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

Bedrule -in the steps of Thomas’ childhood

Houses at Bedrule hamlet’s centre

It is not possible to be certain exactly when and under what circumstances Thomas’ family left Ireland, although letters between Thomas’ daughter Caroline – ‘Carrie’ and a Ruddy relative still living in Westport Co. Mayo in 1916/17 confirm that the potato famine was the cause of their emigration. This retrospective reflection is prompted by my first visit to the Jedburgh recently. I thought I might have found Thomas’ childhood home ( picture above) but close examination of the census shows that a further visit will be necessary.

We pick them up again in the 1861 census, living in Bedrule. There are Thomas senior and his wife Mary, and Thomas junior’s siblings James and Annie. The youngest son John had died the previous year, aged 12, and our Thomas was already working as an apprentice at a Minto house. We find him there on the 1861 census, the only time he states Ireland as his place of birth on a census.

The census above details the family as living in Newton, part of the central hamlet at the centre of a larger parish area of the same name but to the north of the main hamlet.

Bedrule is a tiny village four miles from Jedburgh, but it has a proud and interesting history. Thomas senior and his son James are recorded as labourers. Several children from the census, including Annie Ruddy are recorded as scholars. Where did they go to school? For it was surely there that Thomas received the quality of education that prepared him to study confidently French, Latin and Geometry while living in the garden bothy at Minto House.

It also laid down the sophisticated writing style which characterises his journal, as in this reflection on his Bedrule childhood:

By this time we were living at Menslaws by the side of the Rule,
a little above where it enters the Teviot, and in sight of Minto, a famous garden of the seat of the Earl of Minto. It was on a pleasant May evening that I went with my father and Robert Daniel to see Mr. Williamson the gardener of Minto. He received us very kindly, took us through the garden, and explained everything. I looked on the inside of this grand garden with awe, I admired in silence; the feather-likeAsparagus astonished me – I was so pleased with everything, that I thought it must be very pleasant to be a gardener; and then there was Mr Williamson going about “dressed like a gentleman”, and the young gardeners looked so very neat and smart that I formed a high opinion of the whole.

Bedrule parish, showing Jedburgh to the east and Minto to the west. Newton is on the road and river, north of Bedrule hamlet.

  Following them around, 2017

Some months ago I booked a holiday on the Isle of Man.  I had been on the Island a full 24 hours before it occurred to me that once again I was following in the footsteps of Thomas Ruddy, who worked there between 1863 and  1865. He had chosen the Island over an tempting vacancy in London, since it offered him a further career enhancement in due course:

I had the offer of two situations the same day, one was to go to be journeyman
at Lambeth Palace London, which I declined; the other to go to the Isle of  Man in a place where I was to get the foreman’s place when he left, this I  accepted.  

A web search showed The Nunnery to be about a mile and a half from our hotel in Douglas, so early one morning I set out in search of it. Past the harbour and railway station over the river bridge, and a little way up the hill, I came across a promising- looking gatehouse.

I had discovered that The Nunnery is now part of the University of the Isle of Man, and a private site.  A knock on the impressive wooden door brought a gatekeeper, who confirmed that it was indeed The Nunnery.  He invited me to explore the site further, but time was pressing, and already a sprint would be required to return me to the hotel in time for the day’s excursion.  Thomas lost out in favour of a journey up Snaefell on the electric railway, but I had tracked him down and followed his footsteps to the very gate of his workplace in the 1860’s.

The previous day had brought an expedition to the superb museum in Peel, the House of Mannanen, housed in Peel’s former railway station.  Lingering in the vestibule, a familiar name caught my eye:

Here was my link with Henry Robertson, whose eldest son was Henry Beyer Robertson, named after his Godfather, Charles Beyer. Robertson was co-founder in 1854 of Beyer, Peacock and Co with Charles Beyer and Richard Peacock. Based at Gorton Foundry, in Gorton, Manchester, it would become one of the world’s leading locomotive manufacturers. Robertson knew Beyer because he supplied some of the locomotives to his railways. He was a sleeping partner but his connections with the Great Western Railway proved useful in securing orders.

On the recommendation of Thomas Brassey, Robertson provided the loan, when the original loan of banker Charles Geach fell through. Robertson and Beyer subsequently became close friends for life; Beyer was godfather of Robertson’s daughter in 1854 and of his son Sir Henry Beyer Robertson ten years later.

It is now twelve years since I first opened the trunk of Ruddy and Pamplin family papers left in my keeping by Thomas’ grandson the Revd. Denys Ruddy.  They have been fascinating, with many discoveries and opportunities arising, together with a sense of responsibility for interpreting, publicising and handing on the papers and artefacts.  This is complicated as they are not related to my own family story.

So far, among other things, the enterprise has taken me:

* To the Garden Museum in London, where the journals of William Pamplin the elder (1768 – 1864) have now been donated.

* To the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, where I sat with Queen Victoria’s journal (as edited by her daughter Beatrice) to read the Queen’s account of her visit in 1889 to Palé Hall

* To Cyfarftha Castle Museum in Merthyr Tydfil to see the two detailed drawings by William Pamplin the elder of the water wheel and works there, see here . 

* Correspondence with the Natural History Museum where I discover that Thomas Ruddy donated over one thousand fossil specimens collected by him from the Bala series of rocks.

* To the Grosvenor Museum in Chester to donate the Kingsley Medal awarded to Thomas in 1889, with the related correspondence.

Sadly, attempts to communicate with the present owners of Palé Hall have met with no response.

Sometimes, the task ahead seems daunting.  I am as yet not even a third of the way through transcribing the journals: occasionally I wonder whether it is all worth while.  But it is these moments when Thomas Ruddy, his friend William Pamplin and his employer Henry Robertson intrude into my life – sometimes at the most unexpected moments – I know they and their stories will not let me go.  I remain firmly in their grip.

Mr – and Mrs Ruddy


Screenshot 2016-03-31 17.31.32
A photograph of Thomas taken in Chester. Possibly aged 27, about to begin work at Palé


Before commencing work at Palé Hall in January 1869, Thomas spent two years at Middleton Hall, Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire.  During this time he married Mary Blackhall, daughter of an Edinburgh family.  Mary makes a very unexpected entry to the journal coming as a great surprise to the transcriber:

1868 October 27 Tuesday                I observed a very beautiful lunar rainbow; it appeared after a shower 8.15pm. It had no colour. My year being coming to a close I resolved to try and get a better situation. I was very comfortable, but it was a very out of the way place and Lord Denman (although very kind) had no money to spend on the garden. I was welcome to Dicksons of Chester so that I told Lord Denman to try and get one to succeed me. I was now married to Mary Blackhall, daughter of John Blackhall of Edinburgh and sister to the manager for Paton and Ritchie booksellers Edinburgh.

Screenshot 2016-03-31 17.24.49
Mary Blackhall of Edinburgh

Thomas gives no hint of how they met, but their marriage certificate for the 18th December 1868 may provide a clue.  Married at Stoney Middleton, Mary’s profession is stated as ‘lady’s maid’ so perhaps it was at Middleton Hall that they met.  The certificate gives Mary’s father’s name as Alexander, and the naming of their first child Thomas Alexander may confirm this, as do the other records concerning Alexander.

Thomas signals his satisfaction at the beginning of 1869:   January 1st The past year was a happy one for me and I had excellent health, and I took to wife a daughter of ‘Auld Reekie’. It was an unusually hot summer, about the hottest for many years, 90 or over in the shade.

A Researching Community

Newtonairds House

Newtonairds House from the website:

I pondered for a long time how best to share the diaries, papers and artefacts relating to Thomas Ruddy with the wider audience I felt they deserved.  Some are already lodged in Museums – the Kingsley Medal and related papers in the Grosvenor Museum Chester, the Museum founded on the work of the Chester Society; the diaries of William Pamplin, nurseryman, grandfather of Thomas’ second wife in the Garden Museum.  All are registered with the National Archives.

I can’t now remember when I decided that a website/blog would be the answer.  It has been an immense pleasure to plan and begin to create this archive, and already there are people to thank; my younger son for his technical know-how, Toby Musgrave and the Victorian Web for publishing the site more widely and a number of people whose feedback has been encouraging.  But most of all, there is an opportunity to expand the research needed.

When I wrote of Thomas’ first head gardener post at Newtonairds House, I was unable to find a picture of the house.  Today a kind friend has sent me the above link, and filled in the gap.  She believes the house to have been demolished about 1954, following a fire.  Thank you Barbara P. for contributing to the research.

This is what the web can do at its very best.  It would have been almost impossible to research and make sense of the journals and papers without minute by minute recourse to the internet.  The time is now!

Two years in Derbyshire

Stoney Middleton, via the Parish Council website

Leaving the winter damp, summer flies and argumentative Smith father and son of Newtonairds, Thomas set out on for his second Head Gardener post at Middleton Hall near Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire.

His employer was somewhat different from those self made men for whom he had previously gardened.  I’ll let Thomas explain in his forthright style:

I left on Monday 11th November 1867- went to Dumfries, thence to Annan and Carlisle.  I had an hour to stay here so that I went to see the city. It was now dark so that I could not see much. From Carlisle my route was by Lancaster and Skipton to Leeds. Here I had to wait for a long time. Left Leeds, passed through Marsbro [sic] and got into Sheffield for the first time. I found Sheffield to be a smoky stuffy place, with a fearful number of public houses. I was glad to get out of it. I left it on the Baslow Coach.   

 Our route was over a wild moor most of the way and a country without much interest until we got to Chatsworth park. We had now a beautiful country before us, the grounds of Chatsworth and the valley through which winds the river Derwent. I got off at Baslow and had to walk to my destination along the Derwent, past the village of Calver to the village of Stony Middleton, where I got by mid day on the 12th of November. My situation was to be Head Gardener to Lord Denman at Middleton Hall.

 This Hall is close to the village of Stony Middleton, one mile from the village of Eyam, one mile from Calver, two from Curbar village, over two from Baslow, five miles from the town of Bakewell, five from the little town of Hathersage and five from the little town of Tideswell. Middleton Hall was once the Parsonage. After that it was occupied by Dr. Denman, who was once the Court Physician to George III. Dr Denman’s son became Chief Justice of England – known as Chief Justice Denman.   

 Lord Chief Justice Denman, father of Thomas’ employer ( via Wikipedia)
The present Lord Denman is the son of the Chief Justice. He is a tall spare man, eccentric, very stern, but frank and generous, once fond of hunting but now devoted to farming and politics. 

[TR’s footnote: the above Lord Denman died on the 9thof August 1894, aged 89 years, was twice married, second time in 1870.] 

He is a devoted Conservative and was much disappointed that his party did not give him an official appointment in Germany. His nature is suspicious or distrustful and somewhat superstitious. 

 Lady Denman was stout, tall, full face affable and highly polished; a good German scholar, from which language she translated some tales, but she was also an original writer. Lady Denman was Georgina Moore, the daughter of a lecturer before she married Thomas Denman. The estate is but small, with an income of about £1,800 only. The village church is in Grecian style, but of no particular merit. The Vicar was Rev Urbin Smith, a stiff but affable man; a good geologist. The village is but little having one good inn called the ‘Moon’. The bulk of the people are engaged in lead mining.  

Head Gardener at 25


Newtonairds Gatehouse

© Hugh Close (via Geograph)


Thomas set off from his home in Jedburgh to his first Head Gardener post on 28th February 1867.  At 25 he already had nine years’ experience in horticulture, including his eight months’ study in France.  Again supplied with a situation courtesy of Downie Laird and Laing of Edinburgh, he traveled to Newtonairds near Dunscore.  Thomas says of the situation:

The estate was not large but it was a nice place but out of the way. The owner was Mr. P Smith, formerly a Glasgow merchant. I soon found that he was not very popular, but he employed a great number of men in building a nice house in the Scotch castle style.

Typically, Thomas says almost nothing of the day-to-day work there, except that once again the main focus of his occupation was to be glass houses: ‘I had hothouses to erect and furnish’.  As was so often the case, never more so than at Palé, Thomas struck up a good relationship with his employer – at least at first!  ‘I got on uncommonly well with himself and his son Hugh, who was all the family. I found both to be original characters and full of anecdotes.’

As a Head Gardener, Thomas found time to follow his own hobbies, whist working in the gardens to his employer’s satisfaction: ‘During the summer I botanised the whole district, and found many plants new or rare to me.’

The servant class pursued their employment, whilst the upper classes sometimes led more exotic lives: ‘May 2nd  [1867] I went to sow some seeds in the garden of Stroquhan, a house rented by my employer. This is a nice old-fashioned place belonging to a fast young man who had to fly the country for bigamy’   Meanwhile, Thomas continued in his socially upwardly mobile trajectory by accompanying his employer on journeys to purchase plants for the garden: ‘May 7th Tuesday I went with Mr. Smith to Edinburgh to buy plants. We both stayed in the City all night, and I enjoyed my trip very much.’    ‘September 23rd Monday Mr. Hugh Smith and I went to Edinburgh for more plants. He made me travel in the same carriage as him, and to luncheon with him in the Café Royal. We got many rare plants. I stayed again two nights in the city. We got all our hampers of plants to the station to take with us, but when the station master saw them he said to Mr. Smith ‘You cannot take these as luggage’. Mr. Smith answered, ‘I can take an elephant if I pay for it! And all you have to do is get a van and put them in it at once!’ The station master soon did as told. We got home all right and I enjoyed myself very much.

However, it is clear that the Head Gardeners of the time, once trained and in post, were in a strong position when it came to employment, and could leave one position and take up another without detriment to their career path: ‘I found that this part was very rainy and disagreeable in autumn and spring, and during summer it was most uncomfortable to walk out owing to flies. I had to keep continually whipping them off. I determined to leave this place owing to the way that father and son disagreed about what was to be done. I had the offer to go to Derbyshire from the firm of Downie and Laird. The Smiths were very angry with me for leaving, but they knew the cause was of their own making. I parted as the best of friends in the end, Mr. Hugh shaking me heartily by the hand.  I left on Monday 11th November 1867′


Why France?

Screenshot 2016-02-03 15.56.33 Angers, France

I have so far recorded the experiences of Thomas Ruddy as a traveller and a horticulture student when he went to France in 1865-66 at the age of 23.  [Read the full diary extract here and an abbreviated version concentrating on the horticultural aspects here .]

The question remains: why France?  Obviously it was a popular venue for students, Thomas recounts that as well as two English men, studying at the same Angers nursery there were a Swede, Nicholas Peter Jensen, son of a nurseryman, André Rovelli, another son of a nurseryman near Lake Maggiore, and Hesterman, from Potsdam, where his father was Mayor.  French horticultural education was obviously popular and widely well-regarded.  Thomas chose to study in the town of Angers. He records the nursery where he studied, owned by M. Leroy was 375 acres, 8 acres being for roses, and 10,000,000 trees were sold annually.

Was Angers a particularly renowned area for horticulture?  Did other potential Head Gardeners go to France to study?  So far I have not been able to find much detailed evidence.  I should be glad of any assistance that a reader might be able to contribute.

I have gathered some thoughts and research that might give a commentary on Thomas’ decision to study in France, which you can read here.

Home from France


Adam Matheson window



Window in Jedburgh Parish Church dedicated to Adam Matheson


 (I can no longer find a reference to this window on line, and would be glad of any information)

After his return in June 1866 from horticultural study in Angers, France , Thomas immediately returned to his home in Jedburgh.  His father had died, but his mother and brother James ( and perhaps his sister Annie, who is hard to trace) still lived there.  He remained in the Jedburgh area until the 28th February, when he traveled to his first post as Head Gardener, secured for him through the Nurserymen Downie, Laird and Laing, who had branches both in Edinburgh and London.

Thomas spent his time revisiting old friends including his apprenticeship companion, Oliver Taylor, by now gardener at Sunlaws, [Now the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Club].  While at home Thomas visited many local sites of interest.  A major part of the time was spent with his friend Adam Mathieson, curator of the Jedburgh Museum, whom he had first met in 1861 while an apprentice at Minto.  Read more about Matheson here

It does not seem that Thomas had any work during the more than seven months after his return from study.  Always cautious, he must have kept savings either from France or from his previous posts in Scotland and England or both.  No doubt he kept abreast of the many and rapid developments in horticulture at the time, perhaps from the pages of The Gardeners’ Chronicle.  The most significant aspect of this time in Scotland is his time ‘geologising’ with Adam Matheson.  Once again Thomas found himself in the right place at the right time, with a mentor who was to shape a significant aspect of his later life.


To Study Horticulture in France

Pale glasshouses 1961

Above: glasshouses erected at Palé Hall by Thomas Ruddy about 1870, in decline in the early 1960’s.  The foundations can still be seen in the car park at Palé.

Thomas Ruddy, aged 23 in 1865, and already qualified to call himself a Head Gardener, rejected the offer of a position at Titley Court in Herefordshire, and after a short stay in London, working at the nursery of Downie, Laird and Laing, opted to go to France to study horticulture in the nursery of M. Leroy in Angers.  It would seem that Thomas had already earned and saved enough money to fund this venture – he had no other source of income.

I am researching this decision – why France, did other young ambitious gardeners study there?  was Angers a particularly noted venue for such study?  I would be glad of any information relating to these questions.

Here is a brief collection of thoughts so far…