1820-1824

1820

PLAS NEWYDD, a small but elegant mansion, which has for many years been the residence of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, both of whom allied to Irish families of distinction, prefer the simplicity of a rural life to the gaieties and fashionable frivolities of the age. It must not be understood that they are secluded from the world, for they are on terms of intimacy and reciprocal intercourse with the most distinguished people in the neighbourhood. The grounds of Plas Newydd are extremely interesting, and display all the taste for which – the proprietors are so justly celebrated.

Samuel Leigh
A new picture of England and Wales
[Guide Book] (1820)

1820, September

Oswestry, Sept. 4th, 1820

The dear inseparable inimitables, Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, were in the boxes here on Friday. They came twelve miles from Llangollen, and returned, as they never sleep from home. Oh, such curiosities! I was nearly convulsed. I could scarcely get on for the first ten minutes after my eye caught them. Though I had never seen them, I instantaneously knew them. As they are seated, there is not one point to distinguish them from men: the dressing and powdering of the hair; their well-starched neckcloths; the upper part of their habits, which they always wear, even at a dinner-party, made precisely like men

’s coats; and regular black beaver men’s hats. They looked exactly like two respectable superannuated old clergymen; one the picture of Boruwlaski. I was highly flattered, as they never were in the theatre before. [….]

I have to-day received an invitation to call, if I have time as I pass, at Llangollen, to receive in due form, from the dear old gentlemen called Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, their thanks for the entertainment I afforded them at the theatre.

Porkington, Oct. 24th

Well, I have seen them, heard them, touched them. The pets, ‘the ladies,’ as they are called, dined here yesterday — Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, the curiosities of Llangollen mentioned by Miss Seward in her letters, about the year 1760. I mentioned to you in a former letter the effect they produced upon me in public, but never shall I forget the first burst yesterday upon entering the drawing-room: to find the dear antediluvian darlings, attired for dinner in the same manified dress, with the Croix de St. Louis, and other orders, and myriads of large brooches, with stones large enough for snuff-boxes, stuck into their starched neckcloths! I have not room to describe their most fascinating persons. I have an invitation from them, which I much fear I cannot accept. They returned home last night, fourteen miles, after twelve o’clock. They have not slept one night from home for above forty years. I longed to put Lady Eleanor under a bell-glass, and bring her to Highgate, for you to look at. To-morrow night I give a night here to Stanton, a poor manager. On Thursday, Litchfield; Saturday, Cheltenham; and then for home; dear home, dear Nancy and Charles!

Letters from Charles Mathews
Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian (1839), vol. III, pp. 150-151, 157-8

1821, July

15.7.1821 (Sunday)

to Plas Newydd, a place normally lionised but which they didn’t think would have gained any celebrity except as being the residence of those very wise and very foolish ladies.

Anon, (possibly one of the Yonge /Younge family of Puslinch, Devon)
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office 308/41/2, p. 29

1821, September

5.9.1821 (Wednesday)

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 than the reign of Charles 1st.  They have been four years in forming it the different pieces having been given them by several friends, nothing could equal their civility and attention, they 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 well informed women.  Their dress is very singular they wear their [hair] cut short and powdered, men’s hats, and a sort of riding habit. We left Llangollen at three o’clock…

Mary Gosling, Roehampton Grove (private diary)
Duke University

1821, September

6.9.1821 (Thursday)

‘After ordering dinner, we went with the letters Mrs Tracy [possibly Hon Henrietta Tracy of Pontypool Park, Monmouthshire] had given us to call upon “the Ladies” – Lady Elinor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, two old ladies who live at a cottage near Llangollen – It is a charming place; it is beautifully ornamented with carved oak and both out and inside – which they themselves have collected – they are delightful people, and are always called “the Ladies” . They begged us to come in the evening, which we did [after dinner they went to Valle Crucis abbey then back to the Ladies] their rooms are full of pictures, trinkets etc. – they are acquainted with everybody and everything – They are great friends of Lord Londonderry and have writing with the Duke of Wellington they gave me – they are the nicest people I ever saw, so droll. ‘

Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan, (1803-1888) of Tredegar, Monmouthshire
Journal of a tour through North Wales – 1821
Society of Antiquaries of London,
OCTAVIUS MORGAN SAL/MS/680, fols. 20v-39v

Transcription and notes in Dai Morgan Evans, Octavius Morgan : journal of a tour through North Wales in 1821, Archaeologia Cambrensis, vol 160, (2011), 235-263

1821, October

6.10.1821 (Saturday)

{Visited Plas Newydd but didn’t go into the house}

J. D. Dickinson
Journal of a tour in Wales, September-October, 1821
NLW, mss. 15569 B, p. 98

1821

The Marquis Wellesley

On Monday night, slept at Worcester, on Tuesday dined and slept at Brynkinalt. On Wednesday morning,… after visiting Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby near Llangollen, he proceeded to Cernioge … on his way to Dublin.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser
(Dublin, Ireland), Friday, December 28, 1821

1822

Soon after our arrival we walked to Plas Newydd the celebrated cottage and residence of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. We did not ask admittance as we had no letter of introduction. The cottage is small and certainly pretty but not in such a romantic spot as I should have imagined Llangollen might have afforded. The story of these ladies is well known. About 50 years since Lady Eleanor Butler fled from her father Lord Ormond’s house in Ireland to avoid a match she did not like accompanied by her friend Miss Ponsonby. In this sequestered spot they remained some time concealed and have lived here ever since in ‘single blessedness’ devoted to the pursuits of literature and they are always spoken of by those who have had the pleasure of gratifying their curiosity by an introduction to them as extremely amiable, well informed, agreeable but certainly eccentric old ladies. I heard from Mr Hatchet that they wear the Welsh hat abroad but at home have only their time-snowed tresses flowing over their shoulders and I think are always in riding habits. Their characters are very opposite – one always L’Allegro, the other Penseroso.

M.P. (Martha Porter?)
Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940/64ii705:262
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1822

Plas Newydd, in the cottage style, fitted up by its occupiers, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. The former is of the Ormond family, and both, disappointed or disgusted with fashionable life, have here fixed their residence. The rooms, allowed to be inspected by strangers, are elegantly fitted up, and ornamented with drawings of the most picturesque spots in the vicinity. The window of the dining-room commands a prospect of the mountains, and from the study, containing a good selection of modern books, appear the well arranged plantations adjoining.

Anon
An account of the principal pleasure tours

in England and Wales. Illustrated by maps and views (1822), p. 227

1822, July

23.7.1822

[At Llangollen] Mrs Davies [of the inn?] came into our rooms to answer our inquiries after Lady Eleanor Butler. Mrs Davies was called up at one last night and they thought her ladyship would have died. She was, however, rather better this morning. … Miss Ponsonby, too, is alarmed and ill herself, on this account. Pain in her side. Mrs Davies … had always seen them ‘so attached, so amiable together’ no two people ever lived more happily. They like all the people about them, are beloved by all and do a great deal of good. Lady Eleanor (about 80) has the remains of beauty. Miss Ponsonby (10 or 12 years younger) was a very fine woman. The damp this bad account cast upon my spirits I cannot describe. I am interested about these 2 ladies very much. There is a something in their story and in all I have heard about them here that, added to other circumstances makes a deep impression. … Mrs Davies being going to enquire after Lady Eleanor Butler … [and] brought a good account of her ladyship and a message of thanks for our inquiries from Miss Ponsonby who will be glad to see me this evening to thank me in person. … At 7 went to Plasnewydd and got back at 8…. Shown into the room next the library, the breakfast room … then came Miss Ponsonby. A large woman so as to waddle in walking but, tho, not taller than myself.  In a blue, shortish-waisted cloth habit, the jacket unbuttoned showing a plain plaited frilled habit shirt – a thick white cravat, rather loosely put on – hair powdered, parted, I think down the middle in front, cut a moderate length all round and hanging straight, tolerably thick. The remains of a very fine face. Coarsish white cotton stockings. Ladies slipper shoes cut right down, the foot hanging a little over. Altogether a very odd figure. {more on her character} … certainly not masculine  … {Lady Eleanor’s three operations [for a cataract?], discussions of books- they read French Spanish and Italian, but not Latin or Greek. …}

[She] showed me the kitchen garden. Walked around the shrubbery with me. {brief history of the way the Ladies found the cottage} Said it had been their humble endeavour to make the place as old as they could. … Asked if they had never quarrelled. ‘No!’ … Little differences of opinions sometimes. Life could not go on without it, but only about the planting of a tree …

Anne Lister (1791-1840)
Helena Whitbread (ed.), I know my own heart.
The diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840
, (1988), pp. 200-204

West Yorkshire (Bradford), SH:7/ML/TR/11; RAM 52-76 and 78-9

1824

Llangollen … walked to see the residence of the venerable blues – a little close pent up cottage with the fine vale carefully shut out. We were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the ladies now rather advanced in years; their grey hair hanging from beneath their Welch hats and habits made one doubt their sex, but at all events stamped them as oddities … walked home … receiving by the way a Welch lesson from our little guides who, by the bye were rather beggars, … They seemed to know but little of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, who they said had not been in the town [Llangollen] for many years. … We afterwards walked again thro’ the ladies grounds and had an excellent view and a bow from the oddities as they were walking uncovered in the front of their cottage, their grey powdered locks hanging down their backs. One of them had a red ribbon slung across her which we were told was an order presented by some foreign prince.

Margaret Martineau
Hampshire Record Office, 83M93/21, p. 3
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1824

[Wordsworth and his friend Jones visited the Ladies and wrote a poem about them, published in 1827.]

Glyn Cafaillgarock, in the Cambrian tongue,
In ours the Vale of Friendship, let this spot
Be name’d where faithful to a low roof’d Cot
On Deva’s banks, ye have abose so long
Sisters in love, a love allowed to climb
Ev’n on this earth, above the reach of time

Sara Jones
Plas Newydd and the Ladies
Llangollen Blue Guide Series
15th edition, 1977, p. 3

1824

Almost contiguous to, and overlooking the town of Llangollen, is the charming retired residence of the Rt Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, called Plas Newydd. The rooms are elegantly fitted up, and ornamented with good drawings, and one of them contains an excellent library. The window of the dining rooms commands a prospect of the mountains, and from the study appears the well-arranged plantations adjoining. From a compartment of stained glass in this window, the tower of Llangollen church produces a beautiful tinted appearance. The plantations intercept a view of the town . Dinas Bran Castle forms a fine back scene from the walks. Nature has been favourable, but art has also contributed greatly to the improvements of these grounds. Many are the embellishments which have been superadded, particularly an elegant door-way or ENTRANCE, composed of turned wood columns, in the style of the furniture of the sixteenth century. The whole is ornamented with highly finished carvings, which have been collected from ancient houses in different parts of the kingdom, and fitted together with great ingenuity and taste. These decorate almost every part of the interior as well as exterior parts of the house. The GARDENS are laid out with great judgement, and the PLEASURE-GROUNDS are particularly interesting. The walks are pleasingly diversified, and the hermitages, temples, grottos, seats, etc. which occur, communicate ideas, the most sublime and tranquillizing. Some of these contain interesting selections of popular books. A tributary stream to the river Dee winds gracefully through the grounds, interrupted in some places by rocky beds, producing that agreeable murmur which adds to the romantic inspiration of these solitudes. The interior of the house has not been open to strangers since the year 1815.

Samuel Nicholson and George Nicholson
Plâs Newydd and Vale Crucis Abbey correctly drawn from nature, (1824)
National Library of Wwales BV138, p. 11

This volume contains print no. 5 ‘Entrance to Plâs Newydd’ [Details of the timberwork on the entrance porch] and print no. 6 ‘Plâs Newydd’ [showing the south-east façade with very plain porch]

12 July 1824

We walked over to Plas Newydd (having previously, as is customary sent a note to request permission) the celebrated cottage of Lady E Butler and Miss Ponsonby and were highly gratified with viewing the elegant display of taste evinced by them in laying out their pleasure grounds.

John George Lockett
A tour through North Wales

12th July 1824 (Monday), NLW MS 23939B, f. 10

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