‘A most agreeable and enjoyable day’: The Cardiff Naturalists Society’s Field Trip to Tintern Abbey, June 1873

Any suggestion that the early meetings of the Cardiff Naturalists Society were all conducted behind closed doors in St Mary’s Street, while the society pored over their microscopes and listened to learned speakers, are quickly scotched by the Society’s records held at Glamorgan Archives. From the outset the Society organised a series of Field Trips each year across south Wales. The records contain summaries and plans of a number of such trips. The picture that emerges is of an enjoyable but a very full day for all concerned. The records for 6 June 1873 set out the arrangements for the First Field Meeting of 1873 on 17 June to Tintern Abbey, described as “One of the most romantic ruins in Britain.”


The Members and Visitors will leave the Cardiff Station of the South Wales Railway by the 9.27am Train, to arrive at Chepstow at 11.17. Here carriages will be in waiting to convey the party to the top of Wyndcliffe.

The view from the summit of Wyndcliffe cannot be surpassed; it is nearly 900 feet above the level of the river, and from it may be viewed some of the most beautiful and extensive prospects in Great Britain, and a wonderful range over portions of nine counties.

The party will then pass down through the wood to the Moss Cottage, which will be thrown open to visitors presenting their tickets, and thence on to the new road, where the carriages will be waiting to convey the party on to the Abbey.

After dinner (at the Beaufort Arms) John Prichard, Esq., of Llandaff, Diocesan Architect, will deliver a Lecture on the Abbey, illustrated by Diagrams and an examination of the building will take place; after which Mr W Adams, the President, will read his paper on the Ancient Iron Works of the District.

The Party will leave Tintern Abbey at about 6.30pm per carriages for Chepstow Station, and arrive at Cardiff at 9.35 [Record of meeting, June 6 1873, DCNS/3/1].

At a cost of 6s 6d plus train fare it was a full day, given that the Society’s usual monthly business had to be dealt with over dinner, including consideration of 5 membership applications. However, such excursions had not always been a great success and the note stated that it was …absolutely necessary that members and their friends should intimate to the Hon Secretary … their intention to be present. The planned field trip to Aberthaw, the previous year in July, had been cancelled due to low take-up, having clashed with a meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society in Cardiff.

In the event it was a most successful trip. In the record for the day it was noted that John Prichard’s lecture had been delivered in the nave of the Abbey to …a large and appreciative audience. It was followed by a tour of the Abbey and …having spent a most agreeable and enjoyable day the party then commenced their return journey to Cardiff.

Details of several of the Society’s field trips in this period, including Tintern Abbey on 17 June 1873 and Llantrisant on 5 July 1870, can be found in the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at Glamorgan Archives [DCNS/3/1].

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Carry on up the Nile!’ The first public lecture programme launched by the Cardiff Naturalists Society, 27 November 1873

The Cardiff Naturalists Society was established in September 1867 and this autumn it celebrates its 150th anniversary. As just one element of the events planned by the Society, Iolo Williams will deliver a public lecture, at the National Museum of Wales, on Thursday 5 October. It is fitting that that the celebrations include such an event for the Society’s public lectures have always been seen as a valuable means of extending opportunities for the wider public to engage with and enjoy the natural sciences.

The early years of the Society can be traced through the records held at Glamorgan Archives. It is clear that, initially, the meetings of the society were seen as an opportunity for members to share their knowledge of various aspects of the natural sciences. For example, at the very first meeting, on 11 September 1867, one of the founding members, Philip Robinson, brought along his collection of British butterflies for display and examination by those attending. At the third meeting, on November 11 1867, another member, Professor Joseph Gagliardi, delivered a lecture on the different species of fish. By and large, this set the pattern for meetings in this period although, on occasions, the programme was supplemented by guest speakers.

Within a year the Society had held its first ‘Conversazione’. Using the Town Hall on St Mary’s Street, Cardiff, the Conversazione comprised of a series of exhibitions of aspects of the natural sciences drawing on collections owned by the Society and on loan from Museums. The exhibitions were supported on several occasions by public lectures delivered in the Assembly Rooms. By April 1873 this was so popular that three lectures delivered by a speaker engaged by the Society, Edmund Wheeler, FRAS, were repeated the following week. The local newspapers commended the Society and observed that the event had revived …the drooping Naturalists’ Society.

Encouraged by the success of the April 1873 Conversazione the Society announced, in November 1873, its first series of public lectures. The lectures were to be staged in the Assembly Rooms every fortnight from November through to April and would feature a range of eminent speakers. It was clear that this was announced with some trepidation given the costs involved, both for use of the hall and the fees for guest speakers. Although it was planned that each lecture would be ticketed, with an admission charge of 6d for members and 1s for non-members, there was a concern that the Society would incur a significant loss. To date most guest speakers had not charged for their services and, to assuage the concerns of members, it was agreed that a special fund be established, almost certainly underwritten by a number of committee members, to meet any costs incurred from the lecture series.

Nevertheless the programme of public lectures was announced in November in glowing terms with advertisements placed in the local newspapers detailing the speakers and topics planned. The programme was varied and wide ranging, including lectures on ‘Spectrum Analysis’, ‘The Treasures of the Deep’ and even ‘Personal Reminiscences of Wellington’. As the Society minutes for 18 November 1873 confirm, no expense was to be spared.

The Committee have now completed their arrangements for the delivery of series of popular and scientific Lectures to be given fortnightly during the present session. The lectures are provided by the Society at some considerable expense and are intended for the intellectual enjoyment of all classes.

Many of the lectures will be illustrated by beautiful drawings and dissolving views, and by the performance of brilliant and costly experiments.

The Committee solicit the special attention of the Public to this Series of Lectures which is the first attempt to supply a want long felt in Cardiff, viz the Periodical Delivery of First Class Scientific Lectures, by thoroughly able Professional Men. It is proposed in the event of this experiment proving successful, to establish a continuous Winter Series, embracing the highest Scientific and Literary talent which can be obtained.

The first lecture will be delivered by Edward H Jones, Esq, FCS, Analytical Chemist, on ‘Egypt’ and 1000 miles up the Nile, being a tour amongst the ancient Temples and ruins of Egypt and Nubia, and illustrated by paintings and photographs, shown by the aid of lime light and dissolving views [Minutes of meeting held November 18 1873, DCNS/3/1]


Much was at stake on the night of the first lecture on 27 November. The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian reported the next day:

There was a large and fashionable audience, the room being crowded. The lectures … promise to prove as interesting as they will be intellectual and a rich treat is in store…. [Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 28 November 1873].

In the event the lecture was anything but ‘a treat’. The South Wales Daily News, in a lengthy report, summarised the lecture as:

…a disconnected, unintelligible descriptive outline of a number of places situated between Southampton and the second cataract of the Nile and back through the Suez Canal.

…the precipitate manner in which the audience left the room when the curtain was drawn across the views, without even thanking Mr Jones for his trouble, will perhaps convince him that a description of scenes that might have pleased the juveniles of a school would be ill- suited to the intelligence of the adult educated persons of both sexes present.

All in all, the lecture had …caused the greatest disappointment to the vast majority of the audience [South Wales Daily News, 28 November 1873].

It must have been a severe blow to the Society and they had only days to recover before the next lecture scheduled for 3 December. There was, yet again, a large turnout in the Assembly Rooms and there was little option but to apologise for the debacle on the 27th. The Chair on the night of the 3rd December, Mr Lukis, offered the audience in the Assembly Rooms his theory that:

…the Mr Jones they had was the wrong one and must have been an imposteur as he had not turned up since that evening – not even to call on Dr Taylor for his honorarium [South Wales Daily News, 4 December 1873]

Fortunately for the Society the lecture that night on ‘The Phenomena of Sound’ was to be delivered by Edmund Wheeler whose lecture series had been so well received in April. The newspaper report the next day confirmed that …the lecture was a very able one throughout and was highly appreciated by the audience.  The lecture series was back on track.

So, as the Cardiff Naturalists Society prepares for its public lecture on Thursday 5 October no doubt there is ‘a treat’ in store for those planning to attend at the National Museum. However, reflecting on the circumstances surrounding the Society’s first public lecture series in 1873, it might just be worth double checking that they have engaged ‘the right’ Iolo Williams.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer