In general, the early travel writers [1], who ventured into the remote areas of north Ceredigion, were principally interested in Devil’s bridge,  Hafod, Ystrad Fflur and, to a lesser extent Ystrad Meurig and Teifi Pools. They wrote, mainly, about the local topography, the mansion and gardens of Hafod and the history of Ystrad Fflur ; rarely did they include any significant comments about local people and everyday life in this remote inland corner of the county.

Regrettably, their written work was heavily influenced by their own personal circumstances and experiences – they saw north Cardiganshire as part of a foreign country, whose inhabitants spoke little or no English.

Most of these early tourists were English and from a privileged background ;  they were, invariably, well educated and very mindful of their social standing and national identity (English not British).

An early travel-writer (?) viewing the Great West Door at Strata Florida Abbey [2]

www.hanesybont.co.uk

John Evans [3] was one of those early tourists to Wales. He was born in Lydney, Gloucestershire and was a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford. His name suggests a Welsh connection, and he certainly showed a keen interest in Wales. He was the author of A Tour through Part of North Wales (1800) and Letters Written during a Tour through South Wales (1804) ; also, he contributed to The Beauties of England and Wales, a book compiled by E. W. Brayley and J. Britton.  Alas, his contribution to the latter was cut short by his untimely death (at his London home) in 1812 at the age of 44.


Unfortunately, little is known about  John Evans’ personal life. He refers to Welsh speaking friends so he may have had some Welsh blood in his veins, but that is pure conjecture.  A few of his Welsh speaking friends accompanied him on his tour of south Wales, and they may have helped him to converse, meaningfully, with local people. Certainly, unlike his contemporaries, he showed considerable interest in the disadvantaged rural population of Wales. For instance, his writings provide a rare insight to the families who lived near (or on) Elenydd's open waste land, and upon which they ‘encroached’. These were the rural poor, the lower class of that period.  Gwallter Mechain  (1815) considered them to be an obstacle to agricultural improvement in Ceredigion [4] ; access to open, unenclosed land he said gave families :

. . . a kind of independence, which was too commonly the parent of indolence, in the lower class

It was a pretty harsh view indeed of people who, according to one modern historian [5] :

. . . responded to the physical and social constraints which inhibited their  region’s economic development with a variety of flexible strategies for family survival . . . localized solutions such as the development of squatter settlements on common and Crown lands and cottage textile production, as well as seasonal and short-term migration to more prosperous regions outside their native district.

Notes

[1]

For instance Barber, Colt Hoare, Makin, Roscoe, etc ; for more information click here

[2]

Strata Florida Abbey, The Beauties of England and Wales, 1813.

[3]

D.N.B. and D.W.B.

[4]

Walter Davies, General View of Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales (volume II), London 1815, page 482

[5]

Ann Kelly Knowles, Cardiganshire County History, Volume 3, Chapter 4, page 76, Cardiff 1998

First, as expected, John Evans made the mandatory visit to Hafod which he described as a delicious spot which they (himself and his friends) left with regret. From Hafod  he made his way to Ystrad Meurig via the bleak and dreary cwm Ispitty Ystwith. At Ystrad Meurig he paid a social call to Edward Richard’s old school and found it well endowed and in a flourishing condition.


To read about John Evans' journey across the peaks and moors of Elenydd, click here

Pontrhydfendigaid 1803

Letters written during a tour through south Wales, by the Rev John Evans 1803

Page 1 : An introduction to his journey through north Ceredigion

Everything about north Cardiganshire was, to them, strange and difficult to comprehend.  They were deplorably ignorant of the local life ; perhaps, this lack of empathy partly explains why they wrote only about, things they could readily understand and identify with (i.e. scenery, antiquities and history)

Elenydd is the largest and the most remote area in the Cambrian Mountains The west facing hills extend out into the Welsh speaking heartland of north Ceredigion. It is on this side of Elenydd that the village of Pontrhydfendigaid stands – in the foothills, near to the source of the river Teifi and the remains of the celebrated abbey of Strata Florida