Fri, 18 Feb 11 14:22:00
What did our forefathers or rather, foremothers wear four hundred years ago? We have a good idea of the clothes worn by the nobility from their portraits but what of the ordinary mass of women? Thanks to an unassuming looking archive from the St Asaph area in Denbighshire at the National Library of Wales, we can now have a better idea of what women wore.
The short descriptions in Welsh by the master of the house of Wigfair, Ieuan ap Rees ap David to his maid known only as Ellin (big Ellin) is catalogued as NLW 12450E and it’s a very interesting document.
Many of the payments were made not in cash but in goods such as clothing or material for making clothes. The prices paid by Ieuan for the clothing and materials are noted on the list. The most comprehensive list is in Welsh, but many of the items on this list are also on a shorter list in English.
According to a note at the beginning of the list, it is a copy of the original list that was made because of a court case where Ieuan ap Rees ap David was the defendant and Elin and George Gruff[ydd] ap D[avid] ap M[ered]edd were the plaintiffs. It appears, therefore, that the lists were copied after Elin had departed from her position and married.
Ieuan ap Rees ap David was a member of the Lloyd family of gentry and his son, John Lloyd, was the recorder of Denbigh. Ieuan died sometime between 1600-1610.
Because of the number of items of clothing on the list it is likely that it was produced over a number of years. It appears that Ieuan was a fairly generous employer - some items were made from his own cloth and no charge was made for these.
It is interesting also to find the prices of the various articles of clothing mentioned, as well as the sums paid to the tailor, the fuller, and the dyer. While gloves were to be obtained for three pence a pair, and shoes at prices ranging from sixteen pence to two shillings a pair, a felt hat bought at Chester cost eight shillings, whilst another felt hat cost ten shillings. Linen or linen cloth was widely used for smocks, aprons, and partlets, while jerkins (a short waistcoat) and petticoats appear to have been made usually of cloth or flannel. Stockings were made of wool or of 'kersie' (a coarse woollen cloth), some of the kersie being homemade and some of it being obtained 'o'r dre' (from town – though, it is not clear where ‘town’ is St Asaph or further away?). Aprons and smocks were usually made from linen but jerkins and petticoats were made from cloth or flannel. As well as the utilitarian items such as smocks and petticoats, Elin was also provided with more ornamental items such as collars and a ribbon to tie back her hair.
The Welsh version gives a fascinating glimpse of the social, economic and linguistic situation at the time in Flintshire, some 20 miles from the English border during the age of Shakespeare. We read of her receiving material ‘Am drwssio eilwaith i ffais hi yr Tailiwr kloff’ (repairing her petticoat for the second time by the lame tailor) or ‘Item for a yarde of lynnen cloth for her of Richard peddler’.
Like other European languages, Welsh hadn’t been standardised. The use of ‘k’ and ‘v’ where today Welsh would use ‘c’ and ‘f’. As an aside, it had been the intention of William Salesbury, when he translated the New Testament into Welsh in 1567 to use ‘k’ in standard Welsh but as the Bible was typeset in London, using English types, as Morgan said; ‘C for K, because the printers have not so many as the Welsh requireth’.
The use of Welsh throws light on the accent of the area and on the names by which people were known – which in Wales very often different to the officially recognised baptised names. It is also clear that the old Welsh patronymic system of naming was alive, but maybe in its last generation or so. Not only can this be seen in Ieuan ap Rees’s name (ap being ‘son of’) but also in the ‘sane davedd iddi hi gen Sioned ach Siôn – ‘thread for socks for her by Sioned ach (daughter of) Siôn’.
Payments to a serving maid
Article from the National Library of Wales Journal vol. 1, number 2 (Winter 1939), ‘Dress and Dress Materials for a Serving Maid’ Circa 1600.
Siôn Jobbins, NLW Press Office: 01970 632902 firstname.lastname@example.org