Journal of a Ten Days’ Tour from Uley in Gloucestershire by way of Ross

Domestic tourism in Great Britain

In counterpoint to the ‘grand tour’ of Europe, domestic tourism also saw a dramatic increase in the 18th century. Improved roads, health benefits and the chance to discover unfamiliar parts of the country were all stimulants for domestic travellers, writes Rosemary Sweet.

The concept of travel in the 18th century tends to conjure up images of the European ‘grand tour’, undertaken by the aristocratic elite in pursuit of art, antiquities and culture. But arguably of greater significance for the development of British culture was the rise of domestic tourism. Whilst only the wealthy could travel to Europe, from the late 17th century increasing numbers of the middling sort as well as the elite were able to take advantage of a steadily improving transport infrastructure to travel around their native country. Indeed, patriotic Britons were urged by many writers to stay at home rather than spending their money abroad to the benefit of other countries and exposing themselves to unnecessary dangers. Domestic travel would provide them with a greater knowledge of and pride in the history and modern state of their native land, as well as offering an agreeable leisure pursuit.

Thus travel became something to be undertaken as an end in itself rather than an uncomfortable and disagreeable means of arriving at another destination. Its popularity provided a vital stimulus to the expansion of topographical art and literature as travellers described their journeys for the benefit of others or simply for the armchair travellers. But the vast majority of those who kept a record of their travels never ventured into print: numerous collections of correspondence and journals of domestic tours exist at the British Library and in record offices across the country. They provide compelling testimony of the popularity of the home tour over the long 18th century and vivid insights into the pleasures and pains of travel. Whereas the grand tour is generally regarded as a particularly masculine experience, domestic travel was undertaken by men and women alike and was equally popular amongst both sexes as a leisure pursuit; indeed some of the most informative travel journals that have survived from this period were written by women.

Central to the development of travel was the improvement in the quality of roads. A succession of turnpike acts led to an ever increasing network of roads of reasonable quality, which made the experience of travel swifter, cheaper and considerably more comfortable. Information regarding the practicalities of travel became increasingly available, enabling would-be travellers to plan their journeys: John Ogilby’s Britannia … an Illustration of the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales (1675) provided 100 strip maps of measured routes across the country. He was widely imitated by other publishers throughout the following century, whose maps were often accompanied by information about where to stay and what to see en route.[1] By the later 18th century road books also provided readers with information about coaches, their destinations, their departure times and the London inns from which they departed: domestic travel could now be planned and timed with much greater ease.


John Ogilby's map showing roads from London to Flamboroughead in Yorkshire, published in Ogilby's Britannia (1675)

John Ogilby's Britannia (1675) is one of the earliest road atlases of Great Britain.

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The city of London was the single most important destination for travellers and attracted thousands of domestic and foreign visitors every year, but of greater interest is the extent to which provincial Britain was opened up to domestic travel during the 18th century. Celia Fiennes, who embarked on a series of travels across England in the late 17th century, explained her motives for travel in some detail: she sought to regain her health through variety and ‘change of aire and exercise’ which would also keep her mind occupied, rescuing her from the ‘epidemick diseases of vapers and should I add laziness’ which she identified amongst her contemporaries.[2] In an age when effective medical remedies were few and far between, the benefits of travel to health (physical exercise and fresh air away from the smut and fogs of the metropolis) were not to be underestimated. The traveller and antiquary, William Stukeley, for example, found relief from his gout through the physical exertion of his regular summer tours taken on horseback. Taking the waters at the growing number of inland spas and coastal resorts became an increasingly popular mode of recuperating one’s health, but it was also a practice that necessitated travel to the coast or the spa of choice. In areas such as the Derbyshire Peak or the Yorkshire spas around Knaresborough and Harrogate (visited by Fiennes), the experiences of travel and taking the waters were combined: visitors could spend a few days at Matlock, Buxton, Bakewell respectively, whilst enjoying the natural delights of Dovedale or Castleton and viewing castles and country seats such as Bolsover, Chatsworth or Kedleston.[3]

Fiennes was also firmly of the view that it behove her as an Englishwoman to know something more about her country and its manufactures. This was a powerful driver for many travellers who set out to see for themselves the increasing prosperity of ports and manufacturing towns and the wealth derived from agriculture which Britain was experiencing in the 18th century. Many followed in the footsteps of Daniel Defoe, whose Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, first published 1724–26 and regularly reprinted throughout the century, celebrated the nation’s growth of wealth and commerce.[4] Defoe provided his reader with an account of the modern state of Britain, particularly focused upon the urban and agricultural economies, rather than landscapes or antiquities.

Some Observations made in a journey begun June the 7th and finish'd July the 9th 1742

Some Observations made in a journey [through the Eastern and Central Counties of England]

This anonymous account of a tour of eastern and central England focuses on the towns the author visited and contains ground plans of several buildings.

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Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

The writer of the anonymous tour of eastern and central counties of England in 1742 similarly had little to say about the scenery on his travels, but rather focused upon the towns through which he passed, with comments on the town’s appearance, its principal buildings and its trade, complete with ground plans of significant buildings such as churches or fortifications.

The enlightenment spirit of scientific inquiry is clearly in evidence here: domestic as well as foreign travel was a crucial means of adding to the stock of information through empirical observation and the creation of knowledge. It was also, as Fiennes noted, a source of intellectual stimulus. Domestic travel, as much as the grand tour, had an important educational purpose and was recommended by educational writers as a preparation for young men before they travelled abroad. But travellers of any age wondered at the technological marvels of the age, such as Arkwright’s mills at Cromford, the furnaces of Coalbrookdale or Samuel Boulton’s Soho works in Birmingham, the latter drawing travellers not just from Britain but from all over Europe.[5]

Visiting towns and cities represented an important element of domestic tourism, but of greater interest for many tourists were the visits made to country houses en route. A glance at any of the road books published in the 18th century, reveals how the countryside through which travellers passed was depicted as parcelled up into the estates of the gentry and nobility. Commentary was similarly confined to observations upon who owned what property and the extent of their estate. The country house was central to the experience of domestic travel, long before Elizabeth Bennett’s fictional visit to Pemberley.[6] Houses such as Wilton, Chatsworth, Kedlestone or Stourhead could be viewed, generally under the guidance of a housekeeper, who would expect to be suitably rewarded. By the later 18th century a number were publishing guidebooks, with details of art, antiquities and other collections (which often formed the basis for notes made in a travel journal).[7] Some landowners, such as Lord Curzon or Sir Henry Hoare even built inns near their houses for the accommodation of visitors, while Mrs Lybbe Powys noted that 2,324 visitors had already signed their names in Wilton’s visitor book when she visited in August 1776.[8] Many travellers focused upon architecture or the collections of art but others, like Mrs Lybbe Powys, have left us intriguing details about furnishings and decor. Owners were not obliged to open their houses to the public; they did so from a sense of noblesse oblige – but allowing visitors to view one’s house and one’s collections was also a means of demonstrating the taste and learning that underpinned the landed elite’s claims to cultural and political leadership. Those who closed their doors against visitors could expect to be heavily criticised by the tour writers of the day.

Many of these houses were also valued because of their historical associations – Hardwick Hall in the Peak District, for example, was noted for its associations with Mary, Queen of Scots – and the pursuit of history and antiquity provided another powerful rationale for travel in the 18th century. Domestic antiquities, it was argued, were unjustly neglected, as the wealthy elite spent their money abroad. Viewing antiquities, as much as glowing furnaces or busy factories, was part and parcel of knowing one’s country and was, moreover, a source of interest and aesthetic pleasure.

Journal of Tours by Craven Ord in the Counties of Norfolk and Suffolk

Journal of Tours by Craven Ord in the Counties of Norfolk and Suffolk

The antiquary Craven Ord had a particular interest in brass monuments and included rubbings of many in his journal.

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Antiquaries such as William Stukeley or Craven Ord made regular tours in the summer months to record antiquities of any description; others with less specialist knowledge contented themselves with viewing particularly notable monuments such as Stonehenge or the Roman Wall. Druids exercised a particular fascination for the 18th-century imagination, and Stonehenge – strategically located close to Wilton House and Salisbury Cathedral (both also popular tourist destinations) – was a magnet for visitors. Mrs Lybbe Powys, a regular summer traveller, recorded how her party chipped away at pieces of blue sarsen from Stonehenge as a souvenir of their visit in 1759, only to be filled with guilt later, when she read William Stukeley’s strictures against the ‘absurd curiosity’ of people who contributed to the monument’s ruination in this way.[9] The increasing vogue for all things gothic in the later 18th century similarly inspired a generation of travellers to seek out the monuments of medieval antiquity – ruined abbeys, monasteries and gothic castles – where they could luxuriate in the pleasing melancholy inspired by contemplation of mouldering towers and ivy mantled walls. Tintern Abbey, within striking distance of the fashionable resort of Bath, was particularly favoured, and immortalised through verse by William Wordsworth. But across the country monastic ruins were a favourite destination for day trips as well as longer tours, inspiring numerous sketches and poetic effusions of variable quality.

The interest in gothic antiquities cannot be separated from the broader movement of the ‘picturesque’ which provided a new stimulus and inspiration for travel from the 1760s onwards and transformed the way in which the British thought about landscape and architecture. William Gilpin famously popularised the term with a series of picturesque tours (1782–1809) which advised travellers not only on what route to take and what location to select for taking the most picturesque view, but also on what sentiments to feel when confronted with the picturesque landscape. The closure of much of continental Europe during the Napoleonic Wars forced a generation of travellers to discover their own country: domestic tourism, already well established, enjoyed an unprecedented boom, as the outpouring of tour guides, works of topography and topographical prints from this period suggest.

Under the influence of the picturesque, areas of Britain which had formerly attracted little attention, lacking towns of note or fertile agriculture, acquired a new value: the ‘barbarous mountains’ of the Peak District, as a traveller of the 1740s described them, were rendered romantic and picturesquely beautiful.[10] In a similar manner the Lake District, the Wye Valley, the Highlands of Scotland (newly accessible after 1746 following the construction of military roads after the failure of the Jacobite uprising), and North Wales became part of an established tourist itinerary and were widely celebrated for the delightful qualities of the scenery. Cader Idris and Fingal’s Cave became as celebrated destinations as Tintern Abbey or Stonehenge.[11] A further attraction was that travel in such rural regions offered opportunities to observe the local manners and customs, generally seen as charmingly backward hangovers from an earlier age of uncorrupted simplicity.

Mrs Cobbold’s Journal of a Tour in the Lake District

Mrs Cobbold’s Journal of a Tour in the Lake District

Elizabeth Cobbold made special efforts to see picturesque spots during her tour of the Lake District in June 1795.

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Providing for visitors in such areas rapidly became an important element of the local economy. There was money to be earned as a guide through Snowdonia or the caves of Castleton. Innkeepers did particularly well, and in Wales, might retain the services of a harpist (preferably blind) with which to entertain the travellers.

The ‘Welch Journal’

Journal of a Ten Days’ Tour from Uley in Gloucestershire by way of Ross

Frances Anne Crewe took in many historic and picturesque sites during her tour of Wales in August 1795.

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Held by© British Library

Prints and guidebooks were widely available for purchase, along with other souvenirs, and in the Wye valley and the Lake District entrepreneurs began to offer river tours in boats with canopies to shield the tourists from the sun and tables to enable them to take sketches with greater ease, such as that illustrated in Robert Bloomfield’s journal of his trip down the Wye.

Journal of a Ten Days’ Tour

Journal of a Ten Days’ Tour from Uley in Gloucestershire by way of Ross

Bloomfield's diary of a tour of the Wye Valley in 1807 combines observations and anecdotes with cuttings and sketches made during the trip.

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Journals such as this one were written up as a fair copy of notes hastily scribbled down in pocket books, which tend to be more seldom survivals. This practice allowed the traveller to add in additional information gleaned from works of topography or history, to revise sketches made upon the spot, and to express hurriedly scribbled notes in a rather more elegant and legible form. The fair copy would then be circulated amongst friends or handed down for subsequent generations to read. It was an occupation for the winter months, while the memory of a summer tour was still fresh – as Bloomfield’s sketch of his cat in front of the fire at the end of the journal suggests.


[1] See e.g. Edward Paterson, Paterson’s British Itinerary (1785) or Cary’s Traveller’s Companion, or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales (1791).

[2] The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes 1685–c. 1712, ed. Christopher Morris (London: MacDonald & Co., 1982), p. 32.

[3] See e.g. BL Add MS 22926 ff. 73–9 on Chatsworth, Castleton and Buxton.

[4] Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 3 vols (1724–6).

[5] Sir Richard Arkwright’s mill at Cromford, Derbyshire (established 1771) was the first water powered cotton spinning mill in the country; Coalbrookdale in Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire, was a centre of iron production owned by Abraham Darby, who pioneered the blast furnace; the Soho works at Birmingham were the centre for production of steam engines, and represented the most technologically advanced and sophisticated factory of the time.

[6] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 245–51.

[7] E.g. Aedes Pembrochianae (various editions) or James Kennedy, A New Description of the Pictures, Statues, Bustos, Basso-Relievos and other Curiosities in the Earl of Pembroke’s House at Wilton (various editions).

[8] E. J. Climenson (ed.), Passages from the Diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys (1899), p. 164.

[9] Climenson (ed.), Diary of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys, p. 52; William Stukeley, Stonehenge a Temple Restored to the British Druids (1740), p. 12.

[10] BL Add MS 3212 f. 6, Charles Lyttelton to Jeremiah Milles, 6 July 1743.

[11] Cader Idris is a mountain in Snowdonia much favoured by 18th-century travellers (see BL Add MS 37926) and Fingal’s Cave is a cave with dramatic acoustics on Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, named after the eponymous hero of James MacPherson’s enormously successful poem Fingal (1762): see for example, Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides (1774), pp. 206–7.

Suggestions for further reading

Moir, Esther, The Discovery of Britain. The English Tourists, 1540–1840 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964)

Ousby, Ian, The Englishman’s England. Taste, Travel and the Rise of Tourism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)

Kinsley, Zoe, Women Writing the Home Tour 1682–1812 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

Andrews, Malcolm, The Search for the Picturesque. Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism, 1760–1800 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989)

Tinniswood, Adrian, The Polite Tourist. Country House Visiting in the Age of Jane Austen (London: National Trust 1998)

  • Rosemary Sweet
  • Rosemary Sweet is Professor of Urban History in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. Her publications include The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-Century England (1997), Antiquaries: the Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2004) and Cities and the Grand Tour: the British in Italy, c. 1690–1820 (2012). She is currently working on antiquarianism and the invention of the historic town in the 19th century.