News of the Neighbours – 1874

(c) Museum of Science and Industry; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Charles Beyer

UnknownManchester Museum of Science and Industry Website: http://www.mosi.org.uk/ via: BBC Your Paintings

Five years after his appointment as Head Gardener at Palé Thomas had so organised his workforce and management of the gardens that he had leisure to visit various neighbouring properties, most newly built or newly acquired by self-made men of the mid Victorian era.  We can imagine this being enabled by his employer Henry Robertson, who might have been interested to compare the estates of the neighbours with his own newly acquired country seat at Palé.  From the enthusiasm of these neighbours in gaining Thomas’ assistance with their own gardens, there can be little doubt that Henry had engaged a Head Gardener of reputation and ability. Thomas himself was forthright in his judgments of these  neighbouring estates:

June 15th Monday I went to Plas yn Vivod  the seat of Mr. Wagstaffe; the house is new and without any interest. I went from there across to and had a look through Bryntysilio the seat of Mr Theodore Martin, its only interest is that it is well kept in order.

Sir Theodore Martin was another Scot who had like Henry Robertson settled in Wales.  His major claim to literary fame was the Life of the Prince Consort, authorised by Queen Victoria, of which he published the first volume in 1874. After the publication of the fifth volume in 1880 he received a knighthood from the Queen. Queen Victoria visited Sir Theodore and his wife at Bryntysilio during her visit to Palé in 1889.  Bryntysilio is now an outdoor activities centre.

Thomas had a higher opinion of the new house being erected by his employer’s business partner Charles Beyer :

I went to Llantysilio which Mr. Beyer is erecting on the site of an old house. Mr. Beyer is of the firm ‘Beyer, Peacock and Co’ Gorton, Manchester, and well known engineers (sic.) Mr. Beyer I have known since I came to Palé, he being an old friend and partner of Mr. Robertson. When he saw me his first expression was ‘You are the very man I want, I hope you will stay with me to help me lay out my place.’ He showed me the place and explained his designs, put many questions to me. The situation of Llantysilio is most beautiful, as it is on rising ground a little back from the Dee. I saw a very old gnarled mulberry in the kitchen garden.

Meanwhile, the Crogen Estate where the Robertsons had lived before moving to Palé was let to a widower, Mr. Froude and his children.  This occasioned a comical anecdote which Thomas records:

Mr Froude is now staying at Crogen with his children. Mr. Froude the historian is tall, thin and dark. When in church he seemed always in study, for he was quite absent-minded. He got a mason and joiner to Crogen one week to search for dead rats. They took off skirting and flooring boards and tried many places, all to no purpose. The mason told him that there could not be any, but he told them that there were dead rats, and that they must find them. At last the Mason, (John Williams) came up to Palé, got a dead rat, took it to Crogan and put it at the back of one of the skirting boards, which they fastened up a bit, then in the presence of one of the servants they pretended to have found the dead rat. Mr Froude came and said in an exulting manner, ‘I was quite sure there was a dead rat, and now you see for yourselves,’ and he went away quite satisfied, and all was put together again.

 The gardener of Crogen told me that he was a very mean man to deal with. Mr. Froude had just lost his wife before coming to Crogen. One of his daughters was an invalid. He had one boy between 7& 8 years old. [Added in a later hand; Oct 20th 1894. Mr Froude died at Salcombe. He was born at Dartington, Devon, on 23 April 1818.]

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Collections, collections

The only two remaining coins from Thomas' extensive collection
The only two remaining coins from Thomas’ extensive collection

There are so many features of Thomas’ story that make him very much a man of his times.  Not the least of these is his passion for collecting natural and historical objects.  His journal for 1874 demonstrates this at almost every entry:

1874 Jan 11th Sunday I had a look through the old Elizabethan Mansion of Rhiwedog [SH9434] which now belongs to Mr. Price of Rhiwlas, but was formerly belonging to the Lloyds and is said to be the site of the residence of Llewarch Hen,, prince and poet in the 5th century. It is now a house very much out of repair. The date 1672 is on an oak beam forming the chimney piece in one of the upstairs rooms. Oak is much used in it.  Not a collection, but demonstrating Thomas’ drive to understand and immerse himself in Welsh culture and history.

February 9th Monday I went to Bala. Mr. Evan Jones took me to Eryl Aran and introduced me to Thomas Anwyl esq. [1871 Welsh census aged 27 captain of Militia] who showed me his collection of stuffed birds, coins, etc. the collections are the best in Bala.  Perhaps here we see one of the inspirations for Thomas’ collecting habit, although it is clear from the journal that he had already begun amassing various collections.

March 26 Thursday When at Rûg, the seat of the Hon Charles Wynn, Mr. Bennett the gardener took me to see Rûg chapel. This domestic chapel is most curious inside with mural paintings. It is altogether well worth a visit to see the carvings and decorations.

July 8th Wednesday I observed the ‘Coggia Comet’.

 August 4th Tuesday I went to Corwen with ferns for the ‘Eisteddfod Gadeiriol’. I got introduced to Cyndellw (Mr. Roberts). This man is a Minister (Baptist) and a bard; he has the appearance of an old bard. His beard was grey and reached to his waist. I found him very chatty and quite a well informed man on general topics but quite enthusiastic about ancient customs. He told me that I was better informed of Welsh customs than many Welshmen who pretended to be, and also styled me Bard rhedyrn or fern bard.

 August 5th & 6th I was judge at the Eisteddfod for ferns, dried specimens and fossils, so that I had to go about with a white rosette in my coat. I had a long talk with Mrs. West of Ruthin Castle, who admired my collection of British ferns and dried plants. She had a most taking manner and is one of the fashionable beauties of England. She brought her father, mother and sister to me, as well as her husband. Mrs. West’s father is the Rev. F. Fitzpatrick, of Tyrone, Ireland; he is a fine handsome man, and so is Miss Fitzpatrick, her sister very nice in manners and good looking, but the mother is rather a dowdy. Mr. West is a tall handsome man.

I find this entry a remarkable tribute to Thomas’ capacity to integrate fully into the cultural life of his area.  Only five years into his position at Palé he had amassed a collection of ferns, plants dearly loved by the Victorian gardener, dried plants and fossils and learned enough about Welsh customs to impress a bard.  He was obviously taken to the hearts of his Welsh neighbours, in order to be placed in the position of judge.  It is obvious that Thomas also enjoyed the social standing he was acquiring as he chatted to local gentry.

Oct 5th Monday Mr. Trevor Clarke came here to see my fossils and eggs. Mr. Kerr jun. of Maisemor brought him. Mr Kerr is an enthusiastic ornithologist and an old acquaintance.

 Nov 9th Mr. Kerr came again to see my eggs and get explanations about local birds. He was most amiable to me.  And now we have bird’s eggs to add to the list, and some of the first people who came to Thomas’ door to view his collections.  In future years he would add to the list professors of Geology from Cambridge and from Sweden, and in due course, Queen Victoria herself.

An article about Victorian Collectors:

Mary Merrifield