Plas Newydd

Thursday, 5th January 1791 “We this day completed the Purchase of our House.”
– Eleanor Butler, in her journal*

* quoted in Mavor, p. 181.

Plas Newydd (“plass no-with”: New Hall) in Llangollen should not be confused with the National Trust property of the same name (a former home of the Marquess of Anglesey and located at Llanfairpwll on the Isle of Anglesey).  Our Plas Newydd, a small and cosy cottage made into a curiosity by the addition of much wood ornamentation, was the home – for about fifty years – of Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, known collectively as “The Ladies of Llangollen.”

In 1796, Anna Seward  wrote about the house, and its situation:

Certainly this interesting retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler, and Miss Ponsonby, might have been placed where it would have had sublimer scenic accompaniments — but its site is sufficiently lovely, sufficiently romantic.  When two females meant to sit down for life in a sylvan retirement, with a small establishment of servants, it became necessary that the desire of landscape-charms should become subservient to the more material considerations of health, protection, and convenience. Their scene, not on those wild heights which must have exposed them to the mountain storms, is yet on a dry gravelly bank, favourable to health and exercise, and sheltered by a back-ground of rocks and hills.  Instead of seeking the picturesque banks of the dashing river, foaming through its craggy channel, and whose spray and mists must have been confined, and therefore unwholesome, by the vast rocks and mountains towering on either hand, they contented themselves with the briery dell and its prattling brook, which descend abruptly from a reach of that winding walk, which forms the bounds of their smiling, though small domain.  Situated in an opener part of the valley, they breathe a purer air, while their vicinity of the town of Langollen affords the comforts of convenience, and the confidence of safety. (Letter to Mary Powys)

And 33 years later, in an 1829 letter, publisher John Murray had this to say:

            The cottage is remarkable for the taste of its appropriate fitting up with ancient oak, presented by different friends, from old castle and monasteries, &c., none of it of less antiquity than 1200 years.

In 2002, the Western Mail (Cardiff) ran an article on an 1805 land deed signed by Sarah and Eleanor — when it came up for auction at Sotheby’s.

Today, Plas Newydd is a museum run by the Denbigh County Council.  A superb hand-held audio guide system enables visitors to gather information about the house and its inhabitants; there are also guided tours of the servants’quarters.  It is open Easter to October, 10:00-5:00.  Website (with pictures); BBC website on the Ladies & Plas Newydd; the website; the website.

*NEW* Mary Parker (Lady Leighton) and her delightful watercolors at Plas Newydd.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bebhinn Cronin
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 11:19:49

    Kelly, do you not think they were lesbians? What do you mean by Romantic Friendship?


    • Janeite Kelly
      Jan 25, 2014 @ 13:17:41

      Can we ever really know the intensely personal lives of people who lived so long ago? It’s like trying to diagnose a cause of death, for a person in that time-period, from a listing of a few symptoms (ie, Jane Austen or Mozart).

      Anne Lister was certain; Eleanor Butler (for perhaps many reasons) took great offense to the newspaper article that intimated she and Sarah were lovers. Their diaries and letters are not nearly as explicit as Lister’s; and I do believe that people can live in a companionable situation and therefore cannot discount that possibility for them.

      The phrase “Romantic Friendship” comes from the biography, by Elizabeth Mavor. She also reserved guessing about their degree of intimacy.



  2. Sally Harland
    Dec 01, 2016 @ 21:59:35

    Hello I have an artifact which has the name Ladies of Plas Newydd Llangollen it was my mothers who passed away in 1981. I believe it is made of copper . I don’t know why she would have it other than we have some Welsh ancestry. If you would contact me by email I could send a picture of it ,could you then tell me if it is of any value? Thank you .


    • Janeite Kelly
      Dec 03, 2016 @ 10:26:25

      Hi, Sally – I can never guarantee to know anything about objects, but you are welcome to contact me any time via email: smithandgosling {at} gmail {dot} com. The Ladies were popular, and I have seen specimens of pottery – so other objects are quite possible too. Look forward to seeing it! Kelly


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