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.

1891: The weather and the birds

Sunshine recorder invented by John Francis Campbell (1821-1885)
Thomas must have used such an instrument, as he records monthly hours of sunshine. (Science Museum)

By 1891 Thomas was 49 years old, settled with his second wife Frances Harriett and father of eight children, ranging in age from 22 years old to a few months. His employer, Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, son of his original employer at Palé, had himself become a family man. There was a settled air about the estate, although perhaps its most affluent days were already waning. Thomas had needed to lay off some of his garden staff after the death of Robertson senior.

The white hot days of geological investigation were over, although its study would continue for the rest of his lifetime. The investigation of the Silurian geological period, to which his collection of fossils and in depth understanding of the strata in the Bala area had contributed so much, was largely settled. People continued to call by appointment or at random at Thomas’ door to view his fossils, and he continued, although less frequently to lead occasional geological and botanical expeditions for various scientific and field study clubs.

His mentor, Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes received the Lyell Medal for geology in 1891, and as well as his professorial duties and family commitments (he had three sons) he was deeply involved in fundraising for the new Geological Museum in Cambridge which was to be named the Sedgwick Museum in honour of his distinguished predecessor. Thomas had supplied fossil specimens to London, Cambridge, some are in the University collection in Swansea, and I suspect he had provided some to his Swedish contact, Professor Törnquist.

After the intense excitement and activity of Queen Victoria’s visit in 1889, Henry Beyer Robertson’s Knighthood and marriage in 1890, the fourth volume of Thomas Ruddy’s journals is more settled and domestic in tone. We do find new aspects of Thomas’ careful observation of the natural world, however. He has obviously been recording bird observations for some years, although he records only occasional sightings prior to 1891.

Now, with his children growing up, he records a number of ‘birding’ expeditions, alone or accompanied by Frances and one or more of the children. He obviously shared his interest with his employer, Sir Henry. Egg collection, sadly, was commonplace and not regarded as improper.

Sunday the 19th [April] After tea I went along the railway to near Garth Goch. It was very nice walking, clean and dry.  I found the nest of a thrush ready for eggs, and to my surprise saw a flock of about fifty field fares.  Sir Henry has seen a few at Gaerwen on the 21st last year, but I have no record of seeing them myself so late.  Saw no other birds of interest.

Fieldfare

Saturday the ninth [May] I got Willy and Henry to go with me bird nesting up the hills.  We went as far as Tynant old slate quarry. We found the nest of carrion crow about 30 feet up a birch tree; it had five eggs, and as they were quite fresh we took them for my collection. We also found the nest of a ring-ouzel with four eggs; these we left in the nest. We saw a flock of a dozen goldfinches high up the Brook (Calethor).

As well as interest in and records made of the local bird life, Thomas had obviously been recording the weather on a daily basis, and he now begins to give a weather summary of each month, in particular rainfall and sunshine – measured no doubt on a device such as that shown above. He looks back over his records to comment on particularly extreme events, remarking on when such a record was last made. Temperature is, of course, in Fahrenheit.

Tuesday the 12th [May] This has been a very warm day –74 in the shade. It has only been twice so warm as this so early in May since I began to record the temperature in 1875.  May fourteen, eighteen seventy-five, it was 77° in the shade, and on 11 May 1884, it was 75° in the shade.

1891 it would seem, was a year of extreme weather events. Thomas records them throughout the year.
Sunday the 4th. [January] Roads  very slippy; icy almost all the way.  Some of us managed to go to church; Frances went with us to the laundry gate, fell down once, but not to hurt, and as she could not walk without slipping, even when holding my arm, I got her to return home.

Saturday the 28th.[February]  I observed a good specimen of the Painted Lady Butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on the violets and walk near the fruit room.  I disturbed it several times, but it soon returned to the violets again.  It was sunny and fine at that time, but there had been 7° of frost in the morning. It must have been hibernating somewhere and was tempted out by the warm sunshine. I never remember seeing a specimen of the above earlier than May. The month of February has been sunny and fine, and it has been the driest month on record here. Rainfall 0.19 inch.

Exceptionally warm weather was followed by equally unseasonable cold, and Thomas hears a sad story from the past:

Sunday the 17th [May]  This has been an exceptionally wintry day for the middle of May. The hills were covered with snow in the morning, some snow during the day, and a heavy fall of snow between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock. The snow fell in large flakes, just like half crowns, and soon covered the ground and trees, although much of it melted as it fell. In the evening, the surrounding country had a beautiful but very wintry appearance. Frost is set in in the evening. 

Some of the old people about here tell me that there has not been such a snow in May since 9 May, 1854. Edward Evans, one of the gamekeepers at Palé tells me that he and his younger brother came over the Berwyns from Llanarmon D.C. on that day; the snow was blinding and drifting, as it was freezing on the mountains he and his brother were up to their waists in snowdrifts at times, because the mountain road from Llanarmon to Llandrillo was obscured with the snow.  It was a fearful journey, and after hours of it, the brother became so exhausted that Edward had to carry him on his back. Edward too began to get exhausted about 3 miles from Llandrillo (he was then about 19 and his brother that about 17 years of age), but his cries brought a shepherd from the farm of Hendwr to his assistance.  But by that time his brother was dead.

Cadair Berwyn in snow: © Richard Webb via Geograph

Monday the 18th. [May] The snow on the ground and the fruit trees in bloom with icicles hanging to them.  There were only 5° of frost, but the bush fruits and some of the apple trees in bloom were so wet that all froze and destroyed the fruit crops wholesale. It was the same all over England. The young gooseberries and currents dropped off like hail under the bushes a short time after. I have never seen anything like it since I came to Wales.

Wednesday the 24th [June] we had a severe thunderstorm in the afternoon. The lightning was  frequent and seemed very near and the cracks of thunder shook the ground and kept roaring fearfully loud and prolonged.  The rain fell in torrents for a time, accompanied by large hail– Nearly an inch of rain fell in about an hour.  The lightning struck an ash tree at the entrance to the station; it went through the tree, came out in three places and then rang down the tree into the earth, tearing off a strip of bark in its course and also making a groove in the solid wood.

The intemperate weather continued through the summer, with yet another tragedy:

Wednesday the 26th wet and stormy yesterday and the same all-night, 1 ¼ inches of rain fell since 9 am yesterday morning; this has brought down a heavy flood and did much damage to trees, flowers, vegetables and fruit. Some trees were torn up by the root and many large limbs were broken off. The flowers were almost all disfigured and the trees have been much denuded of their leaves. I have seldom seen so much damage done.

A sad fatality happened at Brynselwrn this morning. Our family from Crosby, Liverpool, occupy apartments there; the family consists of father, mother, two daughters, and two sons. All are grown up and the sons have been in the habit of swimming in the Dee every morning, and went this morning as usual, much against the wishes of their parents. 

After entering the water, they were carried away by the swift current for about 300 yards, when the younger one got out by being cast against a projecting tree and bank.  The other was carried away and drowned, and his body was found entangled in a tree about an hour afterwards, and about 300 yards from where the other brother got out. When carried away, they kept well together, swimming with the flood, and for a time a younger one supported the elder one as he was getting exhausted; they tried to reach the side but failed, and at one place they held on for a few seconds to the overhanging branches of a tree; when they let go they were sucked under water under a tree that leaned over the river, and immediately after the one got to land, he gave the alarm, and the father with Mr Hughes the farmer of Brynselwern with his ploughman searched the river sides, and the ploughman found the body near Tyndol, and nearly opposite Palé.

The month of October has been unusually wet, the wettest on record here, with the one exception, and that was January of last year. Rainfall  9.11 inch; nearly 3 ½ inches of it fell in two days; that is 1.69 inch on the 13th and 1.76 inch on the 14th. Registered sunshine, 76 hours. The corn crops were out in an almost continuous rain for about three weeks; it was much knocked about and had commenced to sprout before it was got in in the last week of the month.

And so to December:

The weather during the month–we had the heaviest rainfall in any month since I began the record in 1874. Rainfall 10.42  inch. Max temperature in shade, 57 deg.  Min 10 deg – 22 deg of frost. Registered sunshine, 32 hours.

Total rainfall during the year 1891: 57.00 inch, being 8.50 inch above the average of the last 15 years. Rainy days 231.