Mary-Ann Constantine is Reader at the University of Wales Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies. She works on C18th Welsh literature and is currently leading the AHRC-funded project, Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820.
John Evans (Llwyn-y-Groes), Map of North Wales 1795 & 1797
In the first volume of his Tour in Wales, published in 1778, Thomas Pennant thanks a Mr John Evans of Llwyn y Groes for identifying the ‘vast ditch’ buttressing Basingwerk Abbey in Holywell as Wat’s Dyke, rather than Offa’s. A footnote to his observation states:
This gentleman is now engaged in an actual survey of North Wales, and of publishing a large map of that part of the principality: a work extremely worthy of public encouragement. A further account of the plan will be published in the last page of this volume.
At the end of the book we do indeed find ‘Proposals for publishing by Subscription from an Actual Survey a large six-sheet, and also a smaller Map, of the Six Counties of North Wales by John Evans’. At the bottom of the page, presumably to encourage the subscribers, appears the line: ‘N.B.: the Work is now under the Engraver’s Hands’.
Few of us have not promised to meet unfeasible deadlines, and John Evans had set himself a huge and complex task. But that map was a long time coming by any standards. As Paul Evans has shown, by 1792 Pennant found himself compelled to draft a letter to a local newspaper on behalf of the by now rather irate ‘North Wales Subscribers’, making it clear that unless something happened soon they were considering ‘entering into new arrangements’. In the event the map, twenty years late, was still not published for another three years. In 1795, when it appeared, its creator died. Two years later his son, another John Evans, published the promised ‘smaller Map’, which his father had also prepared.
Most cartographers agree that John Evans’s 1795 work, which was eventually published in nine large sheets, impressively raised the standard of Welsh mapping. Engraved by Evans’ neighbour, Robert Baugh, it has a wonderful clarity of lettering and detail, and comes close to the style of the Ordnance Survey, who would begin their work in Wales in 1810. An informative article by Derek Williams tells us more about the man himself and the circumstances of the map’s creation. Llwyn-y-Groes (now a Grade II listed building), near Llanymynech, is very close to the Shropshire border, and Evans was a landowner with artistic and antiquarian interests. Born in the same year as Thomas Pennant, the two clearly had much in common, and Pennant writes warmly of a visit to the ‘public-spirited’ Mr Evans in his Welsh Tour. Evans also provided information on local sites.
One nice coincidence is that the mysterious Wat’s Dyke noted by Pennant on his ‘home patch’ at Basingwerk near Downing runs a diagonal forty miles down to Maesbury Marsh, only a couple of miles from Evans’s own house. It is marked as a confident black line on the section of the map reproduced here, running in parallel for a few miles at the bottom of the image with Offa’s Dyke, which disappears at Caergwrle just below Mold. A fascination with these border areas runs throughout Pennant’s writings on this eastern edge of Wales, and he draws on the testimony of place-names and (often inscrutable) archaeological monuments to evoke earlier periods of political flux and border warfare.
Twenty years is a long time for any work-in-progress, and one cannot help feeling sympathy for Evans in his attempts to map a landscape undergoing so much change. Turnpike trusts meant new roads were being built; mines were exploited, cotton factories established, and smelting houses blossomed along the coast of the Dee; over in the north-west, Richard Pennant (Thomas’s distant kinsman) ploughed the profits from slavery into a rapidly-growing slate industry. In 1796 Pennant himself would map the distances travelled, rather poignantly, in his History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell: revisiting the little wooded Greenfield valley, whose stream runs from St Winefred’s Well to Basingwerk Abbey, he describes a place now crowded with copper and cotton mills (‘by those behemoths of commerce, our little Jordan was soon drunk up’). Yet this, he insists, is progress, and he is proud of the contribution made by the busy stream, and its local investors, to the greater British economy. Zooming in to the Evans map around Holywell it is hard to tell quite what stage of industrial development is being represented here. The mills may be those little black dots along the stream; there is a ‘coal pit’ on the coast above Bagillt, and a ‘smelting works’ just under the castle at Flint. More clearly marked than the signs of rapid industrialization, however, are the houses and halls of the North Wales gentry, including Pennant’s seat at Downing.
The other big change over those two crucial decades was of course the sheer number of tourists coming in to North Wales, many of them primed by Pennant’s own Tours. As the irate letter from 1792 pointed out:
Of late years the tour of North Wales has become very fashionable, but the crowds who favour us with their company are clamorous after such a director to the picturesque Beauties of our country.
When Evans’s map did eventually become available—and particularly after his son issued the smaller version in 1797—it was welcomed by many. My final blog will look at the reception of the Evans map in the 1790s and 1800s, and explore some of the ways it was used by our curious travellers.
Derek Williams ‘John Evans’ Map of North Wales 1797’, Ystrad Alun 11 (Nadolig, 2010).
R. Paul Evans, ‘Thomas Pennant’s Writing on North Wales’ (unpub M.A Dissertation, University of Wales, 1985).
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