Following Thomas’ Mentor in Jedburgh

Memorial window to Adam Mathieson now in Jedburgh Parish Church

It is difficult to pin down the exact details of Thomas’ early education after his family reached Scotland from famine-haunted County Mayo. It would seem that his family were living in a rural area in the parish of Bedrule, his parents working on the land, as evidenced by the Scottish census returns. Where did he go to school, and who was the schoolmaster or schoolmistress who noticed and fostered his eagerness to learn? He was able and apt to take on the study of French, Latin and Geometry in the garden bothy at Minto House when he commenced his apprenticeship there aged 16. His brother James, it would seem, did not benefit from much education, since he witnessed his father’s death certificate with a cross rather than a signature.

Bedrule parish, however, had a long tradition of passion for education. Jedburgh Grammar School was probably founded by William Turnbull (died 1454) a politician and bishop. He served as the Bishop of Glasgow from 1448 to 1454 and was the first Chancellor of Glasgow University. Bedrule was the seat of the Turnbull clan, and William, friend of King James II of Scotland one of its grandest luminaries.

With such a tradition of education over so many years, it is likely that the village school or schools of the Bedrule area were of a good standard. Jedburgh at this time was a particular centre of scientific and cultural endeavour. Did Thomas attend Jedburgh Grammar School? Although this is a pleasing idea: he did not begin his apprenticeship until he was 16, and does not mention any other work before that, but I feel it is unlikely. The School was at that time situated in the crypt of the Abbey, and I find it hard to imagine that Thomas would not mention such a prestigious place of learning, or such impressive and historic surroundings in the journal.

Scotland census of 1861. Thomas’ family at Bedrule. Note his sister is ‘scholar’. Thomas was already apprenticed at Minto.

He does, however, mention an important figure who guided him into his interest in Geology. Adam Mathieson was a millwright; one might assume that the need to source and inspect rocks for fashioning into millstones led him into an interest in geology. He was not the first Jedburgh man to have such an interest.

James Hutton – panel from Jedburgh Castle Museum.

Thomas writes of Mathieson that he was, at the time, curator of the Jedburgh Museum. This cannot be the present museum situated in the Castle, as at the time, the Castle was still the town’s jail. Was it perhaps the house now known as Mary Queen of Scots House? Mathieson lived only a few yards from this building.

Mary Queen of Scots House, Jedburgh

Thomas writes retrospectively of 1861:

On the first of January I went to Jedburgh. When there I visited the museum, where I got acquainted with the custodian, Adam Matheson. This man was a good geologist, and seeing me take an interest in fossils, he wished me to study geology which had been a wish of my own for some time. I had already PAGIS Text book [Planning and Geographic Information Systems], so from that day I went in strongly for geology, and from that day, Mr Matheson became my friend.

My search in Jedburgh for Adam Mathieson and the memorial window dedicated to him (above) was initially fruitless. The curator of the Castle Museum was uncertain, and could only direct me to a church recently made redundant in the centre of the town – which I was unsuccessful in locating. It was a grey drizzly day, and we returned disconsolately to our apartment.

Unwilling to be defeated, I set out to the large Victorian Parish church prominently located near the river and on the main road into town. On trying the main door, I found it, unsurprisingly, locked. A look round the back found another locked door, but finally a lighted window, and a door which proved to be open. I rather surprised the two mature ladies who were practising the organ.

They kindly switched on the main lights, and as I progressed round the church, there before me in the south aisle, was the window. It has clearly been re-sited from the older church, and stands a little proud of the plain glass window behind it ( see picture above). The two ladies showed great interest in my tale of Thomas and his friend and mentor Adam.

Adam Mathieson aged 71 and his family living at
50 High St Jedburgh in 1861

There is a final episode linked to this event. A few weeks after my visit a parcel addressed to me arrived at the home of the local vicar. When I picked it up, I found it contained a small framed postcard of the Adam Mathieson window. It had been sent to me by one of the ladies I met in the church. She had used all the clues she had to find me. Such kindness, linking people caring for one another across the ages, beginning with Adam’s mentoring of the young Thomas.

My gift from Isobel in Jedburgh

Jedburgh- in the steps of Thomas’ youth.

Duck Row, Jedburgh, where Thomas’ mother and siblings lived in 1871

In 1861 Thomas’ parents and siblings were living in Bedrule parish, four miles from Jedburgh, whilst Thomas had already embarked on his gardening apprenticeship at Minto House. His father died in 1865, and by the 1871 census his mother and his brother James were living in Duck Row in Jedburgh.

The address seems a very pleasant one, the short row of houses shown above currently command a higher than average sale price for the town. However, the census document shows that 1 Duck Row, now a Category B listed building called The Pipers house, with its own commemorative plaque to Robin Hastie, the last Town Piper, was in 1871 a house of multiple occupation. Four ‘households’ lived there; 12 people in all.

1871 census

A recent brief visit to the town suggested that this was a very appropriate area to nurture early interest in a budding geologist.

From the Castle Museum, Jedburgh

A successor to the ‘Borders Enlightenment’ scientists in the mid 19th century was local millwright and amateur archivist and geologist Adam Mathieson, who became a good friend and mentor to Thomas.

More of him in my next post.

Bedrule -in the steps of Thomas’ childhood

Houses at Bedrule hamlet’s centre

It is not possible to be certain exactly when and under what circumstances Thomas’ family left Ireland, although letters between Thomas’ daughter Caroline – ‘Carrie’ and a Ruddy relative still living in Westport Co. Mayo in 1916/17 confirm that the potato famine was the cause of their emigration. This retrospective reflection is prompted by my first visit to the Jedburgh recently. I thought I might have found Thomas’ childhood home ( picture above) but close examination of the census shows that a further visit will be necessary.

We pick them up again in the 1861 census, living in Bedrule. There are Thomas senior and his wife Mary, and Thomas junior’s siblings James and Annie. The youngest son John had died the previous year, aged 12, and our Thomas was already working as an apprentice at a Minto house. We find him there on the 1861 census, the only time he states Ireland as his place of birth on a census.

The census above details the family as living in Newton, part of the central hamlet at the centre of a larger parish area of the same name but to the north of the main hamlet.

Bedrule is a tiny village four miles from Jedburgh, but it has a proud and interesting history. Thomas senior and his son James are recorded as labourers. Several children from the census, including Annie Ruddy are recorded as scholars. Where did they go to school? For it was surely there that Thomas received the quality of education that prepared him to study confidently French, Latin and Geometry while living in the garden bothy at Minto House.

It also laid down the sophisticated writing style which characterises his journal, as in this reflection on his Bedrule childhood:

By this time we were living at Menslaws by the side of the Rule,
a little above where it enters the Teviot, and in sight of Minto, a famous garden of the seat of the Earl of Minto. It was on a pleasant May evening that I went with my father and Robert Daniel to see Mr. Williamson the gardener of Minto. He received us very kindly, took us through the garden, and explained everything. I looked on the inside of this grand garden with awe, I admired in silence; the feather-likeAsparagus astonished me – I was so pleased with everything, that I thought it must be very pleasant to be a gardener; and then there was Mr Williamson going about “dressed like a gentleman”, and the young gardeners looked so very neat and smart that I formed a high opinion of the whole.

Bedrule parish, showing Jedburgh to the east and Minto to the west. Newton is on the road and river, north of Bedrule hamlet.

Moving on…

Thomas Ruddy’s third journal book.

It is eight months since I last published a post here. The sudden arrival of an attack of shingles at the end of January put me out of action for about six weeks, then a slow recovery to full energy took me into the summer, and more outdoor pursuits; recording Thomas’s life is a winter activity.

However, events have moved on over the summer in a most pleasing way. Since my visit to the Sedgwick Museum last year, with an opportunity to see and handle some of the fossils collected by Thomas and deposited in the Museum by his mentor, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, the first three of Thomas’ journals have been accepted into the Museum’s collection, with the expectation of the other five joining them there as I complete the transcriptions.

Handling the fossils last year

Handing over the journals involved a trip to the scientific and archives site of the Sedgwick on the outskirts of Cambridge rather than going to the Museum building itself. After the administrative paperwork involved in giving articles to a museum – who has right of access, can images be published, and under what conditions, etc, Sandra, the Archivist, kindly showed me some of the items relating to Thomas’ work. First we looked at some of Sedgwick’s own notebooks. He also used quite a lot of his own shorthand to denote particular geological and paleological terms. His handwriting was tiny and not at all clear, I felt sorry for Sandra and her volunteer assistants as they attempt transcriptions.

Then we moved on to look at Thomas McKenny Hughes’ notebooks – a more easy script to read. It is not clear whether he refers to Thomas in the notebooks, but research of particular dates of expeditions involving them both might reveal some mention. It is a piece of research I might be able to undertake now that I have a formal link with the Sedgwick collections.

McKenny Hughes’ wife, a keen geologist herself, was also a very accomplished watercolour artist, and the collection includes her notebooks from times when she accompanied her husband in Britain and Europe with delightful watercolour landscape sketches.

From a research poster recording 19th century women geologists by the Sedgwick’s Archivist

So, mixed feelings as I returned home on the bus. The overwhelming emotion is relief that the journals are now safely secured in a museum – and not just any museum, but one founded by Thomas’s mentor, McKenny Hughes, and named for Hughes’s predecessor as Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge. I cannot but think that Thomas Ruddy would be delighted. As far as I am aware, Thomas himself never visited Cambridge. Alongside that, is a small feeling of loss that the journals are now out of my hands and out of my study. The many hours of transcription and the writing of this blog seem all the more important. Thomas has become one of the family.