Victorian Welsh Women

Oct 21, 2015 by

Victorian Welsh women of the working class led hard lives and were rarely photographed.

The following photos, however,  show the beauty and character unique to those 19th century  ladies of Wales.

Such a lovely young woman–notice the wide variety of patterns in her garments, including plaid. She is wearing what we have come to know as the traditional dress or costume of Welsh women.  It has its origins in the rural farms of  Wales, where visitors to the country in the early 1700’s took note of the farm wives’ distinctive attire.   In contrast, women along the border with England and in prosperous towns wore English fashions.

The white cap she wears under her hat is known as a mob cap, a linen or cotton head cover with goffered (an ornamental frill made by pleating and pressing fabric ) fabric around the face.  Some  Welsh caps had long lappets which hung down the front below shoulder level.

The  most distinctive feature of traditional Welsh women’s attire is the hat, with its broad, stiff, flat brim and tall crown.  There were two main shapes of crown: those with drum shaped crowns were worn in north-west Wales and those with slightly tapering crowns were found in the rest of Wales. They were probably originally made of felt ( the hat in this photo appears to be felt) ,  but most surviving examples are of silk plush on a stiffened buckram base. A third type of hat, known as the cockle hat, was worn in the Swansea area.

First of two photos of a pair of women, identified as Sioned and Cadi.

  Here, they are dressed in their work clothes, old garments that once were new and fresh…

…like the dresses that Sioned and Cadi wear in this companion photo, also dated 1875.  The colors are dark, but the details–polka dots, velvet trim and ruffles–reveal the feminine side of these Victorian Welsh ladies.

Another woman dressed in traditional costume, this time standing beside a large spinning wheel. Note that her drum-shaped crown is much taller than the hat in the first photo.


There is a long tradition of knitting in Wales; in the 17th-19th centuries, farm women spent many hours creating woolen scarves and shawls to sell to the English and other visitors.  It provided a much-needed additional source of income for poor farm families.


A captivating photo of a young Victorian girl in Wales, posing with her large dog.  Her clothing is indicative of a prosperous upbringing, far different from Welsh farm women.

Beautiful hair!  Even in black and white , this woman’s long braided hair has a rich sheen.

A scene you will often find when viewing vintage photos of Victorian Welsh women: ladies having tea.  The large frills on the cap on the right are lovely, but I imagine they would seriously impair your peripheral vision.

An earlier Victorian photo showing a hand-woven shawl with long fringe, an accessory used by most Welsh farm women. The shawl could be used to cover a nursing baby, carry food or kindling, or as head cover in inclement weather.


A grouping of older Victorian Welsh women in traditional clothing with various hat styles.  Note that some of the mob caps have been dyed black, a mourning custom of the Victorian era. 

I love the little lady on the right–she’s barely taller than the seated women!

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Ruined Wales

Jun 8, 2015 by

Want to know where to go to see the best of ruined Wales?


David Hamilton has a new book, Wild Ruins, that has an extensive list of the most mysterious, most beautiful of Wales’ ruined castles, abbeys and keeps.


Here’s an excerpt from a Wales Online article about this new guide to exploring ruined Wales:


From crag-top castles to crumbling quarries in ancient forests, here’s how to find ruined Wales in all its mysterious glory with the help of author David Hamilton’s book, Wild Ruins.

The substantial remains of Neath Abbey lie on the banks of the gentle flowing waters of the Tennant Canal. It was a favourite of the Romantics and is still a very beautiful place to have a picnic. It was founded in the year 1130, and absorbed by the Cistercian order in 1147. At one time it would have been one of the largest and most powerful abbeys in Wales. You can see the extensive remains of the abbey and a 16th-century mansion.


Paddle in the river, climb up the steep hill to Clun Castle and relax in one of the many pubs or cafés in the village of Clun. Built in the 11th century, the powerful Marcher castle defended the English-Welsh border during the Norman occupation.

Much of the large keep still stands high on this naturally occurring knoll overlooking the Saxon village. It’s also not too far from the Offa’s Dyke Path and the Shropshire Way walking routes.

Read more here: 13 incredible Welsh ruins frozen in time forever – Wales Online

To purchase David Hamilton’s Wild Ruins, in either book or Kindle format, click HERE.

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Richard Burton, Man of Wales

Nov 10, 2014 by

Richard Burton, the great Welsh thespian, was born on this date, November 10, 1925, in Pontrhydyfen, South Wales.


The son of a coal miner, Burton was born as Richard Jenkins,  the twelfth of thirteen children.  He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household; in fact, the majority of Pontrhydyfen’s inhabitants speak Welsh as their first language.





Richard Burton came to be regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of his day, although he never received an Oscar ( despite being nominated seven times for an Academy Award) and was never knighted.  To see a synopsis of 6 memorable performances by Richard Burton, read Wales Online’s new tribute article HERE.

Burton certainly enjoyed the limelight, but didn’t view his profession as a higher calling:

The Welsh are all actors. It’s only the bad ones who become professional.
Richard Burton

After playing King Arthur in the Broadway production of Camelot, Burton replaced another actor as Mark Antony in Twentieth Century-Fox’s Cleopatra (1963). It was on the set of Cleopatra that he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor (both he and Taylor had spouses at the time), beginning a tempestuous love affair that would intrigue the public and the media for decades.



Burton died at age 58 from a brain hemorrhage on 5 August 1984, at his home in Céligny, Switzerland, and is buried there.

To read more about Richard Burton’s life and achievements, visit the Official Richard Burton website HERE.

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Gwrych Castle

Sep 16, 2014 by

Gwrych Castle is a 19th century Welsh folly near the small village of Abergele, overlooking the Irish Sea.

This fairytale castle was last open to the public in 1985 and has been a derelict property since that time.  Gwrych Castle is now being renovated as a luxury hotel and will be opened to the public for one day, September 21, 2014, for the first time in thirty years.

According to local history, the first castle built at Gwrych was erected by the Normans in the 12th century.  After seizing the timber castle in 1170, Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffyudd rebuilt the fortress in stone.  Cromwell’s army destroyed the stone castle during the English Civil War in the 17th century.

The current castle was built as a Gothic folly between 1812 and 1825 by industrialist Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh. In 1878, Hesketh’s granddaughter Winifred (sole heir to the estate) married the 12th Earl of Dundonald, a Scottish nobleman, and Gwrych Castle became home to the Dundonalds until 1924.  It was an arranged marriage and the couple spent most of their time apart-he in scotland, she at her family home in Wales. When Winifred died in 1924, her will stipulated that Gwrych should pass to King George V and the Prince of Wales; the gift was refused and the castle was then given to the Venerable Order of Saint John, a royal order of chivalry.

In 1925, Winifred’s husband, the Earl of Dundonald, bought the castle back. Unfortunately, he had to sell all of the contents of Gwrych Castle to cover the cost of the purchase. The Earl sold the castle in 1946 and it was opened to the public for the next 20 years. Gwrych changed hands several more times, and was once used for medieval festivals that included jousting:

The castle was closed to the public in 1985 and was purchased by an American businessman in 1989, who planned to turn it into a hotel. His plans failed and the property was vandalized and looted until the Gwrych Castle Trust facilitated the sale of the castle to Clayton Hotels in 2006. In 2009, the developers went bankrupt and the castle was sold to yet another hotel developer, which is now working with the Trust to restore Gwrych and open it as a five star hotel.

On September 21st, the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust will hold public tours to show recent renovations to the castle, as well the future plans for the site. This historic event will give visitors a chance to see the inside of this once proud manor home for the first time in 30 years.

If you cannot attend the public festivities, you can still help save this unique Welsh landmark by joining or donating to the Gwrych Castle Trust — click HERE.


Gwrych Castle, which once had 128 rooms, beautiful stained glass windows and a magnificent 52 step marble staircase, deserves another chance at glory.   It truly is one of the most splendid castles in Wales– hopefully, it will soon return to the ranks of outstanding Welsh places to visit.

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Welsh Humor

Feb 23, 2014 by

 Welsh humor pokes fun at  its own customs and sayings. Whether the target is rugby, the Welsh language and people, or Wales’ English neighbors, it’s all in good fun.

So, go on, then–be Welsh and laugh now in a minute!

Welsh humor

In Wales, rugby is the national pastime, and no opponent is more vilified than the English national rugby team. There’s NO Welsh humor when it comes to beating the English.


Need a cwtch, dear?

Need a cwtch, dear?

Cwtch is a wonderful Welsh word that means a hug, a cuddle, and a warm, safe place, all rolled up into one.  It’s roughly pronounced coot-ch; rhymes with gooch or hooch. 

Even the language seems to have a sense of Welsh humor.

Here’s a short video with Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert  on stage, poking fun at his own homeland.

The national symbol of Wales is the red dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, a mighty beast that is not overly fond of yielding to cars. 

He’s not overly fond of Welsh humor, either.


If you carefully [ pronunciation hint] search the internet, you’ll find that Caerphilly refers to a town in Wales, a medieval Welsh castle, and a hard, white Welsh cheese

  Caerphilly also makes for a tasty bit of Welsh humor.

Welsh Humor from Scribbler

Welsh Humor from Scribbler

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Speaking Welsh, One Word At A Time

Feb 6, 2014 by

I recently came across a wonderful Cymraeg blog called The Welsh Word of the Day, where you can see different words in Welsh, along with the translation and pronunciation in English.    You may even submit a word or words for translation–just words, however, not sentences or quotes, because that would entail a HUGE workload for the site admin, Mathew Hayes.  He’s providing a great way for anyone with Welsh or Celtic heritage in general to learn a bit of the beautiful Welsh language.

It’s February and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I thought I’d pick out a few romantic Welsh words to get you started–click HERE  to see more daily Welsh posts from the blog.

Welsh word of the day: Cusan/Kiss

Welsh word of the day: Cusan/Kiss

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Vintage Women of Wales, Part Two

Jan 19, 2014 by

In my previous post on Victorian-era Welsh women, I focused mostly on farm women attired in traditional Welsh costume.  In this post, the upper middle class women and children  (in vintage photos from the National Library of Wales) are also from the Victorian era, but are clothed in fashions more typical of English women of that era.   Conformity and modesty–at least in public–were de rigueur in Victorian Welsh society, but small touches of personality shine through in these intriguing black and white photos from late 19th century Wales.

The women’s dresses are late Victorian in style, although without the large structural hoops common at that time.  The ladies have all parted their hair right down the middle and pulled it into tight buns, a typical hair style for daily activities.  I think that kind of  “up do” would give me a serious headache.

Young Elinor and her doll were photographed in 1853 by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810-1882), who may have been her father.   Under her white apron, she is wearing a plaid dress, in a fabric likely made from local Welsh wool.   Her hair is either wet from having just been washed (ok) or greasy from not being washed enough (yuck)– I’m putting my money on the former, rather than the latter.

  She looks rather sad, but her somber expression was typical for early photography subjects.   The photographic process and finished pictures were expensive, so the frivolity of a smile was frowned upon—pun intended.

There was, however, no such rule against dogs smiling in photographs, as seen here.
Women were not often photographed indoors with large hunting dogs like this curly canine, which could be a Welsh Cocker spaniel, the forerunner of the Welsh Springer spaniel.  Pampered lap pooches like pugs and Papillions were favored by middle and upper class women in staged portraits such as the one above.

Another staged portrait shot, but this woman is more relaxed as she arranges the flowers. Interesting to see her in a short-sleeved dress, and the fashionable curls in her hair.

Those dangly ringlets you see draped around Miss Hughes’ face were used to soften the severe (but practical) hairstyle common for women in the late 19th century.   Note that she’s also using a hair comb and a lace cap or snood to contain her hair– a bit of a split personality moment for this spinster lady, captured for us to view via the wet collodion photographic process.

What a sweet smile on her face!  You can see a full length picture of Jane with her young husband  HERE.

  Janie (as she was called) was born in 1865 in Pontfaen, Breconshire, Wales, to Howell and Eleanor Powell.  She married John, a Methodist missionary,  in September, 1887, and they immediately set sail for India.   Sadly, Jane died of cholera less than a week after their arrival in Calcutta; she is buried in India.  Read more about her and John HERE.

Riding sidesaddle is no easy feat, especially in a tight fitting corset and long skirts.  These ladies appear to have no worries, though, and look confident in the saddle.
Llansanffraid Glan Conwy (Glan Conwy) is a small village across from the town of Conwy on the estuary of the River Conwy.  It was founded in the 5th century;  the name translates from the Welsh as Church of St Ffraid (St Brigid of Ireland) on the bank of the River Conwy.

These sweet young ladies look to be (and probably were) little more than children, even though they worked as maids.   I’d love to know what became of them…

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