Illustrated London News

The Illustrated London News was first published in May 1842, and unlike almost any other regular publication of the time, it included illustrations of events (rather than as adverts). They included engravings of important events such as Royal visits, disasters, the opening of major buildings, celebrations and riots.

These prints in a National magazines, with a circulation in the 1840s of 66,000 would have helped create an image of Welsh costume, especially among those who could afford to visit Wales by train.

For illustrations, search Mary Evans Picture Library.

The edition for 11th February 1843 includes the famous illustration entitled ‘The Welsh Rioters’ of a man attacking a gate with an axe, accompanied by a brief description of the activities of Rebecca.

During the rest of the year there were many brief reports and a few editorials about the riots, but the edition for the 2nd September had an illustration of the meeting at Mynydd Sylen near Carmarthen on the 25th August when 2-3,000 people discussed a proposed petition to the government concerning the depressed state of the neighbourhood. Several women are shown wearing Welsh hats. (‘Meeting on Mynydd Sylen’, Friday 25th August, engraved by W.J. Linton, Illustrated London News 2nd September, 1843)

The edition for the 11th November 1843 also included a full page account which described ‘Swansea and Carmarthen, Swansea Market women, Rebaccaites and Carmarthen Peasantry’ with illustrations of each. The article began: ‘The recent results of the special commission, and the still undiminished disorder and outrage in South Wales, render this an opportune moment for resuming our illustrations of the localities and characteristics of the country and its people, from sketches made by our artist, who has just returned from the disturbed districts. … . These several groups may be relied on for fidelity, having been sketched by our artist on the roadside.’ This implies that the illustrations were reasonably accurate and not just drawn by an artist in London, using existing prints as a source for the detail. Despite this, the rims on the hats of the Rebaccaites look slightly floppier than they should and it seems unlikely that a woman would allow her son or husband to wear one of her prized possessions so perhaps these were specially made for the occasion out of cardboard and cloth.

Print: ‘Swansea Market Women’

The Swansea market women wear hats in shape between the hats of the time of Charles I and those worn in England in the present day; they also wear the many-coloured shawl very gracefully, and in every variety of mode; yet numbers of these women are shoeless. Generally speaking, they are good-looking and of elegant carriage; those portrayed in our engraving usually come to market on horseback, sitting between their baskets, and sometimes cross-legged.’ Artist unknown (ILN 11.11.1843)

Print: ‘Rebaccaites, or ‘Beccas.’

The “Rebaccaites,” or “Beccas,” in the second group, are men disguised in women’s large caps and hats, and having their faces blackened: sometimes they wear a women’s bed-gown, a sheet, or their own coat turned inside out ; the more grotesque, the more complete the disguise. They also wear bunches of fern and feathers in their hats ; and they carry guns, pick-axes, shovels, sledge hammers, cow horns, etc. With what dexterity they use these weapons and implements, recent events have but too plainly shown.’ Artist unknown (ILN 11.11.1843).

Print: ‘Carmarthen Peasantry’

The Carmarthenshire peasant women, as well as the women of South and North Wales generally, are remarkable for their fine figures: the girls carry water-pitchers and baskets on their heads, balancing them without holding ; some of the pitchers have the classic forms of antiquity. The farmers usually ride to market on small horses, which are well-shaped, strong and active creatures.’ Artist unknown (ILN 11.11.1843) The woman in the Welsh hat on the left is rather unusually not looking a proud as most illustrations show; the woman standing next to her has the tail of her betgwn gathered up as was often done, and has an elegant pitcher on her head.

The account of the opening of the South Wales Railway to Carmarthen includes an engraving which shows a number of women in Welsh hats (ILN, 1852).

Opening of the South-Wales Railway. – The Narberth-Road Station, Haverfordwest, Illustrated London News, January 7th, 1854. The 14 Welsh hats predominates in this view, but the detail of the rest of the costume is hidden by the very large patterned shawls. (Ceredigion Museum 2006.106.5)