Archive for the ‘Welcome to Wales’ Category

This month I’ve decided to feature the story of two courageous ladies who dared to defy the conventions of their time. They are the LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN – Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1759-1831).

They both came from aristocratic families in Ireland and met when Sarah enrolled at Miss Parke’s boarding school in Kilkenny in 1768. Despite the age difference, Eleanor was 29 and Sarah 13, they became great friends. They may have felt a certain affinity because both had unhappy family lives.

For several years after they left school, they still wrote to each other regularly. However, life at home was becoming intolerable for both of them. Lady Sarah, the youngest daughter of the Earl of Ormonde of Kilkenny Castle, was being forced by her family to enter a convent, partly for financial reasons and partly to restore the family relationship with the Catholic Church, after her brother converted to Protestantism.  Twelve miles away in Woodstock, orphaned Sarah was in the care of her father’s cousin, Lady Betty Fownes and, unfortunately, the object of the unwanted attentions of Betty’s husband, Sir William. Betty’s health was failing fast and Sarah was only too aware that Sir William had plans to make her the second Lady Fownes in due course.

Secret letters passed between Kilkenny Castle and Woodstock and, in 1778, they decided to run away to England. Their first attempt failed but, finally, they were able to leave Ireland in 1778, taking housemaid Mary Caryll with them. After landing in West Wales, they decided to journey north and eventually arrived in the Vale of Llangollen. They were so captivated by the area that, in 1780, they bought a small house called Pen-y-Maes just outside the town of Llangollen. They renamed the house Plas Newydd (‘New Mansion’) and lived there for the next 50 years, rarely spending a night away from home.

Plas Newydd – the half-timbering was added by a later owner, General John Yorke

Devoting their time to studying literature and languages, it wasn’t long before their rather unorthodox but civilised lifestyle came to the notice of various notable people. Visitors included Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington and Josiah Wedgwood. Queen Charlotte expressed a wish to see their home and succeeded in persuading the King to grant the ladies a pension.

The ladies also set about improving and extending the house, inserting old stained glass panels in the windows and filling the library with finely bound books and curiosities of all kinds, even a lock of Mary Queen of Scots’ hair. Over the years, they developed a passion for old, carved wood whether it was from medieval churches or broken-up Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture.  The staircase was lined with it and the front porch incorporated carvings of the four evangelists, Latin inscriptions, 17th century bedposts and lions donated by the Duke of Wellington!

The Staircase

The Front Porch

Elaborate gardens were also created …


They engaged serving staff and a gardener, but the running costs of the house led them into a large amount of debt. They were often forced to exist on funds provided by generous friends.

Eleanor died in 1829 and Sarah died two years later and both are buried, together with their faithful housekeeper, Mary Caryll, in Saint Collen’s Church in Llangollen.

The final resting place of the Ladies of Llangollen and their
housekeeper, Mary Caryll in Saint Collen’s churchyard

Of course, there has always been speculation about their relationship…that it was more than just a close friendship. It is unlikely that we will ever know the truth but, to my mind, it doesn’t really matter. I simply admire them for having the courage to live life on their own terms.

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Did you know? 

The triple harp, which originated in Italy, was adopted by Welsh harpers living in London during the 17th century. It was so popular that, by the beginning of the 18th century, the triple harp was generally known as the “Welsh harp”.

Mary Triola performing a Welsh Triple Harp Solo…


Film and television actor, Timothy Dalton, was born in Welsh seaside resort of Colwyn Bay, in North Wales. He is known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights(1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).


The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod is a music festival which takes place every year during the second week of July in Llangollen, North Wales. Singers and dancers from around the world are invited to take part in over 20 high quality competitions followed each evening by concerts where the best and most colourful competitors share the stage with professional artists. Over five thousand singers, dancers and instrumentalists from around 50 countries perform to audiences of more than 50,000 over the 6 days of the event.

Famous performers at Llangollen have included Luciano Pavarotti, Red Army Ensemble, Katherine Jenkins, Bryn Terfel, Kiri Te Kanawa, James Galway and Montserrat Caballe.

Wales is the only nation in the United Kingdom not to be represented on the Union Flag. When the first Union flag was created in 1606, Wales had already been united with England under Henry VIII’s act of union of 1536. This meant that Wales, a Principality instead of a Kingdom, could not be included.

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Wales is known as “the land of song” and, for me, nothing exemplifies the musical traditions more than the Welsh Male Voice Choirs of the coal mining valleys of South Wales. This is one of my favourite songs, the hauntingly beautiful ‘Myfanwy’, sung by the world renowned Treorchy Male Voice Choir. The choir is filmed against the background of a typical mining village.


If you are feeling energetic you can walk up Snowdon, the highest mountain peak in Wales (3,560 ft). For the less energetic, the Snowdon Mountain Railway will take you the 4.7 miles (7.6km) to the summit. This rack and pinion railway is the only one in the United Kingdom.

Renowned actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was born in Port Talbot, South Wales. Probably his most famous role was as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

Francis Lewis, one of the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence, as a representative of New York, was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, South Wales on 21 March 1713. He was educated in Scotland and attended Westminster School in England. He entered a mercantile house in London and then moved to Whitestone, New York in 1734.

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(27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)

Poet and writer Dylan Thomas was born in Uplands, Swansea, South Wales. He became popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death. In his later life he acquired a reputation, which he encouraged, as “a roistering, drunken and doomed poet”. His best remembered work is probably Under Milk Wood famously narrated by Richard Burton in the 1954 BBC radio adaptation.

Glamorgan sausage is a traditional Welsh vegetarian sausage for which the main ingredients are cheese (usually Caerphilly), leeks and breadcrumbs.

High and low tides on the Bristol Channel, which separates South Wales from Devon and Somerset in South West England, has the 2nd highest tide in the world.

Llyn Gwynant

Alexandra Slate quarry

North Wales was the backdrop for scenes from the second Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie. The two main locations were Llyn Gwynant in Snowdonia, where a Chinese village was specially built, and the disused Alexandra Slate quarry in the Nantlle Valley, Caernarfonshire, where a 100ft drop down a cliff was filmed.

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Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was born in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire, Wales on 16 August 1888.

Hollywood film actor, Glenn Ford, was half Welsh. His mother was from Pontypridd in South Wales.

Every September thousands of Elvis tribute acts and hundreds of costumed fans descend on the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl, South Wales for the annual Elvis Festival which is the largest of its kind in the world.

Doctor Who is produced at the BBC Roath Lock studios in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay. The series is mainly filmed on location in and around Cardiff including Penarth, where I live.

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Did you know?

Wales has an area of 8,022 square miles (20,779 sq. km) and a population of around 3 million.

Robert Recorde , a physician and mathematician, born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire in 1518 introduced the “equals” sign and the “plus” sign in 1557.


Big Pit National Coal Museum is an industrial heritage museum in Blaenafon, South Wales. You can take an underground tour in this former working coal mine. The journey takes you around a section of original underground workings and visitors wear the very same equipment – helmet, cap lamp, belt, battery and ‘self rescuer’ (a portable oxygen source for providing breathable air when the surrounding atmosphere lacks oxygen or is contaminated with toxic gases, e.g. carbon dioxide) – used by miners.

Famous singer Dame Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, South Wales . She recorded the theme songs to three of the James Bond movies – Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.

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Bob Hope’s parents were married in Cardiff in April 1891. Bob’s mother was Welsh and his father English.

Aneurin “Nye” Bevan was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire. As Minister of Health in the post-war Labour government, his most famous accomplishment was to spearhead the establishment of the National Health Service which was to provide medical care free at point-of-need to all Britons.

Wales is the first country in the world to provide a dedicated footpath along its entire coastline. The path winds through 870 miles (1,400 km) of coastal landscape from Chepstow in the south east to near Queensferry in the north.

Hollywood actor, Ray Milland was born in Neath, South Wales


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Welshman Pryce Jones from Newtown, Montgomeryshire created the first Mail Order business in the World.

The letters K, Q, V and Z do not appear in the Welsh alphabet at all.

Boxing’s Queensberry Rules were drafted by a Welshman, Llanelli-born J G Chambers.

(Ingrid Bergman with director Mark Robson on location in Wales)

When the producers of the classic 1957 film The Inn of The Sixth Happiness wanted to recreate China, they used the valleys around Beddgelert, North Wales. They even built a mock Chinese town in nearby Nantmor.

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Sir George Everest, Surveyor-General of India, after whom the highest mountain in the world was named was born in Crickhowell, Powys, Mid Wales.

Welsh born, Hollywood actress Catherine Zeta Jones first made a name for herself in the early 1990s, when she starred in the Yorkshire Television comedy/drama series The Darling Buds of May.

The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff has the largest retractable roof of any sports arena in the World.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch is a large village on the island of Anglesey and is believed to have the longest place name in the world. In English, it translates as “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave”.

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Did you know?

Richard Burton was born in the small village of Pontrhydyfen, South Wales. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.

Popular romance novelist Mary Balogh was born in Swansea, South Wales but moved to Canada in 1967, where she married and settled in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

Coal from the South Wales Valleys fuelled the world in the 18th and 19th centuries and shaped the Industrial Revolution.

Legendary singer Tom Jones was born in Treforest, Pontypridd, South Wales. Since the mid-1960s, he has sung nearly every form of popular music – pop, rock, R&B, show tunes, country, dance, soul and gospel – and sold over 100 million records.

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