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.
A page from Thomas Ruddy’s Commonplace book – from the handwriting written after his retirement
One of the reasons I have been able to continue transcribing and editing Thomas Ruddy’s journals for over 12 years, is the quality of his extended writing, as well as the liveliness of his intellect and curiosity. As well as the attention to the natural world around him, and to family events and the life of the family and visitors at Palé Hall, he shows a keen interest in the people living around him, sometimes painting vivid pen portraits of his neighbours. This often occurs when they die. A particularly noteworthy example is his portrait of the tombstone engraver Robert Edwards known as ‘The Derfel’ – a significant nickname as the village name, Llandderfel springs from its patron saint, St. Derfel (see here)
‘The Derfel’ was one of three elderly men to die:
Friday the 18th. three of our oldest inhabitants have died within the last fortnight, namely Thomas Hughes of Pantyffynon, aged 74, John Williams the oldest tailor in the village aged 74 and Robert Edwards (The Derfel) a tombstone engraver of the village, aged 76. The Derfel has been quite an eccentric character; he passed off as a poet, painter, political writer and an engraver, the engraving was his strength, for he could claim that little merit in the other three. As a tombstone engraver, he is well known all over Merioneth, Denbigh, and Carnarvonshire, for like old mortality he seldom stayed long anywhere, he was ever on the move, and when at work his usual haunts were among the dead. He was very irregular in his working habits, for he would idle sometimes for days, or spend his time writing letters to the newspapers published in Welsh, and at other times he would work from daylight too dark at the tombstones. People had great difficulty to get him to engrave for them, for he was of a very independent mind; a relative or peers told me he would rather half starve than ask people for his money; he would, when straightened for food, go to some of the neighbouring farmers for a meal, Brynmelyn being always a house of refuge.
The Derfel married when about 30 years of age, his wife did not live long, and he had no children, so he has lived a widower ever since, and seldom had a woman to do for him; when at home he did all for himself, and in a very eccentric fashion; if he put the kettle on to boil, he could not stay in the house until it boiled, that would walk to the river bridge and back, a distance of half a mile each way. He has kept the file of the Banner Welsh newspaper for over 40 years, but his household goods would be the better of a good dusting. As he was seldom at home, his house was mostly locked up with newspaper in the window as blind. He had a considerable share of self esteem, so that his neighbours seldom got on well with him, he thought all should acknowledge his superior judgement.
In religion, he belonged to the Independent, or Congregational body but owing to something  which displeased him at the Village Chapel, he very rarely went to it, he would rather go to distant chapels on the Sunday. The Derfel has one brother living in the village, and who has been the Parish Clerk for some years, and is by trade shoemaker; his name is David Edwards. The wife of David is living, and he has two sons grown-
The page from Thomas’ Commonplace Book, shown above, indicates his wide-ranging literary knowledge and tastes. The fact that some quotations are given page numbers suggests that Thomas himself owned the books from which the quotations are taken. Thomas seems to enjoy the work of Coleridge and Southey from among the Romantic poets. In browsing the Commonplace book I have come across little Wordsworth, but his witty, insightful and sympathetic portrait of The Derfel has something in common with Wordsworth’s Old Cumberland Beggar:
....... Many, I believe, there are Who live a life of virtuous decency, Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel No self-reproach; who of the moral law Established in the land where they abide Are strict observers; and not negligent In acts of love to those with whom they dwell, Their kindred, and the children of their blood. Praise be to such, and to their slumbers peace! --But of the poor man ask, the abject poor; Go, and demand of him, if there be here In this cold abstinence from evil deeds, And these inevitable charities, Wherewith to satisfy the human soul? No--man is dear to man; the poorest poor Long for some moments in a weary life When they can know and feel that they have been, Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out Of some small blessings; have been kind to such As needed kindness, for this single cause, That we have all of us one human heart. ...................
Part of Llandderfel village photographed by John Thomas
It has been some weeks since I completed my ambition to publish Thomas Ruddy’s account of Queen Victoria’s visit to Palé in 1889. It was a great pleasure to make it happen and I was very pleased with the feedback and increased readership the posts attracted.
Regular readers will have noticed that it has been rather quiet on this site since the Victoria posts, but much has been happening away from the blog. Once again one of those happy coincidences which have kept me going in this work of transcription, research, and more recently blogging has spurred me on.
The most persistent theme in Thomas’ journals has been not the gardening which was his (very successful) career, but his hobby as an amateur geologist, and his increasing value as a researcher and fossil hunter, under the mentoring of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, Woodwardian Professor at Cambridge, and successor to Adam Sedgwick, after whom Cambridge’s geological museum is named. One of my greatest friends, a retired geography teacher, realised that a former pupil is now a member of staff at that very museum.
Links were made, plans put in place, and so in October my friend and I met up with her friend on the Sedgwick museum staff and two more of her colleagues. We were treated to a tour of the museum (well worth a visit if you are in Cambridge) and spent a happy hour talking about Thomas and his geology. I was delighted to know how much he is respected as a contributor to the collection, and that the journals have a potential place in their archive.
Finally, I was able to see some of the collection of fossils donated by Thomas. These come from some of the oldest rocks in the geological series, so are sometimes quite small or fragmentary. Expect to be impressed by their age, rarity and significance in the history of the dating and description of geological time rather than their glamour!
Having worked on transcribing, researching and recently publishing the journals for about 12 years, these little pieces of ancient rock affected me greatly – I found myself hovering between joy and tears.
Now I await a formal decision from the Museum’s archivist about whether they will accept the journals into the collection. The wear and tear (actually I have managed not to tear anything) on the journals as I transcribe them is causing some deterioration, so I need to place them somewhere where they can be properly stored quite soon. I’m waiting in hope for a positive response from the Sedgwick; I can’t think of anywhere better than the Museum planned and worked for by Thomas McKenny Hughes, Thomas Ruddy’s friend and mentor.
Every few pages whilst transcribing Thomas’ journal I come across a delightful vignette of Victorian life. Here, Thomas, going for a walk (presumably after a day’s work) on a hot evening, takes a dip in a small lake and meets a friend who is encouraged to do the same. Research shows that throughout the 19th century it was commonplace for men to bathe nude, and there was some resistance to the use of ‘bathing drawers’ for males. When sea bathing by ladies, dressed in voluminous bathing dresses come into fashion, there was pressure on the males to ‘cover up’ and the use of bathing machines for sea bathing was introduced. Male nude bathing because particularly scandalous and a cause of conflict at the fashion sea bathing venue of Brighton.
Meanwhile, Thomas, and later his friend, seem happy to strip off and wade into the small lake. I do not think that Thomas learned to swim – he makes no reference to it, and rarely spent time at the seaside except for his brief Folkestone honeymoon and fall trips to Barmouth.
The location of Thomas’ bathe gave me some trouble, but his description of the walk to and from the lake suggests it is Llyn Caer Euni. He sometimes mis-spells place names if he has not seen them written down, but is usually very accurate and painstaking with Welsh place names.
Saturday the 18th [June] I left here at 4 PM for Llyn Creini. It was very warm all day and I felt it very warm walking, (it had been 77° in the shade). I went through Ty Ucha fields and left Bethel on my right and got to Bethel and Creini road on top of the hill overlooking the lake. It was so pleasant by the lake that I went into it and had a pleasant bathe.
Mr Michael Jones (the Principal of Bala Independent College) came to me when I was dressing and was tempted to do as I had done.
I collected several interesting plants by the lake, which I wished to have ready for the members of the North Staffordshire field club. I got the Listora cordata, Isoetes lacustris, Lobelia Dortmanii, Habenaria albidas, and sundew. I got to Sarnau I got the Moenchia, Pilulasia, etc. I found Tommy (home for Jubilee) and Willie waiting for me at the river bridge. I saw the true yellow wagtail at Sarnau; I was pleased to see it, for I had not seen it for 10 years. Thomas walked approximately 11-12 miles, arriving back to find his eldest son home from work at Plas Power colliery to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Thomas was regularly leading field expeditions for local natural history societies, particularly the Chester Society for Natural Science. He offered expert knowledge on both geology and botany, but no doubt commented on birds as well, as this was another of his studies. His reputation as an expedition guide was obviously growing, and in 1887 he was approached by the most distant group yet, and set out to plan a comprehensive programme for late June of that year which would involve the Palé family, as the Robertsons were to offer tea and a tour of the Palé gardens led by Thomas as part of the programme.
Saturday the 21st [May 1887] Mr Wilkins, solicitor, Uttoxeter, came to see me so as to make arrangements for a visit of the North Staffordshire field club to visit Bala, etc. He wanted me to be their guide, and to make out a programme for him. He had tea with us, and we enjoyed his visit very much. I met him at the station and saw him off by last train to the Lion, Bala, to make arrangements for the excursion.
By chance or arrangement, Frances Ruddy and the small children visited their Grandmother, Frances Williams, in London at the time of the expedition, thus a letter to Frances describing the expedition is also preserved amongst the pages of the journal.
The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 1
Thursday the 23rd The members of the North Staffordshire Field Club came to see my fossils, and to see over the gardens. I had a telegram at 4 o’clock from Bala to say a start would be made for Palé at 4:40. At 5:15, seven work and it’s full of ladies and gentlemen arrived (41 in all) .
My friend Mr Wilkins who sent me the telegram from Bala soon came to me and after introducing me to some of the leading members, Such as the President, Dr Arlidge and the Secretary the Rev Thos W Daltrey of Madeley Vicarage Newcastle Staffs. I took them through the upper garden, and pointed out my hardy ferns and interesting plants. We crossed the road and went to the lawn in front of the dining room where Mr and Mrs Robertson and family were in waiting to receive the party. After I introduced the leader (Mr Wilkins) President, & Secretary, they were all asked to partake of tea and other refreshments in the dining room, and act which was highly appreciated. The young ladies attended to their wants, and Mr Robertson and his son were most attentive and kind to them. Mrs. Robertson being an invalid could do nothing but chat to them.
They went round the grounds, so the so-called cromlech, the tumulus in the park, and as I had my fossils arranged in the front room etc. I had the most interesting plants of our district also ready for their inspection. My fossils rather took them by surprise, although their programme called it “most extensive and unique collection “. The plants pleased and very much, and they freely took specimens with them. My collection of birds’ eggs was also examined with much interest, and my ancient weapons too came in for close inspection. Mr Harry Robertson kindly assisted me to show the collections. A vote of thanks was given to Mr Robertson, and the party left at 7:40, highly pleased.
The involvement of the whole Robertson family in this visit is quite remarkable, and demonstrates the close relationship and trust between the family and their Head Gardener.
The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 2
The main objective of the party’s second day was the site of the construction of the reservoir to be known as Lake Vyrnwy, involving the inundation of the village of Llanwddyn. They were joined by some members of the Chester Society for Natural Science. Thomas had previously visited the site and made himself known to the construction manager, Mr. Bickerton.
A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:
It is notable that included in the visit was Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes of Cambridge, Thomas’ mentor in his practical research of the Bala fossils. Professor Hughes had connections with both the Chester Society for Natural Science and the North Staffordshire Field Club, and had probably recommended Thomas as guide for the expedition.
Also of interest is the inclusion of a number of ladies, mainly the wives of members, in the expedition. We can imagine these ladies, clad in voluminous long skirts and laced boots, and wearing hats (as shown in photos of the era) gamely clambering over the enormous construction site.
Friday, June 24 Having to act as one of the guides or leaders to the members of the North Staffordshire Field Club and over 50 of the members of the Chester Society of Natural Science, I left here by the 9.10 train. I met with the Chester folks at our station, and got into a carriage with Mr Siddall, Mr Shepheard, Mr Newstead, Mr Lucas et cetera. At Bala I had a chat with Mr and Mrs. George Dixon (Mayor and Mayoress of Chester last year) Mr Shone, Prof. Hughes and Mrs. Hughes, and several others of my Chester friends. Prof Hughes was to act as Guide with me.
I went in the same carriage as Mr Wilkins, Dr. Arledge, Rev. T.W. Daltrey, and Miss Ashdown. It was very warm and dusty most of the way, but all of the party enjoyed their ride, and were delighted with the scenery along the route. There was not much time for geology, but we found several interesting plants; the most interesting to me what’s the Geranium sylvaticumin full bloom. Mr. Siddall has botanised a very great deal of North Wales but he never saw the plant before, and it was new to the other botanists of the party.
We had lunch in the village [Llanwddyn, the vilage later drowned under the Vyrnwy Reservoir – ed. ], and on getting to the works we were taken in tram cars to the quarries, where a short address was delivered to the party by the resident engineer, Mr Deacon. There are three or four managers and to him, my old friend Mr Bickerton being one of them. Mr Bickerton had a few fossils to show me, which had been found in the quarries.
After we saw the quarries, we were taken in the tram cars to the embankment, over which most of us walked. It was a rough walking, as it was in an unfinished state, but the managers and Mr Deacon did all they could to assist us. I helped Mr. Dixon to get Mrs. Dixon over it. The plans of the embankment were explained to us, and indeed we had every facility to see and understand the gigantic works. The Chester members went over Bwlch y groes to Llanwuchllyn, but I returned to Bala with the Staffordshire people. We returned from the works by the new road along the south side of the valley. I saw the white and yellow waterlilies growing in the stream in the valley. We passed close to Eunant Hall, a small shooting box, which will be almost covered with water when the valley is drowned.
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.
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
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
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.
Frances Williams, sister of William Pamplin, and her son William Pamplin Williams had been visitors to Llandderfel since William and Caroline Pamplin had arrived there in 1858 to a house near the church, Ty Cerig, which seems to have been shared between William and Caroline, William’s unmarried sisters Harriet and Sarah and Frances and William Williams, perhaps sharing it as a holiday retreat. In 1863, when William Pamplin’s lease in Chelsea ran out, he and Caroline moved permanently to their own house in Llandderfel, Top y Llan.
By the time Thomas married Frances Harriet, Harriet and Sarah Pamplin had both died and Frances Williams had been widowed in 1866. Her husband William Williams had been Parish Clerk of Newington, and their son William Pamplin Williams succeeded him in the post.
Both Mrs. Williams and her son became even more frequent visitors to Llandderfel after the marriage of Frances Harriett and Thomas, and with the birth of their children. Thomas sometimes mentions William P. Williams taking part in country sports such as shooting during his visits; both were occasionally involved in Thomas’s countryside expeditions, sometimes with the addition of William Pamplin and his second wife Margaret.
In October 1884 both Mrs. Williams and her son had been visiting, and on their return to London Frances Harriet, Henry Ernest and the baby Frances Harriett aged 5 months returned with them, being joined a few days later by Thomas. The couple commences an exhaustive and probably exhausting tour of the sights of London. Thomas devotes many pages to descriptions, particularly the individual rooms of the British Museum, which from the style and content would seem to have been directly copied from guide books.
One significant visit was to the Jermyn Street Museum of Practical Geology, see here
‘I made a very minute inspection of the collection of Bala fossils, Mr Newton opening bookcases for me and assisting me all he could.’
Thomas did not think that the Bala fossils then held in the Jermyn St. museum were a good selection of specimens. At some point in his life he contributed over one thousand specimens, now held at the Natural History Museum. There are also over sixty specimens attributed to Thomas in the Sedgwick Museum, presumably donated via Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, as Ruddy never personally visited Cambridge, as far as I can tell.
When he married Frances Harriett , Thomas married into a family which was aware of its ancestry, and kept a considerable amount of relevant papers and documents, many of which, registered with the National Archives, are still curated by the author of this blog. Thomas was given an introduction to his wife’s interesting ancestry, which reached back to Halsted, Essex, where the Pamplin family were nurserymen. Her great grandfather William Pamplin, 1740-1805 having moved to a nursery in Walthamstow.
Thursday the Fourth – I went shopping with F. Before dinner. We went up the Causeway, saw new Kent Road, Walworth Road, we went into the churchyard where the church of St Mary Newington stood before it was pulled down. It was gay with chrysanthemums and it is a pretty bit of pleasure ground for the people of the district. I examined the marble tablet which some of the parishioners elected as a token of their esteem to the memory of the Father of Frances.
The inscription on it is: In memory of William Williams, 25 years Clerk of this Parish. Who died on 9 November 1866 aged 59 years. This tablet is erected by several Parishioners in testimony of their esteem and respect.
I also saw the tombstones and graves of the father of the above and other relatives. After dinner Frances and baby, Mr Williams and myself went to Walthamstow.
They looked at the gravestones of the Pamplin family and Thomas copied the inscriptions. They saw the graves of the Dench family and Thomas describes other aspects of Walthamstow.
Thomas, the lad who had spent his earliest years in the Irish village at the centre of the potato famine, and during its most devastating years, had achieved what he had set out to do when he made a deliberate choice of gardening as a career, respectability and a degree of gentrification, through his own efforts and through his marriage into the respectable Pamplin family.