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.