A New Way of Life

The woollen mill factories produced shirts, underwear and blankets. These proved particularly popular with the workers of the south Wales coalfields. By the 1890s there were over 250 woollen factories in west Wales with 23 in Dre-fach Felindre and the surrounding area. The growth of woollen mills and factories gave birth to a new way of life.

The woollen mills remained the largest employer in the area until the 1980s.

“Since the inhabitants of the village of Dre-fach Felindre relied entirely on industry rather than agriculture, their outlook became much more akin to inhabitants of the industrial valleys of South Wales, with whom they had constant trading contracts, than of their agricultural neighbours”

J. Geraint Jenkins, Welsh Craft: Dre-fach Felindre and the Woollen Industry (2005)

Looking down to Ty-Cornel Felindre, c.1920

Looking down to Ty-Cornel Felindre, c.1920

The village of Felindre

The village of Felindre

Land of song

Bands and choirs became an important part of life in Dre-fach Felindre.

As the mills flourished the local population grew. Workers formed choirs and bands. Some, like the celebrated Silver Band led by Albert Evans, won many titles. Many competed in annual local and national competitions, known as Eisteddfodau. The Bargoed Teifi Mixed Choral Society was particularly successful, taking first prize at the Carmarthen National Eisteddfod in 1911. The choir received a hero’s welcome when they returned to Dre-fach Felindre.

Local eisteddfodau were held in many villages throughout Wales. Dre-fach Felindre’s Eisteddfod was no small event. In 1897 the choir competition, for example, was `for choirs numbering no less than 100 voices`!

Dyffryn Bargod Temperance band, 1909

Dyffryn Bargod Temperance band, 1909 

Bargod Teifi Choir, 1922

Bargod Teifi Choir, 1922

Built on faith

Churches and chapels were an important focus for the community. Many new chapels were built in the industrial areas of Wales to accommodate the growing population. Bethel Chapel in Dre-fach was expanded in 1840 to meet the needs of the burgeoning population.

The Lewis family, owners of Cambrian Mills, were deacons in Bethel Chapel. The gas engine at Cambrian Mills provided the electricity for the Chapel! Wealthy mill owners often invested money in their places of worship. Religion was viewed by some as a means of maintaining a disciplined workforce. Social prestige was never too far away; the choice and size of some gravestones reflected a person’s standing and income. This can clearly be seen in St Barnabas graveyard.

Penboyr Church

Penboyr Church

Entertainment

Shift patterns provided opportunities for shared leisure time. The mill workers often formed sports teams. At Dre-fach Felindre these included the Bargoed Rangers football team and a women’s football team.

In 1922 the Red Dragon Hall was built in Dre-fach Felindre. Similar to the Workingmen’s Institutes of the South Wales valleys, it provided a focus for the village’s social life. The hall was used for dances, plays, concerts, billiards and card games. Johnny Lewis of Cambrian Mills donated £8,000 to building a new Red Dragon hall in 1964.

The land on which the local park, Parc Puw , is now situated was also donated to the people of Dre-fach Felindre by Johnny Lewis.

Bargod Rangers First League Champions after the Second World War

Bargod Rangers First League Champions after the Second World War

Drefach Felindre hockey team, 1930-31

Drefach Felindre hockey team, 1930-31

Carnival queen, c.1950s

Carnival queen, c.1950s

Shops and local business

Dre-fach Felindre became a bustling village with a variety of outlets to meet the needs of the growing population. At one time the village had three pubs, a shoe shop, butter making business, blacksmith, a tailor’s shop and a general stores.

These businesses were in many ways dependent upon the success of the woollen industry. The decline of the woollen mills after the First World War left many unemployed and forced some families to leave the area in search of work.

John Jones Cabinet Maker, Gwalia House, Felindre, 1916

John Jones Cabinet Maker, Gwalia House, Felindre, 1916

William Hindes, Felindre, 1920

William Hindes, Felindre, 1920

Strikes and social unrest

The 1880s saw the growth of unions with calls to improve working conditions.

Factory workers in Dre-fach Felindre organised a strike in 1889 over poor pay. The strike lasted for seventeen weeks. After the strike the Carmarthen Journal, a local newspaper, suggested ways of developing better working relationships between owner and worker. The Journal encouraged the mill owners to invest in their workers’ education and support the building of a reading room. In 1890 a Reading Room was completed.

520 men and women weavers, from the parishes of Llangeler and Penboyr, formed a Labour Union in 1900.

Dyffryn Woollen Mill staff, c.1890

Dyffryn Woollen Mill staff, c.1890

Handloom and spinning, c.1870

Handloom and spinning, c.1870

Conflict

The uniforms of the soldiers were made of flannel during the First World War. The factory mills at Dre-fach Felindre worked twenty four hours a day to keep up with the orders for flannel from the War Office. This new demand brought back prosperity to the area.

During the Second World War American soldiers were stationed at Dre-fach Felindre. Some disused factories were used as barracks. The American GIs are remembered fondly by the community for giving gifts of chocolate to local children.

A prisoner of war camp was established in nearby Henllan for Italian prisoners. They were sent to work in the local community. They turned one of the camp huts into a chapel and used dyes from the woollen mills to paint frescos on the walls.

First World War soldiers from the parish

First World War soldiers from the parish

Home Guard, Felindre, 1940-45

Home Guard, Felindre, 1940-45

Mrs Nesta Morgan, 1912- 2003

Nesta Morgan worked at Cambrian Mills between 1927 and 1965. Nesta’s father was Mr John Davies, the first manager of Cambrian Mills. They lived next door to the mill at Clungwyn. He worked at Cambrian Mills for 58 years. Following his retirement he still helped out in the mill until he died just before his 100th birthday.

When Cambrian Mills burnt down in 1919, Nesta was on holiday with her parents in Llanwrtyd Wells. It happened to be her 7th birthday. She remembers her parents receiving a telegram and their upset on hearing the news. When they returned to Dre-fach Felindre the apples on the apple tree in their garden had cooked in the heat of the fire.

When Nesta worked at the mill there were around 80 people working there. She worked in the sewing room and carried out mostly piecework. By the age of 18 she was sewing aprons and belts and then spent 10 years in the cutting room and was put in charge of the sewing room.

Nesta remembers annual day trips from Cambrian Mills for the employees. They travelled by bus to places such as Builth Wells, Llandrindod Wells and Neath. They had lunch out and these were happy occasions.

Nesta Morgan and sewing room staff Cambrian Mills

Nesta Morgan and sewing room staff Cambrian Mills

Comments(6)

Nia Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
18 November 2020, 15:16

Dear Denise Crom,

Thank you for getting in touch with us, I've passed your comment to my colleagues at the National Wool Museum. Hopefully they will be able to advise further.

Many thanks,

Nia
(Digital team)

Delia Ann Evans Heaton
9 November 2020, 23:11
My school was on the right before you crossed the bridge
There was a cobbler by the big house
I worked in the shop that has Indes above the door
My three sisters worked in the mill the one that’s is still there today
The ex prison of war camp was my school Henllan Secondary Modern School I attended on the last day before the school was moved to New Castle Emlyn
We had great fun with the pantomime held in the Red Dragon hall my Mam made most of the cloths we four sisters (acted) in them
Also the pictures then to the fish shop in the tin shed before walk home in safety
So many more memories of the village
I also worked in Llysnewydd Newydd Mansion where a Dr and Mrs Owen lived there with their two children Meron and Ioan I remember it had a walled garden
So many memories xx????????
6 November 2020, 20:58
Bargoed - Alun Brynafon John Evans , NatWest , y capten rep gyda Kardov
Evan Jones
6 November 2020, 20:52
Cofio rhai or gwynebau yn tim Bargoed , Lyn Mackenzie y gol geidwad .
Beryl Williams
5 November 2020, 21:46
Gan fy mod yn enedigol o Gwmpengraig, roedd cynnwys yr uchod o diddordeb mawr i mi. Bu fy nhad William Jones Davies yn gweithio yn fratri wlân Yr Ogof, un o’r ffatrïoedd cynhara yn yr ardal.
Denise Crom
30 August 2020, 22:13
I'm in the USA and enjoying the history of the town. I'm interested in an older Manor house in Dangribyn, Cwmpengraig. I'm trying to find out the history of this house, who built it, etc... I have found a picture from 1991 when a fund raiser was hosted there for abused children. Can you help with any knowledge of this beautiful old home? Thank you so very much,. Denise Crom

Leave a comment