An important figure in the history of science in Britain, John Dillwyn Llewelyn helped develop the process of photography in its very early days and took one of the first pictures of the moon. He was a philanthropic landlord, providing for the local community, whilst also designing one of the finest picturesque landscapes in Wales on his estate at Penllergare on the outskirts of Swansea.
His father, Lewis Weston Dillwyn, managed the family-owned Cambrian Pottery in Swansea, allowing John to pursue his interests without having to work. He qualified as a magistrate and became High Sheriff of the County of Glamorgan, giving time and money to local schools and hospitals. He built cottages for his employees, developing the village of Penllergaer, and donated 42 acres to the local community for a park - now Parc Llewelyn, Morriston.
He was a founder member of the Photographic Society of London, now the Royal Photographic Society. Inspired by his wife’s cousin Henry Fox Talbot, he explored the science behind photography, inventing a chemical process, ‘Oxymel’, which produced a stable photographic plate. This meant that landscape photographers no longer needed to carry a virtual laboratory and dark room into the field. His photographs of the Penllergare landscape demonstrate his success. Among other scientific pursuits, he helped Sir Charles Wheatstone to develop underwater telegraphy cables. In 1844 the two submerged a length of insulated wire in Swansea Bay and were able to signal through it from a boat to the Mumbles Lighthouse!
Llewelyn’s interest in garden design and botany led him to create a grand ‘picturesque’ landscape at Penllergare, complete with a rich variety of trees and exotic plants, two lakes, a waterfall and a purpose-built orchid house (possibly the first in Britain). He included an equatorial observatory, only the second built in Wales. The observatory’s drum could revolve on metal rollers so the telescope could view different parts of the sky. He and his daughter Thereza were enthusiastic astronomers and from here in 1857 made one of the first photographs of the moon. The landscape and observatory are now being restored by the Penllergare Trust.
Where to Visit?
The observatory John built at Penllergare where he took the earliest photographs of the moon is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Download the Penllergere Valley Walk
A walk around the beautiful Valleys Woods