Cylymau, Plethiadau, Gweadau a Rhwydi (Knots Braids and Nets)
E Lloyd Jones, 2022, Carreg Gwalch. 64pp, £5. ISBN 978-1-84527-895-3
This fascinating and well-illustrated booklet has been written in Welsh to fill a gap in Welsh-language literature about local crafts from the past in danger of becoming lost. The author records details of knots, ropes and nets principally from the very localised area of Ceredigion in West Wales, particularly between New Quay and Talgareg about six miles inland. The name of his own farm, ‘Mynachlog’, meaning ‘Monastery’ reveals something of the background to local activities: this was most probably a farm or grange of Strata Florida, founded by sheep-rearing Cistercians in the 12th century. The monks owned most of the land in this area, including along the seashore, and they had fish traps (still visible) at some of the tiny fishing villages along the coast. Strata Florida’s vast estates produced mainly wool, oats and horses. So the history of ropes, knots and nets goes back a long way in this area.
The author notes that ropes and knots are still in evidence at agricultural shows, where animals are led round a ring for judging. He gives the Welsh names of the various knots used to tie the head-ropes, in the ring and in the winter shelter.
The excellent photos of 110 knots (and some of the text) will not reveal anything new to the experienced knot-tyer, but should be of interest to the keen amateur. Brief captions to the photos describe the use of individual knots. The information does not include instruction about tying the knots, but the photos are clear.
Some information is not only useful but vital, such as the right knot to use in any given situation, and the correct direction of twist when assembling the strands of a rope, so that it will not unravel.
Physical examples of some of the local ropes, knots and materials described in the text can be seen in the Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth; and there is a former fisherman’s cottage preserved in Llanon, where the plaited straw-rope roof can be clearly seen (covered by corrugated iron sheets to keep this local form of internal thatching securely waterproof). The cottage is open to visitors during August each year, and is maintained by the county museum.
Characters such as Lloyd Jones himself and shepherd Erwyd Howells, are living encyclopaedias of ropes, knots, nets and their uses, but many of the maritime knots are no longer needed and only kept alive in the pleasure and competitive sector. Fishing twine has long been superseded by modern artificial fibres, to the detriment of the environment and their danger to livestock – but the knots are still needed and in use. Lloyd Jones remarks on the need to return to the use of natural fibres and describes them at greater length. He also notes the wide reach of trade in earlier times, as hemp was imported in huge quantities from Russia, and sisal from Central America, and coir for rope.
This is a slim booklet, not an exhaustive compendium, but is very informative. Snippets of local information dot the history given in the text, so that it is more than a general survey. The easy style is very readable, and reveals the author’s unassuming character and deep practical knowledge of his subject.
For those who read Welsh there are a few typographical and spelling errors in the text which may be puzzling, the trickiest being ‘byrnau’ for ‘dyrnau’ on p60 (=‘thresher’, but better read as the generalised English ‘harvester’.)
Please note that there is a loose-leaf insert between pages 36 and 37: Knots 62 and 63 are on the insert, being printed in the book incorrectly as repeats of Knot 61. This is a most unfortunate error, as the book is otherwise beautifully presented. Its only disadvantage is that the pages are not very securely fixed to the spine, no doubt to keep the price down an affordable £5 – and good value for money.
Althea Tyndall 14 October 2022