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  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.
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.
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.