1810-1819

c1810

I made the celebrated cottage of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby my first care – I confess I should have passed it without remark if I had not known its precise situation. It is very small having but seven windows and a door in front. 4 of the former constitute the length of the building. It resembles a cottage only in the windows. It requires the honeysuckle, jasmine, woodbine to creep up its sides to give it the appearance of a cottage so that the ladies might “peep through the sweet briar or the vine of the twisted eglantine.”

Having built it of stone – an inveterate enemy to all cottages is another obstacle to its cottage like appearance. I am almost certain that it cannot contain more than 2 rooms on the ground and 2 rooms on the first floor. The entire house is not too large for a good sized room. I wonder what has made people admire this retreat. Is it the house, the grounds or the old ladies. I am inclined to think it is the pretty sound of “the picturesque cottage of Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby” which some man of talent, or some man of rank or some man who wrote for publication; thought proper to bestow upon this abode. Having said so much in detraction it is but equity that I [should it?]; and the owners what they really deserve. The grounds, I am informed, are laid out with Lilliputian neatness or with “minute scrupulosity” as the author of the Rambler would have said, and much attention has been paid to ornament, as well as to convenience to strict propriety; and general regulation. These ladies are pious, charitable, humane and benevolent, and live “with the fear of God before their eye” devoting their lives to the stillness of retirement, meditation, prayer and “good works”; and to the seclusion of study – they have a right to exult in a triumph; for they have gained a victory over the world. Lady Eleanor retired at the age of 30 about the same [period?] after having seen an equal number of years. It is my hope that they may long repose, beneath the shade of their laurel.

Anon.
“Narrative of a Tour through Wales by an
anonymous English Gentleman”
NLW ms 18943, ff. 48v-50

1810, September

(20th) Llangollen is more celebrated for the beauty of its situation than for the regularity or {slighleyness?} of its houses.…

I am surprised that so much has been written about Lady Eleanor Butler’s and Miss Ponsonby’s cottage. It is a miserable house three windows in front, the door in the centre without beauty, without taste of any kind, built positively in the least romantic part of the valley, commanding no prospect either of water or wood. The grounds are badly laid out. The fences near the house have all the formality and stiffness of a Dutch garden. Added to all this, there is a public path by the gable end and right in front of the house across the lawn where all the world may pass. Lady E. B. [Eleanor Butler] and her sister have retired, disgusted with the vanities of life and seeking authentic seclusion from them. Oh my ladies, this is not a real but only an affectation of retirement and that a most paltry one.

Corbet Hue (1769 – 1837)
Journal of Corbet Hue, Fellow and Bursar of Jesus College, Oxford
‘Journal of a Tour through N W[ales], 17th July, 1810’
NLW MSS 23218B, pp. 104-105

1810

Just above the village appears Plas Newydd the enviable retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby who turning from the glare and vanity of fashionable life – here pass their days in retirement and repose.

“High born, and high endowed, the peerless twain
Pant for coy Nature’s charms, ‘mid silent dale and plain.”

[From Seward’s poem, Llangollen Vale]

These Ladies, united to each other by a rare similarity of disposition, took up their residence in this recluse so early as the year 1779 and have ever since continued together in the closest bonds of union and friendship. Their cottage is fitted up in an elegant characteristic style and commands an exquisite mountain prospect with the whole valley spread beneath. This highly favoured spot attracted my latest steps and here I rambled away what little of the day was left for my enjoyment.

“Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close
Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;
There, as I passed with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came softened from below ;
The swain responsive as the milkmaid sung,
The sober herd that lowed to meet her young;
The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool,
The playful children just let loose from school;
The watchdog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind,
And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind;
These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,
And filled each pause the nightingale had made.”

From Goldsmith’s Deserted village

William Joseph Bruce
A Peregrination through part of the Counties of Somerset, Monmouthshire,
Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire
with a portion of South Wales and a tour round north Wales
as performed in the Autumn of the Year 1810 …
NLW, mss. 19405 C, p. 243-244

* * *

1811

Near Llangollen, where we dined, is the residence of two ladies, whose names are identified with the vale, Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby; and after having informed ourselves of the etiquette of the place, we dispatched a note requesting permission to see the grounds, announcing ourselves, in hopes of strengthening our claim, as American travellers. The ladies, however, were cruel, and answered, “it was not convenient to permit the place to be seen that day.” The landlady, who had overheard some words of French spoken among us, observed that the ladies were fond of the French language, and that, if we had petitioned in French, we should have been admitted. The hint came too late. Taking a guide, however, we were conducted round the hermitage. The house is on a road; it is high and narrow, and behindhand in point of taste to the present style of elegant cottages. The garden is very small, and, from a height which overlooks it, we could see nothing to make us regret not having been admitted. A former tourist, (I believe Madame de Genlis), gives a charming description of it, but as to us, the grapes were sour. French readers may wish to learn something of these ladies. Their story is understood to be, that with birth, beauty, and fortune, they embraced, in the prime of their youths, half a century ago, the romantic idea of consecrating the remainder of their lives to pure friendship, far from the world, its vanities, its pleasures, and its pains; and, literally running away from their families in Ireland, with a faithful woman servant, lately dead, they hid themselves in this then profound solitude, where they have lived ever since. The following inscription, I am informed, is placed in the garden:

Consacrer dans l’obscurite
Ses loisirs a l’etude, a l’amilie sa vie,
Voila des jours digues d’envie.
Etre cheri vaut mieux qu’etre vante.

The obscurity has long been dissipated; but the friendship, it is to be hoped, has survived.

Louis Simond (1767-1831)
Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain during the years 1810 and 1811
by a Native of France with Remarks on the Country, its Arts, Literature, Politics,
and on the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants.
(London, 1815), pp. 236

1811

Greta Hall, Keswick, October 13th, 1811

Mr Southey has deferred his thanks to the Ladies of Llangollen for the pleasure which he received in seeing the elegancies and partaking the hospitalities of their delightful retirement, till he could send them a poem upon which he is at present employed, long enough to be a specimen of its tone and manner and entire enough not to be injured by being seen as a fragment.  This portion has been written since his return, and was not completed till yesterday morning.  The ‘Roderick’ who appears in it is the hero of Walter Scott’s vision.  It will easily be seen that the author has written under a strong feeling of sympathy with the Spaniards in their present struggle.

Mrs Southey joins him in respectful compliments and thanks.

Robert Southey (1774-1843)
Hamwood Papers, pp. 344-345

1811, July

(18th July) Grand lion [of Llangollen] is the cottage of Lady Eleanor Butler

A lady
Cardiff Central Library
Ms 1.405, 18th July, 1811

* * *

1812

Three foreign ladies and a gentleman were in search of accommodation in Llangollen. The people at the inn asked the Ladies of Llangollen who offered to put them up, only to find that were relations of theirs.

[This is probably based on the newspaper account of them, published in 1790, see Mavor, Ladies of Llangollen, p. 74]

Plas Newydd, Ladies of Llangollen

The romantic history of these ladies rendered them objects of public curiosity, consequently the number of travellers who visited them during the summer months induced them to prohibit anyone being admitted unless a note was sent to them for permission to see the gardens, which consist of nothing more than a shaded walk around a sloping cwm, where a reading room is fancifully fitted up in the style of a grotto, and a stand to hold food for birds without depriving them of liberty … we saw both ladies they are en-bon-point. Lady E masculine in appearance. Each were in their usual style of dress  – the riding habit and round beaver hat.

Anon, (Woman from Sudbury, Suffolk, probably Henrietta Hurrell)
A Journey through England and Wales
John Rylands library, Manchester, Eng mss. 421, pp. 75-76

* * *

1814

About a quarter of a mile south of Llangollen is Plas Newydd, the charming retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, which, however, has of late years been probably too much intruded upon by the curiosity of the multitude of tourists who every summer visit Llangollen. {family back ground of the Ladies}. These two females, delighted with the scenery around Llangollen, when it was little known to the rest of the world, sought here a philosophical retirement from the frivolities of fashionable life, erected a dwelling that commands a fine mountain prospect, and have resided here ever since.

Rev. W. Bingley (1774-1823)
A tour round North Wales, performed during the summer of 1798…
1814 edition, pp. 424-5

1814

The name of Llangollen can never be mentioned without the idea of the two hermitesses of the vale being immediately present to the imagination. If curiosity induced a wish in me to visit their retreat, the fear of being intrusive withheld me from making the attempt. I was afterwards told that I need not have been so scrupulous, that they are rather pleased at finding their domain an object of attraction to strangers, only there are some regulations to be observed. One of these gave occasion to a whimsical circumstance ;—about the grounds are a number of inscriptions, which no one is allowed to copy. A gentleman visiting the place was apprized of this by the gardener; which, in the true spirit of Gay’s fable of the Old Hen and the Cock, only made him the more desirous of possessing himself of some of them. Good manners, however, withheld him from attempting to infringe the rule ; but quitting the grounds to take his departure, he observed an inscription on the outside of the gate, and being now without the territories he thought his honour no longer concerned ; but that here he might gratify his curiosity: this was the rather excited from [sic] the inscription being in Welsh, which he did not understand. He accordingly wrote it down, and submitted it to the first person he met whom he thought likely to understand the language, requesting an explanation. It was in truth the mountain in labour; the inscription meaning nor more nor less than Please to shut the gate ,- given in Welsh, as being more intelligible than English to the people of the country, whom it principally concerned.

In the inn at Llangollen I was again entertained by a harper, though I did not think him so good a performer as that I had heard at Holyhead. Had I then known an anecdote respecting him which I did not hear till afterwards, I should certainly have entered into conversation with him, as a character from whom some amusement might have been derived. He had been once harper to the ladies of Llangollen, but some difference arising between him and them he was discharged from his employment. In speaking of this affair afterwards to a gentleman, he said he intended to be even with them, for he would set up two romantic ladies in opposition to them who should quite put them down.

Anne Plumptre
Narrative of a Residence in Ireland during the summer
of 1814 and that of 1815, pp. 189-196

* * *

1815

Llangollen. Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, to whom we had a letter of introduction, showed us over their grounds which are prettily laid out and from some points command fine views of the vale, their cottage is most elegantly and curiously furnished.

{History of the Ladies of Llangollen}

Phillip Davies Cooke
Journals of Tours through France and N. Wales
National Library of Wales, ms. 17132A, pp. 343-344

1815, July

At Llangollen saw the outside of Lady Butler’s cottage and castle Dinas Bran.

Porter family (no first name)
Diary of trip from Birlingham on Monday July 17 1815 to Wales
Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 64(i) ref: 705:262

1815, August

26.8.1815 Saturday. Spent the afternoon with the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’

27.8.1815 Sunday. The whole of the church service was in Welch. –Spent this afternoon also with ‘the Ladies’

Mary Brunton (Scottish novelist; 1778-1818)
Emmeline, With Some Other Pieces published posthumously (1819)
and includes travel journal for Wales, 1815

https://ladiesofllangollen.wordpress.com/visitors/mary-brunton/

* * *

1816, October

2.10.1816 After breakfast we walked to the Bridge [at Llangollen] a very lovely scene, and made our way up to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby’s cottage and saw one of the Ladies who popped her head out of the window and answered a question which Mrs Hooper had asked the servant. This was in fact the view we most coveted & therefore we left the spot well satisfied though the rain prevented any destined sketch.

Mary Anne Hibbert
Gloucestershire Record Office, D1799 F320
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

* * *

1818

sought and were granted permission to visit the grounds of the Ladies of Llangollen

Anon, (probably E.C Campbell, [Eliza Constantia Campbell, nee Pryce]
wife of Robert Campbell, R.N.)

Journal of an Excursion in North Wales,
NLW, Gunley: Parcel I, pp. 8 and 10

1818

At Llangollen the celebrated Lady Eleanor Butler & Lady Ponsonby have found their abode. There is no view from their cottage it being placed directly opposite the mountains. The doorway is beautifully finished. These singular ladies have not slept out of their own beds for 40 years.

Harriet Alderson
Gwynedd Record Office, XM/2600

1818

{visited the churchyard – Miss Mary Carryl’s grave stone; transcription of the inscription. Brief comments on the arrival of the Ladies at Llangollen}

They at last fixed upon a cottage in the vale of Llangollen termed Plas Newydd … [it] is situated near the church. Upon our approach to the hall, the ladies in a most affable and condescending manner perfectly [rest of the page blank] according with their general demeanour. [sic] Desired their gardener to conduct us over their grounds. The cottage itself is remarkable, may [sic] singularly curious, the portico of which is all of carved work resembling mahogany of great antiquity, pieced together. There are four Pillars, two on each side the door formerly Bed posts. These Pillars from antiquity are a very great curiosity.

This interior of the cottage is neatness itself. Lady Eleanor and Miss Ponsonby are never seen either at home or abroad attired in any other habiliments than riding habits, their hair dress’d and powdered in every respect resembling the

Men of fashion as far as respects Dress. There is a small lawn before the cottage. After viewing and surveying minutely every particle of the exterior we walked over the grounds, through which runs a brook term’d Cuflynnyn. In one part of these gardens is a compact little Grotto in which is a small Library of Books. The productions of the most renown’d Writers both modern and antique here. These eccentric ladies resort to amuse their minds with the solace of (?) [the ? is in the typescript] near which stands another little grotto in which observed an Hour Glass placed upon the centre of the table evidently serving as an emblem of time which never stops to suit the convenience of thoughtless man. In this little Retreat was a choice depository of books likewise, near which is a well call’d Collam Well, the water of which is produced from a spring, in Welsh is termed Catlyn. In another part of these grounds is a beautiful greenhouse the front of which consists of beautiful stained glas

s. Within are a great variety of the productions of Nature. At the extremity of these gardens which are romantic and picturesque is a small water mill term’d Chirk mill, beyond which is another. These grounds under the superintendence of a gardener are laid out in a very tasty manner abounding with the multifarious objects of nature of various forms and hues interspersed in regular order reflecting just praise and credit upon the owners for their nice discrimination of taste. Here retirement may be enjoyed in perfect tranquillity, remote from the cares of a busy, bustling crowd that frequently annoy a peacefully disposed citizen, occasionally breaking in upon his gentle hours of repose view him closely pursued by some intriguing Vision o’ertaken haunting his Brain infusing into his mind some

Plan, some speculative Plan, wherein he may derive great advantage of fortune behold him against launching out into the wider ocean of business overtaken by a storm and perhaps in an unexpected moment, Shipwrecked his powerful accumulation of wealth and riches vanished from his view, his plans and designs frustrates … But here within this peaceful Vale you are away from these bewildering cares which pester the walls of cities. …

G.H. Steele, A Three Weeks Tour into Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales, 1818
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies D 4457/1 (original ms)
Cheshire Local Studies Collection, CRO/3212 (bound transcript) pp. 28-31

 * * *

Llangollen, The King’s Head Inn, 1819  

The inn was started in opposition to the Hand by the Lady Butler and Hon. Miss Ponsonby having taken offence at the disinclination of the landlord of the Hand to meet the general wish of visitors by keeping a Harper. Here I was received by Mary’s favourite Welsh tune, “The March of the Men of Harlech”.

Mary Carryl was the housekeeper of Lady E Butler and Miss Ponsonby, two old maids whose estate is just near the village – they have lived here upwards of [blank] years and never have been out of riding habits – they never sleep out of their own beds, are very kind to the poor, but if offended inveterate enemies, a proof of which is their quarrel with the landlord of the Hand to ruin whom they are advancing Davies, the landlord of this house, money to rebuild his house, on a scale that is s??? of attracting the custom of visitors.

{A fellow guest was a stone mason from Wrexham who was putting up marble chimney pieces for Miss Butler.}

Captain Jenkin Jones, R.N.
Tour in England and Wales, May – June, 1819.
National Library of Wwales, MS785A, pp. 125, 129, 130

1819, June

14.6.1819 In the afternoon we visited, by permission, the beautiful and romantic grounds of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby; there is in this celebrated spot all that can charm and delight the eye, and the elegant taste of the owners is very conspicuous in every part of it. In the churchyard of Llangollen there is a pretty simple tomb, with an inscription to a faithful servant of these ladies, who appears, by all accounts, to have been deservedly dear to them.

Lines To the Memory of a faithful servant, at Plas-Newydd, by Lady E Butler

Releas’d from earth and all its transient woes,
She, whose remains beneath this stone repose,
Steadfast in faith, resign’d her parting breath,
Look’d up with Christian joy, and smile’d in death
Patient, Industrious, Faithful, Gen’rous, Kind,
Her conduct left the proudest far behind.
Her Virtues dignified her humble birth,
And Rais’d her mind above this sorded earth.
Attachment (sacred bond of grateful breasts)
Extingfuish’d but with life, this tomb attests,
Rear’d by two Friends, who will her loss bemoan

‘Till with Her Ashes – Here shall rest Their own

note in pen at bottom of page:

‘Lady Eleanor Butler died June 1829 and was buried in the grave with her faithful servant.’

Mrs Elizabeth Selwyn (1824, 1830)
Journal of Excursions through the most interesting parts of
England, Wales and Scotland, during the Summers and Autumns
of 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822 and 1823, (London, 1824), p. 26

1819, June

18.6.1819 (Friday) ‘(anniversary of Waterloo)’

‘Addressed a note to the Rt. Hon Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby requesting to see the grounds at Plas Newydd. In the course of quarter of an hour we received a polite message stating that we were at liberty to visit the grounds and that the gardener was in waiting to conduct us through them.’

‘These Ladies … are pretty well known to the gay world though they are retired from it.’

William Gerard Walmesley
‘Journal of a Pedestrian Tour made in north Wales during the month
of June, 1819, by William Gerard Walmesley and William Latham.’
London Metropolitan Archives, CLC/521/MS00477, pp. 104-105

1819, September

22.9.1819 Visit to the Ladies  quantity of curious old carved oak both outside & inside of their house dates on some 1200. large piece from Speke hall Lancashire brought there by Cl. Norris plunderer of Stirling castle after battle of Flodden.

Profusion of books curiosities of all sorts amazing rapid growth of trees all around the house planted since 79 immense beech at entrance of parterre planted in 82 beautiful walk by river side torrent overhung with magnificent wych trees beautiful views of bare hills opposite distant mountains further down the vale & behind the town stupendous abrupt rise of Dinas Bran.

Lady Philadelphia Cotton (wife of Sir Charles Cotton)
Tour through North Wales
Cambridgeshire County Record Office, 588/F48, pp. 1-2

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