Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Beginning of the Road on Penmaenmawr
  • Coast Road Penmaenmawr
  • The Road going over Penmaen Mawr to Conway
  • Road on Pen Maen Manor
Pen and ink, watercolour
  • image width 146mm,
  • image length 302mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower right
  • “F.Towne / delt. 1777 No.33”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “light from the right hand / No33 July 12 1777 / The Beginning of the / Road on Pen maen mawr / Drawn on the Spot by Francis Towne”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Denver catalogue (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White (1744–1825) of Exeter, on whose death it reverted to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP99, Coast Road Penmaenmawr). It was later the property of Francis Temple West, the second husband of Blanche Liddell, whose first husband, John William Merivale (1887–1916), was the nephew of the two Misses Merivale. On 18 June 1956 Temple-West sold it to Agnew’s (no.8340) with FT566, FT603, FT631, FT803, and on 31 January 1957 Agnew’s sold it to a collector for £200. It was given anonymously in 1973 to the current owner, the Rhode Island School of Design (73.204.52).

Associated People & Organisations

Rhode Island Museum of Art, School of Design, Providence, 1973, 73.204.52
Private Collection, 31 January 1957, GBP 200
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 18 June 1956, no. 8340
Acquired with FT566, FT603, FT631, FT803
Francis Temple West
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP99
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP99
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 36 as 'The Road going over Penmaen Mawr to Conway'
83rd Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1957, no. 20
Glorious Nature: British Landscape Painting 1750-1850, Denver Art Museum, 1993, no. 24
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 8
Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque, Scolar: Aldershot, 1989, p. 130
Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, A Tour Through Monmouthshire and Wales Made in the Months of June and July 1774 and in the months of June, July and August 1777: Salisbury, 1781, p. 145
Hon John Byng, The Torrington Diaries, Eyre & Spottiswode: 1934, I, p. 168


Penmaenmawr is a coastal town between Caernarfon and Conwy. The land at the left is Puffin Island, and to its right Great Ormes Head.

Until 1772 the small coastal path of Penmaenmawr had offered visitors the frightening, exciting experience of passing between a sheer drop to the sea on the one hand and cliffs 1,500 feet high on the other. The road was even mentioned in Thomson’s Seasons, thus:

with mighty crush,
Into the flashing deep, from the rude rocks
Of Penmaenmawr heaped hideous to the sky,
Tumble the smitten cliffs.1 

And to one visitor “such roads appear tremendous, to one who has been used to travel in a level country”.2 However, a new and much safer coastal road was built, which Towne drew:

At the foot of Penmaen Mawr stands a small inn, the landlord of which is a sensible and ingenious surveyor. It was under his inspection, that this famous road has been lately made perfectly good, and as secure as possible. The road is of a considerable breadth, the whole of which is cut along the side of a lofty clift, impending over the sea; from which, however, it is well protected with a wall.3 

John Byng, a visitor in 1784, felt that the new road had not entirely spoiled the drama of the old track: “Of Penmaenmaur road we have heard so much, that we were eager to survey it; before the wall towards the sea was built, the track must have been tremendous, and still it continues a most curious and extraordinary way.”4While the security that the new road provided is clear from Towne’s view, he is clearly impressed, all the same, by the scale and situation of the road, which is dwarfed by the massive boulders and steep cliff alongside it. 

Like many of Towne’s mounted works, the foreground, especially on the right, shows signs of having been tidied and worked on much later in date than the initial sketch.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Quoted Andrews 1989, p.130.
  2. 2 Craddock 1770, p.23.
  3. 3 Wyndham 1781, pp.145.
  4. 4 Byng 1934, I, p.168.

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