1830s & Beyond
Plas Newydd is a small house of very ordinary appearance built of stone slated roof it has been attempted to assimilate it into the surrounding scenery for this purpose a gingerbread sort of gothic porch has been stuck on whose only merit is the grotesque oak carving about it the windows above by the aid of woodwork are formed into a bow with pointed arches the mullions or partitions of which are painted white the glass badly stained here and there with patches of yellow, green and red, a little wooden railing before the door on which is the figure of a cat or some nondescript quadruped between which is placed a rampant figure something between a dog and a lion holding a shield on which is depicted the fac simile of himself. The house is placed above a lawn at one end of a semi-circular piece of ground surrounded with a belt of trees and so situated that there is no other view from it but high and bleak hills which rise up immediately before it and placed in another part of the same field it would have taken in a much finer view. A glimpse of the vale Dinas Bran, a little of the town together with the bold outline of the mountains. In fact I suppose Plas Newydd derived its chief celebrity from the circumstance of its being inhabited by these romantic ladies, its late possessors for I much doubt that there was a spice of romance in the feeling which prompted this early seclusion and abandonment of the world, this devotion of friendship, which derived a charm also from its singularity and rarity and perhaps after having taken this singular step and knowing that fame had buisited[?] it abroad, they were too proud to own to the world that they had mistaken the heated and enthusiastic feelings of youth for realities or to strery[?] them by their conduct those trite observations on the fickleness of the female character. [Lady Eleanor Butler died in 1829; Miss Ponsonby in December, 1831]
Tour of north Wales, 1830s
National Library of Wales
R.K.Lucas Papers nos 1951, pp. 10-11
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The history of the late occupants of this beautiful little cottage is at variance with the censure of the poet’s Angelina on the quality of friendship. Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Ormond, was born in Dublin, and almost from her cradle had been an orphan. Wealthy, beautiful, and nobly sprung, her hand was sought by persons of rank and fortune equal to her own; but to all addresses of that description she expressed at once her disinclination. Although she openly avowed this taste for independence, no woman was ever more distinguished for mildness, modesty, and all those feminine graces which adorn and give interest to the sex. Miss Ponsonby, a member of the noble family of Besborough, had been an early associate of Lady Eleanor; and, possibly, it may have contributed in some degree to cement their growing friendship, the incidental circumstance of both having been born in the same city, upon the same day and year, and being both bereaved of their parents at precisely the same period. Minds of so much sensibility soon mistook their fancies for realities, and rapidly concluding that they were destined for a life of independence, at the early age of seventeen vowed eternal friendship and devotion to each other for the residue of their lives. At the age of twenty-one, when the arm of the law rescued them from the friendly detention of their relatives, they withdrew to the solitary little cottage of Plas-Newydd, never to return again to the gay, glittering world of fashion, or the country which gave them birth. Having enlarged and decorated their rural dwelling, laid out and planted their grounds, the selection of a library became an early care. Here much time was spent; and the glowing language of Miss Seward, a friend and frequent guest at Plas-Newydd, bears a high testimony to the philosophic quality of their minds. “All that is grateful, all that is attached, will be ever warm from my heart towards each honoured and accomplished friend, whose virtues and talents diffuse intellectual sunshine that adorns and cheers the loveliest of the Cambrian vales.”—Letter 38.
The habits and manners of the “Llangollen ladies” were frank and open, and their hospitality of the most liberal kind. They visited and received the neighbouring gentry until the “weight of years pressed heavy on them.” Madame de Genlis and the Mademoiselle D’Orleans, are to be numbered amongst their visitors; and it was here that intellectual being first heard the wild notes of our Ǣolian harp, of which she remarks, “it is natural for such an instrument to have originated in a country of storms and tempests, of which it softens the manners.”
Upwards of half a century these amiable companions graced the valley of Llangollen, extending a cheerful hospitality to their numerous guests, and exercising a benevolence the most unlimited towards the most friendless of their neighbours. At length they were called before the throne of brightness and purity, at the advanced ages of seventy-two and seventy-seven. Their remains are deposited in a vault in Llangollen cemetery, where the body of Mrs Mary Carroll, their faithful servant, had been laid at rest before them.
George Newenham Wright
Scenes in north Wales, pp. 70-72
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Plas Newydd … has long been celebrated as the chosen retreat of two ladies of rank, the Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and the Hon. Miss Ponsonby … [They] passed long and happy lives in beautifying the chosen seat of Plas Newydd, and in engaging in works of charity and utility to the neighbourhood. This small but elegant dwelling is decorated in a peculiar and fantastic style ; the front is enclosed by a palisade, ornamented with antique figures; the entrance door is quite unique in the same curious way. The grounds are also arranged with a prettiness of taste which has been honoured by some high praises; they abound in beautiful nooks, and are kept in the nicest order.
The Tourist in Wales, comprising Views
of Picturesque Scenery (1835), p. 47
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Lady Eleanor Butler and the Hon. Miss Ponsonby, formed an ardent attachment for each other, and withdrawing from all their connections, refusing all matrimonial alliances, they came to Plas Newydd, and settled for life, attended by one faithful servant. All three lie buried in one tomb.
Picturesque scenery in Wales, illustrated by thirty-seven
engravings on steel by H.Adlard, Allen, Gastineau and others;
with descriptions by John Tillotson, London , p. 38