Category Archives: Research Blog

Francis Place (1647-1728) and his early sketches of Wales

Helen Pierce (University of Aberdeen)

Within the first volume of Thomas Pennant’s extra-illustrated Tour in Wales are two drawings by the English artist Francis Place. Place was a member of the York Virtuosi, a collection of largely independently-wealthy gentlemen, active in York and the north of England during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, with a shared enthusiasm for travel, antiquarianism, natural philosophy, and the visual arts.

Place is known to have visited Wales twice. In 1678, he and William Lodge, a fellow artist and member of the Virtuosi, journeyed around South Wales, reportedly covering an impressive 700 miles on foot over a period of seven weeks. Pen-and-ink sketches of this tour, which was combined with leisurely episodes of fishing, are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Museum of Wales. Yet it was not all art and angling: Place and Lodge were, quite literally, ‘strangers’ as they travelled from Yorkshire as far west as Pembroke Castle, and were reportedly arrested at Chester on suspicion of being Jesuit spies, with friends having to vouch for their innocence before they were released. 

Francis Place, ‘Etching of St Winefrid’s Well’, pub. Pierce Tempest (1699). © Trustees of the British Museum

Despite this experience, Place found himself back in Chester, reluctantly or otherwise, in 1699. He was returning to his home in York from a further sketching tour, this time having travelled in Ireland between Drogheda and Waterford. From Holyhead to Chester, he continued to draw vistas and landmarks including St Winefrid’s Well, just outside Flint. He also reproduced his sketch of this pilgrimage site as a detailed etching which was then published in London by Pierce Tempest, a fellow native of Yorkshire. This image was an enduring, and apparently commercially-successful one, since it was republished several times during the 1750s by two further London printsellers, John Bowles and Robert Sayer.

Thomas Pennant acquired one of Sayer’s prints of St Winefrid’s Well (with its original imprint, mentioning both Place and Tempest, firmly erased and replaced with Sayer’s details) which was pasted into his extra-illustrated copy of A Tour in Wales, now held in the National Library of Wales.

Francis Place, ‘Hawarden Castle’, from Thomas Pennant’s Extra-Illustrated Tours in Wales (National Library of Wales). The image can be viewed in detail here.

Also included in the first volume of Pennant’s guide to Wales are two original drawings by Francis Place, executed in pen and ink with light washes of watercolour. One depicts the west side of Hawarden Castle with a distant view of Chester, the other, of Flint Castle, has been annotated by the artist to indicate specific landmarks: ‘West Chester’ ‘The West Side of Flint Castle in 1699’ and ‘& Bestone [Beeston] Castle’.

Francis Place, ‘Flint Castle 1699’, from Thomas Pennant’s Extra-Illustrated Tours in Wales (National Library of Wales). The picture can be viewed in more detail here.

Beneath the drawing of Flint Castle is a faint inscription in pencil, written by Thomas Pennant himself: ‘Drawn by F. Place and presented by D Perrot See Walpole’s Engravers’. Horace Walpole was an acquaintance and occasional correspondent of Pennant’s, and his Catalogue of Engravers Who Have Been Born or Resided in England, first published in 1764, would have been an essential reference book as the illustrations for A Tour in Wales were assembled. ‘D Perrot’ appears to be a misnomer for Francis Parrott, Place’s grandson, who had inherited the artist’s personal collection of artworks. Following Place’s death in 1728, the contents of what were termed in his will as ‘the pictures in my house, pictures prints drawings & other things belonging to my painting room’ had been kept and passed down through the family, with the collection remaining largely intact until it was auctioned the 1930s. Thomas Pennant’s note in A Tour in Wales, however, confirms that certain items had left the collection much earlier, as gifts or donations. Francis Parrott’s ‘presentation’ of his grandfather’s drawings of Hawarden Castle and Flint Castle to Thomas Pennant also echoes the earlier activities of Francis Place, who donated a number of items, including his own drawing of Tynemouth Castle, to the extensive cabinet of curiosities established by his fellow York Virtuoso, Ralph Thoresby.

Francis Place, ‘Tinmouth Castle and Lighthouse’ © Trustees of the British Museum

We know that Francis Place tended to draw his landscape subjects, quite literally, on the spot, using small-scale, portable sketchbooks, and although some of these drawings were subsequently revised into prints, such as that of St Winefrid’s Well, many seem to have been made simply for pleasure. Place represents a particularly early example of the artist as tourist around Britain, exploring and visually recording parts of the country which were slowly becoming accessible to outsiders. Having returned to Yorkshire from Ireland via Wales, Place’s next sketching tour took him to Scotland in 1701, where surviving drawings indicate that he visited Dunbar, Stirling, Glasgow and Dumbarton, taking a particular interest, as he had in North Wales, in castles and fortifications. The recording of a further, now untraced drawing of ‘Highlands Scotland’ in the collection of Place’s drawings which were handed down through his family, suggests that his artistic activities as a curious traveller were, for the early eighteenth century, remarkably novel and ambitious in their scope.

Further reading

Richard Tyler, Francis Place, 1647-1728, York: H Morley & Sons, 1971.

Emily O’Reilly, Wales 1678: Reconstructing the earliest on-the-spot sketches of Wales 

Susan Owens, The Art of Drawing: British Masters and Methods Since 1600, London: V&A Publishing, 2013, Chapter 2.

The Adventures of Anne Lister in Scotland

Kirsty McHugh

Fig. 1. Joshua Horner, ‘Anne Lister’ (c. 1830), Calderdale Museums.

This spring the TV drama ‘Gentleman Jack’ will introduce the fascinating Anne Lister to a wider audience. Sally Wainwright’s drama focuses on only a short portion of Lister’s life from 1832, after she had returned from travelling in Britain and Europe to concentrate on the development of her estate at Shibden Hall near Halifax, West Yorkshire. I have been studying Lister’s diaries as part of my doctoral research into manuscript travel journals recording tours of Scotland and Wales in the 1820s, and discovered just how much they reveal about the aspirations and the emotional life of this striking character at a period when she was contemplating her options for a future alliance with a female partner.

The section of Lister’s diary covering the summer of 1828 which she spent in Scotland in the company of the Scottish noblewoman Sibella Maclean is not well-known because it is not included in the extracts which have been transcribed and published. I am very grateful to Helena Whitbread for bringing the Scottish tour to my attention, as the only reference to it in print is in Muriel Green’s edition of Lister’s letters (1992), which is long out of print and hard to find. Only recently (2018) has the English translation of Angela Steidel’s Gentleman Jack: A biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist highlighted Anne and Sibella’s relationship. Working from digital photos from West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, I read and roughly transcribed the 100 or so pages (about 70, 000 words) which make up her entries from late May to early August 1828.

Finding a life partner

Fig.2. ‘Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull’, 1815, from Daniell & Ayton’s A voyage round Great Britain

What I soon realized was that by 1828 Anne Lister had come to the difficult decision that she could no longer wait for the death of the husband of her long-term lover, Mariana Lawton, allowing the pair to live together. Lister approached finding a new female companion and lover in a typically pragmatic and business-like manner. She fixed her sights on Sibella Maclean (Isabella Jean Maclean, 1790-1830, daughter of Alexander Maclean of Coll) whom she had met in York in 1820. Anne was introduced to Sibella by the Norcliffes (Isabella “Tib” was Anne’s friend and occasional lover), and they formed a friendship which was continued by correspondence throughout the 1820s. Much of Sibella’s appeal for Anne lay in her good breeding as a member of an ancient Scottish family and the opportunity she offered Anne for social advancement. On Lister’s tour through Scotland with Sibella Maclean the two women became lovers and Anne began to consider Sibella as a life partner. Lister had confided in her diary as early as 1822 “I would rather spend my life with Miss Maclean than any one”. The seriousness of the relationship is attested to by the fact that Anne persuaded Sibella to buy her a ring at a jewellers in Glasgow and recorded in a coded passage in her diary on 11 June “Miss MacLean put on my finger the little guard ring”. Visiting the Macleans at their home on the island of Mull, Lister tried to persuade them that (presumably on the grounds of health) Sibella should come and live with her in Paris. In the event, Sibella’s deteriorating health would prevent her from going abroad, and she would die of consumption in 1830.

In the course of my wider research I have found that tours could often reinforce familial relationships (between father and son, husband and wife, extended family) and be utilised as a means to cement social and business relations. Lister’s tour can be understood in this context, but she subverts the orthodox model by using the tour to develop the emotional and sexual bond between the two women.

The Scottish Tour

Fig.3. Redford House, Edinburgh, where Anne and Sibella stayed in May 1828. Author’s photograph.

Anne Lister arrived in Edinburgh on 19 May 1828 and she and Sibella Maclean travelled together around Scotland finishing their tour at Sibella’s home on the island of Mull on 22 July. After spending some time with the family on Mull, Lister started out alone on her homeward journey to Yorkshire, taking in more tourist sites in the Scottish borders, and arriving back at Shibden on 15 August. During their tour Anne and Sibella visited many of the usual tourist spots in the vicinity of Glasgow, including the Trossachs and Loch Lomond, and around Tayside. They also made use of the new steamboat services to travel round the East coast, visiting St Andrews, Elgin and Inverness, and visit the Highland forts and the Western Isles.

For many years Anne Lister had used a code of her own devising to record intimate details in her diary (such as sexual activity, bowel movements, health, menstruation) and so her account of her tour in Scotland has two parallel narratives running alongside each other: one recording her personal journey towards a more intimate and more formal union (including discussions of finances) with Sibella, and the other describing the practicalities of the material journey through Scotland by coach and steamboat. This supports Caroline L Eisner’s suggestion that the diary enabled Lister to maintain two selves, through the use of a code to divide, at least on paper, “her deviant self from her public self”. Travel, I think, offered Lister a space where she could explore the boundaries between those two selves.

Writing for posterity?

Fig.4. Anne Lister’s diary for 30 May 1828-15 Apr 1829. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/11.

In Halifax and York society Lister was regarded as peculiar because of her manners and dress. As Sibella’s travelling companion she had the opportunity of moving beyond her normal social sphere. Many of the concerns expressed in Lister’s diaries relate to how she was perceived by others and describe her desire for social advancement and acceptance amongst her peers and superiors. She prided herself on her observance of etiquette and strove to make a good impression in society.

Like others who have studied Lister’s diaries I share the disconcerting sense that Anne Lister expected her diaries to be read one day. Anne might be proud today that she is the subject of media attention, yet in her own lifetime she sought to carefully conceal her lesbian relationships to protect her social position. Whilst she wrote in her diary of how she felt her love for women was natural, she was aware that roles such as landowner or tourist were also facets of her identity which shaped how she was perceived by her contemporaries. These personas might be used to signal an outward respectability whilst gently pushing at the boundaries of what was socially acceptable.

Anne Lister’s Scottish tour is analysed further in my forthcoming article in Studies in Travel Writing.

References & further reading

Caroline L. Eisner “Shifting the Focus: Anne Lister as a Pillar of Conservatism”, a/b: Auto/Biographical Studies vol. 17 (2001), 28-42.

Kirsty McHugh & Elizabeth Edwards, Online edition of Anne Lister’s 1822 tour of Wales.

Angela Steidele (transl. Katy Derbyshire) Gentleman Jack: A biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2018.

Helena Whitbread (ed.), The secret diaries of Miss Anne Lister (1791-1840), Virago, 2010.

West Yorkshire Archive Service online exhibition on Lister’s diaries.

Rebecca Woods “The Life and Loves of Anne Lister”.

Curious Travellers in Romanticism 24:2 (‘Edgy Romanticism’)

Liz Edwards

It’s a pleasure to announce the appearance of a new Curious Travellers publication in the latest issue of Romanticism. This article, titled ‘A Kind of Geological Novel’: Wales and Travel Writing, 1783–1819’, is a particularly project-based piece that started out as a paper for our ‘Layered Landscapes’ symposium in Cardiff in 2015, which commemorated the bicentenary of William Smith’s pioneering geological map of (mainly) England and Wales. I became fascinated with Smith’s work, which is part map of the mainland ‘underscape’ and part pure work of art; it was all too easy to get lost in the colours and shapes running across the beautiful and somewhat epic object on display in the National Museum of Wales.

Reproduced by permission of the British Library (via Wikimedia Commons)

The map itself contains a compelling and long-running story that represents travel as much as any of the other texts we’ve been working with on the project. It became the starting point for an exploration of Welsh travel writing as a particularly sedimentary genre, a form in which material (research, first-hand observation, chance happenings) piles up and settles down in the course of a tour committed to paper. The title comes from Charles Darwin, who made some of his first geological observations in Wales, and who saw – as did Thomas Pennant before him – far-reaching narratives stored away in Snowdonia’s rocky landscapes.

The article is open-access and freely available to read here.

You can read other recent articles from the project via the following links:

Mary-Ann Constantine on Catherine Hutton’s fiction and travel writing (Romantic Textualities, 2017)

Nigel Leask on Ossian and the Highland Tour (Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2016).

Alex Deans and Nigel Leask on Pennant in Scotland and Wales (Studies in Scottish Literature, 2016).

Pennant in Cornwall: Letters to William Borlase at the Morrab Library

Mary-Ann Constantine

When Pennant was in his late twenties he wrote to the Cornish antiquarian, William Borlase, rector of Ludgvan near Penzance, to ask a favour. They had met, he reminded the older man, during Pennant’s student ‘ramble’ in Cornwall some four years earlier; first at the residence of Sir John St Aubyn, and then at Borlase’s own home, where he was received ‘in a most obliging manner’. It was Borlase’s generosity in passing on a few choice specimens, indeed, which had sparked Pennant’s interest in mineralogy:

“I have applied myself very assiduously to the study of the mineral Kingdom; and have made a very large collection of the different kinds, which I have gathered together by the assistance of my Friends.”

Finding himself ‘still very deficient in the article of Tin oras, and the minerals usually attending it’, he had remembered Borlase’s previous kindness. A gentleman who had recently leased one of the Downing-owned collieries from Pennant’s father was running ships from there to Plymouth: ‘if we engage in a sort of mineral commerce’, he wrote, offering treasures from Flintshire by return, ‘we have a ready means of conveyance’.  A list of wished-for specimens is—optimistically—appended. Borlase agreed, and the two men began a correspondence which would extend over two decades, and take them from the discussion and exchange of ores and minerals to ‘Druid stones’ and other antiquities, marine plants and creatures, and sea-birds.

The letters Pennant wrote to his Cornish mentor were preserved in Borlase’s letter-book, now held in the Morrab Library in Penzance. This small, independent subscription library celebrates its bicentenary this year:  it must surely be one of the loveliest archives to work in.  A Victorian mansion set in amazing subtropical public gardens (and, for once, with weather to match…), it has housed the library’s rich collection of books, photographs and manuscripts since 1888 when the building was acquired by the Corporation of Penzance. I was lucky enough to spend a day there reading through the Pennant correspondence, and listening in to one half of a conversation between two fascinating, obsessive, eighteenth-century scholars. (The replies from Borlase, which will have to wait for another time, are housed with much of the Pennant archive in Warwickshire Country Record Office).

In 1753, when Pennant initiated the correspondence, Borlase was preparing his Antiquities of Cornwall, which would be published the following year. Two letters written after Pennant returned from a tour of Ireland in the summer of 1754, show, rather touchingly, how the younger man used Borlase’s descriptions of Cornish standing stones, cairns, hill-forts and caves to make sense of a similar Irish landscape. He had, he admits, been too much a casualty of Hibernian hospitality to see most of the antiquities he had hoped for:

“But not to disappoint you entirely I shall give you a short account of such things as I had an opportunity of seeing, and also of others which I was informed of. I shall follow the order you place the druidical monuments in your Book without offering to make any reflections on them after your performance.”

Pennant also relates how the ‘native Irish’ use ancient arrow heads (‘Elf-shots’) and ‘magical gems’ to prevent disease in cattle. Turning from material antiquities to anthropology, he suggests that the keening of the ‘Modern Hibernian Howlers’ which he witnessed at a funeral in Kerry might itself be a ‘relique of Paganism’.

As the correspondence progresses, plant and animal life come more to the fore, although this does not stop the exchange of (and anxious enquiries after) carefully packed boxes of specimens, now arriving by a more efficient sea-route on tin-ships into St Ives. ‘Walking on our shore, picking up whatever had either oddity, or novelty, to recommend it’, Pennant finds and identifies sea sponges, shells and anemones, all minutely referenced and described. Borlase is also kept informed of the progress and set-backs involved in the publication of his British Zoology, and there is much discussion of the best way to accurately represent different species of birds.  The identification of the ‘Soland Goose’ as the ‘Cornish Gannet’ is an especially satisfying moment, and there are further requests for specimens from the obliging Borlase: ‘Should any sure bird fall into your hands, I should be glad to have it well dried & preserved if of a moderate size in an oven; if large to be flayed and stuffed’.

The final letter in the collection dates from 1761 and marks a new episode in Pennant’s life. Recently married to Elizabeth Falconer, and having already lost a baby boy the previous year, he writes with some relief of ‘the satisfaction of seeing Mrs Pennant safe in Bed; and of being Father to a fine Healthy Girl’.  Fatherhood, however, has not dulled his passion for collecting: ‘you wld promote my design greatly’, he writes, ‘by procuring these Birds well preserved stuffed or dried, being not found on our coasts: Cornish Wagel, Tarrock, Curwillet or Towillee, Turnstone or Sea Dotrel, Petrel’.

The Curwillet is probably a sanderling; the Tarrock is a young kittiwake, and the Wagel is a type of grey gull. It is noted in one of Pennant’s favourite books (the work, he claimed in his autobiography, which first made him a naturalist), the 1678 Ornithology of Francis Willughby and John Ray, who describe it, rather entertainingly, thus:

“The Cornish men related to us for a certain truth, that this Bird is wont to persecute and terrifie the Sea-Swallows, and other small Gulls so long, till they mute for fear; and then catches their excrements before they fall into the water, and greedily devours them as a great dainty: This some of them affirmed themselves to have seen.”

Whether the patient rector of Ludgvan managed to ‘procure’, stuff and parcel up a specimen for his friend is not revealed, but the Wagel did make an appearance in the pages of the British Zoology some years later.

Many thanks to staff at the Morrab Library;  to Nick and Ann Round for hospitality in Penzance, and to Oliver Padel and Isobel Harvey for their enthusiastic identification of Cornish sea-birds.

Further Reading: P.A.S. Pool, William Borlase (Truro: Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1986)

Transcribing Pennant Letters in Bristol

Our colleague from Oxford University’s Early Modern Letters Online, Dr Miranda Lewis, gives an account of a transcribing workshop organized for History students at the University of the West of England, Bristol, in March this year. Many thanks to her, and to Dr Sarah Ward of UWE, for making this event happen!

http://www.culturesofknowledge.org/?p=9852

Thomas Pennant in Ireland, 1754

Mary-Ann Constantine

Detail from Samuel and Nathan Buck’s South View of Holyhead Harbour 1742 (National Library of Wales)

In 1754 Thomas Pennant, aged 28, heir to but not yet master of the estate at Downing, set off on a Tour of Ireland. The journal he kept of his travels, which would last from late June to late September and take him right around the island, is a sparse enough document: two small notebooks recording journeys between towns and villages, the nature of the country he rode through (usually on horseback) and–crucially–the people he met and stayed with. In his Literary Life written some 40 years later he would explain, with typical dry humour, why this tour never made it into print:

Such was the conviviality of the country, that my journal proved as maigre as my entertainment was gras, so it never was a dish fit to be offered to the public.

Maigre as it is, this account is thrilling to us now as an early example of the kind of raw, jotted text which Pennant subsequently worked up into his published tours; texts which, alas, do not survive (or exist only fragmentarily) for his Scottish and Welsh tours. As a document it is often enigmatic, frustrating, or impossible to decode: but those jotted notes bring us much closer to his actual experience of places and events as they happened than any of his published works. Besides the notebook, a handful of letters from Pennant survive from this summer, written to his aunt Elizabeth, and they provide valuable further insights.

‘Holyhead’ by Moses Griffith, from Thomas Pennant’s Extra Illustrated Tours in Wales, National Library of Wales. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

The tour reveals Pennant’s usual wide-ranging curiosity, beginning with a productive morning’s botanizing with William Morris at Holyhead. Here he finds an anemone

displaying various beautyfull branches, always expanded. it readily seized on any bit of fish offered it and made use of those branches to convey it to its mouth; these branches seemed furnished with small nervous papillae which adhered strongly to my finger.

This possibly marks the first meeting of two men who would become excellent friends: William Morris (1705-63) would write to his brothers of how proud he was ‘of such an ingenious worthy man’s friendship’. The late June crossing to Ireland was not easy: ‘one part of the time a rolling sea and no wind. When off the Hill of Howth an hard gale from land drove us several leagues North’ – and it was Friday morning before they reached Dublin, where he spent several days seeing the sights, including the College and Museum (‘ill furnished’ but with two British axe heads that he rather liked). He then proceeded north and toured Ireland anti-clockwise, taking in a wide range of places from Ballycastle in the far north to Cork in the south.

Pennant’s Irish Itinerary reconstructed from the journal. With thanks to David Parsons.

The Curious Travellers project intends to publish the Irish Tour online, and hopes to have a ‘raw’ unedited text transcribed and available to read before long. My recent experience of introducing the tour at the Eighteenth Century Society of Ireland’s annual conference (Dublin, 2017) made it clear that there is a wealth of existing expertise upon which we could draw in order to put a little more flesh on the bones of this account. Pennant had letters of introduction to gentry houses the length and breadth of the island, many of them important estates undergoing mid-century improvements to their land, houses and gardens: he also visited coalmines and linen manufactures, barracks and harbours, churches and castles. Antiquities and natural phenomena are noted as points of interest, but it is clear that improvement was the main focus of this tour. In a letter to his aunt he compares the landscaping projects of the Annesleys of Castlewhellan to the efforts of Colonel Hugh Boyd at Ballycastle:

The country in these parts owes as much to this good man’s industry, as that about Mr Annesley’s (as mentioned in my last) will soon experience from the indefatigable pains of the latter. The difference consists only in this, Mr Annesley is improving his Land, and Mr Boyde is attempting to form a flourishing colliery and a secure Port. The former he has in some measure succeeded in; but the latter seems still in an uncertain state. A turbulent sea, and a destructive insect has done vast damage, a small grub scarce the 8th part of an inch in length having in five years space utterly destroyed part of the finest oake he had employed in his Pier.

One of the most significant encounters Pennant had was in Kerry, where he spent a week as the guest of Thomas Browne, fourth Viscount Kenmare, at his newly redesigned house in Killarney. Indeed, the arrival of one Thomas, born 1726, sometimes considered the ‘father of Cambrian Tourism’, at the home of another, born the same year, sometimes considered the ‘father of Irish Tourism’, is a thoroughly gratifying historical coincidence. Pennant would ‘Lye at Lord Kenmares’ for a whole week, riding out to see castles and walks, copper mines and plantations, visiting his lordship’s linen manufacture, witnessing an ‘Irish Papist funeral’ (a version of which would later resurface in the 1769 Tour in Scotland) and of course visiting the Lakes of Killarney. Here, as he told his aunt, he was treated to ‘the Beauties of the celebrated Lough Lene’:

These entertained my Eyes; but that was not the only sense that was pleased; for my Hearing had its share from the surprizing Echo from the mountains: to enjoy this in the greatest perfection his Ld brought on the water two French horns, a fife, a drum and Two swivel guns: every note was returned to the former, but when the Latter were discharged the loudest claps of Thunder I ever heard were unequal to the sound returned.

Killarney, by Alphonse Dousseau, Souvenirs pittoresques (1830s). Source: National Library of Wales.

As William Williams and Luke Gibbons have shown, the Killarney Lake Experience has by now become a kind of locus classicus in the history of Irish tourism; it seems both apt and amusing that Pennant should have taken part in this ‘tourist ritual’ during its earliest stages.

There is much to be learned from this hastily-jotted journal and the few accompanying letters, not only about Pennant himself as a young man on his first major journey from home, but about the ways in which his experience of Ireland and Irish society (in all its political and cultural complexity) might have shaped his responses to his Scottish tours, undertaken some fifteen years later. It meshes Pennant’s Tours still further into those ‘four nations’ or ‘archipelagic’ conversations which have contributed so much to our understanding of the eighteenth century in these islands. Some of the people he met and the places he visited are well-known, but researchers of C18th Ireland –academics, local historians, genealogists–will certainly be able to shed light on more obscure details. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help; all contributors will be acknowledged in our final edited version. We look forward to working closely with colleagues in Ireland to unpick some of the more elusive events and encounters hidden between its scrawled lines.

Sources and further reading:

Thomas Pennant, The Literary Life of the Late Thomas Pennant Esquire. By Himself. (London, 1793)

Warwickhire County Record Office, Thomas Pennant Archives, CR 2017/TP18/1-2 & CR2017/TP125 1-4

William Williams, Creating Irish Tourism: The First Century, 1750-1850. Anthem Studies in Travel (London, Anthem Press, 2011)

Luke Gibbons, ‘Topographies of Terror: Killarney and the Politics of the Sublime’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 95.1 (Winter, 1996) 23-45

A fleeting glimpse of C19th ephemeral texts

Kirsty McHugh, Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies

In analysing the composition of manuscript travel journals I have become particularly interested in the influence of novels, guidebooks and other literature on how tourists chronicle their travel experiences.

Two particular travellers, who made tours of Scotland and Wales in the Romantic period, Jonathan Gray (1779-1837, attorney from York) and Anne Lister (1791-1841, heiress to the Shibden Hall estate near Halifax) have left us rich sources for this studying this aspect of tour writing.

Todd’s bookshop in Stonegate, York, which Jonathan Gray is known to have frequented. Painted by Henry Cave in 1797. Image in public domain, from York Museums Trust website.

Publications and other print items associated with tourism were often produced for a very specific purpose and tourists’ interactions with them might be brief. We know Anne Lister retained the copy of Nicholson’s Cambrian Travellers Guide she purchased on her 1822 tour of Wales (it is listed in the auction catalogue of the Shibden Hall Library), however we do not know if she kept her copy of The Scottish Tourist & Itinerary. Since the information contained in guidebooks would quite quickly date their long-term value was limited. In her diary Anne records borrowing a guide to St Andrews when she visits the town – at 5 shillings the book is apparently too pricey for local booksellers to stock.

The keeper of the ruins … lent us the “Delineations of St Andrews” by James Grierson M.D. M.W.S. Cupar, 1823, 1 volume, 12o pp 224 price 5/ thought too dear by the booksellers there who refuse to buy so as to be obliged to sell it at this price & the publisher refuses it at less so there is difficultly about getting the work. (28 June 1828)

‘Ephemera’ such as broadsheets, posters and leaflets were by nature intended to be used and then thrown away. The owners of tourist sites often produced guides to their attractions – some of these might be small booklets, others simply a single sheet of paper. Anne Lister records in her diary how at St Winifred’s Well ‘a woman there (at the well) – gave each of us a glass of water & a printed sheet of paper account of the spring for which I gave her 6d & she certainly was not satisfied.’ (25 July 1822)

Examples of early 19th-century broadsheets similar to those Anne and her aunt would have received. Reproduced courtesy of Flintshire Archives (D-DM/955/2/22 & PR/A/4)

On tour in Wales a few years earlier Jonathan Gray took an interest in a poem which he found pasted on their bedroom door at the inn at Beddgert. He transcribed it into his journal and noted:

It is in print, & dated the 11 Augt 1800. It is, therefore, new & I am the first lucky journalist who had laid hold on it to swell & adorn his page. Warner [author of Walks Through Wales] would have bounced with rapture at the sight of it, but to him the sight has been denied. What is more remarkable, it has only been here since yesterday morning. A lady who called yesterday, a friend of the author’s pasted it up, & we are the first who have seen it. We enquired of our Snowdon guide who confirms the assertion, that the tradition of the greyhound is current in this neighbourhood. He says that country people shew a stone which they believe to be the tomb of Gêlert.’ (26 August 1800)

Transcription of the poem in Jonathan Gray’s travel journal (GRF/6/3). Reproduced courtesy of York Explore Library & Archives

A copy of Beth- Gêlert or the Grave of the Greyhound by William Robert Spencer (4pp, 4°). Note the date – this is the same edition of the copy encountered by Gray. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Wales.

Less direct encounters with everyday texts are also noted by Jonathan Gray and Anne Lister in their journals, suggesting they were particularly alert to printed material. For Anne Lister posters could provide useful information on the locality. At Glasgow, she derives information about the depth of the River Clyde from a notice posted on the premises of the humane society (9 June 1828). (The Society was founded in 1790 and still exists today to promote water safety).

Her attitude to the printed matter she encounters on tour is in line with her attitude towards record-keeping and education – her diaries are packed full of all sorts of information about her life and show she read widely and wished to attain a rich and full education in classical literature, mathematics and languages. Jonathan notes texts which strike him as unusual in some way. At Kenmore he considers the notice on a church door to be of interest because it is written in Erse (i.e. Gaelic). Tradesmen’s adverts and signboards also amuse him.

At Alnwick, on their way north, he writes:

There are two gate ways to this town, one of them very handsome with a tower & a crown at the top similar to that at St. Nicholas’, Newcastle. We were struck with a board over the door – “Work of all kinds done by Wm Nixon.”

At Glasgow, he notes:

The shops have in general the articles of their trade painted on the top of the shop door. The trades of the people in some places described in a manner unintelligible to Englishmen. One man is a change keeper & horse seller.

Perhaps, the detail that I find most intriguing, however, is his comment that at Moffat the playbills are handwritten – ‘as at Inverary they have no printing office, & the bills are manuscript.’

I would be fascinated to know whether any such playbills still survive. I imagine that very few do because the survival of printed ephemera probably relies largely on printers’ archives. The only example from this period I could find online is an amateur production held aboard the British prison ship, the Crown, held by the National Maritime Museum. For an image of this handwritten poster see this article in the journal of comparative literature Inquire.

Jonathan’s comments on signs and posters are indicative of the eclectic and light-hearted tone of his tour journals. Travel writing often blended history, antiquarianism, aesthetics, and anthropology but Gray’s omnivorous attitude to travel writing also seems to reflect his own interests. Later in life he would take an active role in local cultural and scientific institutions such as the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and develop interests in architecture, astronomy, and music. He was also involved in the establishment of the Yorkshire Gazette.

Travel writing has always had a role in providing evidence of material culture (such as costume, domestic interiors, and traditions). Much of my research questions whether travelogues always reflect the author’s on-the-spot observations. The insights into the consumption of print in Gray and Lister’s journals, however, have made me think again about how travelogues are valuable both for the information they contain and what they reveal about the preoccupations of individual travellers and the wider culture to which they belong. I am inclined to think Jonathan Gray and Anne Lister’s comments are unusual and linked to their personalities and particular motivations for travel. However, I would be interested to hear from other researchers who have found similar attention to print culture in pieces of travel writing which they have studied.

Go to Kirsty’s personal page.

Links/further reading

In Search of Dr John Stuart’s Luss: Hog-backs, Dawn Redwoods, and Gaelic Bibles

Nigel Leask

Saturday 25th March, it’s a cold but beautiful bright morning. Evelyn and Flora are off to see the Tove Janssen exhibition in London (my daughter’s 17th birthday treat) so I am home alone with Max the cat. Its been an extraordinary heavy week, the final teaching sessions of the semester and a day in Edinburgh conducting a mock interview and talking to students from the Scottish Graduate School about applying for post-doctoral fellowships. Have been sleeping badly, end of semester exhaustion, so decide to head out to Loch Lomond and do something different with the day. My plan is to follow the tracks of Dr John Stuart of Luss (1743-1821), Pennant’s travelling companion on his second, 1772 tour of Scotland, Highland minister and co-translator of the first Scottish Gaelic Bible: also (perhaps less well known) he was a Linnaean botanist of some distinction.

Dr John Stuart of Luss – Unsigned portrait of John Stuart appearing in Pennant’s Extra-Illustrated Tours in Scotland, published with special permission from the National Library of Wales

As well as his Gaelic scholarship, Stuart contributed the entry on the ‘Parish of Luss’ to Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, 1793-99, so much of what we know about the 18th century village is derived from his pen, as well as from the many travellers who passed through Luss on the long or short tour of Scotland. Alex Deans is currently transcribing Stuart’s letters to Pennant from Warwick County Archives, so the time is ripe for us to do some more research on his life and works.

Traffic is still light as I drive out on the A82 towards Dumbarton, but I know that will soon change, and in fact on the way home at the end of the day I get stuck in heavy traffic between Arden and Balloch – the road (following the course of Gen. Caulfield’s military road between Dumbarton and Inveraray, constructed 1748-53) picks up all the travellers from Loch Fyne and Oban, as well as vehicles plying the Crianlarich-Fort William route.  But instead of taking the fast dual carriageway between Dumbarton and Balloch, I decide first to check out another eighteenth century literary connection. I turn off through Renton and Alexandra in the Vale of Leven, through which the river Leven empties out Loch Lomond’s waters into the Clyde estuary at Dumbarton. Even on a beautiful day like this, its obvious that the village of Renton suffers badly from poverty, unemployment and social deprivation, although it is a lot better than I remember it twenty years ago. One of Scotland’s earliest industrial landscapes, comprising bleach fields, print works and cotton mills, eighteenth century travellers all commented on how neat and orderly it all was. Renton can also boast one of the first working class libraries in Britain, with its own reading and discussion club. Thomas Pennant describes the Vale of Leven (on his 1769 tour) as ‘unspeakably beautifull, very fertile, and finely watered by the great and rapid river Levin…there is scarcely a spot on its banks but what is decorated with bleacheries, plantations, and villas’. (Tour in Scotland, 1769, p. 226)

Smollet Monument, Renton

I don’t think anyone would reach for the words ‘unspeakably beautiful’ to describe modern Renton, but my eye is caught by a handsome neoclassical pillar topped with a funerary urn beside the war memorial, immediately on the left hand side of the main road.

It’s a monument to the novelist Tobias Smollett, born nearby and educated in Glasgow before heading south as a physician, editor and novelist, who later immortalized his birthplace in the ‘Ode to Leven Water’, and in his final novel, Humphry Clinker. Johnson and Boswell stayed with the novelist’s cousin ‘Commissary Smollett’ at Cameron House on 27th Oct 1773, where Smollett consulted Johnson on the Latin inscription he planned to place on the monument that he had erected near the banks of the Leven following the novelist’s death in Livorno in 1771. According to Boswell, Johnson ‘greatly improved it by several additions and variations’. (Black, p. 429) This failed to impress Coleridge, however, when he translated it for the benefit of Dorothy Wordsworth in 1803: ‘The Latin is miserably bad – as Coleridge said, such as poor Smollett, who was an excellent scholar, would have been ashamed of’. (Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, p. 81)

Smollet inscription

Unfortunately this fine monument to one of Scotland’s greatest writers isn’t as well known as it deserves, partly because it is no longer situated on the ‘high road’ to Dumbarton, as it was before the construction of the dual carriageway bypass.

Driving on past the huge Vale of Leven hospital, I see the gleaming snow covered peak of Ben Lomond towering over the urban scene, looking uncanny in the bright Spring sunshine – I remember Pennant’s description of the mountain as being ‘like Saul amidst his companions, overtop[ping] the rest’. (Tour 1769, p. 224) Rejoining the fast growing stream of Saturday tourist traffic heading for the hills and lochs at Balloch roundabout on this beautiful spring day, I make rapid progress to Luss, where Dr Stuart was minister for 44 years, and managed to find a parking space in the car park of one of Scotland’s most popular tourist spots, often called the ‘gateway to the Highlands’.

View from Luss

It’s a very pretty place, with breathtaking views over the Loch and its wooded islands, but maybe Ian Crichton Smith summed it up well when he described twentieth century Luss as ‘a picture of a village rather than a true village’. It’s certainly changed somewhat from Dorothy Wordsworth’s 1803 description as ‘a cluster of thatched houses among trees, with a large chapel in the midst of them’, although by then the village already boasted a slate quarry and small cotton mill. (Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, p. 84) It’s nice to see at least five Glaswegian Asian families warming up their barbecues on the sandy beach though, ready for a picnic of spicy delights in the sunshine.

I walk down towards the church, and cross the bridge to the Glebe. The water is transparent, and I can see schisteous pebbles gleaming on the shallow riverbed in the bright light. Luss Water runs through shady woods into the loch, and bonfire smoke drifts through the alder trees, while the mountains looming behind the village still show patches of white snow, despite the gathering warmth of the midday sun. The church faces me, not the building that Dr Stuart would have known, but a handsome Victorian structure erected in 1875 by Sir James Colquhoun of Luss to commemorate the tragic drowning of his father and four of his men when their boat was overturned in a winter storm.

Luss church

The architecture of the kirk’s roof evokes the keel of the laird’s empty upturned boat, a moving memorial to a terrible accident. But the current church was built on the site of the earlier eighteenth century church (built in 1771 on the site of the pre-reformation one, and therefore a new construction when Dr John Stuart became minister in 1777) which, by all accounts, and the evidence of a single surviving photograph, was itself a fine building, in the austere 18th century neoclassical style. Because the kirk door was locked, I strolled around the graveyard, literally stumbled over another famous monument inspired by an upturned boat, this time a Viking hog-back sarcophagus,

Viking Hog-back

dating from the time of the Norse occupation of the Earldom of Lennox, which ended with Vikings’ defeat by the Scottish king at Largs in 1263. It’s curious that Pennant, who visited Luss in 1769 (without John Stuart on this first visit, unfortunately) and commented on some of the other antiquities, didn’t mention this one, although he did describe a similar hog-back monuments at the ‘Giant’s Grave’ in St Andrew’s Church, at Penrith in England, as well as an illustrative plate. Dr John Stuart, writing in the Statistical Account, remark that ‘in the [Luss] church-yard [are] some stone coffins of considerable antiquity’, although he doesn’t seem to be specifically alluding to the hog-back here.

I hadn’t had time to do much homework for my John Stuart tour, but it turned out to be one of those lucky days. In the graveyard I quickly located Stuart’s handsome gravestone,

Stuart’s grave

bearing the inscription ‘born at Killin in 1743 and successively minister of Arrochar, Weem, and Luss, whose Genuine Piety and Amiable Temper endeared him to his Family and his Flock’. It also records his greatest achievement, the first translation of ‘the Holy Scriptures into his native language’ of Gaelic. Crossing the road, I saw what looked like the manse, a handsome square building commanding a fantastic view over Loch Lomond, and speculated that this was the house (or its site) in which Stuart had lived. I recalled that he complained in the Statistical Account that although ‘the church is uncommonly good…the manse was built in 1740, is insufficient, and at present in need of repair’. (SAS ‘Luss’, p. 265)

 

Manse at Luss

The building before me, even if it looks a bit unlived in (Luss has no resident minister), showed signs of having been extensively refurbished and enlarged since Stuart’s time, probably by the Victorians, if the architecture is anything to go by.

Next door was the Luss Glass Studio, so entering, I asked the lady at the counter if the adjacent building was in fact the old manse. She told me that my guess was correct, and I explained my interest in Luss’s 18th century minister, Dr. John Stuart. I had really struck lucky – she introduced herself as Janine Smith, a stained glass artist who runs the studio, and who is also well versed in the history of the village community of which she has been a member for many years. Janine showed me into the adjacent Luss Pilgrimage Centre, which contains an informative display of the history of Luss.

It includes a panel dedicated to Stuart and the work of the Stuarts father and son in producing the first Scottish Gaelic Bible (John’s father, Dr James Stuart of Killin, translated the New Testament, which was published in 1767).

Gaelic Testament

Janine was brought up a Gaelic speaker on Tiree before moving to the mainland, and so Stuart’s historical importance for Scottish Gaelic is of great concern to her. Finding that we shared views about Scottish history and culture (as well as indyref 2!) we agreed that too much hot air had been dedicated to warlords like Wallace and Bruce, and not enough to quieter, but nonetheless important historical Scots like John Stuart, a proud Gaelic speaker and a scholar of international importance. Stuart and his father struggled against the tide of ignorance and prejudice that did so much damage to the Gaelic language in the 19th and 20th centuries, and which is only now beginning to be turned back in the first welcome signs of a language revival.

Janine kindly offered to show me the interior of Luss kirk, and closing the studio for a few minutes, she took me across the road with the keys. The interior was stunning, not least as the bright sunshine showed up the magnificent stained glass to perfection, as she was quick to point out to me. I admired the three ancient Christian relics held in the church, memorials of the Celtic missionary, St Kessog, born in Ireland around 460AD, and thought to have arrived here in 510, bringing the Christian message, before his martyrdom at Bandry Bay, a mile or so south of Luss. The three relics are a stone baptismal font, a fine life-sized statue of St Kessog (dressed anachronistically in the robes and mitre of a medieval bishop, and what looks very like a false nose!),

and a powerful ‘primitive’ carved head of the saint in the style of early Celtic sculpture.

These monuments were reputedly removed from the old church by local people at the time of the Reformation and buried for safe keeping at the cairn-na-Cheasoig (St Kessog’s Cairn) on the loch side near Bandry, the site of his martyrdom.

There’s a nice eighteenth century connection, though – two hundred years later, in the late 1740’s, the relics were excavated by a squad of soldiers from Colonel Lascelles regiment who were constructing the military road from Dumbarton to Inveraray, when they opened up the cairn that was blocking the route of the planned road. They must have left much of the cairn intact, though, as Pennant writes ‘near the side of the lake, about a mile or two farther, is a great heap of stones in memory of St. Mac-Kessog, Bishop and Confessor, who suffered martyrdom there AD 520, and was buried in Comstraddan church’. (Tour 1769, p. 226) This jogged my memory, and I recalled a fascinating paper given by Prof Thomas Clancy of Glasgow’s Celtic Department at the first Thomas Pennant Workshop in 2013, describing the local important of St Kessog’s Cairn, and its disappearance from modern maps. I can’t believe that these striking relics of this important Celtic Saint are so little known in modern Scotland – I grew up in Strathblane, in adjacent Stirlingshire (where the local Catholic Church is called ‘St Kessog’s’, and there is also a ‘St Kessog’s Well’), but was completely unaware of their existence here in Luss, a village that I have visited many times since boyhood.

Blinking in the sunlight as we exited the dark church, Janine took me across to the manse, and showed me into the garden. This extensive space, like the manse now a bit neglected, must have been where John Stuart exercised his other great passion – botany.

Manse Garden

Visiting Luss in the last years of the 18th century, the naturalist and traveller Dr Thomas Garnett (lecturer in Chemistry in Glasgow’s Andersonian Institute, the ancestor of Strathclyde University) described the garden in its heyday:

‘after breakfast we repaired to the manse, to visit Dr STUART, the minister, a man of great taste, and learning; he received us very politely, and shewed us his garden, which contains a variety of scarce plants, particularly British alpines, brought by himself from their native mountains. I found here most of the scarce plants which grow upon Benlomond and Benevis, as well as in the wilds of the Hebrides, but being removed into a milder climate, they flourish much more luxuriantly. Mr STUART has for some time been engaged in translating the Bible into Gaelic. (Thomas Garnett, Observations on a Tour through the Highlands, 2 vols, (London 1800), I, 37.)

Appropriately enough, a Chinese ‘Dawn Redwood’ (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) or ‘fossil tree’ has been planted in the manse garden, and is maintained by the community. This was clearly the site of one of enlightenment Scotland’s important botanical gardens – another reason for underlining Stuart’s importance, and of the village in which he ministered from 1777 until his death in 1821.

Having promised Janine that we’d be back in touch, and drawing her attention to the Curious Travellers website, I headed off for a late lunch and a hill walk, delighted that my unprepared visit to Luss had been so fruitful, and that I’d had the good fortune to meet, entirely by chance, someone who was so well informed about Dr Stuart, and so generous in sharing her information and enthusiasm. But the rest of the day had more delights in store, as I drove up the length of Loch Lomond to Glenfalloch, parked at Bein Glas farm and, following in the tracks of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ascended the steep path to Bein Glas waterfall in the now blazing sun. Climbing further up, I followed the ridge southwards, gaining some magnificent views of the Loch and its wooded shores on a bright spring day, with the snow still gleaming on Stob-nan-Choinnich and Ben Vorlich across the glen.

Loch Lomond from Bein Glas ridge

Descending a steep but brackenless slope towards Cnap Mor, I joined the West Highland Way in one of its most beautiful passages, and walked back through early primroses, ruined black houses, and lengthening afternoon shadows as the sun sank behind the wall of mountains to the west.

Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century student marginalia in copies of Pennant’s Tours in Scotland held in St Andrews University Library

Nigel Leask

For some time we’ve been gathering information about the reception of Pennant’s 1769 and 1772 Tours in Scotland north of the border. By and large Scottish readers were positive, especially when compared with the storm that blew up after the publication of Dr Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands in 1775. Most of the criticisms that we have found were levelled at Pennant’s treatment of Jacobitism and his comments on the Battle of Culloden, or on ‘proscribed’ clans like the MacGregors.

However, when my Glasgow colleague Dr Mathew Sangster alerted me to Emily Savage’s marvellous blog posted on St Andrew’s University Library Special Collections website I was forced to revise my opinion! Its title is ‘Copyright ABCS – “This Book is Very Ill Used”. Student Marginalia in a Tour of Scotland’.

St Andrews students adorn the margins with complaints (often in very picturesque terms) about Pennant’s shortcomings as a traveller and travel writer. Sometimes these are plain wrong-headed: he is blamed for not mentioning Oban and Tobermory in his statement that there were no towns in the Highlands between Campbeltown and Thurso (in fact neither town had been founded in 1772). But he is also criticized for credulity regarding Highland superstitions, and for misspelling, and slandered as ‘a blockhead’, a ‘damned liar’ and (worst of all) a ‘Welch goat’. The only mitigating factor appears to be that St Andrews students (who had to take library books home and would consequently read, and scribble on, book with no supervision) were even-handed with their abuse, and many other authors came in for much worse invective than Pennant. This fascinating marginalia also demonstrates, of course, just how widely read Pennant’s Tours were in the period.

Thanks to Sean Ripington, St Andrews’ Digital Archives Officer, for permission to share this blog and link on Curious Travellers website.

Further Notes on the Inn at Cernioge

Michael Freeman, former Curator of Ceredigion Museum

Kirsty McHugh’s work has added to the many references to the inns at Cernioge. These illustrate just how many references can survive for just one building, even one in a remote place such as this. Although many of the descriptions are very brief, in combination they provide a valuable record of the inn and the services provided by its occupants.

The original Inn at Cernioge was situated in a very bleak location close to one of the highest points on the road between Llangollen (23 miles) and Bangor (30 miles). This became part of Telford’s Irish road (London to Holyhead) which was improved at great expense between 1815 and 1825. The opening of the new line of road from Pont-y-Padock to Cernioge Mawr through Pentrefoelas was opened on the 8th April, 1821.

An inn at Cerniogie Mawr was licenced to sell alcohol in 1772. It was sometimes known as the Prince Llewellyn, but by 1827 was possibly named the King’s Arms. The most detailed description of this inn is supplied by a German visitor, Dr. Samuel Heinrich Spiker, who toured Wales in 1816:

The house was of a simple appearance, two stories in height, with only five windows in front …The interior arrangement of the house was altogether such as any private person might wish to imitate. We had our choice of several neat and even elegant bed rooms; and our pleasant and well-furnished sitting-room, on the right of the entrance below stairs.’

It seem likely that this is the ‘single’ inn, suitable for only one party of tourists, described by Lord John Henry Manners in 1797 and by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in 1801. A new inn and large stables were constructed at an unknown date when the road was improved, sometime after 1815, but it is thought that Telford was not responsible for the design of either.

Romantic–era Trip Advisor: satisfied guests!

Early visitors include the Rev. Richard Warner who ordered a freshly killed lamb to be roasted for him and his companion in August 1797 but doubted ‘whether a very keen appetite, produced by a fasting walk of 26 miles, will render it eatable.’ He, like others, described its location as solitary, being a convenient place for coaches to stop on the Irish road.

An anonymous lady tourist thought the inn delightful when she stayed there in 1811, and T.J. and B. Parke thought it very good in 1813. For the German tourist Dr. Samuel Heinrich Spiker it was one of the highlights of his tour of 1816: ‘I can truly say that [I had at Cernioge] some of the most agreeable hours I enjoyed during my stay in England [sic]. The interior as well as the exterior of the house were quite calculated to illustrate the meaning of that untranslatable word “comfort,” of which an idea can be formed only in England.

Harriet Alderson, companion to Lady Fitzherbert, found the accommodation excellent in 1818; Lady Philadelphia Cotton described it as an ‘excellent in all respects’ in 1819 and Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan of Tredegar had a capital breakfast at this ‘magnificent’ inn in 1821. Three sisters, Mary, Bessy and Lucy Holland of Plas Penrhyn, cousins of Elizabeth Gaskell, found the inn ‘a little Paradise in the Wilderness‘ during their journey to Barmouth in 1823 and the 12-year old Eleanor Bagot (who wrote a very mature account of a visit to north Wales in 1827) noted: ‘From [Corwen] to Cernioge is flat and bleak, except here and there a good specimen of rock. We found an excellent dinner prepared for us, of which none of our party were at all unwilling to partake; I must add that the Inn is very clean and comfortable.’ Thomas Roscoe recorded that in about 1836 it was very busy:

Having previously heard of the excellence of this house of entertainment, I resolved to rest myself for a day or two. This place had a decidedly English appearance, for in the yard were four large ricks of hay (an extraordinary sight in Wales), extensive and well-built stabling, and the arrivals and departures were so frequent as to keep up the bustling excitement of a high thoroughfare.

And some dissatisfied guests…

When John Henry Manners, the fifth Duke of Rutland, accompanied by Lord Arthur Somerset and two others, arrived at the inn at 6pm on the 27th September, 1797, they were pleased to find that there was no one else there because it was so small, but surprised that there was no port wine in the house: they expected to be served wine at an inn on a highroad.

In 1805, William Fordyce Mavor described the inn as ‘very ordinary, where there is little attention and less accommodation’ and complained that he and his companions were almost suffocated by the fumes from the turf fire.

One of the few others who were not satisfied with the inn was Millicent Bant who accompanied Lady Wilson on a tour of Wales in 1806: she described the inn as miserable. Her dissatisfaction might have been influenced by her expectations, the weather, comparison with better inns and her general state of mind (which might have come about as a result of being for so long with her irritable employee), but it is also possible that the landlord or landlady were simply unable to satisfy their visitors’ needs that day. However, during a visit to the inn in 1815, Richard Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, was convinced that the landlord was a rogue. He wrote:

We meant to have gone on to Oswestry tonight, but arrived too late here owing to a resolute attempt made by the landlord of Cernioge Mawr to make us sleep there, and a more resolute resistance on our part – He swore he had no horses, we swore he did – He swore that what he had were just come in from a journey – We swore he lied again inasmuch as we had [seen] they had been in above an hour – He swore again we should not have them, we swore that he should not be the better for it as we would sit in the chaise and wait there until our former horses were refreshed which should take us back to Capel Curig where we would go and sleep rather than be bullied by him – This took up an hour and he kept us another hour in the chaise waiting to see if we should be as good as our word. He saw at length that we were sturdy so gave us horses which brought us at a snail’s pace here.’

The grounds

Dr. Samuel Heinrich Spiker’s description of the building in 1816 was accompanied by an account of the grounds: ‘before [the house] was a level court-yard, laid with gravel, in which peacocks, turkies, pigeons, and other poultry strutted about in rural security. Three fine old maple trees formed a row at one side of the door, and a bench under them invited to repose under their shade. A little grove opposite to the house formed a kind of partition towards the high road.

In 1831 Hannah Williams described the inn as ‘large and handsome … in the midst of a wild moorland district. Around the house are some good plantations, intersected with walks, and in the front a lake, on which we noticed some curious foreign geese, which we understood were from South Carolina.’ Tourists were particularly fond of woodland and ‘pieces’ of water, and it is possible that the vegetation had matured by this date. The energetic Thomas Letts (ancestor of the firm who produced Letts’ diaries), made four visits to North Wales between 1832 and 1847. In 1833 he noted that the inn was ‘a dashing place with carriage drive, lawns, peacocks etc.’ In the same year, Catherine Sinclair thought that the garden was neat but the house was only ‘tolerably good’, even though ‘So many travellers were assembled at this place … that it was quite a favour on the landlord’s part to afford us accommodation.’ She also noted the sign above the door of the Inn: ‘By act of Parliament. Licenced to be drunk on the premises’ which was seen at every alehouse along the highroad.

Harpers

Christopher Rawson’s reference to a harp player at the inn in 1817 is one of several. In 1791 ‘A.B.’ was entertained by a blind harper. As he pointed out, most north Wales inns had someone who could play the harp (probably between other duties). They played in the hall of inns for hours on end in the hope of being given a generous tip by the guests – often one shilling. In about 1800 an anonymous tourist rejoiced at finding a harper at the inn and made some comments on the differences between Welsh and English harps.

George Bryant Campion (1796-1870) Sketches of the picturesque character of Great Britain from nature and on stone. (London: Ackermann, 1836), no. 5 ‘A Welsh Harper’.

George Bryant Campion (1796-1870) Sketches of the picturesque character of Great Britain from nature and on stone. (London: Ackermann, 1836), no. 5 ‘A Welsh Harper’.

In 1816 Dr Samuel Spiker was entertained by harp music played by the landlady’s daughter (presumably Miss Weaver). A harper is said to have entertained Princess Victoria there on her journey to Beaumaris in 1832. In 1837 Elizabeth Bower described the harper as ‘another old Welsh man, an even better performer than our friend at Llangollen’ although she didn’t think his instruments was quite up to London standards. The last recorded visitor to the inn was John Parry, (Bardd Alaw, 1776-1851) in 1838. He was the author of ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Harp’ (1834) and it is a great shame that he was not entertained by a harper at this inn, because his comments would have been very well informed (unless he heard a performance not worthy of comment).

(For more on harpers in Welsh inns see here.)

Closure

The building of the A5 across the middle of north Wales displaced the north coast road (now the A55) as the main route to Holyhead for those coming from central and southern England. Likewise, the railway along the north coast from Chester all the way to Holyhead, constructed from 1844, displaced much of the traffic on the A5, leaving some of the inns on this fine road bereft of travellers. John Parry (Bardd Alaw) described the inn as ‘comfortable’ when he stayed there in August, 1838 but it appears that the stage coach service was abandoned in 1839 and the Cernioge Inn victualler’s licence was lost to the Pentrefoelas Arms, three miles to the west, in the same year. Its closure might have been influenced by the fact that Mr Job Weaver, Inn keeper was found to be of unsound mind in 1832.

Full details of references to Cernioge Inn may be found here.

  • B. ‘Sketch of a short tour into north Wales in July 1791, by AB and WD’, NLW MS 24019B, p. 33
  • Report on the opening of the road. The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, vol. 3, (May 1, 1821), p. 264
  • Anon, Narrative of a Tour through Wales by an anonymous English Gentleman. c. 1800, NLW ms. 18943, ff. 46-47
  • Dr Samuel Heinrich Spiker, (1786-1858.)Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the year 1816. : Translated from the German, (1820) vol. 2, p. 43.
  • Bezant Lowe, The heart of Northern Wales: as it was and as it is. vol. 2, 485,
  • Elizabeth Bower, [Tour of Wales], Dorset Record Office, D/BOW:kw 209
  • Warner, Richard, Rev (1763-1857) A Walk through Wales in Aug, 1797, (1799) 158, Letter X, Cernioge, 23.8.1797
  • Mavor, W. F., A tour in Wales, and through several counties of England : including both the universities ; performed in the summer of 1805 (1806), p. 124
  • Millicent Bant, [Tour of Wales, 1806], Essex Record office D/DFr F2, f. 21v
  • Anon, (A lady) Diary of a driving tour of North Wales in the months of July and August 1811, Cardiff Central Library, Ms1.405, p. 15
  • Harriet Alderson, (accompanied Lady Fitzherbert of Tissington, Staffs?), Journal of a tour from Aston to Beaumaris in September 1818, Gwynedd Record Office, XM/2600
  • Lady Philadelphia Cotton, Tour through North Wales, 1819, Cambridgeshire County Record Office, 588/F48
  • Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan, ‘Journal of a tour through North Wales – 1821’, Society of Antiquaries of London, Octavius Morgan Sal/MS/680, fols. 20v-39v. and transcription with notes in Dai Morgan Evans, Octavius Morgan : journal of a tour through North Wales in 1821, Archaeologia Cambrensis, vol. 160, (2011), 244
  • Eleanor Bagot, ‘Journal on a Visit from Blithfield to North Wales’, National Library of Wales, Bachymbyd collection, Uncatalogued.
  • Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and excursions in North Wales, (1853), p. 116
  • Richard Grenville, Letters to Mrs Lloyd, Rolls, Chigwell, Essex, NLW ms 2596, pp. 3-4
  • Hannah Williams, Journey through Shropshire, Wales, Ireland & Lancashire, 1831, Worcestershire Record Office, 899:866/9522
  • Catherine Sinclair, (1800-1864), Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833, 1st edition, New York, 1838, p. 95; 2nd Edition, Whyte and Co, Edinburgh, 1839, p. 116
  • John Parry, (Bardd Alaw), Trip to North Wales containing much information relative to that interesting alpine country, [1839], p. 10
  • G. Harper, The Holyhead Road: the mail coach road to Dublin, vol. 2, (1902), p. 226-229 with illustration.
  • Jamie Quartermaine, et. al. Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road, The A5 in north Wales, (2003), p. 102
  • Peregrine Bingham, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Common Pleas, and elsewhere…vol. X, (1834) pp. 520-521