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Amazing wool business that’s made props for Disney began life in garden shed

A woolen business in Sudbury that makes its produce in a garden shed is still going strong.

The Griffiths’ Mill is set to celebrate its 13-year anniversary this month, having started from nothing and now dealing with clients worldwide.

Karen Griffiths, 59, who was born in Long Eaton but was taught by her auntie how to sew as a young girl in Darlington, runs the mill with David Griffiths, 59, who was born in Wolverhampton but has lived with Karen in Sudbury for 27 years.

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Although both come from families with generations of people involved in the mill industry, their journey started when Mrs Griffiths wanted a couple of Angora goats and ended up purchasing a herd of 26.

Their herd and flock soon numbered over 120 of more than a dozen different breeds, but have not had any sheep at their property for three-and-a-half years.

And although both Mr and Mrs Griffiths attended British Wool Marketing Board shearing courses, they initially decided to hire a sheerer but didn’t quite make the cut, so decided to start doing it themselves.

After Mrs Griffiths realized that she was doing hours of work with a single hand cranked drum, they decided to look for a sample carder before discovering a whole woolen mill in Mid-Wales was for sale.

They traveled across the border and purchased all the second-hand machinery which they then relocated to Sudbury, after receiving the grants and planning permission from the council in February 2009.

The sample carder is otherwise known as ‘Big Bertha’

They spoke about this time of their journeys and what its like to work in the shed, saying: “It was a difficult start however, as ‘Big Bertha’ only had an inch clearance each side of the doors, and there was no guttering so the rain was belting down onto our backs, but we managed to have it fit in the end.”

“All the machines are going at once, so it can get a little noisy and stressful, but nothing a gin doesn’t fix.”

The sample carder, otherwise known as ‘Big Bertha’, dates back to the 19th century and was mad in Galashiels, Scotland.

From the garden mill, the Griffiths’ sell their own range of processed fiber and fleeces either as batts, spun yarn or roving’s.

This includes an extensive range of single breed, cross bred and blended yarns and carded fibers in natural colours.

They have worked on over 70 different native breeds over the years, ranging from Shetland ponies that weigh 0.5kg to 2.5kg, to Lincoln long wool sheep’s that weigh in from 4kg to 8kg.

The Griffith's Mill is operational from this shed in the back garden
The Griffith’s Mill is operational from this shed in the back garden

Their mill can work on batches up to 10kg maximum, whereas large industrial mills will work on batches up to a tonne.

Furthermore, using their on-wheels shop, The Woolly Roadshow, they can attend events across the country, such as the Staffordshire County Show and Countryfile Live, selling their wool and showing of their variety of wool that they have to offer.

Speaking about why they have done so well, they said: “Major retail shops do not specify what exact wool is used in their clothes, it just says wool. But there is so much variety to wool that people will never actually know what wool they are wearing.”

“This is what makes us different, we specify exactly what wool is being used, people know where their garments are being produced from and we can even tell people the name of the farm where the wool has come from as we know all our distributors by yam.”

“Woollen clothes are also harder to look after in terms of washing machines and cleaning, but it is so much more worth it than buying from the generic major retailers.”

“Plus we also have wool come from some of the Queen Elizabeth’s flock from the Castle of Mey, which is amazing to say and people are always excited to hear.”

They make wool from Queen Elizabeth's flock on the grounds of the Castle of Mey
They make wool from Queen Elizabeth’s flock on the grounds of the Castle of Mey

This may have been the reason why Disney’s prop designers came knocking, as they asked the Griffiths’ Mill to have a fleece supplied for their film, Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie.

Mr Griffiths, who worked in the police force for six-and-a-half years and the legal industry for two decades before working at the mill, said: “We had to keep it all a secret for two years, and I mean it’s a blink and you’ll miss it piece of work but were still very proud of it.”

“In this business no day is the same, and yeah when we were told about that I guess you can say that that was a very different day.”

The Woolly Roadshow is the traveling shop for the Griffith's Mill
The Woolly Roadshow is the traveling shop for the Griffith’s Mill

The woolen industry has a tremendous history in this country, with the Elizabethan wool law in the 16th century stating that all Englishmen except nobles had to wear a woolen cap to church on Sundays, as part of a government plan to support the wool industry.

To work on this knowledge that people are unaware of, Mr and Mrs Griffiths have helped with countryside education regarding wool, holding seminars at Swindon Hall, offering hundreds of children the opportunity to learn about wool, as large amounts of children in the county don’ I don’t know about the woolen industry.

“Like for example, we once had someone say to us that they didn’t know that you didn’t have to kill the sheep to sheer them.”

“People also don’t realize that the first sheep in Australia was transported by the British fleets that were discovering the land, so they’ve been around and important for such a long time.”

This machine operates the same as eight people would
This machine operates the same as eight people would

Outside of the mill, the couple started ballroom dancing four years ago as an activity they could share with Karen’s mother, who suffers with dementia and lives with the couple.

They would dance while Karen’s mother would listen to the music, and have since attended ballroom events in Blackpool.

Mrs Griffiths has made dresses for ballroom events that have taken up to 18 months to complete.

They have two sons together, Sean Griffiths, 23, who helps run the website for the family, and Callum Griffiths, 22, who works on the motorways and is based in Preston.

They also enjoy motor-biking now as a family, with Mrs Griffiths just in the process of learning how to ride a motorbike.

They have also both worked in the photography industry, working freelance at the biggest motorsport event in the UK.

The Griffiths’ Mill is open for business seven days a week, although a prior arrangement must be agreed first.

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