Fascinating Information: Ladies of Llangollen

As part of the SUBLIME WALES website, Michael Freeman has crafted an intricate and fascinating LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN site.

Ladies of Llangollen_website

Great detail is given to subjects like SOURCES and PORTRAITS. Some fabulous *finds* in images, items not seen or at least not collected together.

Additionally, work on the material itself yields a TON of new information, from GUESTS (alpha or by year) to ACCOUNTS. I know first-hand how tedious it is to note costs of things, but when you’re able to SEE how much hair powder cost, or the average price of postage or a horse, a comb or a pair of shoes, it really does uncover some incredible information.

Of course WHAT is associated most with the Ladies of Llangollen, but their house – Plas Newydd – and their neighorhood and (of course!) Llangollen itself. You’ll find links for subjects as diverse as the “wood” decorations of Plas Newydd to contents of its library. (Yeah, BOOKS!)

One of the “hooks” that grabbed ME when I first visited Llangollen, and learned the tiniest history of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby was the IDEA of spending time just reading and learning. Oh, so beautiful an idea for LIVING LIFE.

You will find MUCH (and check back for MORE) to interest you on the entire site “Sublime Wales”, but special _SHOUT OUT_ must be reserved for the pages dealing with _our_ subjects: The Ladies of Llangollen!

Anne Lister at The National Archives

When this blog existed as a website (many years ago), I had posted some of Anne Lister’s comments, as one of the Visitors to the Ladies of Llangollen at Plas Newydd. I never re-linked all of the extended pages. Of course Anne’s own words can be read in the book I Know My Own Heart (edited by Helena Whitbread; 1988).

An extract is listed, with thanks to Michael in Aberystwyth, in A Plas Newydd Timeline, which features visitor and other comments from the 1780s to the 1830s and beyond. Hover over the menu link (above) for a drop down menu, by date. Anne Lister’s comments are under ‘1820-1824‘; she visited Llangollen in the summer of 1822.


With the popularity of the TV series Gentleman Jack, featuring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, The National Archives, in Kew, have blogged about their holdings of Lister-related documents.

I will do as they did – and say SPOILER ALERT! – for anyone finding their way here because of the TV series. We deal with the inevitable ‘end,’ for TNA holds the handwritten wills of Anne Lister and Ann Walker. Their blog post will also ‘catch you up’ on some of the backstory, Anne’s years before Gentleman Jack.

Anne Lister

A caveat to keep in mind, not specifically mentioned in TNA’s blog post: At the time, if a woman married her property became the property of her husband. In leaving Ann Walker Shibden Hall for her lifetime, Anne Lister would NOT have wanted the property to devolve to anyone Ann Walker decided to share her own wealth with.

  • (A marriage settlement might have stipulated, if both parties agreed, to separate out the property. But who would take that chance?)

I have a couple of old wills, original wills, related to my research of the family of Emma Austen and Mary Smith. Folded, they look JUST LIKE those pictured in TNA’s blog! It’s thrilling to see Anne and Ann’s ‘last wishes’ represented, and to know The National Archives has such a cache of originals (probated wills are my bête noire; some are horrible to decipher due to the hand used, and swirls inserted to cover ‘blank’ space; while microfilm also does them NO favor).

I believe the link the blog provides – going to PROB 11, whereby you can purchase (for £3.50) a PDF download, rather than PROB 10 – brings you to the PROBATED copy, not the original of Ann Walker’s will. The blog does provide one photograph (alas: can’t enlarge it!) of a section of Anne Lister’s will.

Like my own research materials at The National Archives, other items exist because of a dispute. You will be amazed over the “end” of the story…

Note also their link to the DIGITAL copies of Anne Lister’s diaries, online (since April 2019) at West Yorkshire Archive.

Letters from the Ladies of Llangollen

Every once in a while I look up the holdings for the LLOYDS of ASTON HALL, OSWESTRY at the National Library of Wales. The parents of Louisa Lloyd were Lady Louisa and Sir Eliab Harvey, of Rolls Park, Chigwell. The Harveys were neighbors and friends with the Smiths of Suttons (both Essex estates).

A lot of work has gone into cataloguing the Aston Hall materials, especially letters, which appear in a finding aid of some detail (though brief contents of individual letters are only to be found in the archival record [click on the individual file name; scroll below to “Scope and Content”]; I’ve saved you the trouble for the letters listed below).

_I_, of course, would love to find that some letters from my Smiths have ended up here. I would settle for some sentences of chat or gossip about them even – but that would take reading through the letters. Correspondence, especially that between mother and daughter is voluminous! More than one repository holds what exists, as well.

In short, it’s not likely that I would take the time, in the hope of finding a short mention of the Smiths of Suttons & Portland Place.

But reading through the finding aid one gets a “feeling” for the volume of correspondents, and the reach of letters in the early 19th century when distance separated family members.

My reason for bringing this up is less about the Smiths, about whom I think 24/7, but about the letters from the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler found in this deposit.

An even MORE exciting *find* is the item described as “a Bible presented by Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby to Ward Harvey Lloyd, 8 August 1819“.

The letters were written to Louisa Lloyd (Mrs. William Lloyd of Aston Hall, though it’s possible some letters were written to her when visiting away from home).

Letters from Eleanor Butler, by date:

  • 1805 [no specific date] [C 1520: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston; reference to the Duchess of Gordon, the Duchess of Richmond and the Ladies Lennox’s stay at Bangor.”]
  • 7 November 1806 [C 1521: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston; reference to their visit to Brynkinalt; also to the arrival of Lady Ormonde and her daughter Eleanor.”]
  • 13 April 1813 [C 1522: “Miscellaneous news.”]
  • 18 August 1813 [C1523: “Recipient’s departure from Aston; sender’s desire to have Lady Louisa Harvey at Plas Newydd.”]
  • 9 December 1813 [C 1524: “Enquiry for Lady Louisa Harvey and reference to two books.”]
  • 1813 [no specific date] [C 1525: “Accepting an invitation to Aston.”]
  • 5 April 1814 [C 1526: “Acknowledgement of a box.”]
  • 4 April 1817 [C 1527: “Sender’s proposed visit to Aston.”]
  • 29 January 1819 [C 1528: “Sender’s visit to Wynnstay; the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and Lady Harrie Williams Wynn’s visit to Plas Newydd; personal and miscellaneous news.”]
  • 3 February 1819 [C 1529: “Accepting an invitation to Aston and miscelleneous news.”]
  • 21 April 1819 [C 1530: “Asking for vegetables from the garden in exchange for flowers; reference to Saving Banks; Sunday Schools and the Bible Society; miscellaneous news.”]
  • c1819 [C 1531: “Recipient’s visit to Plas Newydd.”]
  • 1819 [no specific date] [C 1532: “Acknowledging a drawing; the books of Auguste La Fontaine; an account of the King of Sweden laid out in state, received from Stockholm.”]
  • 1819 [again, no specific date] [C 1533: Acknowledging a letter; Edward gone to school; miscellaneous news.”]
  • 1 January 1826 [C 1534: “Acknowledging the gifts of drawings.”]

Two undated letters, written written by Lady Eleanor to Lady Louisa Harvey are also in the collection:

  • [C 7207: “Miscellaneous news with reference to Mrs. Lloyd of Rhoggat, Lord Westmeath, Governor Nugent, Lady Crewe, Lord and Lady Grosvenor, Mr. Pryce of Bryn-y-pys and others.”]
  • [C 7208: “An invitation to visit Plas Newydd, reference to recipient’s daughter Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Kenyon and others.”]

Lady Louisa Harvey and childrenLady Louisa Harvey and her two children,
Edward and Louisa
(by Thomas Lawrence) [c1793]

In the “Miscellaneous Letters and Fragments” are noted two letters to Lady Eleanor Butler:

  • from E. Curtis; 29 March 1822 [C 8241: “Personal and family news with reference to sender’s drawings.”]
  • from unknown; 16 November [year unknown] [C 8242: “Disappointment at the cancellation of a visit.”]

Letters of Sarah Ponsonby, (identified as “Other level: Pole-Puzzo”), by date:

  • 27 July 1817 [C 6338: “Lady Eleanor Butler’s indisposition; arranging a visit to Aston to meet Lady Louisa Harvey; intending to arrive for breakfast.”]
  • 7 September 1829 [C 6339: “Recipient and her family to visit Plas Newydd; reference to Lady Louisa Harvey.”]
  • 18 September 1829 [C 6340: “The Empress Josephine and her life written by Mlle le Normand; recipient’s visit to Llangollen and a set of views for her.”]
  • 19 October 1830 [C 6341: “A journal for Lady Louisa Harvey.”]
  • 3 January 1831 [C 6342: “Arrangements re: recipient’s visit to Llangollen with her family.”]
  • 5 November 1831 [C 6343: “A gift of plants for recipient, acknowledging flowers sent from Aston; the cholera and a receipt [sic] for it.”]

Letter from Sarah to Elizabeth Lloyd:

  • 6 June 1816 [C 8150: “Enquiries concerning Mr. and Mrs. Kenyon and acknowledgements for agreeable day passed at Pradoe.”]

* * *

Fiona Brideoake’s book, The Ladies of Llangollen: Desire, Indeterminancy, and the Legacies of Criticism has several small quotes from the Mother-Daughter (Lady Louisa Harvey and Louisa Lloyd) letters; my favorite is this exchange:

… a source of amusement to Lady Louisa Harvey, who wrote in 1807 to her daughter advising her of an erroneous newspaper report of Butler’s attendance at court on the occasion of the king’s birthday: ‘I know no news but what I’ve seen in the papers, one of which entertained us much viz: Lady Eleanor Butler** dress [sic] at the drawing Room was a pale pink crepe trimmed with wreaths of full blown roses and buds.’ [pp. 40-41]

**could this Lady Eleanor have been Lady Ormonde’s daughter? see description of letter C 1521, dated 1806

On a sadder note, this exchange between the two Louisas, in January, 1832:

‘I have seen a kind well written letter from one of the poor little Maids at poor dear lost Llangollen. I hope and trust there will be no auction, it is a sad thought that of all their poor Treasure, displaced, and pried on by all.’ [page 137]

Some of the drawings being acknowledged in the above letters may be the subject of this first sentence; the second, touches on the Ladies’ books:

Writing to Lady Louisa Harvey on Augusta 18, 1832, Louisa Lloyd further observed of the Plas Newydd sale, ‘Mary seems much annoyed that Edward should have missed my Picture but I think he was right  It is not worth above 3s.’ … ‘I am quite astonished that the Books should go so cheap, I expected they would sell for an enormous Sum how very Stupid the Shropshire Gentry must be, poor Ladies how their Ghosts must be hovering round all these horrid unfeeling People–‘

Take a look: Brideoake’s new book

Google books has preview access for Fiona Brideoake‘s new book, The Ladies of Llangollen: Desire, Indeterminacy, and the Legacies of Criticism (Bucknell University Press / The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group; 2017). (Amazon Kindle: generous preview there too) [Kindle: $82.49; Hardcover: $110]

Brideoake_Ladies of Llangollen

To whet your appetite, here are the contents:

INTRODUCTION: Casting Butler and Ponsonby: Before “the Ladies of Llangollen”

1. “Sketched by Many Hands”: Narrating Butler and Ponsonby

2. Engendering the Ladies: Romantic Friendship, Gender Difference, and Queer Critical Practice.

 – “The Great Success Story”: Butler and Ponsonby and the Romantic Friendship Model

– Gender Trouble: Butler and Ponsonby and the Masculine/Feminine Dyad

– “Our Matchless Mary”: Mary Caryll’s Place at Plas Newydd

– Butler and Ponsonby and the New Queer History

3. Becoming the Ladies of Llangollen

– “Two Fugitive Ladies”: Ponsonby’s 1778 Travel Journal

4. “Keep Yourself in Your Own Persons, Where You Are”: Butler and Ponsonby’s Transformation of Plas Newydd

– On the Road with Butler and Ponsonby: “Liking One’s Own Sex in a Criminal Way”: Suspicions of Sapphism

– “The Saloon of the Minervas”: Butler and Ponsonby’s Private library

5. “The Spirit of Blue-Stockingism”: Were the Ladies of Llangollen “Blue”?

– A Bluestocking Genealogy

– The Ladies of Llangollen the Canonical Bluestockings

– Were Butler and Ponsonby Blue?

6. “Love, above the Reach of Time”: Butler and Ponsonby and the Performance of Romanticism

– The Romantics “Do” the Ladies

– Sir Walter Scott’s “Great Romance”

– The “Coy Scene” of Sapphic Sociability: Anna Seward’s “Llangollen Vale”

– Depth and Domesticity: William Wordsworth on Butler and Ponsonby

– “Doing the Ladies”: The Llangollen Ideals of Lord Byron and Anne Lister

7. “The Future Arrives Late” Butler and Ponsonby and Their “Spiritual Descendants,” 1928-1937

– “Deeds, Not Words”: The Fight for Women’s Suffrage

– Butler and Ponsonby and the Future That Is “to Be”

– Pursuing Butler and Ponsonby: Gordon’s Chase of the Wild Goose

– “The Future Arrives Late”: Ghosting the Ladies of Llangollen

There is also a bibliography and index, bringing the book up to 368 pages. Among the editorial reviews, included at Amazon:

  • Fiona Brideoake’s is by far the best account of the Ladies to have appeared in some time. It is generous with earlier accounts, deeply learned and engaged with all scholars of lesbianism and the history of sexuality. It also contextualizes the Ladies brilliantly and makes great sense of their choice of a house and how they decorated. I cannot imagine a more informed or more exhilarating account of the Ladies of Langollen. This will be a book that is treasured by students and scholars as well as anyone interested in the history of ‘romantic friendship’ between women. (George E. Haggerty, Distinguished Professor of English, University of California, Riverside)

The Ladies of Llangollen have not been the subject of a major study or biography since Elizabeth Mavor‘s publications from the 1970s and 1980s, nearly fifty years ago. I am excited to see Fiona Brideoake’s book is finally hitting the bookshops!



More Visitors to Plas Newydd!

Michael in Aberystwyth has been combing archives for mentions of the Ladies of Llangollen; he recently wrote me the following:

I’ve been busy gathering more references to visitors to Plas Newydd.

I’m surprised how few published references there were to them while they were still alive. There are lots of descriptions of the grounds, the house and the Ladies in manuscripts, (often by women) but perhaps many of the men who published accounts of their tours didn’t think it appropriate to publicise a private residence.

The more I read about them, the more I think they might have wanted to live in a quiet place, but didn’t want to be wholly isolated from the world (as one of their visitors perceptively suggests) and the fact that they renamed the cottage Plas Newydd (the New Hall), even though it was originally a 4 roomed cottage, and added a library and decorated it with historic items as well as welcoming the nobility and gentry suggest that they were really living the life of those who lived in mansions and who allowed visitors to view their rooms (on certain terms), as well as acting as hosts to those of equal status or education, or talented artists of poets who had letters of introduction.

More to come from Michael. And do contact me should you should have information that might be of use to Michael. He’s interested in 18th and 19th century travellers to Wales, with a special desire to unearth more on Welsh National Costume.

Any Readers near Dublin?

Dear Ladies of Llangollen blog readers,

Am looking for one kind soul who might be able to visit the National Library of Ireland, in Dublin, for me. There’s one diary there, which I’d love to learn more about, get some images taken (so a digital camera required).

For more information, please email me, Kelly, at smithandgosling [at] gmail [dot] com

The diary is among the papers of the 2nd Marquess of Ormonde.

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