A place in the past
This is the first in a series of short articles devoted to the history of the building which today houses the Newtown Textile Museum. The articles are intended only as a brief introduction to the history of the Museum, rather than a detailed historical account, but hopefully they will be of interest to all readers, regardless of their depth of knowledge. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Location! Location! Location!
At the end of the 18th Century, Newtown was still a very small town with a population no greater than a modern day village.. Yet within the space of forty years, it had developed beyond its medieval boundaries and its population had grown to 7,000 people. In the process it had acquired the epithet of ‘The Leeds of Wales’.
As the third decade of the nineteenth century dawned, Newtown was experiencing a boom. The old medieval town, nestling on the south bank of the River Severn, served as the market centre for the surrounding area. The two parishes of Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn had only a combined population of some 1,600 according to the first census of 1801. But things were changing. Over the next fifty years the population rose to nearly 7,000 inhabitants.
The reason for this dramatic change can be summed up in one word: wool. Since medieval times, Montgomeryshire had been associated with the production of woollen cloth, known as flannel. This however was a small-scale affair, taking place in the homes of the rural agricultural workers dotted throughout the county.
This is the second in our series of short articles devoted to the history of the building which today houses the Newtown Textile Museum.
The Origins of the Museum Building
by John Evans
Up until the end of the eighteenth century, the production of woollen flannel had been a small scale cottage industry carried out in the homes of the rural population. But at the turn of the century conditions were changing, making for the possibility of greater organization of the industry within the urban areas of Montgomeryshire. External factors, such as war in Europe against Revolutionary France had created an increased demand for cloth from which to make the uniforms of soldiers fighting against Napoleon’s armies. At the same time, within Montgomeryshire too, things were changing. Capital, the fuel needed to feed any industrial development, was becoming more accessible along with the presence of a group of forward looking individuals who could see the potential for industrial growth in Newtown. The town itself was already becoming a centre for some parts of the cloth making process, notably fulling and carding. Mills were soon located along the banks of the Severn from which this process could be undertaken.
William Pugh was a prominent Newtown entrepreneur who single-handedly financed the building of much of Newtown’s communications infrastructure, including the building of a new bridge across the Severn in 1827. It was this development which finally ended the payment of tolls to cross the medieval wooden bridge, and opened up development on the north bank of the river at Penygloddfa.
Another in the series of short articles about the history of weavers in Newtown.
Life in Commercial Street c.1840
by John Evans
The Textile Museum at 5-7 Commercial Street was constructed about 1830 at a time when Penygloddfa was developing rapidly as the result of the boom in the Welsh flannel trade. Unfortunately, we cannot identify the first individuals who would have moved into the six back-to-back dwellings, but we can surmise that they had been drawn to the area by the prospect of work in the handloom factories.
We have to wait a further decade before we can catch a glimpse of who these individuals might have been. In 1841 the first census of population was taken in Great Britain. From this it is clear that the population of Penygloddfa, was linked closely to the flannel industry. Some sixty-five percent of listed occupations were associated with it. Of these about forty percent are identified as weavers and about twenty percent are described as spinners.
The first census has its limitations: we cannot, for example, assign individuals and families to specific houses because at this time house numbers did not exist. Neither do we know how methodical the census enumerators were in recording the information. However, we can speculate about the kind of family which may have occupied one of our six houses.
Thomas Clayton was a native of the parish of Llanllwchaiarn, having been born at Port House, a small farm near the canal, in 1790 and baptized in the parish church.
Supported by: Gwendoline & Margaret Davies Trust, Newtown Town Council, Newtown Local History Group, Skinners’ Company Lady Neville Charity, Community Foundation in Wales, Oakdale Trust, Bodfach Trust and the Association of Independent Museums
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