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Plas Newydd and the Ladies of Llangollen

Plas Newydd and the Ladies of Llangollen - Overview

This richly wood-ornamented house started life as a simple, two-storeyed, small stone cottage called Pen y Maes, signifying its location at the top of a field outside Llangollen. In 1778, the Ladies Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) and Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) rented the cottage and renamed it Plas Newydd.

Although they became well-known as the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, Sarah and Eleanor were originally from Ireland. Following their first meeting in 1768, they formed a close relationship and made plans to escape their families. Their first attempt of a night-time elopement failed in 1778 when, dressed in men’s attire, armed with a gun and in the company of Eleanor’s maid Mary Carryll, they were intercepted at Waterford. As they vowed never to give up attempts to run away, their families begrudgingly gave in. After touring the north of Wales, the Ladies and their maid eventually settled at Plas Newydd, away from fashionable urban life.

With little money of their own, the Ladies largely depended on the good will and support of friends. Over time, they built up a library, undertook extensive correspondence and slowly refurbished and renovated their house and surrounding gardens. Plas Newydd was transformed in the Gothick style by installing arches, stained glass windows and ornate wood carvings, in addition to decorating their garden with the font from the nearby ruin of Valle Crucis Abbey.

Though they lived in relative isolation, the Ladies led a busy social life and were highly regarded among the villagers in Llangollen. As Llangollen lies on one of the earliest tourist routes in Wales, their growing international reputation began to draw more and more visitors to the house. In 1809, the French aristocrat and refugee Madame Genlis was kept awake at night by the Aeolian harp the Ladies had installed outside the window, and in 1828, the German Prince Pückler-Muskau spent an afternoon with them, having first heard about them as a child some thirty years before.

On her death in 1809, Mary Carryll bequeathed Aberadda field to the Ladies. Mary had bought the field with her life’s savings and the Ladies continued farming it to gain a small income. In return, the Ladies erected a memorial to her in Llangollen churchyard and were later interred in the same grave.

After their death, the house continued to be developed by later owners. General York added the applied black and white decoration to the façade, and the now demolished east and west wings were added.

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