1881 Opening of Swansea Docks

The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Swansea to open the new docks in 1881. The Royal party arrived by train on Monday 17th October. The ceremony took place on the Tuesday and they went to Raglan the following day for lunch in the ruins of the castle before returning home by train to London on the Wednesday.

It was for this visit that there was a concerted effort to encourage people to wear Welsh costume. This might have been driven by patriotism but it is clear that manufacturers of Welsh fabrics were involved, and used the occasion to advertise more of their products. Despite the initial enthusiasm, it appears that only the women members of a choir and a few individual women wore Welsh costume at the event.

Very detailed accounts of the visit were published in The Cambrian, 19.10.1881 (special edition) and 21.10.1881. and the Illustrated London News for the 22nd October 1881, published an article illustrated with costumes of local women: Swansea Milk-Seller, (NLW P1735); Swansea Market Woman and Swansea Cockle-Seller (NLW P1734).

A large arch, covered in vegetation, was made to celebrate the visit. Five women in Welsh costume stood at the top with a spinning wheel and two stood at the base. (NLW John Thomas photographs, JTH02183)

The Welsh costumes to be worn by the Nobility and Gentry on the occasion of the Royal Visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Swansea may be obtained of A Griffiths and Son, Welsh Flannel Manufacturer, 45 and 102 High Street, Swansea’,
Cambrian (newspaper) 8.7.1881, advert, page 1

It was agreed that all the Swansea Coral Society’s young ladies would be dressed in Welsh costume (Mr Silas Evan’s suggestion).
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, August 18, 1881

Sir – I scan the programme of those invited to welcome the Prince’s visit. … There is “a programme lack” of Welsh clergy … As for the ladies of Wales, whose ancestors in their red mantles and cockle-shell hats, frightened the invading French to submission at Fishguard, they are nowhere. I know the Prince would like to see the Welsh costumes properly. Stephens of Merthyr (a good authority), states plainly that the Swansea Valley costume is “a red whittle “ worn by male and female, formerly with fringes or tassels. The hat is the cockle-shell, for the erroneously ugly tall hat was never Welsh, but bought as a beaver from Spain. I have in my possession a fine old painting, 200 years old, of a Welsh shepherd in a storm. His cockle-shell bonnet is like a Scotch blue bonnet or sou’wester, as it is truly worn the reverse of the lady’s way, so that the peak, being behind, throws the rain over the man’s shoulders. Mr Hussey Vivian or Mr J Jones Jenkins are entitled to wear the red costume and the hat cockled behind, and I would be glad of every volunteer at least wearing the red whittle plaid “so royal.” We want organisation and sticking to our national colours and costumes, like the Scotch, and I believe Mrs Vivian rightly sticks up for the honest, good wearing Welsh costumes, as it is most notorious that when the plaid is worn no begging is practiced, and honesty and virtue is on the increase. Some two or three hundred with red shawls might be got together by the Mayor of Swansea. Or he ought to issue a proclamation inviting those honest plaid-wearing and cockle-shell hat people to do so on that day. It was noticed and reflected upon most discreditably to the English clergy about Swansea and all denominations that when the eminent Archbishop of Canterbury opened congress there was nothing but a shabby turnout of the rawest looking English Church Union processionally the Archbishop … Those around me are enemies to my peace.
I am Sir, yours truly, Owain Cyfelach
Cambrian (newspaper), 14.10.1881, p.8
[He may be referring to the plaid as a long rectangular garment (which is the correct use of the term) and not the tartan pattern. Might he have been in the wool industry?]

Advert by David James, flannel manufacturer of Nelson Street and Union Street, for Welsh costumes.
Advert for Andrews, Artist, 45 Wind Street. offering to photograph ladies in Welsh costume. Dresses kept.
Report Two Welsh women were introduced to the Princess. They were dressed in Welsh costume and she admired the picturesque character of the national costume. [Presumably these were the two from the choir mentioned in the report of the Times]
Cambrian (newspaper) 19.10.1881, p. 3

Messrs T.P. Parry [of Oswestry] and Rocke’s arch near King Street was of wool ‘on each side of the Prince of Wales’ feathers sat a Welsh woman dressed in the costume of the country, engaged in the national pastime of knitting’
Cambrian (newspaper) 19.10.1881, p. 4; The Illustrated London News 29.10.1881, p. 435; The Graphic 29.10.1881, p. 416; The editor, Bye-gones: Relating to Wales and the Border Counties, November, 1881, p. 327

200 young choristers, part of the choir of 2,000, were dressed in Welsh costume.
Cambrian (Newspaper), 19.10.1881, special edition

‘On one side of the route were massed 2,000 members of choral societies under a leader, and on the other was a grandstand seating a large number of members of the Masonic fraternity and their friends. The choral singers, closely packed together, formed a perfect sea of faces. Of the girls who were massed in front, many wore a quaint Welsh costume very appropriate and picturesque. This consisted of a loosely fitting bodice of red flannel striped with black, with a short petticoat to match, turned back in front like the military skirts of a hundred years ago. A few wore tall Welsh hats but the majority appeared in a smaller description of head-gear, common in south Wales, and known as the cockle-hat. … Meanwhile a group of female choral singers, wearing tall Welsh hats, had attracted the Princess of Wales’s attention and at her desire, two of them, simple modest country girls, evidently unprepared for such an honour, were called over to the side of the carriage, where her Royal Highness asked them a few questions.’
The Times, 19.10.1881

Bouquets of flowers were presented to the Princess by young ladies dressed in the quaint costume of the Welsh.
Glasgow Herald, 19.10.1881

The front two ranks of the choir were filled with between 90 and 100 young girls dressed in the ancient Welsh costume of plaid skirt, bodice, and shawl and the ‘cockle hat’ so called from its resemblance to the shell fish … some of the damsels wore for their head gear the tall, conical and broad-brimmed hat generally supposed to be the typical head covering of the Welsh but which antiquarians assert is a Spanish innovation.
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, October 19, 1881

Letter: A Red Welsh whittle was presented to the Princess and Brethyn llwyd to the Prince on behalf of Mr J Parry Reynolds. His Royal Highness said that he would like to have a suit made of the Brethynllwyd [a grey fabric resulting from a mixture of black and white natural wool] from Mrs H Hussey Vivian, Singleton. Mrs Vivian was also given a whittle by Mr Reynolds. They were made from wool from sheep on Pentrecoch Farm Llantwitjuxta-Neath. The wool was made into shawls in its natural white colour, then dyed scarlet at the Cwmpandy Mills. They had a 12 inch fringe.
Cambrian (Newspaper), 21.10.1881

The Front row of choristers was composed of girls in Welsh costume, two of them wearing the droll steeple-crowned hat still habitually seen in Welsh country places. The Prince of Wales … sent his footman to bring them over to the carriage. (Poem about how proud the girls felt).
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, October 29, 1881