1884 A Visit to a Neighbouring Estate – Plas Power

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Plas Power before its demolition

As mentioned in my last post, Thomas Ruddy was frequently invited to look at, or sometimes advise on neighbouring estate gardens.  At a time of great interest and expenditure on gardens by landowners, and perhaps particularly by newly rich ones, there would have been a degree of one-upmanship involved.  Henry Robertson had gone to great lengths to engage a particularly well-equipped Head Gardener in 1869 when he employed Thomas Ruddy.  As a person of local consequence, an MP and a Deputy Lieutenant, he had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.  Talk of estates, gardens  and such currently popular acquisitions as vineries, hot houses etc. must have been among favourite subjects of conversation.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Fitz Hugh went to some lengths to welcome his guest, providing transport from Wrexham station, meeting and speaking to him on his arrival and ensuring lunch was provided in the mansion. The day ended with a long talk about the garden with Mr. Fitz Hugh, transport back to the station and expenses of the day paid.

August 27 Wednesday Mr Fitz-Hugh of Plas Power invited me to see his gardens, so I left here by the 929 and got to Wrexham a little after 11.  There was a groom with a trap waiting for me. It was a very pleasant drive to the mansion especially at the drive-through the Park. The drive is [116] 1 mile in length from the lodge to the mansion. The Park is said to be the finest in North Wales. There is fine timber in it; fine old Oaks, elms, beaches, Spanish chestnuts et cetera. On arriving at the mansion I had a short talk with Mr Fitz-Hugh in a room, after which he took me through the ground to the Gardener Mr Clarke. Mr Clarke is from near York, is about 45 or so – middle height. We had a look at the peaches on the wall, the melon and strawberry pits, etc.

I had dinner in the mansion at 1 o’clock. After dinner I went round again, saw the vineries, greenhouse et cetera there are two vineries – the vines are in a very exhausted state, so that the grapes were very poor. The houses have been neglected and are very unsatisfactory. There is no peach house because the peaches do very well outside. The trees were in fair condition and had a nice crop. The melons were a failure, having rotted off at the base of the stalks. Chrysanthemums were planted out and were very good. It is a first rate deep loam and the climate is very much drier and warmer than here, so that trees and crops grow rapidly and well. The ornamental grounds are very beautiful, and contain good specimens of conifers in excellent health and branching to the ground.

After seeing the gardens we went to see a very fine section of Offa’s Dyke. There is about a mile of it through the Park, mostly in excellent preservation. It is about 30 feet wide at the top running to a narrow bottom. Depth about 20 feet. The whole of the material excavated is thrown up on the English side of the trench. Section of it [drawn section included on page]

  Section labels:     No. 1. Welsh side old level of soil. 2. The excavated ditch or trench called the ‘Dyke’. 3 old level of ground on the English side. 4. the excavated material thrown up on one side. Number two is 20 feet deep, number 4, 10 feet above old level of soil. It is supposed that King Offa had it dug to form either a defensive work or boundary between England and Wales. But some consider it to be a Roman work. It begins at the sea in Flintshire and runs to the Severn or the Wye – 100

 miles. [added later] Offa’s Dyke is now considered to have been made to stop the Welsh from stealing English cattle. Builder August 28, 1886.

 

From Offa’s Dyke I went up to the west drive to the Minera Road then down to a romantic dingle at a mill. Followed the dingle by a private walk to the South Lodge. The dingle is very pretty, contains some fine old oaks and other trees, is bedecked with ferns and shrubs et cetera. The river runs over sandstone rock into which it has cut deeply in some places. The river has its source in the hills of Cym-y-brain, comes past the mining district of Minera, passes the village of Bersham, and enters the Dee under the name of the Clywedog. It used to be a good trout stream, but it is now so much poisoned with the lead refuse and lime that no trout can live in it. Near the village of Bersham I saw the private little church which Mr Fitz-Hugh had built for his own use, servants, and some of his tenants. It has a groined stone roof, and is elaborately carved in Grecian style.

Plas Power church website

John Wilkinson token (not the one mentioned by Thomas – these are no longer present in the collection.)

I saw where Mr John Wilkinson, ironmaster, used to cast cannon about a century ago or so. The works were near the little river, a short distance from the village of Bersham. Mr Wilkinson had the privilegeof coining copper tokens. I have two of them his home was Brymbo Hall a few miles north of Plas Power. I returned through the Park to the mansion where I had tea. It is a very roomy brick mansion with stone quoins. There is a terrace wall half round it and the flower garden; the latter is in the Dutch style and the mansion is roughly Elizabethan. I had a long talk with Mr Fitz-Hugh about his gardens before I left. The day was rather wet but I enjoyed my visit very much. Mr Fitz-Hugh was very kind and free, paid my expenses, and made the groom take me to the station. I returned home by the last train.

The weir on the river Clywedog in Nant Mill woods, Plas Power estate.

This and other visits and encounters throw light on the very delicately nuanced relationship between Head Gardener and gentry at a time of very firm class distinctions.  There were a unique set of relationships between trusted and long standing senior staff members of large houses –  housekeepers, butlers, gamekeepers, head gardeners and so on which gave them access quite intimately to the private life of the resident family, and by association with other notable families of the area.

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1887: Carry on collecting

The Garden House about 1872/3.   Thomas, first wife Mary and Thomas Alexander

Thomas’ collections continued apace, comprising not only fossils, but antiquities, coins and probably birds’ eggs. The Garden House at Palé although spacious for its time, with two adults and 4 children from William aged 15 to Caroline aged 2, a live-in servant and another child expected in September of 1887 must have been bulging at the seams.

Not only was Thomas collecting for himself, but others in the area, including members of the Robertson family were keen to add to his treasures:

Tuesday the 29th [March 1887] Mrs. Sheriff  [Formerly Annie Robertson – an early widow – ed.] who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck.  Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria.  Many other curious articles were found in the same place. It is 2 1/2 inches high, and 1 1/2 inches across the bulb. Length of neck 1 1/2 inches and the bulb is 3 1/4 inches in circumference.

Thomas himself rarely returned from a ramble without something to add to one or other collection. Some finds were more unexpected than others:

Tuesday the 31st [March 1887]. I went to Garnedd in the evening. I picked up an unfinished stone hammer on the wall in one of the fields belonging to Pandy farm, the field in which is situated and old lime kiln, close to the Hernant Stream.  It had been ploughed up in a potato field, and was placed on the wall as a curiosity. It is in the rough, but is drilled for some depth from each side, the drilling being quite sharp.

Recent information shows that this hammer or ‘mace’ eventually ended up in the National Museum of Wales, having been presented with other finds by Thomas’ son Henry. This is known as ‘The Ruddy Collection’.

From ‘A History of Merioneth’ Vol 1  Bowen & Gresham  MHRS 1967

Information kindly supplied by Haf Roberts.

1884 Indoors and outdoors

In May 1884 another baby was born to Thomas’ growing family:

Sunday, May 18th  Baby born at 7:50 o’clock. Her name is to be the same as her mother Francis Harriett, and it will include part of her grandmother’s name.  All passed over very well and Mrs Williams was here at the time. Mrs. Owen came to the rescue shortly after until nurse arrived. Doctor arrived at 7:10.

For reference to her grandmother, Harriott Pamplin, neé Dench, see here

Mrs. Owen was the Housekeeper at Palé and was to become Godmother to baby Frances Harriett.  This suggests how closely the staff and the family of the ‘big house’ were concerned with the Ruddy family.  Their assistance would have been essential to enable Thomas to carry on as widowed father after the death of his first wife, Mary.  He appeared to able to go on with his work, natural history and geology expeditions and in due course court, marry and go on honeymoon with his second wife whilst the three quite young children of his first marriage were adequately cared for.  The Welsh census returns of each decade also show a living in general maid at the Garden House.

I have not been able to get the dimensions of the Garden House at Palé; it is a substantial house, but by 1884 was becoming well-populated.  With Thomas and his wife, there were the three children of the first marriage, Thomas Alexander (15), William Pamplin (12) and Mary Emily (11) The eldest son of the second marriage, Henry Ernest was 2, there was the new baby, the live-in servant Jane and Mrs. Williams, Frances’ mother, was staying with them.

Thomas’ ever increasing collections must have needed a growing amount of space, and as is clear from an entry later in 1884, there were always people anxious to come and see them, even with a very new baby in the house:

Friday 30th May  Mr and Mrs Aitken of Urmston Manchester came to see my fossils. Mr Aitken is president of the Manchester Geological Society. He was with the party I acted as a guide to last year and who went to Llanwydden. He examined my collection very minutely and was very pleased to see it. He said he never thought to see such a fine collection of Bala fossils although he was told I had a good one.

His wife was a very affable lady and enjoyed herself with Francis and Mrs Williams. They came by the 5.20 train and went to Bala by the last from here as they were going to stay at the Lion Hotel. I met them at the train and we had tea ready for them of which they willingly partook. I gave him some nice Bala fossils and went to the station with them after they saw the garden.

Thursday, June 19  Major K. McKenzie of the Indian staff Corps brought his wife and daughter to see my collections. They were very much interested in the fossils, birds eggs, dried plants, minerals and coins. The lady was much interested in the plants as she is a botanist. They were here an hour and a half and wished they had more time to stay. They were very much surprised to see such very interesting collections, and they repeatedly said they wished they had made my acquaintance long before. I showed them the circulation of the sap in the Nitella and other interesting things under the microscope.  They were very pleasant and affable, enjoyed their visit and wished they could come again but they leave Bodwenni for Llandudno on Monday.

Thomas was a loving and quite hands-on father by contemporary standards, recording events in the progress of his new daughter:

June 1 Whitsun Day Francis came downstairs to have dinner for the first time since baby was born.  Monday 9th Francis and baby out for first time.

Sunday the 15th Baby was christened at Llanderfel church by Reverend William Morgan. Mr Pamplin was Godfather and Mrs Owen an old friend was Godmother. [Mrs. Owen, Housekeeper at Palé Hall. ed.] Mrs. Williams was at the ceremony. Name – Frances Harriett Ruddy.

Thomas, however was not to be deterred from his lengthy expeditions, which seem to have been essential to his well-being as a busy Head Gardener and devoted husband and father.

Thursday, June 12 I left here by the 9.10 train for Arenig station to have a ramble along the railway down Cwm Prysor Valley.

Cwm Prysor Walk part 1

I got to Arenig by 10 o’clock and at once started up the line past Pont Rhydefen and the north end of Arenig. It was very warm and fine; the cuckoos were calling to one another, the larks [94] were singing merrily above me as I passed along; and the Riverside meadows were blue and white with wild hyacinths and daisies. The only interesting plant I saw until I got to the little lake of Tryweryn was the globe flower.

I walked along the south side of the lake where I saw plenty of the yellow waterlily I found the Isoetes and Littorella lacustris but no Lobelia or any other interesting plant. No shells. At Nant-du, not far from the lake, I examined an old lead mine, which was abandoned about 10 years ago. It was in the Llandeilo slates, had to shafts, some buildings, machinery, and a water wheel. I saw no minerals but as the debris consisted of fine slates I could hardly expect to find any.

I got on the line a little beyond the lake and examined the various rock cuttings through which I passed. I found plenty of Lingulas in the Lingula slates between the lake and viaduct. The Lingula shales between the lake were much iron stained and [95] I saw many thin veins and patches of iron pyrites. I saw the junction of the Lingula shales with the igneous rock, but they did not alter in the least, and the shales lay conformably upon the igneous which was distinctly bedded under them or at least seen so. I shall give sections of the rocks at the end of the account of the day’s rambling.  I saw a pair of golden plovers on the moors and several sandpipers along the mountain streams.

The second part of the Cwm Prysor Walk

I crossed the viaduct which is 12 1/2 miles from Bala and 13 1/2 from Ffestiniog at 10 minutes plus past 12 o’clock; it was then very warm but not at all oppressive as the mountain air seemed to be so bracing. The viaduct is very substantially built a variety of Felstone ash which was quarried on the mountain about one of the half miles distant. It consists of nine arches the middle arches being 100 feet in height. It spans a small stream called Nant Lladron, which runs down and narrow but deep treeless dingle. This structure is the second built as the first fell when nearly finished. I found a ring ouzel’s nest with five eggs about 12 3/4 miles from Bala and some nice crystals of feldspar at the same place.

I had a rough walk over a fearfully rough ballast; which was made up of rough lumps of igneous rock. I went through several rock cuttings where the igneous rocks were distinctly interbedded with Lingula shells, sometimes A bed of igneous would be between two beds of shale without altering either the dip or character of the shales.

I got to a large overhanging mass of igneous rock at a 1:45 o’clock; it was a fine mass and partly overhanging the rails. The line between this rock and the fire that is over and most difficult ground, as it runs along the side of a rocky slope all the way. The rocks stand high above it and the sides sloping down from eight of us, rocky, and strewn withrocky fragments. I found the Arabis hirsuta and the Hypericum androsemum on the big rock. [97] I saw several frames of quartz rock, but could not see any metallic veins. One quartz vein seemed to be auriferous, but I could not detect any visible specks. A little beyond the big rock is an isolated mound called Castell Prysor. I got onto it at 2:10 o’clock. The mound is certainly an ordinary mound like many others in Wales, and which are nothing else but sepulchral mounds. It is entirely made up of loose fragments of rock and earth; there is no masonry of any kind. Two openings were made into the side of it, but were not deep enough to find sepulchral remains. It was placed on a rocky bus of hard igneous rock, overlooking the river Prysor, and not far from the old road leading from Bala to Trawsfynydd. The mound is about the size of the Bala one.

At 2:30 o’clock I’ve got to a little lake short way from the line; it is called on the map Llyn-rhythllyn. (in a later hand – Distributed perch in it Jany 1898) [98] I was tired and thirsty so that I sat down on the stone which stood in the water at the side of the lake and began to eat for the first time since breakfast. It was very pleasant as there was a breeze blowing over the lake and the cool water was so refreshing. Before eating I washed my hands and face. While sitting on the stone I saw a leech about 4 inches in length. I saw plenty of Lobelia and Isoetes in this lake with the Littorella and a bit of Utricularia floating about. I saw freshwater sponges, could not find a single shell.

The lake is oblong, about a mile long and half a mile broad. It was shutting by local grassy hills, but no trees. I saw some little fish run away from the side, and I was told by a friend that there are perch in it, but I think I have read somewhere about char being in it.  About half a mile from the lake I left the line and got into some upland pastures where I found several fine patches of the pretty little Mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica. Near it grew a plant of the Gymnadenia orchis and quantities of the beautiful Vicia orobus which is so plentiful in Merioneth.

I got onto the road leading from Trawsfynydd to Bala at a farm house called Glanllafarwhere I cross the stream on the slab of stone 12 feet in length and another half that.   The stream must be the Llafar as GlanLlafar means on the side of the Llafar. Shortly after I passed by a ditch full of water and sphagnum where I found the Utricularia again.

I got to Trawsfynydd station at 4:10 o’clock. The country between Arenig and Trawsfynydd is not of much interest; a good part of it is wild moorland, and the sides of the Prysor river is wild rocky and treeless on the other side. There are a few farm houses down the valley, with patches of cultivation, but the most of it is pasture.

When I got to Trawsfynydd station I pushed on to try and get to Tomen y Mûr but ongetting halfway I found it would be too much for me as it was very warm and all uphill, so I turned back by the old road called Sarn Helen to the village of Trawsfynydd entering it by the north end at Pencarrig Street. I saw a nice row of houses with the fronts nearly covered with Cotoneaster Microphylla in bloom.  The village is a large one with good houses, some shops, four chapels, and a good hotel called the Cross Foxes.

The church is in a very bad situation at the back of some old houses; it is very low roofed with square headed windows, and is like two churches built along side of each other with a gutter in the roof between them. It is dedicated to St Mary. I had a glass of ale in the Cross Foxes which was a very nice house and a very obliging landlady.

In my wanderings about I met a friend, Mr John Morris Jones, builder there. He very kindly took me to his house and got tea ready for me, which I much enjoyed as I was thirsty and tired. I stayed with him till train time. He told me that Llyn-rhythllyn and most of the land in Cwm Prysor and on to the Arenig belongs to Sir Watkin W. Wynn and that he owned most of the property about the village. He also told me that Trawsfynydd was a very important little place before the coast railway was made round by Barmouth and Harlech as all the traffic was from Dolgelly through Trawsfynydd and the village of Maentwrog into Carnarvonshire.

I had a very fine views of the mountains from near the village. The Arenig on the east then kept it address in the west then Llawlech, Llether, Rhinog-fach Rhinog-fawr Y Graig Dwg and Diphusys in the north-west. I could see the mountain pass called Bwlch Drws between Rhinog fawr and Rhynog-fach. Moel Siabod and the Moelwyns shut out the north. The village of Trawsfynydd is said to be situated at a greater altitude than any village in Wales.

Throughout the summer Thomas records several further expeditions in some detail.  It is clear that as well as searching for fossils, Thomas has become very interested in botany, and records here some of his plant finds.

Two expeditions. here

1882 – New beginnings, old pastimes

William Pamplin’s choir in Llanderfel. WP centre back, FH Ruddy middle row right

At the end of 1881 Thomas records his satisfaction about the events of the year:

Christmas day, Sunday This day was mild and fine. I am thankful to say that it was a happier one to me than the previous one. We all enjoyed ourselves very much and were thankful to be happy together.

New Years Day This was also a very fine day and very enjoyable. The past year has been rather cold, especially in January when we had a fortnight of most severe frost. The summer was rather wet and cold, but the autumn was very fine. To me it has been an eventful year, having married Frances Harriett Williams, the daughter of the late and respected William Williams, Parish Clerk of the church of St. Mary, Newington. Her mother, Frances, is the sister of William Pamplin, who was a publisher and bookseller in London, but now lives in Llanderfel as a freeholder. Her only brother is Parish Clerk in successor to his father.

Thomas no doubt recalled his youthful intention to ‘become a gentleman’ through the route of taking up gardening as a profession.  Here he found himself, a respected and trusted Head Gardener with a high local reputation, married into a family of some note, and through his own passion and scholarship, a noted contributor to a leading scientific community, the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art.

Frances Harriet, his new wife aged 35 was step-mother to his three children by his first marriage, Thomas Alexander, 12, William Pamplin 9 and Mary Emily 7.  There do not appear to be any extant photographs of the new family, and there are very few The journal for 1882 sadly gives us no information about the development of this new family, nor, as in other years does Thomas make any comment about the daily life and work on the Palé estate.  In these middle years of Thomas’ life the journal is almost entirely devoted to chronicling his leisure pursuits in natural sciences and his walks and discoveries in mid Wales.

On the 21st (Tuesday) of this month Frances and I went to Chester on business. We stayed three days and enjoyed it very much. It was the first time for Frances to see Chester so that she was exceedingly pleased with her visit. During our stay we made our home with Mr. & Mrs. George Dickson of Springfield, who made us quite at home and most comfortable. When in the city we made Mr. Shrubsole’s house our head quarters, where we did as we liked and were most kindly treated.

The 21st was very fine, so that we had a pleasant day. All the way to Chester, Frances was very pleased to see the country, because it was new to her.   After settling down at Springfield, we went to the City in the afternoon. We spent the evening with my friends Mr. & Mrs. Shrubsole, where he and I spent most of our time examining fossils. The evening was far gone when we got to Springfield, and very late when we got to bed.

The following day I did some business in the Nursery, and after luncheon, we again went to the City. [Further description, especially of the Roman remains, Dee Mills, Castle and prison]  On Thursday we did some business and got ready for leaving. Our friends pressed us to stay another day, but I had to be home, so that we left with pleasant memories of our visit. We got home by 8.30 and found all right.

In May Frances Harriet’s mother was staying with the Ruddy family.  On the 13th, a Saturday, Thomas and Frances with William and Margaret Pamplin went on an extensive excursion and walk commencing in Dolgelly.  See Thomas’ vivid description here, and note his elegant literary references.

It becomes clear that Thomas was adding to his local prominence as garden designer, produce show judge, local historian and geologist, the skill of a mountain guide:

May 17th Captain Tudor and his friend a Mr. Warren called to make enquiry about going up Snowdon and Cader Idris. Mr. Warren wished to go up Snowdon before going out to China as a British Consul.

In July Thomas, now very much the go-to man for leading geological and natural history expeditions, was engaged for a two day expedition for the Caradoc Field Club, a Shropshire society, sharing some membership with the Chester Society for Natural Science.  See here for a detailed account.

The summer continued in happy natural history pursuits, sometimes shared with William Pamplin, and an increasing number of interested naturalist from overseas as well as local.

August 3rd Mr. Pamplin, Dr. Ralph and I went to Creini by Sarnau. We found several interesting plants, had fine views and enjoyed the walk. Dr. Ralph is a good botanist, microscopist and geologist. He lives in Melbourne, Australia but is over here on a visit of several months. He and I spent a pleasant evening together with our microscopes. (He has his with him.) He was very pleased to see my local collections. [added in a later hand] Dr. Ralph died in 1892 at Melbourne, Australia.

And then, in mid August, Thomas’ and Frances Harriet’s life changed with the addition of their first son, announced by Thomas without any earlier warning.

August 13th  Henry Ernest was born at half past eight o’clock in the evening (Sunday) My beloved wife got over her trouble safely and bravely, for which I felt most thankful. More of Henry Ernest in my next post

1887 Family, friends, fossils

 

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Thomas Alexander Ruddy 26.3.1869 -13.3.1939

His eldest son Thomas, ‘Tommy’ who began work as a clerk at Plas Power

During 1887 Thomas continued to balance life as a family man, with both an adult son now working and a second wife and small children. Serious work as an amateur geologist continued unabated, and his employment and relationships with the entire Robertson family of Palé Hall were warm.  As ever local events and people were all of interest to his quick mind.

1887. January 22 (Saturday) Mr Williams, my geologist friend from Blaenau Festiniog spent the afternoon from 2.30 to 5 o’clock with me. He brought his rock sections and microscope with him, so that we spent a most interesting afternoon.  He had never seen my collection of local fossils, and as it was his chief object to see them, we devoted considerable time to the inspection of them. He was also very desirous to see the way I mounted and arranged my specimens, because he wished to arrange his specimens on the same plan.  Mr Williams is a good microscopist, a very enthusiastic geologist, and takes an interest in botany. Both of us seem to be so much interested in natural history that we wished we could have more time together.

Thursday the 17th witnessed a curious sight from a little after 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock; it was a lantern search for a poor old lady who lived alone in one of the Tynllechwed cottages near the village. It seems that she went for a bundle of sticks for fuel, got lost, and as she did not return, most of the village men and women went in search of her with the lanterns. They searched all Earlswood and every place where it was thought she could have wanted to, but to no purpose. The very numerous lanterns spread over the wood and flashing here and there, formed a most curious and interesting sight.

Thursday the 24th The body of Catherine Owen. The old lady who was lost a week ago, was found at midday today in the rabbit warren of Llanerch. Hundreds of men have been searching for her ever since she was lost, even on Sunday, but nothing was seen or heard of her until today.  It was never thought that she could have climbed the formidable fence which encloses the Warren, so that there was little search made there. By the appearance of the body, she seems to have sat down exhausted, wrapped her little shawl around her head and died of cold, without a struggle.  Her baptism is entered in the register of Llandderfel church, and was examined by our Rector. She was baptised on the 20th of June 1795, so that if she had lived till next June, her age would be 92 years.

Saturday the 12th Francis and Henry left by the 1120 train to visit Tommy at Southsea near Wrexham. We were sorry that snow was on the ground this morning, for it has been so very fine for a long time. Henry was very delighted to go.  They got on all right, saw the coal pit, and went into Wrexham and got home safely with the last train.

Tuesday the 29th Mrs. Sheriff  [formerly Annie Robertson – an early widow -ed.] who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck.  Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria.  Many other curious articles were found in the same place. It is 2 1/2 inches high, and 1 1/2 inches across the bulb. Length of neck 1 1/2 inches and the bulb is 3 1/4 inches in circumference.

Good Friday, the 8th of April. I went in the afternoon to see the wild daffodils at Garth – they were in full bloom, and from there around Henblas and Moelcalch.  It was a very pleasant day, and I enjoyed the walk. Tommy came home for his holidays yesterday evening; he and Willie went for a ramble. Many people were in the village.

Tuesday the 12th Tommy left by first train for Plas Power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1883: Life and landscape


Huw Lloyd’s Pulpit, oil on panel by James Stark, 1794-1858 from the collection of the V &A Museum.  Visited and climbed by Thomas in June 1883

Thomas Ruddy, at age 41 was very well settled in the Bala area.  He was obviously trusted by his employers the Robertson family, was well- known in the area and beyond as a naturalist, geologist, judge of local produce and leader of geological and scientific expeditions.  It would seem that by the year 1883 the man and the landscape he inhabited were at one.

He was the father of four children, three by his late first wife Mary, and a new baby son with his second wife Frances Harriet.  His friendship with the eminent naturalist and former London bookseller William Pamplin and his second wife Margaret was warm and firmly established.  Thomas had in effect become that ‘gentleman’ he dreamed of being when he first chose gardening as his profession.

The Journal entries for the year reflect the settled state of  Thomas’ life as he entered his middle years.  Even the harsh conditions of the winter and their effect on the garden could not disturb his equilibrium.

1883
April 1st,  
Sunday. Nothing particular to mention, except the weather so far. It was changeable all January, very fine most of February, but exceedingly cold nearly the whole of March. The wind was piercingly cold, there was a lot of snow, and hard frost –culminating in 19 ½ deg. on Saturday 10th. Nearly 15 inches of snow fell during the month. It was the coldest March I ever remember.  A good many things were injured by it in the garden and
grounds.  

As the weather became warmer, geology expeditions continued as usual:

May 22nd I went geologizing to the hills and mountains above Cynwych [SJ 056 411] It was a very warm day so that I was very tired on getting home. I took particular note of the beds on the ridge of the Berwyns between the two roads going over the Berwyns  south of Moel Ferna – I brought home some good fossils.  

May 30 (Wednesday) I had a short time at my hunting ground near Gelli Grin where I found a starfish, and the first so far perfect I ever found so that I was highly pleased.  

Saturday June 2nd I went to Rhosygwaliau, from there to Caerglas, then along the ridge to Cornilau, from there to Brynbedwog, from there to Gelli Grin, and then home. I had a very fine day and found some good fossils, among which was a rolled up Homalonotus

From Wikipedia image by smokey just
Fossil of Homalonotus dekayi at the Amherst Museum of Natural History

Via Wikipedia Image by smokeyjbj

On a June 5th Mrs Williams, Frances Harriet’s mother arrived to stay for five weeks, in order to make the acquaintance of her new grandson.  A number of excursions were undertaken, among them this expedition to Ffestiniog by rail and foot.  Once again we see Thomas very accomplished and lively writing style.

In July the family took advantage of the growing availability of photography to record the arrival of the new baby:

Tuesday July 3rd   Frances, Mother, baby and I went to Llangollen by the 9.35 train. The principal object in going was to have baby photographed. After he got “taken” we had some refreshments, and after that we set out for the top of Castell Dinas Bran. The donkey boys made several efforts to get us to patronise them, and a ragamuffin of a girl offered to sing us a song either in Welsh or in English for a halfpenny. After that an old lady offered to sell us guide books. It was a very warm day so that we found it no easy climb, but by repeated rests and I carrying baby we got up all right. It was the first time for Mother to be on top, and it was good work for a lady of 75 years of age. The ladies had a good long rest while I explored the hill and the ruins in search of plants, but I got nothing new…

We are left with a charming portrait of a day out for a late Victorian family in Mid Wales, but sadly the baby photograph is not to be found – perhaps edited out by its adult subject during his curating of the family papers in the first part of the 20th century.

Thomas was in demand for judging local horticultural shows, and of course he could always be side-tracked by an object of local history!

Tuesday July 10th   Mr. Evans of Rhiwlas and I had a days judging of Cottage Gardens in connection with the Corwen Flower Show. Mr. Bennett of Rug met us at Llandrillo with a trap and drove us about from garden to garden. We went from Llandrillo to Cynwydd, from there over the hill by Caenmawr, Salem Chapel and Pont-pren to Llawerbettws, from there to Rug, from Rug to Llansantffraid. We had tea with Mr. Owen and then crossed by the fine bridge spanning the Dee to the Corwen road, and then on to Corwen.

We had a very good dinner at the Crown and after awarding the prizes we went about the town. I saw the shaft of the ancient cross in the churchyard, which is 8 feet in height. I also saw what is called Owen Glyndwr’s dagger, but it is only a rude cross. The ancient cross seems to be early Christian, 7th – 10th century, I would say. Most of the gardens we inspected were very clean and well-cropped. I was appointed to take notes of them and to draw up a Report of them. The day was very fine, with the exception of a shower between Cynwedd and Salem Chapel.

At the age of 41 Thomas could look back with some satisfaction at his fulfilment of his erly ambition to raise his status and satisfaction in life through the medium of gardening.

Thomas Junior enters a world of work

Thomas Alexander Ruddy
26.3.1869 -13.3.1939

In December 1886 the family at the Garden House at Palé was extensive, with children aged between 17 years and 11 months.  Thomas Alexander was 17, William Pamplin 14, Mary Emily 13, and of the second marriage to Frances Harriett , Henry was 4, Frances Harriett 2 and Caroline Elizabeth 11 months.

When Henry Robertson arranged for a post to be offered Thomas Alexander at the Plas Power colliery the eldest son of Thomas and first wife Mary was able to move away from Palé and begin a career at Plas Power where he worked for most of his life, moving for a brief time to Montserrat to work I am not able to identify.

As usual, his father Thomas on encountering an environment new to him took copious notes. Here is his account of the day:

December 3rd (Friday) Tommy and I left here by the 755 train in the morning for Plas Power Colliery, near Wrexham.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/plas-power.htm

http://nwmat1.wixsite.com/nwmat/plas-power-colliery

I had a letter of introduction from Mr Robertson to the secretary, F A Sturge Esquire. It was very cold being frosty with a coating of snow. We left the snow behind after leaving Ruabon. It was sunny and fine at Wrexham. On arriving at Wrexham we left the mainline and went up the Brymbo branch to Plas Power. We got to the office a little before 10 o’clock, and were very kindly received by Mr Sturge and those in the office. Our object in going was to make arrangements for Tommy to enter the Company’s office as junior clerk.

After we had a chat with Mr Sturge, he sent his cashier with us to get lodgings. Mr Hanmer the cashier took us to Mrs. Bevan of Glanrafon House, Southsea, because it was where he lodged when a boy, and as he had been very pcomfortable there he could recommend it above all others. Mrs Bevan said she would take him and after arranging with her we went to have a look at the works.

The working of a coal pit was only known to me by reading, but thepractical working was all new, so that I was highly interested in all I could see. Mr Hanmer very kindly took us over the workshops, engine room, and pit mouth. The colliery is the most complete in its arrangements of any in North Wales; all the machinery is new and of the most approved construction. The colliery has only been in working order for about nine years. Mr Robertson sank the pit and put it in working order, after which he made it into a Company. But the directorship is in the hands of his own family and immediate friends.

The pit is 270 yards deep and has an output of 1000 tons to 1200 tons of coal in a day. The number of men and boys employed is between 500 and 600 and it takesabout £2200 fortnightly to pay them. The colliers go down to work in the pit at 1 o’clock in the morning on Mondays and at 6 o’clock on other days. They work from 6 to 3:30 PM that is 9 1/2 hours in the pit. The night gang goes down at 9pm to get coal ready for the output. All works stops on the Sundays, except keeping up the files and keeping the engines going to ventilatethe pit. The funding wheel which ventilates the pit makes 160 revolutions per minute. There are two families for fear of accident, one keeps going at that speed night and day for six months, and when it stops the other takes its place. The night gang works the coal, and the day gang sends it it up. Each man has a number to his name and as he works the coal by the time it is weighed at the pit mouth and credited to his number. Each man’s coal being kept separate in the pit. The coal is sent up in little oval steel wagons called “tubs” one tub above the other in the “cage”, which is divided into divisions, and there are two cages one goes down when the other is ascending. As soon as the tubs of coal arrive at the surface they are pushed off to be weighed and empty, and empty tubs are pushed into their place. The cage brings up 30 men at a time and it takes half an hour to get the gang up. The cage takes 22 seconds to descend the 270 yards.

On going over the works, we saw a lamp room, carpenters shop, blacksmith shop, storeroom and other offices. The store room contains every requisite required for the pit, the various articles required by the colliers in the pit are sold to them in the storeroom. They get their lamps ready trimmed in the lamp room, but have to pay 3 half pence each shift for the use of them. The office is very prettilysituated and the neighbourhood is nicely undulated and present.

Southsea is a Scottish village of cottages chiefly occupied by colliers. Glanrafon House is a corner shop in a pleasant and clean street. After seeing the works Mr Sturge asked me to go and see Broughton old pit on my way to Wrexham by road. It was a colliery worked by Mr Robertson for many years. It is now turned into a pumping station with splendid machinery. It is situatedclose to Plas Power colliery, and pumps the water from a neighbouring colliery too. We had an extensive view from the top of the engine room, Broughton. I saw Brymbo for the first time; it is an extensive estate belonging to Mr. Robertson. On our way to Wrexham we passed Gatwen colliery, which is also worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/gatwen.htm

There is a steel work at Brymbo worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

Thomas Alexander’s obituary, 1939