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Vol. 39 1995

'Shook to death'. The travels of the Talbots of Penrice and Margam in the Georgian period.

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'Shook to Death'. The Travels of the
Talbots of Penrice and Margam in
the Georgian Period
Joanna Martin
Before the middle of the eighteenth century few outsiders ventured into
Glamorgan, unless they came for family or business reasons. The area had little to
attract the 'polite' traveller in a period of classicism, when medieval architecture
was out of fashion, and the wild, uncultivated and mountainous tracts which made
up most of the interior part of the county were to be feared, rather than admired.
As H.P. Wyndham stated in 1774 in the preface to the first edition of his Tour in
Wales, 'The Welsh tour has been hitherto strangely neglected, for while the
English roads are crowded with travelling parties of pleasure, the Welsh are so
rarely visited that the author did not meet with a single party of pleasure during his
six weeks' journey through Wales'. This was due, Wyndham continued, to 'the
general prejudice which prevails, that the Welsh roads are impracticable, the inns
intolerable, and the people insolent and brutish'.1 Moreover, he might have added,
the locals did not even speak English. Of the best-known early travellers, Celia
Fiennes ignored South Wales altogether. Daniel Defoe visited Llandaff, Cardiff,
Neath and Swansea, but he was mainly interested in local economic conditions,
especially the coal trade. Defoe nearly missed out the southern part of Glamorgan
entirely, after finding that the interior of the county was full of 'horrid rocks and
From the 1770s onwards everything began to change. A developing passion for
wild, picturesque scenery, ornamented with romantic ruined castles and abbeys,
was stimulated by the writings of Edmund Burke and William Gilpin. These
brought a flood of travellers to the Welsh mountains, many of whom published
accounts of their tours. The readers of these accounts such as Wyndham's Tour
were induced to follow in the author's footsteps. The public's appetite was
further whetted by printed illustrations of Welsh scenes, and by exhibitions of
paintings of romantic landscapes by artists such as Richard Wilson and Thomas
Jones of Pencerrig in Radnorshire. Towards the the end of the eighteenth century,
too, the French Revolution and wars in Europe induced gentlemen and ladies who
might previously have considered a foreign tour to explore their own country
instead. Ruined medieval castles and abbeys were studied with the interest that
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