One of the other most interesting days we enjoyed on our recent holiday to North Wales was a visit to Llangollen. Here we spent the morning at the fascinating house, Plas Newydd, that used to belong to the infamous Ladies of Llangollen in the 18th and early 19th century. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby met at school and eventually ran away together, fetching up in this part of Wales. You can imagine the scandal they caused at first!
|Front of house|
|Back of house|
Sarah was orphaned and destitute at the age of thirteen and was put into the care of her father’s cousin, Lady Betty Fownes and her husband. She was sent to Miss Parke’s boarding school in Kilkenny where she met Lady Eleanor, who was sixteen years her senior and the youngest of three sisters from Kilkenny Castle. Both girls were unhappy for different reasons: Eleanor because she was being pressured into entering a nunnery by her mother, and Sarah because of the unwelcome attentions of Lady Fownes’ husband, Sir William.
|Ornate front door|
Their first attempted escape in 1778 had all the romance and adventure of a Georgian-era novel! Dressed in men’s clothing, and Sarah armed with a pistol, they were eventually intercepted and brought back home. However, Eleanor was determined and escaped again to be with Sarah, who in turn swore ‘to live and die with Miss Butler’. Such determination won out and the women were allowed to leave Ireland in 1778, hoping to find a suitable home in England. During their travels in Wales, they fell in love with the village of Llangollen and being offered what was then Pen-y-Maes cottage for rent, they moved in and renamed the house Plas Newydd (New Hall). And there they remained until their death.
It’s a wonderful story and the house today, although slightly changed over the years, is a lovely testament to their devotion to one another. It is full of photographs of the rather masculine looking women through the subsequent years, as well as some of their interesting objects and unique décor. This includes the ‘gothicisation’ of the home with its cornucopia of oak carvings, wooden panels and stained glass windows from different eras and places. I immediately felt quite at home in this intriguing building. Even the bedchambers looked very comfortable!
|Lady Eleanor's Bower|
There is no doubt the women shared an unusually close relationship, attended only by their devoted maid, Mary Carryll. But they denied there was anything untoward between them, although there was plenty of speculation by locals and visitors. Reading their story, I was just very glad they had escaped their awful lives and found such happiness together in a stunning location, and they eventually became the model of a loving friendship between women that lasted over fifty years.
The ladies also created beautiful gardens and paths, much of which decayed or changed through the centuries. These have now been restored along the idea of the originals, including an interpretation of the Georgian shrubbery from the detail written in their diaries. One of their illustrious visitors was the Duke of Wellington in 1814 who presented the ladies with the two lions now standing at one of the entrances to the gardens. They don't allow photographs inside the house but I did my best to capture a flavour of it from outside, although it was a dull day.
|River and station from bridge at Llangollen|
This is only a taster of the wealth of information and detail inside the house and it’s definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in that part of Wales. We ended our visit by having a walk through the pretty town and taking a short trip on the local steam train. Since Llangollen is the venue for an annual International Musical Eisteddfod (which we missed), I think we’ll be back another year!