1883: Life and landscape


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.

1883
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
grounds.  

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

From Wikipedia image by smokey just
Fossil of Homalonotus dekayi at the Amherst Museum of Natural History

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.

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Collections, collections

The only two remaining coins from Thomas' extensive collection
The only two remaining coins from Thomas’ extensive collection

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.

July 8th Wednesday I observed the ‘Coggia Comet’.

 August 4th Tuesday I went to Corwen with ferns for the ‘Eisteddfod Gadeiriol’. 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.

An article about Victorian Collectors:

Mary Merrifield

A Researching Community

Newtonairds House

Newtonairds House from the website:  https://canmore.org.uk/site/176141/newtonairds-house#798978

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!