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PLAS NEWYDD; HOUSE OF THE LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN, BUTLER HILL, LLANGOLLEN

Site Details


NPRN 27760

Map Reference SJ24SW

Grid Reference SJ2181841719

Unitary (Local) Authority Denbighshire

Old County Denbighshire

Community Llangollen

Type of Site COUNTRY HOUSE

Broad Class DOMESTIC

Period Post Medieval

Site Description Plas Newydd, Llangollen, began life as a simple 2-storey, 3-window cottage known as Pen y Maes cottage, but gained its character and very extensive renown from being the home of the 'Ladies of Llangollen': Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby. They extended and refurbished the house from 1780-1829.

The whole house is festooned with applied timberwork and decorative detail; the character is essentially Gothic. It has a 2-storey, 4-window front of cement render with panelled timberwork including a band of urns at 3/4 height. The pitched roof is of slate with freestone gable parapets and kneelers, and stone chimney stacks. The 3 main bays to left have deep splayed bays to 1st floor, with diamond leaded glazing and some stained glass, flanking a smaller bay over the entrance. There are pitched roof Gothic three- arched canopies below and a band of carved panels at lintel level. The central canopy forms a splayed porch with seats. There is timberwork to the gable ends: left end has a tabernacle over various carvings of religious figures, with pediments to the ground floor over a dummy doorway. 2 tiny dormers to rear, central staircase window with openings to each level to left and pointed cellar doorway to right. At the left end there is an advanced and splayed bay with Gothic windows with intersecting tracery. The greater part of the oak roof of St Derfel's Church, Llandderfel (NPRN 43870) is said to have been brought here after it was damaged by fire in 1878.

The house is now in use as a museum.

Source: DE/DOM/SJ24SW, from the Cadw listed buildings database
J. Archer, RCAHMW, 19.10.2004

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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.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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