Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail July 17th 1933

Craftsmen of Wales

DANIEL RHYDDERCH OF ABERLOCH

Family’s 300 Years Reign in Hammer Mill

A DYING RURAL INDUSTRY


By GARETH JONES

 The hayfields were full of scent and the foxgloves were tall and red by the roadside as I went from Carmarthen past Merlin’s Hill, turning up by Nantgaredig, on my pilgrimage to Daniel Rhydderch owner of the hammer mill at Abergorlech.

Passing farms and tiny villages, which bad been newly-whitewashed and. looked dazzlingly, clean in the July sun and leaving one mill, Felingwm, which the General Post Office disgraces by anglicising into Velingwm, I reached Bredhfa, in the Cothi Valley.

My thoughts had been carried back to the sombre Puritanical Wales of the nineteenth century when I saw the simple chapel of Horeb.  Not far from the turning to Gwernogle, where the memory of Lewis Glyn Cothi, bard and philosopher, is still revered, a squat, long-backed corgi turned his brown head towards me without barking, and I knew that I was in the region of a real Welsh breed of dogs.

Marged Lewis.

Near the bridge at Nant-y-ffin I found the mill and, entering it, met old Marged Lewis, a type of the Wales of yesterday.  In Welsh she told the history of her factory, how her father took it on in 1844, and how after his death she and her sister managed. the, factory until three years ago.

But her sister died two years ago, and life in the silent, empty mill, where the wheel has stopped, where there is no sound of spinning, and where the only signs of existence are the dripping of water from the mill-stream, and the clatter of Marged’s feet as she potters about, is sad and lonely.

She dreams of the old days, when the mills of West Wales were working busily, when the farmers brought their wool, down from the hills, exchanging not only goods and coin, but the gossip of the countryside, the points of their sheep-dogs, the text and the “hwyl” of last Sunday’s sermon, and. the events of the last fair.

That is the world in which Marged has lived, and it is a world fast disappearing around her.  She says, “It is very lonely now.  The mills are shut and we can do nothing.  How much better it was in the old days when we worked at home!  The fine old Welsh days are over, when we used to make everything ourselves.  Now those English do it all.  Is it not a shame that we allow the English, to do it!”

Big Water Wheel

Her factory was big and full of machinery, such as one would not expect in that quiet wooded valley.  The water wheel which once provided the power was one of the largest I have seen.  Marged climbed up the wooden ladder to the upper room in spite of her age and showed the scene of former activity, when Wales made her own flannel and tweed.  

“Peidiwch cwympo,” the old lady shouted to me, as I descended and said good-bye to this sturdy character of the Wales which is disappearing.  I wondered, as we went farther along the Cothi Valley, what Daniel Rhydderch would be like.  I had heard of him and of his work and how he was carrying on his old “tucking mill” in the same was as his ancestors before him.

The surrounding country, with its woodlands, its rural quiet, the stream, and the which silhouetted some ancient weather beaten trees ...

This portion is lost. and will be replaced later

...mill his cloth, his language, has that touch of genuineness and of simplicity which shows that there is no alien influence to mar the unity of his character.  Even the baskets in his mill are made on a farm. 

The Cauldron

Before we enter his “pandy,” or ‘tucking mill,” we notice two cauldrons on a large covered stove, under one of which a fire is burning.  Their purpose, we learn, is for dyeing the cloth.  Inside we see the hammers, but the river is dry, and therefore they are not working, although there is much work on hand, waiting for the river to swell again and for the hammers to beat and shrink the cloth.  The mill is used for “tucking,” that is, for driving the fibre of the cloth closer together, that is, for shrinking both in length and width, the Welsh for which is “pannu” and “brethyn.”

The wool is spun in the factory, for instance, in Llangadock or in Llanllwni, and cloth is brought to Mr. Rhydderch for finishing.  He also presses and dyes, and sometimes he makes the cloth ready for the tailor.  In a “tucking mill,” such as Mr. Rhydderch’s, the cloth is shrunk both in width and length, whereas in a “fulling mill” it is shrunk in width alone.

From the mill Mr. Rhydderch takes us to his house, called the “Pandy,” and shows some of the cloth which he has made.  And what cloth it is!  Thick and solid, it could, one imagines, be taken through torrential rains, be seized and shaken by all the dogs in the Cothi Valley, and then return to Abergorlech as if it had just come out of the “pandy” and last for many a long year.

A Fine Quilt

But Mr. Daniel Rhydderch is not the only craftsman in the house, for his sister, Miss Mary Rhydderch, is one of the best quilters in Great Britain and her fine work has been shown in the Rural Industries Exhibition in London.  The judge in the Rural Industries Bureau wrote of the quilt which she stretches before our admiring eyes: “A fine quilt and very handsome.  The design is good and beautifully even.”  Although there were quilts submitted’ from every county in Great Britain, Miss Rhydderch’s was one of the best.

On the wall hangs a good old Welsh sampler, which, in a variety of colours, with green and red preponderating, depicting Eve taking the apple, is also the work of Miss Rhydderch.  The making of samplers is another Welsh craft which shows skill and patience.

As we leave the cottage I notice brown yarn stretched drying in the sun, and Mr. Rhydderch tells me that he has just been dyeing it.  But he does not make the cloth through all the processes.  “The weaver used to make the cloth and bring it here for tucking,” he explains.

“And are there still weavers left?” I ask.  “Yes, there is one ‘who still does a little work and that is James Davies, Cothi Valley.”

The Weaver’s Lament

I go up the valley to look for the weaver.  James Davies was in the fields, making hay.

“I do very little work now,’ he told me in Welsh.  “The motors and the vans come round the farms and sell cloth.  So it does not pay any longer.  I still do a little in the winter, but nobody weaves any more around here.”

He told how the farmers used to bring him the wool and how he used to make it into cloth, some of which he used to take to Daniel Rhydderch for tucking.  Then James Davies went on with the haymaking and I went through the farmyard, when I happened to look in the window of a shed, and there I saw the hand loom of one of the last of the weavers of Wales, standing idle and neglected, the symbol of the death of a rural industry.  In Daniel Rhydderch, however, it is still living on.  Good health and a long life and happiness to one of the last craftsmen and characters of the Wales that is vanishing!

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