St Fagans: Esgair Moel Woollen Mill

Living close to Cardiff, we are lucky enough to be within easy reach of one of the National Museums of Wales, St Fagan’s.* It’s a huge open-air museum of Welsh life through the ages, complete with reconstructed buildings, gardens, farm animals and working craftspeople; as you can imagine, it’s a really fabulous place to go with small children, as well as with historically-minded grown-ups. Eoin and I made took advantage of the current glorious weather to make our first visit there yesterday afternoon, and we were not disappointed with what we found.

We spent several hours wandering around the grounds, taking far too many photographs, and, in Eoin’s case, lobbying loudly for ice-cream any time we passed somebody with a cornet in their hand. We even managed to finish off with a small-scale picnic in the hayfield, which gave Eoin a chance to ogle the high-speed trains whizzing by on the nearby line into Cardiff. I don’t want to make this post too picture-heavy, but I’ve added a little gallery below with some of the better general shots in it.

For both of us, though, the highlight was undoubtedly a visit to the Esgair Moel Woollen Mill, which neatly combined a whole raft of yarny goodness for me with more big yokes with wheels on them for the little fellow. The first hint that there was something good on the horizon was when we arrived at the building to find several tarpaulins covered in freshly-dyed fleece, drying in the sun: clearly this was not going to be a dull peek into a dusty building, but rather an interesting hands-on experience.

Esgair Moel, a mill dating from the eighteenth century, was originally located in Powys, but was moved to St Fagans in the middle of the 1900s as part of the living history element of the museum. It is in full working order, with a nineteenth-century carding machine, a spinning mule and two hand looms on display. When we visited, the museum’s weaver was hard at work producing his next batch of yarn: as you can see below, he has already spun a substantial amount on the mule, and is in the process of carding a second batch on the carder: In addition to all these industrial-age delights, we were able to have a close-up look at a great wheel, the first I had ever seen:

As you can imagine, I found this fascinating: I have never before been able to work out how Sleeping Beauty might have pricked her finger on a spindle, the flyer of my Ashford Elizabeth being neither the sharpest nor the most pointy thing known to humankind. The spindle on the great wheel, however, was another matter: it’s attached to the whorl which you can see at the right of this image, and, as it is lengthy and rather sharp, the whole wheel has been turned to face the wall, presumably to avoid unwary museum visitors impaling themselves on it. As interested as I was in the wheel, though, I’m sure you can guess who was even more excited.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that’s an enormous wheel there! It must be mine, all mine. Can we fit it in the car?”

After I had managed to persuade Eoin that he was not allowed to take the exhibits home with him, even if he did want to love them and take care of them and call them George, we had a chat with the weaver about all things fibre- and yarn-related. I was sorry that it wasn’t possible to buy skeins of the plied yarn for knitting with; although there are some lovely woven fabrics on sale, I was really hoping to be able to create my own project with some of the mill’s produce. It turned out, however, that that day was a lucky one for me: gesturing at a huge pile of teal blue roving, the weaver told me I could take as much of it as I wanted to spin at home, as he didn’t need it. I may have let out a small “eek!” at this point, grabbing an armful of the stuff and tucking it safely under Eoin’s pushchair with many expressions of thanks. It’s now safely in my kitchen, awaiting a meeting with Jenny or the drop spindle. I’m very excited about the possibilities, though Eoin might have prefered if we had left it behind: he did seem to feel that the car was more than usually sheepy on the drive home.

While the whole museum is a fascinating and fun place to visit, I’d really recommend Esgair Moel to any Cardiff-based fibre fans: the small scale of the place, and the personal interaction with the weaver, made it a really fascinating visit for me. I’ll certainly be going back, and I may be lobbying Stephen to let me attend one of the other fibre- and fabric-related events later in the year. After all, there can never be too much yarn in your life…**

*Sadly the National Wool Museum, up in Carmarthenshire, is a bit too far away to justify an afternoon potter. However, as you can imagine, I am planning to get myself up there soon.
**Well, obviously this is not strictly true, but I think that, provided you can still get in and out of your front door without too much trouble, your stash is at a perfectly acceptable level.

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2 thoughts on “St Fagans: Esgair Moel Woollen Mill

    • It gets better: they’re having an open day in the textile stores in September, so the stash of historical quilts can be drooled over, metaphorically speaking. The Wool Museum is a bit far away with the little guy in tow, but there’s always a possibility that he could stay home for some dad time…

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