Monday, September 02, 2013

Widows and Spinsters

You don't find much written about the Welsh businesswomen of the Victorian and Edwardian period.  Such females did exist of course, although it helped to be a widow or a spinster or otherwise unencumbered with a spouse.

The Hotel trade in pre-First World War Llandrindod was no small beer, as the buildings of the town, now somewhat decayed, still testify.  And it was a trade which was dominated by the women who owned, or managed, the majority of the most important such businesses in the town.

Look at the 1911 Census and you'll find Miss Duggan and her sister, they were from Hundred House, the owners of Duggan's Temperance Hotel.  Then there was the Llanyre born Miss Sheen, manager of Plas Winton - now the Commodore.  Miss Ace ran the Waverley, Miss Jenkins York House and Miss Smith the Montpelier.  If they weren't spinsters they were widows like Mrs Bentley of the Spring Hotel and Mrs Smith of Ye Wells - currently occupied by Coleg Powys's Llandrindod campus.

The largest hotel in the town, indeed in the whole of Wales, was the Pump House; with its posh clientele and Continental cuisine - one of my aunts married the son of a Swiss chef from there.  It was managed for many years by the Monmouthshire born Miss Duffield, who interestingly enough was elected to the town council in 1900.

 The great rival of the Pump House was the Bridge, which would eventually supplant it as the largest hotel in the country.

Like many of the businesses in the town it was originally built and operated by local Radnorshire families.  For even though Llandrindod has been described as "not a Welsh town, but a town in Wales," most of the entrepreneurial spirit that built the place was Welsh.  In 1897 the five Wilding sisters and their two brothers sold the Bridge Hotel to the redoubtable Mrs Miles (see picture) for a tidy £7850.

Born in Treforest in 1847, Elizabeth Miles (nee Spencer) was the daughter of Pontypridd innkeepers.  Married at 20, she found herself widowed by the age of 24, and with two young sons to boot.  Perhaps because of this setback Elizabeth went on to own or lease some 10 hotels in South Wales, including the Angel in Cardiff.  A Welsh speaker - and so were her two sons - Mrs Miles eventually changed the name of her Llandrindod purchase to the Metropole Hotel.  This was for the rather frugal reason that she had bought a quantity of bankrupt linen and crockery, all  inscribed with the letter M.

So why aren't such women, and others like them elsewhere, better known?   Well, apart from the fact that history has largely been written by men, such successes may not have suited the agendas of those who tend to sell Wales short.


Anonymous said...

I see that the owners of the new coffee/wine bar in Llandrindod have decided to call it "Dickens" because (to quote the brains and money behind the scheme):
"The coffee shop or coffeehouse featured rather heavily in Nicholas Nickelby. In fact, one of the most exciting moments in the novel takes place in a coffeehouse.
It seems that the coffeehouse still played an important role in English society in the 19th century, if Dickens writing is anything to go by."
What that has to do with us, I'm really not that clear on.

Such a shame that they couldn't have done a little research and called the place "Duffield's" or "Sheen's" or "Duggan's".

radnorian said...

Damn I just deleted my own comment!!

Something about Sheen's being a good name because of my theory that Radnorian criminal Bill Sheen was the model for Dickens' Bill Sikes.

Oh well