In the National Library's collections there are 8 extra-illustrated volumes of A tour in Wales by Thomas Pennant that chronicle the three journeys he made through Wales between 1773 and 1776. These volumes are unique because they were compiled for Pennant's own library at Downing.
The editions produced for the public were published in 2 volumes; the first in 1778 and the second in 1781.
The first journey includes Chester, Oswestry, Llangollen, Mold and Caerwys. The second journey, namely Journey to Snowdon, discusses a much broader area including Snowdonia, the Llyn Peninsula, Caernarfon, Anglesey and the north east coast. The third part is much shorter and it leads the reader from Downing to Shrewsbury.
The volumes include a number of original drawings by Moses Griffiths, Ingleby and other well known artists of the period.
Thomas Pennant was born in the family home of Downing, Flintshire. He went to Oxford to study and enrolled at Queen's College. There he was inspired to travel, but more than that to record the results of researches which he undertook on his travels. He left college without graduating but with a clear idea of how he wanted to spend his time and energy.
He is the author of the finest travel books of his age in Wales. One of Pennant's great talents was his ability to foster friendships. His appreciation of people was very well-known and because of this he always received sensible and full answers to all his enquiries for information. He drew on the help of numerous talented friends to help him with his projects.
He has been admired by generations of authors because of his enthusiastic and diligent scholarship. His work stands alongside the work of the famous English naturalists and antiquarians such as The natural history and antiquities of Selborne (1789) by Gilbert White (1720-1793) or The antiquities of England and Wales (1772-1776) by Francis Grose (1731?-1791).
Pennant was an intelligent collector and patron. He collected not so much for artistic merit but rather for the graphical information which the pictures contained. As a patron he tended to buy directly from the artists.
He employed Moses Griffith (1747-1819) as a full time artist from 1771, and gave him lodgings at Downing. Moses was responsible for most of the illustrations in Pennant's publications. At the same time he occasionally patronised John Ingleby (1749-1808) of Halkin on a picture by picture basis. Ingleby specialised in cityscapes and vignettes.
In addition to A tour in Wales the Library holds other volumes of Pennant's work from the library at Downing: A tour in Scotland (1769), The history of the parishes of Whiteford and Holywell (1796) and also A history of quadrupeds (1781). The volumes were decorated and illustrated with original works by artists such as Moses Griffith, John Ingleby, Paul Sandby (1731-1809) and others.