This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’
The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).
The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.
They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.
During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.
Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.
Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!
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Ah, Helen, thanks so much for sharing this! What a gorgeous building and a lovely story
Thanks, Lynn – I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. I’ve been going to Llangollen for years as I’ve family in the area, but, though I’d heard about the Ladies, I didn’t know all their story. And I just love it 🙂
Feels like there should be a novel in that tale … 🙂 Thanks for sharing their story
Yes, I think there are a couple of books about them already – I must get one and read it 🙂
I’m not surprised – such a bold couple of women in such a difficult time for women to break from convention. Fascinating, inspiring stuff
Beautiful area and history here. ❤ Love it. Thanks for sharing! (Living life as they pleased… It's inspiring.)
I just loved their story – they lived such a lovely life together in their little house (well, not so little), and they have some of their writings there. They had such funny observations about their drunk gardeners, and their Irish maid was a character in her own right 🙂
I had not heard of this place, or the ladies. It is such a nice story and SUCH a gorgeous setting. 🙂
I even love the slightly moody looking clouds.
Thank you 🙂 It was a gorgeous place, even in the rain – you could see how the Ladies were so happy there for so long. And I loved their story too
A lovely place, Helen.
Thanks, Mick – it’s gorgeous, isn’t it?
You come up with the most fascinating things.
Per your request: https://lavidaenrecoleta.wordpress.com
😉 Thx for the encouragement ❤
Yay! You’re back in blogland again 🙂 And those pancakes look yummy! xx
They were yummy! I missed your land friend!! ❤
A lovely post, Helen. The place is beautiful and the story of their relationship unusual for the time. I’m glad the Ladies were able to carve out a place where they could be themselves and live as they wished.
Thanks, Diana. I loved their story too – there was so much of the small detail of their lives at the house, including diary snippets and articles of clothing. They seemed so happy together, and I think that’s all we can wish for, to find a heart’s companion like that and be able to live our lives with them. That they did it at that time in history is quite extraordinary 🙂
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