The Adventure of Thomas Alexander 1897

Thomas Alexander,
probably about the time he began work at Plas Power

In 1897 Thomas Alexander, Thomas Ruddy’s elder son by his first marriage, was 28 years old. Since the age of 17 he had been working as a clerk in the Plas Power Colliery, near Wrexham, owned by his father’s employers the Robertson family. His work caused him to travel locally on business from time to time, when he would sometimes call in on the Ruddy family at Palé. he would also spend at least part of his holidays and Christmases there.

Events changed dramatically when in April 1894 he married Elizabeth Ann Roberts, which Thomas in his journal records tersely as ‘against our will‘. The reason for this rupture in family life is lost in the mists of time, but no mention is made in the journal of the couple in the two succeeding years. This is particularly saddening as in March 1895 a son, named after his father, Thomas Alexander was born and died on the same day. His father makes no mention of this, nor of the birth and immediate death of a second son, Francis Herbert (note the similarity of his names to those of his stepmother, Frances Harriet. Of course the lack of mention in the journal does not automatically preclude there being family contact and support at the time.

A new event in Thomas Alexander’s life is announced on 14th April 1897 when Tom came alone to spend two days with his family. However, no mention is made of the fact that two months previously Elizabeth had given birth to her third, and first surviving son, Edgar Wilfred, Thomas Ruddy’s first surviving grandchild.

Wednesday the 14th.[April 1897] Tom here in the evening. He has obtained an appointment under the Monserrat Limejuice company in the West Indies.

A few days later, Thomas gives more detail about his progress:

Tom went to London on the 20th; stayed with Francis’s brother and left by train for Southampton next morning to sail on the Royal Mail steamship Oronoco for the West Indies.  The ship sailed in the afternoon. May the first– The Orinoco arrived at Barbados at 8am.  Here Tom would have to go in another steamer to his destination, the island of Monserrat.  He will have the management of stores, the payment of those on the estate, and keep all accounts etc.   Mr Sturge the secretary of the  Plas Power Coal Coy. got  him the appointment; he being a director of the Limejuice company.

Sadly, Thomas makes no mention of his daughter in law and very young grandson Edgar, then about two months old.

Nothing further is heard about Tom until the beginning of the next year, 1898. Thomas Alexander seems to have coped with his father’s reservations and sent a gift, which was well received.

Friday the 28th [January] Received two boxes from Tom from Monsarrat, West Indies. They contained limes, very large shaddock oranges spices, arrowroot, etc and beautiful specimens of white coral come like madrepore coral. The coral is pure white and branching with pore faces all over it.  The ship Netherton of Caernarfon then was at Monsarrat for lime juice in the middle of December,  so he took the opportunity to send the boxes with it to Liverpool. There was also a Quassia cup which gives a strong bitter taste to water when poured into it. This water is a very good tonic. The wood seems to retain the bitter taste indefinitely. There is no news given of the family.

Another gift was received in February 1899: Friday the 10th. We had a box from Monserrat, per King Arthur ship to Liverpool. It contained two bottles of tamarind syrup for drinks, oranges, limes, one shaddock orange, arrowroot and the complete jaws and the fin of a shark. The shark’s teeth are ivory white 5 to 6 rows all round; that one row lying flat; the edges are sharp and serrated. The fin (pectoral) is strong and ribbed, 17 inches in length by 12 inches and of the triangular shape. Tom sent off the box from Monserrat on the 19th of last month. Tom obviously took trouble to include in his gifts things that would interest his father, such as the corals and shark jaws and fin.

Further gifts arrived in May, which Thomas was no doubt proud to share:Tuesday the 30th.  We had some (a dozen) pineapples from Montserrat per my brother-in-law from London.  They are very good this dry weather. I sent one to Uncle, 2 to Lady Robertson, and one to Mr Cleveley and one to Mr Armstrong.

Troubles In Montserrat

Although not mentioned in the journal, Thomas Alexander and Elizabeth were to lose another baby in Montserrat in 1899, a son named Norman Frederick. Then in 1899 several disasters hit Plymouth, Montserrat, an earthquake, hurricane and fire. See here:

By April 1900 Tom and family had returned. Again Thomas mentions only Tom. Monday the 16th[April].  Tom here for the day.  He and Willie left in the evening. Tom was obliged to leave Montserrat as the great hurricane destroyed most of the estate of the Company.  He came home by New York, where he stayed for a few days.  He has got back to his old office at Plas Power again.

Thomas does not mention that Tom and his wife were again expecting a child at this time, Reginald Harold Ruddy, born on July 6th 1900 in Southsea near Wrexham, a fact not mentioned in the journal. Reginald survived and lived until 1975, marrying and having a daughter. I have been in touch with members of this family. They think there were letters kept from Tom while he was in Montserrat, but unfortunately they can’t now be traced.

Thomas Alexander only visited his father for a day April, but by June he was back to stay over a couple of nights, and obviously bonded well with his step siblings.

Friday 22nd [June] Tom came to stay a day or two. Saturday the 23rd. Tom, Henry and Millie over Crogen hill. Monday the 28th Tom left by the first train.

A reminder that Tom went on to lead a fulfilling and respected life in his local community.

1896: Days Out

Llandudno pier in the Edwardian era – a little later than our report.

The journal for 1896 demonstrates the growing propensity of late Victorian society to indulge in days away from work, and the Ruddy family’s more expansive lifestyle in this decade reflects a society which is confident and growing in affluence. Thomas provides two very detailed accounts of days of relaxation, from which I shall draw extracts.

A day trip to Llandudno

Thursday June the 25th. All of us went by an excursion train to Llandudno. We were up very early and all were excited about going. We left the station about 6.30, the Cleveley family and we got carriage to ourselves. The elderflower was very showy all the way along the route. We saw Denbigh Castle ruins perched upon the limestone crag and the Cathedral of St Asaph very distinctly. I was much pleased to see the ivy-covered ruins of Rhuddlan Castle when nearing Rhyl. … As we passed along to Deganwy we could see the tubular railway bridge and suspension bridge for a roadway spanning the river Conway. The river widens to a broad estuary above and below the town.

We arrived at Llandudno at 9:15. The children were all excitement to go digging in the sands, but as the tide was up to the promenade, there were no signs visible. To pass the time we went on to the Great Orme at Happy Valley, all rather on the rocky heights near the Camera Obscura. Here we had some sandwiches and enjoyed the beautiful views of sea and land….The Happy Valley is a sheltered spot shut out from the town where there are amusements and other recreations. The Great Orme is a delightful place and it is happy hunting ground for a botanist.

We spent some time at the Camera Obscura and then Francis and the little ones returned to the town so as to get on the sands as the tide was going out. Henry and I commenced botanising the rocks and thickets. [Later] We made our way to the sands where we found our party sand hopping to the great delight of the little ones.

We had a look around the town and through the market Hall, and left for home at a little after 7 o’clock. We all enjoyed our visit and had a beautiful day there. We got home safely; Alfie had a good sleep on the way.

We see here the typical pattern of a family day out at the seaside, as familiar now as in the last decade of the 19th Century.

The Shrewsbury Show

Thursday the 20th [August] Sir Henry kindly asked me to go to Shrewsbury Show. He also said I was to take Frances with me and that he would pay our expenses. We got to Shrewsbury by 1.30. We walked up to the show ground in the Quarry where we arrived about 2 o’clock. My first object was to see some coniferous trees, sweet peas, Cactus, dahlias etc which Sir Henry wished me to see and take note of. These were very good and great novelties. I was much pleased to see the collections of fruit, specimen plants, vegetables, herbaceous and other plants.

I was much pleased to see all there was to be seen, and so was Frances. The arrangements were perfect in every way. There were thousands of people there, the papers say over 60,000 and 10,000 the day previous Wednesday Henry, Lady Robertson and party were there. We went down to the Severn which winds halfway around the Quarry. It was not very wide. The ground slopes steeply up from the river on the opposite side to villas on the top, and we saw the Kingsland bridge spanning the river near the Showground. There is a remarkable avenue of elm trees in the Quarry, said to have been planted in one day.

We had tea in a tent, then watch the flying fish, (a fish – like balloon) ascend to a great height and float over the town. There were two gentlemen in it. There was a huge balloon there which went up two or three times some height and was pulled down again by rope. The music was by the Band of the Royal Horse Guards, a sufficient guarantee for its quality. We saw wonderful performance on bicycles by the Selbini troupe. One young lady could do anything on her bicycle. She went round on one foot, on her hands, and even on one wheel; making but little use of her hands. The Blondin Donkey performance by the brothers Griffiths was very amusing and clever. The donkey was a man in donkey skin. The Eugenes displayed marvellous agility on the high trapeze.

The streets of the town were decorated, and thronged with people. We had a slight mishap at the station before we left, for Frances had a memorandum book picked from her pocket by a man who was captured in the act by a detective. This scamp thought he had something of value. We had to go to the superintendent’s office to identify the book and give our name and address. The train was kept waiting for us until we were ready. We had been very careful all day without pockets and watches. We got home by the last train, and with the exception of the pocket picking, we highly enjoyed our outing.

The range of amusements seems typical of those available in the expansive late Victorian era, but as we see, there was accompanying crime. The police detective service seems to have been well trained to cope with such large public events.