The National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre

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Link to Welsh translationThe National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre

Woollen woven textiles are still produced at the Cambrian Mills, home to the National Wool Museum since 1976. The mill was the largest of the many in Dre-fach Felindre in the Teifi Valley, once the centre of the Welsh woollen industry.

By 1895, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire had 325 woollen mills. Dre-fach Felindre was called the 'Huddersfield of Wales', as most of the community was concerned with some aspect of the industry. It had 52 mills in full production by 1900. The mill buildings you see at the museum were built in the early 20th century on the site of an earlier weaving shop. Behind is Doldywyll – 'dark meadow' – and the last drying shed in Wales still stands here.

The woollen industry was Wales’ most widespread industry for centuries. Wool was plentiful, as sheep farming was easier than growing crops on hilly terrain. Swift rivers and streams powered early mills and washed cloth. The railway reached Newcastle Emlyn in 1895, enabling the mills’ produce to reach the industrial valleys of South Wales in bulk.

Many women and girls worked in the mills, which produced shirts, shawls, blankets and bedcovers. In 1908 the government took Cambrian Mills owner David Lewis to court for deducting fourpence each from the pay of eight girls. They had left the site at 1pm on a Saturday, as required by the Factories Act, but refused to take shawls or other items to finish at home. The deductions sparked a strike. The owner's solicitor admitted the offence but magistrates only required costs to be paid, without imposing a fine.

The world wars boosted Welsh mills because so many uniforms and blankets were needed for soldiers and sailors. With the armed forces depleting the supply of male labour, in August 1916 the government allowed women to do jobs in Welsh woollen mills which were previously restricted to men, where men were unavailable. Females received the same wages as males but would be laid off first if a shortage of work arose.

After the Second World War the price of wool plummeted. Inferior-grade army suiting flooded the market and the mills began to close down. The 1960s saw a mini-boom when the mills were producing tapestry cloth for the fashion industry and tourist trade.

Cambrian Mills closed completely in 1982. Two former employees, Raymond and Diane Jones, set up Melin Teifi to produce textiles and clothing. They moved back into the mill in 1984 alongside National Museum Wales.

The National Wool Museum, redeveloped 2002-2004, tells the story of the Welsh woollen industry through demonstrations of the mill processes on historic working textile machinery. A dedicated textile gallery showcases the national collection of blankets made from mills from across Wales, and a raised walkway gives visitors a grandstand view of the Melin Teifi workers weaving.

Postcode: SA44 5UP    View Location Map

Website of the National Wool Museum

Website of Melin Teifi – Welsh woollen products