The Robertsons of Palé 1888-1892

Palé Hall from a photograph in the author’s collection.

The death of Henry Robertson in 1888 heralded a time of many changes for the Robertson family. Only the next year, in 1889 Queen Victoria’s visit with members of her family and a huge retinue brought excitement, hard work and nervous times to Henry Beyer Robertson, who had inherited the estate aged only 27, and his staff.

Sadly, only in July 1889, just a month before the Queen’s visit, Henry’s sister Annie, already widowed at 26, died aged 35. A memorial window was erected to Annie and her husband in Llandderfel church.

Sherriff window, Llandderfel church

The success of the Queen’s visit brought a knighthood for Henry Beyer in 1890. Thomas writes: The Queen conferred the honour of Knighthood upon Mr Robertson at Windsor Castle, and Sir Henry had the additional honour of dining with her Majesty in the evening and staying in the Castle all night. The knighthood was given on 24th May, the Queen’s birthday, but as her Majesty has been in Scotland, it was not conferred until now 30th June (Monday)

He adds rather sourly: Tuesday 8th. Sir Henry returned from London. There was no reception or elevation awaiting him; it would have been otherwise if the late Mr Robertson had been Knighted.

The year continued well for Sir Henry, with his marriage in November. November 1890 Thursday the 20th This is the wedding day of Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, my employer, to Miss Keates (Florence Mary) of Llantysilio Hall, Llangollen. Sir Henry got acquainted with the family in the Spring of last year. The young ladies(there are two sisters) were with him when coracle fishing, and also when otter hunting. They were here after the Queen left here, that Sir Henry was only publicly engaged to her before he left for Windsor to be knighted on the 30thof last June. I left here by the 9.37 for Llangollen.

I walked along the canal side to Llantysilio church. We witnessed the friends of the bride and bridegroom enter the church and as I had a ticket for the church, I went in to see the marriage ceremony. The service commenced with the hymn, “Thine for ever, God of love” the bride wished to have this hymn. The service was conducted by the Rev. Herbert A. Keates B.A. brother of the bride.

I was the first to give the happy pair a shower of rice as they were going out the church porch. Several cannon were fired after the service was over, flags were displayed, and there were three evergreen arches. Sir Henry paid on the railway fares of his work people and provided a luncheon for them at the Hand Hotel, Llangollen. 

The couple’s first child, evidently a ‘honeymoon baby’ arrived next August:

Sunday the 16th.  Lady Robertson safely delivered of a baby girl at 7:40 am.  Dr here all night, and the nurse since 5.30 yesterday evening. The baby is the first born in the hall, and it is the firstborn to any of the children of the late Mr Robertson, for although two sisters of Sir Henry married, neither have children.

Sadly, only next month came the news of the death of Sir Henry’s brother-in-law, Colonel George Wilson, husband of his sister Elizabeth. Wednesday, the 2nd September [1891] .  News came here this afternoon that Col Wilson aged 47, died on board the Teutonic, 20 hours sail outside Queenstown when returning from New York, where he had gone for the sake of a sea voyage. He died last Monday (31st) and his body taken to Liverpool.

Col Wilson lived in boyhood with his aunt at Tyddynllan near Llandrillo,  one of them was the wife  of the Revd John Wynne, for many years Vicar of Llandrillo Church.  He entered the army, and was for some years with his Regiment (The 26th Lanarkshire or Cameronians ) in India.

Some time after returning home, he married Lily, the eldest daughter of the late Mr Robertson, sister to the present proprietor of Palé, Sir H. B. Robertson. [Note: the eldest Robertson daughter was named Elizabeth, confirmed by her baptism, marriage and census records.  Lily must have been a family pet name)

The sad death of Col Wilson left the other of Sir Henry’s sisters as a young widow, Elizabeth’s younger sister Annie, Mrs Sherriff, having lost her husband Alexander in 1880, when she was 26, and she herself had died in 1889.

The new baby at the Hall was not christened until 12 days after her uncle’s funeral: Tuesday the 15th the baby of Sir Henry and Lady Robertson was christened at the church here (Llanderfel) by Mr Morgan.  The baby received the name of Jean an old-fashioned Scotch name. it is frequently used in Scottish song, but a rather uncommon English name.  The Bala Registrar told me that he never had to enter the name of Jean in his books before the Palé baby.  The Christening was a very quiet affair.

1892 began, and within a few days, another bereavement came for the Robertson family:

Tuesday the 12th January Mrs. Robertson of Palé died at a quarter past three o’clock this morning. She has been an invalid for many years, and quite helpless for a year or two, so that it is a happy release to her.

Friday the 15th  The funeral took place this morning at 10 o’clock at Llandderfel churchyard. The grave lies between that of her husband on the right of her, and that of her daughter Mrs Sherriff on her left near the west end of the church. The coffin was of polished oak with a heavy brass mountings, and the plate bore the following inscription.

Elizabeth Robertson Died January 12th, 1892 Aged 68

I acted as one of the 12 bearers. It was a fearfully cold, the ground being deeply covered with snow and an intense frost; 18 ½° in the morning which kept on with thick hoar.  My whiskers were covered with hoar frost when returning home. There were no friends from a distance, but a number of people came from the neighbourhood. There were several wreaths, and her son Sir Henry, and nephew, Mr John Dean were the chief mourners.

By August, the news in the Palé household had improved: Tuesday 9th August: Lady Robertson had a little baby (a daughter) at 12:20 o’clock mid day. Day changeable with 3 ½ hours sunshine. The daughter was named Mary Florence.

Within five years Sir Henry had experienced the deaths of his father, mother, sister and brother in law. He had been knighted, married and had two children. He had also experienced he visit of the Queen, three other members of the Royal Family and a huge retinue. He was still only 30 years old. Such a switchback of joyful and sad experiences must have been disturbing not only for his household, but for the whole staff. He must have been grateful for the loyalty of some of the long-standing members of his staff, not least the Ruddy family at the Garden House.

Throughout Thomas’ journal there are frequent references to Sir Henry and Thomas sharing love of nature, and drawing one another’s attention to natural occurrences in the Palé grounds and around the surrounding countryside. Only a short time before the birth of his second daughter, Sir Henry spotted something of interest: Tuesday the 2nd  July: Sir H. B. Robertson called my attention to a pied wagtail feeding a young cuckoo on the lawn here.  We watched it for some time and were much interested. The wagtail fed it as often as it could find any food for it, and the Cuckoo simply took it easy and only opened its mouth, into which the wagtail put the food.

By November 1892 Lady Robertson was seeking the company of Frances Harriet Ruddy so that the toddler Miss Jean Robertson could play with Frances’ fifth child Alfred, 18 moths older. Frances Harriet had herself lost her own mother earlier that year. Wednesday the 23rd Lady Robertson brought Miss Jean to play with Alfred, he was rather shy, but Miss Jean tried to make friends with him. Lady Robertson remarked that all the advancement was on the lady’s side.

It is to be hoped that the young family now in charge of the Palé estate found support and encouragement from their mature and loyal Head Gardener and his family.

1887 – 1888 A Birth and a Death

In September 1887 Frances Harriet Ruddy, now aged 41 had her fourth child, a daughter, named Amelia Agnes. Frances Harriet’s brother William Williams arrived just before the birth for his customary shooting vacation, and Frances seems to have welcomed him and entertained him to tea during her advancing labour.

September 7 (Wednesday) Mr Williams came from London for his annual shooting. Great pleasure to see him, and much excitement among the little ones.

Thursday the eighth Francis safely delivered of her fourth baby at 1:05 o’clock this morning. She was taken ill yesterday, but managed to keep out for tea, and to meet her brother. We had no hitch this time, for the nurse (Mrs Thomas) was in the house, and the doctor arrived at a quarter of an hour after midnight. The baby is a strong and healthy girl. Baby’s name – Amelia Agnes.

Amelia’s two step brothers and one step sister brought Thomas’ children to seven. At 43, Thomas was well established in his work as Head Gardener of Palé, was popular in a wide area of the neighbourhood, advising on gardens of local landowners, judging gardens and produce in local shows and being allowed plenty of time by his employer to undertake leadership of geological and botanical expeditions for a growing number of eminent scientific bodies.

However, in March 1888 an event occurred which was to bring changes to Palé and in some measure to Thomas and his family.  Wednesday 21st began with a visit by Thomas to Llantysilio Hall, which had been left to Henry Beyer Robertson, son of Thomas’ employer by his godfather Charles Beyer, late partner of Henry Robertson senior.

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall

Wednesday the 21st [March] I went to Llantysilio. I had to go first to Llangollen and then walked back by the side of the canal. It was very fine but I did not see much of interest in the bird line. On arriving home, I heard with deep sorrow that Mr Robertson was in a very critical state; his health has been bad for some time; indeed it has been very unsatisfactory since last summer, but we have all been hoping for the best.

Thursday the 22nd Mr Robertson very ill and not expected to live till evening. Everyone deeply grieved, and none more so than myself.  4 pm Mr Robertson rallied wonderfully to the great surprise of the doctors and his family. 8 o’clock Mr Robertson very ill again and not expected to live many hours.

I went and stayed in the gun room with Mr Armstrong at 9 o’clock. Colonel Wilson and Mr HB Robertson came to us and told us we would not have to wait long, for Mr Robertson was near his end. He passed away at 9:45 o’clock on the evening of Thursday the 22nd.  He was born on the 11th of January 1816 so that he was only 72 years of age. His death will be severely felt by many in the counties of Merioneth and Denbigh, for he was ever ready to help any good cause, or anyone in need, and he was a deservedly popular landlord, always helping his tenants, and as an employer of labour on his estate he had no equal in this county. I specially deplore his loss, for he was like a father to me, always friendly, and took great interest in my natural history collections; indeed he has all along encouraged me and I have valued his kindness.

Mr Robertson was the son of the late Mr Duncan Robertson of Banff Scotland, a farmer. He was educated at Kings College Old Aberdeen, where he got his degree of MA. In 1846, he married Elizabeth Dean, daughter of Mr William Dean, solicitor of London, by whom he had six children, two of whom died young.  His only son who succeeds him, is Henry Beyer and is now 26 years of age.  One of his daughters (Lily) is married to Colonel Wilson. Mrs Wilson is the eldest of the family; the second daughter was married in December (the 4) 1872 to Mr Sheriff who died on the 8th of February 1880.  Mrs sheriff has been a widow since then. Mr Robertson’s third living daughter is single. Mr Robertson’s profession was that of a civil engineer, and first worked on the Greenock railway under Mr Locke. He came to Cheshire in 1842, and he soon turned his attention to the mineral wealth of North Wales and finally planned the railway from Chester to Shrewsbury, from Ruabon to Ffestiniog, and several others.  One of his greatest triumphs is the beautiful viaduct across the valley of the Dee. This viaduct  is 1,531 feet in length, 148 feet in height, and has 19 arches, each having a span of 60 feet. It cost nearly £80,000 and was about 2 1/2 years in building. Mr Robertson also planned Chirk viaduct.  About the year 1858 he rented the Crogen estate from Earl Dudley, and soon commenced to buy property of his own in the neighbourhood, to which he has ever since been adding, until the estate is now valuable and expensive. From the first Mr Robertson had a great love for planting forest trees, and at present the value of his timber is between 40 and £50,000. He bought the Palé estate from the Lloyd family in 1868, and began building operations in the beginning of the year I came here, in 1869, and got into his new mansion on the 18th of September 1871. He altogether spent about £40,000 on his house and grounds.

Friday the 23rd Mr Henry Beyer Robertson very kindly sent for me and some of the other residents to see Mr Robertson before he was put in his coffin; the body looked quite natural, and that little changed. All of us, and especially myself felt deeply grieved to see our kind employer for the last time. His coffin was made by his joiners on the estate; it was solid oak outside a shell and polished, and had solid brass fittings. On the breast shield where the words:

Henry Robertson Died 22nd of March 1888, aged 72.

The funeral took place on Monday following. I and 17 other estate workmen carried the bier all the way from here to Llandderfel churchyard;  the Rector, Mr Morgan, read prayers in the entrance hall over the bier after which we started at 9:15 in the morning.  It was sunny and fine for us and we managed all the way without a hitch. Six men carried at a time, I had five men and me, Mr Cameron the forester five, and Mr Roberts the stationmaster five, by this means there was no confusion. The Estate tenants, workmen, and general public went in front of us, the mourners and their friends followed us. None of the daughters went with us. His grave was 9 feet deep and is at the north-west corner of the churchyard, in full view of the Hall here. There were about 500 at the funeral, but there would have been many more if it had been generally known the time of burial.

A lunch and was given to the bearers et cetera after in the Hall. There were a number of wreaths from friends. I put some on the top and tied the others on the sides. The wreath on the breast which circled the shields, was from his own daughters, made of white camellias from the conservatory; it was really the most beautiful in the lot.

1887 Excursion with the N. Staffordshire Field Club

Vyrnwy Dam by David Purchase, via Geograph. (Creative Commons)

 

Construction of the dam for the Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir. https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

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.

Obituary for W.H. Bickerton, site manager for Lake Vyrnwy, pasted into the back of TR’s journal

A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:

 https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

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.

Eunant Hall From https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/10694

 

 

 

Thomas Junior enters a world of work

Thomas Alexander Ruddy
26.3.1869 -13.3.1939

In December 1886 the family at the Garden House at Palé was extensive, with children aged between 17 years and 11 months.  Thomas Alexander was 17, William Pamplin 14, Mary Emily 13, and of the second marriage to Frances Harriett , Henry was 4, Frances Harriett 2 and Caroline Elizabeth 11 months.

When Henry Robertson arranged for a post to be offered Thomas Alexander at the Plas Power colliery the eldest son of Thomas and first wife Mary was able to move away from Palé and begin a career at Plas Power where he worked for most of his life, moving for a brief time to Montserrat to work I am not able to identify.

As usual, his father Thomas on encountering an environment new to him took copious notes. Here is his account of the day:

December 3rd (Friday) Tommy and I left here by the 755 train in the morning for Plas Power Colliery, near Wrexham.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/plas-power.htm

http://nwmat1.wixsite.com/nwmat/plas-power-colliery

I had a letter of introduction from Mr Robertson to the secretary, F A Sturge Esquire. It was very cold being frosty with a coating of snow. We left the snow behind after leaving Ruabon. It was sunny and fine at Wrexham. On arriving at Wrexham we left the mainline and went up the Brymbo branch to Plas Power. We got to the office a little before 10 o’clock, and were very kindly received by Mr Sturge and those in the office. Our object in going was to make arrangements for Tommy to enter the Company’s office as junior clerk.

After we had a chat with Mr Sturge, he sent his cashier with us to get lodgings. Mr Hanmer the cashier took us to Mrs. Bevan of Glanrafon House, Southsea, because it was where he lodged when a boy, and as he had been very pcomfortable there he could recommend it above all others. Mrs Bevan said she would take him and after arranging with her we went to have a look at the works.

The working of a coal pit was only known to me by reading, but thepractical working was all new, so that I was highly interested in all I could see. Mr Hanmer very kindly took us over the workshops, engine room, and pit mouth. The colliery is the most complete in its arrangements of any in North Wales; all the machinery is new and of the most approved construction. The colliery has only been in working order for about nine years. Mr Robertson sank the pit and put it in working order, after which he made it into a Company. But the directorship is in the hands of his own family and immediate friends.

The pit is 270 yards deep and has an output of 1000 tons to 1200 tons of coal in a day. The number of men and boys employed is between 500 and 600 and it takesabout £2200 fortnightly to pay them. The colliers go down to work in the pit at 1 o’clock in the morning on Mondays and at 6 o’clock on other days. They work from 6 to 3:30 PM that is 9 1/2 hours in the pit. The night gang goes down at 9pm to get coal ready for the output. All works stops on the Sundays, except keeping up the files and keeping the engines going to ventilatethe pit. The funding wheel which ventilates the pit makes 160 revolutions per minute. There are two families for fear of accident, one keeps going at that speed night and day for six months, and when it stops the other takes its place. The night gang works the coal, and the day gang sends it it up. Each man has a number to his name and as he works the coal by the time it is weighed at the pit mouth and credited to his number. Each man’s coal being kept separate in the pit. The coal is sent up in little oval steel wagons called “tubs” one tub above the other in the “cage”, which is divided into divisions, and there are two cages one goes down when the other is ascending. As soon as the tubs of coal arrive at the surface they are pushed off to be weighed and empty, and empty tubs are pushed into their place. The cage brings up 30 men at a time and it takes half an hour to get the gang up. The cage takes 22 seconds to descend the 270 yards.

On going over the works, we saw a lamp room, carpenters shop, blacksmith shop, storeroom and other offices. The store room contains every requisite required for the pit, the various articles required by the colliers in the pit are sold to them in the storeroom. They get their lamps ready trimmed in the lamp room, but have to pay 3 half pence each shift for the use of them. The office is very prettilysituated and the neighbourhood is nicely undulated and present.

Southsea is a Scottish village of cottages chiefly occupied by colliers. Glanrafon House is a corner shop in a pleasant and clean street. After seeing the works Mr Sturge asked me to go and see Broughton old pit on my way to Wrexham by road. It was a colliery worked by Mr Robertson for many years. It is now turned into a pumping station with splendid machinery. It is situatedclose to Plas Power colliery, and pumps the water from a neighbouring colliery too. We had an extensive view from the top of the engine room, Broughton. I saw Brymbo for the first time; it is an extensive estate belonging to Mr. Robertson. On our way to Wrexham we passed Gatwen colliery, which is also worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/gatwen.htm

There is a steel work at Brymbo worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

Thomas Alexander’s obituary, 1939

1885: Scenes from Victorian life

 

The death of General Gordon at Khartoum by J.L.G. Ferris      (public domain)

I will quote the first thee months of Thomas’ journal in full, giving as they do a broad insight into his various interests and activities, ranging from the success of his crops to the international news of the year:

January 1st 1885  The last year has been a warm and fruitful one; every crop did well in the garden. Our government have sent troops at the Nile to get General Gordon out of Khartoum who is shut up there with Egyptian troops and defending themselves against the Mahdi or False Prophet as he is called at the head of his Sudanese.  An American dynamite party has given some trouble in London by attempting to blow up London Bridge and other buildings.

Trade in general is very slack all over the country. France is at war with China . https://www.britannica.com/event/Sino-French-War

From events on the world stage, Thomas turns to local and more personal news:

Tuesday January 6th Today Mrs Owen of the White Lion Bala died suddenly. She was a very kind friend.

His brother-in-law comes to stay in the Llandderfel cottage rented by the London Pamplin family:

Monday January 19th Mr. Williams came here from London for a weeks shooting over Henblas. We were very pleased to see him, but I could not get to the station to meet him as I had an influenza cold.

Saturday the 24th Mr Williams returned to London. We were very sorry to see him go. I went to the station with him. This day the House of Commons, Westminster Hall, and the Tower of London were much damaged by dynamite. The dastardly and cowardly explosions have caused great consternation in London and all over the country. Fortunately none were killed but sorry to say five or six were injured. It will take about £20,000 to restore the buildings again as they were.

Geology remains an abiding interest, and his employer Henry Robertson shows an interest and brings his guest to visit the collection

Friday 6th February Mr. Robertson brought his guest Mr Frank Archer to see my collection of Bala fossils. Both gentlemen were here for nearly 2 hours, and both are like were highly pleased with the collection.

Saturday   Mr. Robertson and Mr Archer came again for nearly a couple of hours to see the remainder of the collection and my antiquities. Mr Archer is a very good geologist and antiquary. Mr Haywood told me about him some time ago. He is an honorary member of our Chester Society.

Events abroad cause alarm:

Saturday the 7th News arrived today to say the Mahdi captured Khartoum by treachery on the 26th of last month and that General Gordon was killed. Our troops only two days late in reaching Khatoum at least a small party by river. Great sorrow and indignation in the country about it. Gladstone in Office.

Family events are chronicled with pride, and old friends visited:

March 1st   This was Henry’s first Sunday at church. He walked nicely and kept very quiet all the time and was much pleased with going.

Saturday the 7th   Frances, the little ones, and myself had tea with Mr Pamplin. He and I went for our first 1885 walk as far as Tyrsa (?) It was very pleasant at the lanes and in the fields.

Thomas continued to be in demand for landscaping and horticultural advice.  He was friendly with the Principal, a fellow antiquarian.

Friday 13th  I went to Bala to look over the C.M. College grounds with the trustees so as to see what could be done in the way of improvements. I was there for two hours. As it was so fine I got Francis to go to Bala with me and she took the two little ones with her. They spent most of their time with Mrs. Evan Jones of Mount Place while I was on duty.

Bala Calvinistic Methodist College

http://www.ebcpcw.cymru/en/who-we-are/our-history

After I got done, Dr. Hughes took me for a drive to Llanwchllyn. Our principal object in going that way was to see a newly discovered inscribed Roman stone.  For a description of Thomas’ visit to the stone, just 8 days after it had been found, see here: https://wp.me/P5UaiG-kG

Roman inscription from Caer Gai

1884 Politics and Politicians

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall

Today visitors to Llandderfel, the nearest village to Palé Hall, will find themselves in a quiet and mainly unfrequented part of the Welsh countryside.  However, the situation in the nineteenth century was quite different, due mainly to the burgeoning industrialisation of south Wales and to the work of engineers like Henry Robertson whose efforts were making transport by road and particularly by rail increasingly available and swift.  Whilst not situated in a coal mining area, quarries for railway hard core and minerals and mines for phosphate, used as agricultural fertiliser were being actively worked in the area during the second part of the 19th century.

Palé was not the only country house built, inherited or purchased by wealthy man in the area.  Robertson’s partner Charles Beyer  lived at Llantysilio Hall near Llangollen, leaving it to his godson Henry Beyer Robertson on his death.  The largest landowner in the area was Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, descendant of a very old and distinguished family, living at Wynnstay Hall. He too, like Robertson was involved with railways, as Director of the Great Western Railway, and also a Member of Paliament, although as a Conservative, a member of the opposite party.  Another branch of the family owned Glanllyn, a small estate on the shores of Bala lake.  Thomas was on many occasions invited to view or advise on the gardens of these and other estates.

Another interesting local resident was Sir Theodore Martin, another Scot who settled for some time in Wales, at Bryntysilio Hall.  Poet, translator and biographer, Sir Theodore was invited by Queen Victoria to write the opbiography of her late husband Prince Albert.  This he produced in five volumes between 1874 and 1880, winning the lifelong friendship of the Queen.

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall, Thomas’ employer served as Liberal MP for Shrewsbury from 1862 to 1865 and from 1874 to 1885.  A number of influential visitors made their way to Palé Hall, much assisted by the convenient railway station on Robertson’s line at Llandderfel.  Thomas gives an interesting account of the visit in September 1888 of the Postmaster General, Henry Fawcett.

Wednesday the 17th [September]  Mr Fawcett the Postmaster General arrived at Palé. Francis and myself went to the station to see him. He is a very remarkable looking man being 6’1″ in height, squarely built and straight. His hair is fair, face roughish, broad brow, but is quite blind, having been accidentally shot. His feet are very long, boots measure 13 inches in length. His manner is most genial and he makes very free with people. He writes a fine bold hand, lines straight, ‘t’s crossed etc. He came to fish grayling, at which he is very good.

Fawcett had been blinded aged 25 being accidentally shot from his father’s gun while the two men were out hunting.  It is not clear whether his blindness was total or partial, but it did not prevent his becoming Professor of Political Economy, Cambridge (1863), MP for Brighton (1865) later for Hackney, and marrying the political economist and suffragist Millicent Garrett in 1867. Appointed Postmaster General by Gladstone in 1880, he introduced postal orders, the Post Office Savings Bank and most importantly, parcel post.  The contracts for parcel transport by various railway companies would give him a common interest with Henry Robertson, in addition to their Liberal politics and parliamentary status.

A cartoonist’s reaction to the introduction of Parcel Post

The following day the nearby town of Bala hosted a major Liberal Party meeting at which Fawcett was to deliver a speech on the Franchise Bill (the Representation of the People Act 1884)

Friday 19th I went to Bala to a Liberal Meeting. My object was to hear Mr Fawcett deliver an address on the Franchise Bill. He is a powerful speaker; it rolls out of him in the wavy style. He made several good hits, his sentences causing a sensation among the audience. He spoke for 20 minutes. Mr. Robertson M.P., Mr. Holland M.P.,  Mr. Gee of Denbigh and Rev. Ellis Edwards of Bala College also spoke, but Mr. Fawcett was the Lion of the evening. I heard Mr. Gladstone speak for two hours in Chester in 1865. But Mr. Fawcett, although powerful is not an orator like Mr. Gladstone.

Gladstone’s Bill only allowed for representation by a distinct group of men.  Had we the text of Fawcett’s speech, it would have been interesting to see whether Fawcett made any mention of women’s suffrage, since he was married to the foremost female suffragists, Millicent Fawcett, whose sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. Fawcett  clashed with Gladstone over his refusal to give women the franchise in 1884.  Fran Abrahams, author of Freedom’s Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), writes: “As a member of a government which opposed the measure he could not vote for it; as a keen supporter of reform he could not vote against it. In the end he abstained. The measure was roundly defeated but Gladstone was furious with Henry, and wrote to him saying his action had been tantamount to resignation. Henry was reprieved only because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid the bad publicity which would inevitably accompany a ministerial sacking.”

Thomas contrasts Fawcett’s power as an orator with that of Gladstone.  In fact Fawcett’s health and strength had been considerably weakened by diphtheria in the summer of 1882 .   He was to die of pleurisy less than two months after his visit to Palé, on 6th November 1884.

As so often when distinguished visitors came to Palé, Thomas was introduced to the visitor, in this case by the son of the family, then aged  22 and having served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 1882-3.

Monday the 22nd  Mr H.B. Robertson introduced me to Mr Fawcett in the gun-room. Mr. Fawcett said “Let me shake hands with you Mr. Ruddy.” He then talked to me for some time about the heat, the rainfall, and the weather in general, after which he said on going away as he held out his hand to me again “Good morning Mr Ruddy, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance.”

Had the conversation with Thomas progressed beyond the customary remarks about the weather, they might have found much in common, as Fawcett was an admirer of and correspondent with Charles Darwin, writing an article asserting the logic of Darwin’s theory.  Although not being able to see Thomas’ fossils, Fawcett might have been interested to handle and discuss their significance.  A paper by Geoffrey Fishburn gives detail.

The final evening of Fawcett’s visit gave the owners and staff of Palé Hall an opportunity to entertain in style, foreshadowing the warm hospitality offered to Queen Victoria a few years later.  Thomas found himself among the company, having no doubt provided choice fruit and vegetables for the table and flowers and pot plants for decoration.

In the evening I had a chat with Colonel Evans Lloyd of Moelgarned and Mr. Osborne Morgan M.P. While the guests were dining, the Llandderfel Brass Band played outside the dining room window, and after dinner the Llandderfel Choir sang in the staircase hall for about an hour. The guests were at one and looking on. Frances went with me to see and hear them sing. It was a very interesting sight.

Tuesday the 23rd  Mr Fawcett left in company of Mr. O. Morgan and Mrs. Morgan, and Mr Dryhurst Secretary to Mr Fawcett. Mr. Fawcett had a great many letters every morning; his secretary read them to him as they walked about arm in arm, up and down the walks. He was very fond of his pipe, wore tweeds and a straw hat, when fine. During dinner hour he told the guests many very amusing anecdotes, so that all eyes were directed to him. Mr Dryhurst dined with him.

Guests today at Palé Hall Hotel might be amused to imagine these figures from national political life mingling in the staircase hall while the Llandderfel choir sang, as they would do again in 1889 while Queen Victoria herself listened from the landing, tapping her fingers in time on the bannister rail.

  Following them around, 2017

 
Some months ago I booked a holiday on the Isle of Man.  I had been on the Island a full 24 hours before it occurred to me that once again I was following in the footsteps of Thomas Ruddy, who worked there between 1863 and  1865. He had chosen the Island over an tempting vacancy in London, since it offered him a further career enhancement in due course:

I had the offer of two situations the same day, one was to go to be journeyman
at Lambeth Palace London, which I declined; the other to go to the Isle of  Man in a place where I was to get the foreman’s place when he left, this I  accepted.  

A web search showed The Nunnery to be about a mile and a half from our hotel in Douglas, so early one morning I set out in search of it. Past the harbour and railway station over the river bridge, and a little way up the hill, I came across a promising- looking gatehouse.


I had discovered that The Nunnery is now part of the University of the Isle of Man, and a private site.  A knock on the impressive wooden door brought a gatekeeper, who confirmed that it was indeed The Nunnery.  He invited me to explore the site further, but time was pressing, and already a sprint would be required to return me to the hotel in time for the day’s excursion.  Thomas lost out in favour of a journey up Snaefell on the electric railway, but I had tracked him down and followed his footsteps to the very gate of his workplace in the 1860’s.

The previous day had brought an expedition to the superb museum in Peel, the House of Mannanen, housed in Peel’s former railway station.  Lingering in the vestibule, a familiar name caught my eye:


Here was my link with Henry Robertson, whose eldest son was Henry Beyer Robertson, named after his Godfather, Charles Beyer. Robertson was co-founder in 1854 of Beyer, Peacock and Co with Charles Beyer and Richard Peacock. Based at Gorton Foundry, in Gorton, Manchester, it would become one of the world’s leading locomotive manufacturers. Robertson knew Beyer because he supplied some of the locomotives to his railways. He was a sleeping partner but his connections with the Great Western Railway proved useful in securing orders.

On the recommendation of Thomas Brassey, Robertson provided the loan, when the original loan of banker Charles Geach fell through. Robertson and Beyer subsequently became close friends for life; Beyer was godfather of Robertson’s daughter in 1854 and of his son Sir Henry Beyer Robertson ten years later.

 
It is now twelve years since I first opened the trunk of Ruddy and Pamplin family papers left in my keeping by Thomas’ grandson the Revd. Denys Ruddy.  They have been fascinating, with many discoveries and opportunities arising, together with a sense of responsibility for interpreting, publicising and handing on the papers and artefacts.  This is complicated as they are not related to my own family story.

So far, among other things, the enterprise has taken me:

* To the Garden Museum in London, where the journals of William Pamplin the elder (1768 – 1864) have now been donated.

* To the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, where I sat with Queen Victoria’s journal (as edited by her daughter Beatrice) to read the Queen’s account of her visit in 1889 to Palé Hall

* To Cyfarftha Castle Museum in Merthyr Tydfil to see the two detailed drawings by William Pamplin the elder of the water wheel and works there, see here . 

* Correspondence with the Natural History Museum where I discover that Thomas Ruddy donated over one thousand fossil specimens collected by him from the Bala series of rocks.

* To the Grosvenor Museum in Chester to donate the Kingsley Medal awarded to Thomas in 1889, with the related correspondence.

Sadly, attempts to communicate with the present owners of Palé Hall have met with no response.

Sometimes, the task ahead seems daunting.  I am as yet not even a third of the way through transcribing the journals: occasionally I wonder whether it is all worth while.  But it is these moments when Thomas Ruddy, his friend William Pamplin and his employer Henry Robertson intrude into my life – sometimes at the most unexpected moments – I know they and their stories will not let me go.  I remain firmly in their grip.

A local expert 1875

Screenshot 2016-08-15 16.25.07
Hibernating doormouse

It is now six years since Thomas became Head Gardener at Palé.  His journal entries are scant for the year, but most are concerned with the various collections and hobbies he was by now pursuing very earnestly.  It is clear that his reputation was spreading far and wide, so that he was brought objects of interest, received invitations as a judge at agricultural events and began to receive the first few of a number of international visitors to see his collections.

January 28 Thursday Mr. Robertson came to see my fossils.

Thomas was very particular about displaying and labelling his fossil collection.  I assume he now had the fossils displayed to his satisfaction, and was proud to show them to his employer.  Later, in 1889 during Queen Victoria’s visit, Henry Robertson’s son Henry Beyer Robertson allowed Thomas to lay out his fossils in the fruit room, and he was able to show them to the Queen herself.

April 29th Thursday I had a dormouse brought to me from Tyfos, the first one I have seen in Wales. It was found rolled up dormant inside a lump of leaves, which were glued together.  I am unable to discover from where the dormouse was brought, or by whom, but Thomas was obviously known as the man who would welcome this rarity.

August 19th Thursday I was at Ruthin as judge at the flower show held in the castle grounds. The show was very good and well attended. Mr More of Dublin here to see me. A [Alexander] .G. More is an excellent botanist and ornithologist and author of a very useful book on birds. He was much interested in my collection of eggs.  Information on A.G. More here.

How did A.G. More come to know of Thomas, and visit him?  The most likely answer lies with his friend William Pamplin, whose contacts as a naturalist continued to be wide-ranging after he retired from London to Wales.

Sept 8th Wednesday Mr. Pamplin, his nephew Mr. Williams and I went to the top of Aran [SH867242] We climbed up from Lanwchllyn along the ridge until we got to the top of Aran Benllyn, from which we crossed over to the other peak, Aran Mawdy [Aran Fawddwy on OS] The day got very foggy when we got to the top so that we got only glimpses now and then. When clear we got splendid views. The top is rough with large square blocks of ash rock. We went down to Drws-y-nant station [SH840259] in a rain which wet us a bit; having some time to stay we went to the inn named Howel Dda for refreshments.  A first mention of William Pamplin Williams, nephew of William Pamplin, who would become Thomas Ruddy’s brother-in-law when William’s sister became the widower Thomas’ second wife in 1881.

December 31st Friday I have been working very hard at the fossils during the summer. I have been to Gelli Grin, Rhiwlas, Aberhirnant Cynwyd and Llandrillo in search of Bala fossils. I found many of great interest

I have made some new friends such as. Davies (D C Davies) who is a good geologist and author. He lives at Ebnal Lodge near Oswestry. Mr. Davies very kindly lent me ‘Davidson’s Brachiopoda’ and ‘Sedgwicks’ book (see here) so as to enable me to name my fossils. Mr Robinson of Shrewsbury who gave me coins and a statuette of the ‘Sybil of Cumaena’ found at Viroconium or Wroxeter; an old Roman city. This statuette is of great interest. Mr Shrubsole, a Chester geologist and Chairman of the geological section of the Chester Society of Natural Science. Mr. Shrubsole has been urging me on strongly to geologize the Bala beds of the district.

Again, it is difficult to verify how Thomas made the acquaintance of these new friends, but the answer may lie with the Nurseryman George Dickson, of Chester who first introduced Thomas to Palé.  George Dickson was a prominent member of the Chester Society of Natural Science.  Thomas never actually joined that august body, but he led many geological and botanical expeditions for them in later years, and won their prized Kingsley Medal in 1889.

1871 The Robertsons at Palé

The Robertson family moved into Palé Hall in September 1871.  Their home in Wales until this point had been the Crogen Estate.  However, when the census was taken on Sunday 2nd April that year, the family were residing at their London home, 13 Lancaster Gate.  The census return gives a good opportunity to see who comprised the family at this important date.

Henry Robertson, born in Banff, Scotland,  was 55 at the time, and described in the census as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant, with ‘engineer’ added as something of an afterthought.  His wife Elizabeth, daughter of a London solicitor, was 49 and according to the census born in ‘Surrey, Bermondsey’.  Their children were Elizabeth, 19 (‘Miss Robertson’) Annie, 16; Henrietta, 13; and Henry B. 8 (‘Master Robertson’)  Henry’s second name was Beyer, in tribute to his father’s engineering partner and mentor, Charles Beyer.  On his death, Beyer left the use of his home, Llantisilio Hall not far from Palé for the use of Henry Beyer and his sister Annie.

I devise all that my messuage or mansion house known as Llantysilio Hall in the County of Denbigh with the lands…. .. to the use of my Godson Henry Beyer Robertson”   “To the use of my god daughter Annie Robertson, daughter of the said Henry Robertson for her life without impeachment of waste for her sole and separate use independently of any husband with whom she shall intermarry and of his debts control and engagements and from and after the decease of the said Annie Robertson”  [via Wikipedia]

All the children were born in Shrewsbury

Nine live-in servants are recorded at the Lancaster Gate House, some originating in London, others in Shrewsbury or Corwen, near Crogen and Palé.

Screenshot 2016-06-01 14.18.58

Earlier Census returns

In 1861 Henry and Elizabeth are recorded as living at st. Mary’s Court, Shrewsbury, with their three daughters.  Also living in the same house were Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Dean ‘Solicitor’s wife’, her sons Charles ‘Engineer’ and Joshua ‘Secretary of Railway’ and a nephew John Dean 17, ‘scholar’ as well as a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nurserymaid and three Housemaids.  This demonstrates Henry’s rise in fortunes as within the next 10 years he owned the Lancaster Gate house, Crogen, which he rented out on removing to Palé and Palé itself.

In 1851 Henry and Elizabeth are found living in Richmond Place Chester, Henry designated ‘Civil Engineer’ with several additional words including [indecipherable] Hereford, Shrewsbury [indecipherable] Coal and Iron Master.  Charles Dean and nephew John Dean are also living there, with a Cook, Housemaid and Butler.

It is clear from Thomas Ruddy’s successive journal entries over the 37 years of his service at Palé that Henry Robertson and the whole family were amiable and considerate employers, and Thomas an energetic and conscientious Head Gardener.  Henry seems to have offered Thomas’ advice to many of the local landowners, resulting in Thomas visiting surrounding estates to advise their owners on horticulture and design.  As Thomas became increasingly noted for his geological collections, Robertson seems to have been proud to allow him to demonstrate his collections to callers, and in due course to Queen Victoria herself.  Henry’s brother in law Joshua Dean was frequently at Palé and was often a companion to Thomas in various excursions.  The Robertson family continued to spend time at Lancaster Gate during the year, thus giving Thomas more latitude to undertake his geological expeditions during their absence.

 

1871 New Homes

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

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

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

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

Garden house reverse

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

Later the same year the Robertsons moved into Palé:

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

Pale j. ThomasPale reverse

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

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

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

1872  January 15th Monday   Master Robertson planted a Deodar and a Picea Nordmaniana on lawn, each near the ends of the walls of the fruit garden.

31 Wednesday   Miss Robertson planted a Deodar on lawn in front of the pantry window. Miss Annie planted a Deodar and a Picea grandis, both near the library. Miss Henrietta planted a Deodar and Picea pinsapo, both near the little walk leading to the flower garden.