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.
Thomas cleverly chose his 1881 honeymoon venue with his new bride Frances Harriet as a fashionable seaside town with access to some of the best, most interesting and most available geology in the south east of England. This edited version of his journal for the six days shows his abiding curiosity in the world around him. Frances must have been content to enjoy a honeymoon which was hardly tranquil. For the full version of the journal entry, with many interesting details, see here.
We left London Bridge for Folkestone at 4.43 and got to Folkestone by half past six o’clock. It was raining on our arrival, but we soon got into comfortable quarters in Edinburgh Castle Temperance Hotel, situated in Tontine Street. It was a very convenient situation, being near the post office and the harbour. The night was very stormy and wet.
Friday the 14th The day was very unpleasant, as the wind blew with great power, still we rambled till noon along the sea and Sandgate Road. After luncheon we went eastward to the ‘Warren’ where we got several rare plants and land shells, and also had a fine view of the sea in its rough state. We had a fine view of the chalk cliffs, extending from the Warren to Dover. The storm of this day was terrific, all over England, and did a great deal of damage to buildings, trees, and to shipping.
Saturday the 15th We both went to Dover, where we arrived at mid day. We walked along the harbour, passing the Marine Parade, which seems a fashionable resort, with a pleasant sea view. We saw ships from various nations in the harbour, many of them being from the Baltic. We passed the Castle Jetty and got under the Castle Cliffs. Here we saw chalk cliffs rising vertically to the height of 200 to 300 feet. At the foot of the cliffs I found several rare plants, some of which were new to me I also found the Kentish snail, the striped snail and the silky snail. We got on top of the cliff by a tunnel cut through the chalk; there was a stone to say that the elevation was 75 feet above the sea.. Here we had a fair view of the French coast direct south-east. I saw many flints in the chalk, but could get no fossils. We descended again by the same route and went round the foot of the cliff until we found our way up to the Castle. We were both greatly pleased with the view from the Castle hill. Beneath us lay the town, hemmed in by a semicircle of high chalk hills and cliffs on the land side, and the sea on the other side. Far across the English Chanel we could see France. Many stately ships were going up and down the Channel.
The Castle seems a place of great strength, and is, with its outworks of great extent, 30 acres. There is a dry ditch outside the wall. The wall has round and square towers. Near the church, which stands a short way from the Citadel, I saw the Roman Pharos, which is said to be one of the finest pieces of Roman masonry in the kingdom, and probably built during the rule of the Emperor Claudius. It stands at an elevation of 550 feet above sea level. I could see that it had courses of bricks about every four or five feet, with stone work between. The top was embattled and it had several windows. It was as nearly as possible bottle-shaped. The masonry was much eaten away by the weather, but the bricks were but little weathered. I picked up a piece of brick which the storm of the previous day had dislodged. So I can say ‘It is an ill wind which blows nobody good’. There is a deeply marked fishbone impression on the brick – it was the only piece of brick to be got, so that I was very pleased to find it.
On descending from the castle we got fine views. We next went through the town until we got to the market square. Here we had luncheon in the Duchess of Kent, an old fashioned hotel, much frequented by farmers and country people. We heard the Kentish dialect spoken by the country people as we sat at luncheon. Owing to their peculiar twang, I had difficulty at first in understanding what was said, but I soon got into it. After luncheon we went into the Museum where we saw a fair general collection.. we next proceeded out of town to Hay Cliff, where we saw the works of the proposed Chanel Tunnel at its base by the side of the railway to Dover. We returned to Dover over the top of the hill known as Shakespeare Cliff, from which I brought a nodule of flint.
The shades of evening were now closing over us. On our way down the steep road into the town, we saw a battery of 18 ton guns. We wandered about till train time, seeing the Lord Warden and Imperial hotels, the Pier, the Calais Dover channel steamer, which is a twin steamer used as a railway boat to convey passengers to and from Dover and Calais. It is a curious ship, being two steamers fastened together, for the sake of steadiness on the sea.
The best street we saw was a very long one called ’Snargate’. There were elegant shops in it, and many civilians and soldiers walking up and down. Between Dover and Folkestone, in a distance of 7 miles, we went through four tunnels, two being nearly a mile each in length – that is Abbotscliff and Shakespeare Cliff tunnels. We got back to the Edinburgh Castle about 9 o’clock, highly pleased with our visit to the interesting and historical town of Dover.
Sunday the 16th We went in the morning g to Folkestone church and heard the Vicar of the church preach. During the afternoon we went along the Lower Sandgate Road until we reached the very pleasant little town of Sandgate, which is about 1 and a half miles from Folkestone. It was a most pleasant walk all the way. On our left we had a pleasant view of the sea, and on our right we had a series of little groves of the dwarf pine, brambly banks, grassy banks, thickets of tamarisk, large patches of the stinking iris, and occasional outcrops of rock in what is known as the ‘Gault’. Sandgate is a bathing resort of great beauty and pleasantly situated. The town is only a long street; the houses being on each side of the road.
From the town we went up a country road to Shorncliffe Camp, which is situated upon a plateau of moderate elevation overlooking Sandgate and the sea. On the North it is overlooked by low chalk hills.
From the camp we went down by a narrow lane, overhung part of the way with copse wood and trees, until we got to the west end of Sandgate and onto the promenade which connects Sandgate with Hythe.We had a very pleasant walk back to Folkestone where we arrived by tea time I was surprised to see standard fig trees at Sandgate as we returned.
In the evening we went to Christchurch, which is a very nice Gothic building of modern date. It seems to be a fashionable church. We had a very fine day and evening.
Monday 17th This was a most lovely day so that we took sandwiches with us to the Warren, where we spent the day botanizing, shell collecting and fossil collecting. We got several fossils out of the Gault clay, which is of a stiff, softish texture. It is easy to get plenty of fossils, but they go to pieces as easily. [An extensive list of shells and plants found follows]
It was one of the most successful botanical finds I ever made in one day.
Tuesday 18th We spent the morning between Folkestone and Sandgate where we found several interesting things. . After luncheon we went to the Warren again; at the west end of it I could see that the Gault clay is much inclined to slip, several serious landslips had occurred, some of them falling into the sea and some slipped away with over 50 yards of new road which will be most difficult to make up again.
[Further list of botanical specimens found, including an unidentified orchid which he took home with him and bloomed next year (1882) proving to be a bee orchid]
We had a nice walk along the sands by the sea which was thickly strewn with blocks of chalk , sticking to which we saw limpets, mussels and other shellfish. This was also a very fine day.
Wednesday 19th We spent the morning exploring the cliffs west of Folkestone and rambling by the sea gathering plants and shells. It was with a good deal of regret that we left our very pleasant retreat at Folkestone and got on our way back to London. We left at 2.17 pm.
[There follows a very detailed account of every stage of the journey, including every station. Here as elsewhere it is obvious that TR kept detailed ‘real time’ notes which he later transcribed.]
On July 14th 1881 Frances Harriet Williams arrived in Llanderfel where she stayed for over a month with her uncle and aunt William and Margaret Pamplin. Her mother, Frances Williams, had been in Llanderfel the previous month. Nothing is said in Thomas’ journal about the events of these two visits, beyond descriptions of walks taken, but since Thomas was to marry Frances Harriet in October 1881, one can conjecture that Mrs. Williams was asked permission to marry her daughter in June and that a proposal was made to Frances Harriet in July or August.
The July/August visit must have been an important one, since a marriage proposal to Frances H. would involve her becoming stepmother to three youngsters – Thomas Alexander aged 13, William P. aged 9 and Mary Emily aged 7. Frances Harriet Williams was herself already aged 35 and must have been considered by her family as perhaps unlikely to marry.
Thomas reveals nothing as Frances H. leaves Lllanderfel in August 1881. the next time she returns she will be Mrs. Ruddy. ‘August 19th I went to Ruabon to see Miss Williams off to London. Afterwards I rambled about and walked back to Llangollen. I got a few shells on the way and also plants, but nothing new to me. ‘
Thomas records in detail a walk ascending Cader Idris with companions from the Chester Society on August 23rd (see future post) and the same walk with Master Robertson’s current tutor and former tutor on September 3rd, his description including a very competent geological sketch:
Then on Friday October 7th 1881 Thomas departs for London by train, and at last there is confirmation of the forthcoming marriage: Mr. Williams and his dear sister (my intended wife) met me at the train. I was delighted to see them, and they were no less so to see me, so that our meeting was as happy as it was enthusiastic. Our faces beamed with joy, and we were all excitement. We got a cab, which took us to 25 Kennington Park Road SE about a quarter past 8 o’clock. Mrs. Williams was waiting to welcome me to her home. I was soon at home and most comfortable. We all spent a happy evening together.
The next two days are spent meeting close family friends of the Williams’ and going to church three times: Sunday was very fine. We went to Newington Church in the morning, and Frances and I went to the afternoon service in the Abbey. After service we looked through it to see the monuments. Got introduced to Miss Neate in the evening. All had tea together and went to St. Thomas’s Church Lambeth. Mr. Starey the vicar preached.
So far, so good. But Thomas was Thomas, and how could he resist visiting two Museums in the capital devoted to his enduring passions, natural history and geology. Miss Williams can have been in no doubt about the abiding interests of her future husband. Fortunately, she seems to have shared his interest: Monday 10th Frances and I went by the District or Underground Railway from Westminster Bridge to South Kensington. Visited the Geological Museum there. I was highly interested with what I saw in the way of fossils. Saw the skeleton of a mastodon 18 feet in length, a Dinotherium with tusks 4 or 5 yards in length and a mammoth with tusks 4 yards in length. I also saw a fine male and female Irish Elk, Ground Sloth, and a cast of monster armadillo.
Among the Saurians I saw fine specimens of the following: Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus and Pterodactyl, with many others. I saw a fine collection of bones from caves. I had a letter of introduction from Mr. Palin to young Mr. Etheridge, whom I found to be very courteous and willing to show me the Silurian Collection. I can say that Mr. Etheridge is quite an enthusiastic geologist. The British Caradoc or Bala collection is very poor. Frances and I stayed 2 and a half hours in the Museum. We went from S.K. station to Kew Gardens. We had but a little over a couple of hours. The palm house is very good. The collection being well-grown and clean. The Lily House is also very nice and interesting with its lilies, valisneria [aquatic foliage plant] and other rare plants. The Fern House has a good and clean collection.
Tuesday 11th Frances and I went to the Geological Museum, Jermyn Street [Established 1853, transferred to Exhibition Rd. S. Kensington 1935, taken over by the Natural History Museum 1985 see here ] I can say that there is a magnificent collection of minerals and fossils, and all beautifully arranged. The collection of Bala fossils is very good, and the Irish specimens are very good, but many of the British specimens are poor. Indeed, I could only see very miserable representatives of many of our Welsh species. Mr. Newton kindly opened the cases for me, so that I might examine them critically.
At some time Thomas must have set about rectifying the poor collection of Brutish Bala fossils, as I have established that there are over 1,000 specimens collected by Thomas held at present by the Natural History Museum.
By Wednesday Thomas and Frances Harriet had re-focussed on their marriage, and by mid-day on Thursday they were husband and wife: Wednesday 12thMr. Williams and I went to Doctor’s Commons, near St. Paul’s to get the marriage license. After getting it we went as far as the Bank of England, the Mansion House, Royal Exchange, down Cornhill; and afterwards got back to Queen Victoria Street, and saw the Civil Service Stores, then home over Blackfriars Bridge.
Thursday the 13th at 11 o’clock I was married to Frances Harriett Williams at St. Mary’s Church, Newington S.E. Mr. Palmer the rector officiated, and also delivered a very beautiful address. Miss Neate acted as bridesmaid, and Mr. Irvine as best man. Her brother Mr. Williams gave her away, and her mother was present. All of us signed the Marriage Register. We had a very beautiful day with the sun shining, so that we wished the old saying to be true, ‘happy is the bride the sun shines on’. We all enjoyed ourselves up till 4 o’clock, when Frances and I took our departure for London Bridge Station amidst a shower of rice.
Thomas had lost his first wife Mary in June 1879, and by 1881 he was drawing nearer to the Pamplin family, and in particular, to Frances Harriet Williams, niece of his friend William Pamplin. In particular he refers to a significant visit from Frances H and her mother Frances Williams, nee Pamplin, in February 1881.
Walking was always central to Thomas’ life, and several walks are recorded in the journal of the first half of 1881. His friends, made mainly via the Chester Society and further acquaintances recommended by friends from the Society seem to have been central in his rehabilitation following Mary’s death.
A Bank holiday walk on April 18th with Mr. Jebb, whom he met on the highest summit of the Berwyns, took him on a 20 mile round trip, ending with a meal at the ‘smartest’ hotel in Bala, the White Lion. Thomas’ friends were usually from a ‘higher’ echelon of society, as discerned by the scrupulous social order of Victorian Society, but his geological and botanical knowledge gave him the edge in any expedition into the hills.
On May 4th the Vicar of Runcorn, the Revd. William Preston arrived, introduced by a letter from Mr. Shrubsole of the Chester Society, to view Thomas’ fossil collection, and be taken on a fossil hunting expedition.
On May 10thThomas walked with Mr. Dean, the brother of Mrs. Robertson, wife of his employer. Thomas quite frequently spent time in the company of John Dean, who seems to have shared his interest in the countryside, and who no doubt relied on Thomas as guide and interpreter of the environment.
On Tuesday 4th June Thomas set out from William and Margaret Pamplin’s house with Mrs. Williams, mother of Thomas’ future second wife, for a lengthy walk to Pont y Glyn. William was at this time 75 years old, and Frances Williams 73. It is interesting that Frances, who had been a widow since 1866, was visiting alone, since the friendship between Thomas and her daughter had become so close. Was she perhaps visiting to enable Thomas to ask her permission to propose marriage to Frances Harriet?
The walk was about 7 miles, over testing mountainous country, to a height of 430 metres (400 ft) Thomas comments on the sprightly nature of his companions (Margaret Pamplin was younger – only 43 at the time.) From Pont y Glyn they returned by ‘a conveyance’. Would it be necessary to book this in advance, I wonder, or could one find a conveyance in the village, or stop one passing on the road?
To end an exciting day, Thomas records feeling a sizeable earthquake in the evening. his own world was certainly in the process of change. I wonder whether he regarded it as an omen?
Thomas’ diligent and painstaking collection of Bala fossils and his careful and accurate labelling and display were beginning to bring interested visitors to his door on a regular basis. Thomas was obviously able to converse with local worthies as an equal, and was seen as an authority on his chosen subject. Mr Dean, brother-in-law of Thomas’ employer Henry Robertson had obviously recovered from his severe illness of the spring of that year. It would seem that the Robertson family were very happy to allow Thomas to show visitors his collections. Although, sadly, he almost never mentions the Palé gardens in his journals, his work must have been satisfactory to the family as they allowed, even encouraged his geological and other activities.
 July has been very remarkable for fearful and frequent thunderstorms, heavy rains and high floods.
During the month my collections were visited by the Revds. Ellis Edwards, Professor at the Methodist College Bala, and Ogwen Jones of Rhyl. Mr. Dean brought Mr. Edmund Aitken, surgeon of London, to see them, also the Revd. Wynn Williams, and his son, from Fronheulog, to whom I gave a collection of Bala fossils.
It is interesting that so many clergy came to view and discuss the fossils. The hostility of the church to Darwin’s ideas, and the clash of views over the dating of fossils vis à vis the Biblical view of the date and process of creation led to much discussion during the second half of the nineteenth century. By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882, the Church of England was ready to give him a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. This article details the growing reception of the ideas of the formation, dating and geology of the earth by the Church of England over the 23 years between he publication of The Origin of Species and Darwin’s death. For the clerical visitors to the very ancient Silurian and Ordovician fossils, the questions raised must have ben theological as well as scientific.
A distinguished visitor to Palé who chatted to the Head Gardener was Sir Theodore Martin, with his wife, a noted actress. Like Henry Robertson, Theodore Martin, was born in Scotland, and had moved to nearby Bryntysilio Hall. He had been chosen by Queen Victoria to write the biography of Prince Albert; this had been finished, and Martin knighted in 1880. A Biographical note is here.
His wife, born Helena Faucit [written Fawcett by Thomas] had been a noted Shakespearean actress. She had appeared as Beatrice, on the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial at Stratford-on-Avon on 23 April 1879. For a portrait of Lady Martin see here and a biography here.
Sept 7th Tuesday I had a long chat with Sir Theodore Martin of Bryntisilio near Llangollen; he was very chatty and pleasant to talk to. In asking me the name of a plant I gave him the only one I had: Salpiglossus; he said it would take a lifetime to remember such a name. A great author like him to say that. His lady was with him here on a visit. She is no beauty, and she has a peculiar unhappy like expression. Lady Martin was well known as the famous actress Miss Helen Fawcett.
Despite the sad circumstances of bereavement that had overtaken both Thomas and the Robertson family, Thomas’ abiding dedication to his all-consuming hobby of geology and palaeontology kept him busy through the summer of 1880. His diary entry for May 26th – 27th gives a great deal of detail about an expedition accompanied by Mr Shrubsole of the Chester Society of Natural Science.
The 1881 census shows George Shrubsole aged 53 owner of a Chemist’s shop employing an assistant and two boys, living at 50, Northgate Street Chester with his wife Fanny, aged 50 and their sons George, 16, and Alfred, 14. His assistant William Jones, 22, also lived in the house, and there was a General Servant, Eliza Edwards, aged 27. George senior had been born in Faversham, Kent, and Fanny in Preston, Lancs. George Shrubsole was sometime Chairman of the Geological section of the Chester Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society.
I include a longer extract than usual, demonstrating Thomas’ very lively and quite elegant prose style, particularly the vignette of the confrontation with the irate farmer and the fishermen, both illustrating the slight tension between English and Welsh speakers and the incomprehension of the locals meeting these devoted collectors of the new-found and relatively suspect pursuit of geology and fossil hunting. The Oxford confrontation between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce had taken place only 20 years earlier, and the topic was still by no means resolved.
May 26 Wednesday  I left here on route for Glyn Ceiriog [SJ203382]. I started from here by 5.30 am in a trap to Corwen, where I arrived by 6.30. Left Corwen by the 6.50 train and got to Llangollen by 7.15. I crossed Llangollen Bridge for the first time, and went through the town, which I thought looked very clean and nice. I passed the front of Plasnewydd, well known as the residence where the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ spent their quiet lives. …
From Plasnewydd I had a very steep road to go up; it was almost as steep as the roof of a house. I stopped to rest and look back occasionally over the beautiful vale which was well worth the climb to see. There was the town, snugly nestled by the Dee, withy Castell Dinas Bran towering above the vale, backed up by the wonderful rocks of Eglwyseg.
I got to the top of the hill by the farmhouse of Penlan …I soon began to descend the very steep winding slope leading into the vale of the Ceiriog. My first view of it pleased me very much; it looked like as if the river had no outlet, and I thought it ran the reverse way to what it did until I consulted my map. I got first to the church which is … perched on the steep slope near some straggling houses which forms the village of what is called Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog. … About a mile from the church I came to the New Inn, which is situated by the river and at the terminus of the tramway. The New Inn is at the centre of a modern village, and surrounded by slate quarries.
I was at the New Inn by 9 o’clock where I was to meet Mr. Shrubsole from Chester…… Mr. Shrubsole arrived at 11, so that I was now in my element. We were both very much excited when we met, and I in particular meeting a good friend in a ‘happy valley’ which was new to me, but which I long had wished to see. Mr. Shrubsole had been here before. We were soon equipped with bags and hammers , ready for hard work at fossils, for which we had here met. We crossed Pont-dwl-wern, and turned to the right up the side of the river, along the side of a wood. I was delighted, and in capital trim. Our hammers soon went clink clank and soon we had before us corals, shells, and fragments of Trilobites. I soon saw that we were working in the upper beds of the Bala rocks. We got many interesting things here, then we went upwards, although it was downwards in the beds until we got to a wall where it was built of blocks of limestone. I saw a block with curious white markings on it, and while examining it, I was asking Mr. Shrubsole where he found the chain coral when here before; his answer was that he could not exactly tell. I was particularly anxious to find some of it. I called Mr. Shrubsole’s attention to the markings in the block, which puzzled me as they were new to me. He gave an exulting shout which startled me; and clink clank went his hammer, all I could get out of him was ‘Chain coral!’ which at once made me quite excited. We were at work knocking off chip for chip, which we bagged, while Mr. Shrubsole teased me for not knowing chain coral.
Our fun was soon interrupted by a loud voice, and on looking round we saw a gaunt, tall, ill featured man coming up the road towards us, with quick, long strides, and evidently very excited. He came up almost breathless, and at once shouted, ‘Stop, stop gentlemens! Stop that! Don’t you know gentlemens that you are damaging my wall, you must not do that. I know what you be wantin – you be after the shells.’ I mildly replied thast we were, and that I had come from Bala to examine the Calch llwyd (grey lime) of Glyn Ceiriog, so as to compare it with the Calch llwyd of Bala; and to do that I must try and find some shells, and that I would be sorry to go back to my Bala friends without being able to find any. The Welshman looked at me for a little, then said ‘You be from Bala then. I said ‘Yes’. ‘Well you be talk Welsh’. I answered ‘Je, tipyn bach’ (yes a little). I watched his austere features gradually relax into a smile, then he exclaimed, ‘Oh gentlemens you not be the bad peoples I see come here from Manchester, them be very bad, they be knockin down my walls gentlemens.’ Mr. Shrubsole who watched the drama at once chimed in‘Yes, the people from Manchester are a rough lot.’ Mr. Jones (as we learned) seemed pleased, and when Mr. Shrubsole added, ‘But we are not all like the Manchester people’ Mr. Jones at once said ‘No I see you be not like them, they be very bad indeed.’ I asked now if I might try for shells, because I wished to be able to tell the Bala people all about Glyn Ceiriog. Mr. Jones quickly answered with great animation, ‘Yes, sir, you get anything you want and go anywhere.’ I asked who was the landlord. Mr. Jones at once said ‘It’s my own land, it’s my freehold, and that place there where you will find an old lime kiln is the freehold of my uncle Richard Jones, and gentlemens, I give you leave to go anywhere you like on my land and on my uncle’s land.’ I thanked him very much and got a deal of information from him as he led us up to a kiln where he formerly burned the lime rock, which is the equivalent of the Bala limestone. He told us that it was 29 years since he had burned any; that about 30 years ago he sent it to the railway viaducts of Llangollen and Chirk to make cement for building, and that it was better than any other lime.
We worked hard near the old kiln and we were quite excited with our finds – beautiful weathered and solid chain corals stared at us; Omphyma, Petraia, and shells were bagged, until our bags and pockets were full. Near the kiln I saw a beautiful patch of the Orchis mascula. About 4 o’clock we returned to the inn well pleased with our bag, and ready for a good substantial meat tea which was soon ready for us.
After tea we put our fossils past, and made ready for another voyage of discovery. We went up the north side of the river. The valley was very narrow, with very steep slopes, covered with young larch plantations, where I could see the turtle doves flying from tree to tree. We got to the thick bed of felstone. This felstone had been quarried and sent to the potteries as ‘china stone’, but it did not answer, so that the works were abandoned. About two miles up we came to a little hamlet near Pont Menbion, at the foot of a little brook called Deirw which comes down a romantic dingle from Nantyr. It came on to rain rather heavy, so that wereturned with a few minerals.
We spent the rest of the evening watching the young quarryman playing at football, and in reading. We made up our plans for the next day’s work, and went to bed on a light supper. I was awoke next morning by a peculiar monotonous noise, and on looking out, I saw that the noise was caused by a heavy rain. I could see the river rushing down red with mud, and in a high flood, while pat, pat, pat went the pouring rain. It was a bad prospect, but I was thankful for the first day’s work, and content as I had the chain coral.
We enjoyed a good breakfast and read the Geological Journal, but still it rained, and the wind sighed through the trees. We next watched the idlers who were taking shelter in doorways, and who were making themselves as happy as they could. At 12 o’clock the rain ceased gradually, so we sallied forth with our hammers and bags. We went up the wooded slope from Pont-dol-wern until we got to an old lime kiln almost hidden by young larch and brambles. Here I worked eagerly at the upper limestone bed, which was difficult as we could only get pieces here and there. I got several fossils, the most interesting being a beautiful Ischadites, and a Raphistoma, also a poor Orthisena and a nice Philodictya fucoides. From this we went up through the land of Richard Jones to Mynyd Fron-frys [SJ214371], famed for fossils, but we only got common species. We next crossed over to large quarries which are in the Tarannon shale, and which had been at one time extensively worked for slate. On the way I found the ‘Hirnant Grit’ in loose blocks.
We next followed the Oswestry road to near Nant Iorwerth having a fine view down the broad valley which extends along the Ceiriog from the New Inn to Pont Fadog. The sides of the hills are well-wooded and dotted with **** like farm houses. We turned up Nant Iorwerth [SJ364217]to a quarry where we got shells plentiful, among which were several mussels. A little higher in the beds we got to the Bala limestone bed where we got the chain coral Omphyma and Petraia, etc. Our bags were quite full, and even our pockets, so that we had to carry enough, and return to our inn, well pleased.
When crossing the bridge we observed a solitary fisherman fishing a little below the bridge. Mr. Shrubsole asked him if he had any fish – no answer, but he stared hard at us. I thought he did not understand, so I said to him in Welsh as short as I could pysgod (fish), he shook his head and said ‘Dim’ (no); with the effort he took his line out of the water, and what did we see but a twin with a shoemaker’s waxed thread at the end of it instead of gut, and a monster worm on the hook. I did not wonder at his lack of success. Going up through the village the people stared hard at us from the doors, I could see the heads of the people half out of doors peeping at us. We met our friend John Jones of the previous day who put on the best smile he could, but which was only a hoax grin as he asked us if we had been successful, and he was very much pleased when we answered in the affirmative.
We got packed up, had a substantial tea, settled with the landlord, David Foulkes, and seated ourselves in the tram car. This car is very light, being only covered with canvas, and the same on the sides which can be drawn back at pleasure when fine, so as to have a view of the surrounding countryside. It is drawn by a horse, and runs smoothly along. The tram has a fall all the way from the New Inn all the way to Pont-faen, the terminus. We paid a shilling each for the tram ride. We were but a short time seated when the bugle sounded and off we went down the side of the Ceiriog. At Pont Fadog we picked up a passenger. Pont Fadog is a little hamlet where the tramway crosses the river. A mile or two lower down we passed a church, then we saw where the shale and mountain limestone meets. We next passed along the side of Chirk Castle park, where I saw unusually large elm trees and fine old hawthorns. I was very much pleased to see the viaduct and aqueduct of such fine proportions crossing the valley. When crossing over the splendid viaduct which spans the Dee we got a good view of the aqueduct which carries over the canal, both viaducts being the work of Mr. Robertson my employer. I parted with my friend Mr. Shrubsole at Ruabon, and I arrived home in good spirits and delighted with my trip which was very satisfactory.
The journal entries after the death of Thomas’ wife Mary in June 1879 almost all concern geology and walking expeditions. Reading more closely, it is clear that his friends and acquaintances accompanied him on days out, perhaps sensing that his lifelong love of the natural world and geological studies in particular would be the means of his coping with bereavement. It is also clear that he must have been confident in the care of his young children during his absences, either by the maid living in at the Garden House or with staff at Palé.
The family at Palé and a local friend were the first to encourage Thomas to go on an expedition. John Dean was brother of Mrs. Robertson, and a frequent companion to Thomas over the years. I have not identified Mr. Brandt. Inevitably, the day involved geological and botanical exploration. See here for Cwm Prysor:
July 2nd I went with Mr. Dean and Mr. Brandt from Bala to Cwm Prysor [SH757368] on the Bala and Festiniog line. …… During the day I examined with great interest the ash and slate rocks of the Llandeilo and Lingula beds. I got no fossils, but I brought specimens of rocks and minerals. I only got salix repens and galium boreale in the plant way.
Later in July two friends from the Chester Society of Natural Science took him on an expedition.
July 23rdI had a day at Hafod-y-Calch near Corwen with my friends Messrs Shrubsole and Palin of Chester. We were very successful in getting fossils and enjoyed ourselves very much. Both these friends were very kind to me.
By August, Thomas was in sufficiently good spirits to lead an expedition of a local Scientific Society:
August 25th Monday I went to Bala and acted as guide to the members of the Wrexham Society of Natural Science. I took them up pat Wenalt to Cornelan. Here we lunched, and I then showed them the first ash bed with the Orthis alternate zone. We next examined the beds of Brynbedwog, where we got plenty of fossils. I next took them down the side of Afon Cymmerig to Gelli Grin. Here we found fossils. We got into Bala by 4.30 pm, and had a most substantial meat tea at the Plas Coch Hotel. I was very highly honoured by the whole party, had lamb to carve. I sat by the side of my old and valued friend Mr. Bennion Acton of Wrexham.
As we read between the lines, it is touching to see Thomas’ friends rallying round him in bereavement, recognising that his dedication to geology and natural history would be the best means of helping him through the difficult summer months of 1879.
Read the full account of his expeditions and entries for the rest of the year here.