stockings (hosanau or sanau)

This page includes:

  • Introduction
  • Quality
  • Surviving stockings
  • Footless stockings (with illustrations)
  • Tourists’ references to footless stockings
  • Tourists’ references to stockings in general
  • Purchase of stockings by the gentry and nobility
  • Stockings in Ireland

For more, see knitting

It was said that Welsh women knitted stockings whenever they had their hands free. They took the stockings to market to sell to middle-men, who probably sold most of them at English markets, from where, it is said, many were exported to Europe.

They were either natural colours (black through grey to white and cream), or apparently more often blue, occasionally with white stripes.

It has been suggested that Welsh stockings were of high quality and long-lasting. Several members of the gentry and nobility purchased Welsh stockings during their tour as souvenirs, and it is said that George III wore only Bala stockings (Hernon, Paul, Sir Watkin’s Tours. Excursions to France, Italy and north Wales, 1768-1771 (2013), p. 141)

Very few stockings thought to have been knitted by Welsh women survive. A few ‘funeral’ stockings are in the collections of the National History Museum, St Fagans, and Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth.

Footless stockings
Some tourists noted or illustrated stockings without feet: they had a loop which hooked over a toe to stop them riding up the calf. None are known to have survived.


Detail from ‘Welsh Harper’ from Campion, George Bryant, Sketches of the picturesque character of Great Britain from nature and on stone. (London: Ackermann, 1836), no. 5

The girl is wearing footless stockings







Detail from R. Gritffiths, ‘Welsh Fashions Taken on a Market-Day in Wales’, hand-coloured print, 1851








‘Dame Venedotia, alias Modryb Gwen’ in the form of a map of Wales.

‘Designed by H. Hughes and Drawn on Stone by J.J. Dodd’.

First published by Hugh Hughes in 1848 in ‘Pictures for the Million of Wales‘, no 77.

She is wearing footless stockings.






1798-1801, North Wales
The women of the mountainous parts of the country …  On their legs they have blue stockings without any feet to them; they keep them down by means of a loop fastened round one of the toes.
Bingley, W., Rev, (1774-1823), A Tour round North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and some Sketches of its Natural History; Delineated from two Excursions through all the interesting Parts of the Country, during the summers of 1798 and 1801, 2 vol. T. N. Longman & O. Rees: London, 1804. 8o., Illustrated, 2nd edition, p. 491

1821, Caernarfonshire?
The female peasants in Carmarthenshire [sic, but he was in Caernarfonshire] have their stockings without feet, but with a bit prolonged so as to fasten over the second toe.
Meyrick, Llewelyn, Journal of a Tour through part of England and Wales in the summer of 1821 by Llewelyn Meyrick Esq, Queen’s College Oxford, British Library, Add. 28802, pp. 65-67

1828 Glamorgan
the Glamorganshire lass, in stockings cut off at the ankle, and without shoes
T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti; Descriptive of Life in Wales: Enterspersed with Poems.  (Aberystwyth, 1828), pp. 47; (2nd edition 1839; 3rd edition 1873) [Note: this is a novel in which Prichard might have been trying to show that there was regional variation in the dress of Welsh women.]

1828, Aberystwyth
black stockings are worn without feet but with a narrow slip passing over the upper part of the foot and bound by a loop round the second toe,
Anon, A journal, with sketches, of a walking tour from Kington to Aberystwyth and through parts of North Wales, 1828. NLW MS 6716D, p. 21

1836 North Wales
They [do not] use shoes in north Wales, save under peculiar circumstances; but they cover their legs – not with stockings – but with something that more resembles a gaiter than anything else. It is a stocking, all except the foot: there is a long point that descends down the instep; and to keep this in its place, and prevent it from slipping up, it is hooked by a loop over the second toe, or that next the great one [sic]. These hermaphrodite stockings-gaiters are made of black or grey worsted – mostly black
Anon (‘Pedestres’), A Pedestrian Tour of Thirteen Hundred and Forty Seven Miles through Wales and England (1836), vol II, Chapter 1 p. 3-6



1791, Wales
‘The employments of the women are within doors. They knit their husband’s stockings and likewise others for sale;
Morgan, Mary, Mrs, A Tour to Milford Haven, in the Year 1791, (London, 1795)

Long blue cloaks were now universal, … Blue was the general colour, worn by both sexes, even down to the stockings.
Mavor, William Fordyce, A tour in Wales … performed in the summer of 1805 (1806), p. 78

1806 Swansea
Dress of the Welsh peasants [at Swansea].  They are chiefly without shoes or stockings,
Spence, Elizabeth, (1768-1832), Summer Excursions through Parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire and South Wales, 1809 (2nd edition), Letter 17 p. 112

1807 Llanbedr, Breconshire
Coloured handkerchiefs over their necks and shoulders – broad felt hats with shallow crowns and blue or black yarn stockings and to this we might in many instances add red flannel shifts.
A.M. Cuyler (This may not be the name of the author), Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Piecefield, Raglan etc by A.M.Cuyler 1807, NLW add MS 784a, p. 167 The section on Welsh peasants (p.166) is the same as that in Powys County Archives Office A104/1/1(1) written by Henry Thomas Payne.

1826 [Carmarthenshire]
Women uniformly dress alike, viz., men’s hats over their white caps, blue or black and red gowns [bedgown] with short sleeves with linen arm covers [sleeves], dark blue stockings and cloth habits or cloaks of a dark colour.
Masleni, Thomas John, Sketch of a Tour of Scenery in Wales, 1826, NLW Mss 65a, p. 49

1827, location uncertain
Witnessed a Welsh wedding, found no peculiarity about it except the great [?] attendance[?] of friends – the couple in this instance were apparently poor, yet they were accompanied by about 50 people respectably dressed in their way – hats and caps, hooded cloaks, stout leather shoes and black worsted stockings. 
Lloyd, Captain, A Diary of Journey from Charring Cross, London, through Wales, by Captain Lloyd, 1827, NLW MS 786, p. 39

1848, Aberystwyth
The women, for the most part cleanly dressed, with their wares either upon stalls, behind which they sit, or in a basket over their arms, are clad in woollen or cotton gowns with their black worsted stockings drawn up tightly and evenly, thick-soles black leather shoes or boots, without a speck of dirt or dust upon them, shining almost as brightly as if they had been varnished. … others knitting stockings as they walk along.
S.S.S. (possibly Sophia S Simpson), Notes on a Tour Through Wales in 1848, published in ‘The Visitor or Monthly Instructor’, 1848, p. 292 and Williams, M., (1951-2), National Library of Wales Journal, vol VII p. 78-80

1857 Bangor / Beaumaris
poor cottagers… also carry about in immense packages worsted stockings and socks of home manufacture.
Anon, Journal of a Tour through North Wales, NLW, mss. 20719 A, p. 184

Stockings were of wool of the sheep, or best lamb’s-wool, black or scarlet; white ones only worn in the towns, and that quite lately by those who imitated ladies.
Curtis, Mary, The Antiquities of Laugharne, Pendine and their Neighbourhoods. (written in 1877? ), 2nd edition 1880, chapter 1 part IV, p. 40-44, reprinted Dyfed County Council, 1991

In days gone by the Glamorgan women … the women’s feet were enclosed in thick lamb’s wool stockings and wooden clogs. Leathern shoes were worn only on Sundays and holidays.
Trevelyan, Marie, Glimpses of Welsh Life and Character (1893)

Purchase of stockings by the gentry and nobility

16.8.1815, Bala
I am going to buy worsted stockings and socks – which are famous? here. If I find any that will suit your little feet I really shall feel inclined to make a ????????????? [ galumteree] of some to you to match the garter I gave you at Stowe.
21.8.1815, Bala
… I beg your acceptance of one dozen ???? [not pair] Bala woollen socks which I have bought for you, and as they fit me, doubtless they will fit you. These I will present to you in proper person.
Letters from Richard Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos to Mrs Lloyd, Rolls, Chigwell, Essex, Aston Hall Correspondence (2), mss 2594, 2595

Stockings in Ireland

Stockings known as Máirtíní (Paddy Martins) were knee-length soleless stockings; one part covered the heel and the other part had a loop which wound around the middle toe, were worn by women and boys to protect the shins from cracking, caused by wet work, wet skirts, changes in temperature or exposure to the fire.
Bourke, Marie, Rural Life in Pre-famine Connacht’, in B.P. Kennedy and R Gillespie (eds.) Ireland: Art into History, (1994), p. 70

Giosán liopa (Ireland) stockings with a flap covering the instep.
Mahon, Brid, Irish Dress, (vol. 10 of the Irish Environmental Library Series, p. 150