A type of woman’s hat, made of felt or straw was known as the cockle hat. It was worn in the Swansea area and elsewhere along the south coast of west Wales by cockle gatherers who could carry a pail or basket on it.
Occasionally, Welsh hats are referred to in Welsh as cwcwll tal [i.e. tall cockle hats]
Some people thought the cockle hat should be worn with National Costume, and now is by some girls on St David’s day.
Photograph of two young women wearing Cockle hats, by Thomas Gulliver, Swansea, 1865-1871
National Museum Wales 42.126
1849 ‘Vale of Neath’ by E Hall?, 1849 (with grateful thanks to Neath Antiquarian Society)
Watercolour, painting of women in short brown gown, like those worn in Pembrokeshire and a cockle hat. On the back is written: ‘Phillips says ???? 17/17 Lady Llanover / Miss Waddington / Benjm Hall MP afterward / Lord Llanover / She visited Neath Valley in 1849’
The name of the artist might be Hall, Hill or Hull. Two other similar images, of Swansea Market, might be by the same artist, see below. (Swansea Museum, 2000.11; NMW, St Fagans, 61.45)
Pit Hands, anon, print, published in Hall, Mr and Mrs, (1861), The Book of South Wales, the Wye, and the Coast, p. 282.
The women are wearing a range of straw or chip headgear including a cockle hat (left) and a rather flat coal scuttle-shaped hat.
1871, Swansea Market Scene, Swansea Museum, 2000.11, very similar to E. Hill, ‘Swansea Market’, watercolour, 1871, NMW, St Fagans, 61.45
The seated woman in the foreground is wearing a cockle hat.
1859 Merthyr Eisteddfod
The women … wore their tall hats; and such as could not afford such gorgeous attire, contented themselves with that oddly-shaped straw head-covering that is neither a bonnet nor a hat, and partakes of the nature of both, being expressly adapted for the use of those who desire to carry loads to market on their heads.
Anon, In the Land of the Eisteddfod, The Cornhill Magazine: Vol. I, (January to June, 1860), pp. 478-487
1881 During the Royal visit to Swansea
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
According to a suggestion made by Mr Silas Evans, before his death, that 500 of the choir should be dressed in Welsh costume, a large number of the choir were so attired, the head gear varying between the old, tapering Welsh tall hat, the Spanish style, broader at the top, and the “cockle” hat.
Cardiff Times, 22.10.1881
‘The cockle women look very picturesque … On their heads they wear small Welsh hats, suitable for bearing the weight of the cockle pails. … A thick pad, known as a “dorch”, protects both the hat and the head from the pail. These untrimmed hats are of black straw with a fancy edge. They come slightly forward over the forehead and recede on the back of the head where they are turned up and curved. The only head covering somewhat resembling it was the one known as the ‘gipsy-hat’ and bonnet in the old fashion-plates of 1872.
Marie Trevelyan, (Emma Mary Thomas of Llantwit Major), Glimpses of Welsh Life and Character (1893), pp. 167-170