1891: The weather and the birds

Sunshine recorder invented by John Francis Campbell (1821-1885)
Thomas must have used such an instrument, as he records monthly hours of sunshine. (Science Museum)

By 1891 Thomas was 49 years old, settled with his second wife Frances Harriett and father of eight children, ranging in age from 22 years old to a few months. His employer, Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, son of his original employer at Palé, had himself become a family man. There was a settled air about the estate, although perhaps its most affluent days were already waning. Thomas had needed to lay off some of his garden staff after the death of Robertson senior.

The white hot days of geological investigation were over, although its study would continue for the rest of his lifetime. The investigation of the Silurian geological period, to which his collection of fossils and in depth understanding of the strata in the Bala area had contributed so much, was largely settled. People continued to call by appointment or at random at Thomas’ door to view his fossils, and he continued, although less frequently to lead occasional geological and botanical expeditions for various scientific and field study clubs.

His mentor, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes received the Lyell Medal for geology in 1891, and as well as his professorial duties and family commitments (he had three sons) he was deeply involved in fundraising for the new Geological Museum in Cambridge which was to be named the Sedgwick Museum in honour of his distinguished predecessor. Thomas had supplied fossil specimens to London, Cambridge, some are in the University collection in Swansea, and I suspect he had provided some to his Swedish contact, Professor Törnquist.

After the intense excitement and activity of Queen Victoria’s visit in 1889, Henry Beyer Robertson’s Knighthood and marriage in 1890, the fourth volume of Thomas Ruddy’s journals is more settled and domestic in tone. We do find new aspects of Thomas’ careful observation of the natural world, however. He has obviously been recording bird observations for some years, although he records only occasional sightings prior to 1891.

Now, with his children growing up, he records a number of ‘birding’ expeditions, alone or accompanied by Frances and one or more of the children. He obviously shared his interest with his employer, Sir Henry. Egg collection, sadly, was commonplace and not regarded as improper.

Sunday the 19th [April] After tea I went along the railway to near Garth Goch. It was very nice walking, clean and dry.  I found the nest of a thrush ready for eggs, and to my surprise saw a flock of about fifty field fares.  Sir Henry has seen a few at Gaerwen on the 21st last year, but I have no record of seeing them myself so late.  Saw no other birds of interest.

Fieldfare

Saturday the ninth [May] I got Willy and Henry to go with me bird nesting up the hills.  We went as far as Tynant old slate quarry. We found the nest of carrion crow about 30 feet up a birch tree; it had five eggs, and as they were quite fresh we took them for my collection. We also found the nest of a ring-ouzel with four eggs; these we left in the nest. We saw a flock of a dozen goldfinches high up the Brook (Calethor).

As well as interest in and records made of the local bird life, Thomas had obviously been recording the weather on a daily basis, and he now begins to give a weather summary of each month, in particular rainfall and sunshine – measured no doubt on a device such as that shown above. He looks back over his records to comment on particularly extreme events, remarking on when such a record was last made. Temperature is, of course, in Fahrenheit.

Tuesday the 12th [May] This has been a very warm day –74 in the shade. It has only been twice so warm as this so early in May since I began to record the temperature in 1875.  May fourteen, eighteen seventy-five, it was 77° in the shade, and on 11 May 1884, it was 75° in the shade.

1891 it would seem, was a year of extreme weather events. Thomas records them throughout the year.
Sunday the 4th. [January] Roads  very slippy; icy almost all the way.  Some of us managed to go to church; Frances went with us to the laundry gate, fell down once, but not to hurt, and as she could not walk without slipping, even when holding my arm, I got her to return home.

Saturday the 28th.[February]  I observed a good specimen of the Painted Lady Butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on the violets and walk near the fruit room.  I disturbed it several times, but it soon returned to the violets again.  It was sunny and fine at that time, but there had been 7° of frost in the morning. It must have been hibernating somewhere and was tempted out by the warm sunshine. I never remember seeing a specimen of the above earlier than May. The month of February has been sunny and fine, and it has been the driest month on record here. Rainfall 0.19 inch.

Exceptionally warm weather was followed by equally unseasonable cold, and Thomas hears a sad story from the past:

Sunday the 17th [May]  This has been an exceptionally wintry day for the middle of May. The hills were covered with snow in the morning, some snow during the day, and a heavy fall of snow between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock. The snow fell in large flakes, just like half crowns, and soon covered the ground and trees, although much of it melted as it fell. In the evening, the surrounding country had a beautiful but very wintry appearance. Frost is set in in the evening. 

Some of the old people about here tell me that there has not been such a snow in May since 9 May, 1854. Edward Evans, one of the gamekeepers at Palé tells me that he and his younger brother came over the Berwyns from Llanarmon D.C. on that day; the snow was blinding and drifting, as it was freezing on the mountains he and his brother were up to their waists in snowdrifts at times, because the mountain road from Llanarmon to Llandrillo was obscured with the snow.  It was a fearful journey, and after hours of it, the brother became so exhausted that Edward had to carry him on his back. Edward too began to get exhausted about 3 miles from Llandrillo (he was then about 19 and his brother that about 17 years of age), but his cries brought a shepherd from the farm of Hendwr to his assistance.  But by that time his brother was dead.

Cadair Berwyn in snow: © Richard Webb via Geograph

Monday the 18th. [May] The snow on the ground and the fruit trees in bloom with icicles hanging to them.  There were only 5° of frost, but the bush fruits and some of the apple trees in bloom were so wet that all froze and destroyed the fruit crops wholesale. It was the same all over England. The young gooseberries and currents dropped off like hail under the bushes a short time after. I have never seen anything like it since I came to Wales.

Wednesday the 24th [June] we had a severe thunderstorm in the afternoon. The lightning was  frequent and seemed very near and the cracks of thunder shook the ground and kept roaring fearfully loud and prolonged.  The rain fell in torrents for a time, accompanied by large hail– Nearly an inch of rain fell in about an hour.  The lightning struck an ash tree at the entrance to the station; it went through the tree, came out in three places and then rang down the tree into the earth, tearing off a strip of bark in its course and also making a groove in the solid wood.

The intemperate weather continued through the summer, with yet another tragedy:

Wednesday the 26th wet and stormy yesterday and the same all-night, 1 ¼ inches of rain fell since 9 am yesterday morning; this has brought down a heavy flood and did much damage to trees, flowers, vegetables and fruit. Some trees were torn up by the root and many large limbs were broken off. The flowers were almost all disfigured and the trees have been much denuded of their leaves. I have seldom seen so much damage done.

A sad fatality happened at Brynselwrn this morning. Our family from Crosby, Liverpool, occupy apartments there; the family consists of father, mother, two daughters, and two sons. All are grown up and the sons have been in the habit of swimming in the Dee every morning, and went this morning as usual, much against the wishes of their parents. 

After entering the water, they were carried away by the swift current for about 300 yards, when the younger one got out by being cast against a projecting tree and bank.  The other was carried away and drowned, and his body was found entangled in a tree about an hour afterwards, and about 300 yards from where the other brother got out. When carried away, they kept well together, swimming with the flood, and for a time a younger one supported the elder one as he was getting exhausted; they tried to reach the side but failed, and at one place they held on for a few seconds to the overhanging branches of a tree; when they let go they were sucked under water under a tree that leaned over the river, and immediately after the one got to land, he gave the alarm, and the father with Mr Hughes the farmer of Brynselwern with his ploughman searched the river sides, and the ploughman found the body near Tyndol, and nearly opposite Palé.

The month of October has been unusually wet, the wettest on record here, with the one exception, and that was January of last year. Rainfall  9.11 inch; nearly 3 ½ inches of it fell in two days; that is 1.69 inch on the 13th and 1.76 inch on the 14th. Registered sunshine, 76 hours. The corn crops were out in an almost continuous rain for about three weeks; it was much knocked about and had commenced to sprout before it was got in in the last week of the month.

And so to December:

The weather during the month–we had the heaviest rainfall in any month since I began the record in 1874. Rainfall 10.42  inch. Max temperature in shade, 57 deg.  Min 10 deg – 22 deg of frost. Registered sunshine, 32 hours.

Total rainfall during the year 1891: 57.00 inch, being 8.50 inch above the average of the last 15 years. Rainy days 231.

Bedrule -in the steps of Thomas’ childhood

Houses at Bedrule hamlet’s centre

It is not possible to be certain exactly when and under what circumstances Thomas’ family left Ireland, although letters between Thomas’ daughter Caroline – ‘Carrie’ and a Ruddy relative still living in Westport Co. Mayo in 1916/17 confirm that the potato famine was the cause of their emigration. This retrospective reflection is prompted by my first visit to the Jedburgh recently. I thought I might have found Thomas’ childhood home ( picture above) but close examination of the census shows that a further visit will be necessary.

We pick them up again in the 1861 census, living in Bedrule. There are Thomas senior and his wife Mary, and Thomas junior’s siblings James and Annie. The youngest son John had died the previous year, aged 12, and our Thomas was already working as an apprentice at a Minto house. We find him there on the 1861 census, the only time he states Ireland as his place of birth on a census.

The census above details the family as living in Newton, part of the central hamlet at the centre of a larger parish area of the same name but to the north of the main hamlet.

Bedrule is a tiny village four miles from Jedburgh, but it has a proud and interesting history. Thomas senior and his son James are recorded as labourers. Several children from the census, including Annie Ruddy are recorded as scholars. Where did they go to school? For it was surely there that Thomas received the quality of education that prepared him to study confidently French, Latin and Geometry while living in the garden bothy at Minto House.

It also laid down the sophisticated writing style which characterises his journal, as in this reflection on his Bedrule childhood:

By this time we were living at Menslaws by the side of the Rule,
a little above where it enters the Teviot, and in sight of Minto, a famous garden of the seat of the Earl of Minto. It was on a pleasant May evening that I went with my father and Robert Daniel to see Mr. Williamson the gardener of Minto. He received us very kindly, took us through the garden, and explained everything. I looked on the inside of this grand garden with awe, I admired in silence; the feather-likeAsparagus astonished me – I was so pleased with everything, that I thought it must be very pleasant to be a gardener; and then there was Mr Williamson going about “dressed like a gentleman”, and the young gardeners looked so very neat and smart that I formed a high opinion of the whole.

Bedrule parish, showing Jedburgh to the east and Minto to the west. Newton is on the road and river, north of Bedrule hamlet.

Queen Victoria is coming – look busy!

Pale j. Thomas

Gardeners on the lawn, Palé Hall, about 1876, photographed by the noted Welsh photographer John Thomas (From the Ruddy Collection)

19th August 1889. Thomas had been concerned and somewhat indignant that Henry Beyer Robertson, recently having become his employer, following the death of Henry Robertson senior, had allowed him insufficient men to get the gardens at Palé tidy.  However, at the last moment and amidst the scurry of final preparations, and the arrival of the Queen’s advance luggage, order was restored to the garden, and good will to employ-employee relationships.

Monday the 19th. An immense quantity of the Queen’s luggage has arrived, about five tons. Every one in authority very busy inside & outside the Hall, preparing for the 23rd.

Thursday the 22nd I have been allowed a little extra help at the 11th hour, but as the weather has been wet, I cannot have things as I could wish.. Mr. Robertson has been indifferent about the fate of the gardens, did not care if I could have the lawns and walks around the house in order. But he has been worried about the indoor arrangements, so that I ought to excuse him. Mr. Robertson has been telling me to leave the gardens rough, and that it was no use to try to have them nice, but today he told me he was glad I cleaned up, and that I had got them very nice.

1889 August 18th: Fever Pitch!

Photograph of Queen Victoria in 1889 (not at Palé )
taken by Princess Beatrice

It is 9 days before the Visit of Queen Victoria to Palé Hall.  Everyone is at full stretch with the preparations.  It should be remembered that the young Henry Beyer Robertson, still finding his feet after the sudden death of his father less than 18 months earlier, is carrying out the plans for the visit initially intended to be hosted by his father, former MP and Lieutenant of the County. It must have been a daunting prospect for the 27 year old batchelor.  In order to make the house available for the Queen and her staff, Henry Beyer’s mother and sister departed to stay at the home of the family solicitor. Thomas records:

1889 August 15th Mrs and Miss Robertson left here for Mr. Cullimore’s house at Christleton near Chester. It is to be their abode during the time the Queen is to stay here. The house is to be entirely at the disposal of the Queen.

In the evening, Mr. Schoberth, page of the Chambers to the Queen, arrived, bringing with him three men cooks; Messrs Feltham, Terry, etc.  Tommy came from Plas Power the Saturday evening so as to be at home during the Queen’s visit. 

All the staff are working long hours, and are there even enough staff to cope?  Garden staff are being transferred to other duties, and even the usually unruffled Thomas Ruddy is aggrieved with his employer:

August 18th I have been very hard driven four weeks preparing for the Queen’s visit, and as I have been allowed only three men, it has been nothing but hard work. I have not been able to go anywhere or even to go out of an evening.

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

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.

1886: Casting a Critical eye – a visit to Nannau

Nannau, photographed by Charles Leventon and used from Geograph under Creative Commons.

Thomas records many visits to the great houses of mid Wales, sometimes at the invitation of the owner, with the hope of advice being given, at other times in a spirit of curiosity or even competition.  He doesn’t hold back in his comments in what was, after all, a private journal.

The Head Gardener of Nannau, Mr. Cooke, had visited Palé in September 1885.  It is not clear whether his visit was unannounced.  It may be that there was a small degree of wishing to see the estate as it was, without the opportunity of any tidying up in advance of a visit from a colleague.  Thomas’ return visit was certainly unannounced.

16th Wednesday  Mr. Cooke and friend called here for a run round the garden. Mr. Cooke is Gardener at Nannau, Dolgelly.

In June 1886 Miss Keable, Thomas’ wife’s friend and cousin stayed in the village.  As Frances Harriet had three very small children at the time, as well as her three elder step children, Thomas conducted Miss Fanny Hannah Keable on several expeditions during her visit, including to Nannau.

Miss Fanny Hannah Keable, Born in Battersea 1851, died Edinburgh 1936

Tuesday the 8th Miss Keable and I went to Nannau near Dolgelly.  We left here by the 11 train and got out at Bontnewyd station, from which we walked up an old road and through the Park to the Mansion.  The day was threatening rain, but it cleared up and became very warm and fine.  We lunched at 10 o’clock by the side of the little rill in full view of Cader Idris. Cader was very interesting to watch for scarcely could we get a glimpse of it before the mist enveloped it over and over again.  At last the sun shone brightly and then the mist disappeared and Cader stood out in all its beauty.

I found several interesting plants on the roadside between the station and the park, such as the bog Pimpernel the black Briony the Tutsan Saint John’s wort and the moonwort -four in a little field where we had lunch.   In the same field I caught a pair, or at least two, pretty Cinnabar months the first I ever saw, and the first Mr H. B. Robertson ever saw in Wales.  On our way through the park we saw a small herd of deer.  The park is rocky and undulated but is very poorly wooded.  It seems to have been well wooded at one time but when the old family of Vaughan got involved in debt, I expect that the timber was one of the 1st to be turned into money.  Passed two or three rustic towers, two lodges and a little pond on the way up, and we left the old kitchen garden on our left in which once stood the old “Haunted Oak”.

  “Of evil fame was Nannau’s antique tree                                                 Yet styled the hollow oak of Demonie.”

It fell on the 13 July 1813.  It is said that Owen Glyndwr slew his cousin Howel Sele of Nannau and threw his body into the hollow of this oak where the skeleton was discovered many years after.

We got to the modern gardens about 2 o’clock; they are near the mansion, a mile from the old kitchen garden. Mr Cooke the gardener unfortunately was from home having gone for the afternoon to the village of Llanfachreth, a most out of the way church and village 1 1/2 miles from Nannau.  We met the proprietor Mr Vaughan a tall burly elderly gentleman.  He was very civil and regretted Mr Cooke was from home, and asked me several questions about Palé.  We saw through the houses – one peach house, three vineries, I large unheated peach house in which grew (planted out) roses, peas et cetera.  The crop of peaches was very poor. There is a nice little greenhouse and pits. The kitchen garden is made up of a number of patches, enclosed by hedges and the grounds are very nice, but contain nothing in particular.  The mansion is a modern native stone plain building and it is said to be the most elevated site of a mansion in Britain, being 700 feet above sea level.

There are many interesting pages regarding Nannau in this website, including the census return showing the Roberts family at the Coachman’s house in 1891.

http://nannau.com/buildings/house-timeline.php

It stands on a watershed as it were of the park at the West base of Moel Offrwm, a rounded hill from which very extensive views can be obtained.

 After seeing the gardens I left my companion at the Coachman’s house, she having known Mrs Rogers 10 years ago when once round the Precipice Walk.  I thought of going to hunt up Mr Cooke at Llanfachreth, and went within half a mile of the village, then I feared I would not have time to go there, so turned back and went onto the Precipice Walk where I sat down and rested.  From my position I had very pleasing and extensive views.  Cader stood on my left, Barmouth and the sea further on, the noble estuary extending almost to Dolgelly, the rugged slopes on each side of the river Mawddach, which run along the bottom of the narrow Vale at the foot of the slope where I was sitting.  Far north I could see Snowdon and at the mountains, and to my right beyond Llanfachreith stood the hill of Robell Fawr, and further on Arenig and Aran. It was very warm, but a nice breeze called the air a little.

By Jeff Buck via Geograph using Creative Commons Heading north along the Precipice Walk next to Llyn Cynwch. The Precipice Walk is not a public footpath but a private walk over part of the Nannau estate, which dates back to the twelfth century. The public have been allowed to use the walk by the estate since 1890 on the understanding that they observe the country code, follow the route indicated and use the proper access.

I next went to the little lake of Cynwch, which is situated about half a mile from the mansion in a hollow between two low wooded ridges.  It is a most desolate looking lake, entirely devoid of beauty or interest. The sides are composed of roughangular fragments of rock without a patch of gravel.  I picked up a few fragments of plants, which had been cast upon the shore – they were leaves of quill wort but I could not see the plant growing, nor could I see any Lobelia, shells, or anything else of interest. The lake is about a mile in length and a quarter mile wide. It does not seem to be deep and it stands about 100 feet higher than the mansion.  On my way back I met F. K. and Mrs. Rogers. I saw Lobelia in abundance growing in a pond between the mansion and the lake.  We left in at 6:20 o’clock and got to Dolgelly by 7.20.  We walked pretty fast all the way, distance about 4 miles. Saw a few good trees along the drive, and several fine four-leaved beech, Austrian Pine, etc.  We had pretty glimpses of the scenery on the way home, and got here safely.