The images in this post are taken from a report in the Wrexham newspaper The Leader, on 13th February 2019 by Jamie Bowman. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thomas’ employer Henry Breyer Robertson owned or part owned a number of industrial, mining and rail enterprises over a wide area. Thomas’ sons Thomas Alexander and William were given clerical employment in the Plas Power works. H. B. Robertson’s uncle, Mr Dean, obviously had influence in the Minera Lime works, in the same area. In 1892 Mr Dean invited Thomas to view a newly discovered cave at the works.
Wednesday the 27th I left here by the first train for Minera. On arriving at Plas Power station I first went to see Tom who was in bed with the measles since Saturday. Mr Dean kindly had his trap in waiting for me to take me to Minera. He asked me to go to see the recently discovered cave there, from which he sent me the stalagmites. He said he would send the trap to meet me. I was sorry Tom was laid up, and he was very sorry too, for he would have liked to help me in any way. I was much interested in what I observed all the way to Minera. I passed near a coal pit, and the village. I saw Minera Church; a nice one it is. Minera Hall was close to the roadside; a moderate sized place.
I got to the Lime Works at twenty minutes to eleven o’clock. On getting to the Office, Mr. Lewis the Secretary, and his clerk, Mr. Wilkins got ready to go over the works with me. They first took me to the stone crushing mill: here the limestone is prepared for road metalling and for glass works. It was a noisy and dusty place, but of much interest. I next inspected the lime kilns: there are two large buildings on the Hoffmann principle. The buildings are in the form of a long square with the circular ends. The chambers in which the limestone is burned, are arched over all round the sides of the buildings and the doors are bricked up until the operation is over. The fire never dies out but it keeps travelling from one chamber to another all the year round; small coal (slack) is introduced into the chambers by means of iron tubes so as to feed the fire. There is a huge chimney to one of the kilns; it is 225 feet in height, by 15 feet in diameter. The kilns cost the company £20,000 to construct, but they can turn out an unlimited quantity of burnt lime.
Our next move was to the cave; it was not very inviting, but like an man of science, I wished to explore it. Mr Lewis got me leggings to cover my legs, and coat to cover my body, so as to keep me clean. I doffed my own coat, and with a lighted candle, I followed Mr Mr Lewis and Mister Wilkins into the cave. I had to lie on my right side and drag myself down slope, with scarcely enough room for me to wriggle through. After a few yards of this, I got to a wide passage where I could stand nearly upright. I was then conducted into a large chamber, long and wide and with a lofty roof. Numerous stalactites were hanging from the roof; they were long tubes of transparent calcite. Pillars of stalagmites word dotting the floor, and most of the floor was covered with thick stalagmitic crust. The floor was uneven and slippery, being here and there composed of soft red earth.
I was next taken to another large chamber, but to get to it I had to clamber on my hands and knees over the wet clay floor. In addition to the usual stalactites and stalagmites, the walls of this chamber one much encrusted with stalactites which oozed from the rock. We returned to the entrance to the first chamber and turned to the right where we got to a large chamber by again crawling over the wet rough floor. This was very uneven, the floor sloped much, and was nearly all covered with a thick stalagmitic crust. From this we went up an narrow flue-like passage on hands and knees into a large space with very lofty roof and the floor much encumbered with fragments of rock. There were a good pillars of stalagmites, and a tiny stream flowed over a gravelly bed on one side. The cylindrical tubes of calcite fell from the roof in hundreds in each of the chambers and got firmly fixed in the stalagmitic floor. It was a rough place to explore and our heads received many hard knocks, but the air was nice and cool. There is a great depth of stalagmite and clay all over the floor of the cave, and the whole bears the impress of great antiquity so that if properly explored, important scientific results might be attained. The entrance is too difficult at present, and it would be expensive to widen it. It was quite accidentally discovered when some rock was taken away.
The Minera site is now owned by the North Wales Wildlife Trust to be used as a nature reserve.
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.
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  . 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 whichkept 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.
Annie Robertson (1855 – 1889) was the second daughter of railway engineer Henry Robertson. Her elder sister Elizabeth was four year older, then came Henrietta in 1858 and finally brother and heir Henry Beyer in 1862.
Annie was born in Shrewsbury, and in the 1861 census, when Annie was 6, the family were already living in some elegance. The household then consisted of the parents and three daughters, Mrs. Robertson’s mother, Ann Dean and Mrs Robertson’s brothers Charles, also a civil engineer and Joshua, Secretary of a railway company, also 17 year old nephew John. They were supported by a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nursery Maid and three housemaids. Clearly a family on the up.
During the census of 1871 the Robertson family, parents and children were living at 13 Lancaster Gate, London, a home which they retained during the rest of Henry Robertson’s lifetime. Henry, aged 55, is by now described as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant – presumably of Merionethshire, not London. The Dean family no longer lived with them. As well as Governess, Housekeeper, Cook and three Housemaids there were a Ladiesmaid, Butler and Under Butler.
Some time before this, Henry Robertson had acquired the Welsh estate of Crogen, and then bought the Palé estate and had Palé Hall built. The family moved in on September 18th 1871, the carriage in which they arrived being pulled up from the Lodge to the Hall by the estate workmen. The 16 year old Annie must have been delighted by the splendid and luxurious house and its beautiful grounds. The family maintained the ownership of Crogen, renting it out. The Robertson family continue to live at Crogen.
Only just over a year later, in December 1872, Annie Robertson married Alexander Sherriff. This was somewhat surprising, since her elder sister had not yet married, and there would have been an expectation that the eldest married first. Since Annie was only 18, it is likely that this was a love match. Alexander was 8 years older than Annie. He had been born in Leeds, but in 1871 had been living with his extended family at Prospect House, Sunbury. His father was M.P. for Leicester, other relatives were members of the Stock exchange, so it is likely that Annie met her future husband through her father’s network of city and political friends.
In May 1878 Annie, Mrs. Sherriff, was visiting Palé Hall with her sisters in law. A visit to see Thomas’ fossil collection led to several days’ expedition with Thomas, and including Henry Beyer Robertson when some enthusiastic fossil hunting took place and Mrs. Sherriff also did some water colour painting. This shows the degree of trust and respect existing between the Robertson family and their Head Gardener.
May 3rd Miss Robertson brought Miss Sherriff, and Miss Alice Sherriff to see my fossils and general collection; they were very much pleased. After seeing them we went together in the wagonette to Garnedd [SH896355]to see the Bala beds and to collect fossils. Mr. H.B. Robertson went with us. We got several nice fossils and walked back together.
May 18th I went with the Misses Sherriff & Mrs. Sherriff [nee Robertson]to Gelli Grin, to geologise. The first two worked uncommonly hard at stone-breaking. –I never saw more enthusiastic ladies fossil hunting. Mrs Sherrif was painting a sketch. They all enjoyed themselves very much and were very courteous.
May 21st. The above party went went with me to Cynwyd, where I first showed them Cynwyd falls. I next led them up to the fossil ground, but it was raining, so that it was not very encouraging, but the ladies were cheerful and willing to proceed. When we got up two miles, the rain suddenly ceased, and it turned quite a fine day. On looking back we could see the Arenig white with fresh-fallen snow. We got several interesting fossils at the first ground. After luncheon we went to work at the upper beds at Bwlch-y-Gaseg, where we were unusually successful. Miss Sherriff was continually calling out that she was getting fat ones–that is large shells. We got Trilobites, shells and corals. Mrs. Sherriff sat sketching the distant view. They were very free, courteous and kind, and we got home well pleased with our trip, although it was a hard day’s work.
Just over eight years after their marriage, which was childless, Alexander died on the 8th February 1880 at the Robertson London family home in Lancaster Gate, leaving Annie a widow at 26. It is difficult to know how Annie spent the few remaining years of her widowhood. From Thomas’ journal of 1887 we can see that she spent some time on the Continent at Nice, and that her regard for Thomas and memory of his collections remained in her mind:
Tuesday the 29th [March 1887] Mrs. Sheriff, who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck. Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria. Many other curious articles were found in the same place.
The next mention of Annie is in March 1889 when she falls ill:
March Monday 4thMrs Sherriff ill, was at church yesterday, and in the garden with me on Saturday, but seems to have caught a chill.
Mrs. Sherriff very ill during the night, her old malady erysipelas has again got hold of her.
Sunday 10thMrs. Sherriff so very ill that I had to stop the turret clock. Everything done inside and outside the Hall to keep down noises.
Wednesday 13 Mrs Sherriff has been very ill day and night, Dr Waters of Chester and Mr Williams of Bala with her all night. Everybody about it very anxious about her, and great sympathy felt with Mr Robertson and all of them.
Wednesday, April 3 Mrs. Robertson told me that Mrs Sherriff was taken into Mr Robertson’s room, which is over entrance hall; she is now watched night and day by three nurses, who take it in turns. I am sorry to say that her mind seems to be unhinged.
Saturday the 20thMrs Sherriff taken to Eryl Aran near Bala I am sorry to say that she is no better; bodily she is, but mentally she is not. I put on the turret clock again after Mrs S. left here.
Sadly, in July Annie died at the private nursing home in Bala where she had been since her illness affected her mind:
Wednesday the 24th July Mrs Sherriff who has been unwell since her severe illness in March), died at Eryl Aran this morning at 3:30 o’clock. Mrs Sherriff has been of late much better, but was taken very ill two days ago, and suffered severely yesterday and during the night from suffocation with sore throat. We all deeply sympathise with Mr Robertson and his sisters, for they have had a large share of trouble since Mr Robertson died. Mrs Sherriff has been very confidential with me about their troubles, and ready to assist me in any way possible since I had to reduce the men. Mrs Sherriff also was ever ready to lend me books, and it was very pleased with my success in Natural History, and was at all times interested in any additions to my collection. Very few ladies were so talented as Mrs Sherriff herself, she had splendid abilities, and worked hard; painting being her special study, and at this she was very successful. I fear that she overworked her brain, and thought herself to an untimely end.
So Annie was buried at Llandderfel, a few months after her 34th birthday, and only just over a year after the death of her father. Thus it was with these two family deaths still fresh, that the young Henry Beyer Robertson had to plan and take responsibility for entertaining the Queen and her extensive household just five weeks later.
The Queen arrives at 8.00 by Royal Train and is greeted by local dignitaries and villagers. She proceeds by carriage to Palé. Later Thomas sees Princess Beatrice, Prince Henry and Princess Alix walk past his house, then in the garden, at the request of Mr Robertson, provides peaches for members of the Royal Household.
Friday the 23rd.We were all up early in the morning, and all bustle and excitement to get ready to go to see the Queen arrive at 8 0’clock in the morning. I had an early breakfast and then took fruit into the house for the Royal breakfast, and for the breakfast of the Queen’s household, that is the ladies and gentlemen in waiting.
I filled some vases with flowers too for Mr. Martin [the Queen’s cook- Ed]. At 20 minutes to eight I followed Frances and the others to the station. The Llanderfel committee of management erected a stage in Brynbwlan field, between the station gate and the machine house; here I found my party, and many others patiently waiting to see the Queen arrive. There was great excitement when the Royal train came in sight (a pilot engine passed before I got there); it came along slowly, and the Queen’s saloon stopped still opposite the entrance to the platform, exactly as Palé clock struck the hour of 8.
The station was decorated with ornamental trees from Dickson’s of Chester, mottoes and flags, etc. There was an arch of heather, erected by Mr. Robinson of Shrewsbury between the station bridge and the entrance to the station. There was a flag on Moel Calch, at the river bridge, Bronwylfa, etc.
Shortly after the train stopped, the Queen got into her carriage, then the Princesses Beatrice & Alix of Hesse, and Prince Henry of Battenburg. I at once recognised the large round face of the Queen, and as the carriage started, the people seemed undecided about cheering, they seemed to expect the Queen would appear in somesort of state, but they quickly recovered themselves and cheered the royal carriage heartily. The Queen acknowledged the reception by turning to the stage full of people and bowed her head.
Carriage after carriage followed with the Queen’s suite, each carriage being cheered, but the Queen’s Indian attendants caused more excitement than any of the others, the Queen’s excepted. The Indians were in Oriental costume, so that they naturally attracted much attention. The Royal carriage was drawn by a pair of grey horses, driven by a postillion,and an outrider on a grey going in front. After the carriages passed with the Queen’s household, the dressers, or maids, Indians and others, there followed the luggage, and a heavy van with the Queen’s plate, followed by footmen, etc.
The people went to see the Royal train, and the magnates who received the Queen on her arrival went their several ways. Everybody seemed pleased with what they saw, and will be sure to remember it as long as they live. People came from long distances, and all were very orderly.
*Queen Victoria describes the arrival in some detail. She comments that after settling into her rooms at Palé she ‘rested and dozed a whole hour’ since she had had little sleep on the train.*
Immediately after the Royal; party had breakfast, Prince Henry and the Princess Beatricewent down the drive and returned by the road, Princess Alix of Hesse accompanied them; they passed in by my house and were evidently in good spirits.Prince Henry is about 5ft8 inches, dark complexion, and well built. Princess Beatrice is short, had a sailor hat on,and was in black. Princess Alix is fairly tall, very fair hair and complexion, and is good looking; she wore a grey bonnet and a grey waterproof.
Mr. Robertson next told me to go to Major Bigge and Lady Churchill in the garden and to give them a peach or two. I met them on the walk near the stove [hothouse – ed.] door and told them what I was sent for, they thought it very kind and went with me. I then took them through the hot-houses. Lady Churchill and the Major were very chatty and asked me much about Mr. Robertson’s family and the gardens. Both admired my fruit, and chatted with me very amiably.
Major Bigge is about 5ft 8 inches, sharp looking, dark complexion. Lady Churchill is tall plain featured, but very good natured and pleasantmannered. Lady Churchill is the mother of the present Baron Churchill, Victor Albert F.Chas. Spencer, born in 1864, succeeded his father in 1886. Lady Churchill is now a widow and at present Lady-in-Waiting on the Queen.
Mr. Robertson brought me Dr. Reid while I was with Lady C. and Major B. Mr. Robertson said “Ruddy, here is another customer for your peaches.” Dr. James Reid isResident Medical Attendant on the Queen. Dr. Reid is of medium height, fair complexion and very pleasant. All of the above are of middle age. The Major’s full title is Major Arthur J. Bigge CBRA and is one of the Queen’s Personel.
It is 9 days before the Visit of Queen Victoria to Palé Hall. Everyone is at full stretch with the preparations. It should be remembered that the young Henry Beyer Robertson, still finding his feet after the sudden death of his father less than 18 months earlier, is carrying out the plans for the visit initially intended to be hosted by his father, former MP and Lieutenant of the County. It must have been a daunting prospect for the 27 year old batchelor. In order to make the house available for the Queen and her staff, Henry Beyer’s mother and sister departed to stay at the home of the family solicitor. Thomas records:
1889 August 15th Mrs and Miss Robertson left here for Mr. Cullimore’s house at Christleton near Chester. It is to be their abode during the time the Queen is to stay here. The house is to be entirely at the disposal of the Queen.
In the evening, Mr. Schoberth, page of the Chambers to the Queen, arrived, bringing with him three men cooks; Messrs Feltham, Terry, etc. Tommy came from Plas Power the Saturday evening so as to be at home during the Queen’s visit.
All the staff are working long hours, and are there even enough staff to cope? Garden staff are being transferred to other duties, and even the usually unruffled Thomas Ruddy is aggrieved with his employer:
August 18th I have been very hard driven four weeks preparing for the Queen’s visit, and as I have been allowed only three men, it has been nothing but hard work. I have not been able to go anywhere or even to go out of an evening.
On the death of Charles Beyer, Henry Robertson’s business partner in 1876, Llantysilio Hall, the house Beyer had built soon after Robertson had built Palé, was left to Henry Beyer Robertson and Annie Robertson for their lifetimes. Both were godchildren of Beyer.
Thomas was involved with work there in November 1887 following the death of the Head Gardener at Llantysilio.
Thursday the 3rd Mr Robertson sent me to Llantysilio Gardens to look over the fruit and other things, because Mr Massey the old Gardner had died suddenly the previous day. I left here by the 11.20 which did not stop at Berwyn station, so I had to go onto Llangollen, and as it was sunny and fine, I had a pleasant walk back on the towpath of the canal. The canal runs along side of the river all the way, and the scenery is beautiful and interesting. I got to Llantysilio at 1 o’clock, and went over the whole establishment with the men. Mr Robertson went from here on business by the first train; he was met at Llangollen by the person who has charge of the Hall and stables, and he, Mr Haynes had orders to meet me and assist me to see the place. The Hall is very large, well furnished, and well-kept, but it is difficult to let it. It is the property of Mr Robertson’s only son, to whom it was left by his godfather, Mr Bayer (a German ) of the engineering firm of Bayer, Peacock and co. of Manchester (Gorton) [Footnote by TR: the Co. is Mr Robertson chiefly.]
The kitchen garden is small and old-fashioned, having two large yew hedges, broad gravel walks, and diagonal grass walks. The flower garden is also in it. It contains peaches, figs, apricots and pears, et cetera on the walls which do fairly well; and there is the remains of a fine old Mulberry tree in it as a standard, but the tops of the principal limbs have been destroyed by the wind. There is a fine old Walnut tree just outside the kitchen garden with a growth of 13’6″. The Mulberry and walnut must have been planted in the early part ofthe 17th century – in the reign of James the second – both are evidently of great age. There is a vinery, greenhouse and melon house near the kitchen garden; indeed the melon house is in it.
The situation is very beautiful, almost surrounded by hills, with the Dee sweeping round the park. Mr and Mrs Haynes kindly gave me tea before leaving, which was very acceptable, and Mr Haynes came to Berwyn station with me, where I caught the 4.28 train. We came through the park by the side of the river, and by the weir at the entrance of the canal, the weir is styled the “Horseshoe Falls”. From the “Falls” I walked along the canal and over the chain bridge to the station.
In November Thomas visited Llantysilio Hall again. In typical fashion, he used the time in the area to see a site of local interest:
Monday the 14th [November] I had to go again to Llantysilio to settle about various things. I have charge of the gardens and men for the present. I went by the 9.39 train, alighting at Berwyn station. After seeing the men and looking over things, I went across the fields by a pathway to Valle Crucis Abbey and the pillar of Eliseg. The ruins of the abbey are by the side of a small stream with two sloping riches of hills on either side, and shut in by hills at each end. The situation is very beautiful and of great interest. The abbey is the finest monastic ruin in North Wales, it is said. Thomas follows with information about Valle Crucis.
He was back at Llantysilio again later in the same month:
Tuesday 22nd I left here for Llantysilio and Llangollen by the 9.33 train. I got out at Berwyn station, crossed the river by the Chain bridge, and walked along the side of the canal to the very beautiful weir constructed by Telford. The Llangollen people call it the “Horseshoe Falls”. Bryntysilio, the seat of Sir Theodore Martin immediately overlooks it, and Llantysilio church is a little farther on. When I got to the gardens, I had a look round and afterwards saw all through the Hall of Llantysilio which is very substantial, and well furnished. I got onto the outside of the water tower from which I had a beautiful view of the Vale and neighbourhood. Plas Berwyn just on the opposite side of the river; it is a nice looking hole of moderate size, with a small sized garden attached, which is only partly walled in, and with one or two hothouses. This (Plas Berwyn) is the seat of Major Tottenham, but he has another seat and estate in Wicklow. Major and Mrs Tottenham have been here to see the gardens several times.
After seeing about, I started to walk to Llangollen at 12:20. I got onto the side of the canal, and walked very fast all the way, arriving in town a little after 1 o’clock. I was very pleased to see the crossbills on my way there; a flock of six flew on to an ash tree where they soon began to eat the kernels of the seeds. I also saw two or three feeding on the Larch cones opposite Llangollen Bridge, on the side of the canal.
When in town I arranged with Mrs Ellis the greengrocer about the fruit and vegetables of Llantysilio Gardens, and got a blank book to continue my journal at Horsepool’s Fancy Shop.
In April 1888, soon after the death of Henry Robertson, Thomas was back at Llantysilio:
Thursday the 26th I went to Llantysilio. At lunch I went for a ramble through the young covert leading westward to the river. I had the pleasure of seeing the lesser spotted woodpecker for the first time. It was on an old tree near the gardens (an ash tree) and I followed it from tree to tree, and observed it tapping the trees, and running over the trunks and limbs in search of food. Its peculiar note first attracted my attention. I was very highly pleased to see it. I brought home a few fine bunches of primroses for the ladies here, who made a wreath with some of them and placed it on their father’s grave.
In May Henry Beyer Robertson involved Thomas in further work at Llangollen, this time at a house known as Woodlands, the former railway station of the town. Thomas was not to know that in 1906, on his retirement, he would move to Woodlands, provided for him by Roberson, by then, Sir Henry.
Monday the 14th I went to Llangollen to see about cropping the garden at the Woodlands, a villa belonging to Mr Robertson. After looking over the garden, I went to Llantysilio by way of Valle Crucis Abbey. I had my luncheon sitting on the hillside opposite the abbey; after my luncheon, I went to see the ruins, but did not go inside. I examined the outside with much interest and as the rubbish has been cleared away, there is much to be seen from the outside. The western or main entrance must have been very beautiful; it is now of great interest to those who take interest in such buildings. The only plant of interest to be seen was the wall-flower, which grew on the ruined walls. Several good walnut trees grow on the side of the avenue, but they are not of the same age as the ruins.
[the rest of pages 14 and 15 are historical details re Valle Crucis]
From the abbey I went to Llantysilio; I botanised on the way, and found the Monchia and Filago minimaon the road side opposite the abbey, and the cowslip plentiful in the pasture between the abbey and Llantysilio. I came home with the 5.19, much pleased with my day at Llangollen.
Friday the 18thI went again to Llangollen to get men to work the Woodlands garden, after arranged for manure, and while the men were at dinner I went for a ramble along the canal side to near the Sun Inn. [The next sentence heavily scored out – appears he thought he had found a rare plant – assume he later found himself mistaken – Followed by a long list of plants found]
…… From the road and canal I went up a winding Lane plus past Erwwen and Caecock and lunched sitting on the block of limestone…….I next went up to Dinas Bran, had a beautiful view around …… From Llangollen I went to the Woodlands again and from there home by the 5.19. The Woodlands was formerly the railway station of Llangollen, but when the railway was extended to Corwen, the present station was built.
Wednesday the 23rd I went to Llangollen to see the Woodlands again. After I got the men to work I had a look through Siamber Wen gardens, the residence of the misses Robertson, sisters to the late Mr Robertson. The house is on the north side of the canal, opposite Llangollen Bridge. It is a nice little place, and the house being like a miniature castle, it has a striking appearance. Miss Anne Robertson kindly went over the place with me and showed me the rooms, and offered me wine, and was very kind. from there I walked along the side of the canal to Pontrefelin, and then past the Abbey to Llantysilio.
Henry Robertson’s three unmarried sisters, Christina, Anne and Jessie lived at Siamber Wen in 1888 when Thomas visited them. Anne and Jessie had lived there at least from 1861, together with their brother John, who died at Siamber Wen in 1883. It is not clear when their sister Christina joined them.
Thomas left the Robertson family in their castellated villa, and botanised as he returned home full of the joys of spring.
I saw several species of pondweed in the canal, the Teesdalia moenchia, Filago etc. on the roadside when skirting Y Foel Abbey, the hill opposite the Abbey. I found the Lysimachia vulgaris in a ditch between the Abbey and Llantysilio when I went that way on the fourteenth. I saw nothing else of much interest. I got home from Llantysilio by the 5.19, much pleased.
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.
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 greatesttriumphs 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.
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.
A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:
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.
His eldest son Thomas, ‘Tommy’ who began work as a clerk at Plas Power
During 1887 Thomas continued to balance life as a family man, with both an adult son now working and a second wife and small children. Serious work as an amateur geologist continued unabated, and his employment and relationships with the entire Robertson family of Palé Hall were warm. As ever local events and people were all of interest to his quick mind.
1887. January 22 (Saturday) Mr Williams, my geologist friend from Blaenau Festiniog spent the afternoon from 2.30 to 5 o’clock with me. He brought his rock sections and microscope with him, so that we spent a most interesting afternoon. He had never seen my collection of local fossils, and as it was his chief object to see them, we devoted considerable time to the inspection of them. He was also very desirous to see the way I mounted and arranged my specimens, because he wished to arrange his specimens on the same plan. Mr Williams is a good microscopist, a very enthusiastic geologist, and takes an interest in botany. Both of us seem to be so much interested in natural history that we wished we could have more time together.
Thursday the 17th witnessed a curious sight from a little after 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock; it was a lantern search for a poor old lady who lived alone in one of the Tynllechwed cottages near the village. It seems that she went for a bundle of sticks for fuel, got lost, and as she did not return, most of the village men and women went in search of her with the lanterns. They searched all Earlswood and every place where it was thought she could have wanted to, but to no purpose. The very numerous lanterns spread over the wood and flashing here and there, formed a most curious and interesting sight.
Thursday the 24th The body of Catherine Owen. The old lady who was lost a week ago, was found at midday today in the rabbit warren of Llanerch. Hundreds of men have been searching for her ever since she was lost, even on Sunday, but nothing was seen or heard of her until today. It was never thought that she could have climbed the formidable fence which encloses the Warren, so that there was little search made there. By the appearance of the body, she seems to have sat down exhausted, wrapped her little shawl around her head and died of cold, without a struggle. Her baptism is entered in the register of Llandderfel church, and was examined by our Rector. She was baptised on the 20th of June 1795, so that if she had lived till next June, her age would be 92 years.
Saturday the 12th Francis and Henry left by the 1120 train to visit Tommy at Southsea near Wrexham. We were sorry that snow was on the ground this morning, for it has been so very fine for a long time. Henry was very delighted to go. They got on all right, saw the coal pit, and went into Wrexham and got home safely with the last train.
Tuesday the 29th Mrs. Sheriff [formerly Annie Robertson – an early widow -ed.] who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck. Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria. Many other curious articles were found in the same place. It is 2 1/2 inches high, and 1 1/2 inches across the bulb. Length of neck 1 1/2 inches and the bulb is 3 1/4 inches in circumference.
Good Friday, the 8th of April. I went in the afternoon to see the wild daffodils at Garth – they were in full bloom, and from there around Henblas and Moelcalch. It was a very pleasant day, and I enjoyed the walk. Tommy came home for his holidays yesterday evening; he and Willie went for a ramble. Many people were in the village.
Tuesday the 12th Tommy left by first train for Plas Power.
Thomas had lost his first wife Mary in June 1879, and by 1881 he was drawing nearer to the Pamplin family, and in particular, to Frances Harriet Williams, niece of his friend William Pamplin. In particular he refers to a significant visit from Frances H and her mother Frances Williams, nee Pamplin, in February 1881.
Walking was always central to Thomas’ life, and several walks are recorded in the journal of the first half of 1881. His friends, made mainly via the Chester Society and further acquaintances recommended by friends from the Society seem to have been central in his rehabilitation following Mary’s death.
A Bank holiday walk on April 18th with Mr. Jebb, whom he met on the highest summit of the Berwyns, took him on a 20 mile round trip, ending with a meal at the ‘smartest’ hotel in Bala, the White Lion. Thomas’ friends were usually from a ‘higher’ echelon of society, as discerned by the scrupulous social order of Victorian Society, but his geological and botanical knowledge gave him the edge in any expedition into the hills.
On May 4th the Vicar of Runcorn, the Revd. William Preston arrived, introduced by a letter from Mr. Shrubsole of the Chester Society, to view Thomas’ fossil collection, and be taken on a fossil hunting expedition.
On May 10thThomas walked with Mr. Dean, the brother of Mrs. Robertson, wife of his employer. Thomas quite frequently spent time in the company of John Dean, who seems to have shared his interest in the countryside, and who no doubt relied on Thomas as guide and interpreter of the environment.
On Tuesday 4th June Thomas set out from William and Margaret Pamplin’s house with Mrs. Williams, mother of Thomas’ future second wife, for a lengthy walk to Pont y Glyn. William was at this time 75 years old, and Frances Williams 73. It is interesting that Frances, who had been a widow since 1866, was visiting alone, since the friendship between Thomas and her daughter had become so close. Was she perhaps visiting to enable Thomas to ask her permission to propose marriage to Frances Harriet?
The walk was about 7 miles, over testing mountainous country, to a height of 430 metres (400 ft) Thomas comments on the sprightly nature of his companions (Margaret Pamplin was younger – only 43 at the time.) From Pont y Glyn they returned by ‘a conveyance’. Would it be necessary to book this in advance, I wonder, or could one find a conveyance in the village, or stop one passing on the road?
To end an exciting day, Thomas records feeling a sizeable earthquake in the evening. his own world was certainly in the process of change. I wonder whether he regarded it as an omen?