A Patriotic Victorian Evening 1898

Llandderfel school in the early 1890’s AAR – Millie; CAR – Carrie

The last decade of the nineteenth century saw a large number of home- grown entertainments, concerts, musical and dramatic evenings becoming increasingly popular, and members of the Ruddy family both attending and taking part. Thomas’ account from April 1898 gives a very clear idea of one such entertainment. the patriotic nature of the event seems characteristic of the times.

Easter Monday the 11th. We had ‘Living Pictures’ in the village school in the evening. Alfred represented the “Young Britain” with a supposed old soldier. His best was as “Bubbles”. He was in costume of black velveteen edged with lace and frills and a pipe for the soap bubbles. He looked exactly like the picture called Bubbles. His beautiful curly hair and costume coming out well. He sat perfectly still.

Carrie acted in the picture of ‘Don’t Move” with Mr Armstrong as a soldier. She had to kiss him under the mistletoe. She did it well in primrose frock and tan stockings. The best picture of the evening was the “United Kingdom”. Francie represented England in a white long frock, a haymaker’s hat trimmed with pink Roses and carrying a basket of pink roses (artificial); Carrie represented Scotland in tartan frock and shoulder sash, tam-o’-shanter cap with our real dried fish sauce in it from my collection and a globe artichoke head (old one) with leaves as a thistle in her hand. Millie was in green frock and hood with the garlands of large artificial shamrocks to represent Ireland. Gladys Williams, a little girl represented Wales. Each appeared in turn first, then all together with a garland flowers entwining them. The girls looked splendid and stood perfectly still each time.

The musical party from Liverpool who usually come here at Easter sang Rule Britannia when the picture was on view. The school room was crammed full of people. There was not a hitch in the whole affair. It was a very wet day and evening for it too. We had to provide the costumes for all of ours.

Such patriotic occasions lasted well into the 20th century. This photograph from the 1920s demonstrates several of the costumes described by Thomas in the journal.

1896: Days Out

Llandudno pier in the Edwardian era – a little later than our report.

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.

Ice on Bala Lake

Thames Frost Fair early 19th Century

Thomas kept precise and unfailing records of the weather, but in February 1895 there was much to report. His temperature records are, of course in Fahrenheit.

Friday the 22nd some severe frost during the week–20° on the 18th, 11° on the 19th, 13° on the 20th, 15° on the 21st, 19 ½° on this the 22nd.  Frances, the children and myself have had colds for three weeks; they have left us now. We have not been at church for several Sundays.

Saturday the 23rd. Frances, Francie, Carrie, Millie, and myself went to Bala by the 3.16 train to see the lake frozen over.  It was a strange sight to see such an extent of water frozen over– say between three and 4 miles in length, and three quarters of a mile in width.  We stood for a few minutes on the bank at the North East end of it to view the scene. There were many people on it some skating, some walking about, and a large party playing at hockey on skates.  The snow covered the slopes of the surrounding hills, which  made it look very wintry. But at the time it was rather pleasant, for there was a slight thaw. The scene reminded one of a fair or suchlike. It was so very strange to see the smooth expanse of level ground where I have often seen wild waves rolling along before the winds.  We met Henry on the ice and we all walked about for about an hour. The little ones were sliding part of the time. The ice seems to be very solid and quite strong enough for any ordinary weight. I found a hole broken through it in one place and the ice was about 4 inches in thickness. It averages six or 9 inches over most of it. It is a rough ice, much spotted with white specks and has huge cracks all over it.  There were fewer people there today than usual owing to it being market day at Bala.  I met several people I knew such as Mr Evans, Master of the Grammar School, Mr. Gracie, Mr Owen of the White Lion Hotel etc. and Mr Owen told me he drove over the lower end of the lake on Thursday in his dogcart and a tandem. He zigzagged it afterwards towards Eryl Aran and back again to the lower end.  He, the tandem and people were photographed on the ice. 

This is quite extraordinary as there had been a fatality on the frozen lake on February 19th, reported in at least one newspaper. From the Montgomeryshire Express, Tuesday 19th February 1895:

 Nevertheless, the local population, including the Ruddy Family, seemed undaunted: Several people have skated and walked all the way to the upper end of the lake, and bicycles are frequently running over the ice. There was much of the lake frozen over in January 1881, and in the winter of 18 60–61 too, that there has not been such ice on it as it presents since the winter of 1854–55.  That was the time of the Crimean war. I am told by Mr Peter Jones of Bryntirion that he was taken across the lake that Winter from near Llangower to Bala.  There was a very deep snow that winter and it covered the ground for weeks.

There is not much ice on the Dee, but the river Tryweryn was frozen over from near Rhiwlas to the junction.

We were all very pleased to be on the ice for we may never see such a scene again. We were about three quarters of a mile from the east shore of it.  I never saw such an extent of ice before; and Frances has hardly ever been on any frozen water.

Henry went right across it twice and back on Wednesday afternoon.

Despite Thomas’ report that photographs were taken, I have been unable to find one online. Instead I give you one of my favourite pictures!

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Lock by Sir Henry Raeburn (about 1784)

Raeburn painted his Skating Minister 100 years before the Bala skaters had fun on the ice.

Friendships in Geology 1894

St Nicholas Church Blundellsands, the area laid out by Thomas Mellard Reade

Although the major all-consuming interest in Geology which had marked Thomas’ early and middle years had somewhat given way to family concerns, and an ever widening interest in a number of natural history and historical/archaeological topics, in 1894, his fifty second year, Thomas continued to increase his circle of friendships with amateur geologists. His collection of fossils seems to have continued to be on permanent display in the ‘Fruit Room’, and callers both local and from further away visited to view them. Such visitors were usually also treated to a viewing of Thomas’ other collections, dried botanical species, birds’ eggs (alas!), coins and archaeological artefacts, many of which were brought to him by interested local to be added to the collections. Sir Henry Robertson seems to have been pleased to bring his guests to view the unusual and unexpected display.

There is little or no mention in the journals of the 1990’s of the Chester Society for Natural Science and its President, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, the researches around the identification of the Silurian strata of the Bala having been largely resolved, and the Society and its related Scientific Associations locally having moved on in their interests. Some of the members of the Chester Society who had most encouraged Thomas were elderly. His particular friend, George Shrubsole had died in July 1893.

However, it is clear that Thomas was in correspondence with a number of amateur geologists, probably because he had access to the Journal of the Geological Association – although he does not mention this point. I have already referred to his friendship with and assistance to A.C. Nicholson of Oswestry, whose paper on glacial drift inspired Thomas’ own researches in the local area.

In February 1894 we read for the first time of his meeting with Mr. Mellard Reade: Monday the 12th I had a visit from Mr. Mellard Reade of Blundellsands near Liverpool.  Are he was accompanied by his son Mr. Alleyn Reade.  They have been staying at the White Lion Bala since Friday evening. I have known Mr Reade for some years by his papers on Glacial Geology but this is the first time for me to meet him to speak to. Both got here by 9.35 train, and got here soon after. We first had a chat about geology and geologist friends, and then went to the fruit room to see my fossils which he so much desired to see.  After seeing the fossils for some time we went to Brynselwrn to see the glacial striae and sections of the gravel terraces on the railway and at Glandwynant.  We saw a large moraine below Palé Mill and got here again by a quarter to one.

Thomas Mellard Reade was an interesting character with multiple interests and abilities. He seems to have stood at the intersect between the professional and amateur status. As an engineer and architect he designed and planned the area of Blundellsands, part of the Crosby area (see the photograph of the church above, which was consecrated in 1874). It is notable that Mellard Reade shared the interest of Ruddy himself and Ruddy’s other geologist friend, A. C. Nicholson in glacial boulder drift. Nicholson investigation and published paper concentrates on an area of Shropshire; Mellard Reades’s on Lancashire and Cheshire, whilst Ruddy’s incomplete and unpublished researches would have filled in an adjoining westerly area.

Thomas Mellard Reade –
Photograph from his papers held at Liverpool University

An abstract of Reade’s obituary from the publication Nature gives a summary of Reade’s interests and accomplishments.

By April 1894 we can see that the friendship between Reade and Ruddy was deepening beyond their mutual geological interests, as Reade asks Ruddy to assist his family visiting the area: Thursday the 26th.  We had Mrs Reade and her daughter Miss Taylor to tea.  They are staying at the Derfel with another daughter of Mrs Reade – Miss Mary Reade.  Mr. Reade is my geologist friend from Blundellsands; he wrote to me to say that he would be pleased if I would call on his daughters at the Derfel and assist them in any way I could.  Mrs Reade came afterwards.  Miss Reade devoted all her time to sketching so that she did not come to tea. I showed them the gardens and fossils after tea and we had a short walk in the grounds. Mrs Reade said that her husband would be angry with her if she did not come to see the fossils.  Mr. Reade married a widow and there are eight children in all.  They are nice people.

By the next month, Mr. Reade was visiting in pursuit of Thomas’s local glacial geology, bringing his son:

I spent the evening with Mr Reade and his son. We chatted about glacial geology and Boulders etc.  We planned to have a day in the Hirnant valley on the following day.

I met Mr Reade and his son at the station and we went to Bala by the 9.10 train.  We had a waggonette at the White Lion Hotel to take us to the head of the Hirnant Valley.  We found boulders in abundance at Rhosygwaliau, mostly from Arenig.  Found one Aran boulder at Penygarth, where we found some of the striae (glacial) between the lake and PenyGarth to be W by S, those on the Rhosygwaliau side were W by 10° N. Altitude at Penygarth 700 feet.

We found a stray Arenig boulder here and there until we got to Aberhirnant, but not one after that all the way to the county boundary and beyond on the Vyrnwy side.  I found three or four fossiliferous stones immediately on each side of the county boundary.  They are from the Bala Limestone and must have been carried by land ice, either from Craig yr Ogof or Pen-cefn-coch.  Both places on the high ground along the county boundary to the west of the head of the Hirnant. The absence of boulders was a curious fact, and it was what I thought it would be the case after my experience up the side of another feeder of the Hirnant – Nant cwm hesgen. 

Altitude above sea level at the county boundary, 1660 feet by barometer, and at Aberhirnant 775 ft.  It was 1015 feet where are the road crosses the stream at Moel Dinas, opposite Cwm yr aethnen. [ SH 95228 30015 -Ed.]

The Hirnant Valley

Mr Reade was to continue in friendship with Thomas over the following years, sharing both geological interests and family concerns.

1894 Walking with the children

The children circa 1895: top l-r Millie (Amelia), Henry, Francie (Frances) bottom l-r Carrie (Caroline) Alfie (Alfred)

In 1894 the five children of Thomas and Frances were aged between 12 and 4 years. Thomas, sometimes joined by Frances, enjoyed taking them walking, choosing the expeditions according to the abilities of the children. Each walk gave him opportunity to teach them about the sights and sounds of the countryside. His journal entries suggest that in some of the walks the children were able to decide for themselves whether to join in the walks, as varying numbers and combinations join different expeditions. Over the mid and late 1890s, Henry, the eldest, seems to have been Thomas’ most constant companion, followed by Millie (Amelia). The two elder girls, Francie (Frances) and Carrie (Caroline) were less likely to join in, perhaps being expected to help in household tasks. At this point Henry was 12, Francie 10, Carrie 9, Millie 7 and Alfred 4.

July 21st 1894, Henry and his father made a lengthy expedition too strenuous for the younger siblings. Henry and I went by train to Llandrillo and from there we walked to the top of Cader Fronwen.  [Cadair Bronwen on OS maps] We went over the village bridge, then followed a lane until we got to nice upland pastures, across which we walked until we got to the circle upright stones on Moel ty Ucha.

We next got to a splendid spring of pure water on the top of the ridge where the road turns towards Clochnant at the base of Cadair Fronwen (now Cader Bronwen).  [SJ077 346]. The well has rough slates replaced as a square and is well known from time immemorial as ‘ffynon Maen Milgi” the Greyhound’s stone well.  Some are inclined to think that it is a Roman well from the name Greyhound because it is believed the Romans brought this dog from Italy. We left the road at the well and took to the mountainside until we got to the top of Cader [294] Fronwen by 3.35.  We found the cloudberry or Berwyn raspberry on the way up, but there were neither flowers nor fruit. It had evidently been injured by the frost in May.

On the ridge near the upright stone there is a mound of earth, mostly peaty with a few stones in it.  It is certainly artificial and marks a sepuchral place. From here we went up a steep slope to the top of Craig Berwyn. On top we found many plants of the raspberry in boggy ground.  On our return we followed the same road all the way to Llandrillo where we got to the station a few minutes before train time. Observed the kestrel on the very top, but interesting birds were scarce. We were highly pleased with our visit to the mountain, and were in good condition on our return home.

Not all family expeditions were so extensive. Family members walked ‘after tea’ on many days, observing rocks, flowers and trees and birds and their nests. Each month Thomas would faithfully record details of the weather; his reports were published in the Oswestry Advertiser.

Family walks continued throughout the 1890’s joined by elder step brother Willie when he came home from his work in Wrexham. The frequency of his notes of these walks in the journals of these years (journals 4 and 5) show Thomas’ delight in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with his children.

A Curious International Encounter

A dancing bear. Image via Wikimedia commons

Anyone believing that mid-Wales was a remote and scarcely visited area in the 19th century would be surprised by Thomas’ diary, as a remarkable number of people of great diversity seem to have passed the road leading to Palé Hall. In reading the following account, please note the difference in outlook of Thomas’ time and our own in the matter of animal cruelty.

March 1894. I took Alfred with me in the spring cart to Tyddynllan. It was very fine and sunny. We passed three three men, 3 women, several children, two brown bears and the monkey when going and returning.  They were sitting by the roadside as we went and walking along the road as we returned. [Tyddynllan was an estate near Corwen which seems at this time to have been in the hands of the Robertson family. it is now an upmarket restaurant.]

All of us went to the bridge in the evening to see the strange travellers.  They were halting at the bridge.  The men were pretty reasonable, but the women and children were impudent beggars; each of them asked us for “a few pence”.  I returned with Francie, Carrie and Millie to the encampment on the island by the bridge with some food and clothing for them, for which they were very thankful. They could speak but little English, and that very imperfectly, so I asked the leader if he could speak French, this he could speak very well and related to to his travels to me in French.  He said he was from Constantinople, that the two grown-up men were his sons and the women were the wives of his sons and self.  They had travelled most of Europe with their bears.  The bears were from the Balkans and the monkey (an ape) from Saigon.

It is impressive that Thomas had kept his grasp of French learned initially in the Bothy as an apprentice at Minto, and honed during his time studying horticulture in France in 1865-6. Perhaps he was glad of an opportunity to use it again.

The bears were having their supper of bread when we went; he said they fed them on bread, for meat would make them savage.  After one of the bears was fed they made him dance for the children to the music of a tambourine.  The elderly man was much pleased to have me speaking French with him. He said he said that they intended going to Bala, Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Brighton etc. They were evidently a hardy lot, for the women and children were barefooted and bareheaded, and one had a baby only three weeks old. They left Liverpool a fortnight ago. My French has got rather rusty, but we got on pretty well. The children were much pleased to see the bears and monkey.

Thursday the 29th. The bears and monkey here and performed at the Hall, and afterwards one of the bears danced in front of our parlour window to please Alfred who said when he saw the three performing at the Hall “Well Alfie never saw anything like that before”.  One of the sons who danced the bear here could speak French with me.  The travellers caused a great sensation in the village and here. The larger of the two bears stood quite erect when dancing and danced in a circle from right to left, that is going against the sun. He ended by placing his right fore paw on the crown of his head.  The smaller bear would not keep upright and was more clumsy at his performance.  The monkey was an ugly brute; it walked it sometimes on all fours, sometimes on three, and sometimes on 2 feet, went on 2 feet it was much like a boy walking.

And after the excitement, all returned to normal: Saturday the 31st.  It came on a shower of rain in the afternoon, but I went in the evening to the top of Palé Hill.

New Directions in Geology

Cadair Berwyn

In the second half of 1892 it suddenly becomes obvious from the journal entries that Thomas has begun a completely new field of geological study, still rooted in the landscape of mid Wales that surrounded his home. It had been some time since he had led any fieldwork expeditions concentrating on the fossils of the Silurian period, a task he had often undertaken in the company of the Cambridge Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, and on which he had written a paper for the Journal of the Geological Society published in 1879. ‘On the Upper part of the Cambrian (Sedgwick) and Base of the Silurian in North Wales’. Many people still called at his home to view his fossil collection, but the arrival in succession of five children with his second wife Frances make the focus of his attention increasingly domestic during the 1890s.

However, in August 1892 a new interest and body of knowledge suddenly and surreptitiously makes and appearance while he is mentoring two young ladies who with their mother were staying in the area:

20th August: 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 then Misses Nevins were highly pleased with their fossils, and the scenery. We got home at the dusk.

In transferring his interest from Cambrian and Silurian fossils to the influence of the action of Ice Age on the landscape, Ruddy was turning his attention from a period about 450 million years ago, the Silurian, to only about 1 to 2 million years in the past, a period of intensive study and much debate in the mid and late 19th century, the period of ‘recent’, in geological terms, glaciation. The great geologists Charles Lyell and Roderick Murchison were involved, arguing in effect against theories of the way landscapes were changed and shaped by the action go progressing and retreating glaciers.

In brief, the study which Ruddy began in a small notebook, now very much degraded by time (shown above) was to examine boulders left in the landscape and which were of a different age or rock formation from the underlying rock. and had been picked up or broken off by advancing glaciers, and then deposited some distance away from their origin as the glaciers retreated and deposited mixtures of boulders, smaller rocks and other deposits, including some displaced fossils in the landscape, this deposit known as glacial till.

The study of glaciation had not originally been centred on Wales and the border counties – it had originally been investigated in Scotland, and the contrasting landscape of East Anglia, particularly Norfolk.

As in many other places in Ruddy’s Journal, we become aware of pre-existing friendships and correspondences which are only mentioned at a later date, as on 7th September 1892:

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. We had a good look at them, and spent the rest of the evening chatting about geology, until suppertime. I went with him to his lodgings at Shopisaf after.

Thursday the 8th Mr. Nicholson went by first train to Llandrillo, then up the Berwyns to get the ash and greenstone rocks. He went over Chlochnant, Carnedd-y-ci, and to the top of Cader Berwyn, then along the ridge to Milltir Gerrig, on the Llangynog  road. There I met him at 4:30 o’clock. He was very tired, but was pleased to have got specimens of the rocks on the way. He had long wish to see the same rocks. I showed him the Little Ash on the roadside Milltir Gerrig, then the felstone, and found Orthis alternata and other fossils.  I found a Bellerephon in the rubbly shale between the felstone and Little Ash.  The species is new to me and of much interest.

Mr Nicholson’s expedition

Mr Nicholson gave me the altitude above sea level at the well near the felstone on the roadside as 1500 feet.  There are freshwater limpets in the rill at that altitude. The altitude at the stone on the boundary, dividing this county from Montgomery, was 1650 feet. We got to my house at about 8:30 o’clock. We thoroughly enjoyed a good feed, and particularly enjoyed a piece of fresh Dee salmon which Sir Henry kindly sent us.

Friday the ninth Mr. Nicholson came over at half past nine and looked over my fossils until dinner time.  He had dinner with us, and after dinner I went to show him the Hirnant beds at Bwlch Hannerob and then the Tarannon and Wenlock shales.

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.

Mr. Nicholson had published a paper ‘ High-Level glacial gravels, Gloppa, Cyrn-y-bwlch, near Oswestry’ in the quarterly journal of the Geological Society in February 1892. His was one of the early investigations into the glacial geology of the Mid Wales and Shropshire area; the paucity of such investigation was noted ten years earlier, in 1882, Walter Keeping, who began his geological career at the Woodwardian museum in Cambridge, predecessor to the Sedgwick, and then became Professor of Natural Science at Aberystwyth, until 1880 when he became Keeper of the Yorkshire Museum, in his article The Glacial Geology of Central Wales in the Geological Magazine.

Gloppa, near Oswestry.  Contorted glacial drift, sands and gravels. Contemporary photograph.  British Geological Survey website.

Wednesday the 14th I received a handsome book as a gift from Mr Nicholson, entitled “Island Life” by Alfred Russell Wallace. It will be of great service to me as it is up-to-date in scientific research.

Mr. Nicholson’s visit obviously inspired Ruddy to begin in earnest his examination of his local landscape in the light of the new understandings of glaciation and its effects on the landscape.

Saturday the 17th [September 1892] I left here at mid day for the head of the Llangynog Valley. I got to the stone marking the boundary of the counties at 1:50 o’clock. I went to see the little patch of ash rock and could see that it rested conformably on sandy shales.  The ash is about 10 feet thick, and is about 40 feet under the limestone outcrop, the same as it is at Gelli Grin.  I once found a specimen of the Orthis flabellulum in the shales under the ash in the shales where they are quarried for mending the roads, but I failed to see anything this time. I also searched loads of the shale along the side of the road, but could not find a fossil.

I next crossed over the moor to the old phosphate mine to try and find Arenig boulders on the way or in the bed of the brooks near the mine.   I could not find one after I left Brynselwrn ffrith.  I found some angular blocks of the local ash, and an abundance of blocks of Denbigh grits; these are evidently from the base of the Wenlock at Bwlch-y-dwr.  I found the local ash at the little stream where the old Bala and Llangynog road crossed it.  I traced it up the hill towards the county boundary.  Neither of these patches of ash are marked on the map.

 I also found the upper end of the greenstone near the ash, and followed it down the brook to the road leading to the mine.  Most of it keeps crumbling away into course sand all rather fragments. It runs as a dike with a rounded bosses diverging a little from the line. I found a few fossils at the old mine; the only thing of interest being at badly preserved Trochonema triponcata.  I found a few specimens of one minute snail; Helix rupestris. The place where I found the Helix is about 1550 feet above sea level. 

I next went to see massive shales in the brook some distance lower than the mine. The shales dip towards the bed of the brook and large masses have become detached and lie in the bed of the book like square pieces of masonry.   Lower down there is a pretty cascade falling into a deep pool, which is almost shut in by walls of rock. I next crossed over to the little stream where I followed the greenstone again up the bed of the brook.  It runs like a dyke with diverging round bosses, and has a sort of false bedding in some places. The dyke is about 15 feet in thickness and crumbles away into course sand and crumbles away into course sand and rotten pieces.

? Site of the Waterfall above

Copyright Eirian Evans, Creative Commons. Waterfall in Coed Llystyn

I have never seen any of the ashes or greenstones in N Wales crumble away in the same as the Trwyn Swch greenstone It is plainly an intrusive mass, and the shales resting upon it are much disturbed at the junction. In one place the greenstone is very hard and compact, and falls away from the rocky wall in square blocks.

 I carried off specimens of the greenstone, but failed to find any fossils in the shales all along the ravine.  I searched for fossils on the roadside Milltir Gerrig.  I found good specimens  of Orthis alternata  in the usual place, but nothing lower in the beds. I could not get time for beds higher in the series.  I left at 6:35 o’clock, and got home at 8:20. I had a beautiful day and much enjoyed it.  

Examples of investigations of this new interest continue through the following years of the journal, and A. C. Nicholson visited again in August 1895.

A map of the direction of glacial drift across the British Isles pasted into the front of Ruddy’s notebook.

Marriages 1894

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 with Deutzia.

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?

1893 'Science Under Difficulties'

‘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’ notebook on boulder dispersion

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. 

The slopes of Foel Carn Sian Llwyd Photo © Dave Corby (cc-by-sa/2.0)

It got almost dark at the county boundary and rained cruelly with a breeze of wind. We crossed the moorland 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.

1893 A Rural Enterprise

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.

The road from Corwen to Cynwyd, 1967 © Ben Brooksbank,
used under Creative Commons

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.