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ANCIENT BRITISH COSTUME.
BY REV. W. S. LACH-SZYRMA, M.A.
(Read March 1st, 1899.)
HERE is one extremely interesting but
difficult subject to consider, which is intimately connected with my paper read last year, on February 16th, before our Society, on which I should like to say a few words; although, I own, I have not
many facts to add to those known; but a learned friend, in his comments on my paper, has drawn my attention to its importance. I refer to what was the costume of the early Britons, or rather the Euskarian inhabitants of this island, prior to the Aryan immigration here of the Celts, i.e., the Gaels and Cymri : probably those southern Britons who, Tacitus said, were like Spaniards or Iberians, and whose last descendants are to be found in the Basques of South-Western France and Northern Spain to-day.
In the Neolithic or very primitive races, e.g., the Australians and Africans, whom we meet in this fin du siècle, we find little to lead us to any satisfactory conclusion. They have little or no costume to guide us; because, not only are they savage, and find the procuring of clothing difficult (save from the white man, when they come into contact with him), and this, of course, is no evidence at all for us, but also because their climate is more or less warm all the year round, and therefore the provision of warm clothing is not a necessity.
I remember some conversation I had with an intelligent African (an Ibo man), who lamented to me the great facility and cheapness of living in the Niger territory as a great hindrance to human progress there. He said, a man could with little effort obtain food for his family, and that he had not much need of clothing. I rather think Herodotus makes somewhere a similar remark about Africa; and since the days of the Father of History the central and western Africans have made but little progress in culture, save such as they have derived from Europe or Asia. But this could never have applied to Britain. The climate here in winter must always (since man settled in the islands) have been severe. Perchance the winters, when this island was nearer the Glacial Epoch, may have been more severe than now. Some of the statements in the classics support that view. In any case, we can hardly imagine ans English winter in which people had not a need for fairly warm clothing. In Cornwall-assuming it was the country called “ the Cassiterides"—the people seen by the Phænican traders had long black tunies, like the Tragie Furies of the Greek drama. It is curious that the labouring class, both of Cornwall and Wales to this day, hare still a liking for black clothing for their men in holiday attire. Is it a modern fashion, or derived from ancient tradition ? If the latter, it would have prevailed during the Middle Ages; but of this we have no evidence either war. The women's paids in South Wales are black and red (which, unless evidenee was produced to the contrary, I should assume was a tradition from early British times). The wearing of two textures was remarkazi br Reman writers as a chansteristic of the cells. Even the name "Britain" was suzuito be derived from it. The mast striking survival of it is che variel paiset the Scottish ears: & form of peasant rss marking tribal distinctions. These serch paids, as ererrere kreurs are of very varied deur In Wales ni Corwil, I suspei't they were back er very dark. I: is sui br Praise that Drui's had a rit to six, cursiones pest Brices to less
Tsere must have been a time anterior to wearing, wber man bare liekial sign in Britain. Thesis waren eran represencia cercau stage
Tipo De har fir uzkrd is ble leva a carretessins Xüs Perse intretinensstration RSS des cours in the line of Hensies and his robe of fur of the Nemean lion. Its most striking survival is that of the Russian peasants' sheepskin costume, girded round the waist with a leathern girdle. Perhaps this is the last tradition down to our day, of the skin costume of the ancient European. We have here the simplest material—the mere skin of an animal (cut now, it is true, into a modern form), but a survival of the most primitive times.
I have thought whether the philabeg of the Highlander may not be a tradition of this fur costume of the early Briton. It is not unlikely that first it was of skin or fur only (such as one sees in some ancient Greek statues, and in the Nemean robe of Herakles), and then, when weaving came into vogue, the plaid was added, until at last the fur was reduced to one small article of dress, and the plaid (woven in the Celtic mode) superseded the rest.
The traditional costume of old Britain I therefore conceive to be best traced in Wales and the Scotch Highlands. In the one we have the black and red plaid of the women, pinned behind in curious pleats, with the antique cross-shawl over the breast, where a baby has to be carried—a very ancient mode which has the advantage of warmth and convenience, and which from its oblique lines has a picturesque and antique effect. In the Highlands we see the divers clans marked by their own plaids -each clan having its plaid —a very ancient use. As for the general form of the Scotch dress, it is (at present) more like a survival of the old Roman costume than any other in Europe, though the ligae may still be seen in Italy and in the Vistula country. But it may have preceded the Roman invasion, and be merely the dress of the ancient world, of which the Roman costume was a variant.
As to the Welsh woman's hat, that is merely an adoption from England. It is picturesque, and a prominent part in modern Welsh costume, but is at best merely mediæval. The plaid, however, and the shawl folded to carry a child, looks far more ancient and primitive. As to the Britons having fought Cæsar without their clothes, and being merely tattooed with woad (like the modern Burmese or New Zealanders), that only shows that the Britous stripped to fight, and put on their war-paint for the battle, as the warriors on the frieze of the Parthenon did.
There are some good pictures of ancient British and Gaulish costumes in Sion College. These support my contention that ancient British costume was at first skins of animals, and afterwards probably plaids in cross-bars of different colours, and that the oblique lines so striking and pleasing in old Greek and Roman costumes were observed here at a very early date.
As for the long black tunics of the ancient Cornish, the question may be asked : were they simply skeepskins dyed black, or tunics made of black woven cloth ? .They are said to have looked like the “ Tragic Furies” on the Greek stage. This would imply that they were woven--possibly clothes bought for, or bargained for, tin.
To sum up, in conclusion, the evidence before me leads to the following:
1. That the primitive costume of the aborigines of Britain was probably skins (a costume surviving still in Russia, i.e., the oldest European costume).
2. That in the extreme West the people at an early date wore long black woven tunics.
3. That the British warriors put on their war-paint of woad, and stripped to fight in battle.
4. That the prevalent costume of the Celts was woven plaids in stripes, of which we still have a survival in Wales and the Scotch Highlanders.
5. That the upper classes had plaids of divers colours, more complex than those of the common people.
These are the main conclusions I have attained and commend to your attention. The subject is obscure, but of much interest.
ITUATED on a long ridge of hill about one
mile from Parsley Hay, south of a road leading from that place eastwards to Youlgreave, three miles distant, and at an elevation of nearly 1,200 ft. above sea level, is a great prehistoric circle of earth
and stone generally termed Arbor Low. It was first described by the Rev. S. Pegge (the Rector of Whittington) in a Paper read at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries on May 29th, 1783, and printed in Archæologia, vii, 131-148, with a plate. Up to that period it was almost unknown, and received no mention from any writer; nor is it entered in any of the county maps until after the publication of that Paper.
It is noted by that author “as being by far the most magnificent and capital Druidical remain of any we have in Derbyshire, not to say in all this part of England.” By the majority of writers up to a recent date, it has usually been called a Druidical circle or Druidical temple; and the former term appears in the Ordnance maps, except in that last issued, where it is simply designated a “ Stone Circle.”
A few words are necessary respecting the origin of the double name Arbor Low. The word Low presents no difficulty, being simply the A.-S. hlaew, a barrow or tumulus; and from the circumstance of so many of these barrows or "lows” capping the highest eminences in Derbyshire, the term has been transferred to the latter, as though synonymous with a high place. The fallacy of this is evident from the fact that they are occasionally found in low situations : for example, one opened by Mr.