Local former teacher Edward Parry is celebrating the publication of his book, ‘The Glories and the Wildness of North Wales: Exploring North Wales between 1810-1860 with the Reverend John Parker’.
A retired history teacher from near Newtown, Edward has spent many years writing articles and delivering lectures, yet this is his first book.
A project that has taken love, patience and passion, Edward’s book has been the culmination of years of diligent research and much rewriting.
Now that it is finally finished, he reflects on it with satisfaction tinged with relief. But what was it that drove him to write it, and, indeed, what first drew him to the intriguing gentleman at its heart? “The book is based on the travels of John Parker, 1798-1860, who was the rector of a very, very small parish near Newtown called Llanmerewig,” said Edward. “He moved in 1844 to Llanyblodwel, just west of Oswestry. In both parishes he completely rebuilt the churches in rather eccentric fashion. He also built other interesting buildings in Llanyblodwel – a new school and schoolmaster’s house and he designed a new vicarage. The buildings are still there, little altered externally.” Yet it was Parker’s wanderings and artistic talent that truly caught Edward’s interest.“I was doing some research into the restoration of churches in Montgomeryshire,” he said. “Most of the churches in this part of the country – most of the churches in Britain actually – were heavily restored in the 19th century, and many of them were virtually rebuilt. That’s when I came across Parker, who had completely remodelled his tiny church at Llanmerewig, which led me to his journals, drawings and paintings at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
“There are literally hundreds of his drawings and small paintings in various volumes – it’s an absolute treasure trove.
These document his many journeys around the country, observing and describing what he saw, and it was the story of some of these journeys that I wanted to tell.
“I discovered that after attending Eton, Parker went up to Oriel College, Oxford which is where I went – 150 years later – to read Modern History; this coincidence increased my determination to research his career.” Parker travelled far and wide with his sketchbook – from the Midlands as far as the West Country, Ireland and Scotland, and in 1827 down the Rhine and into northern Italy. Yet for his book, Edward has chosen to focus on Parker’s journeys to an area he found to be of particular magnificence, and one right here on our doorstep.
“His journeys to North Wales began as a schoolboy in 1812 and continued until 1860,” said Edward. “He went probably 20 times, travelling on stagecoaches. He described his journeys in detail and he drew brilliant sketches and paintings of the mountains, rocks and lakes. Snowdon was his favourite subject. He was also interested in historic buildings, so he drew castles, country houses and many churches and their interiors.”
Parker’s artistic craft was honed on his love of the Shropshire countryside and historic sites near his home at Sweeney Hall.
“He was a very gifted artist as a young man and he did a beautiful illustration of the chapter house at Haughmond Abbey when he was about 12 or 13,” said Edward. “He also drew a very attractive view of St Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury.” It seems fitting that many of his journeys to North Wales started from where his talent was developed.“He started most of his journeys from Sweeney Hall – his parents’ house – now a hotel where there is a Parkers restaurant. He caught the stagecoach from the Wynnstay Arms in Oswestry, and travelled along what is now the A5, which had been much improved by Thomas Telford to speed up journeys between London and Holyhead. “He gives you lots of details about the hotels he stayed in, the food he ate, the cost of his journeys, and so on. It is a fascinating glimpse into travel in the days before the railways came to North Wales.”So just how long has it taken Edward to bring Parker’s story to print? “Oh God, ask my wife!” He jokes. “It has taken, I suppose, the last five years. It’s the sort of thing you do on and off, and it was only a couple of years ago that I thought it might make a book. “Then it was a question of finding a publisher, which is not easy particularly during Covid and with rising prices. I’ve been very lucky as a Welsh press – Gwasg Carreg Gwalch at Llanrwst – agreed to publish it, and we got a grant from the Welsh Books Council towards the cost of publishing.”With his book now available online and at local bookshops – including Booka Bookshop and Siop Cwlwm in Oswestry – the question is, will Edward be putting the spotlight on any more of Parker’s travels?
“I’m still recovering from the anxiety of seeing this one into print, so I have no immediate plans to write another, “ he laughs. “But I’ve found it thoroughly enjoyable and interesting and I hope that other people will too.”