1825-1828

1825

I also saw two English ladies, who came to see me without letters of introduction, and whom I received solely from their pleasing countenances; they are sisters, and are called Clorinda and Georgiana Byrne; they told me a great many particulars concerning my friends of Langollen, Eleonora [sic] Butler and Miss Ponsonby, who still remain on the top of their mountain, but they were menaced with a great misfortune, Miss Ponsonby has the dropsy, so that one of them will survive the other. These heroines of friendship, who have lived for thirty years in this secluded spot, have never slept out of it a single time. I learned with pleasure that they had not forgotten me; they always kept in their drawing-room a small miniature of Mademoiselle d’Orleans, which I had given them, along with my profile in miniature, given them by my niece Henriette, and they showed these ladies all my works in their library, magnificently bound.

Stéphanie Félicité Genlis (comtesse de)
Memoirs of the Countess de Genlis: illustrative of the history of the
history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Volume 6 (1825), pp. 185-6

1825, July

22: We visited Lady E Butler’s residence a very pretty small cottage and went over the garden which much disappointed us. She and Miss Ponsonby have now resided here 46 years and have only female domestics excepting the gardener. They are said to be exceedingly charitable and seem to be much beloved and respected in the village where they are always spoken of as “the Ladies”.

Eliza Spurrett
The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland, 7D542/1

1825, August

Our progress through North Wales produced nothing worth recording, except perhaps the feeling of delight which everything in the aspect of the common people, their dress, their houses, their gardens, and their husbandry, could not fail to call up in persons who had just been seeing Ireland for the first time; and a short visit (which was, indeed, the only one he [Sir Walter Scott] made) to the far-famed “ladies” of Llangollen.  They had received some hint that Sir Walter meant to pass their way; and on stopping at the inn, he received an invitation so pressing, to add one more to the long list of the illustrious visitors of their retreat, that it was impossible for him not to comply.  We had read histories and descriptions enough of these romantic spinsters, and were prepared to be well amused; but the reality surpassed all expectation.

John Gibson Lockhart
The Life of Sir Walter Scott

Also in John Hinklin, ‘The Ladies of Llangollen, as sketched by many hands; with notices of other objects of interest in that sweetest of vales’, (Chester, 1847), p. 26-28.

Also from Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, with proviso that the editor was “far from vouching for the accuracy” of the gossip he forwarded to his wife:

24.8.1825

We slept on Wednesday evening at Capel Curig, which Sir W. [Sir Walter Scott] supposes to mean the Chapel of the Crags; a pretty little inn in a most picturesque situation certainly, and as to the matter of toasted cheese, quite exquisite.  Next day we advanced through, I verily believe, the most perfect gem of a country eye ever saw, having almost all the wildness of Highland backgrounds, and all the loveliness of rich English landscape nearer us, and streams like the purest and most babbling of our own.

At Llangollen your papa was waylaid by the celebrated ‘Ladies’—viz. Lady Eleanor Butler and the Honourable Miss Ponsonby, who having been one or both crossed in love, forswore all dreams of matrimony in the heyday of youth, beauty, and fashion, and selected this charming spot for the repose of their now time-honoured virginity.  It was many a day, however, before they could get implicit credit for being the innocent friends they really were, among the people of the neighbourhood; for their elopement from Ireland had been performed under suspicious circumstances; and as Lady Eleanor arrived here in her natural aspect of a pretty girl, while Miss Ponsonby had condescended to accompany her in the garb of a smart footman in buckskin breeches, years and years elapsed ere full justice was done to the character of their romance. We proceeded up the hill, and found everything about them and their habitation odd and extravagant beyond report.  Imagine two women, one apparently seventy, the other sixty-five, dressed in heavy blue riding habits, enormous shoes, and men’s hats, with their petticoats so tucked up, that at the first glance of them, fussing and tottering about their porch in the agony of expectation, we took them for a couple of hazy or crazy old sailors.  On nearer inspection they both wear a world of brooches, rings, &c., and Lady Eleanor positively orders—several stars and crosses, and a red ribbon, exactly like a K.C.B.  To crown all, they have crop heads, shaggy, rough, bushy, and as white as snow, the one with age alone, the other assisted by a sprinkling of powder.  The elder lady is almost blind, and every way much decayed; the other, the ci-devant groom, in good preservation.  But who could paint the prints, the dogs, the cats, the miniatures, the cram of cabinets, clocks, glass-cases, books, bijouterie, dragon-china, nodding mandarins, and whirligigs of every shape and hue—the whole house outside and in (for we must see everything to the dressing-closets), covered with carved oak, very rich and fine some of it—and the illustrated copies of Sir W.’s poems, and the joking simpering compliments about Waverley, and the anxiety to know who McIvor really was, and the absolute devouring of the poor Unknown, who had to carry off, besides all the rest, one small bit of literal butter dug up in a Milesian stone jar lately from the p. 28bottom of some Irish bog.  Great romance (i.e. absurd innocence of character) one must have looked for; but it was confounding to find this mixed up with such eager curiosity, and enormous knowledge of the tattle and scandal of the world they had so long left.  Their tables were piled with newspapers from every corner of the kingdom, and they seemed to have the deaths and marriages of the antipodes at their fingers’ ends.  Their albums and autographs, from Louis XVIII. and George IV., down to magazine poets and quack-doctors, are a museum.  I shall never see the spirit of blue-stockingism again in such perfect incarnation.  Peveril won’t get over their final kissing match for a week.  Yet it is too bad to laugh at these good old girls; they have long been the guardian angels of the village, and are worshipped by man, woman, and child about them.

John Gibson Lockhart, letter to his wife (daughter of Sir Walter Scott)
in Elizabeth Mavor, A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen, p. 162-3

1825, October

[Transcription note: This was difficult to read. Words followed immediately by ? are probable, but uncertain transcriptions. Other ? marks indicate the number of letters in an illegible word]

31.10.1825

Wrote a note to the Ladies par excellence to beg permission to see their grounds, which being granted we set out & after walking through the town, & then along a dirty lane, arrived at the gate of the sacred precincts. Near the door of the cottage, we found the gardener prepared to shew us as much of that little world as is visible to strangers, & the Ladies are very liberal in allowing you to pass close to all their window. The cottage itself is very small to? the front and is enclosed within a narrow bit of garden on that side, in front of which is a field surrounded by trees, a public road passing through it not however, enclosed within walls or hedges so that the view from the windows is not much spoilt? by it. The house is extremely pretty but its chief ornament on this side is a portico, or rather porch of the most beautiful dark carved wood, the roof of the porch, the door, the pillars, the seats within it, are all made of it as are the ornaments round the lower windows on each? the doors? It is quite singular and the effect is quite the prettiest thing I ever saw, besides the ornaments in the front of the house there are many doors? and bits of the same carving about the place and a beautiful curved seat in the grounds with a table, bookcase? pillars and ornaments exactly like a stall stolen out of an old cathedral all beautifully carved in solid ???? I think ??? that there must have been sacrilege for the whole resembles what is called tabernacle work, though not of the most delicate sort. The carving is rather heavy but very pretty and perhaps only appears ????? from the comparative smallness of the objects it ornaments – We were delighted with the place and were surprised to find what an extent of ornamented ground it possesses as much, the gardener told us as 13 or 14 acres – Crossing the little garden close by the porch and the windows, we went first into a walk that led us to the little carved? wood hermitage I mentioned which over looks a very pretty winding flowing? brook which runs through all the domain and is its great feature – beyond the brook is a beautiful view of part of the Llangollen valley and the hills which surround it. From this walk you are conducted to others which are contrived with much taste to convey you to all the pretty points about the grounds – Little rustic bridges carry you first to one side of the brook, then the other, you go out of the narrow shaded dell through which it runs to seats and pavilions from whence you have fine views of the open country, everywhere there is variety and really a great deal of very pretty taste, ??? – most has been made of every yard of ground and yet there is nothing crowded or affected – I was much more pleased than I expected with everything, the flower garden is very pretty as is a little greenhouse and numbers of other bijoux – There were books in some of the seats and in one very dark little grotto? one of them was “Pieces galorites”?  – There were pretty fowls about – in short it altogether what it has always been called in the “Guides” “a very elegant retreat” … The ladies did not steal their carving out of churches, but bought it fairly out of old farmhouses, or cottages or wherever it was to be had piecemeal and ??? it afterwards disposed of as we saw – it required much taste to use? it so well –

Ann Atherton
Tour North Wales and Cardiganshire
National Library of Wales, 20366B
[Transcribed in part by Liz Pitman]

1826

On Monday morning we dispatched a note to Lady E Butler & Miss Ponsonby for permission to see their grounds & gardens at Plas Newydd, & it being immediately answered by a request we would go whenever it was most convenient to ourselves, we went about 11 o’clock. We were much pleased with the exterior of their little cottage & the tasty way in which the plantations & grounds were laid out. All has been planned by themselves & the Hermitage, pretty summer house, etc. made under their directions by the village carpenter.

Lady Crewe
Journal in Wales
National Library of Wales, NLW 21746 B

1827

We breakfasted there with Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby. They have got the most delightful cottage that ever I was in, and quite full of pretty things.

Eleanor Bagot (aged 12)
National Library of Wales, Bachymbyd collection, Uncatalogued
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1827, July 5

{Seek permission to go to Plas Newydd and get reply that gardener prepared to attend them.}

‘The house is only two stories high, white but having over the door & over the windows handsome Gothic carvings of dark oak & the figures are well cut. These projections not only protect the greenhouse plants but also form a beautiful ornament. The grounds are filled with mossy seats & grottoes & little nooks quite retired or open spots with prospects & a rivulet forming a little cascade so that all kinds of Alpine beauties are here met with in miniature.

Lady Eleanor is about 90 years old & her companion 70 both having good health & spend much time in the open air but from their advanced age they no longer see strangers nor do they go to church but the Minister attends them every Sunday.

Judith Beecroft
Excursion to North Wales
Cardiff Central Library, MS2.325
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1827, September

1.9.1827 Saturday

After dinner we walked out to discover the retired residence of the far famed Lady E Butler and Miss Ponsonby, which we were astonished to find in so public a situation, having a road close by the house a complete thoroughfare; from the imaginative picture our fancy had drawn we were upon the whole disappointed with the reality, it certainly is prettily situated and the windows and doors are curiously carved and like the stalls in a Cathedral, they are supposed to be from a church and we were told that Mrs Coutts the present Duchess of St Albans [Harriot Beauclerk, Duchess of St Albans (née Mellon; 1777 – 1837, the wife of banker Thomas Coutts then William Beauclerk, 9th Duke of St Albans] gave the ladies a great deal of it, the roof is a common modern slate one which does not harmonise with the rest of the cottage, a thatch would have been by far more unique, green house plants were tastily arranged in the front of the house, but being late we did not ask for admittance, but sauntered back to the hotel.

Eliza Rand?, Tour of North Wales, 1827
National Museum of Wales, 207044, pp. 37-38

1827

[This guide book is dedicated to the Ladies]

Plas Newydd, situated at the east end of the town of Llangollen, has long been the residence of two eminently distinguished ladies, the Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and the Hon. Miss Ponsonby, who came to Llangollen, and after a time purchased the domain, and planted and decorated the grounds. It has attained its present beauty under their own superintendence. Many years have elapsed since these ladies withdrew from the world, to which, from their rank and accomplishments, they would have been distinguished ornaments, and secluded themselves in this beautiful retreat, where they have uniformly been the benefactresses of the poor, the encouragers of the industrious, and the friends of all their neighbourhood. The peculiar taste and beauty with which these noble and highly distinguished ladies have decorated and adorned both the exterior and the interior of their far-famed retreat, excites universal admiration from the first characters and families, who are continually visiting them. A palisade, ornamented with antique and grotesque figures, carved in oak, encloses the front, before which a profusion of the choisest flowers and shrubs is tastefully arranged. The entrance and the windows which are formed after the manner of ancient religious houses, are decorated with carving in the same material. The entrance door is unique, and a great curiosity, being beautifully ornamented with well-polished carved figures; the whole of which are of black oak, and kept particularly bright, giving the retreat a very uncommon appearance. The entrance-hall, stairs, and passages, are chastely in character; and the windows are ornamented with painted glass in the most appropriate manner.

The gardens, in which nature and art are judiciously united, are extensive, and display much taste. The thick and umbrageous foliage of the lofty forest trees, that occupy a part of the lawn and gardens, is the safe asylum of numerio9us birds, which in this calm seclusion revel unmolested. A pair of beautiful wood owls have found a safe and quiet shelter in the trunk of an old ivy covered tree; and on a lawn a little further is erected a little moss-covered alcove, furnished with a few well selected books : it is nearly in the centre of the garden, and is open in front. The confidence of the birds is shown by some of them every year building their nests in this recess: indeed, these airy inhabitants appear to be quite tame and familiarized by the kindness of their amiable protectors. I believe the birds have much the larger portion of the produce of these beautiful gardens as none of them are suffered to be molested. Through the lower part of the shrubbery, a brook, called Cyflymen ‘ i.e. Speedy, murmurs o’er its pebbly bed, and is crossed by a rustic bridge, which leads to a bank covered with lichens, and furnished with appropriate seats, near which rises a pure fountain, whose waters are as clear as the chrystal glasses which ornament its margin; in short, the beauty of the scenery, aided by a little enthusiasm, might inspire the idea that

“Here in the cool grot and mossy cell,
The rural fays and fairies dwell:
Though rarely seen by mortal eye,
When the pale moon, ascending high,
Darts through yon limes her quiv’ring beams,
They frisk it near these crystal streams.”

The carved stone brought from the Abbey Crucis, and mentioned as being dug up at the time the bodies were discovered, stands near the entrance.

W.T. Simpson
Some Account of Llangollen and its Vicinity (1827)
pp. 188-192

1828

Brief reference to the Ladies, and long extract of a description of them by Anna Seward.

The History of North Wales:
Comprising a Topographical Description
Volume 2, pp. 175-176

{visit the Anna Seward page on this blog}

1828

Llangollen much resorted to by strangers, two rent houses in the vicinity one belonging to Lady Emily [sic] Butler in the cottage style but highly fantastical in its ornaments in the midst of well laid out grounds on an eminence above the town.

Anon
A journal, with sketches, of a walking tour from Kington
to Aberystwyth and through parts of North Wales, 1828
National Library of Wales MS 6716D, f. 38v

1828, July

Before I left Llangollen I recollected the two celebrated ladies who have inhabited this valley for more than half a century, and of whom I had heard once as a child, and again recently in London.  You have doubtless heard your father talk of them;—‘si non, voilà leur histoire.’  Fifty-six years ago, two young, pretty and fashionable ladies, Lady Eleanor Butler, and the daughter of the late Lord Ponsonby, took it in their heads to hate men, to love only each other, and to live from that hour in some remote hermitage.  The resolution was immediately executed; and from that time neither lady has ever passed a night out of their cottage.  On the other hand, no one who is presentable travels in Wales unprovided with an introduction to them.  It is affirmed that the ‘scandal’ of the great world interests them as much as when they lived in it; and that their curiosity to know what passes has preserved all its freshness.  I had compliments to deliver to them from several ladies, but I had neglected to furnish myself with a letter.  I therefore sent my card, determined if they declined my visit, as I was led to fear, to storm the cottage.  Here, as elsewhere, however, in England, a title easily opened the door, and I immediately received a gracious invitation to a second breakfast.  Passing along a charming road, through a trim and pretty pleasure-ground, in a quarter of an hour I reached a small but tasteful gothic cottage, situated directly opposite to Dinas Bran, various glimpses of which were visible through openings cut in the trees.  I alighted, and was received at the door by the two ladies.  Fortunately I was already prepared by hearsay for their peculiarities; I might otherwise have found it difficult to repress some expression of astonishment.  Imagine two ladies, the eldest of whom, Lady Eleanor, a short robust woman, begins to feel her years a little, being now eighty-three; the other, a tall and imposing person, esteems herself still youthful, being only seventy-four.  Both wore their still abundant hair combed straight back and powdered, a round man’s hat, a man’s cravat and waistcoat, but in the place of ‘inexpressibles,’ a short petticoat and boots: the whole covered by a coat of blue cloth, of a cut quite peculiar,—a sort of middle term between a man’s coat and a lady’s riding-habit.  Over this, Lady Eleanor wore, first, the grand cordon of the order of St. Louis across her shoulder; secondly, the same order around her neck; thirdly, the small cross of the same in her button-hole, and ‘pour comble de gloire,’ a golden lily of nearly the natural size, as a star,—all, as she said, presents of the Bourbon family.  So far the whole effect was somewhat ludicrous.  But now, you must imagine both ladies with that agreeable ‘aisance,’ that air of the world of the ‘ancien regime,’ courteous and entertaining, without the slightest affectation; speaking French as well as any Englishwoman of my acquaintance; and above all, with that essentially polite, unconstrained, and simply cheerful manner of the good society of that day, which, in our serious hardworking age of business, appears to be going to utter decay.  I was really affected with a melancholy sort of pleasure in contemplating it in the persons of the amiable old ladies who are among the last of its living representatives; nor could I witness without lively sympathy the unremitting, natural and affectionate attention with which the younger treated her somewhat infirmer friend, and anticipated all her wants.  The charm of such actions lies chiefly in the manner in which they are performed,—in things which appear small and insignificant, but which are never lost upon a susceptible heart.

I began by saying that I esteemed myself fortunate in being permitted to deliver to the fair recluses the compliments with which I was charged by my grandfather, who had had the honour of visiting them fifty years ago.  Their beauty indeed they had lost, but not their memory: they remembered the C— C— very well, immediately produced an old memorial of him, and expressed their wonder that so young a man was dead already.  Not only the venerable ladies, but their house, was full of interest; indeed it contained some real treasures.  There is scarcely a remarkable person of the last half century who has not sent them a portrait or some curiosity or antique as a token of remembrance.  The collection of these, a well-furnished library, a delightful situation, an equable, tranquil life, and perfect friendship and union,—these have been their possessions; and if we may judge by their robust old age and their cheerful temper, they have not chosen amiss.

Prince Puckler-Muskau
Tour in England, Ireland, and France
in the years 1828, 1829, 1832

(1832, 2 vols; 1842, 4 vols)

Also published in John Hinklin,  ‘The Ladies of Llangollen, as sketched by many hands; with notices of other objects of interest in that sweetest of vales’, (Chester, 1847), pp. 30-33

Elizabeth Mavor, A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen, p. 143 (which includes an initial paragraph not published by Hinklin)

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