The Western Mail
21st July, 1933
Traditions of the Davies Brothers
Ladles, Platters, Axe, Handles
By GARETH JONES
Joneses in Cenarth, Cardiganshire, were discussing wooden spoons - Sam Jones,
the miller, David Jones, the blacksmith, and myself.
said: “Thirty years ago it was wood everywhere. For meat we use wooden dishes.
My mother used to serve the meat on wood always. You rarely saw anything except wooden spoons and ‘ffiolau
pren.’ They used to be rougher ‘mwy o lwmpyn,’ but now they make them
daintier. If you would like to see
some I shall fetch them.”
went into his farmhouse and returned with spoons some of which had become black
and brown with age, and one of which was 40 years old. I was told the spoons were
made at Abercych by James Davies, the wood turner.
set out for Abercych, in the well wooded Cych Valley, mentioned in the
Mabinogion as the lands over which Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, hunted and where he
met Arawn, King of the Underworld.
found Mr. Davies in his factory. In
various parts of the workshop were hundreds of shovel handles, axe handles
mandril handles, for James Davies is not a craftsman in his spare time, but is
an efficient whole-time wood-turner and handle-maker, and carries on the trade
for which Abercych has been famous for centuries.
long has your family been in the wood-turning craft?” I asked him.
the coracle men I can say,” he replied, “from time immemorial. Abercych is
the real home of the old industry. As late as the
middle seventies, seven different families, all related were in the trade and
most of the inhabitants of Abercych earned their living by making spoons,
ladles, bowls, platters and stools. I know my great-great-grandfather was in
“I am myself 58 years old and remember seven different small
workshops here in the village, each workshop with the pole lathe and all the
furnaces bearing the name of Davies and related.
“Before the War we were four working in the trade, my father,
my two brothers and myself. I was the eldest, my brother John, the second, went
to live in Cwm Lancych about 1914 and my other brother was killed in the War.”
Mr. Davies is now working with his two sons. I was shown two
water wheels, one of which provided power for the turning factory, and the
other, by its side, power for a flour mill. Surely there can be no place in
where a flour mill stands side by side by a wood-turning factory driven by the
same mill-stream. “Your main work is, therefore, no longer hand-turning
and making bowls and spoons,” I said.
“No, we chiefly
make handles. We send thousands of
miners’ mandril handles, axe and sledge handles to Cardiff, Cross Hands,
Tumble. Those handles you see over
there are going to Pontyberem, and those to Cwmllynfell.” “ But you still
make wooden spoons and bowls?”
“Yes, and some
people beg of me to make more. I
could sell many more than I make, but the work is very slow.”
To make the
wooden vessels Mr. James Davies used to work a pole lathe, but now his factory
has several modern lathes driven by water-power.
years ago he made a test of the old pole lathe and the power lathe. His father worked one and he the other, making bowls.
After working all the day the power-driven lathe was only a bowl or two
in front, owing to the time it took to do the important work of “chucking”
and “re-chucking” the bowls.
Mr. James Davies
has the: reputation of being the best turner that Abercych has seen in using the
hook tools (“cyllell lam”), and his spoons and bowls reveal that he is one
of the most skilled of craftsmen. “You
should see my brother’s work,” he says when congratulated on his skill.
“He spends all his spare time in making spoons and bowls and still has
he old pole lathe.”
“Where does he
“His farm is in
Llancych, up the valley.”
When I left Mr.
James Davies and drove up the Cych glen I realised why the neighbourhood
was famous for its wood-turning. I
have seen no valley in Wales more thickly wooded, and sycamores beloved of the
wood-turner, grow every where.
the residence of the late Sir Marteine Lloyd lies the farm of John Davies.
The lawn in front of the clean cottage was covered with fleece. Mrs. Davies welcomed me, and told me that John had been out in the hay,
but would come immediately. When he
came, with ruddy cheeks and slightly curly reddish hair, he showed me the wooden
bowls which he takes to Cardigan Fair every week.
off the farmyard, he has his workshop, where he keeps a foot lathe as a
curiosity and the hand lathe which he now uses. He demonstrated how be first uses his axe on the rough wood and bow the
big block is carved to the final smooth graceful bowl.
So Very Old
tradition of the Davies brothers is far older than Welsh people imagine. It goes back much farther than the days when the Mabinogion made the Cych
Valley renowned. It goes back to
Cyril Fox and Mr. Iorwerth Peate, of the National Museum of Wales, have shown
that the objects made by the West Wales turners resemble in a striking manner
the wooden utensils from the Swiss Lake dwellings.
Iorwerth Peate, in his contribution on “Some Welsh Wood-turners,” in that
valuable compilation of work by Aberystwyth students, “Studies in Regional
Consciousness and Environment,” writes: “When the evidence of folk tales of
buried cities in inland Welsh lakes (e.g., Maesllyn in the Tregaron bog) is also
recalled, it can be argued with some probability hat the tradition of
wood-turning so admirably developed in the central European lake dwellers,
brought to West Britain via the Glastonbury lake dwellers, has been prolonged to
our own day in the work of the West Wales turners.”