History of the Welsh Woollen Industry

West Wales was generally reluctant to adopt the factory system that had been so rapidly adopted by the English Mill owners:

From History of the Woollen Industry in West Wales “had only four fulling mills at Pentrecourt, Dolwyon, Drefach, and Cwmpengraig at the end of the 18th century, and there were no factories for carding and spinning until the 19th. The first factory was set up at Cwmpengraig early in the century, and the second at Dolwyon in 1820, but these two had only machines for carding, the willying and spinning being done by hand”.

“Up to about 1850, the word 'factory' in Carmarthenshire simply meant a building where carding or spinning machines were driven by water power” .

The reason for this was simple the weavers remained outside the factory.

“The 1831 census states that in Carmarthenshire there were 260 male weavers of over twenty years of age, 'engaged in weaving woollen yarns produced by domestic industry”.

The power loom arrived in 1850 and the industry then began the huge expansion whose legacy remains today in the form of the many woollen mills albeit (other than a handful) converted to other purposes from warehouses to holiday lets.

In an area five miles around Drefach Felindre 21 factories were built 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.

By the end of the century, there were few hand weavers left.

The Teify Valley had the largest concentration of Woollen Mills though the rest of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire had their scattered woollen mills.

The factories in the Teify Valley mainly produced of fine flannel for shirting though other products included blankets, tweeds and yarn. Typically they employed between 50 & 100. They were situated near road (Carmarthen) or rail links (Drefach Velindre, Henllan, Pentrecwrt, Newcastle Emlyn) Surprisingly they used little local wool for it was too coarse a texture. They also sold the products wholesale. In my garden was a little wholesale outlet and my elderly neighbour can remember the workers using the footpath over the field from the river to work there packing the products supplied by the adjacent Mill.

In more rural areas produced grey flannel and relied more on local wool producers and sold their products directly from the factory.

Mill at Pontalltycafan

Drefach Velindre used to be known as the "Huddersfield of Wales" for it was at the heart of the woollen industry. The area is still dotted with mills that have been converted - from workshops to furniture stores.

Many, however, have not stood the ravages of time so well - the photo shows where quite recently a woollen mill stood - until that is - it was brought down by explosive charges.

Mill at Pontalltycafan - the space where the other stood is visible behind the other building

This one at Tre-bedw just quietly decays.

The National Woollen Museum at Drefach Felindre tells the fascinating story of this, most traditional of rural industries, and also houses a thriving working woollen mill producing for the modern market.

A grant of nearly a million pounds has been used to help rebuild and re-model the Grade II listed buildings that house the museum.

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