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Welcome to the main site created by the Learning Links International team to tell the story of the research undertaken in Wales with support of the NHLF by Community Research Volunteers and specialist advisors, during the 'From Sheep to Sugar' project in 2019.

Through this site you can link to the site in Welsh 


and to the Research Findings site


- which is still being updated by members of the Brethyn Online Research Network.

we are still updating this site as well!

In 2019 more than 50 Community Research Volunteers contributed a great deal of time to explore their local areas in Wales to find out more about the history of the production of homespun and woven woollen cloth (brethyn) between 1650and 1850. In addition they read and researched about the use of some of this cloth in the Slave trade. This exported cloth was called 'Welsh Plains'. 

The project was managed by the Learning Links International Team and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The research also had the support of a wide range of academic researchers, historical societies, libraries and archives and we say "thanks" to everyone who gave their time to be involved.

Prof Chris Evans from the University of South Wales gave 10 days of his time, Dr Marian Gwyn, Head of Heritage from Race Council Cymru also worked on the projects as an advisor, along with Merfyn Wynn Tomos, the retired Archivist from Dolgellau, who undertook a range of activities including making the presentation about the unexpected link between Welsh wool and the slave trade at the 2019 Welsh National Eisteddfod.  

Thanks go to all the Community Research Volunteers, the project advisors and the organisatons who took an active and supportive interest in the research, and special thanks go to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their help and advice as we prepared the proposal and as we worked through the year.


The project story and the research findings are presented in the following ways:

- with these bilingual websites CLICK HERE FOR THE SITE IN WELSH that provide information about the production of Welsh Plains and the links with the slave trade, as well as providing the background to the project and useful open learning ideas which can be used by anyone interested in researching the history of the woollen industry in their area

- for the Research Findings - CLICK HERE  NB - this is work still in progress

- as a rolling powerpoint CLICK HERE that introduces the project using the beautiful illustrations produced by one of our volunteers

- with a short film CLICK HERE  from the project's launch event held at the Drapers Hall in Shrewsbury and that introduces some of the volunteers and advisors and the project activities 

- with a 'Ted Type' short film of the presentaion that Prof Chris Evans made at the Project Launch CLICK HERE

- with a 10 min film about the project in English CLICK HERE

- with a 10 min film about the project with the 'voice over' in Cymraeg  CLICK HERE

- with research findings presented on the People's Collection website CLICK HERE

and with the final NHLF report which is presented on Tab 13 Thanks to the NLHF  or CLICK HERE


This is how we introduced our hidden history project in March 2019        

We are delighted to say that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has given us the go ahead to make a start on the ‘Sheep to Sugar – Welsh Wool and Slavery’ project which aims to bring together community research volunteers from Mid and North Wales who are interested in the history of spinning and weaving, with families from farming communities interested in local history and heritage, to explore and tell the history of the production of a woollen fabric called ‘Welsh Plains’ between 1650 and 1850 and its markets, using archival records and exploring Welsh place names.

This is a poorly understood history of little-known cottage industry that supplied local needs, before developing dramatically to meet the demands generated by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The project will also explore the little understood lives of the impoverished peasant households who sought a way of boosting their incomes by weaving woollen fabric for the ‘Plantation Trade’.

The project will produce on-line training materials for Community Research Volunteers and local families to enable them to research and share their findings. Working groups will be set up in consultation with existing local history groups; relevant guilds and other groups based across the areas of focus. The project will also include establishing ‘Hidden History Reading and Research Groups’ to increase understanding of the history of Wales and the wider world at this time.

Professor Chris Evans explains from his letter of support for the project application: 

"That Welsh Plains, woollens produced in mid-Wales in the eighteenth century, played a vital role in clothing enslaved peoples in the Caribbean is not widely known. Yet making ‘Negro Cloth’, as this historic Welsh product was also known, was a vital money-earner for impoverished rural households in Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire. As an academic at the University of South Wales, I outlined the story in Slave Wales: The Welsh and Atlantic Slavery 1660-1850 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), but the account offered there remains an outline. Remarkably little is known about the communities that wove Welsh Plains/’Negro Cloth’, hence the value of ‘Exploring the Story of Welsh Plains’.

The community research programme that is proposed will do much to reveal the history of the textile industry at parish level; it will enable volunteers will develop new skills; and it will widen engagement with the industrial heritage of Wales, especially among under-represented BAME communities." 


The momentum of this research is being carried forward through the 'Brethyn Online Research Network' with support from the Newtown Textile Museum where the project will be displayed in the summer of 2021.

We would be delighted to hear from you - please share your interest and fill in your contact details on "Feedback" and one of the team will get back to you as soon as we can.

Diolch! Thanks!

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