‘Science under difficulties’ was the name given by Thomas to an expedition he undertook with his son Henry on the evening of the 30th September 1893. Henry was then 10 years and 11 months old. It was past mid afternoon before the pair set out, and they returned just before 8.00 pm, soaked through, and in the dark. It was a journey of, in my estimation, at least ten miles.
Saturday the 30th Henry and I left home at a 3:45 o’clock for Cae Howel lane. We had heavy showers on the way, but went on to the gate leading to Maeshir at Bwlch y Fenni. It cleared off when there and had every appearance of keeping fine and as I wished to hunt for boulders on the Aberhirnant side, we pushed on along the mountain road leading to Llangynog over Trwmysarn. I imagine Thomas’ main purpose was his new research on Glacial Drift.
Thomas describes the journey: We found one Arenig boulder near Cae Howel at an altitude above the sea of 1200 feet and again a boulder of the Aran ash where the road gets close to the brook of Nant-cwm-hesgen. That was all the boulders we found in our ramble. There were none in the bed of the upper part of the Brook all along the roadside all the way to the county boundary at Trwn-y-sarn.
It got almost dark at the county boundary and rained cruelly with a breeze of wind. We crossed themoorland on the south side of the hill called Moel-cwm-sarn-llwyd. It was a rough and tumble walk all the way to the Berwyn Road from Bala to Llangynog. We had to pick our way over bogs, through wet heather or rushes in semi- darkness until we got down to Palé Mountain stables, and most thankful we were to reach them in safety. It rained heavily all the way.
When we got to the road we were drenched from the knees downwards and our boots full of water. It didn’t rain much all the way home, but it was weary journey. It was science under difficulties. Henry followed without a murmur all through the worst part of it, and was glad he was with me. We got home a few minutes before 8 o’clock, and after a change of clothes and a wash we felt quite comfortable and enjoyed our supper. Neither of us will forget our experience over the rough bit of mountain between the two roads. Luckily we had waterproof coats.
Thomas instructed the children of his second family well in natural history. He probably had more leisure to do this with the five children born to Frances Harriet, and she too, encouraged by her expert botanist uncle, William Pamplin, was enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits. Only two of their children, the second family, married, and only Henry Ernest had a single child, a son Denys, the inheritor of Thomas’ journals before me.
Henry Ernest, a clergyman, inherited his father’s love of natural science, concentrating on astronomy, an interest which he passed on to Denys. Here they are in about 1940 in the garden of Braunston Rectory with their very impressive telescope.
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.
Sometimes Thomas’ journal demonstrates his narrative ability as with his keen eye and lively writing he records an event. Here we read of the stir caused by (possibly) a nightingale, and of the opportunity this provided for a money-making enterprise for the fortunate locals. Without further comment, I leave you to enjoy the tale.
Saturday the 13th. [May] Mr Armstrong and I went to Llandrillo by the last train and walked from there to Tynycelin near Cynwyd to hear a so-called Nightingale, which has attracted hundreds to hear it every night. I was doubtful about the bird being Nightingale, so got Mr A. to go with me to hear it. We had a warm and dusty walk from Llandrillo, and it was more of a walk than I thought it was. We hardly met anyone all the way after leaving Llandrillo; in fact that people seemed to have gone to bed. When we got to Cynwydfechan we distinctly heard the loud notes of the bird in a little wood close to Tynycelyn, the house of Mr Jones. We got quite excited and after listening for a short time, we walked on until we turned in at the gate leading to Tynycelyn. As we went up a lane, we passed some people listening in the lane to hear the bird.
On arriving at the gate, there was a man there with a lantern to make all who entered the gate pay a penny. On paying, we found ourselves in a little grass field with Tynycelyn House on our left and a small wood to the right. Here was a curious scene; several groups of persons were either standing or squatting all over the field, and about the middle of it were displayed two lanterns where are man had sweets, cakes etc spread out on a canvas on the grass. We walked over to the side of the plantation where the bird sent forth its shrill notes within 3 yards of us. The bird was in a thick bush about a yard from the ground. There was a tall ash tree in the fence close to it, and here’s several people of both sexes were sitting on the grass quietly listening. The bird sent forth very loud notes. It began with three or four no, rather sweet notes, and then went into shrill, shivery notes for a few seconds, and then stopped. After a short interval it went over the same notes again, and repeated them at time after time with short intervals of rest. The notes were something similar to the notes of the wood wren, but much louder.
We went to different parts of the field to hear it – I thought before going that it might possibly be either the sedge warbler or the reed warbler, because both sing at night, but I soon came to the conclusion that it was not a sedge warbler and I did not think it could be a reed warbler. Curious to say, there was a sedge warbler in the same plantation singing in opposition to this so-called nightingale, I was pleased to hear the sedge warbler as a night singer, and it hardly ever ceased. I heard the nightingale when in France, but it was very different song from the present one; but some people who said they had heard a nightingale in England, declared the present bird to be a veritable one. On the other hand several people who had also heard the nightingale in Middlesex, were positive that the Cynwyd bird was not a nightingale. The bird was new to me and it pleased me much to hear it. I was glad I went so as to be certain about the bird if possible, for several so-called nightingales are said to have been heard in Wales. We arrived there about 10.15, left there a few minutes before 11 o’clock.
I made enquiries of the gatekeeper about it, and he said it was first heard on the night of the 24th of April, and attracted the notice of some persons by its louder singing at night. The bird commenced with two or three low plaintive notes which suddenly rose to loud rich notes, then gradually fell to a long drawn twee twee several times repeated and shivery as it were. The same were repeated after an interval of silence without any variation. It usually began to sing at 10 or a little before, and kept on until about midnight.
When we were leaving the field, several young men entered and began tripping one another and playing on tin whistles. Several have told me that it has been very noisy and rough there some nights and that there have been several fights. Many were in drink, for they stayed in the public houses, Cynwyd, until closing time; and when many of them got to the field they could hear nothing but quarrelling and uproar. The Prince of Wales Hotel, Cynwyd, was kept open all night for the accommodation of those who came from a distance. The coach went from Bala several times; bicyclists from various parts; horses and traps from Cerrig-y-Drwidion, etc. The man has had as much as 17 to 18 shillings of a night as gate money. Many of the people were much disappointed when they heard it, for they believe the nightingale was about the best of singing birds, that many were so pleased to say they heard the nightingale sing for once in their lives.
When Mr Armstrong and I were going down the lane to the road we heard some of those in the field join in choral singing as is the usual custom in Wales. They sang as loud as they could for some time and as soon as they stopped, donkey took it up and kept braying loudly for a long time. It is said that there is only a step between the sublime and the ridiculous. The donkey belonged to the man with the sweets. The noise quite drowned the notes of the bird. We had a long and dusty road before us, but we kept trudging on steadily. A wagonette from Bala passed us on its way to Cynwyd; it was crammed with people who were shouting and singing loudly. On getting to Hendwr bridge, we heard a sedge warbler singing at the side of the brook. Several people told me they heard a bird singing in several places near the river as they walked along the railway, from Tynycelyn, and that it was nearly as good as singer as the nightingale, but not as loud. Corncrakes were calling in many of the fields all the way home. We disturbed a white throat near Hendwr in the hedge, and another near Llanwen Cilau; both gave three or four notes and suddenly stopped.
I picked up a glow-worm near Crogen it was very bright, and kept so in an envelope all the way home. It was luminous on the following evening. When near Tydyn Inco, we heard a sandpiper sending forth its shrill notes near the river. We were very glad to get home, for we were rather tired; having walked in all about 11 miles on a dusty road, and the weather was very warm. It was very warm walking for it registered 69 ½° in the shade during the day, and the night temperature was 42 ½ and a half on Sunday morning. There had been 11 ½ hours of sunshine on the Saturday. I got into the house here at 1.35 in the morning, and Frances was very pleased when she heard me come in, for she was anxious about me.
Wednesday the 19th April I received a copy of Bye-Gones 1891-1892 in one volume from Mr Woodall the proprietor. It is a valuable and handsome present and contains contributions from myself.
Occasionally Thomas makes reference to something that reveals more about his activities beyond his employment as Head Gardener at Palé. With the growing addition of archive material online, it is often possible to follow up and view the originals. Similarly with the National Newspaper Archive, it is possible to see reports of events referred to in the Journal.
Copies of Bye-Gones are available online via the National Library of Wales. It seems that Thomas contributed regular weather notes (reproducing those in the journal) and occasional nature notes, also featuring items from the journal.
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.
In May 1892 Thomas and Frances had one of those family crises in which both the older generation and the children need assistance ad care. The death of Frances Harriet’s Mother, also Frances (above) gave Thomas an opportunity to describe in detail a typical Victorian funeral.
Monday the 30th. May 1892. Frances and I had a telegram from her brother to say that her Mother died at 2:50 o’clock a.m. It was sad news for us although we were not unprepared for the news. We had letters from the brother to say that Mother was not well during the week, but it was only on Saturday that is the news was anything alarming. Frances wrote yesterday to say she was anxious to go at once, but it was too late.
Both of us very sorry, Frances of course very much so, for she has lost a good and kind mother; and to me in the loss is quite as great, for she has at all times being kind and most straightforward to me; indeed nobody could have acted in kinder to me when she became aware of the intentions of her daughter and myself. And during our married life, now about 10 ½ years, she has been most kind in every way.
Mrs Williams was a lady of good principles, strictly religious, and had as her brother Mr. Pamplin said to me ’good judgement’. Frances and I have often said that we were glad her mother lived to see our children; and much pleasure it gave her to see them. She has been able to come to see us every summer since our marriage, and Frances has always returned the visit. It was a very great pleasure to us to see her come to us, and the visit was always looked forward to with much excitement by the children. The dear old lady has now gone to her rest at the ripe age of nearly 84 years. She has lived happily during her 25 years of widowhood with her two children; and has been spared to see five grandchildren born to her.
Tuesday the 31st Frances left this morning by the 11.22 train for London. It will be a sorrowful meeting between herself and her good brother, and a strange visit for her this time. But she has had many a happy one.
As so often in family life, one crisis is followed by another: so it was for Thomas and Frances. Thursday the 2nd [June] I am sorry to say that Carrie, then Henry, and now Francie have had to go to bed with the measles. It is very unfortunate when their mother is absent, and I also have to London. But we are fortunate in having a good and steady nurse for them in Mrs Davies who will be with them night and day.
Thomas set out for London on June 2nd. l was quite fresh on my arrival at Paddington when my brother in law met me. We at once got into a hansom and was at 25 Kennington Park Road by 6.30. After tea I went to get a silk hat; Frances with me to show me the way.
Friday the 3rd We were up early to get all ready for the funeral. The mourners arrived at 12 o’clock and after I light luncheon, we left for Walthamstow in Essex, about 9 miles distant at 1:10 o’clock. The coffin was of polished elm with massive brass fittings; the shield also of brass with the inscription–
“Frances Williams, Died May 30th 1892,
Aged 83 years”
The coffin was placed in a covered hearse drawn by four jet black entire Flemish horses. These horses are truly beautiful; having arched necks, long manes, and tails and go at a half trot all the way if desired. The horses were covered with velvets and pages with truncheons in their hands walked by their sides for about half a mile at starting and about the same again at Walthamstow; the rest of the way through the city and suburbs at half trot.
We went over London Bridge, up King William Street, then Gracechurch Street then Bishopsgate to Shoreditch and turned it down Hackney Road and on through some small streets until we went through London Fields and Clapton. We crossed the river Lea at Lea Bridge Road and got to the church gate, Walthamstow at the time appointed, 2.40.
Four pages carried the coffin on their shoulders to the church and from the church to the grave. The service was very impressively read by the Vicar, the Rev W.H. Langhorne; and the service at the grave was just ending when the church clock struck three. Dear Mother was buried in the grave where her husband was buried 25 years ago (1866) After the funeral we looked at the graves of the Pamplins; there are several generations of Pamplins buried in the churchyard.
Fortunately, on returning home Thomas found the children recovering well. Frances stayed on in London for some days to assist her brother.
The consistent themes running through Thomas’ journals through the years as Head Gardener at Palé are his own family’s events, the developments in the Robertson family, his employers at Palé and, like a golden thread running through it all, his passionate interest in geology.
Geology had, for a few years in the late 1880s and early 1890s, become less featured in the journal’s pages. I suggest that was for reasons related to all three themes suggested above; his growing family of young children with Frances, together with the older family of his first wife Mary, who were starting out in the world of work, demanded his attention; the death of Henry Robertson, and the succession, marriage and knighthood of his still relatively young son Sir Henry Beyer Robertson needed his attention at Palé. 1889 saw the momentous visit of Queen Victoria, requiring intensive preparations and recovery.
The late 1880s also saw the end of sustained interest from Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes. The Bala region and its key importance in defining the detail and sequence of Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian had been thoroughly researched, with much practical help from Thomas. Hughes had interests to pursue with his Cambridge Professorship, the ongoing project to fund and build the Sedgwick Museum, and his international contacts resolving ongoing geological questions. The geologists of the Chester Society for Natural Science had been conducted by Ruddy over the key sites, as had members of several other Scientific Societies. In May they again visited, and Professor Hughes (‘the President’) was in the party.
Wednesday the 25th I went by the first train to Chirk to meet a Chester party for whom I promised to act as one of their guides for the day. On arriving at share I met my party. The President, Mr. Walker, the Vice President, Mr. Shepheard, and the Hon. Secretary, Mr G.R. Griffith were there with about 30 members, including a good sprinkling of ladies. The above gentlemen were very pleased to see me, as they were in a fix, the other Guides having failed to come with the train. There were open tram cars ready to take us on the tramway to the New Inn at Glyn Ceiriog.
On arriving at the New Inn, we were met by the vicar of the parish, the Rev R Jennings, and Mr Rooper. The latter owns a large slate quarry and a stone quarry short distance from theNew Inn. All of us went with Mr Rooper to see his slate quarry. He very kindly acted as our guide over the works and explain the working of the elaborate machinery erected for sawing and dressing the slates, and for other useful purposes. I found some specimens of the Graptolithes priodon, but nothing else.
After leaving the slate quarry, I acted the Guide and conducted most of the members over the Bala beds on the famous Myndd Ffronfrys. We found some good corals and brachiopods, one or two univalves, and some fragments of trilobites.
In 1892 there is evidence of Thomas Ruddy’s continuing interest in geology, and his flexibility in relating to others as mentor and tutor, as assisting colleague, and as a student ever pressing on in his geological understanding.
Thomas was always eager to pass on his knowledge to others, and particularly in the context of practical geology. A notable feature of his mentoring skills was his readiness and enthusiasm for helping women students. This was in some contrast to the exclusively masculine ranks of the Chester Society for Natural Science at the time. Thomas had given attention to the adult daughters of his employer Henry Robertson, see 1887-8 The Fossil years
Geologists late 19th century. Note two women at the front, one of whom may be Mary Caroline Hughes. Prof. Hughes at the far right.
Thomas mentions the lady geologists who were present on his expeditions with the various Scientific Associations for whom he acted as guide, often commenting on their interest and expertise in geology, and giving them help and advice.
In August 1892 a mother and her two daughters, Mrs. Nevins and the Misses Frances and Lettice Nevins came to lodge in Llandderfel village for most of the month. At the end of their visit writes a little about them. The two young ladies were serious geologists, and the family was acquainted with a very famous geologist, Murchison.
Mrs Nevins told us she was an Irish lady, and her husband had some knowledge of geology, and was acquainted with Sir R. Murchison. They are certainly well bred ladies. They went on Monday to see Chester and went to the Grosvenor Museum. I gave them a letter of introduction to Mr Newstead the curator. They said he acted most kindly to them. Last Friday the three of them went to the top of the Arenig.
They relied heavily on Thomas’ advice and guidance throughout their stay: Wednesday the 3rd (August). Mrs Nevins and her two daughters Miss Francis M and Miss Lettice came heree with Mr Thomas of the shop, with whom they lodge. They asked to see my fossils, and as Miss Frances had been studying geology, she took particular interest in them. Miss Nevins also wished me to mark fossil localities on the Ordnance map for her.
Saturday the 20th. Frances, Henry and I went with the Misses Nevins to Bala by the 2.25 train. From the station we went to the lake at the lower end, and from there on to Gelli Grin. I found the impression of Bellerophon on a heap of shingle at the lake.
I showed the Misses Nevins the glacial markings at Penygarth in the strophomena expansa zone and also at Gelli Grin. Indeed we were very successful at the latter place. I got a well preserved eye of an Asaphus [trilobite – Ed.] And what very much resembles Cythere aldensis. We all enjoyed the ramble and the Misses Nevins were highly pleased with their fossils, and the scenery.
The 22nd The Misses Nevins here in the evening to have their fossils named.
Tuesday the 30th Mrs. and the Misses Nevins here. They brought back some books I lent then, and were much obliged to me for all my kindness to them. They were very refined and good-natured ladies, and highly intelligent, and eager to learn anything I could tell them. Miss Nevins told me I was the best tutor she had had to teach her practical geology.
On the 7th -8th September 1892 a fellow geologist with whom Thomas had been corresponding visited.
Wednesday the 7th my correspondent, Mr A.C. Nicholson of Bronderw, Oswestry came to see me. He arrived by the 4.20 fast train. He had tea with us here and then I took him to the fruit room to see the fossils. Although he knew about them by report, he was very much surprised when he saw them spread out.
On the 8th September, Thomas joined Nicholson for part of a lengthy walk and they returned to Thomas’ home. After tea we packed his specimens I gave him, also fragments of fossiliferous Silurian rocks which he found in the glacial deposit with marine shells at Gloppa, Oswestry, and which he sent to me some time ago to name for him.
More of Mr. Nicholson in a later post. He had just published an article on the rocks around Gloppa in the February 1892 Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society.
Perhaps the most important record, late in 1892 was evidence that Thomas himself was embarking on a new phase of geological research, documented in the journal and in a smalltattered notebook found amongst the trunk’s contents.
“Boulder and Glacial Drift Dispersion Written by Thomas Ruddy of Llandderfel”
The arrival of Frances Harriet’s fifth child, Thomas’ eighth, did not entirely preclude his continuing geological exploits. He had been invited to display various parts of his collection in Shrewsbury, for which he was awarded the medal above.
Monday The 16th [June]. I unpacked my fossils, minerals, glass etc which I lent to the Condover Industrial Exhibition, which has been open for a fortnight in the Armoury, Shrewsbury. I found them all safe, and undamaged; and I am glad to have them back safely. Mr. Wanstall wrote to say they gave pleasure and instruction to thousands.
Mr. Wanstall was the secretary of the Severn Valley Field Club, for whom Thomas had previously led expeditions, and a two day event had been arranged for the group, which began with a visit to Palé and a view of Thomas’ collections.
Tuesday the 24thI went to the station to see the Severn Valley folks pass in the train. I asked Mr Wanstall to come here about 3 o’clock. As already arranged in the programme, the members arrived here a little before 3 o’clock. There were about 20 of them. I met them here at the gate as they stopped; they came on the top of the hotel four-in-hand coach.
Mr Wanstall came into my house to give me a medal and certificate, which were awarded to me at the Condover Industrial Exhibition, which was held in the Armoury, Shrewsbury on Whit week, and the following week.
I conducted the party around the Hall first, and then along the Long or Queen’s walk, showed them the cromlech and the tree planted by the Queen. After that they inspected my collections of shells, birds eggs, plants, dried and fresh, and astonished at my collection of fossils.
Having attended a dinner with the club that evening, the next day’s excursion was to see the recently completed (1889) Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir, which Thomas had visited several times in construction with groups including the Chester Society for Natural Science
Wednesday the 25th I went by the first train to Bala, had breakfast with my friends, and started with them for the Vyrnwy Lake at Llanwddyn. Unfortunately there was a drizzling rain most of the way there. We went in 5 foot waggonettes, or brakes by the Hirnant Valley and over the watershed into the Montgomery side of the hills. The first sight of the lake was very pleasing, and would have been much more so if it had been fine. We went along the south side of the lake until we got to the great masonry dam. Here we had 2 to 3 hours to lunch and to see the works, etc. The following are some of the particulars of the gigantic works.
The general dimensions of the modern Lake Vyrnwy when full to the level of 825 feet above the sea, at which height it will begin to overflow, will be as follows– Length 4 ¾ quarter miles. Width 1 ¼ to 5/8 of a mile. Greatest depth 84 feet. The distance from the lake to the Town Hall Liverpool is 77 miles. This is the longest aqueduct yet constructed. From the lowest available level of the lake to the top water level of the Prescot reservoirs, the difference of altitude is 548 feet, and the length of the aqueduct to the reservoirs is 68 miles, there is an average fall of nearly 8 ½ feet per mile.
The Hirnant Tunnel – from the Vyrnwy Culvert (this is between the straining tower and the tunnel) the water flows for a distance of 2 ¼ miles through the Hirnant tunnel. The gradient of this work is 2 feet per mile, and the size such that is straight cylinder 7 feet in diameter may be passed through it. A stream of 40, 000,000 gallons per day will fill the tunnel to the depth of about 5 feet. The tunnel was driven from both ends with dynamite and air drills, the men working in three shifts, night and day.
Thomas wrote out several pages of detailed facts about the Reservoir, which he had visited at several times during the course of its construction.
After the visit the day continued with a further exploration of the area, and some botanising.
After leaving the great dam, we went over this hill to the outlet of the tunnel, near the old church of Hirnant. We crossed the line of pipes three times on our way to Pen-y-Bont-Fawr, and at Llangynog we stayed a short time to have tea. As it cleared up a little some of the party walked as far as the parsley-fern and carried off nice plants; but as it is in such abundance, there was no fear of destroying it. I found two species of Cystopteris and one or two other species of ferns. I also got the Saxifraga stellaris and Campanula hederacea for them. I got down and walked home before getting to Calethor as it came on heavy rain again. It rained heavy all the evening and continued into the night. The members much enjoyed their visit, considering the day we had.
It is difficult to pin down the exact details of Thomas’ early education after his family reached Scotland from famine-haunted County Mayo. It would seem that his family were living in a rural area in the parish of Bedrule, his parents working on the land, as evidenced by the Scottish census returns. Where did he go to school, and who was the schoolmaster or schoolmistress who noticed and fostered his eagerness to learn? He was able and apt to take on the study of French, Latin and Geometry in the garden bothy at Minto House when he commenced his apprenticeship there aged 16. His brother James, it would seem, did not benefit from much education, since he witnessed his father’s death certificate with a cross rather than a signature.
Bedrule parish, however, had a long tradition of passion for education. Jedburgh Grammar School was probably founded by William Turnbull (died 1454) a politician and bishop. He served as the Bishop of Glasgow from 1448 to 1454 and was the first Chancellor of Glasgow University. Bedrule was the seat of the Turnbull clan, and William, friend of King James II of Scotland one of its grandest luminaries.
With such a tradition of education over so many years, it is likely that the village school or schools of the Bedrule area were of a good standard. Jedburgh at this time was a particular centre of scientific and cultural endeavour. Did Thomas attend Jedburgh Grammar School? Although this is a pleasing idea: he did not begin his apprenticeship until he was 16, and does not mention any other work before that, but I feel it is unlikely. The School was at that time situated in the crypt of the Abbey, and I find it hard to imagine that Thomas would not mention such a prestigious place of learning, or such impressive and historic surroundings in the journal.
He does, however, mention an important figure who guided him into his interest in Geology. Adam Mathieson was a millwright; one might assume that the need to source and inspect rocks for fashioning into millstones led him into an interest in geology. He was not the first Jedburgh man to have such an interest.
Thomas writes of Mathieson that he was, at the time, curator of the Jedburgh Museum. This cannot be the present museum situated in the Castle, as at the time, the Castle was still the town’s jail. Was it perhaps the house now known as Mary Queen of Scots House? Mathieson lived only a few yards from this building.
Thomas writes retrospectively of 1861:
On the first of January I went to Jedburgh. When there I visited the museum, where I got acquainted with the custodian, Adam Matheson. This man was a good geologist, and seeing me take an interest in fossils, he wished me to study geology which had been a wish of my own for some time. I had already PAGIS Text book [Planning and Geographic Information Systems], so from that day I went in strongly for geology, and from that day, Mr Matheson became my friend.
My search in Jedburgh for Adam Mathieson and the memorial window dedicated to him (above) was initially fruitless. The curator of the Castle Museum was uncertain, and could only direct me to a church recently made redundant in the centre of the town – which I was unsuccessful in locating. It was a grey drizzly day, and we returned disconsolately to our apartment.
Unwilling to be defeated, I set out to the large Victorian Parish church prominently located near the river and on the main road into town. On trying the main door, I found it, unsurprisingly, locked. A look round the back found another locked door, but finally a lighted window, and a door which proved to be open. I rather surprised the two mature ladies who were practising the organ.
They kindly switched on the main lights, and as I progressed round the church, there before me in the south aisle, was the window. It has clearly been re-sited from the older church, and stands a little proud of the plain glass window behind it ( see picture above). The two ladies showed great interest in my tale of Thomas and his friend and mentor Adam.
There is a final episode linked to this event. A few weeks after my visit a parcel addressed to me arrived at the home of the local vicar. When I picked it up, I found it contained a small framed postcard of the Adam Mathieson window. It had been sent to me by one of the ladies I met in the church. She had used all the clues she had to find me. Such kindness, linking people caring for one another across the ages, beginning with Adam’s mentoring of the young Thomas.
Thomas was to receive his awarded medal on 3rd October at the Annual Conversazione of the Chester Society for Natural History
Thursday the 3rd Frances and myself left here with the 9.37 train for Chester. I got all my specimens into the box I have for the purpose, and took it with us in the train. On arriving at Chester station, we took a cab and went directly to the Town Hall to leave the box of fossils, and from there to Mr. Shrubsole’s. When leaving the box in the Assembly Room of the Town Hall, I met Mr. Griffith there who said he was very pleased to see me. Mr. and Mrs. Shrubsole were also very pleased to see us. We felt quite at home at once with the latter, and amused ourselves until dinner was ready.
After dinner Francis and I went over to the Town Hall (which is just opposite to Mr. Shrubsole’s) to unpack the fossils. They carried beautifully , and as they were conveniently arranged, we were not very long in displaying them. While we were at them, Professor Hughes and Mrs Hughes came to us and went over the specimens with us, as Prof. Hughes wished to examine them more interesting ones very carefully, I pointed them out. Prof Hughes was very pleased to see the rarities, and after he had examined the whole with care, he said there was not a man in England who could name my collection.
Mr Griffith told me there was a chair or on the platform for me with my name on it, and at 8 o’clock the Chair was taken by Prof Hughes the President of the Society. The people on the platform included in the Countess Grosvenor, and her husband Mr. George Wyndham M.P. for Dover, the Mayor and Mayoress, (Mr. & Mrs. George Dutton) Lady Edmund Talbot, Sir T.G. and Lady Frost, Colonel Scotland ( Secretary to the Duke of Westminster), Archdeacon Barber, Dr. Stolterfoth, etc. Prof. Hughes addressed the people and gave a brief sketch of my work among the fossils, and told them why the medal had been awarded to me, and then called upon the Countess Grosvenor to present the medal to me for “having contributed materially to the promotion and advancement of some branch or department of Natural Science”. The Countess held out her hand to me and when shaking hands with me said “I congratulate you very much Mr. Ruddy” and then handed me the medal in its case. I thanked the Countess and Prof Hughes, and as there was much applause among the general audience, I turned to the people and bowed my thanks.
Thomas and Frances spent the night with his friends George Dickson and family, the Nurseryman and fellow member of the Chester Society.
I arranged to leave my fossil packing until the following morning. We felt at home with the warm welcome we had at Mr Dickson’s, and after supper we chatted for some time, and the medal and pin were critically examined. We had much to talk about the Queen’s visit.