You are welcome to try out the 'open learning approach' we have prepared below as a legacy for those people interested in researching the Welsh woollen industry in your local area.
This approach is based on the resources we prepared for the Community Research Volunteers who were involved in the project the “From Sheep to Sugar – Welsh Wool and Slavery” project which explored the story of Welsh Plains, to give you ideas for individuals or small groups to work independently. This will also support the development of the Hidden History Research and Reading Groups who are undertaking local area research to help to further map the localities of production of ‘Welsh Plains’ or other woollen cloth as a significant cottage industry.
Getting started: First of all consider where you want to explore to find evidence, our project esearch identified specific areas around Dolgellau, Machynllech and Glyn Ceriog, as places where production in 1700s was significantly increased in order to meet the demands of the Slave Traders.
However we recognise that the production of woollen cloth has gone on in homes all across Wales to years much further back. The Cistertian Monks supported local people in the production of cloth in the 1200s.
Its probably best to take a relatively small area to focus on, a small village or a valley, but consider the surrounding locations to set it in context. So, if you live in a converted 'pandy' or mill , or if your village or valley has unusually large buildings or ruined evidence of an industrial past - that's a good place to start.
The site of an old fulling mill / pandy (ie before 1800) is the very best indicator of woollen cloth production in an area, and the Royal Commission have a list of locations, but they are marked on Ordinance Survey maps and other nearby sites which you can check by place names, house names, street names or field names (probably in Welsh) referring to wool, sheep, shearing, carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, dyeing or to the use of tenterhook frames – see below
You may also want to consider where the local markets were and the transport routes, ask local people if they know of any old packhorse routes or bridges.
A session or two of internet research will help you find a great deal about the early Welsh Woollen Industry eg Wikipedias pages - click HERE and to find out more about the Slave Trade and chattel slavery - click HERE for the UNESCO site which includes a quote from French historian Jean-Michel Deveau the slave trade and consequently slavery, which lasted from the 16th to the 19th century, constitute one of "the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity in terms of scale and duration".
Historical fiction was also found to be a useful way to gain insights into the lives and times. Philip Gregory's 'A Respectable Trade' helped give a picture of merchants lives in Bristol.
??? explored her family history and found 6 generations of hill farmers during the time which saw the dramatic rise and fall of the cottage industry, finding how sons moved away to get work as clergymen and fullers in the local area. She found that the role of fuller was a high status skilled role, and that fullers would have been well respected.
Research into family and parish archives also confirmed the population growth and decline between 1650 – 1850 and research undertaken by John into the community of Trefeglwys outside Llanidloes showed this very clearly. The cottages built by his weaving forefathers are no longer visible, yet the number of fulling mills indicated the amount of cloth produced to make them viable.
Old maps on display in The Institute in Glyn Ceiriog show local fields with lengths of tenterhooks and nearby researchers found evidence of fulling mills and even found the ruins of the place local lead miners went to relieve themselves and provide the urine needed in the fulling process.
This is a great opportunity to find out about the lives of hill farmers and their families the time which saw the dramatic rise and fall of the cottage industry.
Taking a walk and looking at local buildings, farms and perhaps cottages with a ‘weaving shed’ attached can give clear indicators of previous industrial uses. The Welsh names for fields,
field – maes
Next draft out a historical timeline from 1650 – 1850 with key dates over that time that you relate to, so you can match in your local timeline.
Others may be volunteering in other ways, but together we will be successful in uncovering this hidden history!
We have a great team of advisors and project organisers, who are bringing a great deal of expertise to the project, so we can all learn from one another.
Remember you are not on your own! There is help just a phone call or email away!
The Project Development Team are also happy to hear from you when you find something significant and exciting! Please let us know - this is how we will pull the findings together.
Join in opportunities to visit key places:
The Newtown Textile Museum, Powys (Free)
The National Wool Museum, Carmarthenshire (Free)
The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool (Free)
The Georgian House Museum, Bristol (Free)
Penrhyn Castle, Bangor (National Trust)