A London Vacation, Sightseeing and family links

Frances Williams, mother of Frances Harriet Ruddy and mother-in-law of Thomas

Frances Williams, sister of William Pamplin, and her son William Pamplin Williams had been visitors to Llandderfel since William and Caroline Pamplin had arrived there in 1858 to a house near the church, Ty Cerig, which seems to have been shared between William and Caroline, William’s unmarried sisters Harriet and Sarah and Frances and William Williams, perhaps sharing it as a holiday retreat.  In 1863, when William Pamplin’s lease in Chelsea ran out, he and Caroline moved permanently to their own house in Llandderfel, Top y Llan.

By the time Thomas married Frances Harriet, Harriet and Sarah Pamplin had both died and Frances Williams had been widowed in 1866.  Her husband William Williams had been Parish Clerk of Newington, and their son William Pamplin Williams succeeded him in the post.

Both Mrs. Williams and her son became even more frequent visitors to Llandderfel after the marriage of Frances Harriett and Thomas, and with the birth of their children.  Thomas sometimes mentions William P. Williams taking part in country sports such as shooting during his visits; both were occasionally involved in Thomas’s countryside expeditions, sometimes with the addition of William Pamplin and his second wife Margaret.

In October 1884 both Mrs. Williams and her son had been visiting, and on their return to London Frances Harriet, Henry Ernest and the baby Frances Harriett aged 5 months returned with them, being joined a few days later by Thomas.  The couple commences an exhaustive and probably exhausting tour of the sights of London.  Thomas devotes many pages to descriptions, particularly the individual rooms of the British Museum, which from the style and content would seem to have been directly copied from guide books.

One significant visit was to the Jermyn Street Museum of Practical Geology, see here   

‘I made a very minute inspection of the collection of Bala fossils, Mr Newton opening bookcases for me and assisting me all he could.’

Thomas did not think that the Bala fossils then held in the Jermyn St. museum were a good selection of specimens.  At some point in his life he contributed over one thousand specimens, now held at the Natural History Museum.  There are also over sixty specimens attributed to Thomas in the Sedgwick Museum, presumably donated via Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, as Ruddy never personally visited Cambridge, as far as I can tell.

When he married Frances Harriett , Thomas married into a family which was aware of its ancestry, and kept a considerable amount of relevant papers and documents, many of which, registered with the National Archives, are still curated by the author of this blog.  Thomas was given an introduction to his wife’s interesting ancestry, which reached back to Halsted, Essex, where the Pamplin family were nurserymen.  Her great grandfather William Pamplin, 1740-1805 having moved to a nursery in Walthamstow.

Thursday the Fourth – I went shopping with F. Before dinner. We went up the Causeway, saw new Kent Road, Walworth Road, we went into the churchyard where the church of St Mary Newington stood before it was pulled down. It was gay with chrysanthemums and it is a pretty bit of pleasure ground for the people of the district. I examined the marble tablet which some of the parishioners elected as a token of their esteem to the memory of the Father of Frances.

The inscription on it is:
In memory of William Williams,
25 years Clerk of this Parish.
Who died on 9 November 1866
aged 59 years.
This tablet is erected by several Parishioners
in testimony of their esteem and respect.

I also saw the tombstones and graves of the father of the above and other relatives. After dinner Frances and baby, Mr Williams and myself went to Walthamstow.

They looked at the gravestones of the Pamplin family and Thomas copied the inscriptions. They saw the graves of the Dench family and Thomas describes other aspects of Walthamstow.

Thomas, the lad who had spent his earliest years in the Irish village at the centre of the potato famine, and during its most devastating years, had achieved what he had set out to do when he made a deliberate choice of gardening as a career, respectability and a degree of gentrification, through his own efforts and through his marriage into the respectable Pamplin family.

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1884 Politics and Politicians

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall

Today visitors to Llandderfel, the nearest village to Palé Hall, will find themselves in a quiet and mainly unfrequented part of the Welsh countryside.  However, the situation in the nineteenth century was quite different, due mainly to the burgeoning industrialisation of south Wales and to the work of engineers like Henry Robertson whose efforts were making transport by road and particularly by rail increasingly available and swift.  Whilst not situated in a coal mining area, quarries for railway hard core and minerals and mines for phosphate, used as agricultural fertiliser were being actively worked in the area during the second part of the 19th century.

Palé was not the only country house built, inherited or purchased by wealthy man in the area.  Robertson’s partner Charles Beyer  lived at Llantysilio Hall near Llangollen, leaving it to his godson Henry Beyer Robertson on his death.  The largest landowner in the area was Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, descendant of a very old and distinguished family, living at Wynnstay Hall. He too, like Robertson was involved with railways, as Director of the Great Western Railway, and also a Member of Paliament, although as a Conservative, a member of the opposite party.  Another branch of the family owned Glanllyn, a small estate on the shores of Bala lake.  Thomas was on many occasions invited to view or advise on the gardens of these and other estates.

Another interesting local resident was Sir Theodore Martin, another Scot who settled for some time in Wales, at Bryntysilio Hall.  Poet, translator and biographer, Sir Theodore was invited by Queen Victoria to write the opbiography of her late husband Prince Albert.  This he produced in five volumes between 1874 and 1880, winning the lifelong friendship of the Queen.

Henry Robertson of Palé Hall, Thomas’ employer served as Liberal MP for Shrewsbury from 1862 to 1865 and from 1874 to 1885.  A number of influential visitors made their way to Palé Hall, much assisted by the convenient railway station on Robertson’s line at Llandderfel.  Thomas gives an interesting account of the visit in September 1888 of the Postmaster General, Henry Fawcett.

Wednesday the 17th [September]  Mr Fawcett the Postmaster General arrived at Palé. Francis and myself went to the station to see him. He is a very remarkable looking man being 6’1″ in height, squarely built and straight. His hair is fair, face roughish, broad brow, but is quite blind, having been accidentally shot. His feet are very long, boots measure 13 inches in length. His manner is most genial and he makes very free with people. He writes a fine bold hand, lines straight, ‘t’s crossed etc. He came to fish grayling, at which he is very good.

Fawcett had been blinded aged 25 being accidentally shot from his father’s gun while the two men were out hunting.  It is not clear whether his blindness was total or partial, but it did not prevent his becoming Professor of Political Economy, Cambridge (1863), MP for Brighton (1865) later for Hackney, and marrying the political economist and suffragist Millicent Garrett in 1867. Appointed Postmaster General by Gladstone in 1880, he introduced postal orders, the Post Office Savings Bank and most importantly, parcel post.  The contracts for parcel transport by various railway companies would give him a common interest with Henry Robertson, in addition to their Liberal politics and parliamentary status.

A cartoonist’s reaction to the introduction of Parcel Post

The following day the nearby town of Bala hosted a major Liberal Party meeting at which Fawcett was to deliver a speech on the Franchise Bill (the Representation of the People Act 1884)

Friday 19th I went to Bala to a Liberal Meeting. My object was to hear Mr Fawcett deliver an address on the Franchise Bill. He is a powerful speaker; it rolls out of him in the wavy style. He made several good hits, his sentences causing a sensation among the audience. He spoke for 20 minutes. Mr. Robertson M.P., Mr. Holland M.P.,  Mr. Gee of Denbigh and Rev. Ellis Edwards of Bala College also spoke, but Mr. Fawcett was the Lion of the evening. I heard Mr. Gladstone speak for two hours in Chester in 1865. But Mr. Fawcett, although powerful is not an orator like Mr. Gladstone.

Gladstone’s Bill only allowed for representation by a distinct group of men.  Had we the text of Fawcett’s speech, it would have been interesting to see whether Fawcett made any mention of women’s suffrage, since he was married to the foremost female suffragists, Millicent Fawcett, whose sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. Fawcett  clashed with Gladstone over his refusal to give women the franchise in 1884.  Fran Abrahams, author of Freedom’s Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), writes: “As a member of a government which opposed the measure he could not vote for it; as a keen supporter of reform he could not vote against it. In the end he abstained. The measure was roundly defeated but Gladstone was furious with Henry, and wrote to him saying his action had been tantamount to resignation. Henry was reprieved only because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid the bad publicity which would inevitably accompany a ministerial sacking.”

Thomas contrasts Fawcett’s power as an orator with that of Gladstone.  In fact Fawcett’s health and strength had been considerably weakened by diphtheria in the summer of 1882 .   He was to die of pleurisy less than two months after his visit to Palé, on 6th November 1884.

As so often when distinguished visitors came to Palé, Thomas was introduced to the visitor, in this case by the son of the family, then aged  22 and having served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 1882-3.

Monday the 22nd  Mr H.B. Robertson introduced me to Mr Fawcett in the gun-room. Mr. Fawcett said “Let me shake hands with you Mr. Ruddy.” He then talked to me for some time about the heat, the rainfall, and the weather in general, after which he said on going away as he held out his hand to me again “Good morning Mr Ruddy, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance.”

Had the conversation with Thomas progressed beyond the customary remarks about the weather, they might have found much in common, as Fawcett was an admirer of and correspondent with Charles Darwin, writing an article asserting the logic of Darwin’s theory.  Although not being able to see Thomas’ fossils, Fawcett might have been interested to handle and discuss their significance.  A paper by Geoffrey Fishburn gives detail.

The final evening of Fawcett’s visit gave the owners and staff of Palé Hall an opportunity to entertain in style, foreshadowing the warm hospitality offered to Queen Victoria a few years later.  Thomas found himself among the company, having no doubt provided choice fruit and vegetables for the table and flowers and pot plants for decoration.

In the evening I had a chat with Colonel Evans Lloyd of Moelgarned and Mr. Osborne Morgan M.P. While the guests were dining, the Llandderfel Brass Band played outside the dining room window, and after dinner the Llandderfel Choir sang in the staircase hall for about an hour. The guests were at one and looking on. Frances went with me to see and hear them sing. It was a very interesting sight.

Tuesday the 23rd  Mr Fawcett left in company of Mr. O. Morgan and Mrs. Morgan, and Mr Dryhurst Secretary to Mr Fawcett. Mr. Fawcett had a great many letters every morning; his secretary read them to him as they walked about arm in arm, up and down the walks. He was very fond of his pipe, wore tweeds and a straw hat, when fine. During dinner hour he told the guests many very amusing anecdotes, so that all eyes were directed to him. Mr Dryhurst dined with him.

Guests today at Palé Hall Hotel might be amused to imagine these figures from national political life mingling in the staircase hall while the Llandderfel choir sang, as they would do again in 1889 while Queen Victoria herself listened from the landing, tapping her fingers in time on the bannister rail.