1886: Casting a Critical eye – a visit to Nannau

Nannau, photographed by Charles Leventon and used from Geograph under Creative Commons.

Thomas records many visits to the great houses of mid Wales, sometimes at the invitation of the owner, with the hope of advice being given, at other times in a spirit of curiosity or even competition.  He doesn’t hold back in his comments in what was, after all, a private journal.

The Head Gardener of Nannau, Mr. Cooke, had visited Palé in September 1885.  It is not clear whether his visit was unannounced.  It may be that there was a small degree of wishing to see the estate as it was, without the opportunity of any tidying up in advance of a visit from a colleague.  Thomas’ return visit was certainly unannounced.

16th Wednesday  Mr. Cooke and friend called here for a run round the garden. Mr. Cooke is Gardener at Nannau, Dolgelly.

In June 1886 Miss Keable, Thomas’ wife’s friend and cousin stayed in the village.  As Frances Harriet had three very small children at the time, as well as her three elder step children, Thomas conducted Miss Fanny Hannah Keable on several expeditions during her visit, including to Nannau.

Miss Fanny Hannah Keable, Born in Battersea 1851, died Edinburgh 1936

Tuesday the 8th Miss Keable and I went to Nannau near Dolgelly.  We left here by the 11 train and got out at Bontnewyd station, from which we walked up an old road and through the Park to the Mansion.  The day was threatening rain, but it cleared up and became very warm and fine.  We lunched at 10 o’clock by the side of the little rill in full view of Cader Idris. Cader was very interesting to watch for scarcely could we get a glimpse of it before the mist enveloped it over and over again.  At last the sun shone brightly and then the mist disappeared and Cader stood out in all its beauty.

I found several interesting plants on the roadside between the station and the park, such as the bog Pimpernel the black Briony the Tutsan Saint John’s wort and the moonwort -four in a little field where we had lunch.   In the same field I caught a pair, or at least two, pretty Cinnabar months the first I ever saw, and the first Mr H. B. Robertson ever saw in Wales.  On our way through the park we saw a small herd of deer.  The park is rocky and undulated but is very poorly wooded.  It seems to have been well wooded at one time but when the old family of Vaughan got involved in debt, I expect that the timber was one of the 1st to be turned into money.  Passed two or three rustic towers, two lodges and a little pond on the way up, and we left the old kitchen garden on our left in which once stood the old “Haunted Oak”.

  “Of evil fame was Nannau’s antique tree                                                 Yet styled the hollow oak of Demonie.”

It fell on the 13 July 1813.  It is said that Owen Glyndwr slew his cousin Howel Sele of Nannau and threw his body into the hollow of this oak where the skeleton was discovered many years after.

We got to the modern gardens about 2 o’clock; they are near the mansion, a mile from the old kitchen garden. Mr Cooke the gardener unfortunately was from home having gone for the afternoon to the village of Llanfachreth, a most out of the way church and village 1 1/2 miles from Nannau.  We met the proprietor Mr Vaughan a tall burly elderly gentleman.  He was very civil and regretted Mr Cooke was from home, and asked me several questions about Palé.  We saw through the houses – one peach house, three vineries, I large unheated peach house in which grew (planted out) roses, peas et cetera.  The crop of peaches was very poor. There is a nice little greenhouse and pits. The kitchen garden is made up of a number of patches, enclosed by hedges and the grounds are very nice, but contain nothing in particular.  The mansion is a modern native stone plain building and it is said to be the most elevated site of a mansion in Britain, being 700 feet above sea level.

There are many interesting pages regarding Nannau in this website, including the census return showing the Roberts family at the Coachman’s house in 1891.

http://nannau.com/buildings/house-timeline.php

It stands on a watershed as it were of the park at the West base of Moel Offrwm, a rounded hill from which very extensive views can be obtained.

 After seeing the gardens I left my companion at the Coachman’s house, she having known Mrs Rogers 10 years ago when once round the Precipice Walk.  I thought of going to hunt up Mr Cooke at Llanfachreth, and went within half a mile of the village, then I feared I would not have time to go there, so turned back and went onto the Precipice Walk where I sat down and rested.  From my position I had very pleasing and extensive views.  Cader stood on my left, Barmouth and the sea further on, the noble estuary extending almost to Dolgelly, the rugged slopes on each side of the river Mawddach, which run along the bottom of the narrow Vale at the foot of the slope where I was sitting.  Far north I could see Snowdon and at the mountains, and to my right beyond Llanfachreith stood the hill of Robell Fawr, and further on Arenig and Aran. It was very warm, but a nice breeze called the air a little.

By Jeff Buck via Geograph using Creative Commons Heading north along the Precipice Walk next to Llyn Cynwch. The Precipice Walk is not a public footpath but a private walk over part of the Nannau estate, which dates back to the twelfth century. The public have been allowed to use the walk by the estate since 1890 on the understanding that they observe the country code, follow the route indicated and use the proper access.

I next went to the little lake of Cynwch, which is situated about half a mile from the mansion in a hollow between two low wooded ridges.  It is a most desolate looking lake, entirely devoid of beauty or interest. The sides are composed of roughangular fragments of rock without a patch of gravel.  I picked up a few fragments of plants, which had been cast upon the shore – they were leaves of quill wort but I could not see the plant growing, nor could I see any Lobelia, shells, or anything else of interest. The lake is about a mile in length and a quarter mile wide. It does not seem to be deep and it stands about 100 feet higher than the mansion.  On my way back I met F. K. and Mrs. Rogers. I saw Lobelia in abundance growing in a pond between the mansion and the lake.  We left in at 6:20 o’clock and got to Dolgelly by 7.20.  We walked pretty fast all the way, distance about 4 miles. Saw a few good trees along the drive, and several fine four-leaved beech, Austrian Pine, etc.  We had pretty glimpses of the scenery on the way home, and got here safely.

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1885 In demand as a guide

Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, Second President of the Chester Society of Natural Science

Photographs in this post are from
Cynthia V. Burek and Thomas A. Hose

By the middle of the 1880’s Thomas was much in demand to lead expeditions for the various natural history societies which were springing up throughout the British Isles.  His first and most frequent expeditions were with the Chester Society of Natural Science, with whose President the Cambridge Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes he had become closely associated as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic seeker after local fossils, some of which found their way into the collection of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge.

He had also become a favourite expedition guide for the Caradoc Field Club, a Shropshire Society based in Shrewsbury.

it is likely that McKenny Hughes or one of his associates had advised their using Thomas as a guide.

During 1885 Thomas guided major expeditions by both Societies, of which he gives full and fascinating accounts.

On 3rd August 1885 he accompanied members of the Chester Society to Glyn Ceriog – see here

Later that month he undertook a demanding two-day expedition for the Caradoc Field Club based on Dolgellau.  A large party including some women, wives or relatives of the (all male) members, stayed ay the New Inn at Dolgellau overnight, and day one took in the summit of Cader Idris.

The full expedition can be viewed here

A photograph of the Chester Natural Science Society First long excursion,10–13 June 1898, Bull Bay, Anglesey (Siddall 1911).  Some of Thomas’ friends appear, e.g. Dr. Stolterfoth, front extreme right. Mr. Siddall may be right centre, but since the caption suffers from a piece of Victorian everyday sexism the ladies’ names are omitted and therfore placement is uncertain.