the term ‘Welsh hat’

The first time the term ‘Welsh Hat’ is known to have been used was in 1733 in Shrewsbury. It is probable that he was referring to the fact that Welsh women wore men’s hats rather than the distinctive Welsh hat that was introduced one hundred years later.

Here we met with Welsh Hats for Women – black hats.
Loveday, John, Markham, Sarah, John Loveday of Caversham, 1711-1789: The life and tours of an eighteenth century onlooker. (1984)

Other early references to the ‘Welsh hat’ include:

1812 Dolgellau
[Building belonging to the] Shoulder of Mutton inn where we received a very civil reception from an old lady and her two female attendants; dressed with the most exact neatness in the Welsh style which I have previously described. … I soon found my way into the old lady’s good graces by admiring her Welsh hat.
Anon, (probably Henrietta Hurrell, Suffolk), A Journey through England and Wales, 1812, John Rylands Library, Manchester, Eng mss. 421. pp. 86-87

1824 Llangollen
We were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the ladies now rather advanced in years; their grey hair hanging from beneath their Welch hats and habits made one doubt their sex, but at all events stamped them as oddities
Martineau, Margaret, Hampshire Record Office, 83M93/21, p. 3

1832 Bangor
Princess Victoria and her mother visited north Wales in 1832. They both wore a Welsh hat when passing through Bangor ‘in compliment to the fair maids of Cambria’ but no illustrations or descriptions of these hats are known. They may have been like ‘The Anglesea’ hat, but it is possible that they were like the one with a broad brim and almost vertical sides worn by the doll dressed in ‘Cambrian costume’, now in the Royal collections, said to have been presented to Princess Victoria during her visit.
On the Duchess’ birthday [17th August], their Royal Highnesses made their public entry into Bangor in an open carriage; and on this occasion, they appeared, in compliment to the fair maids of Cambria, in the head-dress of the country, the Welsh hat, which national costume the ingenuous countenance of the Heiress Presumptive well became.
Victoria; An Anecdotal Memoir of Her Majesty. (1837); Carnarvon Herald and North Wales Advertiser, 11.8.1832; North Wales Chronicle, 21.8.1832

There is no mention of the name of maker of the hats they wore. It would seem very likely that if they were made locally, there would be at least a tradition that the maker was ‘by Royal appointment’ and this might have appeared on his hat labels. They may have been made in advance, possibly by the Royal hatters in London. There is a small but superbly made hat in Oriel Ynys Mon museum which is labelled ‘To the Royal Family / Thomas Townend of Fenchurch Street, London’. The firm was established in 1794. It is of the north Wales type – slightly conical and lower than the conical sort and could conceivably be one of those worn by the couple, but it cannot, as yet, be dated.
Advert for Thomas Townend and Co, Hatters to the Royal Family, 130, London Wall, London, factories at Bredbury, Stockport and Atherstone, Warwick; chief address 16-18 Lime Street London published in McKnight, Penny, Stockport Hatting, (2000), p. 57

There is no evidence that the wearing of a Welsh hat by Princess Victoria in 1832, however briefly, may have made it more popular, but it is possible that this event led to the production of Welsh hats by hatters in London and Bristol where most of the surviving Welsh hats were made.

It is possible that Princess Victoria and her mother wore hats similar to the first of those described by Thomas Letts in 1833 (the year after Princess Victoria’s visit to the same area). He reported that three different types of hat were being worn by women in north Wales:

The caricaturist on the Bristol coach said that there was a vast difference in the woman’s hats in Wales and so there was. The girl wore a very broad brim of dashing black beaver and an equally broad frill … The middle aged woman…wore a narrower brim and a narrower frill and it sometimes extended under the chin … while the old women sported a narrow rim with crown tapering to the top, generally felt – a cotton handkerchief supplied the place of a cap being drawn close under the chin and over the ears. Thomas Letts, Journal of Tour, 1833, NLW MS 22340B

It is not clear what materials these hats were made of: the term beaver can apply to both the felt and the silk hat.

The term had become well-known by 1836: while describing passing humanity in Venice, Frances Maclellan described some local women wearing a pert-looking Welsh hat, all dressed out with bright coloured shawls and petticoats.
Frances Maclellan, Evenings abroad (1836), p. 227, repeated in The Lady’s Magazine (and museum), (1836), p. 274