1895 Of This and That

Thomas in later life from his newspaper obituary

I have now been transcribing and researching Thomas’ journals for more than 15 years. It has been possible to keep going because of the sheer variety and interest that his jottings present. I usually concentrate these posts on a single issue, but perhaps it is time to record some edited extracts from a six month period to demonstrate the range of interests and events he chose to record.

NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST Friday, March 1. Mr Woodall very kindly sent me gratis a volume of Bye-Gones for the years 1893–4. He has now sent me three volumes, representing six years. All my own contributions to the Oswestry Advertiser are reprinted in Bye-Gones. I am very pleased to have the copies.

                           

WEATHER REPORTER March Wednesday the sixth. The ice still unbroken on Bala Lake and the reservoir. The snow is now confined to hollows, sides of roads and fences where it is of great depth in many places. Saturday the 16th. We walked to Bodwenni Gate. It was very pleasant, very clear road almost all the way and the birds singing. Great snow wreaths in many places.

FATHER Palm Sunday (the seventh)  Henry, Carrie and little Alfred with me over Palé hill.  It was fine and sunny. Alfred walked well and was pleased to go. Saw the Ring Ouzel. Good Friday. The whole family of us over Palé hill, and very enjoyable it was. Great snow wreaths on the hills, and a yard deep at the little farm of Bwlchysafen at an altitude of 1054 feet.

GEOLOGIST On Wednesday the 17th. I had a visit from Mr Lake of Cambridge University and his friend Mr Groom from Herefordshire. They had luncheon and tea with us and spent most of the time inspecting my fossils.  Both are keen geologists and we had a pleasant time together. They enjoyed the visit and left by the 4.6 train.

Fossil material collected by Thomas from the collection in the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge.

FRIEND Thomas had befriended Thomas Mellard Reade as a fellow geologist, (see previous post) but in bereavement Reade chose to stay near to his friend Ruddy. Monday the 29th Frances and I met my friend Mr. Mellard Reade and his stepdaughter, Miss Taylor at the station.  They came to spend a week at the Derfel to recruit their health, because Mrs Reade died the previous week. They were pleased to see us and we walked with them as far as the village. Wednesday, 1 May. I went over Palé hill with Mr Reade. We had an interesting ramble. Thursday the second. Mr Reade, Miss Taylor and I went to Sarnau, then on to Caeranucha and home by Bethel lane. It was very fine all the way. Saturday the 4th. I went to Sirior with Mr Reade. We examined some rather interesting glacial deposits and boulders. I had tea him at the Derfel where he lodges. Monday the 6th. Mr Reade and Miss Taylor returned home.  They had very fine weather and much enjoyed their visit.

EMPLOYEE Monday the sixth [May]. Lady Robertson was safely delivered of her fourth daughter at 7:30 am.  Both going on well.

Monday the 20th. Sir Henry and Col Burton [ Sir Henry’s brother in law] wished to see my collection of birds’ eggs.  Col Burton knows much about them. He said my collection is very good and of much interest.

The Staircase Hall, Palé

NEIGHBOUR. Saturday the 25th. I went after tea as far as Garnedd to see the old farmer. I found him in a very weak state and not likely to live long. He was very pleased to see me, and I was very sorry to see him in such a weak state. We have been dealing in potatoes now for over 20 years.

LOCAL EVENTS Tuesday the 28th Frances and I at Corwen where we spent most of the day after sale of furniture at Colomendy where the late Dowager Mrs Price of Rhiwlas lived for over 20 years. The articles were rather ancient, for the old lady was very saving body.  Colomendy is a curious old place and house and gardens are much out of repair. It was very warm. I bid for a carpet and got it, and finished with that. Mr Owen of the White Lion Hotel kindly left it at Bryntirion here for me. We came home by the last train.

HUSBAND From their Geologically themed honeymoon onwards Frances Harriet seems to have been content to share her husband’s hobbies. Saturday the eighth.  Frances and I went to Bala in the afternoon.  We went along the side of the lake to Fachdeiliog boathouse.  I searched for a sedge warbler’s nest there, but only found an empty whitethroat’s.  I picked up two or three flint flakes by the lake on my return.

GUIDE. Thomas was always willing to act as guide to anyone who sought his instruction. Wednesday the 12th The Revd James Gracie came here on his bicycle from Bala College in the afternoon.  I took him around the gardens, and after tea I guided him onto the top of Palé hill. The mountains were very clear, so I was able to show him Snowdon, Moelwyn, etc. I also showed him Moel Fammau.  He was much pleased with the views, for he never saw Snowdon before.  After supper he returned on his bicycle at 9 o’clock.

EXPERT Thomas was widely consulted as a horticultural expert. Thursday the 13th. I went by request to Bala College to see the grounds and give advice about the trees and shrubs. Principal Edwards, Prof Williams, and Mr Gracie went around with me. The Principal and Mr Williams were very nice and chatty all the time.  Mr. Gracie came to the station to see me off.

PARENT Francis took the children in the evening to Bala to be photographed in a group.

CHESTER SOCIETY FOR NATURAL SCIENCE Wednesday the 26th. Frances and Henry went to Arenig station to see Mrs Evans Jones. I was to have gone too, to act as one of the leaders to the members of the Chester Society of Natural Science, but as the excavation was a failure, I stayed at home.  It was hot and hazy all day with thunder far away; not a good day for top of Arenig.

ORNITHOLOGIST Saturday the 29th.[June] Henry and I went to see the young cuckoo for the last time; it was almost ready to fly. Sunday the 30th. Henry and I along the railway as far as Garth Goch.  We found the nest of a shrike with three eggs and a whinchats with five eggs, all fresh.

Sunday the seventh. We all went in the evening to see the swans and their cygnet on the river near Dolygadfa.  The cygnet is much grown. It got onto its mother’s back for a time.  We came home by the village.

POLITICAL COMMENTATOR. The General Election is now over,  and the result has been a surprise to all concerned. The Conservatives have made a clean sweep of the Liberals, for they got into power with a majority of 152. There has not been such an election for many years. Many of the Liberal leaders have been defeated; even Sir W Harcourt, Mr Morley, Mr Shaw  Lefevre, etc.  The Welsh Radicals are quite dejected over it.  They thought to disestablish the Church in Wales, but now it seems afar.

GEOLOGICAL RESEARCH. Monday the fifth. Bank holiday. My old friend Mr A.C.Nicholson of Oswestry and his brother paid us visit.  We had them to luncheon and tea etc.  I have been for some time arranging and naming parcels of fossil material from Gloppa, Old Oswestry and Sweeny for him and also for him and Mr. Cobbold of Church Stretton.  The Church Stretton material consists of fossil Beds 1 to 2 inches each in thickness which have been found in an igneous rock; this igneous rock has been for a time passed off as Precambrian by two or three geologists. I find the fossils to belong to the base of the Caradoc series and the igneous rock to be a vassicular ash.  I have named the fossils and made a report of the whole.

The Nicholsons and I spent most of our time in the fruit room packing the specimens to take home and examining and discussing my fossils.  We spent a very interesting afternoon together.  The fossils from Sweeny near Oswestry are from Boulder Clay; the fossils being of Llandeilo age. They occur in a black shale, rather soft and I found the Lingulella lepis common in it.  This fossil has not been found south of the Berwyns, so that it is of  much interest. My friends left by the 8.30

A page from Thomas’ Commonplace book – from the handwriting, written in older age.

1893 A Rural Enterprise

Sometimes Thomas’ journal demonstrates his narrative ability as with his keen eye and lively writing he records an event. Here we read of the stir caused by (possibly) a nightingale, and of the opportunity this provided for a money-making enterprise for the fortunate locals. Without further comment, I leave you to enjoy the tale.

Saturday the 13th. [May] Mr Armstrong and I went to Llandrillo by the last train and walked from there to Tynycelin near Cynwyd to hear a so-called Nightingale, which has attracted hundreds to hear it every night.  I was doubtful about the bird being Nightingale, so got Mr A. to go with me to hear it.  We had a warm and dusty walk from Llandrillo, and it was more of a walk than I thought it was. We hardly met anyone all the way after leaving Llandrillo; in fact that people seemed to have gone to bed.  When we got to Cynwydfechan we distinctly heard the loud notes of the bird in a little wood close to Tynycelyn, the house of Mr Jones.  We got quite excited and after listening for a short time, we walked on until we turned in at the gate leading to Tynycelyn.  As we went up a lane, we passed some people listening in the lane to hear the bird.

The road from Corwen to Cynwyd, 1967 © Ben Brooksbank,
used under Creative Commons

On arriving at the gate, there was a man there with a lantern to make all who entered the gate pay a penny. On paying, we found ourselves in a little grass field with Tynycelyn House on our left and a small wood to the right.  Here was a curious scene; several groups of persons were either standing or squatting all over the field, and about the middle of it were displayed two lanterns where are man had sweets, cakes etc spread out on a canvas on the grass.  We walked over to the side of the plantation where the bird sent forth its shrill notes within 3 yards of us. The bird was in a thick bush about a yard from the ground. There was a tall ash tree in the fence close to it, and here’s several people of both sexes were sitting on the grass quietly listening. The bird sent forth very loud notes. It began with three or four no, rather sweet notes, and then went into shrill, shivery notes for a few seconds, and then stopped. After a short interval it went over the same notes again, and repeated them at time after time with short intervals of rest. The notes were something similar to the notes of the wood wren, but much louder.  

We went to different parts of the field to hear it – I thought before going that it might possibly be either the sedge warbler or the reed warbler, because both sing at night, but I soon came to the conclusion that it was not a sedge warbler and I did not think it could be a reed warbler.  Curious to say, there was a sedge warbler in the same plantation singing in opposition to this so-called nightingale, I was pleased to hear the sedge warbler as a night singer, and it hardly ever ceased.  I heard the nightingale when in France, but it was very different song from the present one; but some people who said they had heard a nightingale in England, declared the present bird to be a veritable one. On the other hand several people who had also heard the nightingale in Middlesex, were positive that the Cynwyd bird was not a nightingale. The bird was new to me and it pleased me much to hear it.  I was glad I went so as to be certain about the bird if possible, for several so-called nightingales are said to have been heard in Wales. We arrived there about 10.15, left there a few minutes before 11 o’clock.

 I made enquiries of the gatekeeper about it, and he said it was first heard on the night of the 24th of April, and attracted the notice of some persons by its louder singing at night.  The bird commenced with two or three low plaintive notes which suddenly rose to loud rich notes, then gradually fell to a long drawn twee twee several times repeated and shivery as it were. The same were repeated after an interval of silence without any variation. It usually began to sing at 10 or a little before, and kept on until about midnight.

When we were leaving the field, several young men entered and began tripping one another and playing on tin whistles. Several have told me that it has been very noisy and rough there some nights and that there have been several fights.  Many were in drink, for they stayed in the public houses, Cynwyd, until closing time; and when many of them got to the field they could hear nothing but quarrelling and uproar. The Prince of Wales Hotel, Cynwyd, was kept open all night for the accommodation of those who came from a distance. The coach went from Bala several times; bicyclists from various parts; horses and traps from Cerrig-y-Drwidion, etc.  The man has had as much as 17 to 18 shillings of a night as gate money.  Many of the people were much disappointed when they heard it, for they believe the nightingale was about the best of singing birds, that many were so pleased to say they heard the nightingale sing for once in their lives.

When Mr Armstrong and I were going down the lane to the road we heard some of those in the field join in choral singing as is the usual custom in Wales. They sang as loud as they could for some time and as soon as they stopped, donkey took it up and kept braying loudly for a long time.  It is said that there is only a step between the sublime and the ridiculous. The donkey belonged to the man with the sweets. The noise quite drowned the notes of the bird.  We had a long and dusty road before us, but we kept trudging on steadily. A wagonette from Bala passed us on its way to Cynwyd; it was crammed with people who were shouting and singing loudly. On getting to Hendwr bridge, we heard a sedge warbler singing at the side of the brook.  Several people told me they heard a bird singing in several places near the river as they walked along the railway, from Tynycelyn, and that it was nearly as good as singer as the nightingale, but not as loud.  Corncrakes were calling in many of the fields all the way home. We disturbed a white throat near Hendwr in the hedge, and another near Llanwen Cilau; both gave three or four notes and suddenly stopped.

I picked up a glow-worm near Crogen it was very bright, and kept so in an envelope all the way home. It was luminous on the following evening. When near Tydyn Inco, we heard a sandpiper sending forth its shrill notes near the river. We were very glad to get home, for we were rather tired; having walked in all about 11 miles on a dusty road, and the weather was very warm. It was very warm walking for it registered 69 ½° in the shade during the day, and the night temperature was 42 ½ and a half on Sunday morning. There had been 11 ½ hours of sunshine on the Saturday. I got into the house here at 1.35 in the morning, and Frances was very pleased when she heard me come in, for she was anxious about me.

1891: The weather and the birds

Sunshine recorder invented by John Francis Campbell (1821-1885)
Thomas must have used such an instrument, as he records monthly hours of sunshine. (Science Museum)

By 1891 Thomas was 49 years old, settled with his second wife Frances Harriett and father of eight children, ranging in age from 22 years old to a few months. His employer, Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, son of his original employer at Palé, had himself become a family man. There was a settled air about the estate, although perhaps its most affluent days were already waning. Thomas had needed to lay off some of his garden staff after the death of Robertson senior.

The white hot days of geological investigation were over, although its study would continue for the rest of his lifetime. The investigation of the Silurian geological period, to which his collection of fossils and in depth understanding of the strata in the Bala area had contributed so much, was largely settled. People continued to call by appointment or at random at Thomas’ door to view his fossils, and he continued, although less frequently to lead occasional geological and botanical expeditions for various scientific and field study clubs.

His mentor, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes received the Lyell Medal for geology in 1891, and as well as his professorial duties and family commitments (he had three sons) he was deeply involved in fundraising for the new Geological Museum in Cambridge which was to be named the Sedgwick Museum in honour of his distinguished predecessor. Thomas had supplied fossil specimens to London, Cambridge, some are in the University collection in Swansea, and I suspect he had provided some to his Swedish contact, Professor Törnquist.

After the intense excitement and activity of Queen Victoria’s visit in 1889, Henry Beyer Robertson’s Knighthood and marriage in 1890, the fourth volume of Thomas Ruddy’s journals is more settled and domestic in tone. We do find new aspects of Thomas’ careful observation of the natural world, however. He has obviously been recording bird observations for some years, although he records only occasional sightings prior to 1891.

Now, with his children growing up, he records a number of ‘birding’ expeditions, alone or accompanied by Frances and one or more of the children. He obviously shared his interest with his employer, Sir Henry. Egg collection, sadly, was commonplace and not regarded as improper.

Sunday the 19th [April] After tea I went along the railway to near Garth Goch. It was very nice walking, clean and dry.  I found the nest of a thrush ready for eggs, and to my surprise saw a flock of about fifty field fares.  Sir Henry has seen a few at Gaerwen on the 21st last year, but I have no record of seeing them myself so late.  Saw no other birds of interest.

Fieldfare

Saturday the ninth [May] I got Willy and Henry to go with me bird nesting up the hills.  We went as far as Tynant old slate quarry. We found the nest of carrion crow about 30 feet up a birch tree; it had five eggs, and as they were quite fresh we took them for my collection. We also found the nest of a ring-ouzel with four eggs; these we left in the nest. We saw a flock of a dozen goldfinches high up the Brook (Calethor).

As well as interest in and records made of the local bird life, Thomas had obviously been recording the weather on a daily basis, and he now begins to give a weather summary of each month, in particular rainfall and sunshine – measured no doubt on a device such as that shown above. He looks back over his records to comment on particularly extreme events, remarking on when such a record was last made. Temperature is, of course, in Fahrenheit.

Tuesday the 12th [May] This has been a very warm day –74 in the shade. It has only been twice so warm as this so early in May since I began to record the temperature in 1875.  May fourteen, eighteen seventy-five, it was 77° in the shade, and on 11 May 1884, it was 75° in the shade.

1891 it would seem, was a year of extreme weather events. Thomas records them throughout the year.
Sunday the 4th. [January] Roads  very slippy; icy almost all the way.  Some of us managed to go to church; Frances went with us to the laundry gate, fell down once, but not to hurt, and as she could not walk without slipping, even when holding my arm, I got her to return home.

Saturday the 28th.[February]  I observed a good specimen of the Painted Lady Butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on the violets and walk near the fruit room.  I disturbed it several times, but it soon returned to the violets again.  It was sunny and fine at that time, but there had been 7° of frost in the morning. It must have been hibernating somewhere and was tempted out by the warm sunshine. I never remember seeing a specimen of the above earlier than May. The month of February has been sunny and fine, and it has been the driest month on record here. Rainfall 0.19 inch.

Exceptionally warm weather was followed by equally unseasonable cold, and Thomas hears a sad story from the past:

Sunday the 17th [May]  This has been an exceptionally wintry day for the middle of May. The hills were covered with snow in the morning, some snow during the day, and a heavy fall of snow between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock. The snow fell in large flakes, just like half crowns, and soon covered the ground and trees, although much of it melted as it fell. In the evening, the surrounding country had a beautiful but very wintry appearance. Frost is set in in the evening. 

Some of the old people about here tell me that there has not been such a snow in May since 9 May, 1854. Edward Evans, one of the gamekeepers at Palé tells me that he and his younger brother came over the Berwyns from Llanarmon D.C. on that day; the snow was blinding and drifting, as it was freezing on the mountains he and his brother were up to their waists in snowdrifts at times, because the mountain road from Llanarmon to Llandrillo was obscured with the snow.  It was a fearful journey, and after hours of it, the brother became so exhausted that Edward had to carry him on his back. Edward too began to get exhausted about 3 miles from Llandrillo (he was then about 19 and his brother that about 17 years of age), but his cries brought a shepherd from the farm of Hendwr to his assistance.  But by that time his brother was dead.

Cadair Berwyn in snow: © Richard Webb via Geograph

Monday the 18th. [May] The snow on the ground and the fruit trees in bloom with icicles hanging to them.  There were only 5° of frost, but the bush fruits and some of the apple trees in bloom were so wet that all froze and destroyed the fruit crops wholesale. It was the same all over England. The young gooseberries and currents dropped off like hail under the bushes a short time after. I have never seen anything like it since I came to Wales.

Wednesday the 24th [June] we had a severe thunderstorm in the afternoon. The lightning was  frequent and seemed very near and the cracks of thunder shook the ground and kept roaring fearfully loud and prolonged.  The rain fell in torrents for a time, accompanied by large hail– Nearly an inch of rain fell in about an hour.  The lightning struck an ash tree at the entrance to the station; it went through the tree, came out in three places and then rang down the tree into the earth, tearing off a strip of bark in its course and also making a groove in the solid wood.

The intemperate weather continued through the summer, with yet another tragedy:

Wednesday the 26th wet and stormy yesterday and the same all-night, 1 ¼ inches of rain fell since 9 am yesterday morning; this has brought down a heavy flood and did much damage to trees, flowers, vegetables and fruit. Some trees were torn up by the root and many large limbs were broken off. The flowers were almost all disfigured and the trees have been much denuded of their leaves. I have seldom seen so much damage done.

A sad fatality happened at Brynselwrn this morning. Our family from Crosby, Liverpool, occupy apartments there; the family consists of father, mother, two daughters, and two sons. All are grown up and the sons have been in the habit of swimming in the Dee every morning, and went this morning as usual, much against the wishes of their parents. 

After entering the water, they were carried away by the swift current for about 300 yards, when the younger one got out by being cast against a projecting tree and bank.  The other was carried away and drowned, and his body was found entangled in a tree about an hour afterwards, and about 300 yards from where the other brother got out. When carried away, they kept well together, swimming with the flood, and for a time a younger one supported the elder one as he was getting exhausted; they tried to reach the side but failed, and at one place they held on for a few seconds to the overhanging branches of a tree; when they let go they were sucked under water under a tree that leaned over the river, and immediately after the one got to land, he gave the alarm, and the father with Mr Hughes the farmer of Brynselwern with his ploughman searched the river sides, and the ploughman found the body near Tyndol, and nearly opposite Palé.

The month of October has been unusually wet, the wettest on record here, with the one exception, and that was January of last year. Rainfall  9.11 inch; nearly 3 ½ inches of it fell in two days; that is 1.69 inch on the 13th and 1.76 inch on the 14th. Registered sunshine, 76 hours. The corn crops were out in an almost continuous rain for about three weeks; it was much knocked about and had commenced to sprout before it was got in in the last week of the month.

And so to December:

The weather during the month–we had the heaviest rainfall in any month since I began the record in 1874. Rainfall 10.42  inch. Max temperature in shade, 57 deg.  Min 10 deg – 22 deg of frost. Registered sunshine, 32 hours.

Total rainfall during the year 1891: 57.00 inch, being 8.50 inch above the average of the last 15 years. Rainy days 231.