An Extraordinary Female Affection: the life and love of the Ladies of Llangollen
Time & Location
About the Event
Come and see an intriguing pair of women brought back to life through letters, diaries, songs – and sensational headlines.
Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler eloped together exactly 140 years ago and became known as the Ladies of Llangollen.
These two upper-class Irish women settled at Plas Newydd in Llangollen, North Wales, in the late 18th century. They lived there for the rest of their lives, visited or commented on by everyone from poet William Wordsworth to sapphic diarist and industrialist Anne Lister.
The pair were the object of much speculation, which continues to this day. Why did they share a bed with each other, and a grave with their devoted servant Mary Caryll? Was this an 18th-century romantic friendship, or a prototype lesbian marriage?
These are the questions that 20th-century writers, from Colette to Lillian Faderman, have explored, with the ‘Ladies’ becoming central to feminist debates of the 1980s about the nature of lesbian history, politics and identity.
With their house and garden still tramped through by tourists, the Ladies of Llangollen are a legend. It is a legend that is recounted – with zest and beaver hats – by Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler, as part of LGBT History Month 2018.
Audience praise for ‘The oldest New Woman and her incorrigible Welsh friend’ – Frances Power Cobbe and Mary Charlotte Lloyd in conversation, by the same team:
‘Forgotten women resurrected – wonderful.’
‘A unique way of telling women’s history.’
‘Such a treat! Such a polished performance and wonderful script… I feel enriched by having had the opportunity to watch this.’
7.45 - 8.15 Norena Shopland on her new book 'Hidden Stories', about LGBTQ history in Wales*.
8.30 - 9.30 An Extraordinary Female Affection: the life and love of the Ladies of Llangollen with Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler. This will be followed by a Q and A chaired by Norena.
*Norena Shopland has a Master’s degree in heritage studies and has worked for the British Museum, National Museums Scotland and the Museum of London among others. Now living back in her native Wales she has worked with leading heritage organisations including National Museums Wales, Glamorgan Archives and Cardiff Story Museum.
Shopland has extensively researched the heritage of LGBT people and issues in Wales for 15 years. She devised the first project in Wales to look at placing sexual orientation and gender identity into Welsh history, culminating in the Welsh Pride, the first exhibition exclusively on Welsh LGBT people, allies and events, and managed Gender Fluidity, the first funded transgender project in Wales. She arranged for Gillian Clarke to write the first poem in the world by a national or poet laureate celebrating the LGBT people of a country. Her work has appeared in the Welsh press, radio and TV and she regularly provides advice and support on the history of LGBT people in Wales. She lectures to staff networks from the Welsh Government, to numerous museums, archives, charities and other events such as BiFest, Sparkle, Aberration.
Forbidden Lives is a fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. In it Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century where he reports on ‘bearded women’ and other hermaphrodites. Other subjects include Edward II and Hugh DeSpenser, seventeenth century poet Katherine Philips, the Ladies of Llangollen, Henry Paget, artists Gwen John and Cedric Morris, and actor Cliff Gordon.
Shopland also identifies the strong Welsh connections to the exploration of homosexuality and transgender during the twentieth century, highlighting the contributions of John Randell, AE Dyson and Griff Vaughan Williams, and MPs Desmond Donnelly and Leo Abse. They helped to transform social and legal attitudes towards LGBT people across the whole of Britain, particularly in the post-war period, which created the more accepting culture present today. There is still plenty of work to do, as chapters on the responses to Pride in Wales and the first gay play, We All Fall Down, clearly show. But the stories of the people portrayed in this book are less likely to be repeated: the LGBT community has moved from living forbidden lives to a place largely less forbidding. Norena Shopland helps us understand the struggle which achieved these changes.