A Welsh dresser always brings back fond memories for me. Both my mother and grandmother had one and they were the centre of family life.
We talked around them, leaned on them; placed things on them and the drawers were full of various pieces of paperwork, pictures, pens and other sundry items. The top shelving was always for showing off the best china. This was really the part about Welsh dressers that people loved most of all; you were able to show off your very best dinner service, regardless of how poor you were. The antique Welsh dresser had multiple functions; at least in our family, ours had my favourite antique record player on it, which I would listen to of an evening while my parents were working in other parts of the house.
I’ve often wondered why it was exclusively referred to as a Welsh dresser; I have often assumed it was because it was a purely Welsh invention. This is almost true; the Welsh dresser was originally built in the 1600s, but by both the English and the Welsh. Popular in farmhouses and serving kitchens, it served as a place to store plates and serve food. They were usually made of oak, maple or pine. They were often painted or stained and sometimes varnished.
No matter how grandly they were made, for me, the Welsh dresser conjured up domesticity, with family life and the pride that most families took in owning one that was usually an heirloom from a previous generation. My parent’s dresser had been passed down from my grandparents and they had inherited it from theirs.
It would often be filled with items collected from previous generations, and more modern items such as my record player being a perfect example, an old Welsh dresser decorated with new technology. Its purpose and function evolving over the years, but still taking pride of place at the centre of family life and a talking piece of family guests and visitors, old and new.
I can’t remember a single person in my family who didn’t have a Welsh dresser, from old aunties and uncles to acquaintances of my parents. To not have one was equivalent to not having anything to sit on. It would have seemed odd.
It is the iconic furniture piece of Welsh life; it can change its look from dramatic to cottage homeliness, depending on what it’s made from. It can completely change from grand stained oak to a more casually painted piece reminiscent of a French farmhouse. They can be very dramatic with carved knots and lacing on the shelves.
Antique Dressers in general would have had an important role in the 19th century.