Thomas Kitchin’s Accurate Map of North Wales, Divided Into Its Counties…(1764)
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.
I recently gave a talk at a conference in Gregynog on an extraordinary journey made by Iolo Morganwg, on foot, from London to Glamorgan in May-June 1802. It is extraordinary for several reasons – for a start, the route ‘home’ is not remotely direct, but takes him via Birmingham and Shrewsbury over to Meifod, and thence down through the border counties back to Flimstone. Extraordinary because he often walked over 30 miles a day. Extraordinary too for the eclectic range of thoughts, observations and feelings the journey provoked, and which Iolo jotted down in pencil in a fragile little notebook held here in NLW. To get into the spirit, I got off the train at Caersws and walked the last seven miles to Gregynog, with a small rucksack containing a water-bottle, bar of chocolate—and a map (the OS Explorer 1:25 000 for Newtown; aka the Orange One).
It wasn’t even a particularly tricky route (footpaths are infinitely better signposted in Powys than in Ceredigion, it seems) but I must have looked at that map a hundred times. At every stile or gate I got it out and tried to work out how the invisible line of that all-important right-of-way might cut across this field or that valley. And it struck me that this is not at all how Iolo would have done it. For one thing, he would often have been on main roads, checking off the milestones (unthinkable today, as the cars tear by); for another, he would have constantly met other people and asked the way, as he does with a group of ‘strangely ignorant Rustics’ near Wolverhampton, mercilessly mimicking their accents. I saw no-one, and spoke to no-one. The map told me everything I needed to know.
On the Curious Travellers project we have been transcribing and editing various early tours in Wales (including Iolo’s). Not everyone walks, of course. Coaches, post-chaises, horseback, the occasional ferry, all help in getting people to the inns and castles, the druidic monuments and the fine prospects they have come looking for. Only a few of these writers mention maps, but those that do are interesting. My blog posts over the next four weeks will be looking at four C18th maps, produced for different purposes and with different audiences in mind, and thinking about how they might relate to the various ways people perceived and described Wales in their tour narratives.
First up is this map from 1764 by the prolific Thomas Kitchin (or Kitchen), a London-based engraver who became Hydrographer to George III. Kitchin, the son of a hat-dyer (presumably now a lost art…) was born in what is now Bermondsey just south of London Bridge – at the time it was considered a place of ‘Aliens or Strangers and poor People’. By the age of 13, however, he was indentured to Emanuel Bowen, one of the most important cartographers of his age. Bowen (whose family came from Tal-y-Llychau /Talley), was a prominent Baptist, and Kitchin went on to marry his daughter Sarah and become a key figure in local Baptist networks himself. His output, as Laurence Worms has noted, was ‘prodigious’, and included not only maps but a vast range of other engraved material, including shop-bills, decorative prints, portraits and even political satires. His ‘Accurate Map of North Wales’ was reprinted several times and shows how Kitchin’s depictions of place, like those of his master, Bowen, delight in bringing different types of information together onto the page. This map is very busy.
Floating off the coast of Wales and down the English border are quite sizeable chunks of text. In twenty or so different interventions they provide the reader with useful information about the counties and their major towns (‘the County of Flint is about 115 miles in circumference Contains about 120,000 Acres & is Divided into 5 Hundreds’), along with the types of crops and minerals they produce. But we are also told that North Wales was formerly inhabited by the Ordovices, that Flintshire air ‘is Good and Pleasant’, that the Constable of Flint Castle is ‘commonly Mayor of the Town’, that Llyn Tegid is the largest lake in Wales, and that the Welsh call Anglesey ‘Mam Cymru, that is the Mother or Nurse of Wales’ (though here, apparently, the Air, ‘at certain times by reason of the mists and fogs prevailing from the Irish Sea, is Agueish’). History, topography and economics jostle, a trifle randomly, for attention, much as they do in tour narratives. Apart from that brief reference to ‘Mam Cymru’, however, one crucial element is missing: language. Wales in this map is as comfortably knowable, as measurable, as statistically computable as any county in England; yet this was emphatically not the case for many travellers in the period, who quite often found themselves (to their irritation, curiosity, bafflement or delight) in situations where English simply did not operate.
While you would not wish this map on anyone actually trying to make their way around north Wales (and in particular the sadly deformed Ll?n peninsula), it is clear that Kitchin had an eye for a developing tourist market. Indeed, by 1783, a far sparser, more practical Kitchin map appeared in a volume explicitly aimed at travellers from London to various parts of Britain, including Wales. The Traveller’s Guide Through England and Wales, printed for Charles Dilly, offers the reader tables of distances between towns and cities, and includes some information on ‘Mansions, Castles and other remarkable Objects’ to be seen along the way. It opens with a map in which dark lines of roads branch and spread out like arteries from London. It is, claims the blurb ‘The Largest, most Accurate, and Compleat Map of Roads through England and Wales ever prepared.’ The era of tourist travel has begun.
Reference: Laurence Worms, “Thomas Kitchin’s ‘journey of life’: hydrographer to George III, mapmaker, and engraver’. The Map Collector, 62-63 (Spring/Summer 1993): Part I, 2-8; Part II, 14-20.
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