1887-8 Homes and Gardens

Llantysilio Hall by Eirian Evans, used under Creative Commons licence

On the death of Charles Beyer, Henry Robertson’s business partner in 1876, Llantysilio Hall, the house Beyer had built soon after Robertson had built Palé, was left to Henry Beyer Robertson and Annie Robertson for their lifetimes.  Both were godchildren of Beyer.

More photographs and details here

Thomas was involved with work there in November 1887 following the death of the Head Gardener at Llantysilio.

Thursday the 3rd   Mr Robertson sent me to Llantysilio Gardens to look over the fruit and other things, because Mr Massey the old Gardner had died suddenly the previous day. I left here by the 11.20 which did not stop at Berwyn station, so I had to go onto Llangollen, and as it was sunny and fine, I had a pleasant walk back on the towpath of the canal.  The canal runs along side of the river all the way, and the scenery is beautiful and interesting. I got to Llantysilio at 1 o’clock, and went over the whole establishment with the men. Mr Robertson went from here on business by the first train; he was met at Llangollen by the person who has charge of the Hall and stables, and he, Mr Haynes had orders to meet me and assist me to see the place. The Hall is very large, well furnished, and well-kept, but it is difficult to let it.  It is the property of Mr Robertson’s only son, to whom it was left by his godfather, Mr Bayer (a German ) of the engineering firm of Bayer, Peacock and co. of Manchester (Gorton)  [Footnote by TR: the Co. is Mr Robertson chiefly.] 

The kitchen garden is small and old-fashioned, having two large yew  hedges, broad gravel walks, and diagonal grass walks. The flower garden is also in it. It contains peaches, figs, apricots and pears, et cetera on the walls which do fairly well; and there is the remains of a fine old Mulberry tree in it as a standard, but the tops of the principal limbs have been destroyed by the wind. There is a fine old Walnut tree just outside the kitchen garden with a growth of 13’6″. The Mulberry and walnut must have been planted in the early part of the 17th century – in the reign of James the second – both are evidently of great age. There is a vinery, greenhouse and melon house near the kitchen garden; indeed the melon house is in it.

The situation is very beautiful, almost surrounded by hills, with the Dee sweeping round the park. Mr and Mrs Haynes kindly gave me tea before leaving, which was very acceptable, and Mr Haynes came to Berwyn station with me, where I caught the 4.28 train.  We came through the park by the side of the river, and by the weir at the entrance of the canal, the weir is styled the “Horseshoe Falls”.  From the “Falls” I walked along the canal and over the chain bridge to the station.

In November Thomas visited Llantysilio Hall again.  In typical fashion, he used the time in the area to see a site of local interest:

Monday the 14th [November] I had to go again to Llantysilio to settle about various things. I have charge of the gardens and men for the present. I went by the 9.39 train, alighting at Berwyn station. After seeing the men and looking over things, I went across the fields by a pathway to Valle Crucis Abbey and the pillar of Eliseg.  The ruins of the abbey are by the side of a small stream with two sloping riches of hills on either side, and shut in by hills at each end. The situation is very beautiful and of great interest. The abbey is the finest monastic ruin in North Wales, it is said.  Thomas follows with information about Valle Crucis.

He was back at Llantysilio again later in the same month:

Tuesday 22nd I left here for Llantysilio and Llangollen by the 9.33 train. I got out at Berwyn station, crossed the river by the Chain bridge, and walked along the side of the canal to the very beautiful weir constructed by Telford.  The Llangollen people call it the “Horseshoe Falls”. Bryntysilio, the seat of Sir Theodore Martin immediately overlooks it, and Llantysilio church is a little farther on. When I got to the gardens, I had a look round and afterwards saw all through the Hall of Llantysilio which is very substantial, and well furnished. I got onto the outside of the water tower from which I had a beautiful view of the Vale and neighbourhood.  Plas Berwyn just on the opposite side of the river; it is a nice looking hole of moderate size, with a small sized garden attached, which is only partly walled in, and with one or two hothouses. This (Plas Berwyn) is the seat of Major Tottenham, but he has another seat and estate in Wicklow. Major and Mrs Tottenham have been here to see the gardens several times.

After seeing about, I started to walk to Llangollen at 12:20. I got onto the side of the canal, and walked very fast all the way, arriving in town a little after 1 o’clock.  I was very pleased to see the crossbills on my way there; a flock of six flew on to an ash tree where they soon began to eat the kernels of the seeds. I also saw two or three feeding on the Larch cones opposite Llangollen Bridge, on the side of the canal.

When in town I arranged with Mrs Ellis the greengrocer about the fruit and vegetables of Llantysilio Gardens, and got a blank book to continue my journal at Horsepool’s Fancy Shop.

Advertisement for Horspool’s shop from a newspaper of the 1880’s
The new journal purchased from Horspools
Opening pages of the new journal

In April 1888, soon after the death of Henry Robertson, Thomas was back at Llantysilio:

Thursday the 26th I went to Llantysilio.  At lunch I went for a ramble through the young covert leading westward to the river. I had the pleasure of seeing the lesser spotted woodpecker for the first time.  It was on an old tree near the gardens (an ash tree) and I followed it from tree to tree, and observed it tapping the trees, and running over the trunks and limbs in search of food.  Its peculiar note first attracted my attention. I was very highly pleased to see it. I brought home a few fine bunches of primroses for the ladies here, who made a wreath with some of them and placed it on their father’s grave.

In May Henry Beyer Robertson involved Thomas in further work at Llangollen, this time at a house known as Woodlands, the former railway station of the town.  Thomas was not to know that in 1906, on his retirement, he would move to Woodlands, provided for him by Roberson, by then, Sir Henry.

Monday the 14th I went to Llangollen to see about cropping the garden at the Woodlands, a villa belonging to Mr Robertson. After looking over the garden, I went to Llantysilio by way of Valle Crucis Abbey. I had my luncheon sitting on the hillside opposite the abbey; after my luncheon, I went to see the ruins, but did not go inside. I examined the outside with much interest and as the rubbish has been cleared away, there is much to be seen from the outside.  The western or main entrance must have been very beautiful; it is now of great interest to those who take interest in such buildings.  The only plant of interest to be seen was the wall-flower, which grew on the ruined walls. Several good walnut trees grow on the side of the avenue, but they are not of the same age as the ruins.

Valle Crucis Abbey by Robert Edwards from Geograph and used under creative commons license

[the rest of pages 14 and 15 are historical details re Valle Crucis]

 From the abbey I went to Llantysilio; I botanised on the way, and found the Monchia and Filago minimaon the road side opposite the abbey, and the cowslip plentiful in the pasture between the abbey and Llantysilio.  I came home with the 5.19, much pleased with my day at Llangollen.

Friday the 18th I went again to Llangollen to get men to work the Woodlands garden, after arranged for manure, and while the men were at dinner I went for a ramble along the canal side to near the Sun Inn. [The next sentence heavily scored out – appears he thought he had found a rare plant – assume he later found himself mistaken – Followed by a long list of plants found]

…… From the road and canal I went up a winding Lane plus past Erwwen and Caecock and lunched sitting on the block of limestone…….I next went up to Dinas Bran, had a beautiful view around …… From Llangollen I went to the Woodlands again and from there home by the 5.19.  The Woodlands was formerly the railway station of Llangollen, but when the railway was extended to Corwen, the present station was built.

Siamber Wen From the collections of the National Monuments Record of Wales © Copyright: National Buildings Record Collection

Wednesday the 23rd I went to Llangollen to see the Woodlands again. After I got the men to work I had a look through Siamber Wen gardens, the residence of the misses Robertson, sisters to the late Mr Robertson. The house is on the north side of the canal, opposite Llangollen Bridge.  It is a nice little place, and the house being like a miniature castle, it has a striking appearance.  Miss Anne Robertson kindly went over the place with me and showed me the rooms, and offered me wine, and was very kind.  from there I walked along the side of the canal to Pontrefelin, and then past the Abbey to Llantysilio.  

Description and photographs of Siamber Wen http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/27888/details/siambr-wen-siamber-wen-wern-road-llangollen#images

The 1891 census for Wales shows three Robertson sisters living at Siamber Wen

Henry Robertson’s three unmarried sisters, Christina, Anne and Jessie lived at Siamber Wen in 1888 when Thomas visited them.  Anne and Jessie had lived there at least from 1861, together with their brother John, who died at Siamber Wen in 1883.  It is not clear when their sister Christina joined them.

Thomas left the Robertson family in their castellated villa, and botanised as he returned home full of the joys of spring.

I saw several species of pondweed in the canal, the Teesdalia moenchia, Filago etc. on the roadside when skirting Y Foel Abbey, the hill opposite the Abbey. I found the Lysimachia vulgaris  in a ditch between the Abbey and Llantysilio when I went that way on the fourteenth. I saw nothing else of much interest. I got home from Llantysilio by the 5.19, much pleased.

Lysimachia Vulgaris
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1872: Settling in

Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk
Trees at Palé Hall, many planted by Thomas.  via http://www.palehall.co.uk

The journal entries for the first three of Thomas’ years as Head Gardener at Palé are brief; it is clear that he was much occupied in setting out the gardens and creating and managing a workforce of gardeners – although sadly, we do not hear anything of them.  Did Thomas take on apprentices, and did he give them as thorough a grounding as he himself enjoyed at Minto House?

The short journal entries for 1872 demonstrate a range of activities and interests which made up the fabric of Thomas’ life at that period.  We read of the activities of the Robertson family, the increase of Thomas’ and Mary’s own family, Thomas’ growing influence among the local owners of large estates needing development, and his spare time activities of botany and geology.

The year begins with the planting of trees in the new garden at Palé (already detailed in a previous post.)

January 15th Monday Master Robertson planted a Deodar and a Picea Nordmaniana on lawn, each near the ends of the walls of the fruit garden.

Miss Robertson planted a Deodar on lawn in front of the pantry window. Miss Annie planted a Deodar and a Picea grandis, both near the library. Miss Henrietta planted a Deodar and Picea pinsapo, both near the little walk leading to the flower garden.

Later that year, a significant event in the Robertson family is chronicled:

December 4th Wednesday Great Rejoicings here over the marriage of Miss Annie to Mr. Sherriff. All the neighbourhood was in holiday and all passed over very nicely.

Alexander Thomas Arthur Sherriff was 24 at the time of the marriage and the son of the MP for Worcester.  His family home was in Sunbury, Surrey at the time of the 1871 census; other members of the family are recorded as being Members of the Stock Exchange.  Alexander himself is recorded as ‘BA’.  After attending Shrewsbury school, Alexander had gone up to Trinity Cambridge in 1865.  Somewhat unusually marrying before her elder sister, Miss Annie had made a good match, but it was to end tragically when Alexander died at the Robertson family home in Lancaster Gate, London in 1880, less than eight years after the marriage.

[In brackets at foot of a page: William Pamplin Ruddy born January 19th, Friday at 3.15 am.]

William Pamplin Ruddy was born when his brother Thomas Alexander was two years and eleven months old.  I had originally assumed that his second name was given in honour of Thomas’ greatest friend William Pamplin, but I have since learned that it was in fact honouring William’s wife Caroline, neé Hunneman, who was his godmother.  At this point no-one could have guessed that in due course Thomas was to become ever more closely related to the Pamplin family.

The next recorded item is the first of many mentions of Thomas’ visits to nearby estates to advise on horticulture and garden design.  We can deduce that Henry Robertson was already very proud of Thomas’ work, perhaps showing nearby landowners round his recently acquired estate, and promising them the assistance of his knowledgeable and confident Head Gardener.  Thomas was still only just 30.

Sept 25th Wednesday I went to see Dolserau Hall, the seat of Charles Edwards Esq. [now a hotel Ed.] Mr. Lawson the gardener was very nice and showed me all of any interest. It is in a very pretty situation, And a very nice place. Mr. Lawson took me to see the ruins of Dolgyn Hall where he pointed out an old smelting kiln where iron had been smelted. I saw very good specimens of the Taxodirum distchum and tulip trees. We went afterwards up the romantic Torrent Walk, which is a charming place. A large stream is either sliding down rocks, forming small cascades or dashing down at headlong speed for two miles nearly. The sides of the dingle are nicely wooded and studded with flowers and ferns. At the head of it we got to the house of Caerynwch the seat of the late Mr. Richards. Caerynwch is a small but nice place. The torrent is on its property. [Grid ref SH7518]

There was time for family and friends; William Pamplin’s sisters Harriet (1803-1875) and Sarah (1804-1873) moved from London to be near their brother.  His third sister, Frances, remained in London.  She was married to Parish Clerk of Newington.  Their daughter Frances Harriet would become Thomas’ second wife.

It was a very pleasant year all through – not too warm. I had good fishing during the summer. Mr. Pamplin’s sisters came to live at Dr. Richard’s new house – Bronwylfa – very nice people, so that they were and are nice friends.

I am able to trace little about Jane Blackhall, Thomas’ Scottish sister-in-law.  Did she emigrate to Australia permanently, or was this a visit?  A long journey for a single woman, in either case.

My sister-in-law Jane Blackhall was staying with us for a time before she left for Melbourne in Australia.

As he sums up the year, Thomas reflects with satisfaction on his progress, finding time for both hard work, family concerns and pursuit of leisure activities.  and proves himself to be a tireless and self-motivated student, as ‘working up’ the birds and geology obviously point to study in books as well as field research.

Last January our second child was born here at Palé. By this time I have got Palé into a nice state – everything very satisfactory.During the year I have been hard at work botanizing the district, also working up the birds and the geology of the neighbourhood which I find to be very interesting.

1871 The Robertsons at Palé

The Robertson family moved into Palé Hall in September 1871.  Their home in Wales until this point had been the Crogen Estate.  However, when the census was taken on Sunday 2nd April that year, the family were residing at their London home, 13 Lancaster Gate.  The census return gives a good opportunity to see who comprised the family at this important date.

Henry Robertson, born in Banff, Scotland,  was 55 at the time, and described in the census as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant, with ‘engineer’ added as something of an afterthought.  His wife Elizabeth, daughter of a London solicitor, was 49 and according to the census born in ‘Surrey, Bermondsey’.  Their children were Elizabeth, 19 (‘Miss Robertson’) Annie, 16; Henrietta, 13; and Henry B. 8 (‘Master Robertson’)  Henry’s second name was Beyer, in tribute to his father’s engineering partner and mentor, Charles Beyer.  On his death, Beyer left the use of his home, Llantisilio Hall not far from Palé for the use of Henry Beyer and his sister Annie.

I devise all that my messuage or mansion house known as Llantysilio Hall in the County of Denbigh with the lands…. .. to the use of my Godson Henry Beyer Robertson”   “To the use of my god daughter Annie Robertson, daughter of the said Henry Robertson for her life without impeachment of waste for her sole and separate use independently of any husband with whom she shall intermarry and of his debts control and engagements and from and after the decease of the said Annie Robertson”  [via Wikipedia]

All the children were born in Shrewsbury

Nine live-in servants are recorded at the Lancaster Gate House, some originating in London, others in Shrewsbury or Corwen, near Crogen and Palé.

Screenshot 2016-06-01 14.18.58

Earlier Census returns

In 1861 Henry and Elizabeth are recorded as living at st. Mary’s Court, Shrewsbury, with their three daughters.  Also living in the same house were Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Dean ‘Solicitor’s wife’, her sons Charles ‘Engineer’ and Joshua ‘Secretary of Railway’ and a nephew John Dean 17, ‘scholar’ as well as a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nurserymaid and three Housemaids.  This demonstrates Henry’s rise in fortunes as within the next 10 years he owned the Lancaster Gate house, Crogen, which he rented out on removing to Palé and Palé itself.

In 1851 Henry and Elizabeth are found living in Richmond Place Chester, Henry designated ‘Civil Engineer’ with several additional words including [indecipherable] Hereford, Shrewsbury [indecipherable] Coal and Iron Master.  Charles Dean and nephew John Dean are also living there, with a Cook, Housemaid and Butler.

It is clear from Thomas Ruddy’s successive journal entries over the 37 years of his service at Palé that Henry Robertson and the whole family were amiable and considerate employers, and Thomas an energetic and conscientious Head Gardener.  Henry seems to have offered Thomas’ advice to many of the local landowners, resulting in Thomas visiting surrounding estates to advise their owners on horticulture and design.  As Thomas became increasingly noted for his geological collections, Robertson seems to have been proud to allow him to demonstrate his collections to callers, and in due course to Queen Victoria herself.  Henry’s brother in law Joshua Dean was frequently at Palé and was often a companion to Thomas in various excursions.  The Robertson family continued to spend time at Lancaster Gate during the year, thus giving Thomas more latitude to undertake his geological expeditions during their absence.