1869-1870 Settling In

Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk
Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk

During these years, at the beginning of his work in the new garden at Palé, Thomas Ruddy only writes sporadically in the diary. It is obvious that he was working hard; in June 1870 he reports having been ‘ill with debility’ .  There were also the responsibilities  of a new wife and baby. This was the first post in which Thomas was responsible for laying out a new garden entirely.

Unfortunately, Thomas gives no detail about the layout or development of the gardens. The Robertson family planted vines in the hot-houses in January and February 1870: Mr Dean, Mr. Robertson’s nephew also planted a vine – TR comments that Mr. Dean had been a very kind friend in many ways.’

It is here that Thomas mentions William Pamplin for the first time, in early 1870 undated:

Another gentleman, who I now name for the first time, Mr. Pamplin, has been a most interesting friend during the last year.  Mr & Mrs Pamplin have got a house in the village where they have lived for some years.  I knew him by name when I first went to the garden as Mr. Pamplin the publisher of the ‘Phytologist’  He is a good botanist, so that we had rambles together.

May 20 Friday Mr Pamplin and I went to Pont-y-Glyn where we found the toothwort. We both enjoyed ourselves very much.

On 22 June, Wednesday Mr. Ellis of Brynbwlan and I went to the town of Barmouth, for the first time to me. I enjoyed myself exceedingly, and found many seaside plants new to me.

During last month [June] I became very ill with debility. I have been very faint and weak. I have brought it on by over-work – I have been so anxious to make Palé nice and satisfactory , both to Mr. Robertson and myself.  Dr. Hughes ordered me to the sea side, so that my wife, baby and myself left here for Towyn on 22 August, Monday. Towyn is a quiet, nice watering place, so that we had a pleasant time of it, but I was too weak to enjoy myself much. We lodged at the farmhouse of Tyddyndu with John Roberts, an acquaintance of Mr. Ellis. [ Mr Ellis shown in 1881 Census as farmer of Brynbwlan – where TR lodged before moving into his house in Palé gardens.] During my stay I botanised along the seaside from near Aberdovey to the river Dysini, and a good deal of Towyn Marsh. I found many plants new to me too numerous to mention. We stayed for a week which gave me much strength.

My wife and I went to the sale at Aberhirnant on the 28 September, Wednesday. I thought it a beautiful locality.

24 & 25 October I was with Mr. Dean at Chester buying trees at Eaton Rd Nurseries. Mr. Dean and Mr. Joshua Dean, who also went, were very kind to me. I felt much better when I got back.


Walk 1 Pistyll Rhaider and Cader Berwyn

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In June 1869 comes the first description of one of the many walks taken by Thomas during his life in Wales.  It is typical of his blend of landscape description, observations of flora, fauna and geology and his thoughts often with literary or historical embellishments.  It is not clear how Thomas arrived at the waterfall of Pistyll Rhaider; in some later walk descriptions he mentions getting a lift from a waggoner or Palé’s coachman.  Depending on how he reached his start point, the walk could have been up to 18 miles in length.

June 6th I and my friends went to see the great waterfall of Pistyll Rhaider [TR’s Footnote: Height of the falls over 200 ft (212)]on the south of the Berwyns. We were very much pleased with it; the water falls from a great height into a circular rock basin over twenty feet from the bottom, from which it falls again into the bed of the river. From the waterfall, we went to the mining village of Llangynog, and home by Milltirgerig. The beautiful little saxifraga stellaris and Sedum Forsterianum were the most interesting plants, except the abundance of parsley fern.

July 18th I went by myself to Pistyll Rhaider, and from there up to the little lake of Llynllyncaws [Llyn Lluncaws SJ072317] this lake is circular and has fine trout, but almost destitute of plants. The sun was most powerful and I felt its effect very much. I began to climb the fearfully steep slope from the lake a little west of Cader Berwyn. I got about half way up with the greatest difficulty, owing to the dried, slippery, withered grass, the unbearable heat, and a fearful thirst. I was quite faint and disheartened, always slipping back, the top seemed to be further off than ever, so that I sat down on the hot slope, in a broiling sun, quite overcome with fatigue.

Screenshot 2016-04-24 10.34.23View north east from Craig y Llyn, just below the summit of Moel Sych. The right peak is the south top of Cadair Berwyn; the left is the main (though lower) summit with the trig point
© Copyright Espresso Addict and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Above my head two ravens were circling about, sending forth croak after croak, as if exulting at the prospects of feasting upon me. I quite gave up the idea of trying to ascend by this place and was preparing to descend when my eye fell upon a beautiful green tufty plant which was quite new to me. I was at once full of admiration, and in the eagerness to know what it was, I quite forgot all my fatigue and trouble. It seemed as though the watchful eye of Him above me had sent this to comfort me. I thought at once of the fearful sufferings endured by Mungo Park after he had been robbed near Kooma in Central Africa, and when he had given way to despair and saw nothing but death staring him in the face; and how quickly he revived when his eye caught sight of a little green moss by his side, and he went his way in search of help and was rewarded. I thought of what was my suffering in comparison to his, so that I jumped up with wonderful vigour, carried off the moss, and I found myself at the top before I had time to think of the suffering I was undergoing.

This little moss which saved me much suffering or made me forget it was the savin leaved clubmoss Lycopodium alpinum.

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Lycopodium alpinum

photo © Ivar  Heggelund


I have had the greatest admiration for it ever since, and it always recalls that day to me.   When I got to the top I found a shady spot near a cool spring of water in a deep gorge on the north side. I refreshed myself with my luncheon and water, and took a good rest. By this time I found the heat more bearable, so that I had a magnificent view from Cader Berwyn and found the cloudberry for the first time.

I came down by the mountain stream called Nant ysgartan [Nant esgeiriau on OS Explorer] to the Llandrillo valley, and home over the hills, tired, but pleased with my journey.

First year at Palé

Thomas began work on the day after his arrival at Palé, engaging men to work and arranging to move from the Inn of Bryntirion situated at the foot of Palé’s drive, where he had spent the first night in rooms arranged for him by Mr Dickson of the Nurseries, to the nearby Brynbwlan farmhouse farmed by Mr & Mrs. Ellis.  Within five days he had decided that he was ready for his pregnant wife to join him, and had planned for the purchase of a large quantity of trees and shrubs.

January 23rd Saturday I went back to Chester for my wife and I ordered about £100 worth of trees and shrubs. My wife and I came here for good on the 25th of Jany. Monday 1869.  [£100.00 probably worth £4,000 – £5,000 today]

There are few journal entries for the first few months of 1869, but on the 26th March a notable event is recorded – the birth of a first child, Thomas Alexander.  [Thomas and Mary had married in December the previous year.  Slight raise of eyebrows from editor/transcriber!]

Four days later, Thomas secured a permanent post at Palé:

March 30th Tuesday. I engaged to be Mr. Robertson’s permanent gardener. Mr. & Mrs. Robertson were leaving for London; they told me that several wanted the place, but that they would much rather that I would take it; and that I would be at liberty to make myself comfortable. [Mr and Mrs Robertson owned a house in Lancaster Gate, London, where they resided for several long periods each year.]

By the end of April Thomas records walks in the area with friends.  Unfortunately he does not record the friends’ names or details.  Descriptions of walks form a substantial part of the journal through the rest of his life.

The full journal entries from January to April 1869 here


A new employer – Henry Robertson

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Henry Robertson

via Shrewsbury Local History site


The owner of Palé Hall, Henry Robertson, was 53 years old when in January 1842 he appointed the 27 year old Thomas Ruddy as his Head Gardener.  Like Thomas he spent his childhood in Scotland, came from a family without wealth, and carved out a career for himself through innate ability and hard work.  Winning a scholarship to Aberdeen University at 14 studying engineering, he had achieved his MA by the age of 2o.

Initially working in coal mining in Lanarkshire, he moved on to railway engineering as a pupil of Robert Stevenson, and finally through a series of chances, moved to Wales, probably about 1840.  A detailed description of his working life can be found here.

Henry had married Elizabeth Dean, daughter of a London solicitor in July 1846, and with their children Elizabeth (born 1852) Annie (born 1855) Henrietta (born 1858) and Henry Beyer (born 1862) they would move into the completed Palé Hall on September 18th 1870.

It would seem from Thomas’s description of his initial meeting with Mr and Mrs Robertson that it was Elizabeth who was chiefly involved in planning the details of the garden:

Mrs. Robertson and family came from Crogan in the afternoon, so that we spent the day in talking and planning. A new house was to be built with the dining room windows looking west, the boudoir and drawing room windows looking NW & W. The flower garden was to be (according to the architect’s wish) in the small piece in front of the dining room, but I got Mr. & Mrs. Robertson to have it where it now is with terraces instead of a bank. Mrs. Robertson then wished me to plan the glass houses.

The family were living nearby at the smaller Crogen Estate which is still in the Robertson family.

Further details abut Henry Robertson can be found here

Mr – and Mrs Ruddy


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A photograph of Thomas taken in Chester. Possibly aged 27, about to begin work at Palé


Before commencing work at Palé Hall in January 1869, Thomas spent two years at Middleton Hall, Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire.  During this time he married Mary Blackhall, daughter of an Edinburgh family.  Mary makes a very unexpected entry to the journal coming as a great surprise to the transcriber:

1868 October 27 Tuesday                I observed a very beautiful lunar rainbow; it appeared after a shower 8.15pm. It had no colour. My year being coming to a close I resolved to try and get a better situation. I was very comfortable, but it was a very out of the way place and Lord Denman (although very kind) had no money to spend on the garden. I was welcome to Dicksons of Chester so that I told Lord Denman to try and get one to succeed me. I was now married to Mary Blackhall, daughter of John Blackhall of Edinburgh and sister to the manager for Paton and Ritchie booksellers Edinburgh.

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Mary Blackhall of Edinburgh

Thomas gives no hint of how they met, but their marriage certificate for the 18th December 1868 may provide a clue.  Married at Stoney Middleton, Mary’s profession is stated as ‘lady’s maid’ so perhaps it was at Middleton Hall that they met.  The certificate gives Mary’s father’s name as Alexander, and the naming of their first child Thomas Alexander may confirm this, as do the other records concerning Alexander.

Thomas signals his satisfaction at the beginning of 1869:   January 1st The past year was a happy one for me and I had excellent health, and I took to wife a daughter of ‘Auld Reekie’. It was an unusually hot summer, about the hottest for many years, 90 or over in the shade.