Llangollen: 16th April 2016.
I’m back! The posting resumes … but, I won’t launch into an account of our Canada/Alaska trip straight away. I promised the people who arranged our Wales trip that I’d get something up as soon as possible, and still have a few loose ends to tie up on the Caribbean/Mediterranean cruise.
Llangollen was home to the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Their house at Plas Newydd is open to the public, but be careful! The name simply means ‘New Hall’, and I know of at least one other place of that name.
Now, if the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ lived in this day and age, they would probably be described as ‘offbeat’, eccentric or quirky. That is, if they were noticed at all, for nowadays, it’s accepted that women may take an interest in poetry, literature and politics, and two women living together would hardly raise an eyebrow.
But, in the late 18th/early 19th Century, their behaviour was regarded as ‘scandalous’.
Lady Eleanor Butler was the daughter of a noble family living in Ireland; her friend, several years younger, was an orphan, Sarah Ponsonby, who she’d met and befriended at a boarding school in Kilkenny.
The friends decided to run away to England when Lady Eleanor’s family started making noises about sending her to a convent, because, at the age of 39, she still remained unmarried. Sarah, meanwhile, wished to escape the unwelcome attentions of her recently widowed guardian.
Their first attempt failed, but, in May 1778, they finally sailed for Milford Haven. They toured Wales for a short time, before they came to Llangollen, and declared it ‘… the beautifullest place in the world …’ and decided to settle there. They eventually rented a farm cottage called Pen-y-Maes, which they renamed Plas Newydd (New Hall). Here, they lived for almost 50 years, spending their time reading, writing and sketching and transforming the house and gardens.
While they wished to lead a life of ‘ … sweet and delicious retirement’, their story attracted a great many visitors, and their fame rapidly spread. Llangollen lies on the main route from London to Holyhead, one of the main ports for Ireland, and many of their visitors broke their journeys here on the way to somewhere else.
Their visitors included Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, Josiah Wedgewood Sir Humphrey Davy and the Duke of Wellington. William Wordsworth also came, and wrote a poem describing Plas Newydd as ‘ … a low roofed cot’ …’ which, reportedly, didn’t find much favour with the ladies, who declared they could write better poetry themselves.
The house is laid out pretty well as the ladies would have known it, with many memorabilia of their famed visitors. But, what most visitors notice above all is the intricate wood carvings, which the ladies collected, and embellished both the interior and the exterior of the house..