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.
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.
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.
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.
By September 23rd Thomas was ready to write a gracious and self-deprecatory reply, accepting the honour.
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.
Despite living in a relatively remote area, Thomas was able to share his geological expertise with a range of people not only from Britain, but from across much of the northern hemisphere, thanks to the Chester Society for Natural Science, and its President Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes of Cambridge. The growth and efficiency of the railways expedited this intellectual exchange. Thomas also had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time.
After the close of the fourth International Geological Congress, held in London, delegates visited a number of areas of particular interest to geologists of the time, including North Wales. This led to a fortuitous opportunity for Thomas:
Saturday the 22nd[September 1888] I have been asked by the committee of the Chichester Society of Natural Science to meet the members of the International Geological Congress at the Conversazione in the Town Hall, Chester, on the 24thinst. The International Congress met in London this year and as the members were to make an excursion into North Wales, passing through Chester en route. The Chester Society’s Conversazione was fixed so as to suit the visit of the foreigners. As I was asked to take as many specimens of my Bala fossils as possible, I have been busy all week in arranging a selection from my collection.
Thomas travelled to Chester with his wife Frances, taking the opportunity of meeting his elder son Thomas ‘Tommy’ en route at Wrexham station. They were to stay at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Shrubsole, Mr. Shrubsole being an official of the Chester Society.
During the afternoon Mr Shrubsole went to the Town Hall with Frances and myself, and after a look over the room, I began to unpack. Francis helped me and I met my old friend Mr Williams of Blaenau Ffestiniog in the hall and he kindly assisted me. I found my specimens in fine order, just as I packed them. This space allotted to me was close to the seats set apart for the foreigners in the Assembly Room. After arranging my collection, I went to see the collection of Llandeilo fossils which Mr Williams brought; it was upstairs in the Ante Room. I met in with several of my old friends in the room set apart for the microscopes such as Mr. Siddall, Mr Shepheard, Mister G R Griffith and others all of whom I introduced to Frances.
We had tea at Mr Shrubsole’s, and then got ready for the Conversazione. We found the room very full of people, ladies and gentlemen. We went to look at the microscopic objects, many of their most beautiful and curious. There were rock sections, diatoms, fresh water Polyzoa, the Cristatella and Plumatella being especially beautiful. We saw a beautiful rotifer too, and cilia vibrating round the mouth, gave the object the appearance of having wheels rotating round the mouth.
Thomas and Frances looked closely various exhibits of insects, stuffed birds, etc. and Thomas introduced his wife to a number of his friends and acquaintances from the Society. Soon the main events of the evening commenced.
We next went to the Assembly Room, and got near my fossils during the speeches by the Chairman Mr Walker and others. The mayor in his robes was on the platform, accompanied by some of the foreigners the Countess Grosvenor and her husband, Mr Wyndham, Secretary to Mr Balfour, the chief secretary of Ireland. Some of the foreigners spoke a little in English. Prof Capellini, rector of Bologna University was the first, and was followed by Dr Hicks, then Prof Szabo, Buda Pesth (sic) spoke, and prof Lapparent of Paris gave an address in French. Mr C. D. Walcott F.G.S. from Washington gave a short address, and then prof D.K. Von Zittel of Munich gave us a short address in which he praised English hospitality. The Bishop, Dr Stubbs, gave a short but amusing address, in which he said he was an old fossil, he hoped the impression he would leave on the coal measures would be a pleasant one.
Among the international geologists whom Thomas met that night, undoubtably the most interesting and significant was Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850 – 1927) Walcott was in 1888 a member of the US Geological Survey. He was to become its director in 1894, President of the Geological Society of America in 1901 and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1910. Walcott’s primary interest was in the fossils of the Cambrian era (immediately underlying the eras of Ruddy’s main interest).
After the speeches, Mr Griffiths bought Mr Walcott and introduced him to me, and several of the foreigners were examining my fossils. Dr. Frech of Halle University was highly interested and told me my collection was beautiful and interesting. Mr Walcott and he said they never saw such a series of the Orthisena. In the midst of our examination the lights were turned down for a magic lantern exhibit of photographic scenes. This is stopped further examination. Dr F and Mr W wished they could come here and go over my collection quietly, for it was so crowded in the room that it was impossible to do much. Mr Walcott knew my American friend Prof. Brownell of Syracuse, New York State.
Walcott’s most significant discovery came in 1909 -1910 when he discovered the fossils of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada. He continued examining this area until his death in 1927. The fossils preserved here are some of the oldest examples of the the preservation of soft parts of organisms, whose full significance was only realised long after Walcott’s death.
Thomas was regularly leading field expeditions for local natural history societies, particularly the Chester Society for Natural Science. He offered expert knowledge on both geology and botany, but no doubt commented on birds as well, as this was another of his studies. His reputation as an expedition guide was obviously growing, and in 1887 he was approached by the most distant group yet, and set out to plan a comprehensive programme for late June of that year which would involve the Palé family, as the Robertsons were to offer tea and a tour of the Palé gardens led by Thomas as part of the programme.
Saturday the 21st [May 1887] Mr Wilkins, solicitor, Uttoxeter, came to see me so as to make arrangements for a visit of the North Staffordshire field club to visit Bala, etc. He wanted me to be their guide, and to make out a programme for him. He had tea with us, and we enjoyed his visit very much. I met him at the station and saw him off by last train to the Lion, Bala, to make arrangements for the excursion.
By chance or arrangement, Frances Ruddy and the small children visited their Grandmother, Frances Williams, in London at the time of the expedition, thus a letter to Frances describing the expedition is also preserved amongst the pages of the journal.
The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 1
Thursday the 23rd The members of the North Staffordshire Field Club came to see my fossils, and to see over the gardens. I had a telegram at 4 o’clock from Bala to say a start would be made for Palé at 4:40. At 5:15, seven work and it’s full of ladies and gentlemen arrived (41 in all) .
My friend Mr Wilkins who sent me the telegram from Bala soon came to me and after introducing me to some of the leading members, Such as the President, Dr Arlidge and the Secretary the Rev Thos W Daltrey of Madeley Vicarage Newcastle Staffs. I took them through the upper garden, and pointed out my hardy ferns and interesting plants. We crossed the road and went to the lawn in front of the dining room where Mr and Mrs Robertson and family were in waiting to receive the party. After I introduced the leader (Mr Wilkins) President, & Secretary, they were all asked to partake of tea and other refreshments in the dining room, and act which was highly appreciated. The young ladies attended to their wants, and Mr Robertson and his son were most attentive and kind to them. Mrs. Robertson being an invalid could do nothing but chat to them.
They went round the grounds, so the so-called cromlech, the tumulus in the park, and as I had my fossils arranged in the front room etc. I had the most interesting plants of our district also ready for their inspection. My fossils rather took them by surprise, although their programme called it “most extensive and unique collection “. The plants pleased and very much, and they freely took specimens with them. My collection of birds’ eggs was also examined with much interest, and my ancient weapons too came in for close inspection. Mr Harry Robertson kindly assisted me to show the collections. A vote of thanks was given to Mr Robertson, and the party left at 7:40, highly pleased.
The involvement of the whole Robertson family in this visit is quite remarkable, and demonstrates the close relationship and trust between the family and their Head Gardener.
The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 2
The main objective of the party’s second day was the site of the construction of the reservoir to be known as Lake Vyrnwy, involving the inundation of the village of Llanwddyn. They were joined by some members of the Chester Society for Natural Science. Thomas had previously visited the site and made himself known to the construction manager, Mr. Bickerton.
A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:
It is notable that included in the visit was Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes of Cambridge, Thomas’ mentor in his practical research of the Bala fossils. Professor Hughes had connections with both the Chester Society for Natural Science and the North Staffordshire Field Club, and had probably recommended Thomas as guide for the expedition.
Also of interest is the inclusion of a number of ladies, mainly the wives of members, in the expedition. We can imagine these ladies, clad in voluminous long skirts and laced boots, and wearing hats (as shown in photos of the era) gamely clambering over the enormous construction site.
Friday, June 24 Having to act as one of the guides or leaders to the members of the North Staffordshire Field Club and over 50 of the members of the Chester Society of Natural Science, I left here by the 9.10 train. I met with the Chester folks at our station, and got into a carriage with Mr Siddall, Mr Shepheard, Mr Newstead, Mr Lucas et cetera. At Bala I had a chat with Mr and Mrs. George Dixon (Mayor and Mayoress of Chester last year) Mr Shone, Prof. Hughes and Mrs. Hughes, and several others of my Chester friends. Prof Hughes was to act as Guide with me.
I went in the same carriage as Mr Wilkins, Dr. Arledge, Rev. T.W. Daltrey, and Miss Ashdown. It was very warm and dusty most of the way, but all of the party enjoyed their ride, and were delighted with the scenery along the route. There was not much time for geology, but we found several interesting plants; the most interesting to me what’s the Geranium sylvaticumin full bloom. Mr. Siddall has botanised a very great deal of North Wales but he never saw the plant before, and it was new to the other botanists of the party.
We had lunch in the village [Llanwddyn, the vilage later drowned under the Vyrnwy Reservoir – ed. ], and on getting to the works we were taken in tram cars to the quarries, where a short address was delivered to the party by the resident engineer, Mr Deacon. There are three or four managers and to him, my old friend Mr Bickerton being one of them. Mr Bickerton had a few fossils to show me, which had been found in the quarries.
After we saw the quarries, we were taken in the tram cars to the embankment, over which most of us walked. It was a rough walking, as it was in an unfinished state, but the managers and Mr Deacon did all they could to assist us. I helped Mr. Dixon to get Mrs. Dixon over it. The plans of the embankment were explained to us, and indeed we had every facility to see and understand the gigantic works. The Chester members went over Bwlch y groes to Llanwuchllyn, but I returned to Bala with the Staffordshire people. We returned from the works by the new road along the south side of the valley. I saw the white and yellow waterlilies growing in the stream in the valley. We passed close to Eunant Hall, a small shooting box, which will be almost covered with water when the valley is drowned.
By the middle of the 1880’s Thomas was much in demand to lead expeditions for the various natural history societies which were springing up throughout the British Isles. His first and most frequent expeditions were with the Chester Society of Natural Science, with whose President the Cambridge Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes he had become closely associated as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic seeker after local fossils, some of which found their way into the collection of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge.
He had also become a favourite expedition guide for the Caradoc Field Club, a Shropshire Society based in Shrewsbury.
it is likely that McKenny Hughes or one of his associates had advised their using Thomas as a guide.
During 1885 Thomas guided major expeditions by both Societies, of which he gives full and fascinating accounts.
On 3rd August 1885 he accompanied members of the Chester Society to Glyn Ceriog – see here
Later that month he undertook a demanding two-day expedition for the Caradoc Field Club based on Dolgellau. A large party including some women, wives or relatives of the (all male) members, stayed ay the New Inn at Dolgellau overnight, and day one took in the summit of Cader Idris.
A photograph of the Chester Natural Science Society First long excursion,10–13 June 1898, Bull Bay, Anglesey (Siddall 1911). Some of Thomas’ friends appear, e.g. Dr. Stolterfoth, front extreme right. Mr. Siddall may be right centre, but since the caption suffers from a piece of Victorian everyday sexism the ladies’ names are omitted and therfore placement is uncertain.