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 They were probably originally made of felt ( the hat in this photo appears to be felt) ,  but most surviving examples are of silk plush on a stiffened buckram base.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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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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