For several hundred years the Teifi Valley was thriving with dozens of mills along the River Teifi and its tributaries; in 1900 there were 26 woollen mills in Pembrokeshire; this area of Wales was the centre of woollen production.
Up in the hills in Tregaron, in 1851, there were 176 hosiers, 63 tailors, 15 woollen manufacturers, 15 cloth dealers, 17 hatters, 36 seamstresses, 6 shawl makers and 3 woollen mills, supporting a population of less that a thousand! (Wales: Jan Morris, p272)
The word ‘flannel’ is said to come from the Welsh word gwlanen (gwlan = wool). Flannel was exported worldwide and people knew of Wales because of its wool. Knitting became an occupation amongst men and women; people knitted all the time, inside or out, even when walking! Sometimes, when squatters wanted to claim their right to land, they staked out the plot with wool and knitting needles!
Only a few mills are still producing cloth; using age old looms and traditional methods they are managing to keep the industry alive. The following mills are in production and open to visitors:
Rock Mill: The picturesque 19th century Rock Mill is situated in the heart of West Wales on the border of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. The mill was actually built by the great grandfather of the current owner. It is the last continuously water-driven woollen mill in Wales and is still producing pure wool blankets, shawls, throws and Welsh tapestry bedcovers, using traditional methods and skills passed down through the generations. The waterwheel is 12 feet in diameter and 7 feet wide and powers the carding and spinning machinery as well as two weaving looms.
Melin Teifi: Melin Teifi, at Drefach Felindre, was chosen by the National Museum of Wales to house its Museum of the Welsh Woollen Industry. The mill is still producing the finest traditional Welsh flannel, tweed, blankets, quilts, shawls, garments and commission work using top quality materials and local craftsmanship. Though an independent commercial venture, it is an integral part of the museum’s exhibition.
Elvet Mill: The Elvet Woollen Mill is a family run business, set on the banks of the River Duad, with a history dating back over 120 years. The mill is still weaving tapestry bedcovers on Dobbcross looms using traditional processes and equipment. Specialising in wool from rare breeds and working closely with wool growers, the mill can produce cloth with traceable origins. The mill exports worldwide and works closely with international fashion designers, producing exclusive garments and accessories as part of their commission work.
Solva Woollen Mill:Solva Woollen Mill is the oldest working woollen mill in Pembrokeshire and is the only mill in Wales specialising in flat weave carpets, rugs and runners. This family business, with over 100 years weaving experience, uses traditional skills and 19th century looms. The mill has produced rugs for Prince Charles’ Welsh residence, is supplier of rugs to The Landmark Trust properties and specialises in weaving reproduction historic floor coverings.
Curlew Weavers: Curlew Weavers spin and dye yarn before weaving into fabulous cloth, producing a wide range of woollen fabrics and products in tweed, flannel, dress materials and upholstery fabrics, along with lightweight travel rugs, throws, bedspreads, blankets, shawls and scarves.
Melin Tregwynt: Melin Tregwynt dates from the 18th century, although originally a corn mill in the 17th. Local farmers would bring their fleeces to be spun into yarn and woven into blankets. Today the mill weaves beautiful fabrics for fashion and the interiors market, exporting all over the world.
These historic mills, still in production, ensure the continuation of an industry that was the backbone of life here in West Wales so long ago.