Plas Newydd, Llangollen
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: A marvellous collection of carved decoration
About the Ladies of Lllangollen
Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) and Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) came from aristocratic stock in Ireland. They met when Sarah was enrolled at Miss Parke's boarding school in Kilkenny in 1788, when Sarah was only 13 and Lady Eleanor was 29. Both had unhappy family lives, and it may have been this bond that helped draw them together. Sarah was an orphan, in the care of her father's cousin, Lady Betty Fownes, and her husband Sir William. Lady Eleanor was the third daughter of Walter Butler of Kilkenny Castle.
In 1778 the two women made plans to 'elope', though that term suggests a romantic attachment that may or may not have been the case; despite speculation on the nature of their relationship, we simply don't know. They were found by their families at Waterford, dressed in men's clothing, and Sarah was armed with a pistol. They were separated again, and once again tried to escape together. This plan was thwarted, but finally, after it became clear that the two refused to give up the plan to live together, their families relented and on 9 May, 1788 the pair left Ireland, intending to settle in England.
Why were they famous?
At the time the Ladies came to Llangollen to set up house, the ideal of 'romantic friendship' was popular. Though the term 'romantic' may have different connotations today, intellectuals in the late 18th century were espousing the ideal of a retreat from the world into a sort of semi-secluded environment of educated, intellectual stimulation, where the whirl of high society could give way to contemplation, personal improvement, and study. The idea was that one would spend time tending to intellectual improvement, reading, and education, as well as tending to one's garden and home.
The Ladies of Llangollen are buried in Llangollen churchyard, where a curious three-sided monument to them and Mary Caryll stands outside the south west coner of the church. Incidentally, it is commonly reported that Mary Caryll bought Plas Newydd with her life savings and bequeathed it to the Ladies. According to the informative guidebook on sale at the house, this is not strictly accurate; Mary saved enough to buy the adjoining fields, which she left to Sarah Ponsonby on her death.
Though the carvings cover far too many subjects to mention, there are several themes repeated over and over; green men, caryatids (a part human figure used as an architectural pedestal), a 'tongue sticker' beast, and variations on dragons and wyverns. Most of the carvings were assembled from churches that were being torn down. Together, they transform an attractive little house into an extraordinary architectural wonder. And it is not just the interior that features carvings; the exterior as well, or at least two sides of it, are covered in carving detail. The result is a quite astonishing house, unlike any I've ever seen. I'm not sure words can do it justice; you simply have to see it for yourself.
In the gardens are two furher curiosities; a font brought here from the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey, and a medieval high cross from Chester.
Note: Do not confuse the Llangollen Plas Newydd with the National Trust property of the same name on Anglesey.
About Plas Newydd, Llangollen
Address: Hill Street, Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales, LL20 8AW
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: At the south east edge of Llangollen, signposted off the A5
Website: Plas Newydd, Llangollen
Phone: 01978 862834
OS: SJ221 417
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Llangollen, St Collen's Church - 0.3 miles (Historic Church)
Castell Dinas Bran - 0.8 miles (Castle)
Llangollen Motor Museum - 1.5 miles (Museum)
Valle Crucis Abbey - 1.8 miles (Abbey)
Eliseg's Pillar - 2.1 miles (Historic Building)
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - 3.1 miles (Historic Building)
Chirk Castle - 3.8 miles (Castle)
Brynkinalt - 5.7 miles (Historic House)
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