The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study

Moira Vincentelli

  Dresser and Seld


Firstly I would like to say something about language. My interviewee, E. is Welsh speaking but her husband is not Welsh-speaking so she has always spoken English in the family home as well as Welsh. She speaks Welsh to her daughter. When she was young she spoke almost only Welsh in the home and learned English at school. Like many Welsh speaking people of her generation she reads dates and numbers in English even if they occur in a Welsh context - as when she was reading me inscriptions on commemorative mugs. When her mother wrote her list of wedding presents which will be discussed below, she wrote in English.14 Although Welsh was her first language English was easier to write because that was what she had learned in school. Hence in some of the evidence I am using the tensions between Welsh culture and language overlaid by English are in evidence.

When E is speaking about her dressers, of which she has two, she frequently uses that the South Walian Welsh word for a dresser, 'seld'. The word 'dresser' sounds not just English to her but is also close to the North Walian word 'dresel'… The use of the Welsh and regional word even when speaking English underlines its status as a significant object in her sense of cultural and regional identity.



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In the interviewee's house there are two public rooms at the front. On the left as you enter from the entrance corridor is the living room. It has her mother's seld on the back wall, a settee, the television and on either side of the fireplace are cupboards and shelves which contain, in one case more ordinary domestic items, and on the other, bookshelves and a display of the interviewee's collection of ornamental owls. This room is the central focus of the life of the house; the kitchen leads off it with a door out to the garden. In the other room on the right of the entrance, the parlour, there is a much more private and personal space where there is another seld, a small organ, and a china cabinet with her own wedding presents. The whole room is decorated with popular 'cosmic' designs of suns and moons and table decorations of branches and mosses which the interviewee collects in the woods.




The dresser from 1922 with wedding presents from the same period and other gift china. None of this material was ever used.

Her mother's dresser in the living room is made of pine which has been varnished and treated to look like oak although it has a reddish brown colour. The heavy wood-grain effect from combing had been redone, E. remembered, when she was a child but in its original style. It has not been retouched since then although at some point the background has been painted blue. This dresser was given to her parents on their marriage in 1924, by the groom's father. This wedding is particularly well documented because the bride drew up a careful list of all her presents when she was on her honeymoon in Llanwrtyd Wells. The honeymoon to a Welsh spa town was itself a modern custom.15 The list has been preserved and the dresser appears on the list of wedding presents as the major piece of furniture along with six chairs, two tables and a sofa.

There's a replica of this, the original is next door with my grandparents - or it was then - and they decided on a copy for their son Tom. It was made by a local firm, a shop called Nicholls - the younger generation is there now.

Although this was a new piece of furniture there was clearly a strong sense of maintaining a tradition of dresser design even within the family.

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14. This is a recognised phenomenon. Catrin Stevens notes that 'Most Welsh lovers, although they spoke the language fluently, because they had little, if any, schooling in its written form, preferred to write in English, however inadequate their command of it might be. C. Stevens, Welsh Courting Customs, Llandysul, Gomer, 1993,158.back to article

15. J.Geraint Jenkins writes in 1976 of 'the increasing popularity of the honeymoon, which had no place in traditional Welsh wedding customs. Even today the honeymoon may be limited to a single day at a seaside resort, while occasionally among farming couples it is completely absent', J.G. Jenkins, Life and Traditions in Rural Wales, London, Dent, 1976, 138. back to article

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Women and Welsh identity

The Dresser in Wales

Dresser and Seld

The Wedding presents

Objects and Stories

Tradition and Innovation in Display



Appendix 1


The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study • Issue 1