Monday, December 19, 2011

Costume of Ynys Mon, or Anglesey, and North Cymru or Wales

Hello All,

Today I will talk about another variation of Welsh folk costume from  Ynys Môn, an island and county off the north coast, called in English Anglesey, and in Latin Mona. Here is a map to locate it

 Ynys Môn has a long and significant history as a special place for the native Druids of Britain.
For more information on the island and its history, see this article:

The local folk costume has a few different variations, the Pais a Becon, which is the local name for the Pais a Betgwn, in  a couple of different styles, and another costume called Gwn stwf a Het silc, which may be translated as 'Gown in Linsey-woolsey'. These are not restricted to Mon, but are also found on the mainland of North Wales, The image above is of a woman in Llanberis.
 I am going to focus on the cotton Becon, or Betgwn, which differs significantly from that of Ceredigion, or Cardiganshire, and only seems to have been worn in the North of Wales.
Here are a couple of ladies from Mon wearing this type of costume. These are modern replicas of museum pieces.

There are several obvious differences compared to the betgwn of Ceredigion. Firstly, they are much shorter,  as indeed most were, Cardiganshire had among the longest betgwn in Wales. Secondly, they are made of cotton calico. These were made in several colors, but most commonly in some shade of yellow. Thirdly, they commonly have a large lay down collar, often round, but sometimes square. The sleeves vary in length and construction, as you can see in the above two images. Sometimes they are sewn of rectangular pieces sewn on to the body of the becon at right angles, this of course, requires an underarm gusset for ease of movement.
The position of the shoulder seam is clearly seen in this old photograph.

 The becon overlaps in front where it is often shorter, because this part is normally covered by the apron.

At other times the sleeve appears to be gathered, and set in.

As you can see, the rounded collar often had a gathered frill or flounce, and the square collars did not. The becon was not always shorter in front. Here is an image of a woman who apparently went out without her apron. You will notice that the becon seems to have been gathered at the waist with a drawstring.

A long sleeved becon or betgwn of linsey-woolsey was sometimes worn instead of, or over the cotton becon in this area. The sleeves were set in at right angles, and they were held closed by the apron, or pinned shut in front.

These were longer than the cotton becons, and the tails were often pinned back to keep them out of the way when working. They sometimes had big square collars. Here is a painting of Peggy, who was mail carrier in Biwmares [Beaumarie] for many years. Her tails are pinned back and she is wearing long cotton sleeves under the outer betgwn.

Here is a rear view of a museum piece.

 With the becon was worn the pais, usually translated as 'petticoat'. If a woman could afford one, first she put on one of cotton or linen. Often the petticoat was gathered into a fitted top piece. 

An underpetticoat of red flannel was often worn over this, as it was thought to protect against rheumatism. You can see one peeking out in this photo.

The top petticoat  was of various colors, usually restrained, and overwhelmingly seems to have been made with vertical stripes. Tucks were commonly sewn in. You can see that the top part was  never intended to be seen, and is often made of a different material.

Aprons are usually worn over the petticoats and becon, although there are some old paintings showing them worn under the becon. They usually have horizontal stripes.

Although sometimes plaid or checked aprons are worn. Notice the gathered full short sleeve sewn perpendicular to the body of the becon, as shown by the 'drop sleeve' seam.

And sometimes the apron was of plain white linen or cotton, as in this closeup of a painting of a Market scene in Holyhead.

Sometimes aprons were made of 'silk linsey', in which silk was woven into the cloth.

As in other parts of Wales, a cotton kerchief was tucked around the neck under the cotton becon, look closely at the various images above, particularly at the woman out and about in her red flannel underskirt and no apron. Pockets were worn under the apron.

Another garment which was worn in North Wales is called Gwn o stwf Cartra, or Gown of Linsey-Woolsey. This was an actual gown sewn of locally woven cloth, usually of a mixture of linen and wool. 

The Gwn typically had long sleeves gathered into cuffs, was fitted at the waist, usually had a high neckline and opened in front. It was worn with the under petticoats of linen and/or red or other flannel. It was finished and accessorized with the same costume pieces as the pais a becon, including shoulder shawl and apron.

If you look closely, you will see that most of the fullness of the skirt is in back. This is very typical over much of Europe. This was achieved by gathering in the back, [note the princess line seams on the back]

and using rather flat box pleats in front.

These Gwns were recorded in photos and other images from the North of Wales.

Small woolen shoulder shawls are worn here, as in other parts of Wales. Here is an example which belonged to Mary Pritchard of Llanfairpwll.

This is a postcard of a girl from Borthaethwy, on Mon.

The large, expensive, imported Paisley Shawls based on Kashmiri designs, are as popular here as anywhere.

Cotton caps which varied somewhat in shape, had goffered lace and ribbons on the sides, were worn here as in other parts of Wales and Northwest Europe.

 Various types of hats were worn, as you can see from the above images, straw hats, short hats, top hats, as well as the famous Welsh Beaver. Some of the shorter straw hats are much more practical for working.

Clogs are worn for work by those who could afford it, but people in Wales, as in so many other places often went barefoot, sometimes with stockings  which had no soles, but were held on by a loop over the big toe, as here above.

The famous Welsh beaver hat is also worn here, as in other parts of Wales. The ones made in this area seem to be more cylindrical compared to those made elsewhere, which tended to be more conical in shape, tapering towards the top.

Here we have a hat from Anglesey on the left, and one from Cardiganshire on the right.

I will close with some more images of the costume of North Wales.

As always, thank you for reading. I hope you have found this interesting. Folk costume is always rooted in very local tradition. It is a shame that so much information on local costume has not been recorded. 

 Here is a website in Wales where you can buy beautifully woven Welsh fabric for costumes. They also make children's Welsh costumes, but not very authentic.

 For those of you who like dolls, here is a website offering some very nicely made dolls in Welsh Costume which are available.

 Here is a website which gathers together a great deal of information on many aspects of Welsh Culture and History. It is written in both English and Welsh, and is called Casglu'r Tlysau, or Gathering the Jewels. It is well worth browsing.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.

Source Material:
The collection of the  Ceredigion Museum.  This is a link directly to their Museum:
Here is a website showing items in their collection. 

Ken Etheridge, 'Welsh Costume in the 18th & 19th cent.', Swansea, 1997
Huw Roberts, 'Pais a Becon, Gwn stwff a Het silc' [Traditional Welsh Costume in 19th cent Anglesey] Llansadwrn, Anglesey, 2006
F. G. Payne, 'Welsh Peasant Costume', Cardiff, 1964
Megan Ellis, 'Welsh Costume and Customs', National Library of Wales, Alberystwyth, 1951
Joan Perkins, 'The Welsh Doll', Swansea, 1990
Lilla M. Fox, 'Costumes and Customs of the British Isles', Boston, 1974
Adam Glickman, 'Stereotypes, a book of Postcards', San Francisco, 1991
Lois Blake, 'Welsh Folk Dance and Costume', Llangollen, N. Wales, 1954


  1. Just wanting to put in another word of encouragement that someone is reading your blog, and that I think it is awesome! I could spend hours going over each entry. There aren't that many people with such a love of this subject, nice to find a way to connect with others! It used to be that you could get a degree in Textiles at the University of Washington, where I got my Anthropology degrees, but it is no longer offered. There are museum collections worth studying, though.

    1. I admit i would dearly love to get a grant to travel and study Museum collections. There are so many small local Museums with valuable pieces that are not well recorded. Unfortunately i have to have other employment to pay the bills.
      Thank you very much for your words of encouragement.

  2. Please consider using labels to index your posts by country or region! You have an invaluable source here, and it would be wonderful to be able to get to all of the posts on, say, "Wales" or "shawls", etc., in one go. The "search" feature in your sidebar goes some way to achieving this, but it also pulls up that search word in the comments, too.

    I've really enjoyed reading your posts on Welsh national costume!

  3. The clothing is beautiful as well as practical. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  4. No conozco que llegaran a Patagonia los trajes típicos, ni siquiera un sombrero de copa. Es llamativo si pensamos que la colonia en Chubut era parte de un movimiento nacionalista que coincide temporalmente con los registros que Ud. muestra.
    Agradezco enormemente tu dedicación. Estoy aprendiendo mucho en tu blog!

  5. Fascinating article! I have really enjoyed it as I live in North Wales. You don’t identify what period these clothes are from and how they might have changed over time? I am guessing from the pictures that we are looking at the eighteen hundreds?

  6. What a lovely blog, particularly the history and examples of Welsh costume. I have learned such a lot from reading it! 😊

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