County Voice

County Voice 2019: Issue 4

Gentleman Jack and The Ladies of Llangollen

Anne Lister (1791–1840), now known as ‘the first modern lesbian’, visited Sarah Ponsonby on her travels through North Wales in 1822. She was an enthusiastic traveller, and recorded much of her experience at Plas Newydd as part of her daily diary.

The Ladies of Llangollen feature heavily in the very first research and influence boards for BBC / HBO drama Gentleman Jack. Set in 1832 West Yorkshire, Gentleman Jack is inspired by the true-story and coded journals of Anne Lister (played by Suranne Jones), and follows her attempt to revitalize her inherited home, Shibden Hall.

Tom Pye, costume designer for the series, was particularly influenced by the Ladies of Llangollen when designing the spectacular costumes for Suranne Jones. He states: “My research into Anne Lister told me she wore a small black soft cap, probably created with velvet.

"I tried a few shapes along these lines, but it didn’t seem to be able to convey an understanding to a modern audience of the power or status that could be achieved with a top hat.

"I was particularly influenced by the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. Like Anne, they also wore all black, and they wore top hats.

"There’s no mention of a top hat by Anne in her diary, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t own one.”

You can view Anne Lister’s journal entries, alongside copies of the initial costume sketches and idea boards, seven days a week at Plas Newydd Historic House, Llangollen.


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