1887 – 1888 A Birth and a Death

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.

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall

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 greatest triumphs 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.

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1887 Excursion with the N. Staffordshire Field Club

Vyrnwy Dam by David Purchase, via Geograph. (Creative Commons)

 

Construction of the dam for the Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir. https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

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.

Obituary for W.H. Bickerton, site manager for Lake Vyrnwy, pasted into the back of TR’s journal

A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:

 https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

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.

Eunant Hall From https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/10694

 

 

 

Walking and waiting 1881

The White Lion Hotel, Bala
The White Lion Hotel, Bala

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.

The full text of these walks here.

On May 10th Thomas 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.

Text of this walk here

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?

Text of the walk here

 

Visitors to the fossil collection

methodist-college-bala
Methodist College, Bala

Thomas’ diligent and painstaking collection of Bala fossils and his careful and accurate labelling and display were beginning to bring interested visitors to his door on a regular basis.  Thomas was obviously able to converse with local worthies as an equal, and was seen as an authority on his chosen subject.  Mr Dean, brother-in-law of Thomas’ employer Henry Robertson had obviously recovered from his severe illness of the spring of that year.  It would seem that the Robertson family were very happy to allow Thomas to show visitors his collections.  Although, sadly, he almost never mentions the Palé gardens in his journals, his work must have been satisfactory to the family as they allowed, even encouraged his geological and other activities.

[1880] July has been very remarkable for fearful and frequent thunderstorms, heavy rains and high floods.

During the month my collections were visited by the Revds. Ellis Edwards, Professor at the Methodist College Bala, and Ogwen Jones of Rhyl.   Mr. Dean brought Mr. Edmund Aitken, surgeon of London, to see them, also the Revd. Wynn Williams, and his son, from Fronheulog, to whom I gave a collection of Bala fossils.

It is interesting that so many clergy came to view and discuss the fossils.  The hostility of the church to Darwin’s ideas, and the clash of views over the dating of fossils vis à vis the Biblical view of the date and process of creation led to much discussion during the second half of the nineteenth century.  By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882, the Church of England was ready to give him a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey.  This article details the growing reception of the ideas of the formation, dating and geology of the earth by the Church of England over the 23 years between he publication of The Origin of Species and Darwin’s death.  For the clerical visitors to the very ancient Silurian and Ordovician fossils, the questions raised must have ben theological as well as scientific.

See here for details of Methodist College.

220px-theodore_martin_-_project_gutenberg_etext_17293  Sir Theodore Martin, via Wikipedia

A distinguished visitor to Palé who chatted to the Head Gardener was Sir Theodore Martin, with his wife, a noted actress.  Like Henry Robertson, Theodore Martin, was born in Scotland, and had moved to nearby Bryntysilio Hall.  He had been chosen by Queen Victoria to write the biography of Prince Albert; this had been finished, and Martin knighted in 1880.  A Biographical note is here.

His wife, born Helena Faucit [written Fawcett by Thomas] had been a noted Shakespearean actress.  She had appeared as Beatrice, on the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial at Stratford-on-Avon on 23 April 1879.  For a portrait of Lady Martin see here and a biography here.

Sept 7th Tuesday I had a long chat with Sir Theodore Martin of Bryntisilio near Llangollen; he was very chatty and pleasant to talk to.  In asking me the name of a plant I gave him the only one I had: Salpiglossus; he said it would take a lifetime to remember such a name. A great author like him to say that. His lady was with him here on a visit. She is no beauty, and she has a peculiar unhappy like expression.  Lady Martin was well known as the famous actress Miss Helen Fawcett.

Realities of Victorian Life and Death: 1880

geograph-608425-by-richard-croft

It is little wonder that we can sometimes view Victorian culture as being inclined to melancholy and mourning.  Death and dangerous illness were always nearby, and no class of society was exempt from their touch.  In the first few months of 1880, when Thomas had been a widower for less than a year, tragedy struck the Robertson family and the staff of Palé.

First, Alexander Sherriff, the husband of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson’s second daughter Annie, died at the family’s London house; they had been married less than eight years.  She had become a widow at 25.

February 8th Sunday   Mr. Sherriff died at Lancaster Gate London aged 32. This has cast quite a gloom over us all, but especially Mrs. Sherriff and Mrs. Robertson. Mr. Sherriff to my knowledge was most honourable and straightforward, free from all mischief making, and deservedly popular. He used to come to see my collection, and was always amiable and humble in manners.

Within ten days Mrs. Robertson’s brother John Dean fell ill:

Feb. 18th, Wednesday   Mr. Dean took Scarlet fever, which has cast another gloom over Palé.   Feb 25th  Mr. Dean in a most critical condition.

A member of Palé staff was the next victim, but fortunately Joh Dean survived.

March 8th Monday Miss Jarvis the head housemaid died of the fever after 4 days’ illness. She was a quiet, good and industrious servant, whose untimely death all deplore.

Mr. Dean, I am thankful to say is past danger, he came out of doors today for the first time March 19th.

Thomas’ family escaped the illnesses on the estate that winter, and so Little Mary Emily began her education, just nine months after the death of her own mother.

March 23rd Mary Emily’s first day at school.

These are mournful journal entries, the only ones until May of that year, but they bring sharply into focus he realities of life and death in the nineteenth century.  The rest of the year becomes more cheerful!

1879 Carrying on with life

A train on the Bala - Ffestiniog railway
A train on the Bala – Ffestiniog railway.      Photo J.S. Gilks from http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/cwmprysor.html

The journal entries after the death of Thomas’ wife Mary in June 1879 almost all concern geology and walking expeditions.  Reading more closely, it is clear that his friends and acquaintances accompanied him on days out, perhaps sensing that his lifelong love of the natural world and geological studies in particular would be the means of his coping with bereavement.  It is also clear that he must have been confident in the care of his young children during his absences, either by the maid living in at the Garden House or with staff at Palé.

The family at Palé and a local friend were the first to encourage Thomas to go on an expedition.  John Dean was brother of Mrs. Robertson, and a frequent companion to Thomas over the years.  I have not identified Mr. Brandt.  Inevitably, the day involved geological and botanical exploration. See here for Cwm Prysor:

July 2nd  I went with Mr. Dean and Mr. Brandt from Bala to Cwm Prysor [SH757368] on the Bala and Festiniog line. …… During the day I examined with great interest the ash and slate rocks of the Llandeilo and Lingula beds. I got no fossils, but I brought specimens of rocks and minerals. I only got salix repens and galium boreale in the plant way. 

Later in July two friends from the Chester Society of Natural Science took him on an expedition.

July 23rd  I had a day at Hafod-y-Calch near Corwen with my friends Messrs Shrubsole and Palin of Chester. We were very successful in getting fossils and enjoyed ourselves very much. Both these friends were very kind to me.

By August, Thomas was in sufficiently good spirits to lead an expedition of a local Scientific Society:

August 25th Monday I went to Bala and acted as guide to the members of the Wrexham Society of Natural Science. I took them up pat Wenalt to Cornelan. Here we lunched, and I then showed them the first ash bed with the Orthis alternate zone. We next examined the beds of Brynbedwog, where we got plenty of fossils. I next took them down the side of Afon Cymmerig to Gelli Grin. Here we found fossils. We got into Bala by 4.30 pm, and had a most substantial meat tea at the Plas Coch Hotel. I was very highly honoured by the whole party, had lamb to carve. I sat by the side of my old and valued friend Mr. Bennion Acton of Wrexham.

As we read between the lines, it is touching to see Thomas’ friends rallying round him in bereavement, recognising that his dedication to geology and natural history would be the best means of helping him through the difficult summer months of 1879.

Read the full account of his expeditions and entries for the rest of the year here.

 

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.