by Mary John

THE CAMBRIAN TRAVELLER’S GUIDE in Every Direction

Containing Remarks Made During Many Excursions in the Principality of Wales… 2nd edition, London, Longman, Hurst, etc. 1813.

The title page of this book of some 1,500 pages tells us that the guide is ‘augmented by Extracts from the Best Writers’. Among these are gentlemen travellers such as Pennant, Malkin, Skrine, Wyndham and Fenton. Pembrokeshire is recorded in the alphabetical listings under Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Kilgerran, Milford, Narberth, Newport, Pembroke and Tenby and we find the accounts of these places ranging for some distance into surrounding areas. We are also told that the work covers ‘Bordering Districts’. So, unsurprisingly, we find here early 19th century descriptions of communities such as Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Chester and Worcester.

A wealth of detail, history, geography, myths, famous locals, flora and fauna, industry, etc. can be found here, much of which may no doubt be questioned two centuries later and evidently the writers were not constrained to the extent that tourist guides are today.

Upper and Lower Town of Fishguard. Drawn by H. Gastineau, engraved by H.Alard. 1830

Upper and Lower Town of Fishguard. Drawn by H. Gastineau, engraved by H.Alard. 1830

These tend to be ‘warts and all’ descriptions and Fishguard is perhaps the place which comes under the most negative scrutiny.

‘To no spot of equal extent in the whole county has history or tradition annexed fewer memorable events than to this parish, and consequently fewer relics to excite the attention of the traveller or the antiquary scarcely any where occur, presenting nothing to the curious eye above the dignity of a beacon.’

‘Of eminent men few places have been more unproductive than this. One generation of fishermen, mariners, and traders, have succeeded in an uninteresting series.’

‘Till the year 1785 no person lived in this parish of sufficient consequence and property to entitle him to supply the office of magistrate. Nor has there been a house fit for the residence of any man above the degree of yeoman.’

Thankfully all is not bad news about Fishguard. We learn that …

‘The air of this place is so remarkably salubrious that it can scarcely ever have been visited by an epidemical disorder…on this account it is a matter of surprise that during the fashion of sea-bathing, Fishguard has not been selected and preferred…To this advantage might be added the cheapness of its markets, and the variety and pleasantness of the country.’

The account continues with talk of local agriculture and shipping, with an extensive discussion on the prospects of building a pier to develop the port. Having dismissed the church as a ‘mean structure, without tower or spire, containing no dignified memorials of the dead’, the writer allows us some light relief.

A Wedding here exhibits a scene of uncommon gaiety. The vessels in the port display their colours, an old swivel is repeatedly discharged, the happy pair are preceded in their walk to church by a violin or bagpipe, and festivity succeeds.’

Our guide to Fishguard is soon back in critical mode.-, its ‘monotonous and mean buildings’, …‘proverbially bad’ streets,…‘repeated alarms from piratical visitors,…‘no manufactories’, …‘The schools existing are set up by pretenders who themselves need to be taught.’ and… ‘it wants a workhouse.’

Unsurprisingly a description of the landing of the French in1797 plays a big part here. An event in living memory at that time, there is naturally considerable detail which helps to enliven this account.

The interests of local antiquarian, Richard Fenton, would appear to get more than adequate coverage in this guide. However, his own account of Fishguard in his Historical Tour of Pembrokeshire is considerably more benign and one cannot help but suspect some ungentlemanly conduct in the sour details written by others in this Cambrian Traveller’s Guide.