Tribute to a flag in Merthyr, Wales

The young woman above is wearing a skirt that matches the flag behind her.  She’s also wearing ribbons on her shoulders, bodice and waist.  But which flag is it?  From 1807 until 1953, the flag of Wales was white with a red dragon at the center.

The cabinet card was made by Alfred Betts (1829-1890) of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.  In the census of 1861, he was described as a Photographic Artist.  He and his wife, Zilpah (Carr), had two children.  In the census of 1871, he was described as an Artist, which would have encompassed photography.  At this time he and Zilpah had seven children.  In the census of 1881, Alfred was described as a Photo Artist.  His oldest son had moved out, but he and Zilpah still had nine children at home.  Alfred died in 1890.

I’d guess that this portrait dates to the 1890s.  The website Victorian Professional Photographers in Wales 1850-1925 contains records of photographs produced at the Betts family studio under the name Alfred Betts until at least 1901.  A family tree on Ancestry indicates that at least three sons became photographers: Alfred Alexander Betts (1858-1928), Samuel Henry Betts (1861-1920) and Edwin Ernest Betts (1870-1947).  However, Alfred Alexander moved to Derbyshire in 1881 and Samuel Henry emigrated with his wife to Pennsylvania around 1887.  Perhaps Edwin Ernest maintained the studio in Merthyr.

Now, how about that flag?


31 thoughts on “Tribute to a flag in Merthyr, Wales

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      1. That’s a very helpful link, Louise, and very interesting. I didn’t know anything about the South Wales Coalfield. Thank you! She could certainly be French. The flag could also be Italian, although she doesn’t look very Italian.

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  1. Both from the drape of the flag and the way her skirt is made, indicate vertical stripes. One end a lighter color than the other. (The color band on the back of her skirt is not as dark as the one in front).

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  2. I wonder if that flag might be something other than a national flag. There were groups of Ivorites (a kind of benevolent association) in Wales during this time period. They weren’t exactly “secret societies,” but they often had passwords, handshakes, and such, so it makes sense that the might have had their own flags as well. I found a mention I couldn’t track down about certain of these ‘friendly societies’ having rituals that included flower-decked flagstaffs. It might be worth exploring.

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  3. I do like these little mysteries !

    Charming cabinet card, I agree it is 1890s. My suggestion is that the lady was a performer, either a solo singer or part of a choral society, and that she had taken part in an Eisteddfod. These are cultural festivals, celebrating Welsh music, poetry and dancing. From browsing archive newspapers online, I can see hundreds of mentions of Eisteddfods at this time, both national and local to Merthyr; singing and choral music seems to dominate the programmes.

    As to the tricolour flag and costume, perhaps they were particular to her local Eisteddfod or choir. Green and white are certain, the colours of the Tudor kings and the national flag. The third colour may be red, but I suggest blue. Blue, green and white are associated with the Gorsedd, a society founded to promote Welsh culture and language that persists to this day.

    If she was a member of a choir, it would have been good business for the Betts studio to provide each member with an individual portrait…

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    1. Hmm … the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Merthyr in 1881 and 1901. There would certainly have been photos made in connection with the National Eisteddfod in both those years, and we can rule out 1881. I’ll see if I can find anything online from 1901. You may have found the answer!


  4. She has such a lovely far away look about her. And her gloves are so delicate I almost didn’t even notice them. Although I haven’t any idea what the flag might be, it feels deeply important to her. I can almost hear the anthem that would accompany it. She would know it by heart and it feels that she is missing something and thus her choice of dress is a small honor for it. And thank you for sharing the back as well. I’m always inspired by the artistry on the backs of these. They’re stunning! ☺️

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    1. Many early photographers had artistic training, and I’m sure that was true of Alfred Betts. His father, Samuel Betts (c.1799-1869), was a portrait painter. One of Alfred’s brothers, Samuel Henry Betts (c.1825-1892), was a portrait painter and photographer. Interestingly, according to a family tree on Ancestry, Zilpah Carr was the daughter of an artist named John Carr. Marrying an artist is risky, but I guess she understood what she was getting into. Do you think she still would have married Alfred if she had known they would have ten kids? 😁

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