poverty

This page includes:

  • Introduction
  • a selection of official reports

examples of tourist’s comments on :

  • the poor ‘better off than the rich’
  • attempts to employ the poor
  • parish relief
  • relief of the poor by the Gentry
  • mutual support
  • emigration
  • novels
  • many descriptions of poverty by tourists

Introduction

Tourists observed poverty in Wales during their visits and may have been aware of a number of official reports that commented on it (listed below). Generally, these reports were unfavourable about the Welsh ‘peasant’.

Some tourists, however, were envious of the rural poor for appearing to be happy, healthy and content, living in a beautiful landscape, away from the distractions of modern life.

However, tourists generally kept to the main roads and towns and rarely had the opportunity to see the aged, infirm, disabled and sick peasants in their poor cottages. They occasionally noted evidence of real poverty, and rarely came across beggars. (see also poverty at Hafod, and the politics of poverty)

It is possible that real poverty was more common near existing or former industrial works. These would have attracted people in search of employment, causing them to leave the supporting environment of their families and friends, often ending up in poor and crowded accommodation. The failure of such industries would have made matters even worse.

One or two tourists suggested that people who appeared to be poor were actually just very careful with their resources and what wealth they had was in the form of livestock, portable furniture and possibly, cash, carefully put away for a ‘rainy day’ or a funeral.

Some tourists suggested radical political solutions to poverty.

Many towns and villages were simply described as ‘poor’.

A Selection of reports on aspects of poverty

1795

Journal of a Tour through almost every county in England, and part of Wales, by Mr John Housman, of Corby, near Carlisle ; who was engaged to make the Tour by a gentleman of distinction, for the purpose of collecting authentic information relative to the state of the poor. The Journal comprises an account of the general appearance of the country, of the soil, surface, buildings, &c. with observations agricultural, commercial,, &c., Monthly Magazine, 1799, [for Monmouthshire and Wrexham, reporting mostly on agricultural practices.]

 

1797

An account of Llanferras [Llanferres, between Mold and Ruthin], Wrexham in Denbighshire; Narberth in Pembrokeshire and Knighton and Prestign in Radnorshire: size, population, number of houses, price of provisions, other costs, provisions for the poor; numbers of births, marriages and burials; payments to the poor; friendly societies; income and expenditure of two labourer’s families.

This records that in Prestign, labourers were literally starving because of the high price of corn.

Eden, Frederick Morton, Sir (1766-1809), The state of the poor: or, an history of the labouring classes in England, from the conquest to the present period; … together with parochial reports … With a large appendix; … By Sir Frederic Morton Eden, Bart. In three volumes. … (London :  1797), vol. 3, pp. 887-

1834: Report of the Commission to Enquire into the Poor Law

1844:  Report on the Rebecca Riots

1846: Tremenheere’s Report into the state of the population in the mining districts

1846: Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales,  (The Blue Books)

Reports of the Women and Children’s Employment Commission (various dates to 1867)

 

At least two tourist thought that the poor were better off than him and her:

1803 near Aberdare

Yet I question whether their ignorance of better things, and consequent exemption from the purgatory of comparison, may not keep them among the most contented, though poorest of the poor.

Malkin, B.H., Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of South Wales, from materials collected during two excursions in the year 1803. (London 1804), pp. 168-169

1833 Aberystwyth

Every drawing room in the crescent at Aberistwyth became now lighted up, and the distant sound of music proceeded from many an open casement, where we saw gay groups sprinkled about the rooms, with every appearance of festivity and enjoyment. It was an unlucky hour when shutters were first invented, as we derived much pleasure during our evening walk from seeing into such a multitude of cheerful homes, before they were closed for the night; but what a fairy scene of enchantment those brilliantly illuminated saloons must have appeared to several poor people whom we met strolling along the beach ! They had, perhaps, scarcely a roof to cover them, while we saw their eyes casting many a wistful gaze towards the splendour, partially revealed at every glittering window, within which they could scarcely suppose any thing but perfect happiness to reign. Those who, during a lifetime, can scarcely obtain the necessaries of existence, are apt to fancy, that if these were only supplied, there would be nothing more to endure; and having scarcely time to cherish any natural sensibility, how little it can be possible for them to imagine, that the very luxury and ease which they envy, only leaves more leisure for reflection upon the mental distresses of earthly existence, when these come, as they inevitably must, sooner or later, with all their train of dark and mournful emotions. Nothing can oblige a rich man to exertion under the pressure of affliction; while shut up in solitary musings, his mind cultivated to the highest pitch of feeling, he sometimes contemplates the darkened horizon of life with awe and apprehension, becoming forgetful of all worldly greatness, to which he is already as much accustomed as to the air he unconsciously breathes; but an indigent man finds in the daily cares of existence a “counter irritation,” which divides his notice between bodily and mental endurance, diminishing the sharpness of both, and proving that while the comparatively insignificant gifts of fortune are so unequally distributed, cheerfulness and peace are impartially dealt to all without exception. The remark of Sir William Curtis might be applied to many enjoyments, as truly as to the subject of eating, that “after all, the rich and the poor are about equally ill off, because the one can seldom find a dinner, and the other can still seldomer find an appetite.” 

Sinclair, Catherine, (1800-1864), Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833, (New York : 1838), pp. 194-195; 2nd Edition, (Edinburgh, 1839), p. 234.

 

Attempts to employ the poor

There were attempts by the gentry and entrepreneurs to create work for the poor, for mutual advantage – labour was available and cheap but the rewards in the long term could be great. Much of this involved exploiting the natural resources of Wales  – minerals, stone, etc; improving the roads;

1770

J Paynter, lessee of Hafod [Cardiganshire], to Robert Lance, Esq, Secretary of the Society for Promoting Manufacturies and for Employing the Poor in the Counties of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, dated Hafod, 13 January, 1770,

NLW Noyadd 1678

Llechryd tin plate works

 

Parish relief

Until the Poor Law act of the 1830s parishes had responsibilities to assist the poor either with money or materials (food, clothes). Decisions were made by committees known as the church vestry. The Poor Law act provided indoor (in the hated workhouses) and outdoor relief. For some, indoor relief was far worse than any alternative – one reason being that the superintendents didn’t want to encourage more inmates by offering food that was better than they could get at home.

Relief of the poor by the Gentry

Although some of the gentry were reluctant to pay rates which would go to the poor, others were willing to contribute in some way to help the poor become more independent, thus reducing the poor rates. This could be done by reducing rents during hard times; ignoring the building of Tai Unos (one night cottages) on common land (which, as magistrates, the gentry could stop); organising the distribution of wheat at fair prices when there was a shortage; building and funding schools and alms houses. Some gentry ladies and their daughters made (or arranged to have made) costumes for the poor, either specifically at the time of a birth, or as an annual gift of clothing to tenants. None of this was recorded by tourists, although some discussed the possibility or necessity of it in theory.

 

1799 Hafod, Cardiganshire

Among innumerable instances of his regard for the comfort of the poor in this neighbourhood, there is one which deserves particular notice: it is his care for the sick; who are brought hither, once every week, when a gentleman of the faculty regularly attends, and exhibits such medicines and assistance as they severally require, at Mr. Johnes’s expense.

Lipscomb, George, Journey into South Wales…in the year 1799, (London, 1802), p. 137

The next owner of Hafod, The Duke of Newcastle, also paid for a doctor to attend the poor (see Poor at Hafod)

 

1813? [notes by Walter Davies for his survey of the state of Agriculture of Wales]

Radnorshire Poor: No incorporated houses of industry. Some few parishes joined to employ their poor in the woollen Mf [manufactory] in Llandrindod hall, but the scheme failed.

An n mf [manufactory] was set up some years ago at Prestatin? by neighbouring gentlemen with a view of giving employment to the poor. This also is given up.

Introduce Mr Morgan the Quaker’s scheme of a Beneficial Society.

Propose encouragement to domestic of cottage industry. Premiums by county societies for instances of industry and ability in handicraft and also for female employment – in the wool, flax, hemp. Linen and cotton lines.

Premium to the poor for collecting hay seeds of cocksfoot, Foxtail etc. …

In Glam EW [Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg)] proposes a complex house of industry … for washing, baking, carding, spinning, hewing, etc. etc. etc. slaughtering … and of course, every poor to worship according to his own sentiment!!

Davies, Walter, ‘9 chapter 19 Poor’, NLW 1759 Bii, f. 454, 455v

 

1821

[Sir Robert Vaughan of Nannau] seems to be always employing and employed. Cottages, lodges, roads, plantations, and all things of that kind flourish around him and his constant residence at Nannau must greatly encrease? the comforts of the poor. For five years past he has afforded constant employment to 25 masons.

Parker, John, (1798-1860), September 1821, NLW MS 18256C Tours through Wales 1819-47, p. 70

 

1844 Tanybwlch

[We] set off … to visit a new church amongst the rocks which with a parsonage house & school for 70 children have been built & endowed by Mrs Oakley of Tan y Bwlch. We visited Mrs Morgan the clergyman’s wife and saw the interior of the church which is extremely pretty & nicely fitted up with open seats. It will hold a thousand people & is always full every Sunday. The school house is one of the nicest I ever saw and the children the most well behaved. In short the quarry people have great cause for being grateful to Mrs. Oakley for erecting in such a wild remote situation a place of worship and for having the poor children instructed.

Elizabeth Rolls, Gwent Record Office, F/P4 57, 26th April, 1844

 

1861, Llanover (Lady Llanover’s house)

19th December, 1861

We were very busy all day making up the clothes for the poor here again.

20th December, 1861

We distributed the clothing to above a 100 of the surrounding poor. Some few of them came in their Welsh dress evidently they had not worn it since the last time they came for their clothing.

Journal of Margaret Mostyn Jones (née Davies), [Female, servant, to Lady Llanover], NLW MS 23511A, f. 21v

 

Mutual support

 

1805

To a tale of woe they never turn a deaf ear … Many a bowl of oatmeal is given away … by those who absolutely want it for their own families, who live more scantily than the poor they support and are more wretchedly clad, the whole of their common articles of wearing apparel would not tempt even the avarice of the collectors for rag fair if offered gratuitously to them; their Sunday dress (it is true), is rather more valuable, but here too, warmth, and not show is consulted.

Jones, Theophilus, The History of Brecknock, (1805), 1809 (2nd edition), 1898 edition, 1909 edition (4 vols. with indices)

 

1839 Llaneilian

Near the door is placed Cyst Elian, Elian’s chest or poor-box. People out of health, even to this day, send their offerings to the saint, which they put, through a hole, into the box. A silver groat is said to be a present peculiarly acceptable, and has been known to procure his intercession when all other kinds of coin have failed! The sum thus deposited, which in the course of a year frequently amounts to several pounds, the churchwardens annually divide among the poor of the parish.

Bingley, W., Rev., (1774-1823), Excursions in North Wales including Aberystwith and the Devil’s Bridge, intended as a guide to Tourists by the late Rev W Bingley. Third edition with corrections and additions made during Excursions in the year 1838 by his son W.R. Bingley, (London, 1839)

 

Emigration

Many Welsh people left their homes to find better lives elsewhere, in Wales, England or abroad.

 1799 Near Presteigne

In the course of our morning’s ride, we met with a little horde of Welsh-men who, with their wives and children, and all that they had, were quitting their native retirement, the peaceful retreat of innocence and penury, and journeying towards Deptford, to procure employment in the dockyards. These poor people, who had lived in Cardiganshire, till they could no longer support themselves, exhibited a picture of industry and patience, which could not fail to excite our admiration and pity …

It augurs no good, however, when industry is put to its last efforts—when patience is drawn. out, till it is nearly exhausted—when the honest cottager is forced from his native soil for bread!

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.

[The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith]

Lipscomb, George, Journey into South Wales…in the year 1799, (London, 1802), pp. 101-102

 

1803, south Cardiganshire

Indeed, the common people throughout this country are not only poor, but appear completely dejected, as if they had given up every ray of hope of being otherwise. It is observed that they are indolent, and that indolence inevitably superinduces poverty: the Americans, by their agents, had learnt the condition of these people, and sensible of the importance to their states of increasing their population, they had held out the lure of future competence. By this means the spirit of emigration was enkindled, and thousands of these unhappy wretches were embarking for the new continent, expecting to find in that distant clime a Country and situation directly opposite to their own. Their case was lamentably melancholy: ignorant of the country to which they were going, and the nature of the employment to which they were to be engaged; to obtain their passage, they accepted the agent’s own terms, and thus ignorantly became the property of these human harpies. So ignorant were many of them, that before they lost sight of land they supposed they must be arrived; and after arriving there, were sold as slaves into the back settlements of Vermont and Kentucky: others that were able to pay their passage there, finding the nature of the country, were desirous to return; but, unable to pay for their passage back, were obliged to engage in the most servile employments, and submit to the most degrading condition, to escape death from hunger.

Evans, John, B.A., 1768-1812 (Jesus College, Oxford), Letters written during a tour through South Wales, in the year 1803, and at other times : containing views of the history, antiquities, and customs of that part of the principality; and interspersed with observations on its scenery, agriculture, botany, mineralogy, trade and manufactures, (London, 1804), letter 13

 

Novels

A number of novels, set in Wales, published during the 18th and 19th centuries made attempts to describe the lives of the Welsh.

Among the authors was Catherine Hutton and Elizabeth Gaskell, both of whom made visits to Wales.

Catherine Hutton was author if several novels including The Welch Mountaineers (London: 1817); (Philadelphia: 1817)

List of descriptions of the poor by tourists, 1700-1900, in chronological order

1684, Cardiganshire

{brief reference to the poor}

Dineley, Thomas, The Account of the official progress of his Grace Henry the first Duke of Beaufort… through Wales in 1684. (London, 1888)

 

1770

Though they have no money among them, yet there are no beggars in the country for they are all poor. … The manner of the living of the lower class of people is extremely poor. The chief of their subsistence, being barly and oat bread. They scarce ever eat flesh, or drink anything but milk.

Anon, Letters from Snowdon, descriptive of a Tour through the Northern Counties of Wales containing the Antiquities, History and State of the County; with the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, (London, 1770), pp. 20, 37

 

1770, Tintern

One poor woman we followed, who had engaged to shew us the monk’s library. She could scarce crawl; shuffling along her palsied limbs, and meagre, contracted body, by the help of two sticks. She led us, through an old gate, into a place overspread with nettles, and briars; and pointing to the remnant of a shattered cloister, told us, that was the place. It was her own mansion. All indeed she meant to tell us, was the story of her own wretchedness; and all she had to show us, was her own miserable habitation. We did not expect to be interested: but we found we were. I never saw so loathsome a human dwelling. It was a cavity, loftily vaulted, between two ruined walls; which streamed with various-coloured stains of unwholesome dews. The floor was earth; yielding, through moisture, to the tread. Not the merest utensil, or furniture of any kind appeared, but a wretched bedstead, spread with a few rags, and drawn into the middle of the cell, to prevent it’s receiving the damp, which trickled down the walls. At one end was an aperture; which served just to let in light enough to discover the wretchedness within. When we stood in the midst of this cell of misery; and felt the chilling damps, which struck us in every direction, we were rather surprised, that the wretched inhabitant was still alive; than that she had only lost the use of her limbs.

Gilpin, William, (1724-1804), Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770, (London, 1782), p. 36; (second edition, London, 1789), p. 51

 

1774, 1777, Conwy

Here we found a sensible alteration in the manners of the people. We were now in the great Irish road; the article of eating was doubled in our bills, and the door of our inn was crowded with beggars. I don’t recollect to have seen one beggar, before, in the whole principality; for though poverty appeared to reign triumphant throughout, yet the inhabitants seemed contented with it; they were always willing to answer our enquiries, without the least expectation of any gratuity: they never asked for reward, or charity, and when we sometimes gave the half-cloathed wretches a shilling, they received it with an awkward surprise, while they were so confused, that they could only express their thanks with silent tears of gratitude.

“There are no beggars in this country; hospitality universally abounds, and the houses of all are open to all,” said Giraldus in the twelfth century. Modern authors, in the eighteenth, say, that here are no beggars, because no one is able to give. It is not to be wondered at, that modern travellers should be inclined to the latter opinion; for the state of the common people in the low lands of this country, and particularly of the women, to whose lot the most laborious drudgery belongs, seems miserable, beyond the idea of an Englishman to conceive; a foreigner would scarcely be persuaded, that they lived under the protection of the same laws, or that they enjoyed the fame rights and privileges with their English neighbours. THEIR habitations are low, mud-built hovels, raised over the natural earth, which is as deficient in point of level within, as without. Notwithstanding the severity of the climate, the windows are frequently destitute of a single piece of glazing. If the inhabitants wish to enjoy the light, they must at the same time suffer the cold: they wear neither shoes nor stockings, and chiefly subsist upon the coarse diet of rank cheese, oat bread, and milk. Such penury anticipates old age, and I have seen persons of forty, from their decrepit and wrinkled features, appear, as if they had pasted their grand climacteric. A melancholy dejection is spread over their countenances, which are strangers to the smiles of cheerfulness and pleasure.

If we carry our observations to the mountains, we shall find among those dreary wastes, a poverty still more extreme than below; in many of those parishes a grain of wheat has never been seen; even the cheap luxury of garden greens is unknown; and according to the strong expression of a lowland Welshman, there are hundreds of families, who have never tasted a leek. They continue in the same unimproved state, as in the time of Giraldus, who thus describes them. “They neither live in towns, in streets nor in camps. It is not their custom to erect grand palaces, nor large and superfluous buildings of stone and mortar. They are otherwise content with roofs of thatch, sufficient from year to year, and which will answer all their purposes, with as little labour as expense. They are ignorant of the luxuries of either orchards or gardens.” * NOTWITHSTANDING this apparent misery, we cannot pronounce these mountaineers miserable if content be happiness, they are certainly happy: They are all equally poor, and while poverty is not particular, it cannot be considered as a misfortune. They are robust, healthy, and live to a great age, and as they are ignorant of those many refinements, which civilized luxury has taught us to consider as necessaries of life, they have therefore no want of them, there is

“No craving void left aching in their breast.”

For this reason, we see mirth and cheerfulness, united with poverty, in the most humble cot upon the highlands, when a smaller degree of poverty has spread a discontented gloom, over the whole face of the lowlands. All happiness is by comparison; so these lower people are comparatively miserable: for they are tantalized with appetites which they cannot gratify, while they behold with envy, many pleasures enjoyed by others, which partial nature has forbidden them even to hope for. BUT how happens it, that they should not attempt to relieve their wants by asking charity? for, I believe, this is the only country in Europe, in which the traveller can escape the solicitations of such abject wretches. If there was any neglect in the execution of the poor laws, beggary must be the consequence: or, if it was common, (as, however incredible it may appear, I was well informed) for these miserable beings to hoard up from the scanty profits of their daily labour, and starve themselves to indulge their avarice; we should think, they would then naturally apply to charity in order to gratify that passion. We must have recourse to the first principle of this country to resolve the question; it has been observed, that this barbarous mode of life has continued for a long succession of generations, and, probably, the present may find some comfort in the reflection, of living as well as their ancestors; and perhaps, it is as difficult to make a nation, so bigoted to opinion as the Welsh is, change the smallest article in their manners, (however beneficial it might be to them,) as it would be to force them to abolish their dress, or their language.

Wyndham, Henry Penruddocke. A gentleman’s tour through Monmouthshire and Wales, in the months of June and July, 1774 and in the months of June, July and August, 1777, Second edition, E Easton, Salisbury, 1781, pp. 150-154

 

1784

North Wales the people are very poor and wretched and men, women, children, cows, hogs and poultry all ???? ???? ???? hovel with the same kind of bedding of straw for the whole.

William Wilmot, A tour thro’ Pembrokeshire : Or a Concise Account of Whatsoever, in that County deserves the attention, or Curiosity of the Traveller, … NW MS 1406E, between pp. 26 and 28

 

1792 Paris and Mona mines, Anglesey

Men poorly paid – not more than 14d a day about 1500 persons employed. Black bread and water principal diet. The most wretched and ignorant poor wretches that can be conceived in human forms.

Anon (once said to be JMW Turner), ‘Diary of a Tour in Wales, 1792’ Gage, John, (ed.), Collected Correspondence of J.W.M. Turner, 1775-1851 (Oxford, 1980), 7th August, 1792

 

1795 Cardigan

Here is no manufactory and very little employment for the poor, consequently the streets are filled with dirty ragged and idle children

Eardley-Wilmot, Sarah, National Museum of Wales, Library, Cardiff, MS179554, (typed copy), p. 151

 

1795 Barmouth

Suppose, therefore, by way of shewing you a specimen of the hardy manner in which the poor natural inhabitants of these craggy abodes live, you step with me into a hut belonging to one of the Barmouth peasants.

The tatters, which were thrown over these poor artisans, were even more bare and ragged than the furniture, which consisted of only three miserable beds, of which one only had curtains, and those of yellow stuff, in so ruinous a state, that, (as the Copper Captain says of the rats) – the moths, and other vermin, ‘had instinctively quitted it’ – There was a fourth bed, of a little dirty looking straw, in a corner of the room, with a covering of old sacks. Never did I see so much indigence, and so much industry united; for though the latter was unremitted, the low price of labour, and the number to be supplied from it, and tender years of most of the labourers, made the source inadequate to the demand upon it; but neither the industry, nor the indigence, had banished the virtues, or the felicities; They were, indeed, within this lowly residence, in a more flourishing state, than is generally to be found in prouder dwellings. All the varieties, which characterise happiness, in different minds, and ages, were presented before me.

Pratt, Samuel Jackson, (1749-1814), Gleanings through Wales, Holland and Westphalia : with views of peace and war at home and abroad : To which is added Humanity; or The rights of nature. A poem, revised and corrected, (London, 1795), pp. 47-50

[This is part of a long description of the interior of a cottage, about which some other tourists had their doubts as to its existence.]

 

1795 Llandeilo

The bridge was last February half carried away by the flood at the breaking up of the frost. …

I must in justice however add that the excessive sloth of the common people amounts almost to a nuisance, their dwellings are so offensive as to incommode foot passengers & their appearance so very dirty as to make them objects of disgust. Poverty does not seem to be their excuse, as their clothes are not so ragged, as they are filthy in themselves, & it would be of general utility to the country if parish officers could be appointed to keep infection from their houses.

Eardley-Wilmot, Sarah, National Museum of Wales, Library, Cardiff, MS179554, transcript, pp. 159-160

 

1796 Neath abbey

The moment you entered [the ruins] out turned twenty or thirty poor wretches, who have taken up their abode in the vaulted remains to be near the copper works.

Lady Sykes, University of Hull, DDSY(3)/10/11 (Typed transcript), pp. 142-143

 

1796 Llandeilo to Llandovery

[Passed] through a very beautiful country. I never passed one more so. … everything but better cottages to make the most beautiful landscape. The cottages are clay houses covered in straw, and the inhabitants looked very poor and ill cloathed.

Anon, A Tour from York into Wales in the year 1796, NLW MS 4489, p. 24

 

1796 [review of Mrs Morgan, A Tour to Milford Haven, in the Year 1791, (London, 1795)]

When this lady asserts that the lower kind of people in Wales do not live poorly, I fear she only exposes her want of knowledge of the general situation. [The] great part of the inhabitants, particularly the small farmers among the hills, live in a manner that most people would call wretched. Their fare is infinitely more coarse than that of parish paupers in other parts of the island. What in England are called the necessaries of life, are with them, in many cases, luxuries. Their usual food consists of coarse barley bread, black nearly as a beaver hat, such as my lord’s hound would loath, – a dry sourish cheese, – oaten bread, which though relished by some, has little nourishment … , flummery, and now and then, sparingly, milk. Their drink – water. Meat, appears on their board perhaps once a fortnight. Their only luxury seems to be a few pots of ale, on the market day in which they steep all their cares: but very frequently, after a cold wet ride, they have to tumble into a bed, into a fireless house, scantily covered with thatch, through which the rain penetrates, and drops upon that very bed during the whole of the night. {the beggar is sometimes better off, with no rent, taxes or work}

‘Cymro’, [Theophilus Jones (1759-1812)] Cursory Remarks on Welsh Tours or Travels (1799), Cambrian Register II, (for 1796), pp. 439-440

 

1796 Barmouth

From the plain stile of eating and wearing, the observer would suppose the people poor, which I believe is not the case.

Hutton, W., Remarks upon North Wales: being the Result of Sixteen Tours Through that part of the Principality (Birmingham, 1803; another edition, 1815)

 

1798 Tintern

The hamlet … appeared filled with the poorest, and most ragged set of inhabitants I ever beheld.

Manners, John Henry, (Fifth Duke of Rutland),(1778-1857), Journal of a tour through north and south Wales, the Isle of Man, [and a small part of Scotland] &c. &c. (1805), p. 41

 

1798 near Barmouth

As I farther ascended the hill, a hut, little better than the cote [cottage] I had left, forbade my approach. At the entrance, for door there was none, stood a tall female figure, which from her tattered dress and sallow countenance, you would scarcely have supposed to have been human; with a distorted figure at her breast. I spoke, but she, not understanding my language, and little supposing I would enter such a dwelling, still kept her post. I then took the child by the hand and pointed for admittance. The hut consisted of one room upon the ground floor; divided by a partition of lath and reeds. The floor was the native soil, rendered very hard and uneven from long and unequal pressure. At the farther end was a fire of turf, laid upon a few stones; near which stood a three-legged stool, a small cast iron pot, some branches of broom tied up for a besom, and a few bundles of rushes thrown down for a bed. These constituted the principal furniture. At the other end was a lank meagre figure sitting in a loom, weaving coarse linen; the father of the family. At this employment, after fourteen hours’ toil, he could earn eight-pence. But a chronic illness, occasioned by low debilitating diet, prevented his following it so close as constantly to earn this. A similar cause prevented the wife from properly looking after four sickly children. The eldest was stinted in its growth; the second lame; the third blind; and the youngest, though two years old, still at the breast, and wasting away with the tabes dorsalis. Entering farther into their history, I learnt that the linen trade had been much better and provisions cheaper; when they might, if Fortune had smiled, have done something: but owing to a very severe illness, in consequence of a bad lying in, the wife had been incapacitated for taking an active part in the business, as she used to do; and consequently they were unable to put anything by for a day of adversity. The same cause, precluded them the benefit of medical advice. Even when a transient appetite returned, they were destitute of the means to procure more than a coarse and scanty morsel, hardly sufficient to satisfy the immediate cravings of hunger. The world had no value in their estimation; their hearts were grown callous to its concerns. In such a truly deplorable state, life itself appeared to have no charms; and death was looked upon as a welcome messenger that would bring them consolation. They talked of it with cheerfulness, and seemed reanimated when I mentioned that state of retribution, where the sincere, though humble, Christian, shall have all tears wiped away; and sorrow and sighing should flee away.

Evans, John, Rev., (1768-1812), A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at other times : principally undertaken with a view to botanical researches in that Alpine country: interspersed with observations on its scenery, agriculture, manufactures, customs, history, and antiquities, (London, 1800), p. 115

 

1798-1801 near Penrhyn slate quarry

In different parts around are scattered the white-washed cottages of the work-men, built from the designs of Mr Wyatt, and on the exterior, affording at a little distance, an air of considerable neatness and comfort; but from the broken windows, and the ragged and filthy appearance of the children of two or three into which I ventured to put my head, nothing but the extreme of wretchedness and poverty could be supposed to reign within.

Bingley, William, North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and Sketches of its Natural History, delineated from two excursions through all the interesting parts of that country during the summers of 1798 and 1801, 2nd edition, 1804

 

1798-1801

The lowest classes bear indications of extreme poverty, yet they seem to enjoy good health. Their dwellings are cottages, or rather huts, built of stones, whose interstices are closed with peat or mud. They are in general so dark, that, on first entering, the glare of the light down the chimney alone takes the attention.

Bingley, W., Rev, (1774-1823), A Tour round North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and some Sketches of its Natural History; Delineated from two Excursions through all the interesting Parts of the Country, during the summers of 1798 and 1801, (London, 1804); (1814 edition), p. 490

 

1799 Llyn Cwellyn

At the foot of this rugged length, stands a small hovel or human sty, where we in consort with the civil Mr Goodwin contrived to eat eggs, bacon, and black bread?, our moisture was milk and water, our attendant was skin and bones, aged and civil, she looked as if the world afforded her not the common occurrences of existence; yet she possessed 1000 pounds and a large fat family.

Porter, Robert Kerr, Sir (1777-1842), Journal of a Tour in North Wales etc, NLW MS 12651A, p. 65

 

1802 Beddgelert

The cottages are miserable; the fences all of loose stone; the people walk about with their feet and legs either totally bare or covered with a black stocking, which leaves the sole of the foot naked. Not a garden or a wheat field is to be seen all is savage wildness and gloomy grandeur in the country, with abject poverty and squalid wretchedness in the inhabitants.

Anon (female), Diary of a Lady’s Tour in Wales Eighty Years Ago, entry for 30th July 1802, Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 3 October 1884

 

1803 Neath Abbey

As we were exploring the dark recesses of the ruin, a number of haggard forms on a sudden darted from various apertures, and eagerly pressed toward us. Their wan countenances, half hidden by black matted hair, bore the strongest expression of misery; which was further heightened by a scanty ragged apparel, that scarcely covered their meagre limbs: upon their whole appearance one might have asked with Banquo
“What are these,
So wither’d, and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t ?, You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so,”
The poor creatures were the wives of miners, and women that worked in the manufactories, who burrowed and brought up their families in the cells of the ruin. Unceasing drudgery, however, was unable to obtain them the necessaries of life; much less a taste of those comforts, to which the exertion of useful labour might seem to have a just claim. An old woman, bent nearly double with years, “Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale, and bloodless,” gave us her account of the ruin. She shewed us the nuns’ dining-room, the roof of which is still entire, supported by Saxon, or rather early Norman pillars and arches.

Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, Comprehending A General Survey of the Picturesque Scenery, Remains of Antiquity, Historical Events, Peculiar Manners, and Commercial Situations of That Interesting Portion of the British Empire, (London: 1803), p. 146 and following

 

1804

Condition of the labouring poor in this part of Glamorganshire, and their mode of life …

Donovan, Edward, Descriptive Excursions through South Wales and Monmouthshire, in the year 1804 and the four preceding summers, (London, 1805), chapter 9,

 

1804 Llangollen

The inhabitants of Llangollen are indolent and wrechedly poor … But this character evidently arises more from want of employment than a natural disposition to lazyness for during harvest, these mendicants which at other times compose collectively the children and old men of the town are comparatively few.

Anon, Journal of a sketching tour in North Wales made in company with Jere in the summer of 1804, NLW Puleston Papers, 1084A, p. 19

 

1805 Tintern

Some of these habitations are beyond description wretched, particularly ye miserable hole now shewn for the monks library. We could scarcely have believ’d it possible for an human being to have existed there, had not the poor cripple, who served as a guide, pointed to a bed sunk above half way into the mire, & assur’d us that she slept there in all seasons; indeed, the utmost extreme of poverty & misery was visible in almost every inhabitant of this abbey once the splendid abode of wealth & luxury.

Sotheby, Rose, ?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW 6497C, p. 19

 

1806 [Large slate works, Penrhyn, near Bangor]

employs a great number of those people who live from hand to mouth, and seldom think of tomorrow, yet many of them live pretty comfortably for the present, and some few I believe has [sic] saved a little against the day of adversity, but the greatest number are in such state, that when a fit of sickness comes on, which often happens among a great number of poor, people, from accidents, low living uncleanliness, and the custom of constantly visiting each other under the most contagious distempers, and having usually a houseful of children, the parish in which they claim a settlement must suffer: but in this work they have joined to establish a beneficial club; this in a great measure reduced the parish charges. But however, it is too evident, that where a great number of poor are collected together, tho’ they are employed and well paid their wages, yet to a neighbourhood in which they are placed they are more a nuisance than real good. Several amongst such a body of people are of roguish disposition, they will use every dissimulating art to extort money or goods from their neighbours and at last will abscond in debt. It is a notorious custom among young profligate sparks to entice and deceive young and thoughtless women under the mask of love; the fruit of this connection will be pregnancy which when preceived [sic] the lover runs the country and leaves the unfortunate girl and her offspring chargeable to the parish.

In times when provisions are dear, they make it their custom to join in a body in a riotous manner to commit depredations, and usually there are many petty thieves among such a flock of people who make it their custom to steal linen from off hedges, fowles, milk cows at night, break hedges, poach, steal timber, lop trees etc.

[The above refers to the settlements of incomers who have settled to work at the quarries]

Such works also drain the country of useful hands so that in the labouring seasons … the farmer is put to the stress? for servants and labourers.

Williams, William, ‘A Survey of the Ancient and Present State of the County of Caernarvon by a Landsurveyor, NLW Ms 821C, pp. 202-204

 

1806, 1808

Lower Class of the Welsh. Usk, The poor are wretchedly clothed, as well as extremely dirty and very indolent. The children are chiefly without shoes or stockings.

Spence, Elizabeth, (1768-1832), Summer Excursions through Parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire and South Wales, (1809), p. 8

 

1807

The poor in Wales live in general much better than the poor in England, and are hardier in their constitutions. From infancy to old age, it is common to brave all roads and weathers without shoe or stocking, and every female is a horsewoman from her cradle, careless of the appendages of saddles and bridles, a wisp of straw frequently answering every purpose of the latter.

Woodward, G.M., Eccentric Excursions; or literary and Pictorial Sketches of Countenance, Character, and Country in different parts of England and South Wales. (London, 1796), p. 214
1808 Corwen

a miserable little place, the inhabitants wretchedly poor but apparently content and happy.

Anon, (Dixon?), Denbighshire Archives, DD-DM-228-78, p. 51

1812 Dolgellau

This place has a manufactory of flannel which employ many of the poor who all look contented and healthy, notwithstanding their huts appear on a mere inspection the habitations of wretchedness, we saw no indication of extreme want.

Anon, (Woman from Sudbury, Suffolk), probably Henrietta Hurrell (fl. 1812-1855), John Rylands library, Manchester, Eng mss. 421, p. 88

1812 Llangollen

We visited several of the cottages which bear indications of extreme poverty. The dwellings are formed of pieces of dark shaly rock, the interstices filled with rubbish and appear an insignificant defence against the wind and rain. The usual food of the lower class is oat cakes (of the coarsest kind), or rye and barley bread with cheese and milk. They seldom taste animal food unless they can purchase a piece of bacon.

Anon, (Woman from Sudbury, Suffolk), probably Henrietta Hurrell (fl. 1812-1855), John Rylands library, Manchester, Eng mss. 421, p. 72

1815 Monmouth

The country is divided into baby farms, and peopled with labouring tenants. This gives the scene more than mere landscape beauty; for these little demesnes suggest ideas of humble comfort–peace–innocence–and all that is pleasing in rural associations. In many parts of England, where I happened to know the condition of the poor, I have looked at their lovely cottages, as one would at the corpse of a beauty. But in Monmouthshire all is cheerful. The cottagers seem indeed poor, but not dependant. Each has his cow–his little field–his garden–and for the most part his orchard. Few of them therefore sink into paupers.

Brunton, Mary, ‘Emmeline With Some Other Pieces’ (1819)

 

1816 Aberffraw

a dreary place, the houses are mere huts and the inhabitants appear poor and needy.

Pugh, Edward, (1761-1813), Cambria Depicta: A Tour Through North Wales illustrated with Picturesque Views, By a Native Artist, (London: 1816), p. 66

1817

{extreme poverty – long letter quoted in full from David Williams of the London Association for the Relief of The Manufacturing And Labouring Poor}

(NLW Nanteos, 7.6.1817)

1818 Harlech

Harlech is a wretched town with nothing buts its castle which is placed on a high rock above an extensive marsh, formerly occupied by water. Notwithstanding the miserable appearance of Harlech, it is the county town of Merionethshire, and the elections are still held here in a house which till last year was roofless, the inhabitants are in a state of the greatest poverty, & said to be more idle & dissolute than in any part of Wales. There are no post horses kept here.

Alderson, Harriet, Journal of a tour from Aston to Beaumaris in September 1818, Gwynedd Record Office, XM/2600

1821 Aberystwyth
The cottages are mostly built of mud and I never saw such poverty displayed anywhere – they are certainly a century behind south W [Wales] in civilisation.
Morgan, Charles Octavius Swinnerton, (1803-1888), ‘Journal of a tour through North Wales – 1821’, Society of Antiquaries of London, OCTAVIUS MORGAN SAL/MS/680, fols. 20v-39v; Transcription and notes in Evans, Dai Morgan, Octavius Morgan : journal of a tour through North Wales in 1821, Archaeologia Cambrensis, vol. 160, (2011), pp. 235-263

1822 Llandaff
At this place too we met with the only mendicant who solicited our charity through the whole of our tour … tho’ I must do the principality the justice to say, that he was a native of Warwickshire – and stated himself to have arrived at the advanced age of 102 … Had we travelled one quarter of the space in England which we had already travelled in Wales, we should have found squalid, beggarly and loathsome disease intruding their unwelcome presence on our sight, – and appealing to our charity by a drawling detail of misery and want, – but no such tales met our ears in Wales. We may safely say with Leland ‘Nemo in hac gente mendicus’ [No one is in this nation, a beggar. Actually Geraldus Cambrensis]
Anon, Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Breconshire, in the summer of 1822, NLW ex 2962 (i), f. 58

1822 near Neath
Near to Rheola we met a small party of mendicants if indeed we may call them mendicants, who solicited no charity; – the dress of the sire betokened the Scotchman – and the bagpipes by his side evinced the national partiality.
Anon, Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Breconshire, in the summer of 1822, NLW ex 2962 (i), f. 99

1827-1828, Glamorganshire
The poor are much better off in this county than in any other in Wales.
Kennedy and Lewis, The Present State of Tenancy of Land in Great Britain (1828-9), p. 211 [Based on a survey made in 1827-1828. Includes Breconshire, Carmarthenshire, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire for Wales and most counties in England.]

1835 Builth Wells
The scene was the most pleasing from the testimony it afforded, that even among these rocks, moors, and mountains men could obtain a comfortable subsistence. There was a very general appearance of comfort and prosperity, and scarcely a sign of squalid poverty.
Anon, The Wye,The Penny Magazine, issue no. 219, Aug. 31, 1835 

1836
I was again struck very more than ever with the wretched appearance of the Welsh peasantry. It is not poverty but imbecility which excites the traveller’s compassion. I think it is manifest from the very imbecility of the peasants that they are a very inferior race to the English or Scotch or even Irish peasants. The children are all lively as children generally are. They look frightened and seldom have the courage to beg. The young men are content? the girls are far better. The middle aged people look prematurely old.
Robinson, Henry Crabb, (1775-1867), Dr. Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, Henry Crabb Robinson’s travel journal no 24, (microfilm), p. 9; Hudson, Derek, (editor), The diary of Henry Crabb Robinson, An Abridgement, OUP, 1967 (selected extracts).

1836, leaving Wales from Llangollen
a few miles and the whole aspect of the country had changed; the peaceful Welsh vales, the grand and majestic mountains, with all the unsophisticated simplicity of its pure and quiet scenes, its poetical language, its singular costume, had rapidly vanished … An Irish beggar woman … and the coarse vulgar dialect of some English lime burners grated on my ear, all too plainly convinced me that I had entered England… the land of the ostentatious wealth and squalid poverty, the extremes of each.
Anon (A Pedestrian), Hints to Pedestrians, or How to Enjoy a Three-Weeks Ramble through North and South Wales [1836], (Joseph Onwhyn, 1837), p. 64

1837 Llanrwst
‘found the inhabitants in a very poor and rather miserable condition, a great quantity of ragged looking children were scampering about the street [he said this of Llandeilo and Machynlleth].
Francis, Horace, Journal of a tour 1837, vol. 2, NLW MSS 11597B, p. 173

1839 [Cardiganshire]
The Welsh, in these parts at least, as far as we went to Aberystwyth, are all well and comfortably and cleanly clad, especially the women nor is there any appearance of poverty among them, excepting in some very few hovels among the wilds.
Anon, An Excursion over the Mountains to Aberystwith, Blackwood’s Magazine, 46, July 1839, p. 68

1847 Tregaron
The extreme filthiness of the habits of the poor [is] observable everywhere. There seemed seldom to be more than one room for living and sleeping in; generally is a state of indescribably [sic] order and dirty to an excess. The pigs and poultry form a usual part of the family …
Symons, J.C., On the State of Education in Wales (1847)

1848 Harlech
It is a curious fact that in almost every cottage, however poor, you will be sure to find two things, viz a Bible and an 8 day clock.
Goodall, Josiah, Journal of a Trip through North and South Wales, NLW, MS 676 (Facsimile), 24th August, 1848

1852 Llanberis
The people of Wales are naturally industrious and frugal, and although few of them can be called rich, they are generally independent, relying exclusively upon their own labor for support. The houses of the peasantry in this country are more substantial and comfortable than you find in England, being built entirely with slate-stone, and covered either with the same material or wheat straw. They have no floors but the hard clay, and no chimney save a small aperture in the roof, through which the smoke from the peat fires gradually finds its way out after smoking the inmates almost to suffocation. But around a Welshman’s house everything is kept pretty clean and healthful; here no poverty or beggary meets the stranger’s eyes, but on the contrary every one seems to be blessed with plenty and contentment.
MacGavock, Randal William, A Tennesseean abroad; or, letters from Europe, Africa, and Asia (New York, 1854)

1854 Llanymawddwy
consisting of about a dozen or 20 cottages of the poorest description – a few dirty ragged children and idle women peering out of the cabins … it was the most wretched little village we came across in Wales.
Billinghurst, Henry Farncombe, A Pedestrian Ramble through Oxford, Chester and North Wales, Women’s Library, London, 7RMB/B/1, p. 180

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