To Crown the Year – 1889

The Kingsley Memorial Medal of the Chester Society of Natural Science

The years 1888 and 1889 had brought both sorrow and honour to the Robertson family of Palé. Henry Robertson whose talents and acumen had brought the family fortune and honour died suddenly in March 1888, and it would seem that the family’s finances were immediately somewhat diminished as Thomas Ruddy reports having to lay off some men from his gardening team. Only just over a later Henry’s second daughter Annie Sherriff, née Robertson had died after a short but distressing illness. The young Henry Beyer Robertson, only 25 at his father’s death, immediately after the death of his sister had shouldered the not inconsiderable task of hosting Queen Victoria and her entourage for a 5 day stay at Palé Hall in August 1889.

Thomas Ruddy played an important role in the visit in a number of ways (see earlier posts) and had been rewarded with the gift of a pearl scarf pin from the Queen. In September 1889, therefore, the Robertson and Ruddy families must have been anticipating a quieter and more settled few months to end the year. However, Thomas was about to receive a shock.

Sunday the 22nd  [September]. To my very great surprise, I had a letter on this day from Mr. G. R. Griffith to say that at a meeting last Friday of the committee of the Chester Society of Natural Science, I was awarded the Kingsley Memorial medal, and that he, Mr Griffith as Secretary personally congratulated me.  This was an honour I little expected, and although I have done some good work, it has all been done as a labour of love.

It would seem that Thomas initially declined the offer (although he does not state this in the journal) giving as his reason his nervousness at the thought of receiving the medal personally in public, and his concern at leaving Palé during the absence of Mr. H B Robertson, who was to visit the Paris Exhibition at that time – although he might also have scruples at the slight of hand Mr. Griffith proposed to give Thomas the residential qualifications enshrined in the bye-laws – the counties of Chester and Flint – Thomas did not in fact ever stay at Llantysilio Hall.

It took a further letter from Mr. Griffiths and one from a third party, Thomas’ friend George Dickson, nurseryman and member of the Chester Society, to persuade Thomas to accept.

Mr. Griffiths’ second letter

By September 23rd Thomas was ready to write a gracious and self-deprecatory reply, accepting the honour.

Thomas’ acceptance letter part 1
Thomas’ acceptance letter part 2

And so it was arranged, that Thomas Ruddy, geologist, entirely self-taught and without academic qualification or membership of a learned society, became the 12th recipient of the Kingsley Memorial Medal.

The next post will describe the occasion when he received it from the Countess of Grosvenor.

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The sad story of Annie Robertson

Annie Robertson (1855 – 1889) was the second daughter of railway engineer Henry Robertson.  Her elder sister Elizabeth was four year older, then came Henrietta in 1858 and finally brother and heir Henry Beyer in 1862.

Annie was born in Shrewsbury, and in the 1861 census, when Annie was 6, the family were already living in some elegance. The household then consisted of the parents and three daughters, Mrs. Robertson’s mother, Ann  Dean and Mrs Robertson’s brothers Charles, also a civil engineer and Joshua, Secretary of a railway company, also 17 year old nephew John. They were supported by a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nursery Maid and three housemaids.  Clearly a family on the up.

A Georgian house in St Mary’s Court, Shrewsbury, possibly the Robertsons’ home?

During the census of 1871 the Robertson family, parents and children were living at 13 Lancaster Gate, London, a home which they retained during the rest of Henry Robertson’s lifetime.  Henry, aged 55,  is by now described as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant – presumably of Merionethshire, not London.  The Dean family no longer lived with them.  As well as Governess, Housekeeper, Cook and three Housemaids there were a Ladiesmaid, Butler and Under Butler.

Some time before this, Henry Robertson had acquired the Welsh estate of Crogen, and then bought the Palé estate and had Palé Hall built.  The family moved in on September 18th 1871, the carriage in which they arrived being pulled up from the Lodge to the Hall by the estate workmen. The 16 year old Annie must have been delighted by the splendid and luxurious house and its beautiful grounds.  The family maintained the ownership of Crogen, renting it out.  The Robertson family continue to live at Crogen.

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress from 1840. Victoria set the fashion for white wedding dresses

Only just over a year later, in December 1872, Annie Robertson married Alexander Sherriff. This was somewhat surprising, since her elder sister had not yet married, and there would have been an expectation that the eldest married first. Since Annie was only 18, it is likely that this was a love match. Alexander was 8 years older than Annie. He had been born in Leeds, but in 1871 had been living with his extended family at Prospect House, Sunbury. His father was M.P. for Leicester, other relatives were members of the Stock exchange, so it is likely that Annie met her future husband through her father’s network of city and political friends.

In May 1878 Annie, Mrs. Sherriff, was visiting Palé Hall with her sisters in law. A visit to see Thomas’ fossil collection led to several days’ expedition with Thomas, and including Henry Beyer Robertson when some enthusiastic fossil hunting took place and Mrs. Sherriff also did some water colour painting. This shows the degree of trust and respect existing between the Robertson family and their Head Gardener.

May 3rd Miss Robertson brought Miss Sherriff, and Miss Alice Sherriff to see my fossils and general collection; they were very much pleased. After seeing them we went together in the wagonette to Garnedd [SH896355]to see the Bala beds and to collect fossils. Mr. H.B. Robertson went with us. We got several nice fossils and walked back together.

May 18th I went with the Misses Sherriff & Mrs. Sherriff [nee Robertson]to Gelli Grin, to geologise. The first two worked uncommonly hard at stone-breaking. –I never saw more enthusiastic ladies fossil hunting. Mrs Sherrif was painting a sketch. They all enjoyed themselves very much and were very courteous.

May 21st. The above party went went with me to Cynwyd, where I first showed them Cynwyd falls. I next led them up to the fossil ground, but it was raining, so that it was not very encouraging, but the ladies were cheerful and willing to proceed. When we got up two miles, the rain suddenly ceased, and it turned quite a fine day. On looking back we could see the Arenig white with fresh-fallen snow. We got several interesting fossils at the first ground. After luncheon we went to work at the upper beds at Bwlch-y-Gaseg, where we were unusually successful. Miss Sherriff was continually calling out that she was getting fat ones–that is large shells. We got Trilobites, shells and corals. Mrs. Sherriff sat sketching the distant view. They were very free, courteous and kind, and we got home well pleased with our trip, although it was a hard day’s work.

Just over eight years after their marriage, which was childless, Alexander died on the 8th February 1880 at the Robertson London family home in Lancaster Gate, leaving Annie a widow at 26. It is difficult to know how Annie spent the few remaining years of her widowhood. From Thomas’ journal of 1887 we can see that she spent some time on the Continent at Nice, and that her regard for Thomas and memory of his collections remained in her mind:

Tuesday the 29th [March 1887] Mrs. Sheriff, who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck. Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria. Many other curious articles were found in the same place.

The next mention of Annie is in March 1889 when she falls ill:

March Monday 4thMrs Sherriff ill, was at church yesterday, and in the garden with me on Saturday, but seems to have caught a chill. 

Mrs. Sherriff very ill during the night, her old malady erysipelas has again got hold of her.

Sunday 10thMrs. Sherriff so very ill that I had to stop the turret clock. Everything done inside and outside the Hall to keep down noises. 

Wednesday 13 Mrs Sherriff has been very ill day and night, Dr Waters of Chester and Mr Williams of Bala with her all night.  Everybody about it very anxious about her, and great sympathy felt with Mr Robertson and all of them.

Wednesday, April 3  Mrs. Robertson told me that Mrs Sherriff was taken into Mr Robertson’s room, which is over entrance hall; she is now watched night and day by three nurses, who take it in turns. I am sorry to say that her mind seems to be unhinged.

Saturday the 20thMrs Sherriff taken to Eryl Aran near Bala I am sorry to say that she is no better; bodily she is, but mentally she is not. I put on the turret clock again after Mrs S. left here.

Sadly, in July Annie died at the private nursing home in Bala where she had been since her illness affected her mind:

Wednesday the 24th July Mrs Sherriff who has been unwell since her severe illness in March), died at Eryl Aran this morning at 3:30 o’clock.  Mrs Sherriff has been of late much better, but was taken very ill two days ago, and suffered severely yesterday and during the night from suffocation with sore throat. We all deeply sympathise with Mr Robertson and his sisters, for they have had a large share of trouble since Mr Robertson died. Mrs Sherriff has been very confidential with me about their troubles, and ready to assist me in any way possible since I had to reduce the men. Mrs Sherriff also was ever ready to lend me books, and it was very pleased with my success in Natural History, and was at all times interested in any additions to my collection. Very few ladies were so talented as Mrs Sherriff herself, she had splendid abilities, and worked hard; painting being her special study, and at this she was very successful. I fear that she overworked her brain, and thought herself to an untimely end.

Mourning angel, Cookham churchyard, Berkshire

So Annie was buried at Llandderfel, a few months after her 34th birthday, and only just over a year after the death of her father. Thus it was with these two family deaths still fresh, that the young Henry Beyer Robertson had to plan and take responsibility for entertaining the Queen and her extensive household just five weeks later.

1889 A Welsh rural portrait


A page from Thomas Ruddy’s Commonplace book  – from the handwriting written after his retirement

One of the reasons I have been able to continue transcribing and editing Thomas Ruddy’s journals for over 12 years, is the quality of his extended writing, as well as the liveliness of his intellect and curiosity.  As well as the attention to the natural world around him, and to family events and the life of the family and visitors at Palé Hall, he shows a keen interest in the people living around him, sometimes painting vivid pen portraits of his neighbours.  This often occurs when they die.  A particularly noteworthy example is his portrait of the tombstone engraver Robert Edwards known as ‘The Derfel’ – a significant nickname as the village name, Llandderfel springs from its patron saint, St. Derfel (see here)

‘The Derfel’ was one of three elderly men to die:

Friday the 18th.                           three of our oldest inhabitants have died within the last fortnight, namely Thomas Hughes of Pantyffynon, aged 74, John Williams the oldest tailor in the village aged 74 and Robert Edwards (The Derfel) a tombstone engraver of the village, aged 76.  The Derfel has been quite an eccentric character; he passed off as a poet, painter, political writer and an engraver, the engraving was his strength, for he could claim that little merit in the other three.  As a tombstone engraver, he is well known all over Merioneth, Denbigh, and Carnarvonshire, for like old mortality he seldom stayed long anywhere, he was ever on the move, and when at work his usual haunts were among the dead. He was very irregular in his working habits, for he would idle sometimes for days, or spend his time writing letters to the newspapers published in Welsh, and at other times he would work from daylight too dark at the tombstones. People had great difficulty to get him to engrave for them, for he was of a very independent mind; a relative or peers told me he would rather half starve than ask people for his money; he would, when straightened for food, go to some of the neighbouring farmers for a meal, Brynmelyn being always a house of refuge.

The Derfel married when about 30 years of age, his wife did not live long, and he had no children, so he has lived a widower ever since, and seldom had a woman to do for him; when at home he did all for himself, and in a very eccentric fashion; if he put the kettle on to boil, he could not stay in the house until it boiled, that would walk to the river bridge and back, a distance of half a mile each way. He has kept the file of the Banner Welsh newspaper for over 40 years, but his household goods would be the better of a good dusting. As he was seldom at home, his house was mostly locked up with newspaper in the window as blind. He had a considerable share of self esteem, so that his neighbours seldom got on well with him, he thought all should acknowledge his superior judgement.

In religion, he belonged to the Independent, or Congregational body but owing to something [72] which displeased him at the Village Chapel, he very rarely went to it, he would rather go to distant chapels on the Sunday. The Derfel has one brother living in the village, and who has been the Parish Clerk for some years, and is by trade shoemaker; his name is David Edwards. The wife of David is living, and he has two sons grown-

The page from Thomas’ Commonplace Book, shown above, indicates his wide-ranging literary knowledge and tastes.  The fact that some quotations are given page numbers suggests that Thomas himself owned the books from which the quotations are taken.  Thomas seems to enjoy the work of Coleridge and Southey from among the Romantic poets.  In browsing the Commonplace book I have come across little Wordsworth, but his witty, insightful and sympathetic portrait of The Derfel has something in common with Wordsworth’s Old Cumberland Beggar:

.......
Many, I believe, there are
Who live a life of virtuous decency,
Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel
No self-reproach; who of the moral law
Established in the land where they abide
Are strict observers; and not negligent
In acts of love to those with whom they dwell,
Their kindred, and the children of their blood. Praise be to such, and to their slumbers peace!
--But of the poor man ask, the abject poor;
Go, and demand of him, if there be here
In this cold abstinence from evil deeds,
And these inevitable charities,
Wherewith to satisfy the human soul?
No--man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.
...................

Part of Llandderfel village photographed by John Thomas

A

1889 Queen Victoria’s visit – retrospective

 

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Photograph of Queen Victoria displayed in the Victorian Schoolroom, Milton Keynes Museum

Insights are interesting and sometimes amusing – the Queen’s preference for whisky rather than wine with meals; the request of the Indian servants for flowers in their railway carriage, somewhat contributing to the suggestion that other members of the Household thought that they gave themselves undue airs and were over indulged by the Queen.  Also the picture of Thomas being allowed by the head housemaid Miss Reynolds to sit in the Queen’s chair.

Q_Victoria_in_bangalore
Queen Victoria’s statue in Bangalore, erected 1906, 5 years after her death. Photograph Rajesh Dangi GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the volume of Thomas’ journal he has pasted newspaper reports concerning some of the people he had met during the visit.

It must be acknowledged that the Queen worked hard while at Palé, for she was out to somewhere every day. I learned that her Majesty keeps very regular hours; she get up at 8 am, has breakfast at 10, but takes a cup of tea when she gets up.  The Queen gets through a good deal of business before 10 o’clock. The Queen is fond fruit and has usually a plate of fruit on her breakfast table; she is more fond of peaches than grapes. If the weather is at all favourable, her Majesty is very fond of having her breakfast in a tent on the lawn; the weather was  unsettled for that here. Luncheon time is at 1 o’clock,, and dinner at 9 o’clock, rather a late hour. Her Majesty’s usual dinner beverage is whisky, either in seltzer or Lithia water, she never drinks beer and seldom wine.

Her Majesty usually sat up writing until one or 2 o’clock in the morning. When her Majesty dined upstairs, she always had the Princess Alix with her, sometimes Lady Churchill, sometimes the Hon. Harriet Phipps, at other times Sir John McNeil, Sir H. Ponsonby, or any other to make up a party of four with her, including Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg, making five with the Queen. The chief Indian helped the Queen down the stairs, the Queen taking hold of his arm, and holding onto a thick cord put up for the purpose with the right-hand. Her Majesty had to be carried upstairs, an Indian and a Highlander always carried her Majesty upstairs on a chair kept for the purpose; whichever of them went before her Majesty, had to walk backwards. The Queen’s maids are called “dressers” and not ladies’ maids. When they retire from the Queen, they bow to her Majesty by bending the right knee and wheel around and away. When Lady Churchill all the Hon. H Phipps retired, they bent the knee and made a graceful bow. When Mr. Robertson was presented by Mr Raikes to her Majesty, he went down on his right knee and kissed Her Majesty’s hand. I was told that the Queen asked Mr Thompson, her page, at a dinner where the fruit for her table was from, because she remarked that it was very beautiful fruit.  Indeed her Majesty is in the habit of making enquiries into things, and takes much notice of the servants of her household.

There was a master cook (Mr Feltham), a meat cook,(Mr Tustan) a pastry cook (Mon. Ferry), and a roasting cook (Mr. Goring). There was a kitchen maid with the Queen, Miss Lamond, a Balmoral Lassie, and a head housemaid, a native of Suffolk, named Miss Reynolds. Mr. Bishop was the Queens upholsterer.  Then there was a tapissier, a cellar man, several tall strong looking footmen, some in scarlet and gold liveries.   The four Indians being Mahometans, cooked for themselves, and would not eat any meat except it had been killed by themselves.  They only have fowls while they were here. The chief Indian came with the one Mr Clark introduced to me, the evening they were going to leave and wanted a few flowers to put in their carriage when in the Royal train. Both were tall, about 5’10” live and very active men. They were natives of Agra. They were dark brown in colour, but a little man who acted as Cook was rather darker in colour. I got them to give me their names; the chief wrote for both, because he was able to write in English, and he learned since he came over in the year of the Jubilee.  The chief wrote his name as follows – “Mūnshi Hafiz Abdul Karim, Indian Clerk to the Queen Empress”.  Both were very pleased with me for showing them the flowers and fruit. The chief Indian was belonging to a lancer regiment when in India, and he often amuses the Queen by going through the tent pegging on and Arabian horse.

A sanitised version of the swift despatch of the Munshi following Queen Victoria’s death, as depicted with some historical accuracy in the film Victoria and Abdul. Note the assertion that he had been well provided for!

Mr. Schoberth acts as a factotum in looking after indoor supplies, and general management. He is shrewd German. The dressers were elderly ladies; they did not go out with the Queen to any place while here.  They dined with the upper servants. The Queen brought a couch and an easy chair with her, both were upholstered in figured damask. There were two little pillows on the couch, one at each end. The chair was a low, very comfortable one to sitting, for I sat in it ( by the request of Miss Reynolds) and looked nice in its crimson and gold damask.  The Queen always takes a bedstead and bedding with her wherever she goes. It is her travelling bed. It was a plain half tester mahogany with curtains of figured white muslin, and green satin hangings. The counterpane was a beautiful work of art; it had figures of squirrels, butterflies, foliage and fruit worked all over it in raised work, and most beautifully done. The material of it was all fine soft satin. The Queen also brought an inkstand with her it is made from the hoof of the favourite horse, which Prince Albert used to ride out on, and on which Her Majesty used to ride too.  The hoof was gold mounted and had an inscription on it to say it was the hoof of Prince Albert’s horse.

The Queen brought a large quantity of massive silver plate to Palé; the articles were heavy. The glass was also very good cut glass ornamented with the crown. Her Majesty had peas, French beans, cauliflower, etc. from the garden. I had plenty of vegetable marrows but her Majesty is not fond of them.  Prints and Princess Henry of Battenberg are fond of fruit, the Prince is fond of white grapes. I had the pleasure of packing the Queens fruit box, the one she takes with her when travelling. It is a moderate size square silver box, about 10 inches long seven wide and four deep I put a good little bunch of grapes into it, two peaches, and two pears I had from Mon. Ferry.  The Queen was to take it with her for use on the way to Scotland.

 Wednesday 28th The Queen’s horses, carriages, stablemen, police, pages and Mr and Mrs Manning left at 10 o’clock forenoon in a special train for Windsor and London. The Queen had 15 horses, and 10 men in the stables; in fact I may say we had all the Queen’s horses and all the Queens men to put Humpty Dumpty up again. The carriages were travelling carriages, and the horses were useful roadsters, but nothing much to look at. The pony for the garden chair was 26 years old, strong and bulky. The little carriage was very comfortable one on four wheels. The men in the stables cooked their own food in the saddle room. Carriages were plain but comfortable. The men were very civil and allowed me to take any friends through the stables to see the horses, and to look at the carriages.

Many people called here during the day to see Palé and the grounds. I went through with the Fronderw family, Mrs Jones and young ladies. Mr and Mrs Edwards of Liverpool were here also, and had tea with us.

Thursday the 29thMany people here today and again to see through the house and grounds. The Queen’s Cooks left for Windsor. I brought out all of my plants and vases again for fear of getting injured.

Both Highlanders at Palé, Hugh Brown and Francis Clark were related to John Brown.

Alix

27th August 1889 afternoon

Vic in residence
Queen Victoria about 1889 (not taken at Palé Hall)

27th AUGUST 1889

AFTERNOON

At 4.30 the Queen accompanied by the Princess Alix and Lady Churchill passed out at my house on the way to see Bala Lake. Mr. Savage told us to expect the Queen to pass out at the above time. Frances (TR’s wife) got the three little ones (Frances Harriet, Caroline Elizabeth and Amelia Agnes ) to stand in a group with Amelia in the middle on the table in front of the parlour bow window to see the Queen pass. The three were not close to the window for fear it might be offensive to Her Majesty, but they could easily be seen, and they looked a pretty group with their smiling faces. When the carriage was passing the Princess saw them and smiled at them, and then pulled the Queen by the sleeve so as to call her attention to them; when the Queen saw them she smiled at them and nodded to them very pleasantly. We all had a good view of her, and we thought it very gracious of herself and the Princess to take such notice of the children.

After tea, Frances took Henry as far as Tyndol for a walk, on returning the Queen’s carriage passed them, Frances bowed, and Henry touched his cap, Her Majesty acknowledged them by bowing to them. During the afternoon, Mr. Robertson told him the Queen had been talking with him in the morning, and that she asked him about me,and was very pleased to hear him say I came from Scotland.  Mr. Robertson also said that when the Queen glanced at the fossils on entering the fruit room and before I got there, she remarked how very like an Ammonite my specimens of Lithuites were – a remark which shows Her Majesty has a good eye when looking at such things. Mr. Robertson also added that he was very pleased to see the Queen take such deep interest in my collection, and he said he did not think the Queen was much of a geologist but that she was certainly much interested.

At 6.30, Mr. Hugh Brown, Her Majesty’s Highland attendant came to me and giving me a small brown case, said “The Queen bid me give you this”, on opening it I found it to contain a very beautiful gold and pearl scarf pin. I was highly pleased with my present, and asked him how I was to thank Her Majesty, at which he said, “I am to do that for you, for I know the lassie gie weel.”  I felt most grateful, and will all my life value it and treasure it as a precious relic, given to me by the best Queen who has occupied the throne of England for centuries, and perhaps the best that ever occupied it.

Hugh Brown was the brother of the more famous John Brown.  See a letter from Queen Victoria to Hugh Brown here 

Thomas left the scarf pin in his will to his eldest son by his second marriage, The Revd. Henry Ruddy. I do not know what then happened to it thereafter, but it was not amongst the objects left in the will of Henry’s only son Denys.

Her Majesty would have given it to me from her own hand if there had been time to do so, and I understand it is her usual custom to do so if at all convenient. The pin is heavy, of very good gold, horseshoe shape,* [*footnote Mrs. Wilson (Mr. Robertson’s sister) told me that the Queen is fond of giving horse-shoe articles, because it is thought they bring good luck] and is studded with nine large and beautiful pearls. It has quite a striking and handsome appearance. I learned from one of Her Majesty’s attendants that the Queen had been reading the chapter on the Silurian rocks of the Dee valley, which Mr. Darlington of Llangollen got me to write for insertion into his Guide to the Dee Valley.  The queen remarked to the attendant that it was written by the gardener here, and added “And he comes from Scotland.”

Mr. Francis Clark told me that I got through my interview with the Queen very well, considering I came from Scotland!  Both Highlanders are evidently valued and faithful servants of Her Majesty, and both were good natured and free in manners. Mr. Grant, a Queen’s Messenger was also very good nature, and so were nearly all the attendants.

Screenshot 2018-08-26 18.15.40

 Tuesday Evening  At 9.30 we went to the station to take our places so as to witness the departure of the Queen and her suite. There were 400 or 500 persons present some of them from Bala. The Llanderfel choir were on the stand in their costumes, and had Chinese lanterns. Banners were everywhere to be seen, and when the time for the departure was near, the heather arch near the station was illuminated, but the wind was rather high for it to look well. All the houses in the village and neighbourhood were illuminated, which had a very pretty effect. On Moel Calch there was a bonfire which burned brightly and added very much to beautify the scene. A little before ten o’clock an outrider came up and shortly after theQueen came in an open carriage with the Prince and Princesses. The people were most enthusiastic and cheered loud and long and the Choir sang the National Anthem. The Queen bowed to the people and was evidently well pleased. The members of her household were also cheered, and when the Queen alighted from her carriage, she walked with the aid of the stick which she accepted from the Llanderfel people. There was a mottoe (sic) spanning the way to the train which said “Come again!”

The Royal train left the station two or three minutes past ten, the Queen put her head out at the carriage window and said “I Thank you all very much”.  The people cheered again and again, the choir sang on until the Royal train went from sight, and nothing could be nicer than the whole scene, a scene which all can never forget.  The loyalty and behaviour of the people could not be better, and after the Queen left, all dispersed quietly to their homes.  Crowds of people cheered the Royal train at every station on the way to Chester.

Queen Victoria’s Journal here

27th August 1889 morning at Palé

Vic in residence
Queen Victoria about 1889 (not taken at Palé Hall)

 

27th AUGUST 1889

THE QUEEN’S

MORNING AT

PALÉ

 

I never expected to have the great pleasure of talking quietly with her face to face, and to have the pleasure of showing my collection to our beloved Queen was quite beyond all expectation.‘  This unusually lengthy passage details a moment which was certainly the highlight of the Queen’s visit for Thomas, and probably the highlight of his entire life.

After planting a tree in the garden, the Queen and Princess Alix proceed to the fruit room where encouraged by Dr. Reid the Queen makes a detailed and close examination of his fossil and mineral collections.  Her question about the age of a bronze age axe has to bee seen in the light of the Darwinian controversy earlier in her reign, and the tension between church and science about the age of the Earth.  The Queen’s question has to be seen as forensic, and Thomas’ reply as diplomatic!  Her question about his origins in Scotland show that his accent even after so many years away from Jedburgh had remained Scottish.  He certainly wasn’t going to divulge his Irish roots.

The Queen’s Journal mentions to inspection of the fossils only briefly.  Since we are reading Princess Beatrice’s redaction of the original Journal it is not possible to say whether she mentioned Thomas.  Beatrice was known to excise mention of the servants from her version of the Journal, thus diplomatically excising mentions of John Brown or the Munshi Abdul Hafiz.

Sir Theodore Martin called at Palé during the morning, and returned to Berwyn before luncheon. Colonel Wilson and Mr. Darby came from Brymbo accompanied by the heads of various departments at the steel works, exhibited specimens of ornamental steel to Her Majesty, and had specimens to illustrate the process of steel manufacture. Mr. Robertson went with them. Mr. Edwards of Trevor showed Her Majesty specimens of his TerraCotta (sic)  Several others exhibited various articles.

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Turkey Oak leaf

The queen next wished to plant a tree in the grounds in memory of her visit; everything was ready and Her Majesty planted a Turkey Oak a little beyond the end of the lawn tennis ground. Her Majesty took one of the garden steel spades in her hand and with the help of Mr. Clark her Highland attendant put some fine earth on the root of the tree, and said ‘Shall I put a little more on it’.  Her majesty was accompanied by the Princess Alix of Hesse (The Queen’s granddaughter ), Lady Churchill, Mr. Robertson and the aboveMr. Francis Clark. Mr. Cameron and I were present to see the ceremony, which was performed at quarter to twelve noon.

After the ceremony was over, the Queen asked which way she was to go next, so Mr. Robertson asked her if she would like to see the cromlech, the Queen said ‘Yes’ and added, ‘Anywhere.’  Mr Clark then led the pony ( the Queen had entered her pony carriage) along the lower walk under the Cromlech wood; the Queen walked from her little carriage to see the cromlech, and after the Queen was seated again, Mr. Robertson guided her to the end of the long walk, from which they then returned by the upper walk and crossed the lawn again as when going to the front of the Hall. From there, they came by the front, passing the gun room, until they arrived sat the little iron gate leading to the Lower, or fruit garden. Here the Queen got out to walk round the lower garden.

During the time the Queen was along the long walk, or “Queen’s Walk” as it ought to be called now, I went to get in the fruit for luncheon. I was coming from the upper or Kitchen garden when I was met by Mr. Francis Clark whotold me that I must come at once to go with the Queen around the garden. I followed Mr. Clark, and as the Queen by this time had got to the end of the walk leading to the conservatory. Mr. Clark and I went round the west end of the garden and past the conservatory to the store door; here Mr. Clark told me to stay until I was called; the Queen continued her walk until she got to the fruit room steps; here a halt was made as the Queen expressed a wish to go up into the fruit room to see my fossils etc. Dr Reid was in possession of it with the door open [TR’s footnote: I used to leave the key of the fruit-room on a nail for Dr. Reid to see the fossils at his leisure]; the doctor was near the door, examining the fossils, he told the Queen he was much interested in the fossils, and Her Majesty said ‘I fear you are more interested in the fruit than in the fossils.’ – This caused a laugh at the Doctor’s expense. The Doctor then came out and told the Queen it wasvery interesting up there – meaning the fruit- room. The Queen was then helped up the stone steps and Mr. Clark was at once sent back for me to go to explain the collection to Her Majesty.

On entering the fruit room, I found the Queen with her head down looking over the fossils; Mr Robertson was standing on the left by the door, Mr. Francis Clark on the right near the door, Lady Churchill in the north passage of the fruit room, and the Princess Alix standing at the end next the door of the south passage. The Princess looked straight at me, and as the Queen was stooping over the fossils, I bowed to the Princess, who nodded back.  On the Queen raising her head, she looked at me, Mr. Robertson said, “This is the gardener,”and when I bowed the Queen nodded, and then said “These are very wonderful and must be very interesting,” and added, “Did you get these yourself?” I answered Her Majesty that I collected and arranged them all myself, then Her Majesty said, “Very nice” and continued examining the specimens.  I pointed out to the Queen the arrangement of the various groups and their peculiarities, the Queen remarking as I went on “Yes, yes.”

I took up one of the tablets [TR’s footnote Echinospherites balticus]and showed the Queen the label on the back of it, which gives particulars of the locality where the fossil was found and other information. Her Majesty read the label slowly and carefully, and then said “Very nice”.  When Her Majesty looked at my specimens of univalves or fossil snailshells, she remarked, “Wonderful, so natural”.  Then Her Majesty asked me, “Are these from near here?”  I told Her Majesty that they were to be found in various locations between Corwen and Bala, and that Bala was the typical district for Bala fossils, but they were also to be found near Llangollen. Her Majesty then said “This part must be rich in these”, and after a prolonged examination Her Majesty said “Very nice”.

Screenshot 2018-08-26 16.46.49
Echiospherites specimens – an extinct group related to the sea lily and starfish, found as fossils in Ordovician marine rocks (between 505 and 438 million years old).

The Princess [TR’s footnote Now Empress of Russia –Nov 1894] took up the tablet on which the gold quartz from Gwynfynydd or the Morgan minewas fixed, I told the Princess to take it to the door where the light was best, and then the Princess examined it carefully as I pointed out where the visible gold was to be seen. The Queen was much interested in it, and when I told Her Majesty that it was from the Morgan mine near Dolgelly, Her Majesty gave me a nod and smiled very knowingly, as much as to say plainly “All that glisters is not gold.”  In fact the mine has been so puffed that people are distrustful of it.  [TR’s footnote (it was a failure afterwards)]

The Princess Alix then called the attention of Her Majesty to my flint flakes, stone hatchets bronze hatchets, etc. Her Majesty took up the bronze hatchet or Celt in her hand, examined it, read the label on it, and asked me if it was found near here, I said it had been found on the estate, then Her Majesty took it between her fingers, and looking at me closely and straight in the face said “Can you tell me the age of this?”  I at once answered “I think that is beyond man’s knowledge, Your Majesty,” and as I said this I looked full into Her Majesty’s face, which was only half a yard from mine; Her Majesty still looking into my face said, “Well, I suppose it is.”

After that the Queen seemed to have finished her inspection of the fossils,and as she was standing looking round at the room, Lady Churchill told her Mr. Robertson wished her to have a peach; Her Majesty said “Not now” [TR’s footnote; When the queen was inspecting the fossils and chatting, she was at her natural ease, but stood dignified when talking ofthe fruit.] and then added “You have very fine peaches and grapes here,indeed, very fine fruit.”

When the Queen prepared to go down the steps again, her pug dog went to get down, but seemed afraid to go, and stood whining on the top step. Her Majesty then said to Mr. Clark the Highland attendant “Carry him down carefully,”  and then smiling and looking at all of us said, “He has the rheumatism and cannot well go down.” Then when Her Majesty was being helped down the steps, Mr. Robert son told me to go before and open the hot house doors for Her Majesty. The Queen looked into the forcing houses but was afraid to go through for the heat, then she walked slowly and stiffly along the back of the forcing houses until she got to the end of the peach house, here she stopped to admire a beautiful border of penstemons in full bloom; then she walked slowly after me through the peach-house, remarking to the Princess when she saw the peaches caught in nets, “That is very nice”, then through the conservatory, and on getting into the vinery, Her Majesty looked at me in the face and said, “I suppose this is a good country for fruit and flowers.”  I said it was very fair.

Screenshot 2018-08-26 18.04.22
Queen Victoria’s pug ‘Basco’ is seen here at her feet. Princess Alix and Princess Beatrice stand behind the Queen. Note her ‘boat shaped hat trimmed with white flowers’ as mentioned by Thomas. About 1887, Royal Collection

We got out at the west door of the vinery, and then past the flower border in which grew Love-in-a-mist, Victoria asters,salpiglotis, gladioli, Rockets, Dahlias, and sunflowers next the wall. Then past the narrow flower border, in which grew dwarf chrysanthemum, asters, peony asters and African marigolds.  Her Majesty admired the flowers, and stopped when she got near the west entrance gate to admire the iron palisade which was almost hidden with flowers, consisting of clematis, scarlet and yellow nasturtiums, the yellow creeper Tropaeolum Canariense, and the Tropaeolum Speciosum. The whole had a striking and beautiful effect, and as Her Majesty looked at it, she called the attention of the Princess Alix to it and said, “Isn’t that beautiful,” and then said as she pointed to the Tropaeolum Speciosum “That is a pretty little red plant.”

When Her Majesty got seated in her pony carriage, she turned to me and said “What part of Scotland do you come from?” I said “From Jedburgh,Your Majesty,” at which the Queen remarked to Lady Churchill, “That is near Floors” (Floors Castle, Kelso), Lady Churchill said “It is”, then the Queen said looking at me again “I have been there”, and I said “And to Jedburgh too Your Majesty”, the Queen at that nodded to me and said “Yes”. Then she said “I do not wish to get out again”.

Mr. Robertson then told me to go on before and tell the stable keepers to open the stable doors so that the Queen could look in. When the pony carriage was led past the doors, Her Majesty said “I see they are very nice.” After that the Queen continued her out past my house, and went down the road to see the laundry, and the other houses there, and returned up the drive to the Hall.  I left at the gate here as I wished to finish getting the fruit. Mr. Robertson signalled to me the time to leave. I left my hat near the outside of the fruit room door when I entered, and went afterwards round with the Queen without it. Mr Robertson did the same.

When I went to the Queen in the fruit room, I felt nervous, but Her Majesty’s very pleasant way of speaking to me, and her kind manner eased me very much. Indeed, her manner was simplicity itself. Her way of speaking was in short sentences, and like stout people with a little difficulty. The queen evidently wished me to feel at ease, for she looked pleasantly at me and spoke very kindly to me.

Before Her Majesty came to Palé I was wondering if it would be possible for me to get a good look at her, but I never expected to have the great pleasure of talking quietly with her face to face, and to have the pleasure of showing my collection to our beloved Queen was quite beyond all expectation. To me certainly it was a Red Letter Day, and I fully appreciated Her Majesty’s kindness in honouring my collection with a visit.

The Queen is under middle height, has a very full round face very stout, and hair grey. She wore a dress having black and grey stripes, a black mantle with a fringe to it. Her hat was large, of boat shape, with white flowers in front. When walking she took short steps and walked stiffly, from the effects of her rheumatism, I expect. I was pleased to see the great interest Her Majesty took in everything.

Screenshot 2018-08-26 17.07.24
Dr. Reid, the Queen’s Physician

When I went back to the fruit room for my hat, I found Dr. Reid inspecting my collection again, as soon as he got Her Majesty away he went back again, and there I left him as I wanted something to eat. Mr. Minshall of the Oswestry Advertiser was in my house waiting for me to get particulars of my interview with the Queen, but I declined to say more than that her Majesty inspected my collection with much interest.

After the Queen had luncheon, Mr. Evan Morris, Mayor of Wrexham, arrived at Palé and was knighted by Her Majesty. Sir John McNeill handed his sword to Her Majesty, and as Mr. Morris knelt on his right knee, Her Majesty touched him on both shoulders with the sword, and addressing him as Sir Evan Morris, commanded him to rise. Sir John Puleston also came to Palé and was presented to the Queen by Mr. Raikes. Mr. Raikes left during the afternoon. I only saw Mr. Raikes when he was with the Queen at the dog trials; he was very tall, stout and full-faced.

Queen Victoria’s Journal here

27th August 1889

Vic in residence
Queen Victoria about 1889 (not taken at Palé Hall)

 

 

 

 

27TH AUGUST 1889

MORNING

 

The fruits produced in the hothouses of Palé Hall were obviously popular, not only with Queen Victoria who was presented with them for her breakfast, but also with her household, several of whom found Thomas in the garden asking for a peach.  When Sir John McNeill found Thomas with fruit in mind, the two amateur antiquarians got into conversation, with interesting details revealed about a Viking burial on a Scottish island.

Viking grave Kiloran Bay Colonsay, discovered by Sir John McNeill
https://canmore.org.uk/site/38173/colonsay-kiloran-bay

https://canmore.org.uk/site/38173/colonsay-kiloran-bay

Tuesday August the 27th I sent in fruit for the Queen’s breakfast and saw to various things, and at 9 o’clock Sir John McNeill hunted me up in the garden to get a peach from me.  When we were talking about antiquities, Sir John told me that stone hatchets were frequently to be found in the Western Highlands, and on his estate in the Isle of Colonsay he lately discovered the remains of a Viking, and with the remains there were armour, enamelled ornaments, bronze scales and other curious things. Sir John told me he put the bones of the Viking and various other articles in a velvet lined box and sent the whole to the museum Edinburgh on loan, and that they were there now. Sir John also added that a Swede who had read about the find was so interested in one of the articles found that he came over to Edinburgh to see it, and on getting to Edinburgh he found the precious relic had been lentto a gentleman in the West of Scotland, so thither the Swede went to see it, – so anxious was he to examine it. I was much pleased with the manner of Sir John.

Prince and Princess Henry of Battenburg left here by the Royal Train for Barmouth to lay the foundation stone of the Barmouth new Church. The Hon. Harriet Phipps and Major Bigge went with them to be in attendance. The Royal train arrived at Barmouth at 12.50.  The greater part of the county Magistrates and several ladies were at Barmouth to receive the Prince and Princess.

Barmouth was gaily decorated and an immense number of people were in the town.  There was a procession from the station to the site of the church, a short way off.  The Bishop of the Diocese (Bishop of Bangor) and the Bishop of London (The latter was staying at the time at Dolgelly) were there, and many clergymen.  The Princess received a silver trowel and laid the stone in the presence of a large assembly of people. The church is to cost £20,000, and of this sum, Mrs Dyson Perrins and her family give three fourths, and £3,500 has been subscribed by others. Mrs. Perrins lives in a large house near Barmouth, on the way to Llanaber.  Mrs. Perrins is of the sauce makers of the firm Lea and Perrins.

 

St John’s Church Barmouth
Photograph © Arthur C. Harris Creative Commons

After the stone was laid, the Marchioness of Londonderry from Plas Machynlleth gave a luncheon at the Corsygedol (note – a Barmouth Hotel) to the Prince & Princess, the bishops, Lord H. Vane Tempest, Lord and Lady Harlech, Mr.W.R.M. Wynne of Peniarth, Mrs. Dyson Perrins and members of her family from Brynmymach, Barmouth and a fewothers. Lady Londonderry was the principal in getting the Princess to lay the stone.

The Lord Lieutenant of the County, Mr. R.D. Pryce of Cyfronyd, gave a luncheon in the Masonic Hall to the county magistrates and others. After luncheon, the Prince and Princess, with the Marchioness of Londonderry drove to Aberamffra harbour and back on to the esplanade; they were loudly cheered on the way and were everywhere well received.

Train on the Festiniog railway
© Stephen McKay – Creative Commons

At 4.10 they left in a Cambrian saloon for Minfford junction where they got into a train of the Toy or Festiniog Railway on their way to Plas Tanybwlch and had tea with Mr. Oakley, the owner of the Plas and the large estate around.  Mr. Oakley afterwards drove the Royal party to Maentwrog Road station, from there they came home by the Royal train a little after 7 o’clock.