tourists’ comments

The diaries and journals of visitors to Wales

From the 1770s illustrations and descriptions, particularly by English visitors to Wales, have survived in quite large quantities. In general, these visitors had little to say about women’s costume in Wales but enough to suggest that it was already becoming distinct from English women’s costume. Welsh men’s costume is hardly mentioned, presumably because it was similar to that worn in England although it is generally men who appear in cartoons and caricatures of the time. Most of the visitors concerned themselves with the landscape, and only commented on aspects of Welsh life with which they were unfamiliar, and some features of Welsh costume, such as footless stockings and the men’s hats were frequently mentioned because they were different to those with which they were familiar in England.

By far the majority of the visitors who kept a record of their visits were men. It is worth noting that the men in particular found the beauty and innocence of young Welsh women very attractive, and some compared them very favourably with their English peers, both in looks and dress.

Although fewer diaries were written by women visitors to Wales than by men, and very few women published accounts of their travels at the time, their descriptions of Welsh costume is generally more detailed. Among these are Catherine Hutton who visited Aberystwyth in 1787 and north Wales four times between 1796 and 1800. She had a great interest in costumes and had compiled a collection of 1400 prints of English and European costumes (which were on sale in 2006). Mrs Morgan came to visit her husband’s relatives in Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire in 1791 and has some useful comments to make about costume, but was criticised by the Breconshire historian Theophilus Jones (‘Cymro’) for making generalisations.

‘Cymro’ [Theophilus Jones], ‘Cursory Remarks on Welsh Tours or Travels’, Cambrian Register II, for 1796, (1799), pp. 440-441

The descriptions of Welsh costume gathered from diaries, journals, directories, official reports, history books and newspapers (over 70,000 words for the period 1750 – 1900), need to be treated carefully and should be read in the context of which they were written. Much of what was written was selective and generalised; some was simply repeated from earlier accounts (in this context, repetition is no indication of accuracy); some was written by Welshmen who were familiar with women’s costume, but had an agenda to improve the lot of Welsh people and some of these were highly critical of the changes which were taking place. Some statements conflict with all the other evidence, but there is no reason to dismiss them totally: for example, the report by John Evans that women in north Pembrokeshire wore high-crowned hats at the beginning of the 19th century is unsupported by any other source other than a later tradition relating to the French invasion of 1797 and this conflicts with other contemporary evidence but there is no reason to suppose that he was wrong.