Meet Tom: The weaver of Solva Woollen Mill
There’s something about being near the water that sits deep in the bones of the Welsh.
Stepping over the river that runs past the mill is to step over the life-force that has powered an industry for hundreds of years, as if you’re stepping back in time.
In 1900 there were 26 working watermills in Pembrokeshire, but now just a handful of them remain, Solva Woollen Mill being the oldest among them, and Tom has been here since he was a boy.
After family visits here throughout his childhood, Tom and his parents moved from Portsmouth in 1985 to learn the ropes from the previous owners and take over the mill. As a teenager, Tom was meant to be concentrating on his A levels, but found himself more absorbed in the cogs and looms, learning how to card wool, how to warp and weave, and how to fix the age-old machines. ‘I’m a tinkerer’ he says, ‘There’s something about seeing the entire process through- taking a raw material all the way through to a product we’re proud of.’
‘In the nineties, the zeitgeist was to move towards mass produced products-no one really cared where they were made, but we did the opposite. We source our wool from a single supplier so we know it’s 100% British, we weave and hand finish each rug or runner. By concentrating on making something bespoke and unique, we’ve survived.’
Could the business work anywhere? ‘The manufacture probably could, but why would we want to be anywhere else? When we started, we didn’t have any wholesalers, so it was the people who visited Pembrokeshire and St Davids who kept us afloat. They realised that they could take home a little of the story of this place - we weave it into every rug.’
This year they restored the buckets on the ancient water wheel itself, removing each one and replacing it like for like. It doesn’t power the mill anymore but the water still flows and the wheel still turns. It’s a reminder of the lives that were lived here, and the traditions that are still being kept here.
You can see the weavers at work 5 days a week at Solva Woollen Mill, with events throughout the year, a beautiful shop and even a tea room, so drop by and say hello to Anna or Tom.
Did you know that one of Tom's runners made it all the way to Antartica! A student on the research station took it with her to remind her of home.
If you’ve visited before, we’d love to hear your stories on Facebook or Twitter - for more about where to buy textiles in Pembrokeshire have a look at our ‘Winter Woolies trail’.