Woollen mills used be be a common feature of rural Wales, with plenty of water to drive the water wheel and more sheep in the countryside than you could shake a stick at. But before the semi industrialisation fo the weaving process many households supplemented their income by weaving at home. In fact the the manufacture of Woollen cloth and garments a major source of income to many households. Though there were those whose job was full time weaving. For some reason Wales was reluctant to adopt the large industrial approach to cloth making that was developing oil the 19th Century in England, and weaving and cloth making remained within the family enterprises. However with the coming of the power loom in 1850 things changed, and there was a Hugh expansion within Wales. The legacy of this expansion can be seen throughout the country, but there are only a handful left still manufacturing cloth. The remainder have been converted into warehouses or holiday accommodation. The development was not equal throughout the country and there were patches that saw concentrations of mills. There is a beautify valley in Caermarthenshire where 21 factories were built within 5 miles radius of Drefach Felindre between 1860 and the end of the century. The trade found a ready outlet in the markets of South Wales as the mines and steelworks prospered.
But today it’s a different story, and only a few remain. But these are always worth a visit and over the past couple of years we’ve been to a few as Aunty has developed a taste for the colourful and varieties patterns that are produced. One such o place is Tregwynt Mill, and it’s become a favourite. But you have to want to go there, as it’s a little off the beaten track, but many of the best places are like that. After driving down a single track road just outside Fishguard you start thinking I must have gone wrong somewhere. The road becomes narrower, the corners sharper and the hedgerows high, but then just as we were thinking where are we, a small village appeared. Well, not even a village, only a few houses, then suddenly in the middle of a wood and we found our objective straddled across the road.
We often think we live in a fast changing world, but in many ways our life time has not been unique in its adoption of change. Currently Melin Tregwynt is a woollen mill, but it used to be called Dyffryn Bach Mill, and wasn’t even a woollen mill in its infancy. It was originally a corn mill, before becoming a fulling mill or pandy. It’s main function then was washing, softening and preparing the rough woven woollen cloth from local farmers before being sold on. There’s a full history of the mill here, and I’ll not repeat it now. But the mill has been in the hands of the same family since 1912, and it’s now run by the third generation.
Today the mill still weaves a variety of patterns and when you visit there is list of the looms being used and what patterns are currently been woven. It’s a noisy process when all the looms are working, but it’s also hypnotic as you watch the bobbin rush backwards and forwards creating some whole from a set of strings. We also watched while the loom was being set up, and strung. That is very much something I would not have the patience to do, and if I did I’d guarantee each length of cloth would be unique. I’ve never been very good at following a pattern.
Ironically in a country full of sheep, the wool used in the mill today is imported mainly from New Zealand and Australia. In the 1950s the British Wool Marketing Board set out to purchase all wool produced in the UK and control it’s selling. This broke the link to local farms, and ironically had the opposite effect on maintaining control local products. However, today initiative such as the Cambrian Mountains Wool Project is allowing local producers to make links once again to mills, and so woollen products woven in Wales are now using Welsh wool again. “Hooray!” say I.
Aunty’s bought a number of lengths of wool from Melin Tregwynt over the last countless of years. One project involved creating cushions of an old and antique family oak chair, called Tom Chair. It used to be Uncle Tom’s, but was much older than him. There are plans afoot for more projects and so I’m sure we’ll be going back. Oh and they have a very nice cafe restaurant as well. I’ve got to get a food reference in somehow. Look them up. They have a nice website.
Pandy – fulling mill
Dyffryn – valley
Bach (fach) – small
Melin – Mill