1879 A Widower at 37

Mary Ruddy nee Blackhall 1841 -1879
Mary Ruddy nee Blackhall 1841 -1879

By 1879 Thomas had established himself for ten years as Head Gardener at Palé.  His new wife Mary had accompanied him from Derbyshire to his post at Llandderfel, and their children Thomas Alexander aged 10, William Pamplin aged 7 and Mary Emily aged 6 were growing up at the Garden House on the Palé estate.  Then, in the spring and early summer of 1879 a tragedy struck.

1879  Up till April I have nothing particular to relate, except that my dear wife has been very ill, which causes me a great deal of anxiety. I have geologised a little and fished some to pass the time.

June 9th, Monday 11o’clock. My beloved wife died at a little after 11 am. This has been to me the most distressing thing it has ever been my lot to bear; for two months I have slept but little. I never seemed to be asleep, for I could hear the least movement during the night. Her illness was rapid consumption, so that she suffered no pain, but dropt off calmly to a better world. Mrs. Robertson was most kind and anxious about her. Mrs Pryce of Bronwylfa brought her a preparation of her own make, Mrs Richards of Fronheulog was also most kind, and all my neighbours showed the most sympathy and kindness to me during her illness.

June 12th My dear wife was buried; the neighbours showed their sympathy by coming from all parts, and by carrying the bier all the way. The village people had drawn their blinds and the shops their shutters, all of which was so kind of them, especially for a stranger. I have lost a kind and feeling mother of children, a wife but seldom equalled, a quiet living, good natured and reserved companion, but beloved by those who knew her.   Mrs. Robertson in writing to me said that I little knew how much she and her family respected her, and how deeply they felt her loss. Her old and respected friend Mrs. Owen was with her in her last moments, and showed her all respect and kindness. [Probably Elizabeth Owen, Housekeeper of Palé, originally from Devon, and aged 61 in 1879 – ed.]

Thomas and Mary outside the Garden House, Palé
Thomas and Mary outside the Garden House, Palé


Mary’s death left Thomas with three young children of 10 and under. He does not comment in the diary about how he managed to look after them, do his work in the gardens, and continue with his geological and botanical excursions. In the Wales census of 1881 a servant, Jane Richards aged 21 was living in the house. Mrs. Robertson of Palé Hall probably ensured that there was enough support for the children. Thomas gives no clue in the diary about the children’s reactions to their loss of a mother at an early age – a relatively common experience among Victorian children.

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


Mr – and Mrs Ruddy


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A photograph of Thomas taken in Chester. Possibly aged 27, about to begin work at Palé


Before commencing work at Palé Hall in January 1869, Thomas spent two years at Middleton Hall, Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire.  During this time he married Mary Blackhall, daughter of an Edinburgh family.  Mary makes a very unexpected entry to the journal coming as a great surprise to the transcriber:

1868 October 27 Tuesday                I observed a very beautiful lunar rainbow; it appeared after a shower 8.15pm. It had no colour. My year being coming to a close I resolved to try and get a better situation. I was very comfortable, but it was a very out of the way place and Lord Denman (although very kind) had no money to spend on the garden. I was welcome to Dicksons of Chester so that I told Lord Denman to try and get one to succeed me. I was now married to Mary Blackhall, daughter of John Blackhall of Edinburgh and sister to the manager for Paton and Ritchie booksellers Edinburgh.

Screenshot 2016-03-31 17.24.49
Mary Blackhall of Edinburgh

Thomas gives no hint of how they met, but their marriage certificate for the 18th December 1868 may provide a clue.  Married at Stoney Middleton, Mary’s profession is stated as ‘lady’s maid’ so perhaps it was at Middleton Hall that they met.  The certificate gives Mary’s father’s name as Alexander, and the naming of their first child Thomas Alexander may confirm this, as do the other records concerning Alexander.

Thomas signals his satisfaction at the beginning of 1869:   January 1st The past year was a happy one for me and I had excellent health, and I took to wife a daughter of ‘Auld Reekie’. It was an unusually hot summer, about the hottest for many years, 90 or over in the shade.