The journal for 1896 demonstrates the growing propensity of late Victorian society to indulge in days away from work, and the Ruddy family’s more expansive lifestyle in this decade reflects a society which is confident and growing in affluence. Thomas provides two very detailed accounts of days of relaxation, from which I shall draw extracts.
A day trip to Llandudno
Thursday June the 25th. All of us went by an excursion train to Llandudno. We were up very early and all were excited about going. We left the station about 6.30, the Cleveley family and we got carriage to ourselves. The elderflower was very showy all the way along the route. We saw Denbigh Castle ruins perched upon the limestone crag and the Cathedral of St Asaph very distinctly. I was much pleased to see the ivy-covered ruins of Rhuddlan Castle when nearing Rhyl. … As we passed along to Deganwy we could see the tubular railway bridge and suspension bridge for a roadway spanning the river Conway. The river widens to a broad estuary above and below the town.
We arrived at Llandudno at 9:15. The children were all excitement to go digging in the sands, but as the tide was up to the promenade, there were no signs visible. To pass the time we went on to the Great Orme at Happy Valley, all rather on the rocky heights near the Camera Obscura. Here we had some sandwiches and enjoyed the beautiful views of sea and land….The Happy Valley is a sheltered spot shut out from the town where there are amusements and other recreations. The Great Orme is a delightful place and it is happy hunting ground for a botanist.
We spent some time at the Camera Obscura and then Francis and the little ones returned to the town so as to get on the sands as the tide was going out. Henry and I commenced botanising the rocks and thickets. [Later] We made our way to the sands where we found our party sand hopping to the great delight of the little ones.
We had a look around the town and through the market Hall, and left for home at a little after 7 o’clock. We all enjoyed our visit and had a beautiful day there. We got home safely; Alfie had a good sleep on the way.
We see here the typical pattern of a family day out at the seaside, as familiar now as in the last decade of the 19th Century.
The Shrewsbury Show
Thursday the 20th [August] Sir Henry kindly asked me to go to Shrewsbury Show. He also said I was to take Frances with me and that he would pay our expenses. We got to Shrewsbury by 1.30. We walked up to the show ground in the Quarry where we arrived about 2 o’clock. My first object was to see some coniferous trees, sweet peas, Cactus, dahlias etc which Sir Henry wished me to see and take note of. These were very good and great novelties. I was much pleased to see the collections of fruit, specimen plants, vegetables, herbaceous and other plants.
I was much pleased to see all there was to be seen, and so was Frances. The arrangements were perfect in every way. There were thousands of people there, the papers say over 60,000 and 10,000 the day previous Wednesday Henry, Lady Robertson and party were there. We went down to the Severn which winds halfway around the Quarry. It was not very wide. The ground slopes steeply up from the river on the opposite side to villas on the top, and we saw the Kingsland bridge spanning the river near the Showground. There is a remarkable avenue of elm trees in the Quarry, said to have been planted in one day.
We had tea in a tent, then watch the flying fish, (a fish – like balloon) ascend to a great height and float over the town. There were two gentlemen in it. There was a huge balloon there which went up two or three times some height and was pulled down again by rope. The music was by the Band of the Royal Horse Guards, a sufficient guarantee for its quality. We saw wonderful performance on bicycles by the Selbini troupe. One young lady could do anything on her bicycle. She went round on one foot, on her hands, and even on one wheel; making but little use of her hands. The Blondin Donkey performance by the brothers Griffiths was very amusing and clever. The donkey was a man in donkey skin. The Eugenes displayed marvellous agility on the high trapeze.
The streets of the town were decorated, and thronged with people. We had a slight mishap at the station before we left, for Frances had a memorandum book picked from her pocket by a man who was captured in the act by a detective. This scamp thought he had something of value. We had to go to the superintendent’s office to identify the book and give our name and address. The train was kept waiting for us until we were ready. We had been very careful all day without pockets and watches. We got home by the last train, and with the exception of the pocket picking, we highly enjoyed our outing.
The range of amusements seems typical of those available in the expansive late Victorian era, but as we see, there was accompanying crime. The police detective service seems to have been well trained to cope with such large public events.