The Welsh Ladies’ Choir

The Welsh Ladies’ choir, under Madame Clara Novello Davies (‘Pencerddes Morgannwg’ 1861-1943, mother of Ivor Novello Davies) was formed in 1883 of about 70 of Clara’s pupils from all over Wales.

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Photograph of the Royal Welsh Ladies’ Choir, published as a postcard by the North Wales Adsvertising Co, posted in 1910. (Ceredigion Museum 1973.86.12).

 

 

 

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‘The Welsh Prize Singers, from Wales’, presumably while on tour, photogaphed in Chicago. (Ceredigion Museum, AY1856)

 

 

 

 

Clara Novello Davies’ father was conductor of the Cardiff Blue Ribbon Choir which she accompanied when young.

The choir, normally under Dame Clara’s direction, performed in Britain and Europe until 1939. They became famous when they won a prize at the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and were subsequently commanded to perform for Queen Victoria at Osborne House in 1894.

They often wore a version of Welsh costume during their performances. Some of them knitted stockings on stage when not singing and sold them to the members of the audience.

Although many of the choristers were professionals, they sometimes performed for charity, especially during the 1930s when they raised funds for the distressed areas of Wales. Just before the Second World War, Clara set up peace choirs.

  • 1883 Ladies Choir formed
  • 1883 The Choir performed in America
  • 1890 The Choir performed in London
  • 1893 The Choir performed at the World Fair Chicago, and at Brooklyn and Buffalo
  • 1894 Welsh Ladies Choir invited to a command performance at Osbourne, Isle of Wight, for Queen Victoria and were granted the right to use Royal in their title.
  • 1895 Tour of America
  • 1900 Paris Exposition
  • 1901 Royal Welsh Choir under Madame Clara Novello Davies performed at Bootle on 8th March
  • 1924 Novello Davies Artist Choir formed
  • 1928 Royal Welsh Ladies Choir performed at Windsor castle
  • 1937 Royal Welsh Ladies Choir performed at the Paris Exposition
  • 1938 Tour of Scotland

SURVIVING COSTUME

Parts of the stage costumes of Clara Novello Davies’ Royal Welsh Ladies choir have survived. (Welsh National History Museum, St Fagans, F81.93.11; F.71/175/3)

One of the surviving hats worn by Ceredwen Morgan (born 1890) of Cardiff, a member of Clara Novello Davies’ choir was made or sold by Seccombes, a firm in Cardiff. Early 20th century. (Cardiff Story)

Hat, made by Selfridge, London, worn by Iris Novello Jones (Ceredigion Museum, AYHx2)

1887 America
Mrs Davies had taken a group of her pupils on a tour of America in 1887. Photographs of the choir were for sale.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 24, 1893

1890
WELSH LADIES CHOIR PROGRAMME. The Daily Telegraph of Friday devotes a special paragraph … to the programmes which Messrs Daniel Owen and Co. Ltd of Cardiff have just prepared for the Welsh Ladies’ Choir charity concert in the St James Hall, London on Wednesday next. … The front page bears a photograph of Mrs Clara Novello Davies … and a young Lady vocalist attired in typical Welsh costume
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Saturday, June 28, 1890

 1893 Concert at Aberdare
In the first part [of the concert] the ladies of the Welsh choir will appear in full Welsh costume, sugar loaves and cockle shells, the gowns made of real Welsh flannel, not silk imitations. After the interval, the choristers will appear in full white evening gowns.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 19, 1893

1893
WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR. Description of last concert and their costumes (mostly contemporary) before going to Chicago
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Friday, August 25, 1893

1893
THE WELSH LADIES CHOIR FOR CHICAGO. The choir, in Welsh costume, will be performing in Wales in preparation for their trip to Chicago for the International Eisteddfod there.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, August 7, 1893

1893
THE WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR The Welsh Ladies’ Choir – drawing and list of the 43 members before they went to Chicago. The choir were unable to compete at the Pontypridd Eisteddfod because Dame Clara Novello Davies was an official. Mrs Davies had taken a group of her pupils on a tour of America in 1887. Photographs of the choir are for sale.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, August 24, 1893

1893
Photos of the Welsh Ladies’ choir in Welsh costume are available from HJB and CA Wills of Castle Arcade, Cardiff
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Friday, September 1, 1893

1893
The choir won the main prize at the World Fair at Chicago in 1893 and Miss Emily Francis, one of the choristers, also won the prize for Welsh costume and song.  They stayed for about a month, performing at various towns.
The Musical Times, 1.11.1893
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 16, 1893; October 28, 1893

1893
CHICAGO EISTEDDFOD Many Welsh prize winners at the Chicago Eisteddfod including the Welsh Ladies Choir and Miss Emily Francis of Penarth (in Welsh Costume) for the soprano solo.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, September 21, 1893

1893
THE WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR IN BROOKLYN. Five of the choir went shopping in Welsh costume and spoke only Welsh.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, September 25, 1893

1893
WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR AT BUFFALO
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, October 16, 1893

1893
Lord Windsor, president of the Cardiff Conservative Association held a reception at Park Hall on Monday. They were entertained by the Welsh Ladies Choir in Welsh costume.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, November 28, 1893

1894 Royal Command performance
The choir acquired the sobriquet ‘Royal’ after a Royal Command Performance in 1894 where the choir wore a bright red flannel skirt; check apron and shoulder shawl; a white blouse with cherry coloured ribbons; black patent shoes with buckles and a traditional high Welsh hat.
Clara Novello Davies, The Life I have Loved, (1940), p. 101

1894
A photo of the Welsh Ladies’ choir before they sang at Osborne House, shows only two with tall Welsh hats.
The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Friday, February 2, 1894

1894
WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR VISIT TO OSBORNE HOUSE. Full page account with illustrations
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Saturday, February 10, 1894

1894
ROYAL WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR PERFORMANCE AT OSBORNE HOUSE FOR THE QUEEN. Full page, well illustrated.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, February 10, 1894

1894
ROYAL WELSH LADIES’ CHOIR. Presentation of a Welsh hat of yellow satin and buttercups and streamers bearing the signatures of admiring friends [illustrated] … The choir will start this Monday afternoon for a week’s tour of the Principality. Monday : Bridgend; Tuesday Neath; Wednesday Maesteg; Thursday Swansea; Friday Llanelly, Saturday Cardiff; Monday, Swansea (again).
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, February 19, 1894

1894
Royal Welsh Ladies Choir to perform in the Town Hall, Birmingham on April 2nd
Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Thursday, March 22, 1894

1894
Royal Welsh Ladies Choir will perform in Aberdeen on December 5th
Aberdeen Weekly Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland), Monday, September 17, 1894

1894
Royal Welsh Ladies Choir will perform at Penrhyn Hall, Bangor on October 17th
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, October 13, 1894; October 20, 1894 (Review of the above)

1895 America
Twenty two of the choir toured America in 1895 where they performed in Welsh costume which, according to an American reviewer, consisted of ‘short red woollen skirts; brown blouses, open at the neck and trimmed with red ribbon; guimpes of white muslin; blue gingham aprons and some wore little shoulder shawls of grey. … when they were through with singing, a half dozen of them put their hands in their ample pockets of their waists, which were turned back forming a long, full coat tail, and brought out their knitting. There they sat before the audience, the picture of content and industry …’ One of the stockings knitted on stage during the tour was sold for 50 dollars.
Clara Novello Davies, The Life I have Loved, (1940), p. 111

1895
Series of concerts in the Philharmonic Hall Liverpool. The third concert on the 6th February 1896 will include the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir in Welsh National costume.
Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, October 1, 1895; January 28, 1896

1896
June 4th, Royal Welsh Ladies Choir to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in Welsh National Costume.
The Era (London, England), May 30, 1896
Daily News (London, England), June 5, 1896

1897
Cardiff Saturday Pops, Park Hall, March 27th
Royal Welsh Ladies Choir concert. They will appear in Welsh costume
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, March 25, 1897

1897
During the afternoon the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir performed in Welsh costume.
The Era (London, England), Saturday, September 25, 1897

1919? America
One of the most interesting items of the day was the appearance on the platform of four Johnstown ladies in Welsh costume, the steeple-crowned hat …
Anon, The Cambrian (1919), p. 410 (Welsh-American monthly magazine)

1937
They performed in Paris in a costume similar to that worn in 1895.

1937
Photograph: Madam Muriel Jones and her Welsh Ladies Choir on the Old Bridge, Pontypridd, 1937

1938
Photograph, 6th September 1938: Members of the Pontypridd Welsh Ladies’ Choir packing their Welsh hats for a trip to Scotland.

Further reading

Clara Novello Davies, The Life I have Loved, (1940)