Coombe Tennant, Winifred

Winifred Coombe Tennant [cited as WCT below] (1874-1956). Bardic name: Mam o Nedd (which she wrote as Mam ô Nèdd and occasionally Mam ô  Castell Nèdd). Married Charles Coombe Tennant (1852–1928) in 1895. They lived at Cadoxton Lodge, Neath until 1931 when she moved to London.

She made attempts to popularise traditional Welsh costume and is said to have worn it herself every morning for the first ten or so years of her marriage [from 1895 until the death of her daughter Daphne in July, 1908].  According to D Rhys Phillips, she wore a Welsh costume again from 1923  [see below].

Nearly 3,000 letters in the Winifred Coombe Tennant (Mam o Nedd) collection in the National Library of Wales relate mostly to her activities, initially as chair of the Robes Committee 1918-1928 then as Arolygedd y Gwisgoedd (Mistress of the [Gorsedd] Robes) 1928-1954.  She was supported by a temporary Robes Committee, 1921-1923 and a ‘permanent’ one which was established in 1923. Having accomplished their task of revising and ordering all the required costumes, the committee was dissolved in 1932.  Despite all her other interests and responsibilities, she spent a lot of time arranging for new robes to be made (she had several disputes with Pryce Jones about the exact shade of the cloth to be used for the robes; see letters 742 -746) and she arranged for the robes to be sent to and collected from Proclamations and Eisteddfodau each year, ensuring they were listed, clean and in good repair. In 1931 she moved to London and from 1934 she had the help of Telynores Rhondda, who lived near Cardiff in dealing with the Robes which were stored in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.  She retired in about 1954, having served under eight Archdruids and five Recorders.

The letters were written in English because she could not speak Welsh. From 1927 typed copies of a few letters from WCT were included. Copies of letters from her to some of her correspondents are in separate parts of her collection. The letters are cited below as NLW WCT [letter number].

Correspondents included:

  • D Rhys Phillips, who convened the Gorsedd Robes committees which she chaired. WCT found him difficult to work with.
  • Pryce Jones Ltd, of Newtown who supplied the Gorsedd Robes from at least 1922 until 1948. Some of the letters have samples of the fabrics used for the robes attached to them. They had kept special stocks of suitable fabrics, and dyed them to the exact shades required by WCT. Letter 2697 includes a print of front and rear view of a Gorsedd robe with prices as sold by Pryce Jones. Messrs John Lewis, Oxford Street, London supplied the robes from 1949.
  • Various officials of the Gorsedd and Eisteddfodd committees
  • The National Museum of Wales who stored the Gorsedd robes and regalia
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum who advised on repairs to some of the Regalia
  • Various firms who supplied materials for the robes and cleaned them
  • Various landowners who were asked to supply a suitable stone for the new Gorsedd circle at Sketty Park, Swansea.
Dr Emyr Wyn Jones ‘Winifred Coombe Tennant a’r Eisteddfod’, Y Traethodydd, Cyf. CLIII (644-647) 1998 was based mainly on the letters of Winifred Coombe Tennant to Beriah Gwynfe Evans (1848-1927) Recorder. These show that WCT depended on Evans to make decisions when D Rhys Phillips frustrated the work of the Robes committee.
NLW MS 23644C
Traditional Welsh costume

Although most of these letters concerned Gorsedd robes, a few show that she and others were still interested in reviving traditional Welsh costume, and from these, it is clear that Pryce Jones had suitable fabrics and possibly complete costumes for sale (see Lady Paget’s letters below). Some of the letters show that there were suggestions that copies of either mediaeval or traditional Welsh costumes should be worn by at least some of those involved in Gorsedd ceremonies, but these were discarded in favour of  a more practical version of the robes which had been designed by Professor Hubert Herkomer, who also designed some of the regalia in 1899. WCT wore Welsh costume at some of the Gorsedd ceremonies (until she was made a bard)  but it is not clear from where she acquired it.


When I first came to the Vale of Neath as a bride [following her marriage in 1895], … the first to befriend us were the Williams of Aberpergwm. … Mrs Williams urged me to adopt the Welsh dress and wear it daily until the afternoon. This I did and never found anything more comfortable and becoming.
Idris Morgan Williams ‘The Story of Craig y Dinas’, a talk by Winifred Coombe Tennant for BBC Welsh home service, 17.10.1853
Morgan Stuart Williams (1846-1909) married Josephine Herbert on 22.7.1873 and they lived at Aberpergwm. Josephine … adopted as de rigeur the “Paish”[pais] as morning wear …
Belcham, Elizabeth F., About Aberpergwm. The home of the Williams family in the Vale of Glamorgan. (1993), p. 122

1898 onwards
Mrs Winifred Coombe Tennant wore Welsh costume every morning before lunch  from about 1898 until 1908 and again from 1923.
D Rhys Phillips, Ancient Welsh and Celtic Costumes, Radio talk, broadcast 8th April, 1927. NLW, D Rhys Phillips, 259 (hand written with many corrections), p. 5.

Photograph of her son, Alexander with Poebe MacGreggor, 1909. The baby is held with a siol magu ‘Welsh fashion’ (diary 5.12.1909)
Lord, Peter, Between two worlds : the diary of Winifred Coombe Tennant 1909-1924, (2011), p. 38

She was a member of the Committee for the Neath National Eisteddfod (1918) and was made chair of the Arts and Crafts committee.
On the 28th June 1917, following the Proclamation of the National Eisteddfod, Neath she wrote: ‘It was decided I was to get a new Welsh dress. My old one is worn out’.

She was conferred with an Honorary Degree (ovate) as chair of the Arts and Crafts Committee at the Neath National Eisteddfod on the 8th August, 1918 and wore a green robe. In 1923 it was decided that Honorary members might be promoted to full membership and with the Recorder, Beriah acting as her sponsor, WCT became a full bard.

Letter from D Rhys Phillips, 8.10.1921
Gorsedd Robes. Gorsedd of bards have appointed me convenor of a committee to consider the question of additional Gorsedd Robes and the matter of pattern as well. The committee is: Mrs W Coombe Tennant [chair]; Lady Stafford Howard; Miss Stepney Gulston; Lady Penrhyn; Lady Mostyn; Lady Hughes Hunter, Anglesey. We want twice as many robes as we have at present.
[Subsequent letters show that it was difficult to convene the committee partly because three of the women had homes in north Wales and all were often away in London and abroad. Lady Stafford Howard and Miss Stepney Gulston resigned from the committee, but the latter kept her promise of paying £50 towards new robes (Lady Howard had gave 53 new robes for the 1911 Eisteddfod, Carmarthen). It was agreed that they would make a modified version of the Herkomer gowns. On the 25.4.1922 she wrote ‘I believe Herkomer design can yet be saved as against vile mediaeval fancy dress design favoured by Lady Howard and Miss Stephney Gulston.’

Letter from D Rhys Phillips, with information about Pryce Jones’ estimate of cost of producing the new gowns and sample fabrics.
NLW WCT 89 (10 June 1922); 141, 145 (19.6.1923)

Letter from Beriah Evans, Caernarfon, discussing the design of a costume for the boys who took part in the ceremonies. ‘Mr Rhys Philips suggests the clothes of a Welsh boy of last century as a model but I think the earlier and well-authenticated arrangement described above far to be preferred.’
Letter from Lord Treowen re costumes at Llanover. ‘Will send any suitable boy’s costume to you’.
Beriah later agreed that the boy’s costume at Llanover was quite unsuitable.
NLW WCT 111 (5.2.1923); 112 (19.6.1923); 146 (4.7.1923)

Letter from Beriah Evans, 16.2.1923 {More on Welsh costume for boys.} ‘The tall Welsh hat, which is really Dutch, not Welsh might with advantage be superseded by the Swansea Cocklewoman’s hat which is Welsh.’

The Gorsedd council agreed at its meeting at the Pontypool proclamation, to appoint a permanent Robes Committee. WCT was invited to chair it.

Photograph of WCT and another woman in Welsh costume and Welsh hat in procession with men in Gorsedd robes, Mold, 1923
Lord, Peter, Between two worlds : the diary of Winifred Coombe Tennant 1909-1924, (2011), p. 397

The Gorsedd acquired two Celtic Cloaks in Crimson cloth, embroidered in gold, to be worn by the women who presented the Arbethget. They had been used by the Cardiff Cymmrodorion and were designed by J.H. Thomas, former Herald Bard.
A collection of 12 old Gorsedd Robes in blue cashmere were found in the basement of the National Museum of Wales, but they had been damaged by moths and were incinerated. Isaac Williams, keeper of Art in the national Museum designed the new suits for the trumpeter  and the bearers of Y Cown Gwlad and the Gorsedd Banner.
‘Chapter of Gorsedd History’ written by WCT in English, published in Welsh in Y Corn Gwlad 1949-1950, NLW, WCT no. 3728

Letter from WCT to Beriah Evans, Recorder, 31.3.1924
I am finding it no easy matter to put up with the vanity, touchiness and condescending impertinence alternating with snubs which is what I have to endure from DRP [D Rhys Phillips, the convener of the Robes committee]. … Angels from heaven would find it difficult to work with such a man.
NLW MS 23644C, 4-5

WCT visited a number of weaving mills in Wales with samples which she had acquired from Lady Llanover’s Gwenfrwdd mill at Llanover. She collected and carefully labelled Welsh fabric samples, including some by Pryce Jones of Newtown, which are now in Swansea Museum (1986.200)

WCT wrote to The Rural Industries Intelligence Bureau in London requesting lists of firms that made hand-woven woollen fabrics in Wales. Their reply is in Swansea Museum (1986.200). The same collection includes many samples of woollen cloth produced in Wales. These were presumably collected as part of her project to create a Welsh costume, either for herself, for others or for the Gorsedd of Bards.

WCT visited Pryce Jones at Newtown to buy the luisey [sic – linsey] skirts for her new dress, then drove to mills at Llanidloes.
I found the red traditional flannel like my own bedgown, also a perfect apron length in old design. Bought enough for my bedgown, also an apron length. If only I can get the Robes Committee to establish a recognized design and materials to save the Welsh costume from modernizing ‘fancy-dress’ deterioration.
Lord, Peter, Winifred Coombe Tennant, a Life Through Art, (2007), p. 73
Diary of Winifred Coombe Tennant in Lord, Peter, Between two worlds : the diary of Winifred Coombe Tennant 1909-1924 (2011), entry for 2.7.1924

Letter from Gwladys Williams, The College, Pontypool to WTC 16.7.1924
Problems in getting suitable fabrics for girls and boys and have had to compromise a lot. Girls costumes made of poplin rep — we tried to get some of the Llanover flannel but it is not being made now, Mrs Gruffydd-Richards of Llanover has many patterns of the original.
Perhaps you know Lady Llanover’s famous book of illustrations, we felt justified from that to adopt rather lighter and prettier patterns, several of her Gwentian costumes have beautiful bedgown material of various shades.
At present we are going by the Llanover style for boys and girls and as we are in Monmouthshire there is some precedence for us.
The boys hats we have actually borrowed from Llanover – the waistcoat is of Welsh flannel, the breeches of velvet according to pattern and the coat of velvet to match the breeches.

List of members of the Robes committee March 1925

Letter from Pryce Jones 9.5.1925
We are submitting patterns of all of the materials used in the Welsh costumes, which have been approved of, and also an apron length
Re Crimson shawls, 36 ins sq, 6s 6d, only 5 in stock. Re the competition – would the winner let us see the costume so we can make a copy.
Invoice for Apron – 3s 9d.
NLW WCT 329, 341

Letter from Annie J Lewis, The Mansion House, Swansea, 11.5.1925
I have returned the articles to the Chapmans and am returning the remaining lengths of flannel. Would you lend me the muslin cap and sleevelets and a scarlet shawl to get two dyed the same.[It is likely that this was H.A.  Chapman of 235 High Street, Swansea, photographer who may have had a collection of Welsh costume for women to wear when having their portraits taken.]


Photograph of a woman in by H.A. Chapman, 235 High Street, Swansea







Letter from H A Chapman, Artist and Photographer, 235 High St, Swansea, 9.6.1925
Your photos arrived this morning. … I’m surprised at the lack of detail in the stripes but the general style of costume is quite satisfactory. Copies shall be sent to several of the papers before the Proclamation.

The Proclamation of the Swansea National Eisteddfod was held on  2 July 1925

Photographs of Mrs Coombe Tennant in costume of well-to-do middle class; Mrs Talog Williams in costume of the gentry; Mrs Henry Folland in a typical Welsh costume.
South Wales Daily News, 2.7.1925, NLW Man o Nedd newspaper cuttings collection, 3739; NLW WCT letter 341

Letter from W Talog Williams, secretary of the Swansea Eisteddfod 14.8.1925
I am asked by Mrs Williams to write you about some patterns of Welsh material for costumes Re Messrs Pryce Jones and Co., which you have and would be glad if you could send them onto her.

Letter from the new Herald bard, Sieffre o Gyfarthfa (Geoffrey Crawshay, Llanfair Court, Abergavenny and Balls Park, Hertford)
It was decided to appoint a special commission to inquire into Gorsedd Reform, Ritual etc. This resulted in the publication of a booklet on the ceremonies and the purchase of some new robes for the bearers of the Corn Hirlas etc.
NLW WCT 421, 549

Letters dated October and December 1925
Lady Paget of London wanted a Welsh costume and decided to visit Pryce Jones to purchase the whole set.
NLW WCT 422,  423, 429

1926 February
Meeting of the Gorsedd Commission to consider reforms of the Gorsedd ceremonies and robes, held at WCT’s home.

‘I slept well under my ‘cathen’ … {made in Cardiganshire} … I came down to breakfast in my Welsh dress, tying on my apron of ‘two blues’ Carmarthenshire flannel. [My boys] wore suits of home-spun tweed made on a hand loom in the Aberystwyth area. The hand loom of Lewis Jones’ [of Lampeter] is in the National Museum in Cardiff.
Winifred Coombe Tennant, ‘Beautiful Things Made in Wales’, Cambrian Daily Leader, 1928

Handloom weaver at Crickhowel who produced fine tweeds for the Glanusk family from their own wool. He had set up the hand loom in the National Museum
Article by Mrs Coombe Tennant. Western Mail, 15.8.1934, NLW Man o Nedd newspaper cuttings collection, 3747

letter from M Ceri David, Maesgwyn, Port Talbot, 15.8.[1934]
Re Mrs Coome Tennant’s lament of the vanishing looms of Wales, 5 young weavers at Taibach are mastering their craft, producing Margam tweed. 12 more boys to be trained.
Western Mail 18.8.1934, NLW Man o Nedd newspaper cuttings collection, 3747

WCT met Princess Elizabeth at a wedding in London, following which negotiations were completed to initiate the princess as a bard at the Mountain Ash Eisteddfod in 1946. WCT had sole charge of arranging the princesses robe which was made by Ede and Ravenscroft of London.
NLW WCT 2378-2402

Letter from Pryce Jones 18.11.1948 saying they will go on making robes if they can find the material but a couple of weeks later they wrote to say they were unable to do so.
NLW WCT 2485, 2488

Letter from WCT to Messrs John Lewis, Oxford Street, London, 5.10.1949 who had been appointed official Gorsedd Robe makers
NLW WCT 2605

An article: ‘Chapter of Gorsedd History’ written by WCT was published in Y Corn Gwlad 1949-1950

The last letter in the collection relating to WCT’s work as mistress of the Robes is dated 14 July, 1952. She was presented with a clock by the Gorsedd at the Ystradgynlas Eisteddfod on 3rd August 1954.