In 1918 Plas Newydd was sold to the approval of locals. However, within months its historical contents were sold at auction.
One hundred years ago, The Liverpool Daily Post reported on the sale of Plas Newydd, the one-time home of the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Mrs Thomas Wilson of Riseholm Hall, Lincolnshire, had bought Plas Newydd, with all its interesting art treasures, in 1910. She had sold it to Mr George Harrison of Bryntisilio, once the summer residence of Sir Theodoro and Lady Martin, and Liverpool. “In Mr Harrison’s hands it is felt that Wordsworth’s ‘Low-roofed cot by Deva’s Stream,’ as he described Plas Newyd, and Browning’s ‘House beautiful’ of Bryntisilio are in safekeeping.”
However, things weren’t not quite what they seemed. In June it was reported that the house and its contents were going to be sold. “The fine old oak collected with such rare taste by ‘the ladies’ to adorn their home is unique; and included in the collection now to be dispersed, are memorials of the great Duke of Wellington, Madame de Senlis, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Southey, Wordsworth, and many other famous personages, with whom the ladies were contemporaneous”.
The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ were Lady Eleanor Butler (1745-1829), a sister of the 17th Earl of Ormonde, and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1735-1831). About 1776, discontented with their life in Ireland, decided to take fate in their own hands and moved to Llangollen. They occupied a small four-roomed cottage called Pen-y-Mae which they enlarged and renamed Plas Newydd. With a fine taste in art and decoration it was transformed into a dwelling that people flocked to see from far and wide.
At the 1918 auction the house was submitted and withdrawn at £5,250. The sale of the treasures realised about £10,000 after the six day sale. A movement was started to guarantee the retention of the house as a public property and it was thought that about £8,000 would be sufficient. However, in 1919 Plas Newydd was bought by Mr Duveen of London and Liverpool.
This turned out to be Lord Duveen of Millbank who lived his whole life in art and was known as the ‘King of Galleries’. He built the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum to house the Elgin Marbles and a major extension to the Tate Gallery. His ownership of Plas Newydd was brief. Within twelve months it had been sold to the Right Hon George Montagu Bennet, 7th Earl of Tankerville, who handed it over in perpetuity to Llangollen Town Council (after it had borrowed £3,350 from the Ministry of Health) in 1932. Today it is run as a museum by Denbighshire County Council.