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.

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A local expert 1875

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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.

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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

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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.

 

First year at Palé

Thomas began work on the day after his arrival at Palé, engaging men to work and arranging to move from the Inn of Bryntirion situated at the foot of Palé’s drive, where he had spent the first night in rooms arranged for him by Mr Dickson of the Nurseries, to the nearby Brynbwlan farmhouse farmed by Mr & Mrs. Ellis.  Within five days he had decided that he was ready for his pregnant wife to join him, and had planned for the purchase of a large quantity of trees and shrubs.

January 23rd Saturday I went back to Chester for my wife and I ordered about £100 worth of trees and shrubs. My wife and I came here for good on the 25th of Jany. Monday 1869.  [£100.00 probably worth £4,000 – £5,000 today]

There are few journal entries for the first few months of 1869, but on the 26th March a notable event is recorded – the birth of a first child, Thomas Alexander.  [Thomas and Mary had married in December the previous year.  Slight raise of eyebrows from editor/transcriber!]

Four days later, Thomas secured a permanent post at Palé:

March 30th Tuesday. I engaged to be Mr. Robertson’s permanent gardener. Mr. & Mrs. Robertson were leaving for London; they told me that several wanted the place, but that they would much rather that I would take it; and that I would be at liberty to make myself comfortable. [Mr and Mrs Robertson owned a house in Lancaster Gate, London, where they resided for several long periods each year.]

By the end of April Thomas records walks in the area with friends.  Unfortunately he does not record the friends’ names or details.  Descriptions of walks form a substantial part of the journal through the rest of his life.

The full journal entries from January to April 1869 here

 

A new employer – Henry Robertson

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Henry Robertson

via Shrewsbury Local History site

 

The owner of Palé Hall, Henry Robertson, was 53 years old when in January 1842 he appointed the 27 year old Thomas Ruddy as his Head Gardener.  Like Thomas he spent his childhood in Scotland, came from a family without wealth, and carved out a career for himself through innate ability and hard work.  Winning a scholarship to Aberdeen University at 14 studying engineering, he had achieved his MA by the age of 2o.

Initially working in coal mining in Lanarkshire, he moved on to railway engineering as a pupil of Robert Stevenson, and finally through a series of chances, moved to Wales, probably about 1840.  A detailed description of his working life can be found here.

Henry had married Elizabeth Dean, daughter of a London solicitor in July 1846, and with their children Elizabeth (born 1852) Annie (born 1855) Henrietta (born 1858) and Henry Beyer (born 1862) they would move into the completed Palé Hall on September 18th 1870.

It would seem from Thomas’s description of his initial meeting with Mr and Mrs Robertson that it was Elizabeth who was chiefly involved in planning the details of the garden:

Mrs. Robertson and family came from Crogan in the afternoon, so that we spent the day in talking and planning. A new house was to be built with the dining room windows looking west, the boudoir and drawing room windows looking NW & W. The flower garden was to be (according to the architect’s wish) in the small piece in front of the dining room, but I got Mr. & Mrs. Robertson to have it where it now is with terraces instead of a bank. Mrs. Robertson then wished me to plan the glass houses.

The family were living nearby at the smaller Crogen Estate which is still in the Robertson family.

Further details abut Henry Robertson can be found here