Eisteddfod Welsh craft competitions

Among the usual competitions for poetry, essays and musical performances there were occasionally a few for Welsh fabrics, Welsh hats and, occasionally, costumes, as well as other Welsh crafts. The number of such competitions at the Abergavenny Eisteddfod (1834-1853) almost outnumber all the others (but it is possible that his list is incomplete).

It is not always know how many spinners, weavers, knitters and hat makers entered these competitions and it is therefore not possible to gauge the effect they had on the industry, but where reported, the numbers were very small and mostly from the Llanover area. The quality may have increased at some mills, but the attempt to preserve traditions may have had very limited success and a quotation (below) implies that the colours of the fabrics were much brighter than traditional ones.

The sponsorship of prizes depended on local committees and patrons, some of whom were concerned about the loss of craft skills and Welsh traditions. The following list does not include all the competitions for the best Welsh costume worn by competitors ; competitions for Welsh hats dolls
1837 ABERGAVENNY
Competition 9: For the best specimen of real Welsh flannel, or woollen, in colours and woven in any of the national check or stripes, not under 2 yards. Ten candidates; prize of medal worth £1.1.0 and premium worth £1.1.0 won by Mrs Ann Harris, Llanover (Merch Iago)
Gentleman’s magazine, 1837, p. 632; Monmouthshire Merlin, 21.10.1837

1838 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD
Judges of the Welsh flannels and hats: Messers W Watkins, J. Morgan, W Williams, and J Daniel, Abergavenny.
Competition 4 Prize by Lady Charlotte Guest of a medal, valued at 5 guineas
For the best specimen of real Welsh flannel or woollen in colours and woven in any of the national cheques or stripes, containing nothing but wool, not under 2½ yards.
11 competitors, prize won by John Thomas, Glynnedd.
Competition 5 Prize by Lady Charlotte Guest of a medal, valued at 3 guineas
For the same as above, second best.
Won by James Harris, Llanover.
The various specimens were exhibited … and their richness and beauty were admired by all. The first [prize] was one of the most splendid imaginable, and promises to become a fashionable pattern for this most interesting and useful dress of our beautiful countrywomen.
Competition 6 Prize by Miss Clara Waddington of Llanover of a medal, valued at 2 guineas
For the same as above, third best.
Won by David Williams, Craigbanos, Llangafelach
Competition 7 Prize by Lady Charlotte Guest of a medal, valued at 2 guineas
For the best black beaver hat such as is usually worn by females in the Principality.
Won by Evan Davies, Crickhowell. ‘The hat was shown and is very beautifully finished’
NLW MS 13962E, 98a (poster); Cambrian (newspaper), 20.10.1838; Monmouthshire Merlin, 13.10.1838

1840 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD
Competition 12, prize given by the Ladies of Abergavenny. A prize of 5 guineas.
For the best specimen of Welsh woollen, woven in any of the national stripes or checks, to be dyed and manufactured within the district of Gwent or Morganwg. The merit will be determined entirely by the brilliancy of the colours.
The object of this prize is the improvement of the dying of the Welsh woollens which are now frequently deteriorated by the mixture of worsted, introduced on account of the superiority of its colour; but which in consequence of its shrinking, when wetted, in a different proportion to the wool, greatly injures the substance and appearance of the fabric, while the best Welsh woollens, as to texture are generally dull and muddy in colour.
N.B. The introduction of foreign wool, or of worsted of any kind, will exclude from competition for any of the Prizes for Welsh woollen.
Mr John Daniel stated that the judges were unanimous in their opinion that the specimens far surpassed any sent in on former occasions. They regretted extremely that the best specimen was disqualified from not being woven in one of the national checks or plaids; it was of great beauty, and contained 26 colours.
Prize winner: Mr William Jones, Machen.
Competition 13, prize also given by the Ladies of Abergavenny. Medal worth 2 guineas, premium of 3 guineas.
For the best specimen of Welsh woollen with reference to texture to be made under the foregoing restrictions. The competitors to be resident within the district of Gwent and Morganwg.
Prize winner: Mr William Jones, Machen.
Competition 14, Prize also given by the Ladies of Abergavenny. Medal value 1 guinea and a premium of 2 guineas.
For the best Black Beaver hat, dyed and manufactured in the county of Monmouth.
Awarded to Mr Thomas Johnson, hatter, Abergavenny.
NLW MS 13962E, 98b, bilingual poster; Cambrian (newspaper), 17.10.1840, 31.10.1840; The Welshman, 9.10.1840.

1842 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD

Competition 13, prize given by Mr Berrington of Woodland, Glamorgan, 1 guinea and a purse.
For the best specimen of Welsh woollen with regard to texture.
Competition 14, prize given by the same, 1 guinea and a purse.
For the best specimen with respect to colour. The object of this prize … dull and muddy in colour. [same as the 1840 eisteddfod]
Competition 15, prize given by Gwenynen Gwent [Lady Llanover] and the committee for 1841, medal worth 2 guineas, premium worth 3 guineas.
Best specimen of scarlet cloth for a cloak, not under 3 yards wide.
Competition 16, prize given by Mr Watkins of Abergavenny, Mr Price of Abergavenny and Mr Barber worth 3 guineas.
For the best woollen whittle in colours and in the National stripes or chequered patterns, not less than 2½ square, fringe included. No other than real Welsh woollens and Welsh patterns will be admitted.
Competition 17, prize given by Mr David Thomas, £1 10s in a purse.
For the best Lady’s black beaver hat made and dyed in Gwent and Morganwg.
Competition 18, prize given by Mr David Thomas, £1 in a purse.
For the second best Lady’s black beaver hat.
NLW MS 13962E, 98b, bilingual poster; Cambrian (newspaper), 6.8.1840 (announcement); 8.10.1842 (Ball), 22.10.1842 (prizes)

1845 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD
[Speech by Mr Vaughan of Courtfield, near Monmouth] … I consider the objects of this society sufficiently important to justify its existence, and its results are certainly useful. I believe it is intended to promote works of utility in our neighbourhood – that it is intended to promote improvement in the manufacture of Welsh woollens, and to encourage the manufacture of Welsh flannels principally at home. {which is much better for the men than working in large factories}
List of competitions numbers 1-20 (performances, englynion, essays)
prizes for:
Competition 24 For the best coloured Welsh woollen whittle in the national stripes or checks, not under one yard and three-quarters wide, exclusive of fringe, not to exceed 2 lbs in weight
Prize of 3 guineas in a purse, given by Mrs Morgan of Ruperra. Won by William Jones, Machen.
Competition 25 For the best specimen of Welsh woollen for a dress, not under 12 yards long and 27 inches wide, in the national stripes or checks
Prize of £4 and a medal worth £1given by Mrs de Winton of Maesllwch.
Won by William Jones, Machen.
Competition 26 For the best specimen of Welsh woollen for a dress, not under 12 yards long and 27 inches wide, in the national stripes or checks.
Prize of £5 given by Ieuan ap Hywel
Won by Mr Harris of Llanover
Competition 29 For the best specimen of blue cloth for cloak, of Welsh manufacture, not under three yards long by one and a half wide.
Prize of 2 guineas and a medal worth 1 guinea given by Nrs Madocks of Tregunter.
Won by William Jones, Machen.
Competition 30 Best specimen of Welsh woollen, not under three yards long and 27 inches wide.
Prize of 4 guineas in a purse given by three gentlemen of Abergavenny.
Won by Rees Thomas of Swansea.
Cambrian (newspaper), 19.9.1845 (announcement); 26.9.1845 (re hall); 3.10.1845 (re statue); 24.10.1845 (prizes); Monmouthshire Merlin (newspaper), 18.10.1845

1848 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD (15th anniversary)
The next prizes were for those for Welsh woollens.
A Prize of ten guineas, by the Right Hon, the Earl of Abergavenny, for the best specimen of Rodney Woollen, not under 10 yards long and 1½ wide.
Mr Wm Watkins, draper of Abergavenny, the judge, said –
For this … prize there are several very excellent specimens … there are two so nearly equal that I have brought them here that they may be seen … by those who are always the best judges – the Ladies. … In judging specimens such as these there are a few points to be considered: 1st the quality of the material; 2nd the colouring ; 3rd the workmanship; 4th the weight ; and 5th, the pattern. In a square inch of [one] there are in the warp (cotton) 20 [threads] ; weft (wool) 80 [threads].
Won by Mr Wm Jones, of Machen (Crynwr).
A prize of three guineas, by the countess of Abergavenny, for the best specimen of Welsh scarlet cloth, sufficient for a cloak … awarded to Mr Samuel Harris, of Gwenffrwd (Ioan Goch).
A prize of three guineas, by the countess of Abergavenny, for the best specimen of colours of Welsh yarn, dyed in Gwent, Morganwg, or any other part of South Wales.
Awarded to Mrs Charles Price, of Brecon (Twm Sion Catty).
A prize of three guineas, by the countess of Abergavenny, for the best pair of undyed black woollen knitted stockings.
Mr Watkins said: For this and the following prizes I have received a dozen pairs. The best is Elizabeth Watkins (Nany Sych). If the peasantry in Wales, and in England too, were supplied with such excellent home-made articles as these I believe they would answer their purpose much better than those they now get.
A prize of two guineas, by Mrs Gwynne Holford, for the second best ditto, ditto. Awarded to Gwchyddes (a female weaver), Emma Hywel.
A prize of one guinea, by Mrs Rhys Powell, for the third best ditto.
Awarded to Cymraes Hen, Mrs Griffiths.
A prize of five guineas of Welsh Woollen for a Dress, not under 12 yards long by 1 yard wide.
Awarded to Mr S Harris of Gwenffrwd.
A prize of three guineas, by Lady Morgan, of Tredegar, for the best coloured Welsh Woollen Whittle, in the national stripes or checks.
Awarded to Mr Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd (Ab Harry)
A prize of three guineas, by the late Miss Williams, of Cwmdu for the best specimen of Welsh Blue Cloth, sufficient for a Cloak.
Awarded to Mr Samuel Harris, Gwenffrwd (Ab Shencyn).
A subscription prize of one guinea each by the following [7] tradesmen of Abergavenny: … for the best specimen of Welsh Woollen, not under nine yards long, adapted for waistcoats, in the old national patterns.
Awarded to Mrs Samuel Harris, of Gwenffrwd (Morgrugyn).
A Prize of five pounds by Mr Ieuan ab Howell, of Doncaster, for the best prize specimen of Welsh Woollen for a dress, not less than 12 yards long and 1 yard wide.
A very beautiful specimen : different in texture to the Rodney Woollen, the warp and weft being made of beautifully fine and soft mountain wool.
Awarded to Mr Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd (Owain Glendwr).
Mr Watkin then desired to remark that it might be supposed that there was not much competition, in consequence of the same person having received so many prizes, but he begged to state the competition had been very great, and that Mr Harris having been so often successful, was the consequence of his Woollens being the best, and not a consequence of want of candidates.
A prize of three guineas, by Mrs Maddocks, of Tregunter for the best beaver hat. Mr Restall, hatter, of Abergavenny.
A prize of two guineas, by Mrs Keymes Tynte, of Cefn Mably, for the second-best beaver hat. Mr Davies, Crickhowel.

[Anon] A few observations on the manufacture of Welsh Woollens may not here be out of place. The woollens for which prizes are given are of a peculiar sort – made in the Principality alone ; and as there are many spurious imitations in the same patterns – but of very inferior quality – the object is to encourage the genuine material made of the wool of the native sheep (which is particularly soft and fine) as well as to preserve the ancient patterns (or rather checks and stripes) of the Principality, of which there are a great variety; but which, from very few of the principal families having kept up their use for their tenants and retainers (as in Scotland), are in danger of becoming lost, or merged in the numberless new fancy patterns constantly invented. It has been remarked by travellers that the ancient checks and stripes of the Cymru (still preserved and used by the natives) are so completely Oriental in their character, and in the arrangement and distribution of colours, that they might have been supposed to have been brought from the east at this day [sic] but there is another reason for the encouragement of the real Welsh woollens, of far more importance than that of the traveller or the antiquarian. This manufacture is carried on by the native rural population – generally in secluded situations – and does not involve many drawbacks generally attached to the word “manufacture.” A stream of water, with a waterwheel to turn some simple machinery, and a hand-loom, is all that is required ; and consequently, instead of a dense population crowded into a mass of buildings, without air or exercise, the Welsh weaver’s domicile might be taken for a large farm house with ten or twelve healthy children from neighbouring cottages, who are employed in picking wool and spinning during the day, and are generally fed by the master weaver who with his wife cooks for them, dines with them, and generally has not only a good garden, but often a small farm, attached to his dwelling. The material thus produced is, of course, not intended to rival the productions of the complicated and expensive manufactories of England or Scotland : nor is it desirable that any change should be attempted – but merely that the present healthy and useful method of preparing an excellent material for clothing should be encouraged, and prizes given to those who most excel in this craft. The material is most valuable for the poor, as it washes and improves in texture after being washed, and is exceedingly warm and substantial- while it can be made fine enough to be both useful and ornamental for any purposes of ladies’ dress, and also for waistcoats, shooting jackets etc. In former times, the Welsh farmers cultivated flax sufficient for the supply of their own families, and flaxen thread was used in some of the lighter fabrics for clothing mixed with the wool. The cultivation of flax has been discontinued almost entirely during the last 50 years, and where wool alone is not used, cotton thread has been substituted for flax, but is not nearly as durable. It is a question which has of late occupied much attention- whether the great diminution in the cultivation of flax has not been a serious evil to Great Britain generally, and the result of an ill founded prejudice on the part of landlords that it exhausts the ground : however this may be, it is certain that the flaxen thread mixed with wool in Welsh woollens produces a much stronger material than cotton with wool.
[List of prizes, some already given, for various competitions and some not specified.

The list included the following (which is almost identical to the wording of the prize at the 1853 eisteddfod which included the words struck through in the following) :
Gwenynen Gwent [Lady Hall], £5 for the best specimens of Welsh woollens (not less than three inches square each) in the real national checks and stripes, with the Welsh names by which they are known, and with any account of them which can be added; no specimens to be included which have not been known for at least half a century, whether of wool alone, or of wool with flax or cotton. The object of this prize is to authenticate the real old checks and stripes of Wales, and to preserve them, with their real welsh names, distinct from new fancy patterns.
Fifteenth eisteddfod of the Abergavenny Cymreigyddion by Cymreigyddion y Fenni, 1848, Extracted from the Hereford Times of Saturday October 21, 1848. (Printed at the [Hereford] Times Office, Hereford.) [16 A4 pages of small type reporting the speeches and adjudication of prizes in detail. This was not the 15th eisteddfod, but the 9th, held on the 15th anniversary of the first.]

1849 Aberffraw Royal Eisteddfod
The award of the piece of Linsey Dress, value £3, to the best weaver, was given to Robert Hughes, Tre’rgarth (Hen Gymro) (p. xlvii)
The prize of £3 offered to weavers for the best counterpane was awarded to Mr Thomas Jones of Llantrisaint (p. lxxi)
Prize for the best pair of Welsh black stockings awarded to Miss Williams of Ty Mawr, Aberffraw. (p. lxxiv)
Transactions of the Aberffraw Royal Eisteddfod, 1849, (London : [1849?])

1853 ABERGAVENNY EISTEDDFOD
Judge of woollen manufacturers Mr Morgan Williams of Merthyr Tydfil; judge of Welsh hats: Mr Henry Thompson of Abergavenny; judge of the Welsh dyes : Lady Hall of Llanover; judge of spinning and knitting: Mrs Herbert of Llanarth. …
Competition 34 Mrs Hanbury Leigh £10 for best specimen of Welsh Rodney woollen at least, 5 x 1 1/2 yards, the wool to be Welsh and no worsted to be admitted among the materials, the warp to be of cotton or linen and the woof [sic] to be of cotton and yarn. Awarded to Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd.
Competition 35 The Earl of Abergavenny, 10 guineas for the best specimen of Welsh dyed scarlet cloth, made of Welsh wool, 5 x 1 1/2 yards, special reference to brilliancy of colour. Awarded to Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd.
Competition 36 Viscountess Neville, £3 for the best specimen of Welsh dyed blue cloth made of Welsh wool, 5 x 1 1/2 yards, special reference to brilliancy of colour as well as texture. Awarded to Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd.
Competition 37 Lady Love J Parry of Madryn, £2 for the best specimens of Welsh yarns in various bright colours … this prize to be decided entirely by the superiority of colours. Awarded to ?
Competition 38 Gwenynen Gwent [Lady Hall], £5 for the best specimens of Welsh woollens (not less than three inches square each) in the real national checks in the real national checks and stripes, with the Welsh names by which they are known, and with any account of them which can be added; no specimens to be included which have not been known for at least half a century, whether of wool alone, or of wool with flax or cotton. The object of this prize is to authenticate the real old checks and stripes of Wales, and to preserve them, with their real welsh names, distinct from new fancy patterns. Open to all Wales, including Gwent and Morganwg. – No award
Competition 39 Mrs Maddocks of Treguater, a prize of £5 for the best Welsh woollen in any of the national stripes or checks not less than 12 yards long and ¾ yards wide. Awarded to Samuel Harris of Gwenffrwd.
Competition 40 Mrs Kemys Tynte of Cefyn Masly, 3 guineas for the best white Welsh woollen whittle; especial reference to lightness and fine texture. Awarded to John Hywel of Mynyddyslwyn
Competition 41 Mrs Gwynne 3½ guineas for the best hanks of wool of fine white yarn spun from Welsh wool by the hand of a Welsh cottager at home ; not to contain less than six pounds of wool. Awarded to Charles Price, Samuel Harris and Joseph Jones.
Competition Mrs J Hiley Morgan, one guinea for the best knitted pair of gloves made of Welsh black sheep’s wool, undyed, by a Welsh girl under 20 years of age.
Competition 42 Lady Chetwynd, 2 guineas for the best Welsh hat, manufactured in Brycheiniog, Gwent and Morganwg. Awarded to Mr Restall of Abergavenny
Competition 43 Miss Roche, the Gwenddolen prize of £1 10s for the second best ditto. Awarded to Mr Restall of Abergavenny
Competition 44 Mrs Gwynne Holford £2 for the best knitted pair of stockings of Welsh black sheep’s wool, undyed.
Competition 45 For the second best ditto
Rev David James warden of the Welsh Institution of Llandovery: ‘Before the foundation of this Cymreigyddion y Fenni, it is true we had weavers of woollen, knitters of stockings, but now the Welsh woollens of this neighbourhood, and indeed the whole of Gwent and Morgannwg, in consequence of the encouragement given by the prizes awarded from time to time, are twice as good as they ever have been before, and fit to be worn by those whom we are proud to call the patriots as well as the aristocratic females of our own dear native land; and there is also a larger demand in consequence of the vast improvement in the brilliancy of the colours.’
Cambrian (newspaper), 21.10.1853; The Musical World, (1853), pp. 677-678; Cambrian Journal, (1854), pp 41-60 including speeches, prizes and winners, proposed prizes for the next year [which was not held] and financial summary; pp. 55-60

1858 LLANGOLLEN
Competition 30 Real Welsh Linsey- the best woven and most elegant pattern (not less than 10 yards). £5
Competition 31 Check apron, best pattern and materials – 10s
Copy of the original announcement with list of prizes published in Y Cymmrodor, xxv, (1915), pp. 178-180

1872 PREPARATIONS FOR EISTEDDFOD AT DYFFRYN MADOG
Mrs Williams and the Misses Williams of Castell Deudraeth have just offered prizes for the best spinning wheel and also to the female in a Welsh costume that best spins wool on such a wheel.
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, March 2, 1872

1872 PORTMADOG EISTEDDFOD
… the essayists were many as were the horse-shoe makers, stocking knitters, ship modellers, flannel makers and yarn spinners.
The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, September 7, 1872

1884  LIVERPOOL
Specimen of Welsh made (Handloom) tweed or cloth. £5 prize, 3 entries, Prize withheld (p. xlvii)
Specimen of handknitting of a bed cover or counterpane in pattern. £5 prize, 17 entries (p. lii)
Design and specimen of a quilted patchwork counterpane. £5 prize (p. lviii)
Transactions of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Liverpool, 1884 edited by William R. Owen.(Liverpool :  1885)

1885 THE NATIONAL EISTEDDFOD, ABERDARE
3rd prize winner for the best pair of hand knitted stockings was an elderly lady in full Welsh country costume, white cap, frill included, with a staff in her hand.
Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Saturday, August 29, 1885

1888 National Eisteddfod, Wrexham
Competition no. 23 Hand Knitted stockings (18 pairs received)
Competition no. 9 Welsh tweed (Gold medal). (12 contributors)
Competition no. 22 Home spun Linsey £2 prize, (6 contributors)
NLW MS 16059B

1896   5th Annual Eisteddfod, Dowlais
Competition no. 10 Pair of woollen knitted socks for a 4 year old
Competition no. 11 Chemise of a 12 year old girl
NLW XAS42 Dowlais eisteddfodau [None of the other programmes in this collection (9 for the period 1864 -1917), had competitions for fabrics etc.]

1897 EISTEDDFOD AT LLANFAIRTALHAIARN
A competition in weaving with a hand loom in Welsh costume only attracted one entry, Mrs Grace Davies, Gwytherin. The old lady received the prize.
Rhyl Record and Advertiser 12.6.1897

1899 CARDIFF NATIONAL EISTEDDFOD ART COMPETITION
Competition entries include dressmaking, Original costume in Welsh flannel.
Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Monday, July 3, 1899

1907 The Royal Welsh National Eisteddfod exhibition of arts, crafts and industries, Swansea,
XIII Weaving
Class 67  Dress length of Welsh winsey, silk introduced
Class 67a White woven shawl (no entry)
XIV Knitting
Class 68 A Shetland wool shawl with border (Hand knitting or crochet) (lots of entries)
Class 69 Lady’s Golf Jersey
Class 70 Pair of Gent’s Cycling Stockings, Welsh wool
Class 71 Pair of Lady’s Gloves
Class 71a Darning
XV Needlework
Class 72 Lady’s Welsh Flannel Dressing Gown or Embroidered Welsh Flannel Dressing Jacket
Class 73 Long cloth or Lawn nightdress
Class 74 Quilting
Class 74a Linen sheets
Class 75 Man’s Welsh flannel shirt
Class 76 White Welsh Flannel Petticoat (hand embroidered)
Class 76a Bed Spread
XVI Lace Work
Catalogue, Swansea, 1907

1909 LLANDYSSUL EISTEDDFOD
Competitions:
No 29 Striped Welsh Flannel, suitable for Lady
No 30 Piece of Welsh Flannel skirting
No 31 Piece of Welsh Flannel skirting, fine milled
No 32 Piece of Welsh white Welsh serge
No 36 Doll Dressed in Welsh Costume
Programme of an Eisteddfod at Llandyssul 4.8.1909, NLW MS 13489 (George Eyre Evans, Cardiganshire Notes), p. 77

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