Plas Newydd and Mary Gosling

February 5, 2012 at 8:57 am (diaries, history, research) (, , , , , , )

On Mary Gosling’s birthday (February 2nd), I posted a “brief history” of this Smith & Gosling project on my Ladies of Llangollen web. Why? it was while searching for contemporary reports on Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler that I found Mary Gosling’s diaries!

So, a belated “hey, check it out!” –> for those inquiring minds who would like to know how this project began…

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Slowly Building those Blogs

October 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm (books, diaries, history, news) (, , , , , , , , )

Quick note on two new pages — in two new blogs:

My Ladies of Llangollen blog has had the writings of Marion Harland added — check it out

And my newest blog, where I hope to hear about some new books, and (sooner or later) discuss some old books: I call it Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices — it’s about published history, diaries, letters, biographies — there’s only two books at present. Help me add to it! The “ABOUT” will hopefully fill you in on the types of books you’re likely to find there.

Find more Ellen Tollet here and there

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Just Launched: Ladies of Llangollen

August 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm (research) (, , , , , )

A quick post to alert readers that I’ve begun to ‘repost’ some fascinating research that actually introduced me to Mary Gosling. It was a visit to Llangollen, and a purchase of a small ‘history’ about the lives of its Ladies, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, that caused me to find my first diary: Mary’s travel diary, now owned by Duke University. There’s not much there at present, but please visit: I’ve a ton of information to share.

Check it out at

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I Want to Read…

March 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm (books, introduction, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


It occurred to me that blog readers might be interested in a bit of “hmmm… what’s she raising money for??” explanation. (see the Austen Book Raffle posts).

I’m more than happy to bend a few “eyes” (and ears) about my research project! (As friends and family know, to their detriment…)

To start at the very beginning: I visited Northern Wales — Llangollen to be exact — and was just ENCHANTED with the story of the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler. I began collecting “first-hand” information, and posted it on my website. Surprisingly, there was abundant material! Though much found was of the second-hand, mythic variety, there were some great finds.

One “find” was a Duke University diary. Once belonging to MARY GOSLING, the diary turned out to contain several trips – to the English coast, to the battlefields of Waterloo, and a certain trip to Ireland that took the Gosling family through Northern Wales. And — wait for it! — they visited with the Ladies! Were shown around Plas Newydd (the home of the Ladies of Llangollen; now a museum), in fact!

But who were these GOSLINGS??

(And, by the way, Mary hadn’t much to about the Ladies, other than what was already known about them – ie, how they dressed and how they never travelled far from home.)

With the internet, I struck gold. Found a series of diaries written by Lady Smith, the 2nd daughter of William Gosling of Roehampton Grove, a banker. Now, in Mary Gosling’s diary, there was a man who brought his family to see Bank of Ireland currency MADE. Who, other than a banker, would have the ability to go that? And Mary had them departing from “Roehampton”!

But, without seeing these later diaries of Lady Smith’s, it was mere supposition that Mary Gosling = Lady Smith.

The main reason these Lady Smith diaries were listed online was that they were included in part of an exceptional large microfilm collection. Essex County was in PART FIVE, which I learned was a far cry from Part One — the only series owned by the closest “big” educational facility within easy driving: Dartmouth College (New Hampshire). Oh, the drive home that day was a disappointment.

Again: thankfully the internet — and online college & university catalogues — helped me track down a handful of places with the full series (or at least through series five). A trip to Colonial Williamsburg brought me within easy distance of one of those few: Old Dominion University. I’ve never seen such a lovely library! And once I found the rolls of film with Lady Smith’s diaries, I was well rewarded: There was the SAME handwriting, the same reference to “My Sister” (Mary never calls Elizabeth Gosling anything other than “my Sister”.)

I had found my girl!

Or, should I say girls — for that day I spotted my first reference to young Emma:

If I had KNOWN that in looking up some Jane Austen books I’d have found ALL of Charles Joshua Smith’s siblings, I would have saved myself TONS of digging… Alas, it’s almost a “happier” circumstance to piece the family together: 9 Smith siblings in all!

“Mr Austen, Mr Knight, and Mrs Leigh Perrot” in the diary entry above (Emma and Edward’s first child’s christening!) were the giveaways about the Jane Austen connection.

And thanks to that connection I got to see TONS of diaries and letters and memorabilia (for instance, a lock of young Drummond Smith’s hair!) at the Hampshire Record Office, when I lived in England for two months in 2007 in order to transcribe as much material as possible. For most of the time, I worked six days a week at the archive (thanks to their generous hours) and on the seventh — well, I began well: reading and reviewing the work of previous days, but it was summer and, yes, some Sundays I spent in the park near Winchester’s town hall.

I had already inter-library loaned those rolls of microfilm with Lady Smith’s diaries; purchased a roll of film with all of the existing diaries written by Charles Joshua Smith (Mary Gosling’s husband; Emma Smith’s eldest brother), which the Essex Record Office houses. Now I had a growing collection of letters and diaries by the likes of Emma, her mother Augusta Smith, her sisters Augusta, Fanny and Maria; a diary series belonging to Fanny’s eventual husband, the Rev. Richard Seymour was briefly worked on at the Warwickshire Record Office (their hours were much shorter than HRO’s…).

In short, I’ve seen much, typed a LOT, and still there is more material for me to “visit” — if not in person (expensive) then via film.

And that’s where the Book Raffle comes in. Edward Austen (later Austen Leigh) made some delightful silhouettes, and his descendent, Freydis Welland, put them together into a book, originally published by private press: A Life in the Country. The pictures are accompanied by Jane Austen quotes. The book was then published “commercially” by the British Library.

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An Adventure Begins

May 13, 2010 at 9:48 pm (research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

As a change of pace, keeping in mind that it soon will be three years since I began to research this project in earnest (and this blog chalks up its second anniversary), I feel like reminiscing about my two-month research stay in Hampshire — for guess who kept diaries!

So, whenever you see my avatar (at right), the accompanying post will tell some tale of those heady days when I was living abroad, jobless but far from aimless. (My mother sees this period as one l-o-n-g vacation which drained my bank account, but that is an untruth: being a year-plus out of work did all the draining; but that is a tale best left UNtold. Who knew economic catastrophe was lurking around the next corner.)

When you work nineteen years at the same place, with little to show for your years there beyond having grown older, you come to a point when things just have to change. Never mind that two years before (in Dec 2004/Jan 2005) I had been ill with two bouts of stomach flu. You don’t eat when you have the stomach flu; you grow weak, lose weight. At one point I thought of myself as Hansel (brother to Gretel): my arm like a thin twig he might allow the old Witch to fondle in order for her to judge whether he had fattened up enough (No–).

Not feeling well for MONTHS just brought about an epiphany (call it a mid-life crisis if you like): What was I doing with my life!?

But all this was a good year in the future. In 2005 the concern was getting back my health, and enjoying three weeks in the UK with my father. We rented a narrowboat! For two of those weeks we were a household afloat. Our trip began in Shropshire, ventured across North Wales to end at wonderful little Llangollen; back to Whitchurch (Salops) and north towards Chester — where we stayed a couple days rather than continue on to Ellesmere Port. That trip alone could be the subject of a most interesting blog!

But one thing that I came away with was a devotion to the so-called LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN: Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. I began a website about them a year after our return — but never really finished building it. Still, there are some interesting tidbits there for those interested in learning more about these women whom I believe were the greatest of friends (nothing more), and who spent their lives living as they pleased: reading, teaching themselves languages, visiting and being visited by friends. They took pleasure in their home, and in each other’s company. Pleasing oneself is how one’s life should be spent…, don’t you think?

It was while searching for first-hand information on the Ladies, that I stumbled upon MARY GOSLING. She had visited Llangollen, visited the Ladies, in 1821. Her diary entry on her meeting with Sarah and Eleanor did not contain much new information, and was initially a great disappointment. However, as time went by, I began to wonder: WHO was Mary Gosling?? — this “anonymous” person whose diary had started as an aide memoir of her travels, but which had ended up collecting dust on a shelf at Duke University.

That wondering changed my life. Stay tuned to find out how and why.

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2 October 1821

October 2, 2008 at 9:39 pm (a day in the life, estates, places) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Today is 2 October 2008, but wouldn’t it be nice to see what Mary Gosling was up to on one other Second of October?? In her 1821 travel diary, she was on the road and had this to say about activities on that day:

‘At twelve on Tuesday [October 2] we set out accompanied by Mrs Mainwaring, Susan and Miss Townshend to see Eaton Lord Grosvenor’s seat about three miles from Chester. The exterior of it which is of Gothic architecture is the most beautiful building I ever saw, they are now adding two wings to it, the interior is magnificent and consists of dining room, billiard room, music room, anti drawingroom, and saloon, the carving of the ceiling is peculiarly beautiful as well as the furniture. The kitchen garden and hot houses are good, but the rest of the garden is not striking. We then went to Trevallyn, Mr Townshend’s place two miles from Eaton, where we lunched and proceeded through a very neat village called Marford belonging to Mr Buscawen to Gresford vale a most lovely spot, in which Mr and Mrs George Cunliffe have a very pretty small cottage close to the church and village of Gresford. We returned to dinner at half past seven.’

A busy day! The Goslings – papa William, mamma Charlotte, Mary and her sister Elizabeth – were en route through Chester, across North Wales (where they visit the Ladies of Llangollen), and would cross to Ireland. In Dublin, William brings his daughter to see money being made at the Bank of Ireland! Talk of a busman’s holiday; undoubtedly, a perk of being a London banker.

By the way, to read more about the Grosvenor family seek out a copy of Gervas Huxley’s biography Lady Elizabeth and the Grosvenors: Life in a Whig Family, 1822-1839.

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