Fundraising in Whitford, Crowdsourcing in Aber

Some Curious Travellers project members are hard at work editing Thomas Pennant’s tours of Wales and Scotland for our forthcoming online edition, but that doesn’t mean we’re all hidden away in our offices and libraries: two events hosted by the project last month show that we and our collaborators are already helping to bring the good news about Pennant to the wider world.

On Sunday 19th May the project joined forces with the renowned Hawarden Singers to present an afternoon of songs and readings in the Church of St Mary and St Beuno, Whitford. This was Pennant’s local church, a short walk up the dingle from Downing Hall; he and his family are buried here, and the church boasts an unusual range of interesting monuments, including the marble memorial to Pennant by Richard Westmacott, medieval carved stones and some fine stained glass windows.

An enthusiastic audience enjoyed a combination of readings from Pennant’s own work, and some superb songs from the choir, led by Malcom Williams. The event began with a reading of a new poem by the Chairman (and resident bard) of the Thomas Pennant Society, which nicely linked Pennant’s interest in birds – warblers in particular – to the wonderful programme of singing which followed.  Dr Martin Crampin talked us through details of the stunning stained glass windows, and Sarah Baylis and Mary-Ann Constantine voiced Pennant’s thoughts on everything from fairy changelings to the migration of herring. Many kind volunteers provided tea and a dizzying array of cakes. We would like to thank the Reverend Kathryn Evans for her warm welcome, and Churchwarden Peter Stutchfield for his tireless work in organising and promoting the event.

Thanks to the generosity of our audience, the event raised £1000 to help protect this important Grade I listed building. The Curious Travellers project has been working closely with Whitford Church to raise awareness of its historical importance. We are currently preparing a new heritage guide and have also designed a website where you can learn more about its many treasures – and also add your donations to ours, keeping this vital community and heritage hub running

Our dealings with the church are far from finished – on Wed  5th June our commissioned artist Sean Harris will be using its dramatic space once again, sharing the work he has been doing on Pennant’s British Zoology with pupils from nearby Ysgol y Llan.

A choir in bright blue jackets holding music folders, singing beneath a multicoloured stained-glass window in a church. Rows of audience members line the pews listening to them.
The Hawarden Singers delight the crowd at Whitford Church [Image: Martin Crampin]

Then, on Thursday May 23rd, we organised an event soundtracked more by the quiet clicking of keyboards than the dulcet tones of a choir. Led by our project Co-investigator Lisa Cardy from the Natural History Museum in London, this was a crowdsourcing workshop at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, where a party of volunteers helped us to tag the contents of images from Pennant’s lavishly illustrated tour manuscripts. This information will eventually be incorporated into our online editions of Pennant’s tours, allowing readers to match our edited texts with the images Pennant used to decorate them. Even our online editions, then, are going to be collaborations with the growing audience of Pennant enthusiasts out in the wider world beyond academia – a testament to the continuing appeal of his tours in the twenty-first century.