St David’s Day

On 1 March St David’s Day is celebrated in Wales, providing schools and communities with an opportunity to mark the occasion by holding parades, dressing in welsh national costume, singing and celebrating all things Welsh.

From head teachers’ entries in school log books (the head teacher’s diary of daily events in school) we can see that from at least the beginning of the twentieth century St David’s Day was an established part of the school calendar with the morning timetable revolving around lessons on the life of St David as well as singing competitions, recitals and often dramatic sketches on welsh history and folklore.  In the afternoons the children were given a half day holiday.

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Local education authorities even issued advice on what should be taught on St David’s Day, publishing pamphlets giving teachers a potted history of Wales and listing suitable patriotic songs to be sung.  During the first world war education authorities were particularly keen for schools to celebrate the day and a 1915 leaflet from the Welsh Department of the Board of Education shows how the emphasis is on patriotism, serving one’s country and using the occasion to boost national morale (ref. GD/E/39/14,15).

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Some local organisations arranged formal dinners to commemorate St David’s Day.  The Cardiff Cymrodorion were one such group, welcoming the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin as the quest of honour at a dinner held at Cardiff City Hall on 1 March 1927 (ref. D183/13,14). Entertainment was provided by the Herbert Ware Orchestra of Cardiff (advertised as winners at the Royal National Eisteddfod at Barry, Pontypool and Swansea), a harpist and the Cowbridge High School for Girls Choir.  In 1928 the quest of honour was David Lloyd George and dinner was a grand affair with many courses, some welsh dishes such as cawl were served and one of the puddings was given a welsh twist ‘savarins a l’Ananas a la St David’!

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Wearing the national costume of Wales is one of the ways in which the day is commemorated, especially by school children.

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Glamorgan Archives has many prints and photographs showing ‘welsh ladies’ in costume. By the nineteenth century the costume had developed into the one which we are now familiar with, the tall stovepipe style hat, flannel skirts and shawl.  It is an image which was used on tourist souvenirs from teacups, postcards to handkerchiefs!  One of our Victorian scrapbooks (ref. 1989/164) has some beautiful watercolours of ladies in traditional welsh costume with the colours as vivid today as when they were first painted.

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Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus from Glamorgan Archives!

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St David’s Day 1915, Buckingham Palace

In March 1915, Guardsman David ‘Dai’ Luker sent a letter to Edward and Amy Lewis, a married couple who at the time were working tirelessly at Cardiff University Settlement. Written on Y.M.C.A stationary, Luker began by sending his ‘thanks for [the] letter which I received this morning’. In a chirpy and lively tone, he went on to inform the Lewises that he had just moved regiments. He told them what he had got up to on St. David’s Day and about life in the Army more generally. He closed in a formal tone, ‘I remain Dai Luker’, and added a postscript: ‘Remember me to all of the Club members’. Why did Luker write to the Lewises? The postscript offers us the vital clues. Luker had attended the Lads’ Club at Cardiff University Settlement.1

The university settlement movement was founded in the 1880s to reconnect rich university graduates with the urban poor. In Cardiff, there was a desire for the University of Wales to turn its attention to the needs of East Moors, an area recently transformed by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation and with a high density of poor residents. The relative success of Cardiff University Settlement rested not only with University of Wales graduates, but also with ordinary middle-class Cardiffians prepared to give up their time to work for the settlement’s various social and educational endeavours.2

Edward and Amy Lewis both played an instrument role at Cardiff University Settlement. Edward was the settlement’s arithmetic tutor and summer camp worker. Amy was the leader of the Girls’ and the Lads’ Clubs. Edward was a Cardiff solicitor in his thirties and had moved to Splott when he married Amy (née Hughes) in 1913. It is likely that they met and fell in love at the settlement. Luker’s envelope shows that as a married couple, the Lewises chose to reside with their baby daughter Amelia not only in Splott, but at 2 University Place, a stone’s throw from Settlement Hall which backed onto this cul-de-sac.

Luker, a working-class Splott lad, initially enlisted in the King’s Guards, but subsequently transferred to the Welsh Guard when it was formed at the end of February 1915. He would spend the rest of the war in this regiment, eventually winning a military medal. At the time Luker wrote the aforementioned letter to the Lewises, he had yet to experience active combat in France. Earlier correspondence suggests that he was enjoying military life, boasting to the Lewises that his had won his swimming badge, was keeping himself clean, and that he was about to take his rifle certificate.3 In his March 1915 letter he reported to the Lewises that ‘We are getting looked after alright here[.] plenty of food (but) I don’t know how long it will last, its just like a new sweeping brush’. He also reported to the Lewises that he had recently returned back from a visit to Hastings with two fellow former Cardiff Settlement Lads’ Club members.

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The real excitement of the March 1915 letter, however, lies in his first-hand account of St. David’s Day. Written almost 100 years to the day, it described to the Lewises his experience of being on parade for his new regiment. After niceties, Luker quickly reported that ‘I was one of the first Kings Guards at Buckingham Palace on Saint David’s Day for the new Reg’. By referring to 1st March as ‘Saint David’s Day’, Luker acknowledged the relationship he had with his readers. The Cardiff University Settlement appears to have celebrated St. David’s Day not so much as an exclusively Welsh festival but as one that incorporated Wales into a four nations vision.4 St David’s Day celebrations included Welsh and English songs. There was also Morris dancing. Ronald Burrows, the Scottish Settlement warden and Cardiff College Professor of Greek, would give a speech that sought to incorporate the Welshman, Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman together.5

Celebrating St. David’s Day clearly helped Luker to feel at home in London. He wrote:

their was Thousands of people their most of them wore the Leek they were taking our Photos all the time[.] Lloyd George was their the King watched us mount through the window[.] we had a nice dinner sent to us and a nice tea…all those who mounted guard on Saint David’s Day are to belong to the Prince of Wales Company.

It was not unusual for Luker to write without full stops. But in neat handwriting, he conveyed the centrality of his St. David’s Day experience to the transition he was making between Settlement House life and army life. He was proud that the parade was watched by the King and that Lloyd George joined them in marking the foundation of the Welsh Guard. This pride was evidently shared by the crowd, who wore St David’s personal symbol, the leek. Alternatively, the crowd could have been expressing its support for the new Prince of Wales’s company. Sadly, Luker’s letter does not mention if his nice dinner or tea consisted of eating a raw leek. In nodding to the leek in his letter, though, he revealed how St. David’s Day was not confined to Wales in 1915, but was also to be found behind the gilded railings and gates of Buckingham Palace.6

Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a lecturer based at Liverpool John Moores University. She is currently writing a book on the British university settlement movement. It was over the summer that she discovered and read letters sent from a group of Splott soldiers to Edwards and Amy Lewis. This post emerges from this research.

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1. For a brief introduction to these letters please see Philip Gale, ‘The University Settlement, Cardiff’, Annual Report of the Glamorgan Archivist (1987), pp.17-19

2. For a history of Cardiff University Settlement see B. M. Bull, The University Settlement in Cardiff, (Cardiff; Cardiff College of Art, 1965). The early years of the settlement are also covered in George Glasgow’s Ronald Burrows: A Memoir (London; Nisbet & Co. Ltd, 1924)

3. David Luker to Mr and Mrs Lewis, 26 January 1915, GA, DCE1/18

4. For a discussion of Victorian St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Victorians Meet St. David’, Journal of Victorian Culture Online, http://blogs.tandf.co.uk/jvc/2013/02/22/st-david-meets-the-victorians/ [accessed 23/02/2015]

5. See, for instance, ‘Speech by Professor Burrows’, (May; 1906), Cap and Gown, pp.111-112

6. For a broader discussion to the leek significance on St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Celebrating a Saint on His Home Ground: St. David’s Day in St. David’s diocese during the nineteenth century’, in Bill Gibson and John Morgan-Guy (eds), Religion and Society in the Diocese of St. David’s 1485-2011 (Ashgate; 2015), pp. 157-178