Discussing the challenges we found with the project
The first challenge was to recruit Community Research Volunteers to research in their own areas is find out about the production of Welsh Woollen cloth in cottages across Mid and North Wales from 1650 - 1800.
Then we needed to find out where the fabric called webs or Welsh Plains or Negro Cloth, was produced.
We needed to understand how this cottage industry developed to be able to produce vast lengths of cloth, for example: in 1812 a realistic estimate is that almost 8 million yards of cloth were exported out of Wales and we wanted to find out how this was transported by packhorse and by ship.
Meeting this challenge:
We recruited about 50 Community Research Volunteers who have been exploring areas across Mid and North Wales looking out for fulling mills or "pandys" and "factories", as well as reading extensively and consulting with local and specialist historians.
The initial idea submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund explained that:
This project brings together community research volunteers from Mid and North Wales who are interested in the history of spinning and weaving, with families from local farming communities interested in their 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.
Early on we realised that although there was a great deal of information about the Welsh Woollen Industry, much of this focussed on the Woollen Mills and mechanised production of cloth.
However we were able to find references to the industry in the writings of early travellers about specific part of the story, for example, the writings of Arthur Aiken in 1773 - 1854 and one of our bright eyed volunteers found us an original copy on line.
Understanding the diversity of fabric production in the 1700s has been a challenge, as this was the age of fine silks and laces for the 'well to do', yet this fabric was woven by highly skilled and hard working weavers, who managed to cope with spun thread made from wool of mixed origins, producing cloth that required several further processes before it was ready for market. Production involved whole communities as we found from parish records and local writing, which record a great range of skills.
Managing all the information that Community Research Volunteers found was another challenge, hopefully this site goes some way to do justice to this.