greed and generosity

This page includes:

  • Introduction
  • References to excessive charges
  • The sight of cash
  • Generous tourists
  • Paying too much
  • Paying too little

The Welsh and the tourists: greedy or generous?

A few early 18th century visitors to Wales described the Welsh as being untrustworthy and greedy but this appears to have been dispelled by the end of the century when many tourists found them to be honest and generous and the cost of staying in Wales was often said to be much lower than that in England, despite the accusation that inn and shop keepers in Wales raised their charges to tourists.
Some tourists felt that they were being undercharged, so offered more than required, and were accused of raising prices.

1769 near St Donat’s Castle
The accommodations for travellers [at the inn] are so exceedingly bad that we were obliged to request a breakfast from a neighbouring farmer, which his civility induced him to comply with, but his eager desire after money to impose upon us an exorbitant demand for what we supposed had been intended as a free gift.
Grimston, James Bucknall, (Third Viscount Grimston, 1749-1809), A Tour in Wales, 1769, Report on the manuscripts of the Earl of Gorhambury, Historic Monuments Commission Report, (HMSO, 1906), pp. 242-283, 31 August, 1769

Though this country is cheap, in most articles, to the natives; yet they esteem an Englishman, as a foreigner of fair plunder, as he would be in France or Italy. …
Hay is bought for 30/- the ton, they had the roguery to demand one shilling per night for each horses hay; – but, at last, took ten pence.
Byng, John, Right Hon, (later Viscount Torrington) Andrews, C Bruyn. (Editor). The Torrington diaries: Containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, (London, 1934), vol. I, p. 286, 303

Aberystwyth, 1796
… the trading people over reach you in your bargains.. they will ask all strangers of genteel appearance about a third more that they would ask a native; but even allowing this, you will have almost all the necessaries and most of the luxuries of life at least a third cheaper than the cheapest parts of England. Ground house rent and the necessaries of life are so much raised in price since my first tour of this country about 12 years ago….One hundred pounds in this country [is worth] three hundred in England, and even in the cities, the estimate must be two to one in favour of Wales.
Pratt, S.J., Gleanings through Wales, Holland and Westphalia, 2nd edition, 1796, p. 88-9

1787 Aberystwyth
The common people complain that the sea bathers have raised the [price of] provisions to an enormous price.’
Hutton Beale, Catherine, Reminiscences of a gentlewoman of the last century; letters of Catherine Hutton (Birmingham, Cornish Brothers, 1891). p. 50

1802 Barmouth
{The prices for accommodation} appeared exorbitant but the place is usually so thronged with families from Shropshire, Staffordshire and neighbouring counties, they make their own terms. …
Skinner, John, Tour in South Wales. 10th September 1802 – 2nd January,1803, Cardiff Central Library, 1.497, pp. 50-51

1806, Aberystwyth
The price, however, of everything has been enhanced here of late years; and though the pure air of Wales may invigorate the constitution, the pocket must pay the tax which is levied at all places of public resort.
Compiled by W Mavor, The British Tourists’ or Travellers’ pocket Companion, London, 1809, vol 6, p. 274

1813, Aberystwyth
We hired a boat at Aberystwith to take us to Barmouth, a voyage of two days. In our dealings with boatmen we had discovered an uniform disposition to cheat, which at Aberystwyth was advanced to its highest pitch of extravagance. We resisted it for some time but without success; for our adversaries here, pleaded the privileges of a watering place and triumphed over all opposition by proving that they demanded no more from us than they had been paid by other people. The influx of idlers with money in their pockets soon corrupts the simple honesty of the native inhabitants and opens to them a new source of gain…. A cottage in Wales formerly raised an image of retirement, at least as cheap as it was romantic. I know not in what part of the principality it would now be found to include these combined recommendations, but certainly not on the coast.
R Ayton, A voyage round Great Britain: undertaken in the years 1813 and 1823, (1816), p. 145

‘Yes — I have heard of Sanditon.’ replied Mr. H.—‘Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the Sea, and growing the fashion.— How they can half of them be filled, is the wonder! Where People can be found with Money or Time to go to them!— Bad things for a Country; — sure to raise the price of Provisions and make the poor good for nothing — as I dare say you find, Sir.’
Jane Austen, Sanditon, (unfinished, 1817)

In this country you must pay to see anything, and the view of the mountains even would be obstructed if it were possible, unless you paid to see them. I suppose this system of extortion has been caused by the easy manner in which the people of Wales have extracted the money from amateur travellers who have had heavy purses and light hearts. One of our friends went to the top of Snowdon, with a guide from Capel Curig, he paid him 4s., and gave him his dinner and as much drink as made him squint more than his natural cast of eye, but the fellow had the impudence to demand 6s 6d more – a chap too, whose labour in that country is not worth more than 1s 6d per diem. The fellow certainly deserved 4s, because our tall friend with his well-turned pins and antelope activity, … gave him such a gallop up the mountains … ’
Anon, ‘Fishing Excursion into Wales’, The Sportsman, no 1, vol 5 (new series), July 1838, pp. 95-97

J.P. Hamer orgainised trips around north Wales and wrote a guide book, published in 1857. One of his main concerns was to provide organised trips for visitors at a fixed charge without any additional tips or fees. He was critical of the financial impositions that servants, coach drivers and others made on tourists.
Hamer, J. P., Hamer’s practical steamboat, railway, and road guide to Snowdon and around. (Caernarfon: H. Humphreys, 1857), p. 102

The sight of cash

The sight of cash sometimes ensured that tourists got what they needed from monoglot Welsh people.

‘A man put us into the public road. He could not speak English but a little money spoke Welsh for us and by pronouncing the word Gwindy and beckoning him to lead the way, with the cash lying open in our hands we at length got right.’
Yates, R.V., (Richard Vaughan Yates and Joseph Brook Yates, Memoranda of a Tour in North and South Wales and parts of England and Ireland, 1805, NLW, 687B (UCW 47), p. 41

17.9.1802, Dolgellau
John Skinner appears to have performed a miracle when he offered money to a lame Welshman whom he needed to guide him: he instantly lost his lameness.
Skinner, John, Tour in South Wales, 10th September 1802 – 2nd January,1803, Cardiff Central Library, 1.497, p. 32

Generous Tourists

There are suggestions that it was the generosity of some tourists that drove prices up:
‘We had breakfasted at the little fishing village of Aberaeron where one of the most clean and orderly inns in the principality hangs out its sign ; and as is always the case in so praiseworthy establishment, the bill appeared so very moderate that we were much inclined to send for the landlord … to make him increase the amount in proportion to the comfort enjoyed. On that day, the worthy host was with difficulty induced to raise his demand, and then wrote down on the bill, “by desire, one shilling”.’
Sinclair, Catherine, Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833

1st edition, New York, 1838; 2nd Edition, Whyte and Co, Edinburgh, 1839, pp.

Paying too much

1825, Barmouth
{served by a very attractive daughter of the hostess} ‘and as was usual with us, did not ask “What is to pay?” but left five times the amount, … for the sake of her beautiful daughter.’
Jadis, Henry Fenton, Journal of a pedestrian tour in North Wales: through the counties of Montgomery, Merioneth, Caernarvon, and part of Denbigh, (London, 1826), p. 47

Paying too little

1819, The inn at Pencamawn or Pen y cae mawr,
The hostess, unused to such guests, knew not what to charge and left it to our honour (good woman, she knew not we were lawyers) to pay her what was usual and proper.
Sandys, William and Sandys, Sampson, (brothers), ‘A Walk through South Wales in Oct. 1819’, Cwrtmawr MS 393C, pp. 17-18