By Julie Ann Coggins

The Welsh woollen industry was considered to be the most important rural industry in Wales from the Middle Ages to the mid-nineteenth century. The textile manufacturer, whether he worked in the home or in a mill, was as essential to the rural community as the blacksmith or carpenter and there was hardly a parish that did not have its contingent of spinners and weavers.  In the Middle Ages woollen manufacturing was particularly important in Pembrokeshire where natives and Flemish immigrants spun yarn and wove cloth in their cottages and farmhouses to provide blankets and rugs for their families and any surplus was sold at fairs or taken to Bristol for export.[i]  By the late nineteenth century the industry in Pembrokeshire was widely distributed in the northern part of the county with a concentration in the Prescelly foothills, where the wool of local sheep was processed in small mills in Mynachlog-ddu, Whitechurch, Clydau and Glandwr on the north side of the hills, and at Clarbeston Road, Clunderwen, Llawhaden and Ambleston to the south.[ii]

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Tregwynt Woollen Mill in St Nicholas, North Pembrokeshire.

Tregwynt Woollen Mill in North Pembrokeshire was formerly known, until 1912, as Dyffryn Bach Mill and was once part of the Tregwynt Estate owned by the Harries family.[iii]  Although originally thought to be a corn mill, it has been suggested that this woollen mill was developed from a fulling mill or pandy in the eighteenth century and its main function would have been the washing, softening and processing of rough woven cloth and knitting wool from local farmers.[iv]  Situated in the south of the parish of St Nicholas, Dyffryn Bach Mill served the local agricultural community of the parish and the adjoining parishes of Llanwnda, Granston, Jordanston, Manorowen and Mathry.[v]

The 1839 Tithe Map for St. Nicholas shows that Dyffryn Bach fields, moor, home, garden and mill were leased to David Evans, a clothier, and were owned by George Jordan Harries of Priskilly and Heathfield.[vi]  When David Evans died his wife Anne took over the mill.  In 1851 Anne Evans employed five people, all shown to be born in St Nicholas or Pembrokeshire; Michael George a clothier journeyman, two weaver journeymen Essex Lewis and Seth Thomas, and two clothier apprentices John George aged 15 and Henry George aged 11.  Anne Evans’ tenants in 1871 were Essex Maddocks  a clothier from St Nicholas, and John Lloyd a weaver from Merthyr in Glamorgan. Essex Maddocks was still weaving at the mill in 1891 and had two apprentice weavers,William Jones aged 14 and Ebanezer Morris aged 15.  John Wilson from Fishguard was also a weaver at Dyffryn Bach Mill at this time.[vii]

Anne Evans died 3 October 1891 and left a total estate of £531.19s.7d.  She bequeathed a legacy of £20, all the woollen mill machinery valued at £11.4s.6d, and some household furniture valued at £2.10s. to Essex Maddocks, her valued employee for over twenty years.   The remaining £498.5s.1d was divided between her five children, Catherine Lloyd, Mary Griffiths, William Evans, John Evans and Martha Thomas, and a granddaughter, Martha Jane Davies.[viii] As Essex Maddocks had been bequeathed all the mill machinery he was able to take over the lease of Dyffryn Bach woollen mill and the census return of 1891 shows that he ran the mill with the help of a housekeeper, his sister Elizabeth Willcocks, and Thomas Rowlands, an apprentice weaver from Mathry aged 14.[ix]

Ellen Eliza Florence Harries was only 38 years old when her husband John Henry Harries died suddenly in 1883 leaving her to singlehandedly raise nine children and manage the Tregwynt Estate.[x]  At the end of the nineteenth century parts of the Tregwynt Estate were sold by Mrs Harries and Dyffryn Bach Mill was amongst many of the freehold properties and farms auctioned at the Commercial Hotel in Fishguard on 21 July 1892.[xi]  This was at a time when there was a readiness of Welsh tenants to bid for their holdings and the mill, house, thirteen acres and thirty-six perches of pasture land were bought by Essex Maddocks for a price of £765 with a mortgage of £700 from Thomas Mathias.[xii]   In 1911 John Henry Adams from Ambleston was employed as a weaver at the mill, and John Edgar Morgans aged 15 from St Lawrence was a carding boy.[xiii]  Essex Maddocks ran the mill for the next twenty years and following his death on 15 April 1912 Dyffryn Bach mill was again put up for sale The mill and land was advertised for auction with the following description:

‘The woollen factory has been established for over a century, and has preserved its flourishing condition, having a large business connection with the farmers and inhabitants of the neighbourhood.  The water supply is ample and never failing.  The above affords a rare investment for any person with experience in the Woollen Manufacturing Trade’.[xiv]

It was auctioned, with a start bidding price of £700, at the Town Hall in Fishguard on 23 May 1912 and was bought by Mr Henry Griffiths, a weaver from Llandisillio, for £760, mortgage free, and he renamed it Tregwynt Mill after the original estate.[xv]  In July of the same year Ellen Eliza Florence Harries put the remainder of the Tregwynt Estate up for auction in order to meet the terms of her late husband’s will which entitled her nine children to shares in the estate and she retained only the mansion and the home farm.[xvi]

Henry Griffiths and his new bride, Esther, moved to Tregwynt Woollen Mill from Efailwen and the 25 mile journey to their new home took a whole day by horse and cart. The mill was bought with all the machinery and included a carder, scribbler, tucker, cloth press, warping frame, cutter, two hand-winding looms, jack spinners, fuller machine, dyeing boiler, and cast-iron water-wheel.[xvii]  The hand looms bought at this time were replaced by power looms by the 1920s.  Unusually for mills in the area, the water-wheel was inside the building and Tregwynt Mill derived its power from the water-wheel until the installation of electricity during the mid 1950s.[xviii]  The mill leet was diverted from a brook called Glethe goch which flowed from Trevasser to Aberbach, and it ran under the road taking water to the water-wheel which was used to drive the leather belts which powered the carding engines and early power looms.[xix]

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Every stage of the woollen manufacturing process was performed at Tregwynt Woollen Mill, from raw fleece sorting to the finished material. Local farmers brought their wool to Tregwynt Mill to be processed for blankets and cloth for their own families and some sold their wool for payment on account for products they bought from the mill. In 1917 Tommy Griffiths of Treathro brought 7lbs of wool to the mill for making 8 yards of cloth and Henry Griffiths charged 10d per lb. for dyeing, 5d per lb. for spinning, 5d per lb. for weaving and 3d per lb. for scouring. In 1922 Mr J Roberts supplied 40lbs of wool for making blankets and Henry Griffiths charged two shillings per lb for processing.  He had a good relationship with the local community and employed local weavers and dressmakers. John Adams, previously employed by the former mill owner continued to work for Henry and in 1912 was paid 3½d a yard for weaving cloth. The account books also show that in 1918 local dressmakers charged the mill 5s.2d for making shirts and in 1925 a local tailor charged £2.7s.6d for making two suits.  Henry Griffiths was also happy to barter; in 1914 he exchanged his motorbike for tailoring services and in 1920 received a cockerel as part payment for a yard of flannel. It was usual for rural mills in Wales to be run in conjunction with a smallholding and Tregwynt Mill sold eggs, butter and milk from their thirteen acre farm. Esther Griffiths kept the dairy account books and in 1920 they sold 9,964 eggs for a total return of £126.14s.4d, and in 1921 butter sales were £35.3s.3d. They also sold milk to the United Dairies Ltd. in Whitland and in 1938 sold 246½ gallons for 1s.5d. a pint.

Tregwynt Mill purchased all their wool from local farms and smallholdings until the Second World War and the introduction of Wool Control; in 1912 Mrs M. Thomas of Brynbank sold 57lbs of wool for £2.9s.10d and Mr H. Cousins of Granston sold 138lbs of wool for £6.0s.  Raw material was plentiful in St Nicholas and the fleeces bought by the mill were bundled up and stored in the upper part of the original mill building. When there were more fleeces than could be processed Henry Griffiths sold them to merchants; two tons of Shropshire fleeces were sold to a wool merchant in Halifax at 1s.5d a pound in 1926 and 2,567lbs were sold in 1933 for 10d a pound.  Plentiful supply also meant that Tregwynt Mill was able to support other Pembrokeshire woollen mills and often supplied wool and cloth to Middle Mill in Solva, Lower Town Factory in Fishguard, and Wallis Factory in Ambleston.  In 1918 thirty-eight yards of flannel was woven for Mr W. Morgan of Wallis factory for 11s.1d. and thirty pounds of wool was supplied to Mr Edward Davies of Lower Town Factory for £3.7s.6d.  In 1920 Henry Griffiths charged Mr H. Evans, the weaver at Lower Town Factory, £17 to colour 12lbs of wool, £5 to spin 20lbs of yarn, £4.10s. to colour and finish 18 yards of cloth and £5 to mill and finish 10½ yards of cloth.

Most of the wool used at Tregwynt Mill was used in its natural state of white or light grey colour. When a blended or mixture shade was required for knitting wools the raw wool was dyed and mixed with the natural white. An old copper boiler was used to heat the water and originally only natural dyes were used at the mill. Chemical dyes were introduced later to produce a wider range of yarn colours.  After dyeing the yarn the waste water was poured away straight into the stream and the colour of the stream was reported to be ‘different every day’.  Tregwynt Woollen Mill, like most Welsh woollen mills, produced cloth with wool ‘in the grease’ without any preliminary washing or scouring as it was thought that, for flannel and blankets in particular, a far closer weave could be ultimately obtained if unscoured wool was used.  The mill paid farmers more for unwashed wool; in 1927 Tregwynt Mill paid 1s.6d a lb. for unwashed wool and only 1s. for washed wool.[xx]

Tregwynt Mill’s customers were local, primarily agricultural, and mainly within a ten mile radius up until the end of the First World War and its rural position meant that they did not supply products to the mining and metallurgical districts of South Wales and was therefore not directly affected by the industrial decline.[xxi]  However, as the English woollen industry prospered in the inter-war years the number of Welsh rural and isolated mills declined and in these lean times Henry Griffiths had to look outside his local community to survive.[xxii]  In 1930 Henry Griffiths’ son, Howard, left school at the age of fourteen and started working at the mill and he learned all the processes of woollen manufacturing from his father.[xxiii]

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Working together Henry and Howard Griffiths started to make changes in the products they sold and how they sold them and, in order to survive the depression, they started a postal trade to reach customers outside their local community.  They sold flannel and yarn to customers as far east as London, as far north as Windermere in Cumbria and as far south as Southampton in Hampshire.[xxiv]

During and after the Second World War wool, knitting wool, was not rationed and therefore much of the mill’s production was given over to making knitting wool for local customers as well as selling to shops and hospitals.[xxv] They still sold directly from the mill, at market fairs, and by post but they also opened a shop in the farmhouse living room to take advantage of the expanding tourist industry in West Wales, especially after the completion of Fishguard Harbour. By 1950 a purpose built new shop was erected next to the mill, they were winning awards in the Textile Section of the Royal Welsh Show, and by 1957 they were the only manufacturer in Pembrokeshire which belonged to the Welsh Woollen Manufacturers Association.[xxvi]

The story of the Welsh woollen industry since 1920 has been one of contraction and the number of mills in production has declined alarmingly.[xxvii]  In 1925 there were 217 woollen mills in Wales of which 20 were in Pembrokeshire.[xxviii]  By 1947 there were 77 in Wales and Tregwynt Woollen Mill was one of only ten woollen mills still operational in Pembrokeshire.[xxix]  Today Tregwynt Woollen Mill is only one of two in Pembrokeshire and Amanda and Eifion Griffiths, the present owners, are preparing to celebrate one hundred years of woollen manufacturing by three generations of the Griffiths family in June 2012.

[i]  J. Geraint Jenkins, Life and Tradition in Rural Wales (Stroud, 2009), 119.

[ii]  J. Geraint Jenkins, The Welsh Woollen Industry (Cardiff, 1969), 261-262.

[iii]  F. Jones,  ‘Harries of Tregwynt’, The Transactions of the Honourable Society    of Cymmrodorion,  (1943-44) 108-119,  the Harries family derives its descent from the famous Fleming Wyzo who during the reign of Henry I conquered the hundred of Dungleddy; Ann Sayer, The Story of Tregwynt, The 700 year History of a Pembrokeshire Estate (Gwennol Publishing, 2010).

[iv]  Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach and Robert Scourfield, The Buildings of Wales, Pembrokeshire (New Haven 2004) 198,  J. Geraint Jenkins,  The Welsh Woollen Industry, op. cit., 395.

[v]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, courtesy of Eifion and Amanda Griffiths the present owners of Tregwynt Woollen Mill.

[vi]  NLW. Tithe map and apportionments of St. Nicholas 14708; 1841 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[vii]  1871 and 1891 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[viii]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit., Last will and testament of Anne Evans 6th March 1891

[ix]  1901 and 1911 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[x]  Ann Sayer, op.cit., 74.

[xi]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[xii]  John Davies, ‘The End of the Great Estates and the Rise of Freehold Farming in Wales’, Welsh History Review, 7, (1974) 188-189; NLW Williams and Williams Collection (2) 13241 (1892) Conveyance of Dyffryn Bach between E.E.F.Harries and Essex Maddocks; NLW 13242 (1892) Schedule of Deeds Essex Maddocks and Thomas Mathias; Tregwynt Mill Archives,  op. cit., solicitors account of purchase.

[xiii]  1911 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[xiv]  County Echo, 16 May 1912.

[xv]  Pembrokeshire Record Office, DWW/130/5 Particulars and Conditions of sale 1912; Tregwynt Mill      Archives.

[xvi]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit., the Tregwynt Estate was sold in 23 lots by Lloyd & Thomas of Carmarthen on 25 July 1912 at the Commercial Hotel in Fishguard;  Ann Sayer, op.cit., 75.

Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.; Pembs.R.O. D/WW/14/1-2 Tregwynt Mill and Dyffryn Bach sale papers 1912-13.

[xviii]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[xix] Ibid; B. G. Charles, The Place-names of Pembrokeshire (Aberystwyth, 1992) 1, 255.

[xx]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[xxi]  Ibid.

[xxii]  Gwenllian Evans. ‘The Welsh Woollen Industry: Recent History and Present Position’, unpublished MA thesis, (1948) University College of Wales Aberystwyth, 145.

[xxiii]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[xxiv]  Ibid.

[xxv]  The Welsh Textiles Bulletin, No. 1, Spring 1948; Tregwynt Mill Archive, op. cit.

[xxvi]   The Welsh Woollen Manufacturers Association Annual Report 1957.

[xxvii]  J. Geraint Jenkins, The Welsh Woollen Industry, op. cit., xvii.

[xxviii]  William P. Crankshaw, Report on a Survey of the Welsh Textile Industry,    (Cardiff, 1927), 2.

[xxix]  J. Geraint  Jenkins, op. cit., 380.

 

Notes

[1]  J. Geraint Jenkins, Life and Tradition in Rural Wales (Stroud, 2009), 119.

[1]  J. Geraint Jenkins, The Welsh Woollen Industry (Cardiff, 1969), 261-262.

[1]  F. Jones,  ‘Harries of Tregwynt’, The Transactions of the Honourable Society    of Cymmrodorion,  (1943-44) 108-119,  the Harries family derives its descent from the famous Fleming Wyzo who during the reign of Henry I conquered the hundred of Dungleddy; Ann Sayer, The Story of Tregwynt, The 700 year History of a Pembrokeshire Estate (Gwennol Publishing, 2010).

[1]  Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach and Robert Scourfield, The Buildings of Wales, Pembrokeshire (New Haven 2004) 198,  J. Geraint Jenkins,  The Welsh Woollen Industry, op. cit., 395.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, courtesy of Eifion and Amanda Griffiths the present owners of Tregwynt Woollen Mill.

[1]  NLW. Tithe map and apportionments of St. Nicholas 14708; 1841 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[1]  1871 and 1891 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit., Last will and testament of Anne Evans 6th March 1891

[1]  1901 and 1911 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[1]  Ann Sayer, op.cit., 74.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[1]  John Davies, ‘The End of the Great Estates and the Rise of Freehold Farming in Wales’, Welsh History Review, 7, (1974) 188-189; NLW Williams and Williams Collection (2) 13241 (1892) Conveyance of Dyffryn Bach between E.E.F.Harries and Essex Maddocks; NLW 13242 (1892) Schedule of Deeds Essex Maddocks and Thomas Mathias; Tregwynt Mill Archives,  op. cit., solicitors account of purchase.

[1]  1911 Census Returns of St Nicholas Parish.

[1]  County Echo, 16 May 1912.

[1]  Pembrokeshire Record Office, DWW/130/5 Particulars and Conditions of sale 1912; Tregwynt Mill      Archives.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit., the Tregwynt Estate was sold in 23 lots by Lloyd & Thomas of Carmarthen on 25 July 1912 at the Commercial Hotel in Fishguard;  Ann Sayer, op.cit., 75.

Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.; Pembs.R.O. D/WW/14/1-2 Tregwynt Mill and Dyffryn Bach sale papers 1912-13.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[1] Ibid; B. G. Charles, The Place-names of Pembrokeshire (Aberystwyth, 1992) 1, 255.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[1]  Ibid.

[1]  Gwenllian Evans. ‘The Welsh Woollen Industry: Recent History and Present Position’, unpublished MA thesis, (1948) University College of Wales Aberystwyth, 145.

[1]  Tregwynt Mill Archives, op. cit.

[1]  Ibid.

[1]  The Welsh Textiles Bulletin, No. 1, Spring 1948; Tregwynt Mill Archive, op. cit.

[1]   The Welsh Woollen Manufacturers Association Annual Report 1957.

[1]  J. Geraint Jenkins, The Welsh Woollen Industry, op. cit., xvii.

[1]  William P. Crankshaw, Report on a Survey of the Welsh Textile Industry,    (Cardiff, 1927), 2.

[1]  J. Geraint  Jenkins, op. cit., 380.