What happens when a biographer suddenly comes across an event in the life of their subject which they find difficult to understand, and in some senses seems quite shocking? It is impossible to understand the context and circumstances of the event, or to interrogate an objective contemporary bystander. I have been acquainting myself with Thomas Ruddy through his journals since I inherited them in 2005, finding much to admire in his character and endeavours in gardening, geology, and as a family man. I rarely read ahead in the journals; following the ‘story’ being a major factor in keeping on with the task of transcription.
So it was that I came to April 1894, and a grand wedding in the Robertson family, when the youngest daughter of the late Henry Robertson, sometime MP, and the sister of Sir Henry Robertson, Henrietta, married, at the somewhat advanced age of 36, the clergyman Eustace King. There seems to have been much rejoicing in the Ruddy family at this happy event. On Friday the 6th of April, Miss Robertson presented Thomas and Frances with a gift:
Miss Robertson gave me a handsome photo frame for two photos. One has a photo of the Rev. Eustace King (her intended husband) and she is going to send me one of her own soon to put in the empty frame. It was very kind of her to give it and we appreciate her kindness.
A gift was given in return on the 12th April: Presented Miss Robertson with a wool handmade hearthrug as a wedding present. We had it made for her. She was much pleased with it, said it would be a nice remembrance, and that as it would suit the pile carpet that we could not have given her anything more acceptable. She took it away with her.
And then comes the shock: Saturday the 14th Tom (his eldest son) married at Southsea much against our wish.
Seemingly entirely unmoved, Thomas continues to enthuse about the wedding of Miss Robertson: Wednesday the 18th Miss Robertson married with the Rev. Eustace King at the church here. It passed off nicely – see account in Oswestry Advertiser. The report is my composition, but Lady Robertson gave me the list of presents to copy. See above.
Thomas continues: I had plenty of white and other flowers for the occasion. Mr King told me he liked the way I decorated the church. I had a beautiful Spirea as a table plant to put in the Queens silver bowl the cake was decorated withDeutzia.
I have now transcribed as far as the end of 1895, and there is no further mention of Thomas’ eldest son, Thomas Alexander, Tom. This is particularly heartbreaking as records show that in February, Tom’s wife Elizabeth Ann, nee Roberts gave birth to a son who lived just three days. They called him Thomas Alexander.
Despite this family rift, Thomas Alexander did well for himself. My future transcription will show whether the rift was ever healed. Tom and Elizabeth did finally have a son, Reginald Harold, born in 1900 and a daughter Beatrice Rosamund born in 1903. I have been in touch with a descendant of Reginald.
It is tempting to quote L.P. Hartley: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ However, family feuds and rifts still exist, and how is it possible for an onlooker to understand what happens in the human psyche?
By the spring of 1892 Thomas was the father of eight children; by his first marriage Tom (23) William (20) Mary Emily (19) all at work and living away from home; by his second marriage Henry (10) Frances H ‘Francie’ (8) Caroline E ‘Carrie’ (7) Amelia A ‘Millie’ (5) and Alfred (2).
A significant new element in the journal is the number and frequency of walks recorded, which match the diminution of the expeditions with various natural history societies by Thomas alone. On almost all, Thomas records finding plants, birds, trees and other natural phenomena. It must have been a pleasant and instructive pastime for the children to have such a rich source of tutoring in natural history.
A charming aspect of these recorded walks is that they are undertaken by different combinations of companions. Sometimes Thomas walks just with his wife, occasionally the whole younger family is involved, often Thomas walks with just one of his young children and when the older siblings come home, they are involved as well. This suggests that the children were allowed to choose whether to go on the expeditions, concentrated as they are at the weekends, rather than being made to participate. The opportunity to do this, leaving some young children at home, was possible as the Ruddy family always had a live in general servant. Here is a selection from 1892-3
Sunday the 10th Henry and I went along the railway to rock opposite Crogen. (Tanycraig) and returned home by Caepant. We had a pleasant walk. Thursday the 14th Tom came home for his holidays. Little ones much excited over his coming. Good Friday. Tom and I went for a ramble round Fronheulog in the evening.
Sunday, May 1st Francis and I took the children to about half a mile beyond Brynmelyn. It was very pleasant. Saturday the 7th Carrie and I had a ramble over Palé Hill, and went as far as Brynselwrn Ffrith. Sunday the 8th Francie and I went along the railway to Tanygraig rock. We flushed corncrake twice on the way, and found a kestrel’s nest with four eggs, and a wood pigeon’s nest on the ground on a ledge of rock under the shelter of the tree root. It was built in the usual way. We saw a water hen’s nest with five eggs and a newly hatched chicken in the nest. Francie very pleased to see the little bird. I observed the tree pipit for the first time. We returned home by the village. Francie much pleased with her walk.
Saturday the 23rd Frances and I took Francie and Carrie by the 4 o’clock train to Llandrillo. On our arrival there, we walked along the railway to a plantation about 2 miles away. I picked up the Medicago luplulina on the way, and so a few other things of interest. On getting to the plantation, which is on the side of the line, Francis and little ones rested until I went to examine two or three specimens of the noble Silver Fir, which Sir Henry wished me to examine. From the plantation we went up and narrow lane to the road, and got out about halfway between Plasynfardre and Hendor bridge. We had a pleasant walk to the village and from there to the station. We met Mr and Mrs Vernon on our way to the station. We had a pleasant ramble, and the girls were pleased to go.
Sunday the fourth. Tom, Francie, Carrie Millie, and I went as far as Glandwynant, and then up through the wood to Bwlch Hannerob, and home by the path passing the old quarry. It was a pleasant little ramble.
Saturday the 11th Francis and I went after tea to near Ty Tanygraig at the western outlet of the tunnel. We much enjoyed the walk, and it was a change to be able to get a walk. Sunday the 19th. Francie and I went after tea as far as Tydyninco; we had to return home as it came on to rain rather heavily.
Sunday the 19th Carrie and I went along the Bala road after tea to Bodwenni and returned by Bodwenni pillar and Earlswood, getting down by Fronheulog. We had a pleasant ramble. We could see the tops of Aran and Arenig covered with great stripes of snow.
Thomas and Carrie’s walk
Sunday the 26th [March] after tea we took the children along with the Bala Road as far as the little roadside pool beyond Bodweni. On arriving there we crossed a little meadow to the riverside where the children ran about for a short time, much to their delight. Two herons flew over us, on screaming several times. Both birds went eastwards, presumably to Rûg near Corwen where there is a heronry. We had it chilly coming home.
April 1893. Sunday the 9th Francie, Milly and I went past Brynmeredeth and over the hill by Fedwfoullan home. A Very nice walk. Saturday the 22nd Frances, Francie and I went after tea to Sarnau bog. It was very fine and we enjoyed the walk. We heard the sedge warbler. Sunday the 23rd We all went in the evening to near the tunneland sat in a field overlooking the bog near the railway. It was very pleasant. Observed a whitethroat. Friday the 28th Frances and I went by the riverside near Tyndol to see a swan sitting and home by roads. Found a tree creepers nest with six eggs. Saturday the 29th Henry and I went as far as Crogen. Found several nests. We thought of meeting Tom coming on his bicycle. Saturday, 6 May. Francis and I took Henry and Millie with us by the 4 o’clock train to Llandrillo we walked back past Llanwercillan and got into the old lane near Llechwercilan where we had a pleasant walk to Tynyfach and Tynycoed. We did not see any interesting bird, but I got a good fossil (Orthoceras vagans) at Tynycoed quarry. We returned by train from Llandrillo. It was a pleasant outing. Observed many black-headed gulls from the train.
Sunday the seventh. Very fine; 12 hours sunshine. I got Henry and Francie to go with me in the evening along the railway and that past Llanerch Sirior, etc. We found a stockdove’s nest and several other nests; the whitethroat, chiffchaff etc. We also found a blackbird’s nest made on the ground in the wood. It was placed on fragments of stone without any protection at the foot of an naked hazel bush and the bird sitting on four eggs.
Whit Sunday. Tom, Francie and I walked to Bala in the evening and came home by the mail train. It was pleasant to walk. Willy went on the hill with the others.
By 1893 Alfred aged 3 was able to walk a fair distance. Tuesday 30th May Francis & I took Alfred with us past Tydninco and round by the riverside home. Alfred to did enjoy his outing and was very amusing. Tydyninco was a small propert owned by Sir H.B. Robertson. Its gardens were looked after by staff originally from Palé, and directed in their work by Thomas.
Sunday the 11th Francie and I went past Brynmelyn into the Meadows and got to the yellow waterlily pool, where the Nuphar advena [yellow pond lilly – ed.] grows. We found the nest of the water hen with 7 eggs, saw the Lily in flower. We came home along the riverside all the way; saw shelves in the river, the limpet and Linnaea. It was a pleasant walk, for it was cool by the river.
Bicycle! While the rest of the family were still on foot, Tom had acquired a fashionable new possession -a bicycle. Perhaps the model was the 1886 Swift Safety Bicycle
Tom arrived by bicycle on Saturday 17th Monday the 19th Tom up, and had breakfast at 3am, and started off by 3.30 it was a beautiful morning, the birds singing and pleasant for travelling; he left in fine spirits.
Tuesday the 20th had a letter from Tom to say he was going through Llandrilloas the church clock struck 4 , and through Corwen as the clock  chimed 4.30; and got to Llangollen by .10.30, Ruabon by 6.20, and arrived at Southsea by 7 o’clock. He had a pleasant journey, the air being sweet with the honeysuckle in the hedges in many places. It was rather with warm between Llangollen and Ruabon as there is a stiff pull up their part of the way.
And finally, an expedition for the whole family, at the end of June 1893. Sunday the 25th. After tea, we all went on to the Bala road and along the riverside opposite Palé until we got onto the Bala road again near Pantyffynon. The children did enjoy sitting on a prostrate tree by the river. We picked up the Linnaea I observed in the river at Dolygadfa, also the freshwater limpet and the cockle, (Spaerium lacustre). We saw several of the little bearded fish called the loach in Scotland.  It is of the genus Cobites and a few of the fish called miller’s thumb. Alfred had walked all the way there and back. He soon fell asleep when put to bed.
By 1892 all three of Thomas’ older children were at work, and living away from home, placing less pressure on Thomas’ family with his second wife Frances Harriet.
Tom, now 23, was progressing in his work in the office of the Robertson’s Plus Power coal mine in Wrexham. He was trusted to visit other offices to audit their books: Saturday the 3rd October 1891 Tom came home in the evening to be ready to go to Dolgelly on Monday, to check the books of the coal agent there. We were all very pleased to see him; the little ones being very excited. Tom appeared at home several times each year in order to go to the Dolgelly office.
Tom was also involved in military interests: Saturday the 8th. August 1891 Tom arrived here at 8 o’clock in the morning. He took us all by surprise. He had been with his Company of Volunteers camping out for a week on Conway Marsh, and he thought he would come and have Sunday at home. He left at 4 o’clock in the morning and came by Ffestiniog here. We were all very pleased to see him and the children as excited as usual. Henry much interested in the rifle.
Mary Emily, 18, having finished her education at a small private residential school in Chester, began her working life in May 1891: May 4th (Monday) Frances went with Mary Emily to Corwen to get her into lodgings with Mr and Mrs Owen, so that she might begin an apprenticeship with Mr Davies, draper etc at dressmaking and the millinery for two years. We trust that she may get on, and we have been fortunate to get her into a nice shop and lodgings.
The very next month William, (Willie) aged 19 departed for work: Monday the 29th (June) Willie off to Brymbo Steel Works by the 9.39 train. Sir Henry kindly got him a situation there for which I am most thankful, and hope it may be for you is good. Tom was to meet him at Wrexham and go with him to the works. He is to be at a weighing machine for the present. He was very pleased to go, for he has been studying hard to prepare himself for such an opening–I mean office clerk. Tom has got on well and is very steady and good.
This year Thomas was 48, he had been Head Gardener at Palé for 21 years, and the last of his eight children was born. Alfred Williams Ruddy was born on the 10th February 1890, so was able to be included in the 1891 Wales census
Of the eldest three children, born to Thomas and his first wife Mary, Thomas Alexander, now 21, was working as a Colliery Clerk at Brymbo, owned by the Robertson family of Palé. Thomas junior was lodging at Thomas Street, Brymbo.
Aged 19, William Pamplin Ruddy was living at home, and working as Monitor at the school in Llandderfel as evidenced by the 1891 census above. https://www.britannica.com/topic/monitorial-system. Later in 1891 Willie took up a clerk’s post at Brymbo Steel Works, alongside his elder brother, with the assistance of its owner, Sir Henry Robertson.
Mary Emily, aged 17, was away at school in Chester during the census period. It shows her as a scholar at Bridgegate House School in the centre of the town: . At that time, the demand for secondary education in Chester was still largely being satisfied by private schools: in 1871 there were at least 40 private schools in Chester, 30 of them for girls. Several of the larger and longer established boys’ schools in the 1870s occupied such notable buildings as the old Albion Hotel and Bridge House (“Bridge House School”, run by a Mrs Keats and known for its gardens at the rear) in Lower Bridge Street, ‘Derby House’ (Stanley Palace) in Watergate Street, and Forest House in Foregate Street, though Gamul House had closed as a boarding school in the 1860s. (From Chester Wiki)It seems that the Ruddy family were able to pay for their daughter’s education.
We now move to consider the five children of Thomas and Frances Harriet, his second wife in 1890. Henry Ernest, 7, and Frances Harriett, ‘Francie’ 5 were at the school in Llandderfel. Caroline Elizabeth, ‘Carrie’ was 4 and may not have started school. Then came Amelia Agnes, ‘Millie’ 2 and the baby, newborn in 1990, Alfred Williams, ‘Alfie’. So over the course of 21 years Thomas had become father to eight children, six of whom were living at home in 1990.
Llandderfel School in the mid 1890’s. ‘Millie’ A.A.R, and ‘Carrie’ C.E.R. As marked by Thomas, their father. Their similarity as sisters very marked. Do enjoy the hand weights brandished by the front row and the pipe band in the back row!