The Beauties of England and Wales

A large number of prints in Views of England and Wales have come from a series of books called The Beauties of England and Wales. Published between 1801 and 1818, this collaboration between antiquaries John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley ran to an impressive eighteen volumes and an introductory one. It describes the histories and topography of England and Wales on a county-by-county basis and was illustrated with views and sites written about in the books. Britton and Brayley withdrew from the undertaking in 1814 before the series was completed owing to a fallout with the publishers. As a result, other writers including the Reverend Joseph Nightingale and James Norris Brewer took their place to complete it.[1][2] 

Chapter House, Haughmond Abbey, Shropshire

Chapter House, Haughmond Abbey, Shropshire.

A great deal of emphasis was put on the quality of the drawings and engravings used to make the prints by Britton and Brayley. In a letter printed at the beginning of the introductory volume to The Beauties of England and Wales, Britton wrote:

‘we [John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley] sought a new style of embellishment; in which accuracy of representation should be combined with picturesque effect: in which the young draftsman and engraver, should have an opportunity of displaying their respective talents, and vie with each other in the career of fame. – A new era in topographical literature, as you will readily admit, has been created since the commencement of this century – for, before the BEAUTIES OF ENGLAND appeared. The generality of county histories, and antiquarian works were rather disfigured than adorned by their embellishments.’[3]

Britton goes on to praise the work of certain draftsmen and engravers, but also to critique others, sometimes scathingly. For instance, he says the engravings in Grose’s Antiquities ‘are only tolerable in the very infancy of literature and art, and may be regarded as approaching caricatures in topography’. Similarly, Gilpin’s views in his various Tours ‘have a certain degree of prettiness and picturesque effect: but they have no one quality of accuracy, nor do they deserve to be classed with topographical embellishments. They may amuse the young masters and misses of drawing schools, but unfortunately they lead to slightness and a neglect of fidelity’.[4]

King's College Chapel, Cambridge

King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

Quality was the order of the day!

[1] Cooper, T., revised by Baigent, E., 'Brayley, E. W.', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <> [accessed 15 March 2023].

[2] Mordaunt Crook, J., 'Britton, J.', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <> [accessed 15 March 2023].

[3] Norris Brewer, J., Introduction to the original delineations, topographical, historical, and descriptive, intituled The Beauties of England and Wales (London: J. Harris, 1818), p. x.

[4] Ibid., pp. x-xi.