I was a child vandal

Marram Grass at Newport SandsI’m confessing to having played a part in destroying the dunes at Newport. As children we slid down into the hollows, we tunnelled dangerously deep into the sand and we raced heedlessly to get lost in the dips and the tall grass. We had a fantastic time on the beach. This did the dunes no good at all and we didn’t give it a second thought.

Rush mat making with marram grass

Fortunately the National Park rangers stepped in before destruction was complete. The dunes were fenced off and planted with marram grass and they are now beautiful again and tough enough for me to walk carefully through this amazing landscape.

Marram grass played a part in the economy of poor families in North West Wales and the mat weaver in this photo lived in Newborough. This area, known as ‘the most miserable spot in Anglesey’ in the mid-nineteenth century had a traditional monopoly of the trade because if a girl hadn’t learnt the craft before the age of 14 she never got quick or skilled enough to make mats for sale. While the men were farm workers on poverty wages the women supplemented the family income by cutting marram grass from the dunes and plaiting it to make mats for haystacks.  The mats had to be 3 yards long by one yard wide and farmers used them to protect their hay until the stacks were complete and thatched. The mat makers exchanged completed mats for provisions at the grocers or the butchers and these tradesmen sold them to the farmers in early summer. Corrugated iron didn’t do the job as well because the hay sweated underneath, but it marked the beginning of the end for the marram weavers.

For more information on marram grass weaving see ‘The Craft Industries’ (Industrial Archaeology Series) by Geraint Jenkins

About bookvolunteer

I'm passionate about books, about Oxfam and about making the world a better place. When I'm not filling the shelves in Oxfam Wilmslow, I might be found reading the books I've bought in the beautiful surroundings of North Pembrokeshire.
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