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.
There are so many features of Thomas’ story that make him very much a man of his times. Not the least of these is his passion for collecting natural and historical objects. His journal for 1874 demonstrates this at almost every entry:
1874 Jan 11th Sunday I had a look through the old Elizabethan Mansion of Rhiwedog [SH9434] which now belongs to Mr. Price of Rhiwlas, but was formerly belonging to the Lloyds and is said to be the site of the residence of Llewarch Hen,, prince and poet in the 5th century. It is now a house very much out of repair. The date 1672 is on an oak beam forming the chimney piece in one of the upstairs rooms. Oak is much used in it. Not a collection, but demonstrating Thomas’ drive to understand and immerse himself in Welsh culture and history.
February 9th Monday I went to Bala. Mr. Evan Jones took me to Eryl Aran and introduced me to Thomas Anwyl esq. [1871 Welsh census aged 27 captain of Militia] who showed me his collection of stuffed birds, coins, etc. the collections are the best in Bala. Perhaps here we see one of the inspirations for Thomas’ collecting habit, although it is clear from the journal that he had already begun amassing various collections.
March 26 Thursday When at Rûg, the seat of the Hon Charles Wynn, Mr. Bennett the gardener took me to see Rûg chapel. This domestic chapel is most curious inside with mural paintings. It is altogether well worth a visit to see the carvings and decorations.
August 4th Tuesday I went to Corwen with ferns for the ‘EisteddfodGadeiriol’. I got introduced to Cyndellw (Mr. Roberts). This man is a Minister (Baptist) and a bard; he has the appearance of an old bard. His beard was grey and reached to his waist. I found him very chatty and quite a well informed man on general topics but quite enthusiastic about ancient customs. He told me that I was better informed of Welsh customs than many Welshmen who pretended to be, and also styled me Bard rhedyrn or fern bard.
August 5th & 6th I was judge at the Eisteddfod for ferns, dried specimens and fossils, so that I had to go about with a white rosette in my coat. I had a long talk with Mrs. West of Ruthin Castle, who admired my collection of British ferns and dried plants. She had a most taking manner and is one of the fashionable beauties of England. She brought her father, mother and sister to me, as well as her husband. Mrs. West’s father is the Rev. F. Fitzpatrick, of Tyrone, Ireland; he is a fine handsome man, and so is Miss Fitzpatrick, her sister very nice in manners and good looking, but the mother is rather a dowdy. Mr. West is a tall handsome man.
I find this entry a remarkable tribute to Thomas’ capacity to integrate fully into the cultural life of his area. Only five years into his position at Palé he had amassed a collection of ferns, plants dearly loved by the Victorian gardener, dried plants and fossils and learned enough about Welsh customs to impress a bard. He was obviously taken to the hearts of his Welsh neighbours, in order to be placed in the position of judge. It is obvious that Thomas also enjoyed the social standing he was acquiring as he chatted to local gentry.
Oct 5th Monday Mr. Trevor Clarke came here to see my fossils and eggs. Mr. Kerr jun. of Maisemor brought him. Mr Kerr is an enthusiastic ornithologist and an old acquaintance.
Nov 9th Mr. Kerr came again to see my eggs and get explanations about local birds. He was most amiable to me. And now we have bird’s eggs to add to the list, and some of the first people who came to Thomas’ door to view his collections. In future years he would add to the list professors of Geology from Cambridge and from Sweden, and in due course, Queen Victoria herself.
A very happy Easter to all who visit here. Remembering Canon Denys Ruddy, the custodian of the journals and papers before me, and his Grandfather, Thomas writer of the journals, who died on Easter Day, 7th April 1912
I pondered for a long time how best to share the diaries, papers and artefacts relating to Thomas Ruddy with the wider audience I felt they deserved. Some are already lodged in Museums – the Kingsley Medal and related papers in the Grosvenor Museum Chester, the Museum founded on the work of the Chester Society; the diaries of William Pamplin, nurseryman, grandfather of Thomas’ second wife in the Garden Museum. All are registered with the National Archives.
I can’t now remember when I decided that a website/blog would be the answer. It has been an immense pleasure to plan and begin to create this archive, and already there are people to thank; my younger son for his technical know-how, Toby Musgrave and the Victorian Web for publishing the site more widely and a number of people whose feedback has been encouraging. But most of all, there is an opportunity to expand the research needed.
When I wrote of Thomas’ first head gardener post at Newtonairds House, I was unable to find a picture of the house. Today a kind friend has sent me the above link, and filled in the gap. She believes the house to have been demolished about 1954, following a fire. Thank you Barbara P. for contributing to the research.
This is what the web can do at its very best. It would have been almost impossible to research and make sense of the journals and papers without minute by minute recourse to the internet. The time is now!