First year at Palé

Thomas began work on the day after his arrival at Palé, engaging men to work and arranging to move from the Inn of Bryntirion situated at the foot of Palé’s drive, where he had spent the first night in rooms arranged for him by Mr Dickson of the Nurseries, to the nearby Brynbwlan farmhouse farmed by Mr & Mrs. Ellis.  Within five days he had decided that he was ready for his pregnant wife to join him, and had planned for the purchase of a large quantity of trees and shrubs.

January 23rd Saturday I went back to Chester for my wife and I ordered about £100 worth of trees and shrubs. My wife and I came here for good on the 25th of Jany. Monday 1869.  [£100.00 probably worth £4,000 – £5,000 today]

There are few journal entries for the first few months of 1869, but on the 26th March a notable event is recorded – the birth of a first child, Thomas Alexander.  [Thomas and Mary had married in December the previous year.  Slight raise of eyebrows from editor/transcriber!]

Four days later, Thomas secured a permanent post at Palé:

March 30th Tuesday. I engaged to be Mr. Robertson’s permanent gardener. Mr. & Mrs. Robertson were leaving for London; they told me that several wanted the place, but that they would much rather that I would take it; and that I would be at liberty to make myself comfortable. [Mr and Mrs Robertson owned a house in Lancaster Gate, London, where they resided for several long periods each year.]

By the end of April Thomas records walks in the area with friends.  Unfortunately he does not record the friends’ names or details.  Descriptions of walks form a substantial part of the journal through the rest of his life.

The full journal entries from January to April 1869 here

 

Advertisements

A new employer – Henry Robertson

henry_robertson (1)

 

Henry Robertson

via Shrewsbury Local History site

 

The owner of Palé Hall, Henry Robertson, was 53 years old when in January 1842 he appointed the 27 year old Thomas Ruddy as his Head Gardener.  Like Thomas he spent his childhood in Scotland, came from a family without wealth, and carved out a career for himself through innate ability and hard work.  Winning a scholarship to Aberdeen University at 14 studying engineering, he had achieved his MA by the age of 2o.

Initially working in coal mining in Lanarkshire, he moved on to railway engineering as a pupil of Robert Stevenson, and finally through a series of chances, moved to Wales, probably about 1840.  A detailed description of his working life can be found here.

Henry had married Elizabeth Dean, daughter of a London solicitor in July 1846, and with their children Elizabeth (born 1852) Annie (born 1855) Henrietta (born 1858) and Henry Beyer (born 1862) they would move into the completed Palé Hall on September 18th 1870.

It would seem from Thomas’s description of his initial meeting with Mr and Mrs Robertson that it was Elizabeth who was chiefly involved in planning the details of the garden:

Mrs. Robertson and family came from Crogan in the afternoon, so that we spent the day in talking and planning. A new house was to be built with the dining room windows looking west, the boudoir and drawing room windows looking NW & W. The flower garden was to be (according to the architect’s wish) in the small piece in front of the dining room, but I got Mr. & Mrs. Robertson to have it where it now is with terraces instead of a bank. Mrs. Robertson then wished me to plan the glass houses.

The family were living nearby at the smaller Crogen Estate which is still in the Robertson family.

Further details abut Henry Robertson can be found here

And so – to Palé

pale-hall-c-1875-lrg
Palé Hall in about 1875, some six years after Thomas’ arrival (Wikimedia commons)

At the age of 27, and nearly eleven years after commencing his gardening apprenticeship, Thomas arrived at the situation where he was to spend the rest of his working life.  His employers the Robertsons, of whom much more later, had bought the estate and had demolished the house originally sited there to build the mansion as it is today.  Meanwhile the Robertsons were living at the estate at Croggen a few miles away, which remained in the family and is still occupied by descendants of the family. Palé Hall was not entirely completed until 1872.

1869  January 17th Mr. Dickson wished me to leave at once for North Wales to lay out grounds for Mr. Robertson of Palé near Llandderfel Station, east of Bala four miles. I left Chester on the 19th Tuesday, en route for Llandderfel, passing Saltney and Wrexham, changed at Ruabon on to the Corwen line. Although it was a dull time of year, I could not help admiring the scenery from Llangollen all the way up, but I thought that I was getting into a fearfully wild country, and I was afraid that I would pass the station unconsciously. Mr. Robertson was waiting at the station where I arrived at 11 am. On delivering my letter of introduction, he told me to go up to Bryntirion first where he had engaged apartments for me and then get to Palé. Mr. Smith the architect and Mr. Bull the clerk of works arrived at the same time.

Mrs. Robertson and family came from Crogan in the afternoon, so that we spent the day in talking and planning. A new house was to be built with the dining room windows looking west, the boudoir and drawing room windows looking NW & W. The flower garden was to be (according to the architect’s wish) in the small piece in front of the dining room, but I got Mr. & Mrs. Robertson to have it where it now is with terraces instead of a bank. Mrs. Robertson then wished me to plan the glass houses. I was quite pleased with the affable and modest manners of Mrs. Robertson and family. Mr. Robertson’s manner was more like that of a business man, quick at comprehending me, and quick at deciding. I felt quite at home with my new employer and his amiable family.

I slept at Bryntirion , with the determination to make Palé a fine place. I set to work next morning, got some men to work and formed many plans in my mind. I next took rooms from Mr. & Mrs. Ellis at the farm house of Brynbwlan.

Screenshot 2016-03-31 15.45.32

Headhunted for Palé

Screenshot 2016-03-19 16.50.31

Dicksons of Chester letterhead from a later letter to Thomas from George Dickson

‘1869 January 17th Mr. Dickson wished me to leave at once for North Wales to lay out grounds for Mr. Robertson of Palé near Llandderfel Station, east of Bala four miles.’

Mr. Dickson was George Dickson, son of James Dickson, an increasingly influential nurseryman and seedsman of Chester.  George’s father James had died in 1867 and George had taken over the business.  As you can see from the illustration, Dicksons were already royally recognised.  As with other nurserymen with whom Thomas had contact, they acted as headhunters for the gardens both of ‘old money’ or, like the Robertsons, the newly rich from the proceeds of the burgeoning industry and commerce of the central part of the nineteenth century.

A useful article gives details about the Dickson family and their business.  An interesting point is that they, like Thomas, were Scottish expats. Even more fascinating is that the man to whom Thomas was being recommended, the railway engineer and iron and coal magnate Henry Robertson was also born in Scotland.

Geo Dickson 1871

George Dickson  (aged 35) shown in the 1871 census living at Springfield, Newton by Chester with his wife Mary Elizabeth (31) and children Edith (6), Lavinia (5), John (3) Charlotte (1) and Bertha 2 months.  George is listed as ‘Seedsman, Nurseryman and Gardener’.

George was to become a close friend of Thomas.  As well as the connection with the nursery, George was an amateur naturalist and geologist, and it was he who would introduce Thomas to the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art, where Thomas’ talents would be nurtured and celebrated.
Screenshot 2016-03-19 17.18.39Screenshot 2016-03-19 17.22.58

 

 

 

 

 

 

A list of the members of the Society from 1885-6 Shows both James and George as members, as well as several others of their family including George’s daughter Lavinia.  I have never found Thomas listed as a member.  I believe this to be a matter of ‘social standing’ – which makes his award of the Kingsley Medal even more remarkable.

 

With the reopening of the RHS Lindley Library, I have opportunity to research further Dicksons and the other Nurseries used by Thomas as stepping stones to new employment. What were their operating methods, and are there any contemporary documents relating to this activity. A visit to the Lindley is on my ‘to do’ list.