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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.