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.]