Benjamin Heath Malkin (1769-1842)

The Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of Wales (1804)

Benjamin Heath Malkin is, possibly, best known for his 1806 book  A Father’s Memoirs of his Child. It includes a frontispiece designed by William Blake − a symbolic image of a child’s soul departing the earth (opposite).

Information and image have been taken from Wikipedia

Benjamin Heath Malkin [DNB] was a schoolmaster, antiquary and author. He was born in London and educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. In his mid-twenties he married Charlotte, the daughter of Thomas Williams of Llanblethian (Glamorgan), master of Cowbridge grammar school and curate of Cowbridge.

For a period of nearly twenty years (1809-28), Malkin was headmaster of Bury St. Edmund’s grammar school, before being appointed, in 1829, professor of history at the newly established University of London. From about 1830 on, he lived in Cowbridge and took a keen interest in the Glamorgan community. His wife and himself are commemorated in an inscription in the local church.

Malkin, when in his early thirties, toured south Wales on horseback, and in 1804 published a book describing his journeys – a two-volume editionentitled ‘The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales’ [2]. It is widely acknowledged as the best of the old travel-books on South Wales, and that it displays the author’s perceptiveness and considerable knowledge of Welsh history and literature (DNB). 

Malkin recounts his ride from Aberystwyth to Pontrhydfendigaid along the road through Ystrad Meurig to the poor hamlet of Pentre Rhydvendiged :

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Malkin recounts his ride from Aberystwyth along the road through Ystrad Meurig to the poor hamlet of Pentre Rhydvendiged


The descent continues from Ystrad Meurig to the plain, through which the Mirk passes. The river is to be crossed before you reach Pentre Rhydvendiged, or the village of the Blessed Ford, a poor hamlet on the banks of the Tivy, in which it may be informed, that there is a bed. Such an accommodation is not everywhere to be met with. It forms a new epoch for Pentre Rhydvendiged, the fame of which had reached my ears at some distance ; I therefore depended on it, and found it very acceptable at a late hour, though composed of straw. The next morning I went in search of Ystrad Fflur with its ruined abbey.

It would be interesting to know where Malkin found this famed accommodation. It could not be The Red Lion because that was not built until 1825. Could it be the Black Lion, or was there another inn or some other place offering food and lodgings for travellers? Judging from Malkin’s writings, it was a ground-breaking enterprise at that time – it marked a new epoch for the village?

Having visited Strata Florida, Malkin felt he had to see Teifi Pools, but was a little hesitant about setting out on his own, so he hired a local shepherd as escort :

From Ystrad Fflur Abbey, a guide should be procured to visit Llyn Tivy, and the other lakes . . . As there is no path, it would be difficult to find them without a companion, to whom their situation is known ; and the least aberration might expose a stranger to the risk of passing a night in this inhospitable region.

On his way to up to the lakes he saw nothing of great interest :

There is nothing particularly observable on the ascent. The vale of Ystrad Fflur, though far from rich, presents the only features of cultivation within ken.

Llyn Teifi by J.G.Wood (1812)

The Tivy issues out from the lake by so small an outlet, as scarcely to accredit its relationship with the noble river to which, in my summer excursion, I was first introduced at Cardigan

Of Llyn Teifi, Malkin said :

.It is said not to have been fathomed and is encircled by a high and perpendicular ridge, which at once feeds and confines its everlasting waters. I understand that this circumstance, with its depth, had led some late visitors to conjecture, that it must have been a crater; but the stones, with which the margins of all these lakes abound, and none so much as Llyn Teivy, bear at present no volcanic appearance . . . The rocks and stones, with which the soil is encumbered, without any relief of wood or kindly vegetation, render the aspect of the mountain itself uncouth and repulsive . . .

 . . . The Tivy issues out from the lake by so small an outlet, as scarcely to accredit its relationship with the noble river to which, in my summer excursion, I was first introduced at Cardigan . . . Its course down the mountain is much retarded by rocks; it rumbles through the stony tract without any decided channel, and is not invested with the usual furniture of banks, till it reaches Ystrad Fflur. It receives no reinforcements till it passes Pentre Rhydvendiged, where the Mirk joins it.

Malkin was not impressed with the scenery around Llyn Teifi, uncouth and repulsive to use his words. Yet, surprisingly, he found the backdrop to the other lakes very grand :

On leaving Llyn Teivy, a walk of a few minutes will bring you to the summit of the mountain, and at once in view of four more lakes, each within a few yards of the other. The largest cannot be much less in circumference than Llyn Tivy, and is much less formal in its shape, being narrow in the middle. The smallest is circular, occupying the highest ground, and in appearance much like a crater. Its circumference is about three quarters of a mile. These likewise, as I understood from my guide, have not been fathomed. Their effect is much heightened by the strong degree of agitation to which they are subjected by their exposure, and the scene, though totally defoliate, is very grand. This is the highest ground in Cardiganshire; and the prospect is most extensive . . . the sixth lake is some little way off, and there is a seventh, between Pentre Rhydvendiged and Castle Inon, called Llyn Vathey Cringlas. The only fish in these pools are trout and eels. They are much frequented by wild fowl. Llyn Vathey Cringlas is a mile in circumference, of a beautiful oblong form, where the town of Tregaron is said formely to have stood.

I assume that Llyn Vathey Cringlas is Llyn Maeslyn between Pontrhydfendigaid and Tregaron, and Malkin is correct in that there is an old legend which says that this is where the town of Tregaron originally stood [click]

Malkin decided not to return from the lakes with the Tivy, and follow it through the vale towards Tregaron because he thought it would be a fatiguing length . . . without any corresponding interest. Instead, he was keen to take a ‘short-cut’ and accepted his guide’s advice to cross the hills, and come down immediately upon the place of his destination (i.e. Tregaron). On thie journey they passed the guide’s home which Malkin described as a ‘hovel’

A ruin which was once a shepherd's home in the 19th century

One little dingle, into which we descended, in climbing ridge after ridge, had a speck of wood and tillage; and here was the cottage of my guide, who is a shepherd. I found it a more wretched hovel than any I have met with, excepting in the upper part of Caermarthenshire, where human accommodation seems to be on as low a scale as possible. Still, however, he appeared content. but in truth he has a most dreary neighbourhood. This chain of hills runs, without a single break, from Lanbeder to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, a space certainly not less than sixty miles, which may be traversed on horseback without the interruption of a single gate or fence, without any path, without any opportunity of procuring the slightest refreshment, and, in all probability, without meeting a human creature. But it is time we should find our way into the civilised world at Tregaron.

The journey must have taken its toll on Malkin because when he arrived at the civilised world at Tregaron he was not impressed and none too complimentary about the town ; in fact, the accommodation here was no patch to what he found at Pontrhydfendigaid :

This a small, and a very poor place, though I believe it boasts a market. The accommodations of its mean public house are of the very worst sort, nor does it contain, as far as I could find, any object on which the eye can rest with tolerable satisfaction, except its church. This is a better building than might have been expected in so rude a district, and stands on a little rocky eminence, regularly circular, making it not unpleasantly a fort of elevated centre to the town. Were it not for this circumstance, there would not be a village in Cardiganshire more miserable. Brenny river runs through it, and joins the Tivy, which passes on one side, at a little distance below. The Tivy has not yet assumed its picturesque honours. There is a fair here annually, during three days in March

Personal note : I find it very hard to imagine why this book is widely acknowledged as the best of the old travel-books on South Wales. Malkin may be perceptive, and he may even have some knowledge of Welsh history and literature but, certainly, he does not have any empathy or understanding of rural Wales and the state of the country’s economy in the late 18th century. Perhaps, on reflection, this is not really surprising when one considers his background − London born, Harrow and Cambridge educated

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