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Why is wool important to Wales?

Wool has been spun and woven in Wales for many thousands of years. Initially this would have been for family use, then for trade at local markets, but by the 1500's wool exports had increased with a growing demand from international traders. Initially raw wool was traded, but then laws were introduced that only let higher taxed woven cloth be exported. Much of this went to the Low Countries, that were then colonies of Spain.

Tell me quickly what this project is about ...

"From Sheep to Sugar" is the unlikely story of the production of a basic woollen cloth called Welsh Plains which was woven by poor sheep farming families that was exported to provide clothing for enslaved African workers in European colonies across in the New World. In the 1600s through to the 1800s the demand for this cloth changed rural life in many areas of Wales. Some communities flourished as the massive Plantation Trade demand increased, but international conflict, industrialisation and challenges from other cloth producers eventually diverted attention away from the valleys of Wales and "Brethyn Cartref" the home spun, hand woven cottage industry became a distant, and probably not a happy memory. 

Now families and communities are reviving interest in the activities of their ancestors, noting "weaver" "fuller" "trader" in family records from generations ago. 

What sort of things have Community Research Volunteers been doing? 

The "From Sheep to Sugar" project has given opportunities to explore what is written by the tourists who recorded their impressions of the spinning, weaving and fulling they saw in the 1700s as they travelled around Wales. Also the studies of the Welsh Woollen Industry by Walter Davies, then later by J Geraint Jenkins and others. There are also opportunities to explore local fulling mill sites and research other local buildings which may have been hand weaving "factories" or warehouses to store imported wool or finished cloth. Further afield Community Research Volunteers have opportunities to visit the National Wool Museum and the Newtown Textile Museum and local Woollen Mills, all telling of the next steps in the industrialisation process, and also to explore the transport history of Welsh Plains through Oswestry, Welshpool, Shrewsbury and Barmouth, as well as the Slave Ships ports of Liverpool, London and Bristol.


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