Early tourists in Wales

Reference: NLW MS 1340C & NLW MS 22753B

The grand tour and tours in Britain

During the eighteenth century it became fashionable for members of the upper classes to go on a 'grand tour' of Europe, visiting countries such as France, Italy and even Greece. Those of more limited means began to imitate this fashion with a tour through the more picturesque areas of Britain. The increasingly unstable political situation in Europe in the late eighteenth century led to the end of the 'grand tour', but to an increase of tours in Britain.

Many of these early tourists recorded their observations on the landscape, traditions and history in journals, some of which were published. Perhaps the most famous traveller through Wales to keep a journal was Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) who published his account of his journeys in 'A tour in Wales' (1778-1783).

The influence of William Gilpin's tour in the Wye Valley

One area that was particularly popular with early tourists was the Wye Valley. It is described and drawn by Thomas Martyn ('Mr M.') in his 'A tour to south Wales' (NLW MS 1340C). Like many other travellers at the time, Thomas Martyn followed in the footsteps of William Gilpin (1724-1804). Gilpin's book Observations on the River Wye, and several parts of south Wales, etc. relative chiefly to picturesque beauty, published in 1782, was based on a tour undertaken in 1770. Although people had been writing journals of tours for many years, this was the first to enter the popular consciousness, and it is traditionally believed to have started the fashion for 'picturesque tourism'. Picturesque tourism concentrated on an appreciation of scenery rather than history or architecture and can be linked to the growth of Romanticism

NLW MS 1340C: A tour to south Wales (1801)

Romanticism's influence on Thomas Martyn is shown by his use of a quotation from the work of the poet William Cowper (1731-1800), who in turn influenced William Wordsworth (1770-1850), on page 3 of his journal. The manuscript also contains comments on local customs, wildlife and scenery. Although the work concentrates on the more picturesque parts of south Wales, it also includes comments on the parts of England which the author travelled through on the road from his home in London. A few watercolours and sketches illustrate the work.

NLW MS 22753B: Tour through Wales (1772)

'Tour through Wales', written in 1772 by Jinny Jenks (c.1737-1778), concentrates mainly on northeast Wales. Among the places visited are the Vale of Clwyd, Hafodunos and St Asaph. Along the way Jenks and her companions meet some local dignitaries, including the Bishop of St Asaph whom she describes as 'a very handsome man'. It is plain that this journal was written before the influence of Romanticism was felt. Although she often refers to the landscape Jinny Jenks, unlike Thomas Martyn, did not travel to an area traditionally visited by tourists. She also seems to have had as much interest in meeting people and visiting towns as in viewing the landscape.

Further reading

  • Malcolm Andrews. The search for the picturesque. Aldershot : Scolar Press, 1989.
  • Thomas Martyn, Sketch of a Tour through Swisserland (1787)

Was this page useful?