Byng's Journal Of a Tour into South Wales, 1787
Colonel John Byng was formerly a lieutenant-colonel in
the 1st Foot Guards (or Grenadier Guards) and, at the time of the travels,
the holder of an official appointment in the Stamp Office. His journeys were
made on horseback, it could take over seven hours to ride twenty miles
--- the progress in Wales could be slower. These tours are considered a last picture of pre-industrial England and Wales.
Here is a small collection of 'extracts of interest' compiled by Steve Keates.
Tuesday July 31, 1787
Riding from Newport to Cardiff, part of his
From the quantity of lime made in this country most houses are whiten'd,
which gives a gay appearance, as also the very roofs of the houses and churches:
dazzling the eyes and appearing like undissolv'd snow.
Wednesday, August 1, 1787
Following a description of the Cathedral
at Landaff he writes....
at the back of which is the Welsh chapel, but such is the decline of that
language (soon to extinguish like Cornish) that whereas within a few years
the numbers were even, there are but seven or eight people in the Welsh
This change must necessarily happen from the great intercourse with England,
and from their militia having dwelt in English camps. Harping is also in
the wane; thro' there is one gentleman of this country, Mr Gwynne, who is
a very fine performer, and draws all the harpers to his house.
He also makes the observation that....
- Coals are sold at the interior pits of this country, at 2½ d. the sack,
containing three bushels. The gentlemen send their workmen to their own pits,
who for a few hours bring away a months fuel.
Cardiff to Newbridge
Thursday, August 2 1787...(Leaving Cardiff)
......After passing the race ground, we ascended a long hill, from the summit
of which is an unbounded view over the Bristol Channel and to the English
land. Here we got amongst the coal-pits, into one of which I peep'd down;
and soon met numbers of laden horses returning from others. All the smaller
coals are burnt at the limekilns, and their lime is rekon'd so strong as
to be sought for all buildings under water and was used in the building of
Westminster and Blackfriars bridges. Their haycarts, built upon shafts, are
well adapted for steep descents and narrow bridges.
...........Hence we rode a stony lane, for two miles, that led to the road
towards Brecon and then by the beautiful bank of the rapid River Taff, which
brawls its foaming stream over beds of rocks and [is] on both sides surrounded
by high-wooded hills sprinkled by white cottages.
........leaving our horses, we struck into a wooded path which brought us
to the Falls of the Taff, where, seated on the shaded, broad rocks in the
midst of the river, we survey'd the rapidity of the torrent, surrounded by
woods and enliven'd by a brilliant sun. Parties are sometimes form'd to drink
their wine and tea upon these flat rocks; and we saw, hanging from them,
several simply made baskets to intercept salmon on their fall from the leaps.
And now our keen appetites hastn'd us back to a small public house (call'd
Newbridge) on the river's bank, where our orders and grandeurs had thrown
the family into perplexity and delay. This little alehouse, close to the
bridge over the River Rhondda, is only frequented by such stragglers as ourselves
in summer and by woodcock-shooters in winter; as all these woods so abound
with these birds that a good shot will easily kill ten couple in a morning.
Here we gave a loose to our appetites,....
From Newbridge they return via Castle Coch and Byng makes an observation
about the Welsh language.......
.....it certainly bears much affinity to the French; for Mr Traherne (one
of his companions) says that during the late war , when he was captain of
the militia on guard over French prisoners, the Welsh and French did converse
and understand each other, as did the Welsh sailors in French prisons, with
Saturday, August 4 1787
But a few years since travellers were scarce in this country, and post-chaises
unknown. Now the country in these southern parts is become an high road to
Ireland; Newton and Swansea are bathing-places; and strolling players, with
all other mischiefs, will get, nay have got, amongst them. Their language
kept them innocent, and at home; that lost, they read, hear plays, debauch,
An unkind comment on the locals.......To me the Welsh appear'd as inferior
to the common English in civility, as they are in stature and comeliness;
particularly the women, who are very ugly and dwarfish.....[Byng does seem
to be a bit of a bigot in other passages as well in that he makes reference
to some squalor in various locations.]
However they ride on, coming to a copper works......
Two miles from Margam appear a grand display of buildings and cottages at
the English company's copper works, which are furnsh'd with water in an aqueduct,
and with fuel from the over-hanging hills, which abound with coal. From either
cunning or shame of no business (I conjecture), they would not permit me
to see inside of the building. The place, I believe is call'd Kenfig [Cynffig].
Sunday, August 5 1787
......Neath Abbey lies in flat meadows, at high tides almost surrounded by
water, and still exhibits much grandeur in the remains of the church. As
for the mansion house, of much later date, that is, with the abbey, hourly
dismantling by the colliers inhabiting all the odd corners.
Monday, August 6 1787
Just above the town is placed the house of Sir Herbert Mackworth, called
the Gnoll, to which we rode accompanied by Mr Howell, and enterprising geniuses
in this kingdom; ever employ'd and in the greatest works; he here surveys,
beneath and around him, the wonderful works of his own indefatigableness:
collieries digging, copper works smoking, a domain of parkish ground, cultivated
from barrenness to rich fertility, woods of extent and beauty, and about
300 men in daily pay; and to all appearance and to my belief, he is gaining
great wealth, altho' the envious and timorous deride his plans and prophesy
downfall. He has six coalpits in his park at full work, whence fifty tons
of coal are daily carried to his copper works, and several others that have
been overflow'd but are now draining by fireengines**. At a mile from the
house, in a deep wood, is a fall of water of 300 feet over great rocks, towards
a root-house, where we sat. Sir Herbert Mackworth has glass houses, collieries,
etc., etc,. in other counties; has establish'd three banking-houses in Wales;
keeps all his own accounts; drives around the kingdom with a nightcap in
his pocket; and to all his followers has diffused a spirit of zeal and
confidence. **Steam Pumps, originally installed in the early 1700's by Sir
The country around him was barren - now they are mowing three loads of hay
from each acre! His mountains are planted with trees, and his valley's are
covered by beeves. [Cattle]
An ingenious artist (retain'd by Sir Herbert) has invented a curious and
simple borer of ground, which we survey'd. It is work'd by one horse, will
pierce thro' fifty fathoms of rock in ten months, by an auger that brings
up the soil, and by a scupper which carries off the water: the expense of
working this easily constructed engine is about eight pounds per month. Now
to me it appears strange that a gentleman of fortune in any county will not
adventure with this machine; for tho' hatred and malice may deride, yet great
discoveries at least might be made for the advancement of agriculture.
Tuesday, August 7 1787
Mr Howell then walk'd with me to the shipbuilding yards, rope walks, iron
forges, and to Sir Herbert Mackworth's shops, water engines, etc., etc.
The colliers here do not earn more than 1s 4d. per diem, notwithstanding
their labour and danger, many of them being frequently burnt to death by
the foul air taking fire.
His tour continued up to Brecon where he discussed Mrs Siddons' place of birth
(Brecon) with a landlord of that town.
Steve Keates Sept 2000
Return to top
[Last Updated : 26 Sept 2002 - Gareth Hicks]
Find help, report
problems, and contribute information.