Built by Cistercian monks in 1131, Tintern Abbey was the architectural highlight of the Wye Tour, a tourist destination since the 1750s when The Duke of Beaufort cleared the interior of the Abbey and laid a lawn to make it easier for visitors to view the ruins.
…the most beautiful and picturesque view on the river…. It occupies a great eminence in the middle of a circular valley, beautifully screened on all sides by woody hills, through which the river winds its course.WIlliam Gilpin – Observations … 1770 / 1782
But many tourists were initially dismayed by the un-Picturesque beggars and hovels surrounding the Abbey. Grose disapproved of
the illplaced neatness of the poor people who show the building, and by whose absurd labour the ground is covered over by turf as even and trim as a bowling-green, which gives the building more of an air of an artificial ruin in a garden than that of an ancient decayed abbey.
However once inside, the Abbey delighted all. Thomas Roscoe wrote:
the rich heavy folds of Nature’s most graceful drapery, luxuriant ivy, which adorns the lofty aisles and transepts of this majestic edifice, and scarcely suffers us to regret that it is a ruin. Small ferns and flowers of many hues spring from wall and buttress, and the presiding genius of such spots, the fragrant and beautiful wall flower wanders over arch and window, decking them with its fair garb of green and gold, and crowning the decaying pile with a halo”.Thomas Roscoe Wanderings in South Wales, including the river Wye, 1836
Once the railway arrived in 1876, Tintern became even more accessible as an ‘excursion’ destination. In the 1880s it was not uncommon for over a thousand people to arrive by train on September evenings to view the harvest moon rising through the Abbey’s rose window.