1874 Collections, collections

The only two remaining coins from Thomas' extensive collection
The only two remaining coins from Thomas’ extensive collection

There are so many features of Thomas’ story that make him very much a man of his times.  Not the least of these is his passion for collecting natural and historical objects.  His journal for 1874 demonstrates this at almost every entry:

1874 Jan 11th Sunday I had a look through the old Elizabethan Mansion of Rhiwedog [SH9434] which now belongs to Mr. Price of Rhiwlas, but was formerly belonging to the Lloyds and is said to be the site of the residence of Llewarch Hen,, prince and poet in the 5th century. It is now a house very much out of repair. The date 1672 is on an oak beam forming the chimney piece in one of the upstairs rooms. Oak is much used in it.  Not a collection, but demonstrating Thomas’ drive to understand and immerse himself in Welsh culture and history.

February 9th Monday I went to Bala. Mr. Evan Jones took me to Eryl Aran and introduced me to Thomas Anwyl esq. [1871 Welsh census aged 27 captain of Militia] who showed me his collection of stuffed birds, coins, etc. the collections are the best in Bala.  Perhaps here we see one of the inspirations for Thomas’ collecting habit, although it is clear from the journal that he had already begun amassing various collections.

March 26 Thursday When at Rûg, the seat of the Hon Charles Wynn, Mr. Bennett the gardener took me to see Rûg chapel. This domestic chapel is most curious inside with mural paintings. It is altogether well worth a visit to see the carvings and decorations.

July 8th Wednesday I observed the ‘Coggia Comet’.

 August 4th Tuesday I went to Corwen with ferns for the ‘Eisteddfod Gadeiriol’. I got introduced to Cyndellw (Mr. Roberts). This man is a Minister (Baptist) and a bard; he has the appearance of an old bard. His beard was grey and reached to his waist. I found him very chatty and quite a well informed man on general topics but quite enthusiastic about ancient customs. He told me that I was better informed of Welsh customs than many Welshmen who pretended to be, and also styled me Bard rhedyrn or fern bard.

 August 5th & 6th I was judge at the Eisteddfod for ferns, dried specimens and fossils, so that I had to go about with a white rosette in my coat. I had a long talk with Mrs. West of Ruthin Castle, who admired my collection of British ferns and dried plants. She had a most taking manner and is one of the fashionable beauties of England. She brought her father, mother and sister to me, as well as her husband. Mrs. West’s father is the Rev. F. Fitzpatrick, of Tyrone, Ireland; he is a fine handsome man, and so is Miss Fitzpatrick, her sister very nice in manners and good looking, but the mother is rather a dowdy. Mr. West is a tall handsome man.

I find this entry a remarkable tribute to Thomas’ capacity to integrate fully into the cultural life of his area.  Only five years into his position at Palé he had amassed a collection of ferns, plants dearly loved by the Victorian gardener, dried plants and fossils and learned enough about Welsh customs to impress a bard.  He was obviously taken to the hearts of his Welsh neighbours, in order to be placed in the position of judge.  It is obvious that Thomas also enjoyed the social standing he was acquiring as he chatted to local gentry.

Oct 5th Monday Mr. Trevor Clarke came here to see my fossils and eggs. Mr. Kerr jun. of Maisemor brought him. Mr Kerr is an enthusiastic ornithologist and an old acquaintance.

 Nov 9th Mr. Kerr came again to see my eggs and get explanations about local birds. He was most amiable to me.  And now we have bird’s eggs to add to the list, and some of the first people who came to Thomas’ door to view his collections.  In future years he would add to the list professors of Geology from Cambridge and from Sweden, and in due course, Queen Victoria herself.

An article about Victorian Collectors:

Mary Merrifield

Friends, family, gardens and geology – 1873


The journal entries for the year 1873 are sporadic and mainly brief, but they demonstrate the main features of Thomas’ life and interests in their mix of topics.

Once again Thomas visits a local house with a view to help with the design of the garden.:May 19th Monday Had a trip to Eyarth near Ruthin. Mr Pulestone brother-in-law To Mr. Evan Jones of Bala is having a house built there and I have promised to lay out the place for him. He bought the large farm of Ffynogion for the sum of £9,000, and he is going to have the villa built for a tenant.  We can only assume that this was with the encouragement and permission of his employer at Palé, Mr, Robertson.  It also suggests that the design and upkeep of the Palé garden was well in hand, allowing Mr Robertson to consent to the absence and wider engagement of his Head Gardener at other estates.  In the next year Henry Robertson was to become Liberal MP for Shrewsbury (he had already served in that position between 1862 and 1865).  He would have moved in the circles of those local landowners, and might have been glad to offer an obviously talented gardener and landscape designer to come to their aid.  All thanks to the nurture of Mr Williamson, head gardener at Minto, where Thomas shared a bothy and studied Geometry, French and Latin.

Thomas’ continuing interest in geology is evident:  May 30th Friday My friend Mr. William Owen (of Plasisa, Llandderfel) and I went geologising over the Berwen to the Phosphate mine [See here]. We got a few fossils at the Bala limestone; it was a very warm day and we were very thirsty and tired, but well pleased with our journey.  Throughout his life he made friendships with those in the neighbourhood who had similar interests in the natural sciences.  events were later to lead to wider friendships, visits and correspondence with significant scholars, particularly geologists.  There are over 1,000 of his geological specimens in the Natural History Museum, and he later sent a parcel of specimens to the Smithsonian Museum in New York, at the request of the curator of geology.

An intriguing mention is made of an expedition with ‘Mr. Irvine of London’.  William Pamplin, Thomas’ greatest friend and mentor had collaborated with Alexander Irvine who had lived close by WP in Chelsea in earlier years, and Irvine and Pamplin had made joint botanical expeditions both in Scotland and Wales.  Alexander Irvine had died in May 1873.  Was this a relative whom Thomas met through William Pamplin.  How else did Thomas come to have a London based friend?

Sept 11 Thursday I went to Barmouth with my friend Mr. Irvine of London; we got out at Arthog and botanised all the way to Barmouth. We got several interesting plants. During the year I have added largely to my collection of plants, eggs and fossils.  I have explored a great deal of the neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, events moved on in the Pamplin and the Ruddy households, bringing both joy and sadness:

August 30th Saturday Poor Miss Sarah Pamplin died from an accident caused by falling down the cellar steps at Bronwylfa. We were both exceedingly sorry, for she was a most amiable and kind person. It was a terrible blow for her family. William Pamplin’s sister Sarah had come with her sister Harriet; from their family home in Newington, South London and settled near William and Caroline in the village of Llandderfel.  They were 68 and 69 when they arrived, and lived in the home of the local doctor.

While in the Ruddy household, there was a new arrival: Dec 31st Wednesday (in the evening) Our third child born and named Mary Emily Ruddy.[In a later hand] Died on the 15th of June 1897.

1872: Settling in

Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk
Trees at Palé Hall, many planted by Thomas.  via http://www.palehall.co.uk

The journal entries for the first three of Thomas’ years as Head Gardener at Palé are brief; it is clear that he was much occupied in setting out the gardens and creating and managing a workforce of gardeners – although sadly, we do not hear anything of them.  Did Thomas take on apprentices, and did he give them as thorough a grounding as he himself enjoyed at Minto House?

The short journal entries for 1872 demonstrate a range of activities and interests which made up the fabric of Thomas’ life at that period.  We read of the activities of the Robertson family, the increase of Thomas’ and Mary’s own family, Thomas’ growing influence among the local owners of large estates needing development, and his spare time activities of botany and geology.

The year begins with the planting of trees in the new garden at Palé (already detailed in a previous post.)

January 15th Monday Master Robertson planted a Deodar and a Picea Nordmaniana on lawn, each near the ends of the walls of the fruit garden.

Miss Robertson planted a Deodar on lawn in front of the pantry window. Miss Annie planted a Deodar and a Picea grandis, both near the library. Miss Henrietta planted a Deodar and Picea pinsapo, both near the little walk leading to the flower garden.

Later that year, a significant event in the Robertson family is chronicled:

December 4th Wednesday Great Rejoicings here over the marriage of Miss Annie to Mr. Sherriff. All the neighbourhood was in holiday and all passed over very nicely.

Alexander Thomas Arthur Sherriff was 24 at the time of the marriage and the son of the MP for Worcester.  His family home was in Sunbury, Surrey at the time of the 1871 census; other members of the family are recorded as being Members of the Stock Exchange.  Alexander himself is recorded as ‘BA’.  After attending Shrewsbury school, Alexander had gone up to Trinity Cambridge in 1865.  Somewhat unusually marrying before her elder sister, Miss Annie had made a good match, but it was to end tragically when Alexander died at the Robertson family home in Lancaster Gate, London in 1880, less than eight years after the marriage.

[In brackets at foot of a page: William Pamplin Ruddy born January 19th, Friday at 3.15 am.]

William Pamplin Ruddy was born when his brother Thomas Alexander was two years and eleven months old.  I had originally assumed that his second name was given in honour of Thomas’ greatest friend William Pamplin, but I have since learned that it was in fact honouring William’s wife Caroline, neé Hunneman, who was his godmother.  At this point no-one could have guessed that in due course Thomas was to become ever more closely related to the Pamplin family.

The next recorded item is the first of many mentions of Thomas’ visits to nearby estates to advise on horticulture and garden design.  We can deduce that Henry Robertson was already very proud of Thomas’ work, perhaps showing nearby landowners round his recently acquired estate, and promising them the assistance of his knowledgeable and confident Head Gardener.  Thomas was still only just 30.

Sept 25th Wednesday I went to see Dolserau Hall, the seat of Charles Edwards Esq. [now a hotel Ed.] Mr. Lawson the gardener was very nice and showed me all of any interest. It is in a very pretty situation, And a very nice place. Mr. Lawson took me to see the ruins of Dolgyn Hall where he pointed out an old smelting kiln where iron had been smelted. I saw very good specimens of the Taxodirum distchum and tulip trees. We went afterwards up the romantic Torrent Walk, which is a charming place. A large stream is either sliding down rocks, forming small cascades or dashing down at headlong speed for two miles nearly. The sides of the dingle are nicely wooded and studded with flowers and ferns. At the head of it we got to the house of Caerynwch the seat of the late Mr. Richards. Caerynwch is a small but nice place. The torrent is on its property. [Grid ref SH7518]

There was time for family and friends; William Pamplin’s sisters Harriet (1803-1875) and Sarah (1804-1873) moved from London to be near their brother.  His third sister, Frances, remained in London.  She was married to Parish Clerk of Newington.  Their daughter Frances Harriet would become Thomas’ second wife.

It was a very pleasant year all through – not too warm. I had good fishing during the summer. Mr. Pamplin’s sisters came to live at Dr. Richard’s new house – Bronwylfa – very nice people, so that they were and are nice friends.

I am able to trace little about Jane Blackhall, Thomas’ Scottish sister-in-law.  Did she emigrate to Australia permanently, or was this a visit?  A long journey for a single woman, in either case.

My sister-in-law Jane Blackhall was staying with us for a time before she left for Melbourne in Australia.

As he sums up the year, Thomas reflects with satisfaction on his progress, finding time for both hard work, family concerns and pursuit of leisure activities.  and proves himself to be a tireless and self-motivated student, as ‘working up’ the birds and geology obviously point to study in books as well as field research.

Last January our second child was born here at Palé. By this time I have got Palé into a nice state – everything very satisfactory.During the year I have been hard at work botanizing the district, also working up the birds and the geology of the neighbourhood which I find to be very interesting.

1871 The Robertsons at Palé

The Robertson family moved into Palé Hall in September 1871.  Their home in Wales until this point had been the Crogen Estate.  However, when the census was taken on Sunday 2nd April that year, the family were residing at their London home, 13 Lancaster Gate.  The census return gives a good opportunity to see who comprised the family at this important date.

Henry Robertson, born in Banff, Scotland,  was 55 at the time, and described in the census as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant, with ‘engineer’ added as something of an afterthought.  His wife Elizabeth, daughter of a London solicitor, was 49 and according to the census born in ‘Surrey, Bermondsey’.  Their children were Elizabeth, 19 (‘Miss Robertson’) Annie, 16; Henrietta, 13; and Henry B. 8 (‘Master Robertson’)  Henry’s second name was Beyer, in tribute to his father’s engineering partner and mentor, Charles Beyer.  On his death, Beyer left the use of his home, Llantisilio Hall not far from Palé for the use of Henry Beyer and his sister Annie.

I devise all that my messuage or mansion house known as Llantysilio Hall in the County of Denbigh with the lands…. .. to the use of my Godson Henry Beyer Robertson”   “To the use of my god daughter Annie Robertson, daughter of the said Henry Robertson for her life without impeachment of waste for her sole and separate use independently of any husband with whom she shall intermarry and of his debts control and engagements and from and after the decease of the said Annie Robertson”  [via Wikipedia]

All the children were born in Shrewsbury

Nine live-in servants are recorded at the Lancaster Gate House, some originating in London, others in Shrewsbury or Corwen, near Crogen and Palé.

Screenshot 2016-06-01 14.18.58

Earlier Census returns

In 1861 Henry and Elizabeth are recorded as living at st. Mary’s Court, Shrewsbury, with their three daughters.  Also living in the same house were Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Dean ‘Solicitor’s wife’, her sons Charles ‘Engineer’ and Joshua ‘Secretary of Railway’ and a nephew John Dean 17, ‘scholar’ as well as a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nurserymaid and three Housemaids.  This demonstrates Henry’s rise in fortunes as within the next 10 years he owned the Lancaster Gate house, Crogen, which he rented out on removing to Palé and Palé itself.

In 1851 Henry and Elizabeth are found living in Richmond Place Chester, Henry designated ‘Civil Engineer’ with several additional words including [indecipherable] Hereford, Shrewsbury [indecipherable] Coal and Iron Master.  Charles Dean and nephew John Dean are also living there, with a Cook, Housemaid and Butler.

It is clear from Thomas Ruddy’s successive journal entries over the 37 years of his service at Palé that Henry Robertson and the whole family were amiable and considerate employers, and Thomas an energetic and conscientious Head Gardener.  Henry seems to have offered Thomas’ advice to many of the local landowners, resulting in Thomas visiting surrounding estates to advise their owners on horticulture and design.  As Thomas became increasingly noted for his geological collections, Robertson seems to have been proud to allow him to demonstrate his collections to callers, and in due course to Queen Victoria herself.  Henry’s brother in law Joshua Dean was frequently at Palé and was often a companion to Thomas in various excursions.  The Robertson family continued to spend time at Lancaster Gate during the year, thus giving Thomas more latitude to undertake his geological expeditions during their absence.