Following Thomas’ Mentor in Jedburgh

Memorial window to Adam Mathieson now in Jedburgh Parish Church

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.

Scotland census of 1861. Thomas’ family at Bedrule. Note his sister is ‘scholar’. Thomas was already apprenticed at Minto.

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.

James Hutton – panel from Jedburgh Castle Museum.

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.

Mary Queen of Scots House, Jedburgh

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.

Adam Mathieson aged 71 and his family living at
50 High St Jedburgh in 1861

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.

My gift from Isobel in Jedburgh

Minto Gardens – an apprenticeship for life.

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Image from http://www.albion-prints.com  Victorian gardeners had a great fondness for ferns.

The description Thomas gives of his three year apprenticeship in the gardens of Minto House shows how early in his life the pattern was laid down of the man he was to become.

You can read the full diary entry here

There are three ‘mentor figures’ mentioned; the Head Gardener Mr Williamson, the Revd. James Duncan and Adam Mathieson, who was the custodian of the museum in Jedburgh, and whose enthusiasm for geology led Thomas to his lifelong interest.  As he moved from place to place in his gardening career, Thomas constantly sought out people whose knowledge he could draw on.  In his final post at Palé it led to his friendship with William Pamplin and to his second marriage and family.

Also demonstrated is his naturally studious nature.  He had obviously studied the Linnaean system of plant names and learned to recognise plants in order to discuss them with experts and confidently seek out rare species.

Finally, there is his habit of becoming trusted by his employers or senior colleagues to mix with their families.  From being trusted to escort Mr. Williamson’s amiable daughters, he moves on to considerable trust and intimacy with the Robertson family of Palé.  He is also sometimes a bit of a prig!

Don’t expect ever to read of Thomas undertaking any day-to-day gardening tasks.  All of that is taken for granted throughout the diary.  He doesn’t expect anyone to be interested that he planted a row of cabbages or a rose bush!

A Gardening Apprenticeship at Minto House

Minto House  Minto House 1910, www.maxwellancestry.com via http://www.flickr.com
Thomas began his gardening apprenticeship at Minto House in November 1858.  As was usual at the time, he lived in the ‘bothy’ in the gardens – perhaps not as grand as the one at the National Trust’s Calke Abbey – see here.

Life in the gardens would have been hard, under the direction of the Head Gardener, but I was amazed to find out what went on after the day’s work was finished.  Here is Thomas’ description:

November came and I went to the garden on the 11th of the month to live in a “bothy” with other four companions; luckily these were sober and intelligent. …. During the long winter evenings, all of us instructed ourselves in geometry, mensuration, and in languages. My companions were Oliver Taylor, who used to read aloud to us when resting from study; he was a well instructed man and a distinct reader. Andrew Stormont was studying French, James Stables was studying Latin, and Wm. Nichols was like myself, studying botany and geometry. I took also to French and Italian. Our “bothy” was during the winter evenings more like a school than anything else.

You cannot now visit Minto House, as it was destroyed very unfortunately during 1992.   Read about this incident here

If you are interested in the education, lives and work of the Head Gardeners, I recommend:

The Head Gardeners, Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture,  Toby Musgrave,  Aurum, 2007

 

 

Jedburgh

Jedburgh Abbey

Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh (Stanley Howe) / CC BY-SA 2.0

It is not clear how Thomas and his parents, Thomas and Ann Ruddy, sister Annie and brother James arrived in Jedburgh either directly or indirectly from County Mayo in Ireland.  Most refugees from the potato famine arrived initially in Liverpool.  Nor is it certain when they moved from Ireland to Scotland; probably some time between 1845 and 1851.

What is most significant is the extent of Thomas’s educational achievement.  Both his father and elder brother James are listed as labourers in the Scottish censuses, and when Thomas senior died in 1865, James registered his death using a cross rather than a signature, suggesting he could not write.

In Jedburgh, Thomas came into contact with several influential mentors who influenced the course of his life, the first being a retired gardener and amateur botanist, William Hobkirk.  He met Hobkirk in 1858, in the interval between his decision to become  gardener and taking up his gardening apprenticeship.  Read Thomas’ diary entry here

To Become a Gentleman

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How did a young man from a poor family become a well-known and much consulted Head Gardener to a self-made industrialist, a friend and colleague of a leading Cambridge Professor, and the recipient of a prestigious Scientific medal?

From the outset, Thomas showed a focussed determination to make good.  Here is an extract from the early pages of the first diary, written regarding the year 1858, but probably written retrospectively some years later:

(p4a) The time came at last that I must take to some occupation – various occupations were thought of, but I did not fancy them because they were to be in shops – these did not suit my fancy, for I loved the open air, I loved natural objects, I loved to see Nature. At last the time came for me – my father had a friend named Robert Daniel; he was a stranger there, and I now believe he must have been Welsh. He was a woodman, and a very intelligent man – (5) a man who had travelled a great deal, so that he surprised his neighbours by his general knowledge. This man gave my father glowing accounts of gardeners, and how he knew of many and that he was nearly being one himself in his day, but that he foolishly let a companion of his go in his place – how that companion went to the garden, served his time, pushed up and in a few years after came to see him with the ‘air and address of a gentleman’. He ended by strongly advising me to be a gardener.