Museum Profile – Newtown Textile Museum

The Newtown Textile Museum is housed in an original 1830s hand-loom weaving ‘factory’ in the middle of Wales. It consisted of six back-to-back cottages with two floors above where the 22 looms were. It is the only remaining example, in near original condition, of the 82 similar factories in Newtown. It was saved from demolition by a group of local people in the 1960s. The building is our USP, and the museum features the themes of living and working in the building; the social and industrial history of Newtown in the 1800s; and the story of wool and its journey from fleece to flannel.

The Museum was opened on the two top floors of the building in 1967. The cottages, by then three dwellings, were still occupied until the 1980s. Established as a Trust and run by them for the first 23 years, the Museum was passed to Powys County Council in 1990. Grants were obtained to enable major structural changes to be made in 2001-2. An internal staircase was built, and the cottages incorporated into the Museum. These now showcase the living conditions of the weavers.

The PCC ran the Museum for 25 years, but financial constraints threatened its closure in 2015. A group of volunteers, under the auspices of a local charity, successfully lobbied for the return of the Museum to the community. With an entirely volunteer-run Management Committee it reopened in August 2016. An independent Trust, registered in March 2020, is now in full control of the building and its contents. A changing band of 20-30 committed people act as hosts and carry out a vast range of other tasks.

We are very small, both in terms of space and income. No funds came with the transfer of the building, but a local charity gave a grant of £6,000 to cover initial costs. We aim to cover our running costs, of around £7,500 a year, from the income we generate. We did succeed in doing this in 2019. Grants are sought to cover anything else and between 2016-17 and 2020-2021 £70,000 was raised for capital and revenue expenditure. These grants came from a range of bodies, from small charities to national bodies like AIM, the Federation of Welsh Museums, and the Laura Ashley Foundation. When Covid hit we received a most welcome Sustainability grant of £25,000 administered by PCC.

We strive to run the Museum professionally while retaining a informal approach. We are open to visitors four days a week between 1 May and 30 September from 12 – 4. We have a new exhibition every year and have demonstrations of weaving, spinning or other crafts on an ad hoc basis. This year we are starting to experiment with workshops and courses. We also offer group tours and school visits outside visiting hours. Post-Covid we hope to welcome more pupils from local primary schools. The new curriculum in Wales is encouraging such activities and we are delighted that children enjoy it. We have a tiny reception area to sell a small number of gifts, postcards and locally made woollen items, to help raise funds for us and the makers, but we have no space for a café.

In the summer of 2019, we had around 1,400 visitors from across all our activities. This number was halved in 2021 through Covid and still has some way to go to recover.

We do not charge for admission as we want to encourage repeat visits, and we claim gift aid from all donations. We get very enthusiastic feedback from our visitors and have 5 stars as the top attraction in Newtown.

Janet Lewis, Chair, Newtown Textile Museum

Pictured from left: hand-made patchwork quilt dating from c. 1900, children playing in Ladywell Street by Derek R. Parker from ‘Changing Newtown – The photographs of Ron Haines and Derek R. Parker, 1971’ a temporary photographic exhibition at Newtown Textile Museum.