Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Ladies of LLangollen, North Wales

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.

Wellington's lions
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 d├ęcor. 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!



Susan Bergen said...

It's true what they say: fact is stranger than fiction.

Jane Risdon said...

Wonderful photos and story. Love it. Thanks for relating it. Much appreciated.

Wendy's Writing said...

We stayed a night there on a canal boat. We loved it - like stepping back in time.

Noreen said...

Great posting, Rosemary. Been to Llangollen but not here - hopefully, will visit

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Absolutely, Susan! Thanks for commenting.

You're welcome, Jane - thanks for the lovely comment!

I think a lot of North Wales is like that, Wendy!

Thanks, Noreen! Hope you get to visit the house one day.

Joanna said...

What a stunning place and such a fascinating story, Rosemary. I'm so glad they found lasting happiness and it would be hard not to have a good life in such beautiful surroundings. xx

Julia Thorley said...

It beats me why anyone ever holidays abroad when we have some wonderful places here in Britain. I've not been to Langollen for years: I must put in on my list.

Teresa Ashby said...

How lovely that they were able to stay together and be happy :-) xx

Anonymous said...

I adore Llangollen, and we sometimes go that route on our way to visit Mother in law. Must suggest we do next time. There's so much to do there and the tea rooms are beautiful. Do I detect another story idea coming on. Hope so, would be a lovely setting for a romance.