Part One; The Forgotten Textile Mills
Our Earth Matters collection showcases the beauty of nature through the unique textures that we can achieve only through hand-weaving. The research for the perfect spot to tell this story led us to discover an ancient and crumbling ‘Forgotten Textile Mill’, in Wales. I was completely taken by the images posted by photographers of this disused mill, and the story of its lost heritage. Several leads later we managed to track down the owners.
Lerry Mills, situated at the confluence of the two rivers in Talybont, produced Tweed for suits from 1642, but stopped meaningful production around 1958-60 in-line with when the UK became a net cotton importer and the general demise of the industry put paid to over 800 mills.
Simon Hughs (the mill owner) a very educated and friendly chap, was happy to reminisce about its history. With his permission to use the site for our Earth Matters story, the team set up the evening before the photo shoot in a beautiful cottage overlooking Snowdonia. The photographer and cinematographer went on an early evening location scout whilst the rest of us waited for our model who was stuck on a train! She finally made it and we settled down for 4 hours sleep before a 4.30am start to get the best light! As soon as we arrived at the location our tiredness lifted, surrounded by the stunning landscape, and the peace of the sun rising over the lake.
Simon explained that the mills were famous for the Becam ‘work suits’ they produced for farmers and miners. Most of the weavers were men, some ex-servicemen. The looms and spinning machinery were powered by water wheels. Wool was originally bought directly from the local farmers but later purchased through the government pool.
Simon talks of how these shirts were never washed; workers just brushed them off at the end of the day. In the 1950s production moved into sports jackets and bespoke designs. Sometimes they produced up to 28 yards for one customer, such was the demand at the time.
For around the last 30 years of operation the mill was open to the public as a tourist attraction.
Sadly, these incredibly beautiful listed buildings, one of which is a ‘listed monument’ have become, ‘too expensive and complex to renovate or sell, which has eventually led them into decay and disrepair’.
Access was a challenge and it soon became obvious that a crew of people with heavy cameras on overgrown paths, wading through rivers where foot bridges have collapsed and up scree slopes to get to the mill on the other side of the bank was simply not practical!
With effort, we managed to at least reach the beautiful water-wheel, still in relatively good condition and achieved some stunning shots. The dappled light and colour against our deep ink hand-spun and woven Yak blanket wrap was the perfect backdrop. Some shots inside the mill of the colourful threads and decaying looms were also taken.
It was a huge privilege to talk to Simon and to see these once busy and productive Mills, sadly now relics of a long-forgotten era. Although overgrown they are strangely enchanting, doors hanging off hinges, rotten floorboards and rusting looms, the spindles of brightly dyed thread still stacked on shelves, as colourful as they were 40 years ago.