The Robertsons of Palé 1888-1892

Palé Hall from a photograph in the author’s collection.

The death of Henry Robertson in 1888 heralded a time of many changes for the Robertson family. Only the next year, in 1889 Queen Victoria’s visit with members of her family and a huge retinue brought excitement, hard work and nervous times to Henry Beyer Robertson, who had inherited the estate aged only 27, and his staff.

Sadly, only in July 1889, just a month before the Queen’s visit, Henry’s sister Annie, already widowed at 26, died aged 35. A memorial window was erected to Annie and her husband in Llandderfel church.

Sherriff window, Llandderfel church

The success of the Queen’s visit brought a knighthood for Henry Beyer in 1890. Thomas writes: The Queen conferred the honour of Knighthood upon Mr Robertson at Windsor Castle, and Sir Henry had the additional honour of dining with her Majesty in the evening and staying in the Castle all night. The knighthood was given on 24th May, the Queen’s birthday, but as her Majesty has been in Scotland, it was not conferred until now 30th June (Monday)

He adds rather sourly: Tuesday 8th. Sir Henry returned from London. There was no reception or elevation awaiting him; it would have been otherwise if the late Mr Robertson had been Knighted.

The year continued well for Sir Henry, with his marriage in November. November 1890 Thursday the 20th This is the wedding day of Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, my employer, to Miss Keates (Florence Mary) of Llantysilio Hall, Llangollen. Sir Henry got acquainted with the family in the Spring of last year. The young ladies(there are two sisters) were with him when coracle fishing, and also when otter hunting. They were here after the Queen left here, that Sir Henry was only publicly engaged to her before he left for Windsor to be knighted on the 30thof last June. I left here by the 9.37 for Llangollen.

I walked along the canal side to Llantysilio church. We witnessed the friends of the bride and bridegroom enter the church and as I had a ticket for the church, I went in to see the marriage ceremony. The service commenced with the hymn, “Thine for ever, God of love” the bride wished to have this hymn. The service was conducted by the Rev. Herbert A. Keates B.A. brother of the bride.

I was the first to give the happy pair a shower of rice as they were going out the church porch. Several cannon were fired after the service was over, flags were displayed, and there were three evergreen arches. Sir Henry paid on the railway fares of his work people and provided a luncheon for them at the Hand Hotel, Llangollen. 

The couple’s first child, evidently a ‘honeymoon baby’ arrived next August:

Sunday the 16th.  Lady Robertson safely delivered of a baby girl at 7:40 am.  Dr here all night, and the nurse since 5.30 yesterday evening. The baby is the first born in the hall, and it is the firstborn to any of the children of the late Mr Robertson, for although two sisters of Sir Henry married, neither have children.

Sadly, only next month came the news of the death of Sir Henry’s brother-in-law, Colonel George Wilson, husband of his sister Elizabeth. Wednesday, the 2nd September [1891] .  News came here this afternoon that Col Wilson aged 47, died on board the Teutonic, 20 hours sail outside Queenstown when returning from New York, where he had gone for the sake of a sea voyage. He died last Monday (31st) and his body taken to Liverpool.

Col Wilson lived in boyhood with his aunt at Tyddynllan near Llandrillo,  one of them was the wife  of the Revd John Wynne, for many years Vicar of Llandrillo Church.  He entered the army, and was for some years with his Regiment (The 26th Lanarkshire or Cameronians ) in India.

Some time after returning home, he married Lily, the eldest daughter of the late Mr Robertson, sister to the present proprietor of Palé, Sir H. B. Robertson. [Note: the eldest Robertson daughter was named Elizabeth, confirmed by her baptism, marriage and census records.  Lily must have been a family pet name)

The sad death of Col Wilson left the other of Sir Henry’s sisters as a young widow, Elizabeth’s younger sister Annie, Mrs Sherriff, having lost her husband Alexander in 1880, when she was 26, and she herself had died in 1889.

The new baby at the Hall was not christened until 12 days after her uncle’s funeral: Tuesday the 15th the baby of Sir Henry and Lady Robertson was christened at the church here (Llanderfel) by Mr Morgan.  The baby received the name of Jean an old-fashioned Scotch name. it is frequently used in Scottish song, but a rather uncommon English name.  The Bala Registrar told me that he never had to enter the name of Jean in his books before the Palé baby.  The Christening was a very quiet affair.

1892 began, and within a few days, another bereavement came for the Robertson family:

Tuesday the 12th January Mrs. Robertson of Palé died at a quarter past three o’clock this morning. She has been an invalid for many years, and quite helpless for a year or two, so that it is a happy release to her.

Friday the 15th  The funeral took place this morning at 10 o’clock at Llandderfel churchyard. The grave lies between that of her husband on the right of her, and that of her daughter Mrs Sherriff on her left near the west end of the church. The coffin was of polished oak with a heavy brass mountings, and the plate bore the following inscription.

Elizabeth Robertson Died January 12th, 1892 Aged 68

I acted as one of the 12 bearers. It was a fearfully cold, the ground being deeply covered with snow and an intense frost; 18 ½° in the morning which kept on with thick hoar.  My whiskers were covered with hoar frost when returning home. There were no friends from a distance, but a number of people came from the neighbourhood. There were several wreaths, and her son Sir Henry, and nephew, Mr John Dean were the chief mourners.

By August, the news in the Palé household had improved: Tuesday 9th August: Lady Robertson had a little baby (a daughter) at 12:20 o’clock mid day. Day changeable with 3 ½ hours sunshine. The daughter was named Mary Florence.

Within five years Sir Henry had experienced the deaths of his father, mother, sister and brother in law. He had been knighted, married and had two children. He had also experienced he visit of the Queen, three other members of the Royal Family and a huge retinue. He was still only 30 years old. Such a switchback of joyful and sad experiences must have been disturbing not only for his household, but for the whole staff. He must have been grateful for the loyalty of some of the long-standing members of his staff, not least the Ruddy family at the Garden House.

Throughout Thomas’ journal there are frequent references to Sir Henry and Thomas sharing love of nature, and drawing one another’s attention to natural occurrences in the Palé grounds and around the surrounding countryside. Only a short time before the birth of his second daughter, Sir Henry spotted something of interest: Tuesday the 2nd  July: Sir H. B. Robertson called my attention to a pied wagtail feeding a young cuckoo on the lawn here.  We watched it for some time and were much interested. The wagtail fed it as often as it could find any food for it, and the Cuckoo simply took it easy and only opened its mouth, into which the wagtail put the food.

By November 1892 Lady Robertson was seeking the company of Frances Harriet Ruddy so that the toddler Miss Jean Robertson could play with Frances’ fifth child Alfred, 18 moths older. Frances Harriet had herself lost her own mother earlier that year. Wednesday the 23rd Lady Robertson brought Miss Jean to play with Alfred, he was rather shy, but Miss Jean tried to make friends with him. Lady Robertson remarked that all the advancement was on the lady’s side.

It is to be hoped that the young family now in charge of the Palé estate found support and encouragement from their mature and loyal Head Gardener and his family.

1890 With the Severn Valley Field Club at Vyrnwy

The Condover Medal awarded to Thomas in 1990

The arrival of Frances Harriet’s fifth child, Thomas’ eighth, did not entirely preclude his continuing geological exploits. He had been invited to display various parts of his collection in Shrewsbury, for which he was awarded the medal above.

Monday The 16th [June]. I unpacked my fossils, minerals, glass etc which I lent to the Condover Industrial Exhibition, which has been open for a fortnight in the Armoury, Shrewsbury.  I found them all safe, and undamaged; and I am glad to have them back safely. Mr. Wanstall wrote to say they gave pleasure and instruction to thousands.

Mr. Wanstall was the secretary of the Severn Valley Field Club, for whom Thomas had previously led expeditions, and a two day event had been arranged for the group, which began with a visit to Palé and a view of Thomas’ collections.

Tuesday the 24thI went to the station to see the Severn Valley folks pass in the train. I asked Mr Wanstall to come here about 3 o’clock.  As already arranged in the programme, the members arrived here a little before 3 o’clock.  There were about 20 of them. I met them here at the gate as they stopped; they came on the top of the hotel four-in-hand coach.

Mr Wanstall came into my house to give me a medal and certificate, which were awarded to me at the Condover Industrial Exhibition, which was held in the Armoury, Shrewsbury on Whit week, and the following week.

I conducted the party around the Hall first, and then along the Long or Queen’s walk, showed them the cromlech and the tree planted by the Queen. After that they inspected my collections of shells, birds eggs, plants, dried and fresh, and astonished at my collection of fossils.

Having attended a dinner with the club that evening, the next day’s excursion was to see the recently completed (1889) Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir, which Thomas had visited several times in construction with groups including the Chester Society for Natural Science

The western end of Laker Vyrnwy taken from a Helicopter.
© Ray Jones used under creative commons

Wednesday the 25th I went by the first train to Bala, had breakfast with my friends, and started with them for the Vyrnwy Lake at Llanwddyn. Unfortunately there was a drizzling rain most of the way there. We went in 5 foot waggonettes, or brakes by the Hirnant Valley and over the watershed into the Montgomery side of the hills.  The first sight of the lake was very pleasing, and would have been much more so if it had been fine. We went along the south side of the lake until we got to the great masonry dam. Here we had 2 to 3 hours to lunch and to see the works, etc. The following are some of the particulars of the gigantic works.

The general dimensions of the modern Lake Vyrnwy when full to the level of 825 feet above the sea, at which height it will begin to overflow, will be as follows– Length 4 ¾ quarter miles. Width 1 ¼ to 5/8  of a mile. Greatest depth 84 feet. The distance from the lake to the Town Hall Liverpool is 77 miles. This is the longest aqueduct yet constructed.  From the lowest available level of the lake to the top water level of the Prescot reservoirs, the difference of altitude is 548 feet, and the length of the aqueduct to the reservoirs is 68 miles, there is an average fall of nearly 8 ½ feet per mile.

The Hirnant Tunnel – from the Vyrnwy Culvert (this is between the straining tower and the tunnel) the water flows for a distance of 2 ¼ miles through the Hirnant tunnel.  The gradient of this work is 2 feet per mile, and the size such that is straight cylinder 7 feet in diameter may be passed through it.  A stream of 40, 000,000 gallons per day will fill the tunnel to the depth of about 5 feet.  The tunnel was driven from both ends with dynamite and air drills, the men working in three shifts, night and day.

Thomas wrote out several pages of detailed facts about the Reservoir, which he had visited at several times during the course of its construction.

After the visit the day continued with a further exploration of the area, and some botanising.

After leaving the great dam, we went over this hill to the outlet of the tunnel, near the old church of Hirnant.  We crossed the line of pipes three times on our way to Pen-y-Bont-Fawr, and at Llangynog we stayed a short time to have tea.  As it cleared up a little some of the party walked as far as the parsley-fern and carried off nice plants; but as it is in such abundance, there was no fear of destroying it.  I found two species of Cystopteris and one or two other species of ferns. I also got the Saxifraga stellaris and Campanula hederacea for them.  I got down and walked home before getting to Calethor as it came on heavy rain again. It rained heavy all the evening and continued into the night. The members much enjoyed their visit, considering the day we had.

The dam under construction, circa 1885

1890 Family Matters

This year Thomas was 48, he had been Head Gardener at Palé for 21 years, and the last of his eight children was born. Alfred Williams Ruddy was born on the 10th February 1890, so was able to be included in the 1891 Wales census

Of the eldest three children, born to Thomas and his first wife Mary, Thomas Alexander, now 21, was working as a Colliery Clerk at Brymbo, owned by the Robertson family of Palé. Thomas junior was lodging at Thomas Street, Brymbo.

The photograph of Thomas Alexander is from Southsea, Wrexham, not from the south coast!

Aged 19, William Pamplin Ruddy was living at home, and working as Monitor at the school in Llandderfel as evidenced by the 1891 census above. Later in 1891 Willie took up a clerk’s post at Brymbo Steel Works, alongside his elder brother, with the assistance of its owner, Sir Henry Robertson.

Mary Emily, aged 17, was away at school in Chester during the census period. It shows her as a scholar at Bridgegate House School in the centre of the town: . At that time, the demand for secondary education in Chester was still largely being satisfied by private schools: in 1871 there were at least 40 private schools in Chester, 30 of them for girls. Several of the larger and longer established boys’ schools in the 1870s occupied such notable buildings as the old Albion Hotel and Bridge House (“Bridge House School”, run by a Mrs Keats and known for its gardens at the rear) in Lower Bridge Street, ‘Derby House’ (Stanley Palace) in Watergate Street, and Forest House in Foregate Street, though Gamul House had closed as a boarding school in the 1860s. (From Chester Wiki) It seems that the Ruddy family were able to pay for their daughter’s education.

Bridgegate House, the site of Mary Emily’s school in 1891

We now move to consider the five children of Thomas and Frances Harriet, his second wife in 1890. Henry Ernest, 7, and Frances Harriett, ‘Francie’ 5 were at the school in Llandderfel. Caroline Elizabeth, ‘Carrie’ was 4 and may not have started school. Then came Amelia Agnes, ‘Millie’ 2 and the baby, newborn in 1990, Alfred Williams, ‘Alfie’. So over the course of 21 years Thomas had become father to eight children, six of whom were living at home in 1990.

Llandderfel School in the mid 1890’s. ‘Millie’ A.A.R, and ‘Carrie’ C.E.R. As marked by Thomas, their father. Their similarity as sisters very marked. Do enjoy the hand weights brandished by the front row and the pipe band in the back row!