Penybont and District History Group Notes 2nd December 2019 Main Topic: Traditional Cottage Crafts of the Area – Liz Turner

Geraint welcomed members to our Christmas meeting and after saying some highly embarrassing things about the Turner family he asked Derek to introduce his wife. This done, Liz moved swiftly to the main topic:

Main Topic: Traditional Cottage Crafts of the Area.

Liz started by indicating that ‘her intentions were honourable’, in that she intended to keep the talk short and fairly light. She introduced her 4 helpers who were each demonstrating a current cottage craft.

Patricia Munroe   – Penybont – Rag Rug

Sylvia Laws – Dolau – Quilting

Jean Price – Walton – Hooked Rug

Yvonne Rea – Nantmel – Spinning

Behind Liz was an exhibition of craft items that had been collected from mainly local sources, with particular thanks to David Lewis from Dolau who was also a mine of useful information.

So, what does Craft Mean?

In old English craft had different spellings ‘craeft’, ‘creft’ meaning power, physical strength, in Welsh ‘crefft’. It probably derived from Germanic origins Kraft meaning strength, virtue or skill, or from the Norse, kraptr, meaning strength or virtue.

Different meanings then evolved in old English to include: skill, dexterity; art, science, talent” (via a notion of “mental power”), which led by late Old English to the meaning “trade, handicraft, employment requiring special skill or dexterity,” also “something built or made”.

Radnorshire

In Radnorshire towns and villages were self-supporting with spindle makers, tallow candle-makers, pattern makers these had largely died out by the 1830s, while wheelwrights, coopers, saddlers, blacksmiths, boot and shoe makers, thatchers, clock makers, and so on where gainfully occupied until the 1870s and 80s and beyond.

Liz had been to Powys Archives and from, Census 1841 and 1851 for Cefnllys and Llanbadarn Fawr, households identified wheelwrights, coopers, masons, blacksmiths, carpenters, milliners, tailors, glaziers, shoemakers, dressmakers, a watch maker, a nurse, and a butcher.

Farmers, their labourers and servants, predominated within the statistics but there were many examples of tailors, dressmakers and milliners. There were masters in these professions but also journeymen and apprentices that indicated future occupational opportunities for these crafts people.

In addition to ‘occupational crafts’, there evolved a range of skills associated more within the ‘home’ than occupation, these included:

basket making,

spinning,

weaving

dyers,

cheese making,

candle making,

besom broom making, etc., etc.

By contrast some of the cottage crafts lent themselves to being more of a business. Tailors and Glaziers would ply their craft from house to house and village to village along with the village pedlars. A significant part of their trade was in taking news and gossip from Parish to Parish and in addition many craft people also became matchmakers.

The Industrial Revolution heralded a major change with the economy demanding very different skills. Locally part of every community since the 14th century would be a fulling mill and a corn mill. These were in full swing into the 18th century but by the 19th century the fulling mills in Radnorshire had all closed down.

The fulling mill in Dolau had turned out a course, grey woollen cloth that was very popular locally for its warm durable qualities. At least one of these blankets survives but is unfortunately no longer available locally.

“From the medieval period, the fulling of cloth often was undertaken in a water mill, known as a fulling mill, a walk mill, or a tuck mill, and in Wales, a pandy. In these, the cloth was beaten with wooden hammers, known as fulling stocks or fulling hammers. Fulling stocks were of two kinds, falling stocks (operating vertically) that were used only for scouring, and driving or hanging stocks. In both cases the machinery was operated by cams on the shaft of a waterwheel or on a tappet wheel, which lifted the hammer.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulling

There was a Corn Mill at Llandegley that had been associated with the Burton Hotel but was situated on land within the farm at Tynllan.

Crafts and Craftmanship included a mixture of skilled traders and individual makers. Generally there was some economic element in both categories.

E.g. The ‘followers’, womenfolk, of the drovers were said to knit stockings as they walked behind the beasts (Using knitting Sheaths page 346, J. Sey). They would sell their wares in places where the animals came to be sold.

At Powys Archives Liz looked at the entries relating to:

  • Radnorshire Agricultural Society Show 1937 in Penybont
  • Crossgates WI Annual Programmes 1951 to 1982

Both of these organisations highlighted the competitive nature that crafts had become with many categories open to different groups of people.

At the Agricultural Show the craft categories were open to:

  • WI Members
  • Children over 11 years, and children under 11 years
  • Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Brownies and Cubs
  • Classes open to local people
  • Open Classes

There were however restrictions and some horticultural and other classes were not open to professional gardeners or groom gardeners.

The 1937 programme on the Dole in Penybont included best in making:

  • Bee Hive
  • Hoover Hive (a type of bee hive, see below)
  • Whisket made from home grown wood (Basket, see below)
  • Shopping basket made from home grown wood
  • Beedle (see below)
  • Shepherd’s Crook with metal ends
  • Walking stick with wood from the hedgerow
  • Hay rake
  • Article in wood for the home

Whisket

Note: According to St Fagan’s, the Basket on the left, in the picture below, is a Whisket (term used in Brecon and Radnor) in Wales the name for the basket was ‘gwyntell’ or a  ‘cyntell’. The basket made from local materials has an oval shape made mostly with willow and hazel. The basket shown on the left has a hazel oval rim, split hazel ribs, and woven with willow. Their primary use was agricultural but they could be used for carrying coal and even babies. David Lewis’s grandfather would make them for their farm.

The other frame basket (locally called a Spelk) is another agricultural basket made from splitting boiled oak poles 6 inches and 4 inches in diameter. The thicker ones were used for the warp and the thinner for the weft. More commonly used in other parts of the British Isles.

 Beedle

The Beedle or Beetle, according to St Fagan’s, was a wooded mallet made from crab apple timber, very hard, and it had a slanted collar that meant it self-tightened in use.

The Beedle is a corruption of the name Beetle and was a sophisticated mallet made from apple wood, usually crab apple, which has a distorted grain that is less likely to split in use. It would be reinforced with a tapered metal collar that ensured that it tightened in use.  The apple wood was delivered to the Blacksmith who made up the mallet with its metal ring. The mallet shown in the picture is a simple mallet made from a single piece of wood. It would have a limited life span depending on how it was used.  The beetle or beedle was slightly bulbus in appearance unlike more traditional mallets. (See: Country Craft Tools by Percy Blandford.)

The evolving nature of craft had 3 main components:

1. Traditional Skills

2. Findings solutions to problems within the home and community

3. Using local materials 

Craft Today

Nowadays crafts are often kept alive by Hobbyists as few people in the general population have the skills, interest, or give value to handmade objects and crafts. Few people have been able to make a living from making craft in recent times due to the escalating costs of living and the time needed to perfect skills and make hand crafted items. Few members of the public are then in a position to pay for items made in this way.

But all is not lost there is lots to see here ………

Craft is essentially the use of indigenous, or accessible, materials in the solving of problems that have a practical application in the home, farm, or local community. This did sometimes give rise to the use of machines such as the lathe that could easily turn wood. The one shown on the extreme right of the picture above was found in a skip at Hereford Art College. The sewing machine was again used to facilitate home craft. David Lewis talked about the use of holly to clean chimneys and the use of the 12- bore shot gun to release the soot first.

The ‘Tickler’ Mole Trap

Wooden mole traps and squirrel traps were made locally by the Wilson Brothers. The mole trap was triggered by a pole lathe mechanism when the tickler was triggered. The trap was inserted into a mole run with the hoops at the bottom.

Pig Spreader and Scrapper

It was not uncommon for households to keep and kill a pig. The picture below shows the pig spreader that Alfred Thomas used at the Thomas Shop along with the pig scrapper that was used to remove the hair after the carcass was scalded with boiling water. The carcass would then be salted down with the salt that came in 28lb blocks.

Wool Collecting Basket

Wool would be collected by the Drover Followers and villagers from the hedgerows, and anywhere wool had attached itself to, in rugby ball shaped baskets as shown in the picture below (left). It was tucked under the arm so that two hands were free to collect and store the wool. This is a good example of how communities wasted nothing. Wool would collect in the hedgerows as sheep grazed and then enterprising people would come along with their basket to collect it for cleaning, spinning for weaving and knitting, and often to provide the filling within homemade quilts. These baskets were very common across the British Isles, right up to the Outer Hebrides. 

Weaving and basket making are some of the oldest crafts with the traditions established in Mesolithic times.  Everything from small houses to boxes, and even shoes were made using weaving techniques.

The small basket on the right of the picture above is a replica of a basket that was used by the grandmother of a lady from the village who would have shopped at the Thomas Shop.

Skimming pan and skimmer for collecting cream, for clotting and/or butter and cheese making

The items shown for skimming milk are not dissimilar to those used today as the processes have not changed when cream, butter and cheese are made on a domestic scale.

Some farm houses in Radnorshire had a square lead-lined table that sloped towards a drain hole in the centre of the table. (Lead poisoning may have been a by-product! Butter was worked on a slightly sloping wooded table that sloped backwards towards a drain hole. As the butter was worked away up the slope the moisture was drained away to keep the butter fresh.  

Rabbit Netting Tools

Catching rabbits and squirrels for the pot was common practice and nets were made with the handmade wooden implements seen below. The Wilson Brothers made them in the locality.

Bread Making

Bread making was an essential skill in almost every household. Many farms had bread making ovens. Fires were built in the ovens principally from gorse faggots which burnt very hot. This long fork, as seen below, would originally have had a wooden handle was used to get the faggots into the oven and the flat paddle, known as a peel, was used to extract the bread. When tins were used the tins had legs to avoid scorching the bottom of the loaves on the very hot surface of the oven. David Lewis talked to Liz about baking bread in a peat fire. The peat was heaped up and over the pot.

Cooking Implement

By contrast the smaller two-pronged fork was used for handling roasting meat at Far Hall, Dolau.

Bee Keeping, honey, mead, candles, beeswax cottage crafts

Bees were originally kept in skeps made from straw. Often farm workers would use the opportunity of inclement weather during harvest to make baskets and skeps from straw. The diameter of the straw core was determined by a keeper which often a piece from a horn. The skep would be stitched with de-thorned, split bramble using a goose leg bone, which is hollow, as a needle.

The homemade hoover referred to in the classes at the agricultural show was a type of wooden bee hive named after the American who invented it and developed a company who made them commercially. As with the vacuum cleaner the name became associated with a wooden beehive. Hoover Hives are still available today.

The wax collected from the bees had many uses. It has been referred to as the ‘plastic’ of ancient times. This is interesting as there is a revival in the use of waxed cloths to cover and ceil food as an alternative to plastic. Beeswax had multiple uses that included the making of candles, polish, health products and cosmetics.

 Rushes, which have a pith, were dipped in tallow to make candles

Pottery

We had no examples of old pottery but we did have examples of David Weake’s Pottery (cups on left of picture below) who lived at the Police House in Penybont and as well as being Head of Art at Llandrindod High School, a well-known uni-cyclist, he was a celebrated potter. There was a memory from members of every child in the Parish being given  a brown and white mug in slipware in memory of the 1969 Investiture of the Prince of Wales. He died in the late 1990s. Currently at Far Hall in Dolau Jason Braham (Items on left of picture below) is also a stoneware potter of considerable repute and like David Weake he was a Head of Art, but he was at Harrow School. The tradition of pot making extends back in time as vessels of all shapes and sizes needed to be made by hand. There is a link between basket making and pottery in these early days basket forms would provide a frame for coiled pottery. When this was fired the basket was burnt away and the pot was left for use.

Yoke

Milk water and any pale would be carried using a yoke, made from beech, as seen below.

Pitch Fork

Very common in time gone by, pitch forks would be cut straight from a tree to make a pitch fork. This shows the ingenuity and observational skills of people in finding things that could have an important purpose. The one in the picture is a single piece of ash. In a similar way an ash tree was sometimes manipulated to make one side of a ladder.

Fleam

“Stockmen and Veterinarians would use fleams for letting blood.

Bleeding of animals and humans was much practiced in the past and believed to be a remedy for many ailments.

To bleed and animal the vein would be raised and the chosen blade of the fleam (as seen below) placed above it and given a sharp blow with a ‘blood stick’ (as seen below on the right) or a clenched fist.

The cut was pulled together by a pin which was then secured with a length of hair wound round in a figure of 8.” (Radnorshire Museum)

Turf Cutter

The turf cutter was used at Pant-y-Dwr. Turnberry was the area at Pant-y-Dwr where turf was cut locally. The end sections are shown in the photographs, but there is a long flat shaft running between them.

Roofer’s Pick

The picture below shows a Roofers Pick that had two functions. The pointed end was used to split stone to make the roofing tiles, while the sharp end was used to make oak pegs to hold the tiles in place.

Scythe Sharpening

The ‘horn’ and ‘ripe stick’ were hung around the neck of the person using a scythe and used in the sharpening process when using the scythe. Tallow was put in the horn, the tallow was applied to the ripe stick by inserting it into the horn. The picture below shows the ‘gritstone’ (Sandstone in a block) from a quarry 17 miles north of Shrewsbury. Sand grit from the stone was then put into the ‘leather pad’ where the ripe stick, tallow and grit would be rubbed together. The ripe stick was then ready to sharpen the scythe.

Besom Broom

House holders would make besom brooms for use in the house and grounds. They were made using two circles of willow or wire. Fine birch twigs were packed into the circles and lastly a wooden handle would be driven into the top to tighten everything up. David Lewis remembers making them but the one in the picture below was made in a cottage industry that supplies besom brooms to the Queen and Harry Potter.

Geraint mentioned the particular role that the Blacksmith, Tom Price and his father before him, played as craftsmen who were central to the functioning of the village.

The items that the Blacksmith would make included:

  • Donkey shoes
  • Horse and mule shoes
  • Bullock shoes and nails
  • Hoof picks
  • Horse bits
  • Farrier Tongs
  • Farriers hammers
  • Ox shoes
  • Bill hooks
  • Veterinary Fleams
  • Branding irons
  • Sprung tined shears (these were replaced by large scissor shears in the 18th century, the blades were connected by a hoop of spring steel which sprung apart between cuts
  • Salmon spears
  • Gate hangers spanners
  • Lasts
  • Bolsters

The Wheelcar or Whilcar (As referred to in Tom Bullough’s brilliant book Addlands)

This contraption was developed specifically in Radnorshire and would have brought craftsmen together to make it. (It has been featured in Radnorshire Transactions, Stuart Fry, 2017, LXXXVII The photograph shows a Whilcar that Stuart has restored.) The Whilcar was designed to cope with the very steep slopes that farmers had to contend with when working in the landscape. The centre of gravity was very low making it much more stable than traditional carts. It is a good example of the creativity and ingenuity of people who lived in rural Radnorshire who applied their craft to overcome challenges in day to day life.

Quilting

There has been a strong tradition of quit making in Wales for many, many years. Liz’s talk finished with the unrolling of a quilt – Ashgrove. The quilt was 1 of 12 quilts tops that were made within a quilting bee that ran between 2010 – 2012. There were 12 quilters, 6 from the local area, and members of the Sewing Group that regularly meets at the Thomas Shop. The other 6 quilters were more widely spread around Britain, with 1 person resident in Singapore. Each quilter made a small patchwork square, 1ft square, to start the process off, to give the quilt a name and some guidelines for the quilt to that would eventually come back to them to do the quilting. This small square was then sent in turn to each of the other quilters for two-month periods. The quilt tops were not seen by their owners for 2 years. Liz’s quilt was the Ashgrove. The quilt won first prize at an Exhibition run at Cae Hir Gardens near Lampeter. Liz talked about how some of the other quilters interpreted the Ashgrove. One of the quilters first interpreted the Ashgrove as an Elderly Person’s Home, but then discovered the wide cultural and historic associations. One quilter embroidered in the first verse of the poem, Ashgrove.  

Acknowledgements

Liz acknowledges the support she received from David Lewis who not only explained the many craft practices that were common in our area but also lent a significant number of the items that were on display.

Gareth Beech, Senior Curator: Rural Economy, St Fagans National History Museum.

Powys Archives

Roger Kite

And numerous other people who contributed to the discussions on the subject.

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