During the 19th and 20th centuries several women of gentry families and their staff wore a version of Welsh costume. Lady Llanover and her friends, including the the Williams sisters of Aberpergwm did so during the former and Winifred Coombe Tennant (mistress of the Gorsedd Robes and chair of the Gorsedd robes committee) was one of a number who did so during the latter.
(1) Lady Mary Talbot (Mary Thereza Talbot (1795-1861) of Penrice Castle, William Henry Fox Talbot’s cousin)
(2) The nurse of the Rolle Family of Monmouthshire and Swansea
In 1803, B.H. Malkin visited the Gower and noted the following:
I have already mentioned the provincial red mantle, called a whittle, worn by the women of this district, and the English part of Pembrokeshire; for they are the same people. Lady Mary Talbot generally wears a fine mantle of this kind instead of a cloke [cloak], in the precise fashion of the country, especially at church ; and many other ladies, both here and in Pembrokeshire, are beginning to follow her example.
Malkin, B.H., Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of South Wales, from materials collected during two excursions in the year 1803. (London 1804), p. 591
It seems likely that the mantle had become a fashion item for the gentry and that Lady Talbot wore a fine one for special occasions. It is not know whether, by wearing traditional items of dress (however finely they were made), these ladies were trying to encourage the survival of traditional costume or whether they were trying either to ingratiate themselves with the local population or to feel part of it.
The Rolle Family
Watercolour by G.O. Delamotte, ‘Mrs Gwyn / Alec Rolle and his nurse’, Swansea. Watercolour, about 1820 NLW, PB4886 (DV271)
It appears that Mrs Gwyn was nurse to the Rolle family who could afford to dress her in the latest fashion of silk hat over a white cotton cap with lappets. She is wearing a red fringed whittle to hold her baby but it is not correctly bound around her shoulder. She appears to be wearing a bedgown with short, puffed sleeves and a white apron.
It is probable that Alec Rolle was Alexander Rolle who was born in Swansea in 1818, son of John Rolls II (1776-1837). Delamotte knew John Rolls (whose family home was Hendre, near Monmouth) with whom he appears in a sketch dated August, 1827 probably by Rolls himself. Gwent Archives F/P 3.31, p.18.