Travel Writing

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The least systematic but also the earliest of our surveys of Britain are the accounts written by travellers. We aim not just to make the full texts of the books they wrote available on-line, but also to link the placenames they mention to the rest of our system: Clicking on a placename within the text takes you to a 'place' page including location maps, while searching for a place on our home page gives you access to all references by travellers to that place.

Our grant from the National Lottery was used to computerise four of the best known accounts of journeys around Britain:

  • William Cobbett's Rural Rides, describing journeys in rural southern England in the 1820s.
  • Daniel Defoe's A Tour through England and Wales divided into circuits or journeys, first published in the 1720s and the most systematic of all our travellers.
  • Celia Fiennes, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, describing journeys at the end of the 17th century but only published in 1888.
  • Arthur Young,Tours in England and Wales, Selected from the Annals of Agriculture, written in the late 18th century to promote new farming techniques.

Many additional travel writers have been included using either computerised texts in the public domain, via Project Guttenberg or Google Books, or by kind permission of other researchers: Both Boswell and Johnson describe their tour of the Hebrides; accounts by Giraldus Cambrensis and George Borrow give us detailed coverage of Wales; Karl Moritz gives us a foreigner's view of England in the late 18th century.

We also include several shorter accounts written by 19th century 'tramping artisans' and political agitators. The latter are interesting partly because political movements are too often presented simply as uprisings from below. These men travelling from town to town, and in one case from village to village, giving speeches to whoever would listen, played an essential role in creating a democratic political life in Britain. While some of our travellers were simply seeing and describing the sights, both Henry Vincent's visits to Devizes triggered major riots and his account ends with him a political prisoner in Monmouth Gaol.

There are few towns of any size which were not visited by at least one of our travellers, but it is pot luck whether a particular village is mentioned. We are keen to add more travellers' tales to the system, and while we do not have the resources to computerise new texts we would do our best to mark-up any suitable material that was given to us ready-computerised. Contact us at

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