[A book on the French revolution was dedicated to the ladies]

WHEN a foreigner, untutored in the English, language, presumes to address ladies of your accomplishments and amiableness, some apology is, necessary for the presumption: where merit is universally known and admitted, flattery cannot even be suspected: long, very long, as you have been united in one mind, and knowing as it were but one sentiment, the editor cannot resist the impulse he feels of congratulating the happy pair whose names he has the honour to prefix to this work, on the enviable elevation they hold in the scale of moral virtues; evincing to the world as they do, that the purest friendship can exist in retirement, and that happiness can be enjoyed, with more permanency, in the humble paradise of Llangollen, than in the most splendid circles of society, or in the all-devouring vortex of fashion.—That you may long continue to enjoy that solid satisfaction and those reciprocal comforts which friendship can only give, and confidence receive, is the cordial, sincere, and undisguised wish of Your obliged, obedient, Humble servant, J Talma, Chester, 25.2.1795

Julie Talma (1756-1805)
A chronological account and brief history of the events of the French revolution,
From the taking of the Bastile, in 1789, to the conquest of Holland, in 1795,
including a period of nearly six years, by J. Talma, a native of Paris,
and now a dentist in Chester, p. 3

1795, June

(4th) Were glad to descend into the charming vale of Llangollen … but the scene was still heightened by the permission of paying a visit to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, at their cottage Ornee … These ladies have retired from the bustle of the world, and have, for near 16 years resided at this spot, which they have beautified in the most elegant and appropriate manner. The house is fitted up with every article that can show a dignified taste, a true love of sweet retirement, and the reciprocal charm of improving friendship. Nor are their manners less captivating to the stranger than their usual and peaceful amusements …

The Ladies (for by this title they are distinguished), seem adored by the villagers, to whom their benevolence is daily extended. Nothing can equal the natural beautiful scenery of their residence, but the taste which is displayed in their furniture, the form of the rooms, and the disposition of their grounds.

(5th) Breakfasted with the Ladies of Llangollen [after climbing Castell Dinas Bran and visiting Valle Crucis]

Rev. J.H. Michell
The Tour of the Duke of Somerset,
and the Rev. J. H. Michell,
through parts of England,
Wales, and Scotland, in the year 1795
, (1845), pp. 20-21

1795, August

(16th) Here in a decorated cottage, live lady Elizabeth Butler and Miss Ponsonby … they are accomplished, elegant, learned; and although recluse, hospitable to their friends from Ireland and acquaintances in the neighbourhood, but never visit and have been here 15 years.

Robert Douglas
National Library of Scotland, ms 9754, 16.8.1795

1795, August

(21st, Friday) Breakfasted here [at Llangollen] this day, but shall not stop … have sent a civil message to the Hermit Ladies with apologies for not calling.

(25th, Tuesday) Soon after our arrival at Llangollen town, we received a note from Lady Eleanor Butler & Miss Ponsonby (the two Hermit Ladies) to invite us to Breakfast with them this morning. Accordingly about 9 o’clock we strolled on foot to their Beautiful Retreat, we found a Breakfast ready, composed of the best things of every sort and we found a daughter of Sir Roger Martins and her husband M Chanres paying a visit to these hospitable ladies for thus they live so secluded from the world themselves & never stir for any time together from this Romantic place, they are obliging & polite to all travellers who come recommended by their own old friends in Ireland, we walked over the whole of their little paradise and as we had the advantage of a clear morning, nothing could appear more enchanting than the scenery around it, there is much of correctness as well as variety in all they have done, for they have preserved the Gothic taste throughout, & not mixed it, as is so common with modern ornaments, when they first established themselves here about 16 years ago the cottage consisted of a parlour and kitchen below stairs only, but by the addition of a library below and 2 or 3 small rooms it has been large enough to contain their family which I understand consists of 3 servants besides one old female who fled hither with them and who has ever since been a faithful housekeeper and steward, the town of Llangollen supplies them very well with the necessities of life and when they ever are visited by their friends from any great distance they procure good apartments from them at the inn, it is a few years however, since the Shrewsbury road to Holyhead was made that they ever had any chance of seeing their friends, I can remember well that a very short time ago no mortal liked to venture by Llangollen Roads and it is most certain that these Ladies lived at a distance from all society for a long time after they sheltered themselves in this wild spot, and they were first discovered by their neighbours, to be of the better sort, by some charitable acts they performed in their scattered hamlet, it is but Justice, however to them to observe that all who have visited them agree in saying that neither the misfortunes of their youth nor the life of independent solitude they have passed have in the least degree produced ill humour or stiffness in their manner, on the contrary their discourse is cheerful, obliging and indulgent, there is no vain cant, or stupid pride about themselves in anything they say, they talk with praise and gratitude of their own neighbourhood a great part of which has been very constant in friendly attentions towards them and they lead a life which tho on the first view, appears to be very singular, is in fact no other than the life of persons neither young nor rich nor happy enough to encounter ill temper or false friendship anymore – but I am not writing their history and indeed who would wish them to learn the history of unhappy broils in families, and so in return to where I set off, which was from their Gothic Library, this room is fitted up with pictures and drawings, painted glass, etc. but rather too small to contain the number of things they have placed in it and a few feet more would have made it perfect, their books are most of them the finest editions, not collected regularly but at different times for them by their Friends who have taken the opportunity of making them such presents of Choice Editions. They are very fond of painting and drawing and seem to have great variety of these – the life they lead appears to be very healthful for they have much exercise and employment out of doors and pride themselves in their kitchen garden, their gravel walks and thick plantations which now entirely hide the neighbouring hills – we saw [Castell Dinas Bran] or Crow Castle … much better from their window seat than from any part of the road {more on views in the area} Mr Repton had called to desire admittance there last summer, but from not knowing who he was they had refused to see him. {more on landscape and local history} after talking leave of this good company, and being loaded with fine fruit for our journey, we proceeded to Valle Crucis.

Frances Anne Crewe
British Library, Add. 37926, p. pp. 131, 18-20
[Part transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1795, September

(7th) … Lady Eleanor is of middle height, and somewhat beyond the embonpoint as to plumpness; her face round and fair, with the glow of luxuriant health.  She has not fine features, but they are agreeable; enthusiasm in her eye, hilarity and benevolence in her smile.  Exhaustless is her fund of historic and traditionary knowledge, and of everything passing in the present eventful period.  She expresses all she feels with an ingenuous ardour, at which, the cold-spirited beings stare.  I am informed that both these ladies read and speak most of the modern languages.  Of the Italian poets, especially of Dante, they are warm admirers.  Miss Ponsonby, somewhat taller than her friend, is neither slender nor otherwise, but very graceful.  Easy, elegant, yet pensive, is her address and manner.

  “Her voice, like lovers’ watched, is kind and low.”

A face rather long than round, a complexion clear but without bloom, with a countenance which, from its soft melancholy, has a peculiar interest.  If her features are not beautiful, they are very sweet and feminine.  Though the pensive spirit within permits not her lovely dimples to give mirth to her smile, they increase its sweetness, and, consequently, her power of engaging the affections.  We see, through her veil of shading reserve, that all the talents and accomplishments which enrich the mind of Lady Eleanor, exist, with equal powers, in this her charming friend.

Letters of Anna Seward, 6 vols, (1811)
letter 20, vol 4, pp. 98-109 (from Barmouth, 7.9.1795); letter 21, vol 4, pp.110

Also published in Hinklin, John, ‘The Ladies of Llangollen, as sketched by many hands; with notices of other objects of interest in that sweetest of vales’, (Chester, 1847), p. 53-54.  Anna Seward was a friend of the Roberts family of Dinbren, neighbours of the Ladies.

 * * *

The poem ‘Llangollen Vale’ was published in
The Lady’s Magazine Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex …,
Volume 27, (1796), p. 421.

It was prefaced with the following:

The story of these elegant and accomplished ladies is well known. It is now fifteen summers since they have withdrawn themselves from the bustle of the fashionable world, to lead a life of philosophic repose in a romantic cottage in Llangollen Vale, in Wales. Miss Seward, who has been on a visit to the ladies, lately addressed to them the following beautiful stanzas. Lady E. Butler is sister to lord Mountgarrat, of the kingdom of Ireland; and miss Ponsonby is a near relation to the eminent family of that name in Ireland.


It is impossible to be at Llangollen without saying something of the Ladies of Llangollen Vale; though, if you have seen an account of them published in a newspaper I never saw, or read a poem of Miss Sewards on this same subject, I never read, probably you are better acquainted with them than myself.

All I have heard of the Ladies of Llangollen Vale is, that they were too young Irish women of noble families, who entered into a solemn renunciation of the male part of the species; vowed an eternal friendship for each other; eloped from their friends; and, after roving about sometime in search of a situation to their mind, settled in the vicinity of Llangollen. The cottage they found built to their hands, and they rent it at £20 the year; but they have expended a great deal of money in improvements. The neatness of the inside is such as exceeds belief, and every part of it is ornamented in a manner that could only be contrived and executed by a women of the most elegant taste, who had no other employment. No man is ever admitted to speak to the ladies, but their relations, and their gardener, who is a married man, and does not live in the house. They frequently receive visits from female friends, and Miss Seward has been of the number; but they never lodge anybody. Their domestics are two women servants, besides one they brought over with them, who is their housekeeper, and on whom the ladies bestow such portion of their esteem, that to afront her is to offend them. They are fond of their garden; and an idea of their neatness maybe formed from its being confidently asserted, though it is not true, that their walks are swept with a hair broom.

I was told by a gentleman who went over the house, some years ago, that a curious box, covered with white satin and embroidery, was seen in the dining room; and on undrawing the curtain, an old fat lame lap-dog appeared, as the inhabitant: and I am now informed, that Fidel has paid the debt of nature, and his tomb is shown to strangers, in the garden. Persons who have families, and live the world, laugh at this: to me it is very natural. Women must do something with their affections; and what the ladies had to spare from each other, and their maid, could not, in their situation, be better bestowed, than on an animal that was sensible of their caresses, and returned their attachment.

Here the ladies have lived 15 years, and scandal has not dared to say, that they have ever repented their vow.

The outside the cottage I saw; it is exquisitely neat and elegant, and beautifully situated on an eminence, rising out of the vale and sheltered by the mountains. The inside I might have seen; but I was told, that the frequent exhibition of their house strangers, had become troublesome to the ladies; and I do not think it right to intrude upon them for my own gratification.

Catherine Hutton
Letters written [to her brother] during a Tour in
North Wales by Miss Hutton, of Bennett’s Hill, near Birmingham
LETTER VIII, Llangollen; Sept. 3, 1796 p. 17-18

Published in: Catherine Hutton Beale, Reminiscences of a gentlewoman of the last century; letters of Catherine Hutton (Birmingham, Cornish Brothers, 1891), a heavily edited version of the letters published in the Monthly Magazine in 1815-16. The Monthly Magazine issues: Letters I-II; Letters III-IV; Letter V; Letter VI; Letter VII; Letter VIII.


In a small neat house, upon a gently [acclivity?], at the east end of Llangollen live Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, two maiden ladies; who some years ago retired from the busy world and the gay scenes of fashion and foibles to pass their lives in this sequestered spot.

B. jnr and W. W.
A Pedestrian Tour thro Wales in 1796
National Library of Wales MS 23253 C, pp. 110

1796, May

[After the financial failure of Colonel Smith, owner of Piercefield 1785-1794] the ladies of the family [including Miss Elizabeth Smith] resolved to accompany him to his headquarters [in Ireland]. In passing through Wales (in May, 1796), they paid a visit to those sentimental anchorites of the last generation whom so many of us must still remember – Miss Ponsonby and Miss Eleanor Butler (a sister of Lord Ormond), whose hermitage stood near to Llangollen, and, therefore, close to the usual Irish route, by way of Holyhead.

Thomas De Quincey, The Collected writings of Thomas de Quincey,
by David Mason, (Black and Co, 1897), vol 2, p. 410

1796, May

In a letter, dated “Bath, May 21.”

My mother and I set off to-morrow morning for Ireland. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby have sent us a most obliging invitation to their house, and I hope we shall pass a day and a night there. Do you not envy us this visit?

[the editor concluded: “The visit in Llangollen Vale more than answered the expectation of my friends, and the very obliging manner in which they were received, was highly gratifying to me. I had a letter from Miss Smith on this subject, which I particularly regret; but it was destroyed with many others.”]

H.M. Bowdler (ed), Fragments, in Prose and Verse
by Miss Elizabeth Smith, lately deceased
1808 (1811 new 2-vol edition)

1796, July

If Mr. Bunbury’s ‘Little Gray Man’ is printed, do send it hither; the ladies at Llangollen are dying for it. They like those old Scandinavian tales and the imitations of them exceedingly; and tell me about the prince and princess of ‘this’ loyal country, one province of which alone had disgraced itself.

Mrs Piozzi, Brynbella, July 9, 1796
Life and Writings of Mrs. Piozzi, vol. ii. p. 234

[Bunbury produced two drawings of a man and woman in Welsh costume, both entitled ‘Peasants in Llangollen’. Prints of them were published in 1781 and 1783.]


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