market women

The most common studies of women in Welsh costume are those going to or from or at market. In contrast to the mass-produced prints produced by Rowland and his followers and Rock and Co and Newman and Co, which are mostly of north Wales, most of the scenes of markets are of mid and south Wales, especially Swansea, but there is one fine example from Holyhead.

It is likely that most of the women depicted in these market scenes are from outside town, having brought their produce to (butter, eggs, milk, and sometimes live pigs, chickens and ducks, as well as peat) to the market for sale.

In addition to the market scenes depicted in the various series of small prints, a number of artists produced more substantial works and some of the most impressive are of Swansea.

‘Swansea Market Square’ by John Nixon [British Museum 1923,0714.5]
This is one of six known views of Swansea market women. Most show the women dressed in red whittles or cloaks, but both red and blue are shown here. The women’s hats vary from low-crowned, broad-brimmed felt (on the left) to the tall, beribboned silk hats with curved rims on the right.

Aberystwyth [Market] print after Samuel Ireland

Crossing the Sands (Barmouth), by William Collins, R.A., (1788-1847), 1835 [Guildhall Art Gallery, London] A print of this was engraved by W. Radclyffe c. 1860 (NLW PA5671)

View of Swansea, watercolour by George Chambers [Swansea Museum : SM1996.64]
A woman in Welsh hat and red cloak or shawl has brought her farm produce to market on horse back

Swansea Market, painting by Calvert Richard Jones [Glyn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea]

Market Ferryboat at Swansea, watercolour by  George Bryant Campion (Victoria and Albert Museum)
There are two versions of this watercolour: the other (location unknown) was published in Gabb, Gerald, Mr Dillwyn’s Diary, (1998) p. 31

Swansea Castle, painting attributed to J.M.Ince, 1840 [Swansea Museum : SM1996.64], showing two or three women in Welsh hats.

mid 19th century
Market, watercolour, Anon
Market place (said to be Aberystwyth but this is very unlikely),  This includes women in Welsh costume selling stockings and various other items. [NMW, St Fagans : 78.1739.60]

1847 (about)
Llanidloes Pig Fair, painting by Hugh Hughes

1848 Aberystwyth
The women, for the most part cleanly dressed, with their wares either upon stalls, behind which they sit, or in a basket over their arms, are clad in woollen or cotton gowns with their black worsted stockings drawn up tightly and evenly, thick-soled black leather shoes or boots, without a speck of dirt or dust upon them, shining almost as brightly as if they had been varnished … This bustle will sometimes continue till six o’clock in the evening; at which hour those who occupy the regular market-stands, and come from a distance, pack up, and return to their several abodes, many carrying their little ones, who are fastened by a belt to their backs, and others knitting stockings as they walk along.
S.S.S. (possibly Sophia S Simpson) Notes on a Tour Through Wales in 1848 published in ‘The Visitor or Monthly Instructor’, 1848. (Williams, M., (1951-2), National Library of Wales Journal, vol ??? p. ???)

Crossing the sands to Swansea Market, painting by E.F.D. Pritchard [NMW, Cardiff]. A woman wearing a Welsh hat and red shawl, on a horse with panniers.

Market Day in Bangor, watercolour by J.J. Dodd, and print. Bangor Museum
Most of the women are shown wearing tall, slightly conical Welsh hats, with cloaks or shawls. The woman on the left [of the full view] is wearing a spotted, light-coloured short bedgown with a large collar.

early 1860s
Aberystwyth Marine Terrace looking East One of a stereo photograph pair, numbered 335 almost certainly by Francis Bedford. [Ceredigion Museum, 1979.106.40]
The three women wearing Welsh hats may well be market women who took their wares along the promenade at Aberystwyth to offer their goods to the visitors, one of whom is included in the picture. Many visitors rented floors or whole houses in lodging houses, and brought their own cooks who would have to purchase fresh food from the locals.

‘Caernarfon Castle, Market Day’, watercolour by J.J. Dodd, (Arlunydd Gwalia) [Clwyd Fine Arts Trust (CFAT) 003] There is a less animated version of this scene dated 1825 (NLW PE04304) and a print based on it, published in 1854 by Day and Son (NLW P03539)

botw3001861 ‘Going to Market’

Mr and Mrs S.C. Halls’ Book of South Wales, the Wye and the Coast (1861), p. 300

Seated in a cart is a young woman in a shiny Welsh hat and an older woman in a lower hat with broad brim, followed by a woman carrying a basket on her head and a Welsh hat hanging from her belt. On the path behind them is a woman in a Welsh hat carrying a box, followed by another woman carrying goods in a basket with a Welsh hat slung from her waist. Behind them is another woman in a Welsh hat.


botw3021861 ‘The Market’

Mr and Mrs S.C. Halls’ Book of South Wales, the Wye and the Coast (1861), p. 302 and as ‘Merthyr Market twenty years ago [1857]’, in Wirt Sikes ‘On the Taff’, Harpers magazine, February 1877.

Nine women in Welsh hats, some serving at a stall selling cheese, poultry and bread, with a woman in a bonnet considering purchasing something. In the background are other women in Welsh hats and long hooded cloaks, with another on horseback carrying a basket.


‘Swansea Market’ watercolour: by E. Hill [NMW St Fagans : 61.45? or F15,728]
This includes at least four Welsh hats and some peaked bonnets. The woman on the left has a child in a siol magu, and a shawl with red stripe, probably folded lengthways and pinned at the neck while the two women with Welsh hats and green shawls are wearing them folded to form a triangle. These ways of wearing a shawl may well be a means of distinguishing social status: the farm servants wearing them folded lengthways and the farmer’s daughters, with their expensive Welsh hats, and finer shawls, wearing them as a triangle.

Holyhead Market, from the Graphic, 30th August, 1873 [NLW PG02776]
This shows all the Welsh hats as conical in shape which is unlikely to be correct: north Welsh hats were normally straight-sided

Costumes du pays de Galles Dessin de Grandsire d’après  [Welsh costumes, engraved by Grandsire after M.A. Erny]  Erny, M. Alfred, “Voyage dans le pays de Galles.” Le Tour de Monde (1867), pp. 257-88 and print  entitled ‘Welsh Market-women driving a bargain’ [NLW P1736]. The town has been identified as Chester.

From left to right: Woman with Welsh hat seated by great spinning wheel; woman with Welsh hat, standing, carrying baby; Woman with hemispherical crowned hat seated, knitting; two women, both in Welsh hats in the background; three women all in Welsh hats standing round a table selling vegetables with a man in a broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat. One woman has a long, large-hooded cloak, and another has a gown with the tail clearly showing.

Pride of the Market, engraving, Anon
There are, however, some specimens still to be seen of the Welsh peasant costume as it has been for generations past; notably a comely young woman behind a vegetable stall, who wears the full costume in all its glory. She is a pink of neatness, and her beaver is superb. I at once christen her the Pride of the Market, and if ever I go to live in Merthyr Tydfil, I shall buy my vegetable marrows of none but her. Her hat is prodigiously tall, and shines with a gloss that betokens careful brushing; it has a broad rim, and a peaked crown, and is adorned about the base of its chimney with a twist of some pinky stuff. Underneath it is seen a muslin cap of snowy whiteness, with blue ribbons, and the woman’s hair is drawn smoothly back from her shining forehead. A short semi-coat of red flannel reaches to her knee, and over her shoulders is pinned a gay green kerchief, striped with yellow. A blue chequered apron hangs from her waist, and a dark stuff gown reaches to her ankles, clearing the ground by some inches, and showing her stout shoes tied with a bit of ribbon. All these stuffs were home-made, I judged. The hat looked as if it were new, just out of a shop, but she told me she had had it some years. Such a hat will last the wearer a life-time with care, but it is likely to grow wrinkly at its peak as the burden of the years grow heavy on it.
Published in an illustrated article by Wirt Sykes, (1836-1883), American Consul in Cardiff, 1876-1883, Harpers Magazine, (February 1877), and in his Rambles and Studies in Old South Wales, (1881, Reprinted by Stewart Williams, Barry, 1973)

‘Cadi and Shonnett of Llanfechell’, two photographs by John Thomas in their working and best costumes