a stout middle sized woman looking as if she had worked hard, dressed in a homely woollen cloth of her own making and the round hat. p. 55
The women here generally wear bonnets. p. 79
Jones, Jenkin, (Captain, R.N.), Tour in England and Wales, May – June, 1819, NLW, MS785A,
Transactions of the Historical Society of West Wales, I, (1911), 97-144
A woollen manufactory here produces annually considerable quantities of flannel and Welsh shawls. p. 101
The shortest cloak used, called the whittle, is said to have originated here. Part II, p. 144
[Wales, but under Aberystwyth in a directory]
The costume of both sexes preserves a great degree of similarity in all weathers and very little variation is made in their dress, either in summer or winter. The women continue to wear mob-caps, chin stays and silk handkerchiefs, with black beaver hats, whether in hail, rain or sunshine, and not unfrequently and extra handkerchief serves as an additional ornament to their head-dress. The men in general evince by their dress the same independence of seasons. Part II, p. 170.
Evans, Thomas, Walks through Wales; containing a topographical and statistical description of the Principality: to which is prefixed, a copious travelling guide … Illustrated by engravings and maps, etc. (1819, Second edition).
The women, generally, wear hats of fur, precisely like those of the men. … The neat and cleanly appearance of these children, furnished a remarkable contrast with those of some of the towns through which I have lately passed [Ireland]. … At the town of St. Asaph, in Flintshire, the same decent appearance of the Sunday school children occurred.
Griscom, John, A Year in Europe, Comprising a Journal of Observations in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the North of Italy, and Holland in 1818 and 1819, Volume 2, (New York, 1823), pp. 490-491