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By BEE RICHARDS, 2019-09-29

At the start of the First World War in 1914, society in Britain remained much as it had always been since the beginning of the twentieth century.  Britain was rigidly class ridden, between the aristocracy. The middle classes who formed the professional and blue collar workers, doctors, lawyers teachers and scientists etc.

Then there were the working classes – manual and factory workers, miners iron foundry workers, dock workers and those who maintained the roads and the railways.  Generally, these were the men who maintained the fabric of society.  Skilled and semi-skilled workers who earned a living in the heavy industries with their hands and their strength.

Working class women and girls were mainly wives and mothers. Young, single women were employed in a selection of menial low paid work, in service working in middle class homes, dressmaking or shop work. Once married they were expected to look after their husbands and large families. Birth control was not generally used. It was common for families of ten or more children to live in one very small terraced house.  

The practice of providing hot baths for husbands and sons who would be coated in coal dust at the end of their shift a few times a day affected the health of many women who also cooked and cleaned and provided for the poor quality of life lived by thousands of women and their families who lived in the South Wales valleys.

From the early part of the 20th century there was controversy over the provision on pithead baths which would enable the miners to bathe and wear clean clothes at the end of their shift.  This would alleviate some of the strain on the women at home who daily provided this facilty.

Some companies did not wish to install bathing facilities.  Sometimes the miners paid for them out of small weekly donations from their wages.  Gradually throughout the twenties and thirties pithead baths became almost universal.

Nationally the self confidence of the female population expressed itself through the fashions they wore. Gone were the elaborate dresses of the Edwardian era.  Clothes became more functional and practical as can be seen in this illustration of 1914.

Skirts were ankle length matched with jackets which reflected a more tailored style. Hats were still popular some were trimmed with feathers but a plainer, brimmed style was also popular.

The outbreak of war in 1914 meant that the demand for female labour to fill the millions of jobs left vacant by men joining the military forces finally forced the government to consider women for jobs traditionally filled by men.  This became a national necessity which affected professional and working class women. Posters illustrating the recruitment of female labour became a commonplace feature of life.                    

Such posters appealing to recruit women into the nursing professions into the Land Army encouraged thousands of women to leave a very stifled domestic influence and seek jobs in the professions, factories, agriculture and every job filled by a man, with the exception of mining and active military service.  They started find their independence!  

Slowly fashionable women’s clothes also mirrored the practical uniforms which women were forced to wear in jobs such as the munitions factories in which thousands of them were conscripted to work in providing explosives for the military efforts of WW1 along the Western front and other theatres of war.

The Women’s Land Army recruited 23,000 women to work agriculture, in order to provide the country with food and look after the land in the absence of male labour. 

Women were encouraged to join the land army in order to keep agriculture going.  The need to feed the military and the civilian population and to fill the jobs that millions of men had left in order to volunteer or later to be conscripted for the military was vital for the survival of the country.

Drawing at the top of this page by John Peacock from his book Fashion Since 1900: The Complete Sourcebook (Thames & Hudson 2007).

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No Pasaran by Bee Richards

By BEE RICHARDS, 2019-09-10

Doesn't it ever stop raining? thought Mali as she gazed through the small kitchen window.  The mountains were covered in a grey wet mist, and the rain trickled miserably down the window pane, grimed with the black coal dust that was everywhere. There was a bucket placed in the middle of the lean to they called a kitchen, a steady drip could be heard filling the rusty bucket.  The roof was leaking, and there was no money to repair it.  She was on her own, left while Owen her husband had swanned off to Spain on some brainless socialist ideal to fight in that bloody War.

She had waited for hours, sitting in the sparse kitchen with Beth. There was a small fire burning.  She could no longer keep the house warm on the pittance she was receiving from the Parish.  Mari still wore the baggy old cardigan under her wraparound pinny for extra warmth.  Her hair once so beautiful was dull and lank, her mother said due to malnutrition. 

“Leave him” said Mam. 

“I love him” replied Mari. but now it was too late.

The evening meal was spoiled.  Bethan was upset her Dudda was absent again.  That bloody Union Lodge all they ever talked about was Revolution.  And now this thing in Spain, some sort of peasant uprising.  But with heavy political overtones, that's what Owen had told her.   Just what they had been waiting for so they could save the bloody world,  What about the peasants in the valley who were being starved out by the coal owners?  If it wasn't for Mam they would have no tea today.

Finally Owen appeared.

“Where have you been?”  she snapped.

“Oh don't start again Mari.  I've had a long day.”

“Yes, arguing the toss with that lot at the Lodge.  You need a job not ideals.  Owen you are useless.”

“Is it my fault they've offered us starvation wages?” he replied.

“Mam is feeding us.  Me and Bethan would go hungry if we depended on you.  
You know you won't get a better offer, than the one on the table.”


“The Union will back us.  We'll stay out until we get what we want.”

“Thats all bravado.  What about that bloody useless Mining agent.  He gets fatter by the day.  He's in the pocket of the owners.  Until you get rid of him you can pass as many resolutions as you like,  while the children in the valley starve, and you lot form committees.  We used to be so happy before this all started.”

In a moment of resignation Owen looked at her

“ Mari do you think I like this?  With thousands of us out.  Our kids going hungry and the soles of their shoes getting ever thinner?  The valley is on the bones of its'
arse.  Because of those overfed bastards at the big house squeezing every penny out of us.  The only recourse we have is with the Union.”

“The bloody Union, is that all you ever think about.  Committees and resolutions, its' a bloody full  time job for you.  We used to be so good together.” She said softly as she moved towards him, but he pulled away.  “Another pregancy won't solve anything.”

“Don't you want me anymore?”

There was no answer.  The silence chilled her bones.  It was an answer in itself.

“Is there no future?” asked Mari quietly.

“Not while we're in this state.  I'm a free man, who can make his own decisions.”

“And me and Beth are free to starve.  Are we?  You are free to scavenge the tips for coal.  Where is the dignity in being free?”

He moved further away from her.  His face became pale.

“Why did you go there ?   She said.  Was it a 'man' thing?  Because you were the Lodge secretary?  Did you feel you had to?   Peer pressure?  Were you afraid you had to prove yourself a man?  Tell me .“ she screamed.

“There were people being oppressed, starving, massacred.  They needed our support.”  replied Owen.

Dont talk such rubbish.  There are hundreds in this valley being starved and oppressed, and you have the solution.  Negotiate.  But out of male chauvinist pride, you won't give yourselves the opportunity to get around the table.  Then you go off to that bloody war.  You left me and Beth without a word.  Some bloody hero.”

He stared  as though not seeing her.  It was as if she was'nt there.  He looked at her strangely

“What the hell is the matter with you Owen David?  Her voice rose in anger. 

“Why don't you answer me?”

He just sat there as if neither of this world or the next.

“I want to know why you did it Owen.” said Mari.

“Were'nt me and Beth enough for you?  You left us in the middle of the night, man! 

How could I explain it to Bethan?”   The tone of her voice betrayed her hopelessness.

Owen replied almost as if in a dream.

“You know I loved you and Beth.  It all happened so quickly.  I knew the call would come.  We had to meet at Cardiff at 6.00 the following morning to get the boat train to France.  We walked over the Pyrenees into Spain, where we were met by Manolo.

“You left me and Beth penniless.  There was no note.  We didn't know where you were.  Then of course, there was Manolo.”

“But Beth I was injured pretty early on.  Manolo looked after me.”  

“Bloody Manolo”  snapped Mari..

“Why do you talk so negatively of him?” asked Owen.

“If it was'nt for that man hundreds of us would have died.  You didn't know him Beth.”  replied Owen.

“I know what he was”  she said bitterly.

“He loved me.”

“It was obscene.  You were lovers.”

“They came for him Beth, he would not tell them about me – about us, or where we were hiding.  They tortured and finally shot him.  Such a beautiful human being.

Owen became ever more distant.

“The Brigaders who came back gave me the news that tried to rescue him. On your own of course.  You bloody fool Owen.  Now I'm a widow and you are buried god knows where..................” 

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By BEE RICHARDS, 2019-09-04


The women of Wales have a gritty and courageous story to tell.  Expressed in terms of fashion the tale is outlined by the changing social and historical forces which influenced what they wore. And in turn influenced who they were and what they became.

At the start of the First World War in 1914, society in Britain remained much as it had always been since the beginning of the twentieth century.  Britain was rigidly class ridden between the aristocracy the middle classes who formed the professional and blue collar workers such as doctors, lawyers teachers and scientists etc., Then there were the working classes, manual and factory workers, miners, iron foundry workers, also dock workers, and those who maintained the railways.  Generally these were the men who maintained the fabric of society.  Skilled and semi skilled workers who earned a living in the heavy industries with their hands and their strength.
Working class women and girls were mainly wives, mothers, and home makers.  Their role in society had not changed since Victorian times.  Once married they were expected to look after their husbands and sometimes very large families.  Birth control was not generally used, and these women often had very large families, some had a dozen or more children.  

In the mining valleys of South Wales, as well as cooking and cleaning, women had to provide hot baths for their husbands and older sons who worked in the pits, and who came home at different times of the day. There were no pithead baths provided until the 1930’s.  Sometimes women worked almost 24 hours a day!

From the early part of the 20th century, there was controversy over pithead baths which would enable the miners to bathe and wear clean clothes at the end of their shift.  This would take a great deal of strain off women who provided this facility at home.

Some companies did not want to install them.  Sometimes the miners paid for them out of small weekly donations from their wages.  Gradually during the twenties and thirties pit head baths were installed. Thus relieving the heavy chores housewives had to undertake to provide daily bathing for sons and husbands using zinc baths and lifting gallons of hot water which had been heated over the kitchen fire. The majority of miner’s cottages had no hot water and no bathrooms.

There were some young middle class women who had gained entrance to University but this was a very rare occurrence.  It was practically unheard of, and very controversial in the male dominated society of the time.  Middle class educated women usually who wished to work outside the home used their talents in charitable works, or the church, and were considered 'suitable' for these purposes, by their fathers and husbands.

Working class women were mainly employed in 'service' in the great houses and as maids working in middle class houses.  Many young Welsh women and girls migrated all over England to serve in menial domestic capacities.  Some were treated well others just used as family drudges, washing cooking and cleaning for sometimes quite a number of people of the household. 

Women were also employed as seamstresses, and some young women were 'mobile' who would take their sewing machines and work wherever needed, becoming very early female business owners.  Others were employed as shop assistants, or worked on farms as dairy maids and farm servants.  A lot of these jobs were very poorly paid.

Women could not own property in their own right.  


There was some movement however to improve the lot of women.  During the 1800's laws were passed that made it possible for married women to own property in their own right the same as unmarried women and widows.


One of the prominent women’s movements was the Women's Social and Political Union known as the WSUP formed to campaign for Votes for Women, which originated in England in 1903.

This was a highly controversial movement, because the women took the view that the Suffragist movement who campaigned through peaceful means and through their male dominated Parliament were ineffective. The WSUP in 1906 start to used violence to advance their cause.  The majority of the Suffragettes who formed the WSUP were mainly educated upper middle class women.

Many of them were arrested and jailed for their activities.  They went on hunger strikes in prison, and a cruel method called force feeding was employed, whereby a tube was forced down the throat and food and liquid poured directly into the digestive system.  

Women had to be held down in order for this process to be carried out.  In certain instances their health was badly affected, and they were released from prison only to recover and be re-imprisoned.  This process was made legal under legislations which came to be called The Cat and Mouse Act passed in 1913.

Some very wealthy Welsh women were involved in the Suffragette Movement.


Significantly, with the advent of WW1 in 1914 Suffragette activities were curtailed.  After the first draft of Volunteers to France there was suddenly a shortage of labour in areas which men had been traditionally employed. i.e.,  farming, industrial work, manufacturing even the Post Office.

Miners were, for a time in a ‘protected’ occupation, but as the war advanced conscription was brought in, and some of the soldiers who were conscripted were taken from the mines.  It was the unpleasant duty of the Lodge Secretary to name the men selected for active service.

Initially there was some prejudice to women being employed in jobs which men had traditionally held. The fact that the war machine took millions of volunteers to France left Britain without enough labour to maintain Great Britain.


During the month of March 1915 women were called to register for employment at their local Labour Exchanges.  Within a short time women were filling jobs traditionally occupied by men in the clerical, shop work even bus conductresses and taxi and vehicle drivers.  Nurses were employed in hospitals and many went out to France to serve in hospitals close to the Western Front.  The casualties were enormous, 20,000 were killed or wounded in ONE DAY, during the battle of the Somme.

Women were needed in factories and industry.  In Wales where munitions factories were established. Thousands of women were employed producing shell casings.  There were three factories in Wales which produced high explosives.   Young women were employed in filling the manufactured shell casings with highly dangerous and volatile material which caused accidents.  In one case in Swansea a fatality occurred where the young woman had a funeral with her coffin draped in the Union Jack, accompanied by and escort of munitionettes clad in their working gear.

The emancipation of women had begun.  Through employment and higher wages (although still not equal with men).  Women began to find a life outside the home.  They took responsibility, gained independence and above all realised that they could do almost anything that men could!

WOMEN’S FASHION 1914 -1918

Because of the variety of jobs which women were called upon to perform, a radical change came about in the lives of millions of women, and the way they dressed.   The constricting long skirts and elaborate gowns of the Edwardian era were replaced with more practical clothes.  

Women needed garments which were suitable and safe for their employment.  Sometimes Breeches were used in conjunction with an overall with a skirt which was knee length and heavy duty boots were worn completing the uniform.  This was a great departure for the female workforce who worked in the farming and munitions areas of work.  

Every day wear also became more practical with a variety of working ‘suits’ being worn which comprised of a straight skirt, fitted jacket and a blouse, often cut on very masculine lines. The necessary alterations in fashion began to reflect in the increasing independence and self reliance of the female population. 

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I found the attached article in the Western Mail today. I cannot believe that there has been no support from Wales of the book Written by Humphrey Llwyd and published in 1599, which has been attributed to as the first PRINTED WELSH HISTORY.The history also accounts for Madoc discovering American in 1170. Whether you agree with this premise is a personal opinion. the fact that THIS MANUSCRIPT HAS BEEN LOST TO OUR NATION AND IS SOOOOOOOO important. We must not lose it. It is as precious to our nation, and the Welsh migrants who have sailed the globe, as the pyramids are to Egypt.There is not much primary sources written history left. I would like to organise an online petition to be presented to the Welsh Assembly Government, the SENEDD to preserve and keep this manuscipt in Wales. Not just as a curiousity but as the heritage for our children and the generations to come.I would like to see it prchased and either placed in St. Fagans, the National Library of Wales, or any of the museum sites within Wales.PLEASE TAKE THIS CHANCE TO KEEP THE MANUSCRIPT OF HUMPHREY LLWYDBest.................. Bee (RICHARDS0
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