The art and expertise of fullers
4.3 Watermill Technology: Fulling Mills
The production of woollen cloth involves a number of stages, including producing the wool itself, dyeing, carding, spinning and weaving (Parkinson 1984, 422). Mechanised fulling mills were developed in the early Middle Ages (Davidson 1987, 3) and were responsible for scouring and shrinking the woven cloth, to clean the fabric and consolidate the texture (Jack 1981, 70). The oil from the cloth was removed by soaking in a detergent, usually consisting of diluted stale urine and pigs’ dung, then beating with fulling stocks (Parkinson 1984, 422-424). The mill’s water wheel drove another wheel with tappits which lifted the wooden hammers and allowed them to fall onto the cloth. The cloth was then rinsed and dried on wooden frames or tenters (dentur). After this, the fibre of the cloth was thickened by soaking in hot soapy water and beating again, with stretching at regular intervals. The cloth was again dried on tenters then brushed with teasel heads and pressed (Parkinson 1984, 424).
Archaeological evidence survives at a number of sites of potential medieval remains, these include Pandy Cwm yr Afon (No. 191; SH 63043011; PRN 18965; Plates 3-6), where some masonry survives close to the remains of a probable medieval long hut (GAT PRN 6168), suggesting an important survival with medieval archaeology. A number of other sites, first recorded in post medieval times, may have medieval origins. Pandy Phylip, Arthog, is noted as extant in 1670 (Jenkins 1968, 174). A nearby cottage is called Pant-Phylip-bach and has been identified as the pandy and a field nearby as Cae dentur on the tithe apportionment, a good indicator of the presence of a former fulling mill. The relict remains of a mill at Pandy’r Cletwr (No. 365; SH 97703539; PRN 36750), is listed as extant in 1722 (Jenkins 1969, 74 and 360) and was leased from Plas Rhiwaedog in 1726 (DRO Z/DS/12/58 & 61). Two fields just downstream in Llanfor parish were called Cae'r-pandy and Erw ddentir in 1847, noted on the tithe apportionment. The remains of the mill appear to be in the field called Cae'r Pandy, on a small terrace above the river. Fragmentary remains consist of uncoursed rubble stone, although the remains barely exist above foundation level. The basic shape, however, can be identified, and the remains are thought to be late medieval in date.
The use of fulling mills is recorded in medieval times in Wales and documentary evidence has shown that over two hundred existed here before the end of Henry VIII’s reign (Jack 1981, 70). Jack identified two pre-reformation fulling mills in Meirionnydd, at Garthgynfor (SH 7616) and a monastic mill at Llanelltyd (SH 734192) (ibid. 75). Similar to corn mills, fulling mills developed over time. They were usually smaller and of less value than corn mills until the 18th century when they began to incorporate mechanical
carding, spinning and weaving machines. Fulling stocks were constructed almost entirely from wood until iron started to be used in the mid 19th century (Parkinson 1984, 426). In the 19th century the term ‘factory’ began to be used, and at some sites larger scale operations were built. At Pandy, Trawsfynydd (Site 207; NGR SH 714733524; PRN 36705; Plates 9-12) additional building work can be seen attached to the former pandy building as production moved to a factory system. A large woollen mill (No. 256; SH 84221624; PRN 25611) was built adjacent to the pandy at Dolobran by 1852 (Jenkins 1969, 174). Pandy Aberneint (No. 234; SH 72991711; PRN 36715; Plates 17- 18) and Pandy Uchaf (No. 232; SH 73011706; Plates 13-14), two pandai of probable 18th century date on the Afon Aran south of Dolgellau, were replaced by a large brick built woollen mill, known as Idris Factory, in the late 19th century (No. 233; SH 73061703; PRN 36714; Plates 15-16). By the late 19th to early 20th centuries cloth production by fulling mills in Wales had dropped dramatically, probably as a result of less demand for the product and competition from mills elsewhere (Parkinson 1984, 422).
Moelwyn Mill (No. 148; SH 69044549; PRN 11810) has its origins as an early eighteenth century water-driven fulling mill with substantial nineteenth century alterations and is the only fulling mill in Wales known to survive with its machinery complete (Coflein). The mill is powered by the Afon Goedol and it was established during the 1880s by Jacob and Shadrach Jones, with 'improved' Kilburn cast-iron fulling stocks. The mill operated until 1964.The mill is a two-storey rubble building under a slate roof, partly with rock foundations. On the south side there is a large overshot waterwheel with wooden spokes and iron shrouds. The interior retains its fulling stocks and other machinery in complete and working order. Adjoining to the north is the mid-nineteenth century mill house, a rubble-wall building under a slate roof, with two floors above a raised basement (Gwyn and Williams 1996).