This page includes:
- Numbers of known accounts of tours
- Estimating the number of actual tours
- Number of visitors at Hafod, 1796
- Number of visitors to Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire, 1824
- Number of visitors to the bridges across the Menai in 1850
- Number of visitors to Penrhyn Castle, 1856
- North Wales ‘crowded to excess’ in 1857
- Number of visitors to Devil’s Bridge, 1865
- Number of visits to the Ladies of Llangollen 1780-1830
- Calculating numbers of visitors
- External factors that might have affected visitor numbers
- References to numbers of tourists by the tourists themselves
- Comparative numbers of visitors to some attractions
see also Snowdon visitor numbers
The number of accounts of tours is no indication of numbers of tourists because there is no indication of how many tourists didn’t keep a record, or how many records have been subsequently lost or are still in private collections. The numbers of known accounts might, however, give an indication of the increase and decrease in the number of tourists if it is assumed that the same proportion of tourists kept records, but it is also very likely that this proportion decreased by the 1840s, because the fashion of keeping accounts died out, partly because everything that could be said about Wales had been said.
Just over 1300 surviving accounts of tours of Wales between 1700-1900 are known. The number of actual tours must have been much greater, but this is impossible to calculate.
These statistics do not include artists (unless they left a written tour). Thousands of works of art of Wales were produced during the late 18th and early 19th centuries by hundreds, possibly thousands, of artists who left little other record of their tours of Wales. It is possible that the number of artists who visited Wales between 1770 and 1870 was double that of the number of recorded tours.
The number of known tours will increase as more are discovered, especially those which included Wales in the itinerary but not in the title of their journals. My recent (2018) study of descriptions of ascents of Snowdon has produced many accounts of visits and tours of Wales which were published in newspapers.
Numbers of known accounts of tours
date range total mss published
1700 – 1749 33 25 8
1750 – 1759 16 11 5
1760 – 1769 32 25 7
1770 – 1779 73 54 19
1780 – 1789 73 60 13
1790 – 1799 153 106 47
1800 – 1809 173 125 48
1810 – 1819 128 100 28
1820 – 1829 147 110 37
1830 – 1839 141 102 39
1840 – 1849 106 77 29
1850 – 1859 65 49 16
1860 – 1869 48 33 15
1870 – 1879 19 13 6
1880 – 1889 13 10 3
1890 – 1899 13 7 6
TOTAL 1233 907 326
The years 1770-1839 were the most productive, at an average of just over one recorded tour each month.
date total mss published average per year
1700 – 1769 81 61 20 1.16
1770 – 1839 888 657 231 12.69
1840 – 1899 264 189 75 4.40
total 1233 907 326 6.17
Estimating the number of actual tours
It has proved impossible to estimate the number of visitors to Wales at any one time or to provide reliable estimates over the years for comparative purposes. Some of the tourists tell of crowded inns and busy roads, but, certainly during the late 18th century, most inns were small and already well patronised by other sorts of travellers such as lawyers, the militia, those involved in commerce and, in north Wales, those following the main route to Ireland, as well as those travelling to and from the spas and burgeoning resorts for their health and social life. Occasionally the tourists would arrive at a town where the inns were fully occupied by those attending the Great Sessions, an election or horse races.
Inn-keeper’s visitors books, mentioned by a number of tourists, have rarely survived; the number of fellow tourists at an inn is almost never recorded and it is impossible to calculate what proportion of the tourists kept diaries.
It is very likely that the numbers of tourists in Wales increased from perhaps a few dozen at any one time in the 1770s to several hundred in the 1850s.
Number of visitors at Hafod, 1796
One clue to numbers may be found in a letter from Thomas Johnes of Hafod, near Aberystwyth to George Cumberland, author of An Attempt to Describe Hafod (published in 1796) in 1796, offering to take 50 copies of the book: … for the concourse of strangers to the Devil’s Bridge is immense. Last summer there were 40 in one day; some for the place, but more, I believe for the wine.’ In July, that year he wrote: ‘There have been many strangers here and at the Devil’s Bridge – it is all the vogue …’
25 people kept some kind of record of a visit to Wales in 1795 (i.e. before Cumberland’s book attracted even more visitors to Hafod).
The Ladies of Llangollen, 1780-1831
The best documented attraction for recorded visitors was Plas Newydd, Llangollen, the home of the Ladies of Llangollen. Eleanor Butler kept journals in which she recorded the names of some of the visitors but of the 623 months the Ladies spent at Plas Newydd, diary entries for only 98 survive. The number of people who visited them during 1819 and 1821 (the only complete years for which the names of every visitor has been transcribed) are listed below.
During 1821, visitors were recorded on 188 days of the year (leaving 177 with none). This is an average of 3.4 per day, the maximum on one day being 20, but not all at the same time. Some of these were close neighbours who came for a brief visit and were not invited to a meal.
The number of individual visitors welcomed into the house or allowed only to see the grounds, as listed in Butler’s diary each month for 1819 and 1821.
If this number of visitors per year was typical for even half the number of years the Ladies lived at Plas Newydd, the total number of visitors they received might have been between 16,000 and 20,000.
Number of visitors to Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire, 1824
Ann Porter recorded that ‘The name of the old Woman who shews the Castle is Rogers & I hear she makes near £300 a year by it.’
This might be a completely erroneous figure: Ann Porter might have miss-heard or miss-remembered the amount (the original manuscript has been checked and it is clearly £300 not £30). During the 1820s a farm labourer or casual worker might have earned 2s a day, 6 days a week, i.e. just over £30 a year. £300 is 6,000 shillings which might represent the number of visitors at an average tip of 1s each, but that would require 50 people to tip the guide every single day during a 4 month season or 32 people every day over 6 months. If the guide was very good at her job, it is possible that the average tip was 2s but that would still require between 25 and 16 people every day. Unfortunately, there are no similar record for near-by attractions such as Tintern, and no other visitor to Raglan gave an indication of the number of visitors or the amount of the tip expected by Mrs Roberts. Only 19 other tourists recorded visiting Raglan during the 1820s.
Porter, Anne, Journal of a tour down the Wye & through South Wales, August 17th to September 25th 1824. Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 65 (ii) 705: 262
Number of visitors to the Menai Bridge in 1850
In adverts for his Practical Liverpool, Menai Bridge, and Carnarvon Steam-Boat Guide, J.P. Hamer, a tour organiser of Carnarvon claimed that ‘some 500 persons visit the [Menai and Britannia] Bridges daily’. (He continued that ‘450 at least of these, return dissatisfied with Welsh Scenery and Charges, because they will not lay out One Shilling to tell them what to see, and how, and what it will cost to see it.’)
North Wales Chronicle, 10 August 1850 and subsequently.
Penrhyn Castle, 1856
By 1856, Penrhyn Castle was proving to be a very popular attraction but access was restricted to half a day a week when the family were in residence and two days a week when they were away. One way to reduce numbers was the requirement to purchase tickets in advance from local hotels. In 1857 a guide book noted that these cost 2s for the first person in a group and the rest paid 1s 6d each. Later guidebooks gave the price of tickets for additional members of a group as 1s.
The German tourist Julius Rodenberg was annoyed about being taken around with 24 others:
Now here I first encountered that swarm of tourists, from which I did not find it easy to escape. The whole castle yard was full of people – ladies with leather gloves, not unlike fencing gloves, and blue silk parasols above their straw hats; gentlemen in checked caps, their necks encased in stiff collars – for a gentleman cannot make himself completely comfortable, even when on holiday. The curiosity of this monstrous crowd was satisfied in batches: every quarter of an hour the gate opened, two let two dozen out and another two dozen in.
Rodenberg, Julius, (1831-), Ein Herbst in Wales, Land and Leute, Marchen under Lieder, (Hanover, 1858), translated by William Linnard, ‘An Autumn in Wales, (1856), Country and People, Tales and Songs’, (Cowbridge, 1985), pp. 113-115
A number of national and regional newspapers reported that North Wales ‘crowded to excess’ in August 1857
Tourists in North Wales.
The extraordinary fineness of the weather has induced a multitude almost beyond number to visit the northern principality within the last few weeks. The platform of the Chester and Holyhead station, at Chester, has daily exhibited a scene of bustle and animation, by tourists pouring in for North Wales, which baffles description. Birmingham, with the other iron districts, has contributed thousands of passengers for Wales, while Manchester and the populous manufacturing districts surrounding it have been equally liberal in their contributions to the towns and villages on the Welsh coast. Rhyl, a largely populated sea-bathing place on the Chester and Holyhead line, is crowded to excess, and within the last few days many instances have occurred in which tired and jaded visitors, after journeying a hundred or so miles, with all the excitement of travelling in quest of the picturesque, have been, doomed to get no better accommodation in that town than the railway station could afford, and compelled to go miles further to obtain a bed. The same demand has been experienced at Abergele, on the same coast, at the newly-formed town of Llandudno, situate at the foot of the Great Ormeshead; at Conway, Bangor, Beaumaris, Carnarvon, &c., hotels are crammed in every quarter; inns and boarding-houses are filled to repletion. The byeways and mountain passes of North Wales, which some years ago were inaccessible to the population are now trodden by thousands the history of the castle and castelets of Edward I. seems now as familiar to travellers as “household words;” and Snowdon, the lake of Llanberis, Capel Curig, Bettws-y-coed, and the other sublime scenery of the Snowdonian district spread forth their charms to admiring thousands. Amid this active locomotion, hotel-keepers are reaping a bountiful harvest. Her Majesty’s lieges are making themselves acquainted with a portion of the kingdom until recently but imperfectly understood, and the gratifying fact is apparent that the people are resuming a refined and elevated character. It may be mentioned that the facilities for tourist’s journey will be speedily enlarged by the construction of the Vale of Clwyd Railway from Rhyl to Denbigh, by which means visitors will be brought into the midst of delightful inland scenery and into a district abounding in habitations and inhabitants thoroughly Cambrian.
Daily News (London), 01 Sep 1857
The Times (London), 02 Sep 1857
The Morning Chronicle (London) 02 Sep 1857
Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register, 12th September 1857
J.P. Hamer of north Wales, a tour organiser and guide refuted this report:
Tourists in North Wales
To the editor, Sir
A paragraph appears in your paper likely to do very serious injury to several striving people keeping lodging-houses etc. in North Wales, who depend upon their bread, from a letting. The paragraph states that north Wales is crowded to excess. I have been 17 years a sojourner in North Wales, and for something like 10 years trying to lay before my English countrymen common-sense facilities for visiting and enjoying the scenery here, as well as procuring them lodgings, and for myself, I can say that 1857 is not equal to ’54, ’55 or ’56 and the class of tourist is very mediocre on the average. Beds at 6d a night, eight in a car 4d, and any quantity of bread, cheese and ale for next to nothing – is the style. Rhyl is not full, neither are Llanadore, Beaumaris, Bangor, or Caernarvon; … Llanberis has been full, because it offers but small accommodation to everyone rushing there, under a blind infatuation as the easiest and best way of ascending Snowdon; and if any sensible person will sojourn there for 24 hours, and watch the scene – the squire, the tradesman, and the mechanic, making it almost a life-and-death business to obtain a guide, pong [sic] brandy, etc. to rush into all but a certain fog, because all the Joneses, Robinsons, and Smiths go there, he will blush for England’s enlightenment. I have … another route [to Snowdon] at a tithe of the expense, as 140 ascents, and only thirteen blank views thereout is a very good proof. …
J.P. Hamer, Snowdon-Office, Caernarvon, Sept.4.
Daily News (London), 07 Sep 1857
Number of visitors to Devil’s Bridge, 1865
The only actual figure found so far is that a total of 9,620 people visited the Devil’s Bridge falls in 1865. This is the year after the railway arrived at Aberystwyth from the east, bringing with it vast numbers of day-trippers and a different class of tourist. It was also the year during which the National Eisteddfod was held in Aberystwyth which attracted thousands of people.
Calculating numbers of visitors
There are various clues which might give a rough idea of relative numbers, but none can produce absolute figures.
The few visitors’ books give a very rough idea of how numbers changed over the years, (assuming the same proportion of guests signed them), but it has been shown that many tourists didn’t sign these. There was no need for places who provided accommodation to travellers to record the names and addresses of all their guests until the First World War.
Census returns did not record the home address of visitors until 1841, but these were generally taken in April, before the tourist season began.
Some tourists recorded that inns and hotels were full, but in many cases we don’t know how many beds they had, nor how many tourists were squeezed into one bed (as sometimes happened), or how many were taken to local cottages, or slept in their carriages, or simply walked miles to the next inn.
Tourists themselves very rarely mentioned the number of tourists (or any sort of traveller) at inns or attractions but they occasionally mentioned that a place was very busy.
Mrs Morgan (tour of Milford, 1791), said there were more gentlemen’s carriages in Carmarthenshire then in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Estimates and some figures for tourists in Scotland may be found in Durie, Alastair, Scotland for the Holidays, p. 25
External factors that might have affected visitor numbers
There might have been a greater or lesser number of tourists in Wales at different times as a result of various factors.
These include :
- The War with France (1792-1815) which is said to have stopped travel to the Continent
- Periods of financial insecurity, especially towards the end of the war with France and the war with America (1812-1815)
- Food riots resulting from bad summers in 1809 and 1811 and at other times
- The year without a summer, 1816, possibly caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 (although no tourists travelling in Wales in 1816 mention particularly bad weather.)
- The Rebecca Riots (1839-1845)
- The spread of Cholera and other diseases 1830s to 1860s (a few tourists mention minor outbreaks of diseases in Wales during this period)
References to numbers of tourists by the tourists themselves
1784 near Pistyll y Cain, near Dolgellau
‘arrived by a small path at a most wretched cottage, where every person must leave their horses. The only being, in this horrid hovel, was an old deaf woman aged 86, … Our guide, [Robin Edwards] bawled to this old creature to produce the contents of her larder, which consisted of oaten cakes, butter, cheese, whey, and butter milk, which is commonly offered to and accepted by travellers; whose numbers in a year seldom exceed 10 or 12 and we are the first of this season: it is probable that the improvement of the inns, roads and the many books of descriptions, will increase the number. I did not so much pity some of the old lady’s miseries, when I learned from Robin, they arose from avarice; and that her wealth had lately procured her a second, and young, husband.’
Byng, John, A Tour to North Wales, Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.235, p. 150
The Rebecca Riots affected only south-west Wales from south Cardiganshire to Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, so probably had little effect on potential tourists to north Wales. However, there are two contrasting reports, one from the Times newspaper and the the other by John Parker, a frequent visitor to north Wales.
[Aberystwyth] ‘has suffered very considerably from the disturbed state of the rural districts around, nervous ‘mammas’ and tottering old gentlemen being deterred by apprehensions from visiting it this year. They may rest assured, however, that they may eat their shrimps in peace, the town being perfectly quiet. A company of light Dragoons has been marched into the town and also 50 men of the 75th infantry’
The Times, 24.8.1843
‘There is much less travelling than usual through south Wales this year: owing, chiefly, to the riots of Rebecca and her daughters.
Parker, John, (1798-1860), Journal of a Gothic Tour in S Wales from August 21 to Septr 13th 1843, NLW MS 18255B, 3rd September, 1843
Comparative numbers of visitors to some attractions
This shows the number of written descriptions of various attractions or subjects, found in over 1300 accounts of tours, 1770-1900.
|site or subject||type||number of references||note|
|Erddig||Inhabited mansion and grounds||15||near Wrexham|
|Haverfordwest||Priory||23||Ruins on the edge of the town|
|St David’s||Cathedral||40||The most remote attraction in Wales.|
|Powis Castle||Inhabited mansion and grounds||83||Not one of the main attractions.|
|Hafod||Inhabited mansion and grounds||104||Very popular, but not fully open after 1830.|
|Capel Curig||Inn||176||A large inn just off a main road, but the furthest base for ascending Snowdon.|
|Piercefield||Picturesque grounds||209||A very popular site until about 1850; near England.|
|Beddgelert||Base for Snowdon and Gelert’s grave||263||The grave became popuar after Spencer’s poem went viral.|
|Plas Newydd, Llangollen||cottage and grounds||312||On the main road to Ireland; occupied by the famous Ladies of Llangollen.|
|Snowdon||Highest Mountain in England and Wales||450||Spectacular views when not covered in cloud; on the ‘must visit list’ for many fit tourists.|
|Harpers||Welsh tradition||366||Almost every inn in north Wales had one|
|Flowers on graves||Welsh tradition||390||Unique to Wales until the 1840s.|
|Welsh costume||Welsh tradition||400||Unique for women and distinct from costumes worn elsewhere.|