Our next description of the Dyke dates to a quarter century after the publication of Camden’s Britannia; Thomas Rees(1777-1864) began his working life apprenticed to a bookseller but following training at the Presbyterian college in Carmarthen, went on to became a Unitarian minister and Scholar. Rees published sermons, religious papers, historical works and other works including, in 1815, The Beauties of South Wales.
Rees’ A topographical and historical description of the counties of Glamorgan, Pembroke, & Radnor of 1810 is heavily weighted towards the historical and antiquarian aspects of the counties Rees describes, together with the physical remains most illustrative of these histories. In the chapter on Radnorshire Rees quotes Drayton’s topographical poem of 1612, Poly-Olbion, to illustrate the tensions which led to the construction of Offa’s Dyke, which Rees goes on to describe somewhat dismissively as a “stupendous but useless work”.
Offa, when he saw his countries go to wrack, From bick’ring with his folk, to keep the Britons back, Cast up that mighty mound, of eighty miles in length, Athwart from sea to sea, which of the Mercian strengthA witness though it stand, and Offa’s name does bear,Our courage was the cause why first he cut it there:As that most dreadful day at Gavelford can tell,Where under eithers sword so many thousands fell,With intermixed blood, that neither knew their own;Nor which went victor thence, until this day is known.
Extract from Drayton’s Poly Olbion describing the political context of the raising of Offa’s Dyke
From: Rees, Thomas, 1810. A topographical and historical description of the counties of Glamorgan, Pembroke, & Radnor: Containing an account of their towns, castles, antiquities, churches, monuments, public edifices, picturesque scenery: the residences of the nobility, gentry, & c.: accompanied with biographical notices of eminent and learned men to whom this country has given birth London: Printed by J. & J. Cundee for Sherwood, Neely and Jones (ODS 00940)
The Poly-Olbion is an epic poem, constructed as a county-by-county tour of England and Wales and comprising topographical descriptions of the counties with forays into national and local traditions, legends and stories. The Poly-Olbion, written by Michael Drayton (1563–1631) between 1598 and 1612, is divided into thirty songs, consisting in total of almost 15,000 lines of verse, each preceded by uniquely decorative maps executed by William Hole1.
Though the Poly-Olbion is not as well known today, writers of 18th and 19thguide books plundered it for lyrical quotations which could be used to authenticate, illustrate and add a certain Jacobean colour to their topographic narratives.