The Patron Saint of Wales is celebrated on 1st March.
Little has been written about the wearing of Welsh costume on St David’s Day (March 1st) either by women or school girls. It seems that this did not begin until the early 20th century and did not become common until the 1950s.
From at least the 17th century, St David’s day was celebrated by groups of men, and the celebration normally consisted of a formal meal, sometime accompanied by music and poetry. Women were not normally involved and little is recorded of how they celebrated the day, if at all.
In 1914, a booklet was published by the Board of Education entitled Dydd Gwyl Dewi (St David’s Day). It was written to encourage teachers to celebrate St David’s Day, and, subject to approval by the School Inspector, organise a special programme for the day in place of the ordinary timetable. It noted that only few schools in Wales failed to celebrate the day officially although some simply treated it as a school holiday.
The following year, the Welsh Department of the Board of Education published a total of 25,000 booklets, separately, in both Welsh and English, entitled ‘St David’s Day / Dydd Gwyl Dewi’, presumably for distribution to every school pupil in Wales. It purported to mark the death of Owain Glyndwr 500 years previously, and General Picton a century earlier, but it was clearly designed to encourage the children, especially the males of Wales to be patriotic, and fight for their country and the Empire. It includes a section written by Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, about nobility, self-sacrifice and duty and the contribution the ‘Little Nations’ have made to the world. He also emphasised the opportunity the youth Wales had to fight for the emancipation of Europe. It contained much to encourage children of Wales to feel proud of their nation – its language, eisteddfodau and St David, but there was no mention of costume and not a single illustration of a Welsh hat.
The first known photographs of groups of children – almost entirely girls – wearing Welsh costume on St David’s day, date to about 1910.
The children of Blaen-ffos School, 1915. The title of the Welsh national anthem ‘Land of my Fathers’, is written on the blackboard in the window. Photograph by Tom Mathias
Photograph, Aberaeron Ladies Choir, St David’s Day, 1938 (Ceredigion Museum, 2006.101.1)