costumes for the poor

Parish records

Parishes had a duty to care for the poor in their area. Church vestries (committees) were able to collect a tax to cover the costs of paying for rent, food and clothes for the poor, infirm and aged. Some of the documents which record expenditure on clothes give some indication of the terminology and cost of certain items of clothes.

Alms Houses

It was not unusual for people to leave money in their wills for the care of the poor. Some were given a room in an alms house and were provided with distinctive clothing – often a hat and cloak.


Taskers School, Haverfordwest, was founded by Mrs Mary Tasker in 1684, … Originally the school was for poor children of both sexes … The quaint costumes of the recipients of the bounty of Mary Tasker was as here described: the boys had old fashioned hats, long tailed blue coats turned up, with scarlet waistcoats, corduroy knee-breeches, yarn hose, and shoes with buckles: the girls wore hats, white caps, white neckerchiefs, white aprons, blue jackets turned up, with scarlet cotton skirts, yarn hose, and shoes with buckles.
Brown, John, The History of Haverfordwest with that of Some Pembrokeshire Parishes. Originally written by the late John Brown, Revised and added to by J. W. Phillips and Fred J. Warren,(1914), pp. 75-76

1687 Carmarthen
Charles Powell, Esq., in 1687, bequeathed a house and stable, to be converted into six rooms, with a garden to each, for the residence of six aged men, and £300 to be invested in the purchase of lands as an endowment: the inmates receive each an annual allowance of £2. 15. in money, coal to the amount of ten shillings, shoes and stockings of the value of £1. 4., and, every alternate year, a blue gown and a hat, together worth £2. 15.
From: ‘Carmarthen – Carmarthenshire’, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849), pp. 180-202.

A yard of flannel to put badges upon Ye Poor of ye Parish
Llanyblodwell parish register, 1710 (Etheridge, Ken, Welsh costume, (Jones and Mainwaring, Ammanford, 1958 and subsequent reprints), p. 21)

Money left for an almshouse  for 5 decayed old men and five decayed old women, the balance to buy them ‘an upper garment which they shall be obliged to wear henceforward publicly, with a brass badge on the left arm bearing the letters R.L.’
Will of Roderick Lloyd of Merioneth, 1728 (Etheridge, Ken, Welsh costume, (Jones and Mainwaring, Ammanford, 1958 and subsequent reprints), p. 21)

Paupers to wear the letters LP (Lampeter parish), on their outward apparel
Lampeter Vestry, Easter, 1783 (Etheridge, Ken, Welsh costume, (Jones and Mainwaring, Ammanford, 1958 and subsequent reprints), p. 21)

1825 Rumney
Ann Llewellin and her children received £5/14/0, as well as a bedgown and flannel for petticoats
The Poor Law in operation in the parish of Rumney, 1825-30, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (Part 2) (1966), p. 362

1879 Lady Llanover’s tenants
Lady Llanover distributed costumes to the people on her estate: this extract list the items given to 25 of her female tenants in 1879. pages 1-3 (Abergavenny Museum) The list was written in Welsh.
23 women were given crysau (more than one shirt)
6 were given a crys gwlanen (woollen shirt)
18 were given a pais (skirt – the term pais now normally means petticoat or underskirt, but it is likely that this was a skirt).
24 were given a neisiad (handkerchief). Walters dictionary of 1828  specifically attributes the word neisiad  to Glamorganshire.
22 were given a ffedog (apron)
1 was given a ffedog glanen wen (white wool apron)
16 were given a gwn (gown)
3 were given cynfasau (sheets)
1 was given a cwrlid (coverelet)
It is interesting to note that there was no mention of cloaks or hats.

1890 Amlwch
Dorcas Society – Annual Distribution to the Poor
Young and old were donned in one uniform fashion and sailed under the flag of respectable poverty, the costume being a short gown, white apron, and a shawl carefully covering the head. … 290 articles were given away [including] 45 linsey petticoats, 24 striped flannel petticoats, 20 plain flannel petticoats, 12 chemises, 12 skirts, 12 shawls.
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, November 22, 1890