Plas Newydd and Mary Gosling

The comment by Peter Alexander, curator of Plas Newydd, made me think: Why don’t you post Mary Gosling’s comments on the Ladies of Llangollen today (Feb 2nd) is Mary’s birthday and it was while on the chase for those very comments that I first met Mary… and Emma… and Mamma… and all the rest of the Smith&Gosling family.

This may — or may not — be a Beechey portrait of Mary a few years prior to her visit, in 1821.

The Gosling family — “Papa, Mamma, my Sister and myself” — had departed Roehampton on Monday, 27 August. They arrived in Llangollen on Monday, 3 September.

Nothing can be more picturesque than the situation of Llangollen, embosomed in the hills with the river Dee running at the foot of it,” was Mary’s immediate pronouncment.

This travel diary, containing little biographical information (other than the author’s name on the “title” page), covers six trips – the first taken in 1814; the last in 1824. Mary Gosling was born in 1800, to William Gosling and his first wife Margaret Elizabeth Cunliffe (yes, related to Sir Foster Cunliffe). Mary married in 1826. So these trips were all undertaken with her immediate family.

I found her diary through WorldCat — Duke University, which owns the diary, had Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler as “subjects” and the diary came up in a search. A kind Library Specialist xeroxed the relevant trip for me; I later visited Duke to transcribe the entire diary.

Did Mary Gosling have anything unusual to say about The Ladies? Sadly — not really! Here’s her entry:

“Wednesday [Sept 5th] morning at ten o’clock we went to Plasnewydd to pay a visit to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby who have resided there 42 years, ever since 1778 in the course of the time having slept out of it but very few nights, they are now old women, the former being near 80 and the latter about 10 years younger, their cottage is beautifully neat and most elegantly fitted up, all the wood work of the exterior and interior is curiously carved, some of it being of later date {ie, earlier!} than the reign of Charles 1st. They have been four years in forming it the different pieces having been given them by several friends…”

My! reading this entry after several years, it is actually quite thrilling to see her comments about the house! Yet, I guess, when I first obtained these precious pages, I was hoping for descriptions. And Mary’s fit right in with those I was sick of seeing:

Their dress is very singular  they wear their {hair} cut short and powdered, men’s hats, and a sort of riding habit.”

With those words you have turned the page just prior to “hats” and the next sentence, seven words later, has the family departing from Llangollen! (The Goslings were headed to Ireland.) Interlude of the Ladies, over…

It was only after several re-readings, and seeing the trip, from Roehampton through North Wales, to Ireland and back, in its entirety, that I began to wonder Who Were These People? What began this line of inquiry was this comment of Mary’s:

nothing could equal their civility and attention, they {Sarah and Eleanor} shewed us all their curiosities and grounds which are very pretty: having spent four very pleasant hours there, we took leave with great regret, as they are very clever and well informed women.”

Wow! Both ladies showed the Goslings around; showed them around not only the grounds, but also the house — how many times had Eleanor written of people being admitted to the ground floor rooms, while she and Sarah stayed above (not meeting the “visitors”)? And the Goslings had stayed four hours!

(Contrast this to Louis Simond – who was turned away; a reading of the Hamwood Papers gives indication of how strangers, as opposed to people the Ladies were happier to meet, were typically treated.)

The questions flooded in…

Who were these Goslings? How did they gain such admittance and personal treatment?

William Gosling was a London banker (Goslings & Sharpe, on Fleet Street). His first wife, Eliza, had been known to James Boswell — who mentions Lady Cunliffe and her two daughters in a letter to Joshua Reynolds, who seems to have offered some art instruction to the girls. Mrs Thrale/Mrs Piozzi knew the family as well, and mentions the deaths of the daughters (Eliza in December 1803 and Mary in February 1804) in her correspondence. There are further connections, but I won’t bore you.

So, really, it was the unusual “civility” the Goslings experienced at the hands of the Ladies of Llangollen, which prompted my further researches into the Gosling family. And five/six years later, you can read about it on my main blog, Two Teens in the Time of Austen.

In the meantime, I’m trying to put online all the early materials I unearthed about the Ladies. Patience is indeed rewarded.

* * *

Peter Alexander has alerted me to the Plas Newydd Twitter and Facebook accounts. Enjoy!


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