Woollen Factory, Cardiff

Before the Industrial revolution and the extraction of the black stuff from the ground, the woollen industry in Wales was one of the country’s most important industry. The spinning and weaving of sheep’s wool in Wales dates back to prehistoric times, but it only became an important industry in the 12th century. This coincided with the establishment of the Cistercian monasteries, which had spread throughout much of Europe from France and into Britain by the end of the 13th century. The Cistercians sought out solitude and were very successful in Wales, establishing 14 monasteries in total, all in remote locations. The emphasis was on pastoral farming, which of course included raising sheep for wool. These monks were the pioneers of the woollen industry in Wales.

Esgair-moel, is a grade II water powered woollen mill which was moved to the St Fagans National History Museum in 1949 from Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys. It is typical of the many small woollen factories which were once found throughout Wales. Built in 1760, it was extended to accommodate new machinery in the 19th century and continued in production until 1947.

The invention of the water-powered fulling mill caused an industrial revolution in Wales with over 50 operating in eastern Wales by the early 14th century. Although the fulling process (the process of cleansing woollen cloth to eliminate impurities) had been around since well before Roman times, it wasn’t until the medieval period that it was undertaken in a water mill, or Pandy in Welsh. The main area of this new woollen industry started out in South East Wales with fulling mills and later establishing in other areas of Wales. During the 16th century however, production shifted more to mid and north Wales.

By the early 18th century there were around 50 farms and cottages in Whitchurch, Cardiff, some of which were on Ty’n-y-Parc road, close together. During the 19th century these had grown into the hamlet of Ty’n-y-parc which comprised a cluster of small cottages called Ty’n-y-Parc Square and, more importantly two small woollen factories. Not a lot is known about these factories other than they were owned and worked by a weaving family named Lewis, who also owned some fields. The 1871 census shows a number of weavers living on Ty’n-y-Parc rd, presumably working at the two factories, including the names of Roberts and Thomas.

1875 map showing the hamlet of Ty’n-y-Parc and the two Flannel factories.

The factories produced flannel, a soft woven fabric of various fineness. In Wales flannel making can be traced back to the 17th century, but as no official records seem to be available, or indeed noted, it’s a bit unclear as to when the two factories on Ty’n-y-Parc road were constructed. It would appear that the western factory (close to where the Masons Arms is today) was the earliest factory and may have even started off as a farm building. The eastern factory doesn’t appear on an early Tithe map and therefore must have been constructed later, probably around 1860.

By the middle part of the 19th century wool manufacturing in Wales was on the decline, but the weaving industry grew, especially in South-West Wales with Dre-fach Felindre in Carmarthenshire being the centre for the production of woollen cloth in Wales, producing blankets, shawls and other products for local and export sales. Today it is the location of the National Wool Museum.

Towards the end of the 19th century both Ty’n-y-Parc factories seem to have ceased as working concerns, the eastern factory had certainly been converted to 6 small cottages by 1900. Inside the building each cottage was separated by brick cross walls with bonded brick chimney flues. The 1900 OS map shows that the cottages had an outside WC at the bottom of each garden. The 1901 census doesn’t list any weavers, most of the inhabitants of the immediate area seem to have been associated with the new Cardiff railway.

The former eastern factory, Upper Ty’n-y-Parc Terrace back in 2003.

Sometime between 1922 and 1953 Ty’n-y-Parc square, the cluster of small cottages (2-3 rooms) between the two factory buildings, were demolished to make way for Heol-y-Nant and eventually the fire station. Over the years the 6 cottages of the former eastern factory became known as ‘Upper Ty’n-y-Parc Terrace’ and it was one of these cottages that my wife and I purchased in 2003 without a clue as to it’s history. The house was stripped back to it’s original walls to reveal many original features, including wooden lintels above windows and doors, a single glazed fixed wooden window and a distorted wooden beam holding up the entire upper floor. There’s evidence to show that previous doorways had been blocked up, could these have been the original openings for the factory? The cottages today are hidden away off Ty’n-y-Parc road with access via a small footpath and just like the original factories, seem to be unknown to the local population.

An aerial view of Ty’n-y-Parc Terrace in 2018 (yellow circle). Compare this view with the map from 1875 and you can appreciate how much of the farming area has disappeared. Virtually nothing remains except for the terrace, Ty’n-y-Parc Row and the Mason’s Arms.

My wife and I eventually moved away from the area, but the thrill of finding such a gem in a suburb of Cardiff will always stay with me, especially when I remember the granddaughter of the original owner from 1942 visiting us one day to see what was happening to the stripped out former family home. Apparently her grandparents bought the house from the landowner for £50!… a lot less than we paid for it!

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