Category Archives: Research Blog

The Cernioge Inn: a forgotten spot on the Welsh tour

Kirsty McHugh, Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies

Many of the sites visited by travellers on tours of Wales in the eighteenth and nineteenth century like Snowdon, the vale of Llangollen, or Caernarfon Castle are familiar to us today as tourist attractions and sites of interest. It was common for tourists keeping journals to also note down the places they stopped or slept at and make notes of the quality of accommodation. These can give an insight into the challenges of travel in the Romantic period and the necessity of forward planning in order to make sure you had a bed for the night.

One inn that became particularly popular because of its location on the road to Holyhead, situated mid-way between the popular beauty spot of Betws-y-Coed and the town of Corwen was the Cernioge Inn. This is a place which has today almost disappeared off the map.

Map from Rev. Richard Warner’s, A Walk Through Wales, 1798.

Map from Rev. Richard Warner’s, A Walk Through Wales, 1798.

The main inn (it was known in 1795 as the Prince Llewellyn) survives beside what is today the A5. Its stable block on the opposite side of the road is more remarkable than the inn itself, and is what catches the modern traveller’s eye.

The stables of the Cernioge Inn near Glasfryn are today a barn on an isolated farm. Author’s photograph.

The stables of the Cernioge Inn near Glasfryn are today a barn on an isolated farm. Author’s photograph.

When the site was visited during research for the Council for British Archaeology report on the history of the A5 (2003) the interior of the inn building had been altered, but the stable block was largely unchanged. It still contained two stables with pitched stone floors, drains and hay mangers, and upstairs was divided into two plastered chambers with fireplaces (perhaps lodgings for the grooms).

Christopher Rawson and his brother stayed at the Cernioge Inn in 1817.

At this inn you meet with the best accommodation in N. Wales & the greatest civility. Kept by a Mr. Weaver, whose wife was lately a servant of Mr Abletts. It stands in high repute on this road & all the travellers from Ireland prefer sleeping here to any other. Excellent beds & the choicest fare. Miss W his daughter, an excellent performer on the harp & sings Welch airs.

Christopher’s brother William recommended the Cernioge Inn to their Halifax neighbours the Listers of Shibden Hall.

It seems that they took his advice and Anne Lister stayed there with her aunt on their Welsh tour in 1822. Anne records in her diary enjoying a good dinner of trout, mutton chops, and gooseberry tart and cream. She also mentions purchasing a copy of Nicholson’s Cambrian Traveller’s guide from Mr Weaver the landlord. With typical attention to detail Lister records that she purchased a copy of the second edition, published in London in 1813 in one octavo volume, and that it cost 18 shillings.

The surviving inn building is through to date from Weaver’s time, although the first recorded licence for an alehouse at Cernioge Mawr is 1772. The importance the inn once had as a staging post where one could change horses is attested to by the milestones, which can still be seen today.

Milestone near Glasfryn on Thomas Telford’s road through North Wales (now part of the A5). Copyright Keith Evans. Reused under Creative Commons Licence from Geograph.

Milestone near Glasfryn on Thomas Telford’s road through North Wales (now part of the A5). Copyright Keith Evans. Reused under Creative Commons Licence from Geograph.

It is said that Queen Victoria (then Princess Victoria) stopped at Cernioge for tea in 1832, but within a few years the inn would be closed. Probably Cernioge had gradually been losing business to other hostelries including The Saracen’s Head at Cerrigydrudion.

The building was a farmhouse when George Borrow visited the area in 1854.

I walked on briskly over a flat uninteresting country, and in about an hour’s time came in front of a large stone house. It stood near the road, on the left-hand side, with a pond and pleasant trees before it, and a number of corn-stacks behind. It had something the appearance of an inn, but displayed no sign. As I was standing looking at it, a man with the look of a labourer, and with a dog by his side, came out of the house and advanced towards me.

“What is the name of this place?” said I to him in English as he drew nigh.

“Sir,” said the man, “the name of the house is Ceiniog Mawr.”

“Is it an inn?” said I.

“Not now, sir; but some years ago it was an inn, and a very large one, at which coaches used to stop; at present it is occupied by an amaethwr – that is a farmer, sir.”

Should you be passing along the A5 it is worth stopping to have a look at this remarkable remnant of coaching days.

View of the Snowdon range from Cernioge, engraving by Josiah Wood Whymper c1875. From the collections of National Library of Wales.

View of the Snowdon range from Cernioge, engraving by Josiah Wood Whymper c1875. From the collections of National Library of Wales.

References

  • Christopher Rawson’s travel journal 1817-1822, WYAS: Calderdale, WYC:1525/6/5/2.
  • Anne Lister’s diary, 1822, WYAS: Calderdale, SH: 7/ML/E/6.
  • WH Rawson’s advice on Welsh roads sent to A Lister, received 4 July 1822, WYAS: Calderdale, SH: 7/ML/117.
  • George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its people, language and scenery, first published 1862.
  • Jamie Quartermaine, Barrie Trinder & Rick Turner Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road: The A5 in North Wales, Council for British Archaeology Research Report 135, 2003 (thanks to Peter Wakelin for bringing this book to my attention)
  • British Listed buildings.
  • For information on Welsh inns see here.

Travel and Identity: A Highland Woman at ‘Home’

By Georgia Vullinghs, MSc Graduate, University of Edinburgh

The Doune, Rothiemurchus, 'Highland Home' of Elizabeth Grant, with all the comforts and luxuries a Highland Gentleman and his family required (Wikimedia Commons).

The Doune, Rothiemurchus, ‘Highland Home’ of Elizabeth Grant, with all the comforts and luxuries a Highland Gentleman and his family required (Wikimedia Commons).

Increasingly, research about travel and tourism has been concerned with identity. Many diasporic Scots use visits ‘home’ to Scotland as a way to cultivate, perform, and maintain their Scottish identity. My research has focussed on elite Highland women from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It questions how, despite their absence from Scotland for the majority of their lives, they identified as Scottish and more particularly, Highland. Visits to Scotland had the potential to play an important role for these women in displaying their varied Scottish identities. The activities and culture the women engaged in while visiting help to reveal the nature of that identity. While often the women felt they were engaging with Highland life and acting out their identity, these experiences were very much shaped by the broader factors of their lives as ‘British’ elite women, and thus at times appear rather romanticised.

Four women from varying backgrounds were chosen as case studies for this research. Lady Louisa Stuart (1757-1851) was the youngest daughter of the infamous 3rd Earl of Bute. She grew up in England and it was not until she had independence as an adult that she began to visit Scotland on a regular basis. Even then, Lady Louisa never returned to the family seat. Next, Georgina, Duchess of Bedford (1781-1853), daughter of the 5th Duke of Gordon. Georgina was born and raised in the Highlands but, as a result of her aristocratic status, socialised in London from a young age. Her marriage to the Duke of Bedford consolidated her life in England, yet she continued almost annual visits to the Badenoch region until her death. The famed Elizabeth Grant (1797-1886), notable for her writings as a nineteenth century Highland woman, including ‘Memoirs of a Highland Lady’, came from the same region. Born in Edinburgh, Grant lived in London, continuing to visit Rothiemurchus for seasonal visits, before returning to Rothiemurchus and Edinburgh to live in 1812. She left Scotland permanently, to return only as a visitor, in 1827, when her family relocated to India where she met her Irish husband. Finally, Lady Aberdeen, daughter of Baron Tweedmouth also grew up in London. Annual trips to Glen Affric as a child helped to cement a powerful relationship with the Highlands, which she continued as an adult. While the experiences of these women do collectively provide an insight into how Scottish identity could be cultivated and performed by the increasingly absent Highland elite women through visits, overall, the extent to which this was done very much depended on their individual status.

Lady Louisa Stuart at her writing desk (Wikimedia Commons).

Lady Louisa Stuart at her writing desk (Wikimedia Commons).

Like other visitors to Scotland, for these women, appreciation and exploration of the landscape was a key theme of visits. The romanticisation of Highland landscape in particular was an important factor in the growth of popularity of Scotland as a destination for travellers and tourists. The ability to appreciate this landscape was a particularly elite trait, found in the experiences of all four women but most obviously in Lady Louisa’s. To an extent, this made them outsiders, able to step back from the often harsh realities of survival in the Highlands. However, it also had the potential to help these women feel more Scottish. In the ways they engaged with the landscape – navigated the hills and rivers, and endured the outdoors better than others – Grant, Georgina, and Lady Aberdeen could cultivate a sense of belonging.

The material culture these women engage with also reveals much about their experiences of Scotland and their sense of identity. Some of the women were able to find pleasure in their interpretation of a simple Highland lifestyle. They abandoned the materiality of their everyday lives, possible due to concepts of the ‘noble savage’. In the most extreme case, Georgina visited small huts in the glen, some with turf rooves! However, it should be noted that although simple, these weren’t without comforts such as servants and a roaring fire to keep warm by, as well as plenty of food and entertainment. In contrast, Lady Louisa was not able to romanticise this lifestyle, and still viewed such homes as part of the poverty rife in Scotland during her lifetime. From Lady Louisa and Grant’s experiences we find that in reality, late eighteenth-century Scottish elite were making considerable effort to ‘improve’ their houses practically and aesthetically, to make them more luxurious and comfortable, according to wider British elite standards. House surroundings also changed considerably. Farm buildings and estate offices were moved out of sight, revealing how the ‘traditional’ role of the Highland laird’s house did not fit with new elite aesthetic principles. This shows how, by the end of the eighteenth century, many elite Highland women lived a life detached from their estates, as the experience of all four women reveal.

This is also reflected in their relationship with Highland clothing. While Georgina abandoned fashionable dress while staying in Badenoch, dressing in the local peasant fashion as a way to display her Highland identity, she was only able to do so because of her elevated social status. This was also a practice reserved for the Highlands. In contrast, Lady Louisa and Grant’s experiences reveal that the elite Highland woman’s aspirations to the fashionable continued while she was living in the Highlands, as well as the difficulties they faced in doing so. Grant’s adult wardrobe was made up of items sent from Glasgow and London. She wore the same dresses in Rothiemurchus as she did in Edinburgh in order to maintain the appearance of an elite woman. This attire, unsuitable for participating in household tasks, reveals how the Highland lady no longer engaged with industry on the estate. However, we do find change by the end of the nineteenth century. The kilt was an important way for Lady Aberdeen’s son to express his Scottish identity, an attire which was acceptable in wider British elite circles by this time, reflecting Scotland and the Highland’s changed place within Britain. Furthermore, as a child, Lady Aberdeen enjoyed weaving shawls while she was in the Highlands. This childhood hobby formed the basis of a real interest for Lady Aberdeen in Scottish craft industries. She was heavily involved in the promotion of such industries, and displayed products at exhibitions across the world. However, while to some extent this stemmed from and reflected her sense of Highland identity, it was also a factor of her role as an elite British woman of her time, influenced by Liberal politics, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Celtic Revival.

Lady Aberdeen, dressed in one of her famous 'Celtic', craft-inspired dresses. This was her way of engaging with 'Highland' material culture. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lady Aberdeen, dressed in one of her famous ‘Celtic’, craft-inspired dresses. This was her way of engaging with ‘Highland’ material culture. (Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, music and dance had the potential to be particularly nationalistic for these women. It formed an important part of the entertainment for all four women during visits and could be used to perform their Highland identities. For all four women, music – Gaelic song in particular – and dance were closely associated with the Highland character. However, the extent to which they really understood the songs is debatable. Once again, we find a rather romanticised take on Highland life and culture which allowed Scots songs to be incorporated into the cult of sensibility. Furthermore, while these women enjoyed Scottish culture, they were limited as to when they could do so. For example, as a young girl at a party in London, Grant was reprimanded for dancing some Highland steps. These were not considered suitable for the occasion, obviously an activity reserved for when she was “at home in the Highlands”.

Overall, it may be argued that visits to Scotland and the Highlands did have the potential to play an important role in the performance of Scottish identity for these elite women once their lives pulled them away from their ‘native lands’. However, their experiences depended very much on their personal circumstances. Visits were overall a temporary manifestation of Scottish identities shaped by their outlook as members of the British elite.

Have a look at this interactive map for some more details on these women’s travels.

Wish you were here: Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Marshall

Kirsty Anne McHugh (Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies)

I thought of you all on Christmas day: after dinner I imagined you sitting round the table, and even had the vanity to think you might be drinking my health; I thought of you in the evening surrounding Mrs P’s cheerful fire; and when I thought of this I longed to be one of that happy circle.
Dorothy Wordsworth to Jane Pollard, 28 December 1788

View of Ullswater. For most of the year the Marshalls lived at their house on the outskirts of Leeds, but from 1810 they spent their summers in the Lake District.

View of Ullswater. For most of the year the Marshalls lived at their house on the outskirts of Leeds, but from 1810 they spent their summers in the Lake District.

Over the Christmas vacation I was able to go and look at the spot on the banks of Ullswater where the Marshalls build a house in 1815.

Over the Christmas vacation I was able to go and look at the spot on the banks of Ullswater where the Marshalls build a house in 1815.

In my doctoral research I am exploring the interactive nature of tour writing and how the intended audience can shape a travel account. In the last few months I have been increasingly intrigued by the friendship between John and Jane Marshall (nee Pollard) and William and Dorothy Wordsworth, specifically in relation to their tours of Scotland of 1803 and 1807.

In a letter of September 1807 Jane tells Dorothy how they have had her and her brother in their thoughts throughout their tour of Scotland, because of the account they have had of William and Dorothy’s 1803 tour. At the close of the letter, she assures Dorothy that of all the scenes they have encountered, nothing brings them more pleasure than thinking on the cottage at Grasmere and its inhabitants. Dorothy’s reply responds in a similar vein, agreeing that Roslin and Melrose are fine structures, but that places shared with friends are so much more dear to her – ‘but oh! how much more delight have I in the remembrance of Bolton in its retired valley, and the venerable Kirkstall!’

What struck me about this exchange is the way in which place is a means through which they can affirm their friendship, and share experiences even though they may not be together.

The ruins of Bolton Abbey, Wharefdale, Yorkshire, not far from where I live

The ruins of Bolton Abbey, Wharefdale, Yorkshire, not far from where I live

The River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey

The River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey

Jane Marshall was Dorothy Wordsworth’s oldest friend, and their childhood in Halifax was something Dorothy looked back on fondly. However, from 1787 when the orphaned Dorothy left Yorkshire to live with her grandparents in Penrith, until the summer of 1807 it is probable that Jane and Dorothy met only once. Whereas the above correspondence was written not long after the friends had seen each other, Dorothy’s early letters to Jane (I have located none of Jane’s letters to Dorothy) were written in quite different circumstances.

Her letters were written to someone who was incredibly important to her, but also someone distant because she had not spoken to or set eyes on Jane for years. It brought home to me how reliant family and friendship networks were on the exchange of letters in the eighteenth century.

In their correspondence prior to their reunion in the 1790s, the places which Dorothy and Jane inhabit together can only be imagined or remembered. One particularly poignant letter of 23 May 1791 (when Dorothy is living with relatives in Norfolk), reads:

Oh! Jane how much pleasure do I expect from your society when our meeting takes place! how delightful will it be to look back upon those days which passed together, without any troubles but such as the promise of an hour’s play together would at once alleviate! We shall retrace the adventures of the baby-house, the little parlour (I now fancy I see Harriot’s shop fixed at one end of the long window-seat) the croft, the ware house, nay, even the back kitchen…I often figure to myself my old companions whom I left mere girls become women. You, I fancy tall and rather slender; Ellen I suppose, is not much altered, but Harriot, I think must, I fancy her a smart looking girl with a light, slender person…I think I must be nearly as tall as Patty Ferguson, certainly not quite so tall, I believe, however, I am much grown since my aunt saw me; if Mr Griffith comes to Forncett he shall have my weight and measure; you then can form an idea of me, and if he goes to Halifax before he visits Forncett pray send me yours, but indeed, by letter you may tell me your weight.

I have very much enjoyed reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s letters to Jane, and it has helped make real various aspects of the somewhat abstract academic discourse about space and place and borders.

As readers of historical texts we are also endeavouring to cross spatial and temporal realms to understand the lives of people in the past. The Curious Travellers project it seems to me, by encouraging people to walk in Pennant’s footsteps, offers us the opportunity to explore that dialogue between past and present.

References/further reading:

Clare Brant, Eighteenth-century letters and British culture, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006
Susan E. Whyman, The Pen and the People: English letter writers 1660-1800, Oxford University Press, 2009
Peter J. Manning, Reading Romantics: texts and contexts, Oxford University Press, 1990
Ernest de Selincourt, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: the early years 1787-1805, Oxford: Clarendon press, 1967 (2nd ed)
Wordsworth in Yorkshire http://www.michaelmelvin.co.uk/stanzastones/wordsworth.html
Wordsworth Trust https://wordsworth.org.uk/home.html
Carol Ann Duffy, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, 2014 (a beautifully illustrated poetic reimagining of Christmas Day 1799) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/20/-sp-dorothy-wordsworths-christmas-birthday-carol-ann-duffy-a-christmas-poem

‘Now the country becomes suddenly Welsh’: John Malchair of Oxford, an artist and musician in 1790s Wales

Mary-Ann Constantine

for Liz Fleming-Williams, who introduced us to JM.

Back in 2013 the National Library of Wales held a memorable exhibition of Welsh landscape art. Among many familiar names, from J.M.W Turner and J.C. Ibbetson to Kyffin Williams, was one I didn’t know: John Malchair. The images – striking sketches of houses on roads winding through the hills – pulled me over to his corner of Oriel Gregynog. It took a minute or so before I realized that these were pictures from the 1790s; there’s something oddly modern about the sweep and boldness of the lines done in graphite, often with a watercolour wash. The exhibition also had a display case containing Malchair’s notes on the tour he made to Wales in 1795, written in his quirky spelling and open at July 28th:

‘The buildings are peculiar, Rude Rough and ragged, the people are so too.’ ‘Dinas Mouthwy – July 30 – 1795’ from John Malchair of Oxford, p. 129 (hereafter JM).

‘Now the country becomes suddenly Welsh and we enter a region of Mountains, here English is an acquired language and much wors spoaken than French in England, by no means so common…The trees are small and twisting often More picturesque than luxuriant timber trees’.

He noted too, the vivid greens at the base of the mountains: ‘Moss crumbled over with fragments of rock that continually role from the topp and are verry favourable to the painters touch as are also the summits on account of theire cragginess’.

One aspect of our project is exploring how our travel writers capture the experience of movement through landscape: not just the practical struggles of mud and pitted roads, but the continual shifts of light, colour and perspective. Malchair’s drawings are wonderfully kinetic. In one of my favourite sketches, ‘Dinas Mouthwy, 1795’ the movement is in many directions: water flows across a road which leads us up past the out-of-kilter cottages to the sharp slope of the hill. Catherine Hutton, travelling from Birmingham that same way a year later, evokes something similar in words:

 

Our road was a terrace cut on the side of the northern range, generally fenced with a hedge, now and then without a fence, sometimes on bridges thrown over streams, which poured down from the mountains across our road, and sometimes through them; while, swelled by the rain into little torrents, they tumbled in cascades into the river below

(NLW MS 19079C, 5)

Malchair also did many pictures of Oxford – its buildings and back-streets, full of fascinating glimpses of daily life – and his work was gathered together for an exhibition in the Ashmolean Museum in 1998. John Malchair of Oxford, Colin Harrison’s beautifully-produced catalogue with essays by Susan Wollenberg and Julian Munby, is full of insights and information, and includes a full transcription of the Welsh tour notebook cited above. As these writers acknowledge, the rediscovery of Malchair was largely due to the pioneering work of Ian Fleming-Williams, a Constable scholar who built up a large personal collection of Malchair’s drawings. This sweeping view of ‘Moel-y-Ffrydd’ near Llanymawddwy was donated by Fleming-Williams to the Tate in 1997:

‘It is not difficult here to account for the Sublimity, the objects are vast and very uncommon to Eyes that are only wont to contemplate the beauties of a rich farming country’ JM p.130 John Malchair, ‘Moel-y-Frydd 1795’, Tate Gallery, donated by Ian Fleming-Williams. Available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) licence: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/malchair-moel-y-ffrydd-t07011

In 1795 Malchair travelled with the Revd George Cooke, a Fellow of Oriel who had an interest in geology; perhaps as a result of their conversations the images of landforms from this tour have an especially energetic intensity. The pair stayed for nine days exploring the country around at Dinas Mawddwy, where Malchair sketched intimate scenes of huts and pigs and tumbledown cottages as well as the grander mountainscapes, before moving on to Barmouth, where they were further entranced by the play of light and weather along the coast.

Malchair the musician was not idle in Wales. As Margaret Dean-Smith has shown, he had a keen interest in traditional tunes, which he would pick up from all manner of sources – in manuscript collections or from buskers, beggars, and even from the whistling of passers-by on the streets of Oxford. He was especially interested in the idea of ‘national’ song, a subject which – partly in the wake of the success of Robert Burns – became increasingly popular in Britain the early 1800s. His manuscript collections in the Royal College of Music and elsewhere (currently the focus of a PhD dissertation: see bibliography) contain hundreds of tunes which he defines as ‘Scottish’, ‘Irish’ and ‘Welsh’. Of the latter, we know from notes by his disciple William Crotch that some were collected on his tours: ‘written down by Mr Malchair, who heard it sung in Harlech Castle’ (JM, 41). Some of Malchair’s own compositions clearly drew on traditional songs, and this little piece, ‘Farewell to Dinas Mawddwy’ records his affection for a place that, evidently, had moved him very deeply indeed.  [We are currently recording the tune which will be available here]

Bwlch y Groes, north-east of Dinas Mawddwy: ‘In this scene the dreary and the comfortable are happely blended, Mr Pennant calls Bulch y Gross one of the most terrible passes in north Wales’, JM 131-32. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_389759/John-Baptist-Malchair/Bwlch-Y-Groes,-North-Wales

 

Short Bibliography:

[JM] Colin Harrison, with Susan Wollenberg and Julian Munby, John Malchair of Oxford: Artist and Musician (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1998)

Margaret Dean-Smith, “The Preservation of English Folk Song and Popular Music: Mr. Malchair’s Collection and Dr. Crotch’s Specimens” JEFDSS 7:2 (1953): 106–11

For Alice Little’s current research into Malchair’s music: http://alicelittle.co.uk/research/dphil.php

 

Alex Deans, Curious Travellers in SSL 42:2

Nigel Leask and I were pleased to be able to contribute an account of the Curious Travellers project to the symposium on ‘Spatial Humanities and Scottish Studies’ in the latest issue of Studies in Scottish Literature. As the journal editors Patrick Scott and Tony Jarells note in their preface, these symposia are a great way of bringing together short and focused pieces of (often ongoing) research under a particular theme, while reflecting a wide range of disciplines and approaches – made all the more valuable by the fact that SSL is an open access publication.

Reading the other pieces – thought-provokingly framed by Eric Gidal and Michael Gavin’s  introduction –  I was struck by both the similarities and divergences in the approaches which different projects are taking to the so-called “spatial turn” in the humanities. The use of technology is a common theme, and the digital methods being used by Curious Travellers are discussed in our article, including our plans for manuscript tours of Scotland and Wales and Pennant’s correspondence, and some background on our mapping collaboration with the National Library of Scotland – which has gone live since the issue went to press earlier this autumn.

Other projects in the symposium are investigating more analytic, Geo-spatial Information System or GIS-based approaches, which allow researchers to produce “deep” or (my preference) “thick maps” of the ways in which culture and place interact, or to model complex social, lexical, historical and environmental information within a common geographical frame. As in the case of Murray Pittock and Craig Lamont’s project, one advantage here seems to be that of making a great variety of histories and materials accessible to a broader audience, by opening them up to a medium that more and more of us – through our reliance on constantly available online mapping services via tablets and smartphones – are now used to engaging with on a daily basis. On the other hand, the contribution from the spatial humanities team at Lancaster University reflects on the difficulties of translating between page and landscape – even writing about place, it turns out, isn’t straight-forwardly amenable to spatial analysis.

Another common theme in this symposium seems to be the sense in which the spatial humanities – while novel in their current, primarily digital mode – owe their origins in part to a very eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sense of the ways in which culture and place are mutually formative, whether through language, economy, ecology, or any number of other factors. Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in the travel writing of the period, but it’s also the case that no other genre seems to draw out the complexities involved in traversing, experiencing and representing place and space quite so vividly. The question of what it means to read literary works through a spatial lens is always mirrored by that of how past writers thought about the relationship between texts and places, and there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to either; of course, its precisely this complexity that makes it so exciting to be involved in this field as it continues to grow and develop.

Kirsty McHugh, ‘Manuscript Travel Accounts of Scotland and Wales’

Kirsty McHugh is a first-year doctoral research student at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies. She is part of the AHRC Curious Travellers project. Here, she adapts her paper from the inaugural CRECS Conference for our blog.

My research focuses on manuscript journals, diaries and letters recording the experiences of individuals and groups travelling in Scotland and Wales in the Romantic period. Since beginning my research degree in October 2015 I’ve become aware of the unique opportunities that exploring this topic affords, but also its challenges—in part, due to the nature of travel writing, but also because existing research has been largely based on published travel writing. Here I offer a brief overview of where my research has led me thus far.

Traditionally local and social historians have looked to travel accounts, especially tours of Britain, for evidence of what a particular place was like at a certain time. They can take at face-value that the descriptions given are real, up-to-date, and accurate; they rarely explore who generated the account and why.

Tours of Scotland and Wales offered tourists the possibility of exploring unfamiliar areas of Britain and encountering wild, sublime, or picturesque landscapes and their inhabitants. However, travel accounts are rarely uncomplicated evidence. Information was not always gathered from personal experience, but from books, local people or travelling companions – and sometimes written down long after the journey itself. Through comparison of a small number of travel accounts I hope to shed light on the extent to which individuals reacted uniquely to people and places, and how they were affected by the wider influences of the period.

I got particularly interested in multiple accounts of the same journey, An example in York Archives is the 1796 Scottish tour journals of 17-year-old Jonathan Gray and his father William. William’s entry for 15 August focuses on the distances involved, the quality of the inns and the cultivation of the country, particularly the variety of trees. His son writes in a much livelier and eclectic style, displaying great curiosity about a number of areas. An extract from his entry for the same day reads:

We now parted from the Scotch gentleman who had been our agreeable companion. If I were to judge the Scotch from him in should think them rather like the French, gay and debonair. We were informed that 2 quarts of strawberries which in York would probably cost 2/6, at Edinburgh would cost only 6d. This was rather mortifying to a lover of strawberries the season for which is now over. Eggs in Scotland are very cheap, & generally eaten at breakfast. A gentleman once desired that a pennyworth of eggs might be boiled for his breakfast; when nine & thirty were set on the table. As an instance among many others which might be mentioned of Scotch & Northumbrian curiosity, is the following. At the turnpike thro’ which we passed out of England into Scotland [our servant] Paul was asked are those English men? Were they ever in Scotland before? Have you ever been in Scotland? The Scotch men seem as curious as English women. No doubt we were very much pitied never to have been before in the finest country in the world.
—Travel Journals from a Tour of Scotland by Jonathan Gray (1796), York Archives GRF/6/2. With permission of Explore York Libraries and Archives

Once I began to read more about the study of travel writing I learned about post-colonial theory and a growing awareness that through describing encounters with the ‘other’ travel writing can record the writer negotiating and documenting their own identity. Understandably, however, much of the academic study of travel writing which has emerged in the last 30 or so years has focussed on published works. Although it has been argued that many authors of travel books were amateurs, the focus has also tended to be on travel works by well-known literary figures such as Wollstonecraft or Wordsworth, potentially providing an atypical picture of travel and its literary products in the period.

The manuscript tours I have located provide an opportunity to look at the travel of the middling sort, many of whom had no literary aspirations. Looking at handwritten material – I was struck by: the difficulty in ascertaining the reason behind the creation of the record and the physicality of the item and its form.

Travel Journal from a Tour of Scotland by Jonathan Gray (1796), York Archives GRF/6/2. With permission of Explore York Libraries and Archives

Sometimes the author kindly tells us why they are keeping a journal, Eliza Dawson for example writes in 1786:

It is natural to suppose a Girl of sixteen, who has never been above thirty miles from home, should form sanguine expectations from a journey of eight hundred. As for me who answer that description, I anticipate a prodigious deal of pleasure from it—and therefore have determin’d to set down every trifling circumstance, that affords me the least momentary entertainment.
—A Tour through part of England and of Scotland by Eliza Dawson in the year 1786, NLS Acc.12017

It can be assumed that in addressing a real or imagined audience travel journals like this are in some sense designed for sharing amongst a limited audience, probably friends and family.

Over the last 10 years or so research has convincingly shown that manuscript and print culture existed alongside each other in the 18th and early 19th century. Alongside a narrative, both published and unpublished records of travel can incorporate lists of inns, tables of distances, lists of dialect words, illustrations etc. However, this is often exaggerated in manuscript tours and some content can be dull, practical or only of interest to the author. Tourists might also attempt to capture their experiences by pasting in prints, making drawings, or enclosing momentos such as pressed flowers. So the physical artefact of the travel journal or diary can take on an additional significance to the words it contains.

Beamont prints

Prints of Glasgow pasted into William Beamont’s travel journal ‘My tour through some parts of Scotland and Ireland (1825), Warrington Library MS288

Beamont map

Hand-painted map of part of Argyllshire from Beamont’s travel journal, Warrington Library MS288

And in creating a record of that travel experience the author’s also created a record of one episode in their lives, meaning that travel writing is often also ‘life writing’. After the tour is over these travels can continue to exert influence on individual’s lives and their sense of personal identity. Richard Vaughan Yates of Liverpool, wrote rather poetically of this intention, in the journal of his 1805 tour of Wales:

When the admirer of nature gazes in rapture upon a scene remarkable for its beauty or grandeur, he says within himself “surely, I shall never forget this.” But memory is treacherous; when he returns to serious occupations, the landscapes which had been painted on his imagination in such lively colours, gradually fade away, and, as the morning tints vanish before the splendour of the sun, give place to more important objects. In order to preserve the remembrance of scenes, on which I intend to reflect in the intervals of business, I took the following notes as we were on our journey…
Memoranda of a tour in North & South Wales and parts of England & Ireland, 12th May to 22d June 1805, NLW MS 687b

Acknowledgements

Images and quotations from the collections of:

Further reading

  • Andrews, Malcolm, The Search for the picturesque: landscape, aesthetics and tourism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1989).
  • Carruthers, Gerard, and Alan Rawes (eds), English Romanticism and the Celtic World (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).
  • Justice, George L. and Nathan Tinker (eds), Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550–1800 (Cambridge: CUP, 2002).
  • Kinsley, Zoë, Women writing the home tour, 1682–1812 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).
  • Thompson, Carl, Travel Writing (London and New York: Routledge, 2011).
  • Sublime Wales: early tourists in Wales https://sublimewales.wordpress.com/ [A website containing extracts from over 1200 published and manuscript accounts of tours of Wales, 1700–1900 compiled by Michael Freeman].

Original post here.