Sarah Ponsonby’s Diary

The website CURIOUS TRAVELLERS has posted an annotated version of “Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, Account of a Journey in Wales; Perform’d in May 1778 by Two Fugitive Ladies“.

The diary opens on May 10th, with the words: Arrived at Haking —

Follow the duo, as they sail across Milford Haven to commence their journey to Llangollen.

One of the few primary materials penned by Sarah Ponsonby that remains, it’s original archive entry at the National Library of Wales may be found here.

For the transcription of “Two Fugitive Ladies,” click on the picture (below):

In the Grounds Plas Newydd

While at the site, check out other “historical” tours, of Wales and of Scotland (same link serves for all tours). The Welsh tours include Katherine Plymley (“Journey to Anglesey,” 1792) and Anne Lister (“Tour of North Wales”, 1822); as well, of course, the Butler/Ponsonby tour.

A focus for the website is THOMAS PENNANT. You will enjoy his letters as much as the tours.

Fascinating Information: Ladies of Llangollen

As part of the SUBLIME WALES website, Michael Freeman has crafted an intricate and fascinating LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN site.

Ladies of Llangollen_website

Great detail is given to subjects like SOURCES and PORTRAITS. Some fabulous *finds* in images, items not seen or at least not collected together.

Additionally, work on the material itself yields a TON of new information, from GUESTS (alpha or by year) to ACCOUNTS. I know first-hand how tedious it is to note costs of things, but when you’re able to SEE how much hair powder cost, or the average price of postage or a horse, a comb or a pair of shoes, it really does uncover some incredible information.

Of course WHAT is associated most with the Ladies of Llangollen, but their house – Plas Newydd – and their neighorhood and (of course!) Llangollen itself. You’ll find links for subjects as diverse as the “wood” decorations of Plas Newydd to contents of its library. (Yeah, BOOKS!)

One of the “hooks” that grabbed ME when I first visited Llangollen, and learned the tiniest history of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby was the IDEA of spending time just reading and learning. Oh, so beautiful an idea for LIVING LIFE.

You will find MUCH (and check back for MORE) to interest you on the entire site “Sublime Wales”, but special _SHOUT OUT_ must be reserved for the pages dealing with _our_ subjects: The Ladies of Llangollen!

Hamwood House

Anyone reading about the Ladies of Llangollen – Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler – sooner rather than later come across the book published in 1930 entitled The Hamwood Papers of the Ladies of Llangollen and Caroline Hamilton.

hamwood dust

The Hamwood estate, “Historic House and Gardens,” opens to visitors April to September. But you can “visit” it via its website any time you please!

Hamwood House

Unfortunately, much of the web-history of Hamwood follows the men of the estate, so make sure to click on HAMWOOD LADIES for the more satisfying run-down of their influence and history. A charming portrait of Caroline Hamilton on that page just might entice everyone to seek out The Hamwood Papers. In the past, there have been well-priced copies; the market fluctuates. It can be a bit of a search – though well worth it, as the book includes much primary material, especially the diary entries of Eleanor Butler.

You can find MORE published items under BIBLIOGRAPHY, on this blog, including links to those that have been uploaded to this site. “Hover” over the word bibliography in the links along the top for pieces such as the chapter on the Ladies of Llangollen in E. Owen Blackburne’s Illustrious Irishwomen. Same links run down the right-side of the screen.

Hamwood is located in County Meath, Ireland. As the picture above shows, the house is quite handsome from the exterior.


Anne Lister at The National Archives

When this blog existed as a website (many years ago), I had posted some of Anne Lister’s comments, as one of the Visitors to the Ladies of Llangollen at Plas Newydd. I never re-linked all of the extended pages. Of course Anne’s own words can be read in the book I Know My Own Heart (edited by Helena Whitbread; 1988).

An extract is listed, with thanks to Michael in Aberystwyth, in A Plas Newydd Timeline, which features visitor and other comments from the 1780s to the 1830s and beyond. Hover over the menu link (above) for a drop down menu, by date. Anne Lister’s comments are under ‘1820-1824‘; she visited Llangollen in the summer of 1822.


With the popularity of the TV series Gentleman Jack, featuring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, The National Archives, in Kew, have blogged about their holdings of Lister-related documents.

I will do as they did – and say SPOILER ALERT! – for anyone finding their way here because of the TV series. We deal with the inevitable ‘end,’ for TNA holds the handwritten wills of Anne Lister and Ann Walker. Their blog post will also ‘catch you up’ on some of the backstory, Anne’s years before Gentleman Jack.

Anne Lister

A caveat to keep in mind, not specifically mentioned in TNA’s blog post: At the time, if a woman married her property became the property of her husband. In leaving Ann Walker Shibden Hall for her lifetime, Anne Lister would NOT have wanted the property to devolve to anyone Ann Walker decided to share her own wealth with.

  • (A marriage settlement might have stipulated, if both parties agreed, to separate out the property. But who would take that chance?)

I have a couple of old wills, original wills, related to my research of the family of Emma Austen and Mary Smith. Folded, they look JUST LIKE those pictured in TNA’s blog! It’s thrilling to see Anne and Ann’s ‘last wishes’ represented, and to know The National Archives has such a cache of originals (probated wills are my bête noire; some are horrible to decipher due to the hand used, and swirls inserted to cover ‘blank’ space; while microfilm also does them NO favor).

I believe the link the blog provides – going to PROB 11, whereby you can purchase (for £3.50) a PDF download, rather than PROB 10 – brings you to the PROBATED copy, not the original of Ann Walker’s will. The blog does provide one photograph (alas: can’t enlarge it!) of a section of Anne Lister’s will.

Like my own research materials at The National Archives, other items exist because of a dispute. You will be amazed over the “end” of the story…

Note also their link to the DIGITAL copies of Anne Lister’s diaries, online (since April 2019) at West Yorkshire Archive.

Letters from the Ladies of Llangollen

Every once in a while I look up the holdings for the LLOYDS of ASTON HALL, OSWESTRY at the National Library of Wales. The parents of Louisa Lloyd were Lady Louisa and Sir Eliab Harvey, of Rolls Park, Chigwell. The Harveys were neighbors and friends with the Smiths of Suttons (both Essex estates).

A lot of work has gone into cataloguing the Aston Hall materials, especially letters, which appear in a finding aid of some detail (though brief contents of individual letters are only to be found in the archival record [click on the individual file name; scroll below to “Scope and Content”]; I’ve saved you the trouble for the letters listed below).

_I_, of course, would love to find that some letters from my Smiths have ended up here. I would settle for some sentences of chat or gossip about them even – but that would take reading through the letters. Correspondence, especially that between mother and daughter is voluminous! More than one repository holds what exists, as well.

In short, it’s not likely that I would take the time, in the hope of finding a short mention of the Smiths of Suttons & Portland Place.

But reading through the finding aid one gets a “feeling” for the volume of correspondents, and the reach of letters in the early 19th century when distance separated family members.

My reason for bringing this up is less about the Smiths, about whom I think 24/7, but about the letters from the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler found in this deposit.

An even MORE exciting *find* is the item described as “a Bible presented by Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby to Ward Harvey Lloyd, 8 August 1819“.

The letters were written to Louisa Lloyd (Mrs. William Lloyd of Aston Hall, though it’s possible some letters were written to her when visiting away from home).

Letters from Eleanor Butler, by date:

  • 1805 [no specific date] [C 1520: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston; reference to the Duchess of Gordon, the Duchess of Richmond and the Ladies Lennox’s stay at Bangor.”]
  • 7 November 1806 [C 1521: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston; reference to their visit to Brynkinalt; also to the arrival of Lady Ormonde and her daughter Eleanor.”]
  • 13 April 1813 [C 1522: “Miscellaneous news.”]
  • 18 August 1813 [C1523: “Recipient’s departure from Aston; sender’s desire to have Lady Louisa Harvey at Plas Newydd.”]
  • 9 December 1813 [C 1524: “Enquiry for Lady Louisa Harvey and reference to two books.”]
  • 1813 [no specific date] [C 1525: “Accepting an invitation to Aston.”]
  • 5 April 1814 [C 1526: “Acknowledgement of a box.”]
  • 4 April 1817 [C 1527: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston.”]
  • 29 January 1819 [C 1528: “Sender’s visit to Wynnstay; the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and Lady Harrie Williams Wynn’s visit to Plas Newydd; personal and miscellaneous news.”]
  • 3 February 1819 [C 1529: “Accepting an invitation to Aston and miscelleneous news.”]
  • 21 April 1819 [C 1530: “Asking for vegetables from the garden in exchange for flowers; reference to Saving Banks; Sunday Schools and the Bible Society; miscellaneous news.”]
  • c1819 [C 1531: “Recipient’s visit to Plas Newydd.”]
  • 1819 [no specific date] [C 1532: “Acknowledging a drawing; the books of Auguste La Fontaine; an account of the King of Sweden laid out in state, received from Stockholm.”]
  • 1819 [again, no specific date] [C 1533: Acknowledging a letter; Edward gone to school; miscellaneous news.”]
  • 1 January 1826 [C 1534: “Acknowledging the gifts of drawings.”]

Two undated letters, written written by Lady Eleanor to Lady Louisa Harvey are also in the collection:

  • [C 7207: “Miscellaneous news with reference to Mrs. Lloyd of Rhoggat, Lord Westmeath, Governor Nugent, Lady Crewe, Lord and Lady Grosvenor, Mr. Pryce of Bryn-y-pys and others.”]
  • [C 7208: “An invitation to visit Plas Newydd, reference to recipient’s daughter Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Kenyon and others.”]

Lady Louisa Harvey and childrenLady Louisa Harvey and her two children,
Edward and Louisa
(by Thomas Lawrence) [c1793]

In the “Miscellaneous Letters and Fragments” are noted two letters to Lady Eleanor Butler:

  • from E. Curtis; 29 March 1822 [C 8241: “Personal and family news with reference to sender’s drawings.”]
  • from unknown; 16 November [year unknown] [C 8242: “Disappointment at the cancellation of a visit.”]

Letters of Sarah Ponsonby, (identified as “Other level: Pole-Puzzo”), by date:

  • 27 July 1817 [C 6338: “Lady Eleanor Butler’s indisposition; arranging a visit to Aston to meet Lady Louisa Harvey; intending to arrive for breakfast.”]
  • 7 September 1829 [C 6339: “Recipient and her family to visit Plas Newydd; reference to Lady Louisa Harvey.”]
  • 18 September 1829 [C 6340: “The Empress Josephine and her life written by Mlle le Normand; recipient’s visit to Llangollen and a set of views for her.”]
  • 19 October 1830 [C 6341: “A journal for Lady Louisa Harvey.”]
  • 3 January 1831 [C 6342: “Arrangements re: recipient’s visit to Llangollen with her family.”]
  • 5 November 1831 [C 6343: “A gift of plants for recipient, acknowledging flowers sent from Aston; the cholera and a receipt [sic] for it.”]

Letter from Sarah to Elizabeth Lloyd:

  • 6 June 1816 [C 8150: “Enquiries concerning Mr. and Mrs. Kenyon and acknowledgements for agreeable day passed at Pradoe.”]

* * *

Fiona Brideoake’s book, The Ladies of Llangollen: Desire, Indeterminancy, and the Legacies of Criticism has several small quotes from the Mother-Daughter (Lady Louisa Harvey and Louisa Lloyd) letters; my favorite is this exchange:

… a source of amusement to Lady Louisa Harvey, who wrote in 1807 to her daughter advising her of an erroneous newspaper report of Butler’s attendance at court on the occasion of the king’s birthday: ‘I know no news but what I’ve seen in the papers, one of which entertained us much viz: Lady Eleanor Butler** dress [sic] at the drawing Room was a pale pink crepe trimmed with wreaths of full blown roses and buds.’ [pp. 40-41]

**could this Lady Eleanor have been Lady Ormonde’s daughter? see description of letter C 1521, dated 1806

On a sadder note, this exchange between the two Louisas, in January, 1832:

‘I have seen a kind well written letter from one of the poor little Maids at poor dear lost Llangollen. I hope and trust there will be no auction, it is a sad thought that of all their poor Treasure, displaced, and pried on by all.’ [page 137]

Some of the drawings being acknowledged in the above letters may be the subject of this first sentence; the second, touches on the Ladies’ books:

Writing to Lady Louisa Harvey on Augusta 18, 1832, Louisa Lloyd further observed of the Plas Newydd sale, ‘Mary seems much annoyed that Edward should have missed my Picture but I think he was right  It is not worth above 3s.’ … ‘I am quite astonished that the Books should go so cheap, I expected they would sell for an enormous Sum how very Stupid the Shropshire Gentry must be, poor Ladies how their Ghosts must be hovering round all these horrid unfeeling People–‘

“Gentleman Jack” on TV

Since I don’t like in the UK or subscribe to HBO I am waiting to actually see Gentleman Jack, the new series that stars Suranne Jones as Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. Friends in the UK are giving the series-so-far enthusiastic “thumbs up”.

Anne and Ann-Gentleman Jack

On the Ladies of Llangollen website, from which this blog evolved (begun in 2006), I had had excerpts from Anne Lister’s meeting with Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler. Anne is not currently listed as a “visitor” to Plas Newydd, but is found under the Timeline for 1820-1824. You, of course, can read about Anne’s visit to Llangollen in Helena Whitbread‘s publication: I Know My Own Heart (1992), republished as The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, after the 2010 TV film came out.

Other publications of the Lister diaries include:

  • No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister from 1824-1826, Helena Whitbread
  • Female Fortune: Land, Gender, and Authority, by Jill Liddington
  • Nature’s Domain: Anne Lister and the Landscape of Desire, by Jill Liddington
  • for other items, see Amazon
  • more podcasts were noted on Ladies of Llangollen (from 2017)
  • more on Anne Lister on my companion blog Regency Reads (2012)
  • Revealing Anne Lister of Shibden Hall on my main blog Two Teens in the Time of Austen (2012)

The TV series has its own “tie-in” publications. Now in paperback is the same-titled biography, Gentleman Jack, by Angela Steidele. This is a well-translated work (by Katy Derbyshire) from the German, which covers all of Anne’s lovers. NOT, evidently, a source for the TV series, new copies of the book come with a photograph of actress Suranne Jones in a different pose (away from the camera), while the tie-ins have photos of her looking at the camera.

SAG-AFTRA Gentleman Jack

Steidele appears in the first of two new YouTube offerings:

Jones and Wainwright are on camera for bit more than 44 minutes, taking a few questions from the audience at the end. Wainwright’s writing credits feature series many will recognize. It was with a nod of “yeap, know that well” when I heard her talk of wanting to direct what she wrote — respecting a previous series, ITV declined because she hadn’t directed. The usual Catch-22, as we often hear. Can’t ‘do’ because you don’t have experience, yet can’t get experience because, well, you have no experience.

SAG-AFTRA Suranne_Sally

What caught my ear, though, was Wainwright’s description of working with the original Anne Lister diaries: “Absorb,” is the word she used. She describes the act of transcribing, as well as the after-fact absorption of the material that then must be done.

IMDB (Internet Movie Database) is indicating that there is already a Series 2 in the future for Gentleman Jack.

Wellcome Library: Essay on The Ladies of Llangollen

butler-and-ponsonbyA quick look for anything *new* on The Ladies of Llangollen brought up this essay on the website for the Wellcome Library.

The short online article, by Sarah Bentley, is a nice ‘introduction’ to some of the people, places, and history of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler.

Read also:

Listen also:

The Ladies who were famous

Reader Liz alerted me to an online article, “The Ladies Who Were Famous For Wanting To Be Left Alone,” by Patricia Hampl. It appears on the site LONGREADS.

Hampl’s book The Art of the Wasted Day, newly published in April 2018, certainly speaks to my type of personality – for no day alone is a WASTED day! The Ladies of Llangollen’s history opens the book. One reviewer calls The Art of the Wasted Day “a swirl of memoir, travelogue and biography”. Click on the cover to read more about Hampl’s book.

The Art of the Wasted Day

Of course, I invited all readers to let me know of Ladies of Llangollen-related tidbits you’ve seen or produced. Would love to let all readers know what is out there – whether stores, articles, new books (or old), photos, trips, etc. etc.

Ladies of Llangollen, the Play

News from Norena Shopland:

The Ladies exhibition which premiered in Swansea in February, will now be availble to view at from the 6th to the 16th September at Oswestry Museum. There’s a small mention in this link.
Also, Living Histories Cymru will be doing their play on the Ladies at the Herman Chapell Arts Center on 16 September 2018 at 4:30 PM (doors open at 4 PM).
The play is described as:
As part of the nationwide Heritage Open Days, Living Histories Cymru presents, in the unusual format of a costumed conversation, insights into the lives of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, widely known as the Ladies Of Llangollan. Be a fly on the pews in the atmospheric setting of the Hermon Chapel, take cake and tea with the Ladies and listen in on their private conversations revealing much about their shared life’s challenges, choices and their Oswestry friends!
Appearing as Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby
are Helen Sandler and Jane Hoy.
A “repeat performance” will take place at Plas Newydd (Llangollen, Wales) on 22 September 2018.
How I wish I could join the audience at either performance! Tea (coffee, too) & cake before the show; and a Q&A session afterwards. Tickets are FREE.

Courageous & Audacious

Two years ago, Duke University announced a “Happy Day for Women’s History“: their acquisition of the Lisa Unger Baskin collection of Ladies of Llangollen items.

Recent news talks about items in the collection! And now thoroughly catalogued, you can see just what’s available by looking through the GUIDE to the LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN COLLECTION.

The largest part of the collection is the letters written by and to the Ladies. Most of the correspondence takes place between Sarah Ponsonby and her cousin Mrs. Sarah Tighe, along with letters from Eleanor Butler, their neighbor Ch. L. West, and the Fownes family, Sarah Ponsonby’s cousins and former guardians. The manuscripts include poems by the Ladies, as well as an account written about the Ladies of Llangollen by Ch. L. West and an album by a visitor to Llangollen. The papers contain items and images of the Ladies of Llangollen, Llangollen Vale, and the traditions of Wales in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Guidebooks, maps, and printed materials make up the materials about the history of the Ladies’ beloved Llangollen. The images of the Ladies and their home in Llangollen Vale make up the largest part of the image files.

Letters begin in 1774. A great deal of them are letters from Sarah Ponsonby to Mrs. Tighe. (see a photo of Sarah’s fairy handwriting) That these letters survive, and in such a large group, is indeed a miracle.

There are poems by both Sarah and Eleanor; but what intrigues me are two pieces by other hands: an 1826 “account of the Ladies of Llangollen” by Ch. L. West (a neighbor) and a scrapbook album amassed in the 1830s.

Other items in the collection are OBJECTS, such as the porcelain basket pictured:


Click on the photo above to access the read the full article in The Devil’s Tale: Dispatches from the David M. Rubinstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Keep in mind the items held by The National Library of Wales, and available (formerly) on microfilm by Adam Matthew Publications; as well as early publications based on primary source collections.

UPDATE: Catch a glimpse on Tumblr of some items from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection of the Ladies of Llangollen material

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