New Directions in Geology

Cadair Berwyn

In the second half of 1892 it suddenly becomes obvious from the journal entries that Thomas has begun a completely new field of geological study, still rooted in the landscape of mid Wales that surrounded his home. It had been some time since he had led any fieldwork expeditions concentrating on the fossils of the Silurian period, a task he had often undertaken in the company of the Cambridge Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, and on which he had written a paper for the Journal of the Geological Society published in 1879. ‘On the Upper part of the Cambrian (Sedgwick) and Base of the Silurian in North Wales’. Many people still called at his home to view his fossil collection, but the arrival in succession of five children with his second wife Frances make the focus of his attention increasingly domestic during the 1890s.

However, in August 1892 a new interest and body of knowledge suddenly and surreptitiously makes and appearance while he is mentoring two young ladies who with their mother were staying in the area:

20th August: I showed the Misses Nevins the glacial markings at Penygarth in the strophomena expansa zone and also at Gelli Grin.  Indeed we were very successful at the latter place. I got a well preserved eye of an Asaphus [trilobite – Ed.] and what very much resembles Cythere aldensis. We all enjoyed the ramble and then Misses Nevins were highly pleased with their fossils, and the scenery. We got home at the dusk.

In transferring his interest from Cambrian and Silurian fossils to the influence of the action of Ice Age on the landscape, Ruddy was turning his attention from a period about 450 million years ago, the Silurian, to only about 1 to 2 million years in the past, a period of intensive study and much debate in the mid and late 19th century, the period of ‘recent’, in geological terms, glaciation. The great geologists Charles Lyell and Roderick Murchison were involved, arguing in effect against theories of the way landscapes were changed and shaped by the action go progressing and retreating glaciers.

In brief, the study which Ruddy began in a small notebook, now very much degraded by time (shown above) was to examine boulders left in the landscape and which were of a different age or rock formation from the underlying rock. and had been picked up or broken off by advancing glaciers, and then deposited some distance away from their origin as the glaciers retreated and deposited mixtures of boulders, smaller rocks and other deposits, including some displaced fossils in the landscape, this deposit known as glacial till.

The study of glaciation had not originally been centred on Wales and the border counties – it had originally been investigated in Scotland, and the contrasting landscape of East Anglia, particularly Norfolk.

As in many other places in Ruddy’s Journal, we become aware of pre-existing friendships and correspondences which are only mentioned at a later date, as on 7th September 1892:

Wednesday the 7th My correspondent, Mr A C Nicholson of Bronderw, Oswestry came to see me.  He arrived by the 4.20 fast train.  He had tea with us here and then I took him to the fruit room to see the fossils.  Although he knew about them by report, he was very much surprised when he saw them spread out. We had a good look at them, and spent the rest of the evening chatting about geology, until suppertime. I went with him to his lodgings at Shopisaf after.

Thursday the 8th Mr. Nicholson went by first train to Llandrillo, then up the Berwyns to get the ash and greenstone rocks. He went over Chlochnant, Carnedd-y-ci, and to the top of Cader Berwyn, then along the ridge to Milltir Gerrig, on the Llangynog  road. There I met him at 4:30 o’clock. He was very tired, but was pleased to have got specimens of the rocks on the way. He had long wish to see the same rocks. I showed him the Little Ash on the roadside Milltir Gerrig, then the felstone, and found Orthis alternata and other fossils.  I found a Bellerephon in the rubbly shale between the felstone and Little Ash.  The species is new to me and of much interest.

Mr Nicholson’s expedition

Mr Nicholson gave me the altitude above sea level at the well near the felstone on the roadside as 1500 feet.  There are freshwater limpets in the rill at that altitude. The altitude at the stone on the boundary, dividing this county from Montgomery, was 1650 feet. We got to my house at about 8:30 o’clock. We thoroughly enjoyed a good feed, and particularly enjoyed a piece of fresh Dee salmon which Sir Henry kindly sent us.

Friday the ninth Mr. Nicholson came over at half past nine and looked over my fossils until dinner time.  He had dinner with us, and after dinner I went to show him the Hirnant beds at Bwlch Hannerob and then the Tarannon and Wenlock shales.

After tea we packed his specimens I gave him, also fragments of fossiliferous Silurian rocks which he found in the glacial deposit with marine shells at Gloppa, Oswestry, and which he sent to me some time ago to name for him.

Mr. Nicholson had published a paper ‘ High-Level glacial gravels, Gloppa, Cyrn-y-bwlch, near Oswestry’ in the quarterly journal of the Geological Society in February 1892. His was one of the early investigations into the glacial geology of the Mid Wales and Shropshire area; the paucity of such investigation was noted ten years earlier, in 1882, Walter Keeping, who began his geological career at the Woodwardian museum in Cambridge, predecessor to the Sedgwick, and then became Professor of Natural Science at Aberystwyth, until 1880 when he became Keeper of the Yorkshire Museum, in his article The Glacial Geology of Central Wales in the Geological Magazine.

Gloppa, near Oswestry.  Contorted glacial drift, sands and gravels. Contemporary photograph.  British Geological Survey website.

Wednesday the 14th I received a handsome book as a gift from Mr Nicholson, entitled “Island Life” by Alfred Russell Wallace. It will be of great service to me as it is up-to-date in scientific research.

Mr. Nicholson’s visit obviously inspired Ruddy to begin in earnest his examination of his local landscape in the light of the new understandings of glaciation and its effects on the landscape.

Saturday the 17th [September 1892] I left here at mid day for the head of the Llangynog Valley. I got to the stone marking the boundary of the counties at 1:50 o’clock. I went to see the little patch of ash rock and could see that it rested conformably on sandy shales.  The ash is about 10 feet thick, and is about 40 feet under the limestone outcrop, the same as it is at Gelli Grin.  I once found a specimen of the Orthis flabellulum in the shales under the ash in the shales where they are quarried for mending the roads, but I failed to see anything this time. I also searched loads of the shale along the side of the road, but could not find a fossil.

I next crossed over the moor to the old phosphate mine to try and find Arenig boulders on the way or in the bed of the brooks near the mine.   I could not find one after I left Brynselwrn ffrith.  I found some angular blocks of the local ash, and an abundance of blocks of Denbigh grits; these are evidently from the base of the Wenlock at Bwlch-y-dwr.  I found the local ash at the little stream where the old Bala and Llangynog road crossed it.  I traced it up the hill towards the county boundary.  Neither of these patches of ash are marked on the map.

 I also found the upper end of the greenstone near the ash, and followed it down the brook to the road leading to the mine.  Most of it keeps crumbling away into course sand all rather fragments. It runs as a dike with a rounded bosses diverging a little from the line. I found a few fossils at the old mine; the only thing of interest being at badly preserved Trochonema triponcata.  I found a few specimens of one minute snail; Helix rupestris. The place where I found the Helix is about 1550 feet above sea level. 

I next went to see massive shales in the brook some distance lower than the mine. The shales dip towards the bed of the brook and large masses have become detached and lie in the bed of the book like square pieces of masonry.   Lower down there is a pretty cascade falling into a deep pool, which is almost shut in by walls of rock. I next crossed over to the little stream where I followed the greenstone again up the bed of the brook.  It runs like a dyke with diverging round bosses, and has a sort of false bedding in some places. The dyke is about 15 feet in thickness and crumbles away into course sand and crumbles away into course sand and rotten pieces.

? Site of the Waterfall above

Copyright Eirian Evans, Creative Commons. Waterfall in Coed Llystyn

I have never seen any of the ashes or greenstones in N Wales crumble away in the same as the Trwyn Swch greenstone It is plainly an intrusive mass, and the shales resting upon it are much disturbed at the junction. In one place the greenstone is very hard and compact, and falls away from the rocky wall in square blocks.

 I carried off specimens of the greenstone, but failed to find any fossils in the shales all along the ravine.  I searched for fossils on the roadside Milltir Gerrig.  I found good specimens  of Orthis alternata  in the usual place, but nothing lower in the beds. I could not get time for beds higher in the series.  I left at 6:35 o’clock, and got home at 8:20. I had a beautiful day and much enjoyed it.  

Examples of investigations of this new interest continue through the following years of the journal, and A. C. Nicholson visited again in August 1895.

A map of the direction of glacial drift across the British Isles pasted into the front of Ruddy’s notebook.

1893 'Science Under Difficulties'

‘Science under difficulties’ was the name given by Thomas to an expedition he undertook with his son Henry on the evening of the 30th September 1893. Henry was then 10 years and 11 months old. It was past mid afternoon before the pair set out, and they returned just before 8.00 pm, soaked through, and in the dark. It was a journey of, in my estimation, at least ten miles.

Saturday the 30th  Henry and I left home at a 3:45 o’clock for Cae Howel lane. We had  heavy showers on the way, but went on to the gate leading to Maeshir at Bwlch y Fenni.  It cleared off when there and had every appearance of keeping fine and as I wished to hunt for boulders on the Aberhirnant side, we pushed on along the mountain road leading to Llangynog over Trwmysarn.   I imagine Thomas’ main purpose was his new research on Glacial Drift.

Thomas’ notebook on boulder dispersion

Thomas describes the journey: We found one Arenig boulder near Cae Howel at an altitude above the sea of 1200 feet and again a boulder of the Aran ash where the road gets close to the brook of Nant-cwm-hesgen.  That was all the boulders we found in our ramble. There were none in the bed of the upper part of the Brook all along the roadside all the way to the county boundary at Trwn-y-sarn. 

The slopes of Foel Carn Sian Llwyd Photo © Dave Corby (cc-by-sa/2.0)

It got almost dark at the county boundary and rained cruelly with a breeze of wind. We crossed the moorland on the south side of the hill called Moel-cwm-sarn-llwyd. It was a rough and tumble walk all the way to the Berwyn Road from Bala to Llangynog. We had to pick our way over bogs, through wet heather or rushes in semi- darkness until we got down to Palé Mountain stables, and most thankful we were to reach them in safety. It rained heavily all the way.

When we got to the road we were drenched from the knees downwards and our boots full of water. It didn’t rain much all the way home, but it was weary journey. It was science under difficulties. Henry followed without a murmur all through the worst part of it, and was glad he was with me. We got home a few minutes before 8 o’clock, and after a change of clothes and a wash we felt quite comfortable and enjoyed our supper. Neither of us will forget our experience over the rough bit of mountain between the two roads. Luckily we had waterproof coats.

Thomas instructed the children of his second family well in natural history. He probably had more leisure to do this with the five children born to Frances Harriet, and she too, encouraged by her expert botanist uncle, William Pamplin, was enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits. Only two of their children, the second family, married, and only Henry Ernest had a single child, a son Denys, the inheritor of Thomas’ journals before me.

Henry Ernest, a clergyman, inherited his father’s love of natural science, concentrating on astronomy, an interest which he passed on to Denys. Here they are in about 1940 in the garden of Braunston Rectory with their very impressive telescope.

1882 The Minera Works

The images in this post are taken from a report in the Wrexham newspaper The Leader, on 13th February 2019 by Jamie Bowman. No copyright infringement is intended.

Volunteers working on restoration of the Minera Works, 2019

Thomas’ employer Henry Breyer Robertson owned or part owned a number of industrial, mining and rail enterprises over a wide area. Thomas’ sons Thomas Alexander and William were given clerical employment in the Plas Power works. H. B. Robertson’s uncle, Mr Dean, obviously had influence in the Minera Lime works, in the same area. In 1892 Mr Dean invited Thomas to view a newly discovered cave at the works.

Wednesday the 27th I left here by the first train for Minera. On arriving at Plas Power station I first went to see Tom who was in bed with the measles since Saturday. Mr Dean kindly had his trap in waiting for me to take me to Minera. He asked me to go to see the recently discovered cave there, from which he sent me the stalagmites. He said he would send the trap to meet me. I was sorry Tom was laid up, and he was very sorry too, for he would have liked to help me in any way. I was much interested in what I observed all the way to Minera. I passed near a coal pit, and the village. I saw Minera Church; a nice one it is. Minera Hall was close to the roadside; a moderate sized place.

I got to the Lime Works at twenty minutes to eleven o’clock. On getting to the Office, Mr. Lewis the Secretary, and his clerk, Mr. Wilkins got ready to go over the works with me. They first took me to the stone crushing mill: here the limestone is prepared for road metalling and for glass works. It was a noisy and dusty place, but of much interest. I next inspected the lime kilns: there are two large buildings on the Hoffmann principle. The buildings are in the form of a long square with the circular ends. The chambers in which the limestone is burned, are arched over all round the sides of the buildings and the doors are bricked up until the operation is over. The fire never dies out but it keeps travelling from one chamber to another all the year round; small coal (slack) is introduced into the chambers by means of iron tubes so as to feed the fire. There is a huge chimney to one of the kilns; it is 225 feet in height, by 15 feet in diameter. The kilns cost the company £20,000 to construct, but they can turn out an unlimited quantity of burnt lime.

Our next move was to the cave; it was not very inviting, but like an man of science, I wished to explore it. Mr Lewis got me leggings to cover my legs, and coat to cover my body, so as to keep me clean. I doffed my own coat, and with a lighted candle, I followed Mr Mr Lewis and Mister Wilkins into the cave. I had to lie on my right side and drag myself down slope, with scarcely enough room for me to wriggle through. After a few yards of this, I got to a wide passage where I could stand nearly upright. I was then conducted into a large chamber, long and wide and with a lofty roof. Numerous stalactites were hanging from the roof; they were long tubes of transparent calcite. Pillars of stalagmites word dotting the floor, and most of the floor was covered with thick stalagmitic crust. The floor was uneven and slippery, being here and there composed of soft red earth.

I was next taken to another large chamber, but to get to it I had to clamber on my hands and knees over the wet clay floor. In addition to the usual stalactites and stalagmites, the walls of this chamber one much encrusted with stalactites which oozed from the rock. We returned to the entrance to the first chamber and turned to the right where we got to a large chamber by again crawling over the wet rough floor. This was very uneven, the floor sloped much, and was nearly all covered with a thick stalagmitic crust. From this we went up an narrow flue-like passage on hands and knees into a large space with very lofty roof and the floor much encumbered with fragments of rock. There were a good pillars of stalagmites, and a tiny stream flowed over a gravelly bed on one side. The cylindrical tubes of calcite fell from the roof in hundreds in each of the chambers and got firmly fixed in the stalagmitic floor. It was a rough place to explore and our heads received many hard knocks, but the air was nice and cool. There is a great depth of stalagmite and clay all over the floor of the cave, and the whole bears the impress of great antiquity so that if properly explored, important scientific results might be attained. The entrance is too difficult at present, and it would be expensive to widen it. It was quite accidentally discovered when some rock was taken away.

The Minera site is now owned by the North Wales Wildlife Trust to be used as a nature reserve.

1892 Tutor, adviser, student

The consistent themes running through Thomas’ journals through the years as Head Gardener at Palé are his own family’s events, the developments in the Robertson family, his employers at Palé  and, like a golden thread running through it all, his passionate interest in geology.

Geology had, for a few years in the late 1880s and early 1890s, become less featured in the journal’s pages. I suggest that was for reasons related to all three themes suggested above; his growing family of young children with Frances, together with the older family of his first wife Mary, who were starting out in the world of work, demanded his attention; the death of Henry Robertson, and the succession, marriage and knighthood of his still relatively young son Sir Henry Beyer Robertson needed his attention at Palé.  1889 saw the momentous visit of Queen Victoria, requiring intensive preparations and recovery.

The late 1880s also saw the end of sustained interest from Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes.  The Bala region and its key importance in defining the detail and sequence of Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian had been thoroughly researched, with much practical help from Thomas. Hughes had interests to pursue with his Cambridge Professorship, the ongoing project to fund and build the Sedgwick Museum, and his international contacts resolving ongoing geological questions.  The geologists of the Chester Society for Natural Science had been conducted by Ruddy over the key sites, as had members of several other Scientific Societies. In May they again visited, and Professor Hughes (‘the President’) was in the party.

Wednesday the 25th I went by the first train to Chirk to meet a Chester party for whom I promised to act as one of their guides for the day.   On arriving at share I met my party. The President, Mr. Walker, the Vice President, Mr. Shepheard, and the Hon. Secretary,  Mr G.R. Griffith were there with about 30 members, including a good sprinkling of ladies. The above gentlemen were very pleased to see me, as they were in a fix, the other Guides having failed to come with the train. There were open tram cars ready to take us on the tramway to the New Inn at Glyn Ceiriog.

Members of the Building Committee for the Grosvenor Museum. Messrs Griffiths and Shepheard in the front row.

On arriving at the New Inn, we were met by the vicar of the parish, the Rev R Jennings, and Mr Rooper.  The latter owns a large slate quarry and a stone quarry short distance from theNew Inn.  All of us went with Mr Rooper to see his slate quarry.  He very kindly acted as our guide over the works and explain the working of the elaborate machinery erected for sawing and dressing the slates, and for other useful purposes. I found some specimens of the Graptolithes priodon, but nothing else. 

After leaving the slate quarry, I acted the Guide and conducted most of the members over the Bala beds on the famous Myndd Ffronfrys. We found some good corals and brachiopods, one or two univalves, and some fragments of trilobites.

In 1892 there is evidence of Thomas Ruddy’s continuing interest in geology, and his flexibility in relating to others as mentor and tutor, as assisting colleague, and as a student ever pressing on in his geological understanding.

Mentor

Thomas was always eager to pass on his knowledge to others, and particularly in the context of practical geology.  A notable feature of his mentoring skills was his readiness and enthusiasm for helping women students.  This was in some contrast to the exclusively masculine ranks of the Chester Society for Natural Science at the time.  Thomas had given attention to the adult daughters of his employer Henry Robertson, see 1887-8 The Fossil years


Geologists late 19th century. Note two women at the front, one of whom may be Mary Caroline Hughes.  Prof. Hughes at the far right.

Thomas mentions the lady geologists who were present on his expeditions with the various Scientific Associations for whom he acted as guide, often commenting on their interest and expertise in geology, and giving them help and advice.

In August 1892 a mother and her two daughters, Mrs. Nevins and the Misses Frances and Lettice Nevins came to lodge in Llandderfel village for most of the month.  At the end of their visit writes a little about them.  The two young ladies were serious geologists, and the family was acquainted with a very famous geologist, Murchison.

Mrs Nevins told us she was an Irish lady, and her husband had some knowledge of geology, and was acquainted with Sir R. Murchison.  They are certainly well bred ladies. They went on Monday to see Chester and went to the Grosvenor Museum. I gave them a letter of introduction to Mr Newstead the curator.  They said he acted most kindly to them.  Last Friday  the three of them went to the top of the Arenig.

They relied heavily on Thomas’ advice and guidance throughout their stay: Wednesday the 3rd (August).  Mrs Nevins and her two daughters Miss Francis M and Miss Lettice came heree with Mr Thomas of the shop,  with whom they lodge.  They asked to see my fossils, and as Miss Frances had been studying geology, she took particular interest in them.  Miss Nevins also wished me to mark fossil localities on the Ordnance map for her.

Saturday the 20th. Frances, Henry and I went with the Misses Nevins to Bala by the 2.25 train.  From the station we went to the lake at the lower end, and from there on to Gelli Grin. I found the impression of Bellerophon on a heap of shingle at the lake.

I showed the Misses Nevins the glacial markings at Penygarth in the strophomena expansa zone and also at Gelli Grin.  Indeed we were very successful at the latter place. I got a well preserved eye of an Asaphus [trilobite – Ed.] And what very much resembles Cythere aldensis. We all enjoyed the ramble and the Misses Nevins were highly pleased with their fossils, and the scenery. 

The 22nd The Misses Nevins here in the evening to have their fossils named.

Tuesday the 30th Mrs. and the Misses Nevins here. They brought back some books I lent then, and were much obliged to me for all my kindness to them.   They were very refined and good-natured ladies, and highly intelligent, and eager to learn anything I could tell them. Miss Nevins told me I was the best tutor she had had to teach her practical geology.  

Adviser

On the 7th -8th September 1892 a fellow geologist with whom Thomas had been corresponding visited.

Wednesday the 7th my correspondent, Mr A.C. Nicholson of Bronderw, Oswestry came to see me.  He arrived by the 4.20 fast train.  He had tea with us here and then I took him to the fruit room to see the fossils. Although he knew about them by report, he was very much surprised when he saw them spread out.

On the 8th September, Thomas joined Nicholson for part of a lengthy walk and they returned to Thomas’ home.  After tea we packed his specimens I gave him, also fragments of fossiliferous Silurian rocks which he found in the glacial deposit with marine shells at Gloppa, Oswestry, and which he sent to me some time ago to name for him.

More of Mr. Nicholson in a later post.  He had just published an article on the rocks around Gloppa in the February 1892 Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society.

Student

Perhaps the most important record, late in 1892 was evidence that Thomas himself was embarking on a new phase of geological research, documented in the journal and in a smalltattered notebook found amongst the trunk’s contents.

“Boulder and Glacial Drift Dispersion                                                                       Written by Thomas Ruddy of Llandderfel”

Ancient Fossils to the New World

Journal entry March 8th 1891 Journal entry March 8th 1891

In September 1888 The fourth International Geological Congress was held in London, and following that, smaller groups of international Geologists dispersed to various places of interest around Britain.  With his talent for being in the right place at the right time, Thomas found himself invited to attend a Conversazione of the Chester Society which was attended by various international delegates, taking with him a large collection of his Bala fossils.  See https://wp.me/p5UaiG-q6

Here he met Charles Doolittle Walcott, who from 1907-1927 was administrator of the Smithsonian Institution in the USA.  He had previously worked with the United States Geological Survey, and became it Director in 1894.  At the time of his meeting with Thomas Ruddy in Chester, Walcott was 38 years old, and focussing on Cambrian strata in the USA and Canada.  He would have found Thomas’ carefully identified and labelled collection of Bala fossils of great interest.

Walcott was to go on to enjoy a highly distinguished career. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in 1896, and in 1901 served as president of the Geological Society of America.  By 1907 he had become Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  The pinnacle of his career came in August 1909, when in the Canadian Rockies he discovered the Burgess Shale,  a fossil-bearing deposit  At 508 million years old (Middle Cambrian), it is one of the earliest fossil beds containing soft-part imprints. It is famous for the exceptional preservation of the soft parts of its fossils.

Walcott, left, at the Burgess Shale in 1910 with his son and daughter

Back in 1888, Walcott expressed and interest in having some Bala fossils for the Smithsonian.  It was not until March 1891 that Thomas amassed a collection he deemed suitable to send to Walcott. Some he had gathered in an expedition on 28th February 1891:

Saturday the 28th. I left here at 3:35, got to the bridge over the Hirnant Stream Garth Goch by 4.30 and to the fork of the road near Brynyraber, a little se of the Lake by 5.5.  I lost about 10 minutes examining specimens on the way. I got specimens of the “little ash’ at the fork of the road where stone was quarried some years ago to build the Workhouse at Bala.  Most of the rock has been taken away. I found a few of the fossils that usually are associated with this ash rock, such as the Orthis alternate, O. elegantula, O vespertilio, Glyptocrinus, etc.  I went next to Penygarth, then through the field at Garnedd, and on to the road at the bridge over the Hirnant again.  I got a few specimens, notably a very fine Cythere which I was glad of for Washington.

He carefully parcelled up the specimens:

I sent him a good series of specimens, many of them of great interest, and difficult to get. The box measured 14 inches in length, 10 and a half wide, and 12 deep.  It weighed 42 lbs. I also sent him two of my reprints, one a list of my Bala fossils, and the other a paper of mine on the Bala beds, from the Geological Journal, London. Mr Walcott has written several papers on the geology of America; and quite recently has discovered a fish bed of great interest in Colorado, on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The fish remains are supposed to be the oldest known placoids, and are found in Upper Silurian or Devonian.

Added to my research is now to contact the Smithsonian to see whether they still have those Bala specimens in their collection.

Following Thomas’ Mentor in Jedburgh

Memorial window to Adam Mathieson now in Jedburgh Parish Church

It is difficult to pin down the exact details of Thomas’ early education after his family reached Scotland from famine-haunted County Mayo. It would seem that his family were living in a rural area in the parish of Bedrule, his parents working on the land, as evidenced by the Scottish census returns. Where did he go to school, and who was the schoolmaster or schoolmistress who noticed and fostered his eagerness to learn? He was able and apt to take on the study of French, Latin and Geometry in the garden bothy at Minto House when he commenced his apprenticeship there aged 16. His brother James, it would seem, did not benefit from much education, since he witnessed his father’s death certificate with a cross rather than a signature.

Bedrule parish, however, had a long tradition of passion for education. Jedburgh Grammar School was probably founded by William Turnbull (died 1454) a politician and bishop. He served as the Bishop of Glasgow from 1448 to 1454 and was the first Chancellor of Glasgow University. Bedrule was the seat of the Turnbull clan, and William, friend of King James II of Scotland one of its grandest luminaries.

With such a tradition of education over so many years, it is likely that the village school or schools of the Bedrule area were of a good standard. Jedburgh at this time was a particular centre of scientific and cultural endeavour. Did Thomas attend Jedburgh Grammar School? Although this is a pleasing idea: he did not begin his apprenticeship until he was 16, and does not mention any other work before that, but I feel it is unlikely. The School was at that time situated in the crypt of the Abbey, and I find it hard to imagine that Thomas would not mention such a prestigious place of learning, or such impressive and historic surroundings in the journal.

Scotland census of 1861. Thomas’ family at Bedrule. Note his sister is ‘scholar’. Thomas was already apprenticed at Minto.

He does, however, mention an important figure who guided him into his interest in Geology. Adam Mathieson was a millwright; one might assume that the need to source and inspect rocks for fashioning into millstones led him into an interest in geology. He was not the first Jedburgh man to have such an interest.

James Hutton – panel from Jedburgh Castle Museum.

Thomas writes of Mathieson that he was, at the time, curator of the Jedburgh Museum. This cannot be the present museum situated in the Castle, as at the time, the Castle was still the town’s jail. Was it perhaps the house now known as Mary Queen of Scots House? Mathieson lived only a few yards from this building.

Mary Queen of Scots House, Jedburgh

Thomas writes retrospectively of 1861:

On the first of January I went to Jedburgh. When there I visited the museum, where I got acquainted with the custodian, Adam Matheson. This man was a good geologist, and seeing me take an interest in fossils, he wished me to study geology which had been a wish of my own for some time. I had already PAGIS Text book [Planning and Geographic Information Systems], so from that day I went in strongly for geology, and from that day, Mr Matheson became my friend.

My search in Jedburgh for Adam Mathieson and the memorial window dedicated to him (above) was initially fruitless. The curator of the Castle Museum was uncertain, and could only direct me to a church recently made redundant in the centre of the town – which I was unsuccessful in locating. It was a grey drizzly day, and we returned disconsolately to our apartment.

Unwilling to be defeated, I set out to the large Victorian Parish church prominently located near the river and on the main road into town. On trying the main door, I found it, unsurprisingly, locked. A look round the back found another locked door, but finally a lighted window, and a door which proved to be open. I rather surprised the two mature ladies who were practising the organ.

They kindly switched on the main lights, and as I progressed round the church, there before me in the south aisle, was the window. It has clearly been re-sited from the older church, and stands a little proud of the plain glass window behind it ( see picture above). The two ladies showed great interest in my tale of Thomas and his friend and mentor Adam.

Adam Mathieson aged 71 and his family living at
50 High St Jedburgh in 1861

There is a final episode linked to this event. A few weeks after my visit a parcel addressed to me arrived at the home of the local vicar. When I picked it up, I found it contained a small framed postcard of the Adam Mathieson window. It had been sent to me by one of the ladies I met in the church. She had used all the clues she had to find me. Such kindness, linking people caring for one another across the ages, beginning with Adam’s mentoring of the young Thomas.

My gift from Isobel in Jedburgh

Jedburgh- in the steps of Thomas’ youth.

Duck Row, Jedburgh, where Thomas’ mother and siblings lived in 1871

In 1861 Thomas’ parents and siblings were living in Bedrule parish, four miles from Jedburgh, whilst Thomas had already embarked on his gardening apprenticeship at Minto House. His father died in 1865, and by the 1871 census his mother and his brother James were living in Duck Row in Jedburgh.

The address seems a very pleasant one, the short row of houses shown above currently command a higher than average sale price for the town. However, the census document shows that 1 Duck Row, now a Category B listed building called The Pipers house, with its own commemorative plaque to Robin Hastie, the last Town Piper, was in 1871 a house of multiple occupation. Four ‘households’ lived there; 12 people in all.

1871 census

A recent brief visit to the town suggested that this was a very appropriate area to nurture early interest in a budding geologist.

From the Castle Museum, Jedburgh

A successor to the ‘Borders Enlightenment’ scientists in the mid 19th century was local millwright and amateur archivist and geologist Adam Mathieson, who became a good friend and mentor to Thomas.

More of him in my next post.

Moving on…

Thomas Ruddy’s third journal book.

It is eight months since I last published a post here. The sudden arrival of an attack of shingles at the end of January put me out of action for about six weeks, then a slow recovery to full energy took me into the summer, and more outdoor pursuits; recording Thomas’s life is a winter activity.

However, events have moved on over the summer in a most pleasing way. Since my visit to the Sedgwick Museum last year, with an opportunity to see and handle some of the fossils collected by Thomas and deposited in the Museum by his mentor, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, the first three of Thomas’ journals have been accepted into the Museum’s collection, with the expectation of the other five joining them there as I complete the transcriptions.

Handling the fossils last year

Handing over the journals involved a trip to the scientific and archives site of the Sedgwick on the outskirts of Cambridge rather than going to the Museum building itself. After the administrative paperwork involved in giving articles to a museum – who has right of access, can images be published, and under what conditions, etc, Sandra, the Archivist, kindly showed me some of the items relating to Thomas’ work. First we looked at some of Sedgwick’s own notebooks. He also used quite a lot of his own shorthand to denote particular geological and paleological terms. His handwriting was tiny and not at all clear, I felt sorry for Sandra and her volunteer assistants as they attempt transcriptions.

Then we moved on to look at Thomas McKenny Hughes’ notebooks – a more easy script to read. It is not clear whether he refers to Thomas in the notebooks, but research of particular dates of expeditions involving them both might reveal some mention. It is a piece of research I might be able to undertake now that I have a formal link with the Sedgwick collections.

McKenny Hughes’ wife, a keen geologist herself, was also a very accomplished watercolour artist, and the collection includes her notebooks from times when she accompanied her husband in Britain and Europe with delightful watercolour landscape sketches.

From a research poster recording 19th century women geologists by the Sedgwick’s Archivist

So, mixed feelings as I returned home on the bus. The overwhelming emotion is relief that the journals are now safely secured in a museum – and not just any museum, but one founded by Thomas’s mentor, McKenny Hughes, and named for Hughes’s predecessor as Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge. I cannot but think that Thomas Ruddy would be delighted. As far as I am aware, Thomas himself never visited Cambridge. Alongside that, is a small feeling of loss that the journals are now out of my hands and out of my study. The many hours of transcription and the writing of this blog seem all the more important. Thomas has become one of the family.

The Kingsley Medal, 1889

Kingsley Memorial Medal obverse – awarded to Thomas Ruddy

Thomas was to receive his awarded medal on 3rd October at the Annual Conversazione of the Chester Society for Natural History

Thursday the 3rd   Frances and myself left here with the 9.37 train for Chester.  I got all my specimens into the box I have for the purpose, and took it with us in the train.  On arriving at Chester station, we took a cab and went directly to the Town Hall to leave the box of fossils, and from there to Mr. Shrubsole’s.  When leaving the box in the Assembly Room of the Town Hall, I met Mr. Griffith there who said he was very pleased to see me.  Mr. and Mrs. Shrubsole were also very pleased to see us. We felt quite at home at once with the latter, and amused ourselves until dinner was ready.  

After dinner Francis and I went over to the Town Hall (which is just opposite to Mr. Shrubsole’s) to unpack the fossils. They carried beautifully , and as they were conveniently arranged, we were not very long in displaying them.  While we were at them, Professor Hughes and Mrs Hughes came to us and went over the specimens with us, as Prof. Hughes wished to examine them more interesting ones very carefully, I pointed them out. Prof Hughes was very pleased to see the rarities, and after he had examined the whole with care, he said there was not a man in England who could name my collection.

Cheshire Chronicle, 5th October 1889

Mr Griffith told me there was a chair or on the platform for me with my name on it, and at 8 o’clock the Chair was taken by Prof Hughes the President of the Society.  The people on the platform included in the Countess Grosvenor, and her husband Mr. George Wyndham M.P. for Dover, the Mayor and Mayoress, (Mr. & Mrs. George Dutton) Lady Edmund Talbot, Sir T.G. and Lady Frost, Colonel Scotland ( Secretary to the Duke of Westminster), Archdeacon Barber, Dr. Stolterfoth, etc.  Prof. Hughes addressed the people and gave a brief sketch of my work among the fossils, and told them why the medal had been awarded to me, and then called upon the Countess Grosvenor to present the medal to me for “having contributed materially to the promotion and advancement of some branch or department of Natural Science”. The Countess held out her hand to me and when shaking hands with me said “I congratulate you very much Mr. Ruddy” and then handed me the medal in its case. I thanked the Countess and Prof Hughes, and as there was much applause among the general audience, I turned to the people and bowed my thanks.  

Professor Hughes speaks about Thomas Ruddy’s geological contribution

Thomas and Frances spent the night with his friends George Dickson and family, the Nurseryman and fellow member of the Chester Society.

 I arranged to leave my fossil packing until the following morning. We felt at home with the warm welcome we had at Mr Dickson’s, and after supper we chatted for some time, and the medal and pin were critically examined.  We had much to talk about the Queen’s visit.  

Members of the Building Committee for the Grosvenor Museum, Chester. They were members of the Society and friends of Thomas Ruddy. Mr. Griffiths, light jacket front row mentioned above.

To Crown the Year – 1889

The Kingsley Memorial Medal of the Chester Society of Natural Science

The years 1888 and 1889 had brought both sorrow and honour to the Robertson family of Palé. Henry Robertson whose talents and acumen had brought the family fortune and honour died suddenly in March 1888, and it would seem that the family’s finances were immediately somewhat diminished as Thomas Ruddy reports having to lay off some men from his gardening team. Only just over a later Henry’s second daughter Annie Sherriff, née Robertson had died after a short but distressing illness. The young Henry Beyer Robertson, only 25 at his father’s death, immediately after the death of his sister had shouldered the not inconsiderable task of hosting Queen Victoria and her entourage for a 5 day stay at Palé Hall in August 1889.

Thomas Ruddy played an important role in the visit in a number of ways (see earlier posts) and had been rewarded with the gift of a pearl scarf pin from the Queen. In September 1889, therefore, the Robertson and Ruddy families must have been anticipating a quieter and more settled few months to end the year. However, Thomas was about to receive a shock.

Sunday the 22nd  [September]. To my very great surprise, I had a letter on this day from Mr. G. R. Griffith to say that at a meeting last Friday of the committee of the Chester Society of Natural Science, I was awarded the Kingsley Memorial medal, and that he, Mr Griffith as Secretary personally congratulated me.  This was an honour I little expected, and although I have done some good work, it has all been done as a labour of love.

It would seem that Thomas initially declined the offer (although he does not state this in the journal) giving as his reason his nervousness at the thought of receiving the medal personally in public, and his concern at leaving Palé during the absence of Mr. H B Robertson, who was to visit the Paris Exhibition at that time – although he might also have scruples at the slight of hand Mr. Griffith proposed to give Thomas the residential qualifications enshrined in the bye-laws – the counties of Chester and Flint – Thomas did not in fact ever stay at Llantysilio Hall.

It took a further letter from Mr. Griffiths and one from a third party, Thomas’ friend George Dickson, nurseryman and member of the Chester Society, to persuade Thomas to accept.

Mr. Griffiths’ second letter

By September 23rd Thomas was ready to write a gracious and self-deprecatory reply, accepting the honour.

Thomas’ acceptance letter part 1
Thomas’ acceptance letter part 2

And so it was arranged, that Thomas Ruddy, geologist, entirely self-taught and without academic qualification or membership of a learned society, became the 12th recipient of the Kingsley Memorial Medal.

The next post will describe the occasion when he received it from the Countess of Grosvenor.