Although not entirely successful, the Brynmawr Experiment succeeded in educating people about the need to diversify, and not rely so heavily on coal mining for employment. The program provided not only an economic boost to the town at a time of desperate need, it also provided an equally important psychological boost to a community long battered by unemployment and poverty. Although Brynmawr would continue to supply workers to the coal industry, the Brynmawr Experiment demonstrated to the community that there were other alternatives to coal mining.
With much of the workforce traditionally employed in heavy industry, suffered greatly during the 1920s depression. Against this background, the localQuakers formed the Coalfields Distress Committee of the Society of Friends and set up "The Brynmawr Experiment" as an attempt to relieve the severe economic depression and mass unemployment. By 1934 the Order of Friends had been established. This had two categories of work - voluntary work which was based at the Community House, and industrial work based at a small factory called the Gwalia Works.
At the Gwalia Works Brynmawr Furniture Makers Ltd was established as a source of employment for local people. Twelve unskilled men were taken on to build furniture designed by Paul Matt. At first most of the orders were from other Quaker societies, the first for 400 chairs for a Quaker school in York, which were produced for £1 each.
Matt was the son of and apprentice to Charles Matt, a Polish immigrant cabinet worker who made furniture to the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Paul designed furniture that was simple in style and easy to put together, taking into account the lack of skills of his workers. His designs were clearly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the simple lines of which sat well with Quaker philosophy. The furniture itself was of very high quality, made principally from laminated ply set into a solid oak framework and finished with clear wax.
In 1936 Paul Matt left the company and was succeeded by his assistant, Arthur Basil Reynolds. At this time, slight changes to Matt's designs were introduced and walnut furniture was included in the collections. The following year the Gwalia works factory was gutted by fire. A new building was erected near the old site in 1937.
In 1938, Brynmawr Furniture Makers were commissioned to make the Eisteddfod's Bardic chair from oak grown in Wales and, naturally, to be made by Welsh Craftsmen. A small committee of experts representing the Society and the 1938 Eisteddfod chosen to work alongside the Brynmawr Furniture Makers to be responsible for the design. The chair, fashioned in natural oak, with the seat and the central slat of the back in natural hide. In keeping with the traditions of Brynmawr furniture, ornamentation was restrained and sparse, limited to the reeding of the arm-uprights where the fingers rest. The leather at the back of the chair bore a coloured representation of the Arms of Wales in red and gold as registered at the College of Heralds, below this was the inscription “Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Frenhinol Cymru, Caerdydd, 1938”, [Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Cardiff 1938].
Importing materials became difficult after the onset of World War II and the demand for high quality furniture rapidly declined forcing the Brynmawr Furniture Company to close its doors for the last time in 1940.