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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News of the Neighbours – 1874

(c) Museum of Science and Industry; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Charles Beyer

UnknownManchester Museum of Science and Industry Website: http://www.mosi.org.uk/ via: BBC Your Paintings

Five years after his appointment as Head Gardener at Palé Thomas had so organised his workforce and management of the gardens that he had leisure to visit various neighbouring properties, most newly built or newly acquired by self-made men of the mid Victorian era.  We can imagine this being enabled by his employer Henry Robertson, who might have been interested to compare the estates of the neighbours with his own newly acquired country seat at Palé.  From the enthusiasm of these neighbours in gaining Thomas’ assistance with their own gardens, there can be little doubt that Henry had engaged a Head Gardener of reputation and ability. Thomas himself was forthright in his judgments of these  neighbouring estates:

June 15th Monday I went to Plas yn Vivod  the seat of Mr. Wagstaffe; the house is new and without any interest. I went from there across to and had a look through Bryntysilio the seat of Mr Theodore Martin, its only interest is that it is well kept in order.

Sir Theodore Martin was another Scot who had like Henry Robertson settled in Wales.  His major claim to literary fame was the Life of the Prince Consort, authorised by Queen Victoria, of which he published the first volume in 1874. After the publication of the fifth volume in 1880 he received a knighthood from the Queen. Queen Victoria visited Sir Theodore and his wife at Bryntysilio during her visit to Palé in 1889.  Bryntysilio is now an outdoor activities centre.

Thomas had a higher opinion of the new house being erected by his employer’s business partner Charles Beyer :

I went to Llantysilio which Mr. Beyer is erecting on the site of an old house. Mr. Beyer is of the firm ‘Beyer, Peacock and Co’ Gorton, Manchester, and well known engineers (sic.) Mr. Beyer I have known since I came to Palé, he being an old friend and partner of Mr. Robertson. When he saw me his first expression was ‘You are the very man I want, I hope you will stay with me to help me lay out my place.’ He showed me the place and explained his designs, put many questions to me. The situation of Llantysilio is most beautiful, as it is on rising ground a little back from the Dee. I saw a very old gnarled mulberry in the kitchen garden.

Meanwhile, the Crogen Estate where the Robertsons had lived before moving to Palé was let to a widower, Mr. Froude and his children.  This occasioned a comical anecdote which Thomas records:

Mr Froude is now staying at Crogen with his children. Mr. Froude the historian is tall, thin and dark. When in church he seemed always in study, for he was quite absent-minded. He got a mason and joiner to Crogen one week to search for dead rats. They took off skirting and flooring boards and tried many places, all to no purpose. The mason told him that there could not be any, but he told them that there were dead rats, and that they must find them. At last the Mason, (John Williams) came up to Palé, got a dead rat, took it to Crogan and put it at the back of one of the skirting boards, which they fastened up a bit, then in the presence of one of the servants they pretended to have found the dead rat. Mr Froude came and said in an exulting manner, ‘I was quite sure there was a dead rat, and now you see for yourselves,’ and he went away quite satisfied, and all was put together again.

 The gardener of Crogen told me that he was a very mean man to deal with. Mr. Froude had just lost his wife before coming to Crogen. One of his daughters was an invalid. He had one boy between 7& 8 years old. [Added in a later hand; Oct 20th 1894. Mr Froude died at Salcombe. He was born at Dartington, Devon, on 23 April 1818.]

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.

 

1871 New Homes

Screenshot 2016-05-29 20.13.14
Palé Garden House, Thomas Ruddy, Mary his wife and their first son Thomas Alexander outside.

1871 was the year that in February Thomas and his new family moved into the Garden House:

Feb 10th Friday I took possession of my new house at Palé, got in my furniture and made all comfortable.

The photograph above was probably taken in  1871 or possibly 1872;  the shrubs planted by the house are very immature, and Thomas Alexander is a very small child.  The reverse of the photograph shows the photographer, and annotations,  the upper  (pencil) appearing to be in TR’s handwriting, the lower, (pen) probably by Henry Ruddy, Thomas’ first son of his second marriage.

Garden house reverse

[ I understand that the Garden House is now privately owned, and not part of the Palé estate, and is now known as Rose cottage]

Later the same year the Robertsons moved into Palé:

Sept 18th, Monday This was a great day here, owing to Mr. Robertson and family coming to Palé to live. There was a fine demonstration of welcome. The carriage was drawn up from the Lodge, and that by workmen.

Pale j. ThomasPale reverse

Note three gardeners at work on the lawn – possibly scything.

The Robertson family celebrated their arrival at their long-planned home by planting significant fine trees in the garden.  The choice of the trees and their siting was no doubt Thomas’ suggestion.

Nov 2nd Thursday Mr and Mrs Robertson planted an Auricaria each, the former on the south side of the drive and the latter on the north side. Both trees are a good size.

1872  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.

31 Wednesday   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.

 

1869-1870 Settling In

Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk
Autumn at Palé Hall via http://www.palehall.co.uk

During these years, at the beginning of his work in the new garden at Palé, Thomas Ruddy only writes sporadically in the diary. It is obvious that he was working hard; in June 1870 he reports having been ‘ill with debility’ .  There were also the responsibilities  of a new wife and baby. This was the first post in which Thomas was responsible for laying out a new garden entirely.

Unfortunately, Thomas gives no detail about the layout or development of the gardens. The Robertson family planted vines in the hot-houses in January and February 1870: Mr Dean, Mr. Robertson’s nephew also planted a vine – TR comments that Mr. Dean had been a very kind friend in many ways.’

It is here that Thomas mentions William Pamplin for the first time, in early 1870 undated:

Another gentleman, who I now name for the first time, Mr. Pamplin, has been a most interesting friend during the last year.  Mr & Mrs Pamplin have got a house in the village where they have lived for some years.  I knew him by name when I first went to the garden as Mr. Pamplin the publisher of the ‘Phytologist’  He is a good botanist, so that we had rambles together.

May 20 Friday Mr Pamplin and I went to Pont-y-Glyn where we found the toothwort. We both enjoyed ourselves very much.

On 22 June, Wednesday Mr. Ellis of Brynbwlan and I went to the town of Barmouth, for the first time to me. I enjoyed myself exceedingly, and found many seaside plants new to me.

During last month [June] I became very ill with debility. I have been very faint and weak. I have brought it on by over-work – I have been so anxious to make Palé nice and satisfactory , both to Mr. Robertson and myself.  Dr. Hughes ordered me to the sea side, so that my wife, baby and myself left here for Towyn on 22 August, Monday. Towyn is a quiet, nice watering place, so that we had a pleasant time of it, but I was too weak to enjoy myself much. We lodged at the farmhouse of Tyddyndu with John Roberts, an acquaintance of Mr. Ellis. [ Mr Ellis shown in 1881 Census as farmer of Brynbwlan – where TR lodged before moving into his house in Palé gardens.] During my stay I botanised along the seaside from near Aberdovey to the river Dysini, and a good deal of Towyn Marsh. I found many plants new to me too numerous to mention. We stayed for a week which gave me much strength.

My wife and I went to the sale at Aberhirnant on the 28 September, Wednesday. I thought it a beautiful locality.

24 & 25 October I was with Mr. Dean at Chester buying trees at Eaton Rd Nurseries. Mr. Dean and Mr. Joshua Dean, who also went, were very kind to me. I felt much better when I got back.

 

Headhunted for Palé

Screenshot 2016-03-19 16.50.31

Dicksons of Chester letterhead from a later letter to Thomas from George Dickson

‘1869 January 17th Mr. Dickson wished me to leave at once for North Wales to lay out grounds for Mr. Robertson of Palé near Llandderfel Station, east of Bala four miles.’

Mr. Dickson was George Dickson, son of James Dickson, an increasingly influential nurseryman and seedsman of Chester.  George’s father James had died in 1867 and George had taken over the business.  As you can see from the illustration, Dicksons were already royally recognised.  As with other nurserymen with whom Thomas had contact, they acted as headhunters for the gardens both of ‘old money’ or, like the Robertsons, the newly rich from the proceeds of the burgeoning industry and commerce of the central part of the nineteenth century.

A useful article gives details about the Dickson family and their business.  An interesting point is that they, like Thomas, were Scottish expats. Even more fascinating is that the man to whom Thomas was being recommended, the railway engineer and iron and coal magnate Henry Robertson was also born in Scotland.

Geo Dickson 1871

George Dickson  (aged 35) shown in the 1871 census living at Springfield, Newton by Chester with his wife Mary Elizabeth (31) and children Edith (6), Lavinia (5), John (3) Charlotte (1) and Bertha 2 months.  George is listed as ‘Seedsman, Nurseryman and Gardener’.

George was to become a close friend of Thomas.  As well as the connection with the nursery, George was an amateur naturalist and geologist, and it was he who would introduce Thomas to the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art, where Thomas’ talents would be nurtured and celebrated.
Screenshot 2016-03-19 17.18.39Screenshot 2016-03-19 17.22.58

 

 

 

 

 

 

A list of the members of the Society from 1885-6 Shows both James and George as members, as well as several others of their family including George’s daughter Lavinia.  I have never found Thomas listed as a member.  I believe this to be a matter of ‘social standing’ – which makes his award of the Kingsley Medal even more remarkable.

 

With the reopening of the RHS Lindley Library, I have opportunity to research further Dicksons and the other Nurseries used by Thomas as stepping stones to new employment. What were their operating methods, and are there any contemporary documents relating to this activity. A visit to the Lindley is on my ‘to do’ list.