1799, August

(23rd) A note to the Ladies at the cottage, soon brought me an obliging invitation to tea, which I immediately accepted and met there Lady Stanley and her daughter and Mr Chaplow [Chappelow] formerly of Trinity College Cambridge. The evening was passed in pleasing and literary conversation, and we all returned to the inn at 10 o’clock. (24th) Being engaged to breakfast at the cottage at 11, for the Ladies, tho early risers themselves, yet having many friends and tourists to see them in the course of the summer, generally fix that hour, that they may previously secure a part of their day to themselves for study and business. [visited the church]. I next walked by the road at the back of the town to a gate nearly opposite the cottage and took a sketch of this “Fairy Palace of the Vale” [from Ann Seward’s Llangollen Vale, 1796] … The Ladies having got an addition to their domain since my last visit [in 1797], I had a new and very delightful scene to behold. It is a pasture which lies on the side of the hill sloping down to a clear mountain rivulet. [more on this pasture] An addition to the party being expected, we waited till half p. 12 when we sat down, a party of 12, to a most elegant and social meal. The party being augmented by the arrival of four more visitors I took my leave.

James Plumptre (1771-1832)
Ian Ousby, James Plumptre’s Britain, The Journals of a Tourist in the 1790s
(London, 1992), pp. 162-163


The elegant description of the valley in the kingdom of Amhara, by Dr. Johnson, is very applicable to Llangollen; for “all the blessings of nature seemed here to be collected, and its evils extracted and excluded.” Without a sigh of regret, not like the discontented Rasselas, I could here pass the remainder of my days, “in full conviction, that this vale contains within its reach all that art or nature can bestow; I could pity those, whom fate had excluded from this seat of tranquillity, as the sport of chance, and the staves of misery.” Such is the enviable situation of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, who thus veiled in obscurity have fitted up, in a true characteristic stile, an elegant little cottage, at the west extremity of the town, situated on a knole: the two rooms, which are allotted for the inspection of strangers, are very handsomely furnished; the dining-room is ornamented with drawings, the most favourite spots in the vicinity being selected as the subjects. The window commands a prospect of the mountains, which awfully rise in front. The study, looking on the well-arranged plantations of the garden, was appropriately furnished with a choice collection of books: we regretted, in the absence of the gardener, that we could not gain admittance to the grounds. The vale of Llangollen, and this enviable retreat, have been the subject of much admiration both in verse and prose; and highly deserve the praises, which have been lavished upon it.

Say, ivy’d Valle Crucis; time delay’d

Dim on the brink of Deva’s wand’ring floods,

Your iv’d arch glitt’ring thro’ the tangled shade,

Your grey hills tow’ring o’er your night of woods;

Deep in the vale recesses as you stand,

And, desolately great, the rising sigh command;

Say, lovely ruin’d pile, when former years Saw your pale train at midnight altars bow;

Saw superstition frown upon the tears That mourn’d the rasli, irrevocable vow;

Wore one young lip gay Eleanora’s smile ?

Did Zara’s look serene one tedious hour beguile?

Eleanora = Lady Eleanor Butler; Zara = Miss Sarah Ponsonby

From Anna Seward’s Llangollen Vale

Anon, The Cambrian directory, or, cursory sketches of the Welsh territories.
With a chart, comprehending at one view, the advisable route – best inns
[an account of a tour of Wales by two anonymous men in 1799], 1800, pp. 150-151

Also published in Stringer, Thomas, Irish Extracts, The European magazine, and London review, Volume 70, (1816), pp. 393-394


Butler, Miss and Miss Ponsonby Miss Butler and Miss Ponsonby (now retired from the society of men into the wilds of a Welsh vale) bear a strong antipathy to the male sex, whom they take every opportunity of avoiding. Miss Butler is of the Ormond family, had five offers of marriage all of which she rejected; a Miss Ponsonby, her particular friend and companion, was supposed to have been bar to all matrimonial union. {their elopements} Here they have lived many years unknown to any of the neighbouring villages, otherwise than by the appellation of The Ladies of the Vale. No persuasions could ever get them from this retreat. Miss Butler is tall and masculine, always wears a riding habit, hangs up her hat with the air of a sportsman, and appears in all respects like a young man, except the petticoat. Miss Ponsonby is polite and effeminate, fair and beautiful. In Mr Steele’s lists of pensions for 1780, there are the names of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, for annuities of £50 each. They live in neatness, elegance and taste. Two females are their only servants. Miss Ponsonby does the honours of the house, while Miss Butler superintends the garden and grounds.

Leman Thomas Rede
Anecdotes & biography, including many modern characters
in the circles of fashionable and official life, selected from the portfolios of a distinguished
literary and political character lately deceased alphabetically arranged.
London, 1799, pp. 79-80

Also published in The Monthly Mirror, vol. vii (1799), pp. 145-146

* * *

1800, July

(29th) …we then proceeded onto the Vale of Llangollen, after dinner went to Lady Eleanor Butler’s cottage  We drank tea here. Both Ly {Lady} Eleanor and her friend Miss Ponsonby are very agreeable women Wed 30  before breakfast walked up Castell Dinas y bran. We then went to the cottage again {ie, Plas Newydd} for Patty to take the view…

Fanny Smith (1788-1880)
mother of Florence Nightingale, daughter of William & Frances Smith, of Parndon
Progress by Persuasion: the Life of William Smith, 1756-1835

1800, August

(15th) In the evening we visited Plas Newydd, the cottage (as it is called) of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, a neat modern house at one extremity of the village to which these ladies retired some years ago with a vow never to sleep out of it (we are sneeringly told), they now occasionally evade when convenient by sitting up all night.

John Trevenen, of Cornwall (1781-1829)
Journal of a Walk Through Wales in the Autumn of 1800
NLW facs 501 (photocopy), p. 12

1800, September

[2.9.1800] My guide at Llangollen told me that Lady Elizabeth Butler and Miss Ponsonby who have resided many years at a small house a little above the church, do not keep any man servant but a gardener. They have a house-keeper and two girls. They visit occasionally but never sleep from home.

The Diary of Joseph Farington, ed James Greig
8 vols, London, 1922-1928, vol 4


Plas Newydd, the cottage of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby though we had not the honour to see the Ladies. It is the most tasty, neat and elegant dwelling I ever saw, and its situation indescribably romantic and pretty but changing its name from cottage to Plas does hurt in raising expectations too high. If I mistake not, Bp {Bishop} Percy has given you so exact a description of it that nothing remains for me particularly to add except that the Aeolian harp was placed in one of the beautiful painted gothic windows in the drawing, or rather book room, and that our walk over the farm was impeded by cats continually creeping round & under our feet of which animals I am told the Ladies entertain eight, who have their beverage in a fine vase in the drawing room. These ladies, like yourself, keep no male in their house, nor horse in their stable, but have a gardener attending on days …

Mrs Ashby of Haselbeach, Northants
Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service, OR2071/426-7427, 427

* * *

April, 1801

5.4.1801, Brynbella The Ladies at Llangollen enquired much for you. They have more news and more stories than one could dream of. {their best is the story of their maid Mary when the Ladies were studying the stars. She said} “You once showed me a fine sight in the heavens, the Belt of O’Bryan; but I suppose we shall see it no more now, since the Union

Letter from Hester Lynch Piozzi to Lady Pennington
Knapp (ed), The intimate Letters of Piozzi and Pennington (1914; 2005), p. 210

* * *


Such are the attractions [of Llangollen] that have induced Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby, to fit up, in a true characteristic stile, an elegant little cottage, at the west extremity of the town, situated on a knoll. The two rooms, which are allotted for the inspection of strangers, are very handsomely furnished; the dining-room is ornamented with drawings, of some of the most favourite spots in the vicinity. The window commands a prospect of the mountains, which are very beautiful in front; and the study, containing a good selection of modern books looks on the well-arranged plantations adjoining. The whole, thought thus veiled in obscurity, is an enviable retreat well worth the attention of travellers, particularly those who move in the higher sphere of life, amid the follies and dissipation of cities, where virtue is deemed a vice, the pleasures of solitude ideal, or the refuge only of misanthropy, and hypocrisy.

Thomas Evans,
Cambrian itinerary : or, Welsh tourist : containing an historical
and topographical description of the antiquities and beauties of Wales

London, 1801, pp. 325-326

[This account is very similar to Anon, The Cambrian directory, or, cursory sketches of the Welsh territories. With a chart, comprehending at one view, the advisable route – best inns [This is not a guide book, but an account of a tour of Wales by two anonymous men in 1799], 1800, pp. 150-151]


… the fine Vale of Llangollen … Here … the presiding residents were two ladies, whose romantic retirement from the world at an early age had attracted for many years a general interest to their persons, habits and opinions. These Ladies were Irish – Miss Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, as sister of Lord Ormond. I had twice been formally presented to them by persons to rank to stamp a value upon this introduction. But, naturally, though high-bred courtesy concealed any such open expressions of feeling, they must have felt a very slight interest in myself or my opinions. [Note] It is worthy of notice that when I, in this year 1802, and again in after years, endeavoured to impress them favourably with regard to Wordsworth as a poet … neither of them was disposed to look with any interest or hopefulness upon his pretensions [until he became famous] [end of note] I grieve to say that my own feelings were not more ardent towards them. Nevertheless I presented myself at their cottage as often as I passed through Llangollen; and was always courteously received when they happened to be in the country.

Thomas De Quincey, The Collected writings of Thomas de Quincey
David Mason, (Black and Co, 1897), vol. 3, p. 321-322
Mavor, LoL, p. 141

1802, September

(Stayed with the Ladies)

Letters of Anna Seward written between the years 1784 and 1807 (1811)
letter IX, vol 6, p. 49, (4.10.1802)

* * *


(Apparently knew the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ well, but doesn’t appear to have visited them on this trip.)

Louisa Charlotte Kenyon, A Tour through part of North Wales
Shropshire Records and Archive Centre, 549/212

January, 1803

(6) To Lady Eleanor Butler’s cottage. {No description, made sketch, had been there before.}

John Skinner, Journal of a tour from Capel Curig in Caernarfon to Camerton
3rd – 22nd January 1803, Cardiff Central Library, MS 1.498, p. 7

* * *


(Ladies of Llangollen [not transcribed])

William Withering, Journal of a tour in North Wales
Birmingham City Archives, 386808, p. 4

February, 1804

(2) It is with concern we hear, that Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby are in danger of being expelled their beautiful and long enjoyed residence in the Vale of Llangollen, by the proposed erection of a Cotton Mill and Manufactory in their immediate neighbourhood, under the direction of Mr Biddulph, Banker, Charring Cross. Our readers will recollect that this charming retreat of these [unreadable word] recluse has been the subject of an elegant description poem from the classic pen of Miss Seward, entitled “Llangollen Vale”.

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc
(Portsmouth, England)

The extensive cotton mills of Messrs Turner and co at Llangollen have been totally destroyed by fire

Monthly Magazine and British Register
vol 39, (1815), pt. 1, pp. 95 (published 1.2.1815)

For more on the cotton mill, see Mavor

July, 1804

17.7.1804, Monday, Llangollen …in the evening ascended the hill behind the town on whose elevation are situated the villa and pleasure grounds of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, of noted celebrity including within the compass of about 2 acres everything that is neat and elegant. These ladies, united by similar pursuits, and a congenial disposition for study, formed a singular resolution of withdrawing early in life from the alluring vortex of fashionable dissipation and fixing their humble and invariable residence midst the romantic scenery of Llangollen. Their condescension is equal to their talents, and possessions for avoiding every ostentations appearance of superiority, they seem to be the ministering angels of comfort, sent to rescue the degenerate town from turpitude and wretchedness. A free school for 30 boys, principally under their conduct, is chiefly supported by their contribution ; whilst their benevolence is universally acknowledged, with gratitude, by the poor inhabitants of the town who during the extreme severity of winter, are chiefly relieved from want and misery, by their extensive munificence. They are now considerably advanced in years, yet long as they have been shut out by these mountain barriers, from the busy scenes of life they cannot help frequently expressing a disposition to intermix again with the world; but habit has so far got the better of inclination, that they had rather submit to a known evil, than subject themselves to a chance of still further inconvenience by the change. The singular enquiries made by the waiters at the inn (who are kept in employ by these Ladies) both for public and private news cannot fail to amuse the traveller, whilst they afford an additional proof that we were originally formed for the mutual dependence and interchanges of society and that we cannot relinquish the bustling scene for the fancied charms of solitude but at the expense of many of our most valued enjoyments, it may be added of our most comfortable existence.

Anon, Journal of a sketching tour in North Wales
made in company 
with Jere in the summer of 1804
NLW Puleston Papers, 1084A

27 July 1804

The 27th we drove from Bala to Llangollen and saw Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby’s cottage …

The Vale of Llangollen is certainly very beautiful and the cottage a very pretty little bijou but I must own from having heard so much of it we were rather disappointed the valley is too full of houses to be very romantic and the cottage, though very pretty might as well be at Hampstead as Llangollen. It is very small and neat but so entirely shut up by shrubberies that there is no possibility of seeing anything out of it except now and then you are desired to thrust your head through a hole in a hedge to get a peep of the valley. But though our ideas of disinterested friendship Romantic seclusion Rural felicity etc. had been a good deal disjointed by having the [horn?] of the Holyhead mail coach passing along a dirty highroad almost close to the cottage. [They?] were quite expelled by the sight of the two nymphs of the place whom we saw walking through the shrubberies. Conceive one tall and large and another short and fat little woman both in a hot July day walking in the shrubs of a cottage hooded with enormous vulgar long waisted blue riding habits, with beaver hats, and their powdery tallow candles hanging dangling down their backs. I am sorry to say that Sulivan [Lawrence Sulivan, (1783-1866)] and myself were seized with such a fit of risibility that had the shade of Lord Chesterfield been within hearing he would certainly boxed our ears.

Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865)
Letters to his mother NLW MS 23980F, f.13

September, 1804

(17) Llangollen … went to see the house of two maiden ladies … and of the situation of which we had heard much … we were upon the whole rather disappointed in the approach and situation of this house – it is surrounded with high hills and a neat white cottage but nothing in the situation of it so striking as we expected the [rest of journal is missing]

Mary Russell
Gloucestershire Record office, D388/F1


At a little distance from the town stands the cottage so often celebrated for its elegance, simplicity, and neatness; the abode of harmony and friendship; the retreat of lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby: who retired at an early period in life from their connections and the world, to pass their days in privacy; where, setting an example of virtue, elegance, and all that can be accounted lovely in the female character, they have passed a long series of years within the precincts of “The fairy palace of the vale.”

Anon, [Richard Phillips – written in pencil on the title page]
Gleanings of a Wanderer in Various Parts of England, Scotland and North Wales,
made during an excursion during the year 1804,

illustrated with various engravings from the original drawings by the author, p. 150


Lady Eleanor Butler’s cottage is a very little way from the town, and as she sent to invite us to see it, we walked up there and found a large party consisting of Sir Thomas and Lady Clarges and Miss Clarges and Lord Dongannon. The cottage is very small, but prettily furnished, and the walks are entirely their own making. Lady E Butler and Miss Ponsonby walked around them with us.

Elizabeth Winnington, ‘Tour into North Wales September 1804’
National Museum and Art Gallery, Cardiff,
47085/913(42.9)W73, p. 20


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