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The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust News - old stories

Plas Newydd and the Ladies of Llangollen

Plas Newydd in Denbighshire, once the home of the Ladies of Llangollen, lies to the south of the town with the house affording fine views of Castell Dinas Bran to the north. To the east and south of the house the gardens, now a public park, extend to the Afon Cyflymen and valley slopes. The site is now owned by Denbighshire County Council who, through Nicholas Pearson Associates, commissioned a programme of archaeological survey and excavation, which was undertaken by CPAT in April 2001. The work formed part of a restoration plan aimed at recreating the historic gardens with grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Map

Right: Plas Newydd© CPAT CS02-15-11

A house was in existence by 1780 when Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, ‘the Ladies of Llangollen’, took up residence. From then until 1831 they created what became an influential romantic landscape garden. The few acres of land which came with the house were gradually transformed with the creation of plantations, shrubberies, borders and garden structures built in the rustic romantic style. Plas Newydd became widely known during their tenure, being one of the sights on the popular tours of North Wales and visited by, among others, Wordsworth, the Duke of Wellington and members of the Royal family. The gardens were extended and altered by sunsequent owners during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Ladies constructed a summer-house with fine views of the valley and Dinas Bran, which is known to have survived until 1932 but was later demolished and the site became overgrown. The area of the summer-house was excavated, revealing the stone foundations for a structure around 3.3m wide, which may have been up to 6.5m long. This was approached by a series of stone steps, leading from a bridge across the stream. The remains of the steps were also uncovered during the excavations, although they appear to belong to a later phase and are not the original steps to the summer-house.

Three trenches were also excavated in the area to the east of the house to locate the circular walk which the Ladies referred to as the ‘Home Circuit’ which led through a shrubbery carefully planted with choice specimens. Later modifications to the garden changed the layout of the paths and the area is now very overgrown. The excavations did, however, uncover the remains of the original path.

The restoration programme is an ambitious project which will take Denbighshire County Council several years to complete. The end result will be a landscape garden for the public to enjoy, which reflects both the garden’s origins and later development.

Nigel Jones, May 2002


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