elope, verb: to run away, escape, abscond 1727 A. HAMILTON New Acc. E. Ind. II. xlvii. 188 When the Term of Payment came, they eloped. 1840 DICKENS Barn. Rudge lxxxii, The…valet…eloped with all the cash and moveables he could lay his hands on. – Oxford English Dictionary
In 18th and 19th century England, the term “to elope” carried much less romantic sense than English speakers today give the word. To provide two for-instances:
James Boswell, in a letter to Sir David Dalrymple, 22 March 1760: “My leaving Glasgow in the abrupt manner I have done could not fail to appear extremely unaccountable. It actually must carry the face of a very romantic and inconsiderate step. But don’t blame me too much: for I can assure you that motives of the highest importance influenced my conduct; and although my elopement (as it may be justly stiled) is imagined to be the effect of a rash and hasty resolution, I give you my word that I had thought of it, for a long time. . . .” [quoted in Peter Martin, A Life of James Boswell, pp. 66-7]
Journal of Agnes Porter, governess, 26 November 1791: “Rose at three; went by the stage at four. Company: a lethargic old gentleman, an insane young one, an officer, a fine lady, and a pretty country girl. [….] Poor youth! He was an affecting and an interesting object. His brother told me that he had had an excellent understanding, and that his present melancholy situation was owing to a fever about two years ago; that he had eloped from them a year since and was not discovered till a few days ago. . . . [Miss Porter arrives at the home of her employer] At the gates met Lord Ilchester — asked him if he excused my elopement. He said I should have flown to my mother, and acted quite properly in having no hesitation on the subject.” [quoted in Joanna Martin, ed., A Governess in the Age of Jane Austen, pp. 127-8]
Thus, it is with the echo of the word, as then used, that the following should be read.
The source for information on the flight of Sarah and Eleanor remains the diary of Mrs. Elinor Goddard, friend of Sarah’s adopted mother, Lady Betty Fownes. Letters from Lady Betty and Sarah Tighe (the Fownes’ daughter) about the disappearance of Sarah, and her subsequent capture (with Eleanor), add to the urgency of the situation. This diary also relates the consequent illness of Lady Betty’s husband, Sir William Fownes.
E. Owen Blackburne based an 1877 narrative about the Ladies of Llangollen on papers held at the Hamwood estate, including the Goddard diary. Published in Illustrious Irishwomen, this chapter gives a near-daily account of what went on. (complete chapter on this site!)
Monday, May 25: “Lay at Llangollen a pretty Village on the river Dee over which there is a Bridge esteemed one of the wonders of Wales. Built upon a solid rock in 1395 – went to see the Church which contains nothing remarkable except for the tomb of a Knight of the Owens Family with a Banner over it.”
Tuesday the 26th: “Walked in the Morning to see Crowe Castle [Castel Dinas Brân] – Trevor Rocks commands an extensive Prospect over the beautifullest Country in the World. Went in the afternoon to see the remains of an Abbey called Valede Crucis two miles from Llangollen. There can scarcely be imagined a more beautiful Situation than this Abbey…”
After an aborted attempt in late March 1778, the pair left Ireland, with the grudging acceptance of relatives, on May 6, 1778. They reached Llangollen, after journeying around Wales (recounted in Sarah’s journal entitled, A Journey into Wales), on May 25th.
Once living in Llangollen, Sarah and Eleanor rented a property, Pen-y-maes. At some later point they changed its name to Plas Newydd, meaning new place. They lived in this house, making it their own (especially with the addition of stained glass and oak panels), for 50 years.
Their lives together are best told in Eleanor’s own words: diaries exist for the years 1784 (Ladies Pocket Book); 1785 (complete journal; still in family hands); January 1788 through January 1791 (in ten bound parts), an incomplete 1791; May to June 1799; January to 28 March 1802; 1806 (Day Book; held at the National Library of Ireland); 4 August to 31 December 1807; 1819 (complete journal; held at the National Library of Ireland); January to July 1821; and in the letters of Sarah – especially those to Sarah Tighe, as well as existing account books, which she kept.