The Book of South Wales and the Wye
By Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, 1861
Extracts contributed by Jill Muir (May 2004)
Neath and the Vale of Neath
On market days the roads leading to the market town are thronged with country folk from surrounding districts. Those who live at remote distances are 'on the road' at an early hour; they are soon joined by others and every by-way and farm-house contributes to swell the number. Some are in their own carts, some in those of their neighbours, but the greater part, men and women, are on foot - for they are a sturdy people and can walk long distances with little fatigue.
Of the men - some are engaged in leading or driving the horse and cart; others are carrying across their shoulder long rods, from which is suspended a seemingly countless number of pairs of stockings, or are loaded with rolls of flannel of their own manufacture. The men wear low-crowned hats and are for the most part clothed in coats and vests of deep blue cloth, home spun and with brass buttons, have knee breeches of corduroy, and are very partial to showy silk neckclothes.
The dress of the women varies. The national costume, as our readers are aware, is a short-sleeved cloth jacket, and the petticoat, which is short and sensible, particularly in rainy weather. But flannel, stuff and cotton gowns of different shapes are also common; in all cases, however the checked flannel apron is indispensable, and a long blue cloak with a capacious hood is, even in warm weather, not thought superfluous. They frequently wear high-crowned, broad-rimmed hats; these are usually of beaver, and ornamented with fringed bands; but straw hats are prevalent - some of the same form as the beavers, others less steeple-crowned and some again nearly of a scuttle shape. These hats must be a sad encumbrance to a woman who is laden with a large heavily-freighted market-basket on her head; but, on such occasions, a genuine daughter of Cambria would not be restrained by the trouble she experiences on the way, from the pleasure of wearing her national head-dress in the streets and market-place, although she has had to carry it for miles in her hand, or tied to her arm or apron-string.
The Welsh are among themselves and in their own tongue, prodigious talkers. Here on the road even if you are familiar with the language, you would have great difficulty in making out what is said, for the conversation is so animated, and so many speak at once that in the hum of voices the connection of the discourse is lost.
They seem to be eminently a religiously disposed people; whatever be the subject of their conversation, whether speculating on the prices they are to ask and receive for their goods, or the capability likely to be displayed by some newly-married couple or other in the management of their farm - whatever it be - in the end there is no occasion for haste, the conversation generally turns upon religious topics. ----. At length they reach the Market, which is more like a German than an English market, except that it is much cleaner, and they have not yet learned the Continental art of wreathing and binding up flowers. All attention is now turned to business; the stalls have to be out in order, scales to be adjusted, cheese, poultry, vegetables to be arranged, and the white napkin to be thrown back from the butter.
The Welsh Market is always a pleasant place in which to study character, and assuredly all tourists will visit one at least of these crowded, talking, bustling places of universal resort; but if they desire to see it in perfection, they must be there at an early hour.
[Last Updated : 15 May 2004 - Gareth Hicks]