Thomas Junior enters a world of work

Thomas Alexander Ruddy
26.3.1869 -13.3.1939

In December 1886 the family at the Garden House at Palé was extensive, with children aged between 17 years and 11 months.  Thomas Alexander was 17, William Pamplin 14, Mary Emily 13, and of the second marriage to Frances Harriett , Henry was 4, Frances Harriett 2 and Caroline Elizabeth 11 months.

When Henry Robertson arranged for a post to be offered Thomas Alexander at the Plas Power colliery the eldest son of Thomas and first wife Mary was able to move away from Palé and begin a career at Plas Power where he worked for most of his life, moving for a brief time to Montserrat to work I am not able to identify.

As usual, his father Thomas on encountering an environment new to him took copious notes. Here is his account of the day:

December 3rd (Friday) Tommy and I left here by the 755 train in the morning for Plas Power Colliery, near Wrexham.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/plas-power.htm

http://nwmat1.wixsite.com/nwmat/plas-power-colliery

I had a letter of introduction from Mr Robertson to the secretary, F A Sturge Esquire. It was very cold being frosty with a coating of snow. We left the snow behind after leaving Ruabon. It was sunny and fine at Wrexham. On arriving at Wrexham we left the mainline and went up the Brymbo branch to Plas Power. We got to the office a little before 10 o’clock, and were very kindly received by Mr Sturge and those in the office. Our object in going was to make arrangements for Tommy to enter the Company’s office as junior clerk.

After we had a chat with Mr Sturge, he sent his cashier with us to get lodgings. Mr Hanmer the cashier took us to Mrs. Bevan of Glanrafon House, Southsea, because it was where he lodged when a boy, and as he had been very pcomfortable there he could recommend it above all others. Mrs Bevan said she would take him and after arranging with her we went to have a look at the works.

The working of a coal pit was only known to me by reading, but thepractical working was all new, so that I was highly interested in all I could see. Mr Hanmer very kindly took us over the workshops, engine room, and pit mouth. The colliery is the most complete in its arrangements of any in North Wales; all the machinery is new and of the most approved construction. The colliery has only been in working order for about nine years. Mr Robertson sank the pit and put it in working order, after which he made it into a Company. But the directorship is in the hands of his own family and immediate friends.

The pit is 270 yards deep and has an output of 1000 tons to 1200 tons of coal in a day. The number of men and boys employed is between 500 and 600 and it takesabout £2200 fortnightly to pay them. The colliers go down to work in the pit at 1 o’clock in the morning on Mondays and at 6 o’clock on other days. They work from 6 to 3:30 PM that is 9 1/2 hours in the pit. The night gang goes down at 9pm to get coal ready for the output. All works stops on the Sundays, except keeping up the files and keeping the engines going to ventilatethe pit. The funding wheel which ventilates the pit makes 160 revolutions per minute. There are two families for fear of accident, one keeps going at that speed night and day for six months, and when it stops the other takes its place. The night gang works the coal, and the day gang sends it it up. Each man has a number to his name and as he works the coal by the time it is weighed at the pit mouth and credited to his number. Each man’s coal being kept separate in the pit. The coal is sent up in little oval steel wagons called “tubs” one tub above the other in the “cage”, which is divided into divisions, and there are two cages one goes down when the other is ascending. As soon as the tubs of coal arrive at the surface they are pushed off to be weighed and empty, and empty tubs are pushed into their place. The cage brings up 30 men at a time and it takes half an hour to get the gang up. The cage takes 22 seconds to descend the 270 yards.

On going over the works, we saw a lamp room, carpenters shop, blacksmith shop, storeroom and other offices. The store room contains every requisite required for the pit, the various articles required by the colliers in the pit are sold to them in the storeroom. They get their lamps ready trimmed in the lamp room, but have to pay 3 half pence each shift for the use of them. The office is very prettilysituated and the neighbourhood is nicely undulated and present.

Southsea is a Scottish village of cottages chiefly occupied by colliers. Glanrafon House is a corner shop in a pleasant and clean street. After seeing the works Mr Sturge asked me to go and see Broughton old pit on my way to Wrexham by road. It was a colliery worked by Mr Robertson for many years. It is now turned into a pumping station with splendid machinery. It is situatedclose to Plas Power colliery, and pumps the water from a neighbouring colliery too. We had an extensive view from the top of the engine room, Broughton. I saw Brymbo for the first time; it is an extensive estate belonging to Mr. Robertson. On our way to Wrexham we passed Gatwen colliery, which is also worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/North/gatwen.htm

There is a steel work at Brymbo worked by Mr. Robertson and friends.

Thomas Alexander’s obituary, 1939
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1886: Casting a Critical eye – a visit to Nannau

Nannau, photographed by Charles Leventon and used from Geograph under Creative Commons.

Thomas records many visits to the great houses of mid Wales, sometimes at the invitation of the owner, with the hope of advice being given, at other times in a spirit of curiosity or even competition.  He doesn’t hold back in his comments in what was, after all, a private journal.

The Head Gardener of Nannau, Mr. Cooke, had visited Palé in September 1885.  It is not clear whether his visit was unannounced.  It may be that there was a small degree of wishing to see the estate as it was, without the opportunity of any tidying up in advance of a visit from a colleague.  Thomas’ return visit was certainly unannounced.

16th Wednesday  Mr. Cooke and friend called here for a run round the garden. Mr. Cooke is Gardener at Nannau, Dolgelly.

In June 1886 Miss Keable, Thomas’ wife’s friend and cousin stayed in the village.  As Frances Harriet had three very small children at the time, as well as her three elder step children, Thomas conducted Miss Fanny Hannah Keable on several expeditions during her visit, including to Nannau.

Miss Fanny Hannah Keable, Born in Battersea 1851, died Edinburgh 1936

Tuesday the 8th Miss Keable and I went to Nannau near Dolgelly.  We left here by the 11 train and got out at Bontnewyd station, from which we walked up an old road and through the Park to the Mansion.  The day was threatening rain, but it cleared up and became very warm and fine.  We lunched at 10 o’clock by the side of the little rill in full view of Cader Idris. Cader was very interesting to watch for scarcely could we get a glimpse of it before the mist enveloped it over and over again.  At last the sun shone brightly and then the mist disappeared and Cader stood out in all its beauty.

I found several interesting plants on the roadside between the station and the park, such as the bog Pimpernel the black Briony the Tutsan Saint John’s wort and the moonwort -four in a little field where we had lunch.   In the same field I caught a pair, or at least two, pretty Cinnabar months the first I ever saw, and the first Mr H. B. Robertson ever saw in Wales.  On our way through the park we saw a small herd of deer.  The park is rocky and undulated but is very poorly wooded.  It seems to have been well wooded at one time but when the old family of Vaughan got involved in debt, I expect that the timber was one of the 1st to be turned into money.  Passed two or three rustic towers, two lodges and a little pond on the way up, and we left the old kitchen garden on our left in which once stood the old “Haunted Oak”.

  “Of evil fame was Nannau’s antique tree                                                 Yet styled the hollow oak of Demonie.”

It fell on the 13 July 1813.  It is said that Owen Glyndwr slew his cousin Howel Sele of Nannau and threw his body into the hollow of this oak where the skeleton was discovered many years after.

We got to the modern gardens about 2 o’clock; they are near the mansion, a mile from the old kitchen garden. Mr Cooke the gardener unfortunately was from home having gone for the afternoon to the village of Llanfachreth, a most out of the way church and village 1 1/2 miles from Nannau.  We met the proprietor Mr Vaughan a tall burly elderly gentleman.  He was very civil and regretted Mr Cooke was from home, and asked me several questions about Palé.  We saw through the houses – one peach house, three vineries, I large unheated peach house in which grew (planted out) roses, peas et cetera.  The crop of peaches was very poor. There is a nice little greenhouse and pits. The kitchen garden is made up of a number of patches, enclosed by hedges and the grounds are very nice, but contain nothing in particular.  The mansion is a modern native stone plain building and it is said to be the most elevated site of a mansion in Britain, being 700 feet above sea level.

There are many interesting pages regarding Nannau in this website, including the census return showing the Roberts family at the Coachman’s house in 1891.

http://nannau.com/buildings/house-timeline.php

It stands on a watershed as it were of the park at the West base of Moel Offrwm, a rounded hill from which very extensive views can be obtained.

 After seeing the gardens I left my companion at the Coachman’s house, she having known Mrs Rogers 10 years ago when once round the Precipice Walk.  I thought of going to hunt up Mr Cooke at Llanfachreth, and went within half a mile of the village, then I feared I would not have time to go there, so turned back and went onto the Precipice Walk where I sat down and rested.  From my position I had very pleasing and extensive views.  Cader stood on my left, Barmouth and the sea further on, the noble estuary extending almost to Dolgelly, the rugged slopes on each side of the river Mawddach, which run along the bottom of the narrow Vale at the foot of the slope where I was sitting.  Far north I could see Snowdon and at the mountains, and to my right beyond Llanfachreith stood the hill of Robell Fawr, and further on Arenig and Aran. It was very warm, but a nice breeze called the air a little.

By Jeff Buck via Geograph using Creative Commons Heading north along the Precipice Walk next to Llyn Cynwch. The Precipice Walk is not a public footpath but a private walk over part of the Nannau estate, which dates back to the twelfth century. The public have been allowed to use the walk by the estate since 1890 on the understanding that they observe the country code, follow the route indicated and use the proper access.

I next went to the little lake of Cynwch, which is situated about half a mile from the mansion in a hollow between two low wooded ridges.  It is a most desolate looking lake, entirely devoid of beauty or interest. The sides are composed of roughangular fragments of rock without a patch of gravel.  I picked up a few fragments of plants, which had been cast upon the shore – they were leaves of quill wort but I could not see the plant growing, nor could I see any Lobelia, shells, or anything else of interest. The lake is about a mile in length and a quarter mile wide. It does not seem to be deep and it stands about 100 feet higher than the mansion.  On my way back I met F. K. and Mrs. Rogers. I saw Lobelia in abundance growing in a pond between the mansion and the lake.  We left in at 6:20 o’clock and got to Dolgelly by 7.20.  We walked pretty fast all the way, distance about 4 miles. Saw a few good trees along the drive, and several fine four-leaved beech, Austrian Pine, etc.  We had pretty glimpses of the scenery on the way home, and got here safely.