A few years ago, well many years ago to be exact, we were trying to plan a family holiday and to also include our dogs, so we booked the ferry and headed to Wales. North Wales to be exact and a bustling town called Llangollen. The previous year we had had an unexpected heat wave in April! I know April, melted Easter Eggs, and us bright sparks decided that it may happen again so we packed our summer gear, t-shirts, shorts etc, we got Snow, yes Snow and not just a sprinkling but enough for the snow ploughs to appear. Anyways it didn't deter us from driving around and this house was our first stop. The exterior caught my eye, but the story surrounding it was quite as intriguing.
Friendship or Romance?
A relationship that had more unanswered questions than raised eyebrows. Some say it was a more intimate coupling others say that there is no evidence to suggest this and that it was platonic, an understanding between two very good friends.
Sally or Sarah Ponsonby was an orphan, raised in Woodstock, Co. Kilkenny by her late Fathers cousin and wife.
Eleanor was a Butler from a family of Earls, then later Dukes of Ormond. Their seat was Kilkenny castle. Eleanor was known as an over educated bookworm, schooled in a convent and fluent in French.
Both Sarah and Eleanor lived twenty five kilometres apart.
In 1768, at twenty - nine years old Eleanor was instructed to keep a watchful eye over the much younger Sarah in Miss Parke’s School located not far from Kilkenny Castle. Teenage Sarah was greatly influenced by Eleanor, discovering they both had a love of long walks, French philosophy and reading novels. At forty Eleanor remained unmarried, becoming a burden on her aristocratic Catholic family, who began planning on putting her into a convent.
Sarah’s Anglo - Irish guardians were no better, trying their best to arrange a marriage.
Both ladies were horrified of the prospect of being forced into unwanted unions.
They made plans.
Female same sex relationships were very popular and pervasive in the 18th century. Both women longed to live together in retirement - which in that time meant retreating from society to live somewhere remote, where one could concentrate on “improving activities” such as learning languages, gardening and drawing.
Their first attempt at escape disguised as men and carrying weapons, involved Sarah dramatically leaping from a window with a pistol and her dog.
Both ladies were caught and separated, now desperate to see their plans prevail.
With the assistance of Sarah’s maid they attempted a second escape, this time successful and both leaving our shores to Wales.
They acquired a house in a picturesque village called Llangollen, naming their new Gothic fantasy home Plás Newydd or New Hall. Complete with carved oak panelled interiors recycled from old churches, their humble abode sat on ten acres embraced by woodland and dell with blossoming gardens their retirement now having come to fruition.
Relying heavily on their friendships with the Duke of Wellington, Wordsworth, Shelley, Sir Walter Scott and Josiah Wedgewood who visited often to help financially with their eccentric lifestyle.
Written into the history books the Ladies of Llangollen dressed in top hats and men’s overcoats lived together for fifty years leaving the question unanswered as to was it a sexual relationship or just a plain friendship!