Launching ‘Travels at Home’

Elizabeth Edwards

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Welsh side of the project, but we are delighted to be able to say that our new exhibition ‘Travels at Home: Thomas Pennant, the Dee Estuary and Greenfield Valley’ is now up and running at Greenfield Valley Heritage Park.

A group of children and adults stand in a brightly lit exhibition room around information boards and a book in a display case, listening to a woman with dark hair in a grey jacket speak.

The exhibition centres on Pennant’s relationships with some of the places closest to his home, Downing Hall, just outside the village of Whitford. The exhibition covers the cultural writings he composed at Downing, the natural history specimens he studied and displayed there (especially in his library), and the industrial and scientific changes that were emerging in his local area at exactly the same moment. The Greenfield Valley is just a few miles from Downing, and it takes us to the edge of the estuary. But the short journey to the sea means encountering a very different sort of watery landscape, defined by the spring at the top of the valley in Holywell, better known as the holy site of St Winifred’s Well. In the eighteenth century this water powered a complex of industrial buildings (mills, forges, furnaces) on its way down to the shore.

A group of mostly children move through an exhibition space, with a display case in the foreground holding a large block of coal surrounded by sea-shells

The exhibition tells the story of these buildings, and the copper, cotton and other industries that boomed in and around the valley. It’s a story of technical innovation and economic progress, but it’s also one of human suffering and environmental catastrophe that is still shaping the world today. Greenfield’s strategic location near the sea tied its industries into global trading patterns in raw materials and manufactured goods, and (disturbingly) the trade in enslaved people. And so the exhibition also explains some of the valley’s vivid contradictions: the estuary’s coal kept poor families warm and fuelled the factories, but its legacy today is a rapidly warming atmosphere and environmental crisis. Or see the abandoned buildings, once full of smoke and noise, but now reclaimed by nature and rich habitats for wildlife.

Greenfield is one of those places where it’s easy to feel that the eighteenth century is not just near but never really over.

We marked the opening of the exhibition (20 April 2024) with a day of talks and activities, from storytelling and comic-creating, to lectures on Pennant and the history of Greenfield, local place names, and the artistic potential of the estuary. And we also launched our accompanying exhibition catalogue, which provides a more permanent space for the images and narratives featured in ‘Travels at Home’. The catalogue can be purchased HERE (for £3.50 + postage).

The front cover of an exhibition's catalogue, standing on a table: the cover shows an eighteenth century picture of a house by the sea, and it bears the title "Travels at Home: Thomas Pennant, The Dee Estuary and Greenfield Valley"

Grateful thanks to the staff at Greenfield for their support and for practical help with the exhibition!

‘Travels at Home’ can be visited until July.