Tour Throughout Wales and Monmouthshire (1803)

J.T. Barber was born in Marylebone, Middlesex. He devoted his early career to painting and was appointed miniature painter to Prince Edward and the dukes of Kent and York.

In 1802, he toured south Wales on horse-back accompanied by friends. The following year he published his first and only book – an illustrated account of his journey, called ‘Tour through Wales and Monmouthshire’. Afterwards, he turned his attention to business and successfully launched Provident Life Office, and the County Fire Office. With the support of the landed gentry and West End bankers, the latter grew within twenty years to become the fifth largest fire insurer in Britain. He became an important figure in the insurance world and there are portraits of him to-day at the Royal Sun Alliance plc, in London [1].

As might be expected, north Cardiganshire was a little bit of an enigma for Barber; and judging from his diary, he found nothing here to please him. He visited Hafod (not as a guest but, rather surprisingly, as an ordinary tourist) and was very unhappy with what he was charged to see the house and garden :

. . . the demand of five shillings for the gardener’s attendance was willingly paid, yet the same sum . . . required by the housekeeper, appeared to us more than the show of any Welch house was worth . . . there always appears to me something very unworthy in great men allowing their servants to extract the sums that they do from the spectators of their grandeur.

Refusing to pay to view the inside of the mansion, he and his companions set out for Tregaron with the intent of taking a short detour to see Strata Florida. Somehow, they managed to get lost – how, is a mystery, but they obviously did and got into an awful mess. On leaving Hafod he and his companions :

. . . quickly turned off the road, over moorlands on our left, in search of the remains of STARFLOWER or STRATA FLORIDA ABBEY. We had no track to guide us ; nor did a human creature appear for many miles ; after a fruitless wandering, therefore, we gave up the object.

A drawing of Hafod by J.P Neale

At Lampeter :

. . .  after a fatiguing day’s journey we gladly reposed at a better inn than might be expected in so poor a town as Lampeter.

Personal comment

In a way, I’m rather glad he got lost and was unable to spend time in, and around, Pontrhydfendigaid ; it was not in his nature to be complimentary, and I suspect that whatever he would have written about the place would have been an insult and a wrong. He was certainly ‘not one of us’.

References and Notes

1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

2. D.C. Rees, Tregaron : Historical and Antiquarian, Llandyssul, 1936


Why he says that there was no track to guide them is a bit baffling. The main north-south route in 1803 mirrored the present B4343 and along its course would be Pontrhydygroes, Ysbyty Ystwyth, Ffair Rhos and Pontrhydfendigaid. They should have passed many cottages, and a few ale houses with, surely, some ‘human creature’ eager to help. It is difficult to work out what route they took. One would imagine that they would have passed either through or close to Pontrhydfendigaid before ending up at Tregaron. However, there is no reference to the village in his book.

Clearly, he had a miserable journey from Hafod to Lampeter, but much of it was of his own making. He must have been a very difficult man to please. Even after a good night’s rest at Lampeter he  continued to complain, this time about the journey to Llandeilo :

Nothing can be imagined more dreary than the first half of this ride.

Our inn here afforded us a capacious dish of eggs and bacon for dinner ; but, though it was not more than ordinarily strong and greasy for the wilds of Wales, we grew delicate, and, left leaving our meals untasted, pursued our journey on the turnpike road to Lampeter.

Mr. Barber could not have been in good humour when he arrived at Tregaron – he referred to a sloppy ride and described the town as poor, straggling, and ill-built. He and his companions stopped at an unnamed inn for a meal, but left without touching it :

Tregaron : Church and Stocks in 1819 (see note 2)

Tregaron square some 16 years after John Thomas Barber and his friends passed through the town


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