Pamplin family stories 1884

During their extensive visit to London in autumn 1884, Thomas and Frances Harriett Ruddy visited the Pamplin family graves in Newington and Walthamstow, where Thomas copied the inscriptions on various tombstones and rehearsed the stories of his wife’s near relatives and ancestors.

Thursday 4th November Before dinner we went up the Causeway, saw new Kent Road, Walworth Road, we went into the churchyard where the church of St Mary Newington stood before it was pulled down. It was gay with chrysanthemums and it is a pretty bit of pleasure ground for the people of the district. I examined the marble tablet which some of the parishioners elected as a token of their esteem to the memory of the Father of Frances.
The inscription on it is:
  “In memory of William Williams,
  25 years Clerk of this Parish.
  Who died on 9 November 1866
  aged 59 years.
  This tablet is erected by several Parishioners
  in testimony of their esteem and respect. “ I also saw the tombstones and graves of the father of the above and other relatives.

After dinner Thomas, Frances and baby and Mr Williams went to Walthamstow.  They looked at the gravestones of the Pamplin and Dench family and Thomas copied the inscriptions.  Among them were William Pamplin 1740-1805 (see above) Frances Pampin nee Wildsmith 1744-1830, Mary Rawson nee Pamplin 1773-1805, her sister Susanna who died in 1857, William Pamplin 1768-1844 and his wife Harriott nee Dench 1774-1832.  Of this William, Thomas says:

He was for some years gardener to Mr. Crawshay the iron master in South Wales, and afterwards had nurseries, first at Chelsea and afterwards at Lavender Hill, Wandsworth.  He was a man of no ordinary intelligence, for various of his writings in manuscript show that he read much, studied hard, and made good use of his time.  I have seen a letter of Mr. Crawshay in which he begs of him to return to his old master after he left him.

William Pamplin’s card for his Chelsea nursery, now in the Garden Museum

More can be found about this William Pamplin at

The first Pamplin (his father) had a nursery garden in Walthamstow, this nursery was carried on after his death by a son named James who died on the 31st December 1865.  The nursery (Whipps Cross) is now carried on by his son William.

The acquisition of a wife whose family history could be traced back over several generations would have been in great contrast to his own family.  He had turned his back in his Irish ancestors with his decision to account himself as Scottish on census forms from 1871 onwards, his mother had died in 1883, and although his brother James lived on in Jedburgh as an agricultural labourer, there is no record I have yet discovered of any ongoing relationship with him.  Indeed, from evidence of death registrations, James may not have been able to write.  I understand that it was the eldest daughters of Thomas and Frances Harriett who discovered and traced the Ruddy family’s origins in Murrisk, Ireland.


Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes: a special relationship.

Entrance to the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge

Portrait of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes Here

A summary of his work  Here

Throughout his life Thomas Ruddy found a succession of key people who encouraged him in his lifelong hobby of geology.  This must have begun with the schoolmaster in Jedburgh who first encouraged him in literacy and nurtured his wide curiosity, particularly about the wold of nature.  Then there was Adam Matheson, curator of the Jedburgh museum, originally a Millwright, found in the Scottish census of 1851 aged 50 with wife and several children living in High St. Jedburgh and at that time still working as a millwright.  By the time Thomas Ruddy became acquainted with him about 1861, he may have been full-time curator of the Jedburgh, museum, or simply fulfilling this role in his spare time.  It is clear from the transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for 1844 that Matheson was a considerable amateur geologist:

Proc. Royal Soc of Edinburgh 1844

Thomas’ introduction to Professor McKenny Hughes came in July 1876 by which time Thomas was already central to the expeditions of the Chester Society for Natural  Science of which McKenny Hughes was President.  Thomas was never a member, despite being a recipient of its foremost medal in due course.

July 20th [1876]  Thursday The members of the Geologists Association and friends to the number of 34 came to Llandderfel station where there were seven conveyances waiting for them to take them to Llangynog. I had an invitation to go with them, so that I got ready.  Mr. Davies acted as guide, so that he brought them to see my collection of fossils. I was glad to get introduced to some leading geologists such as Professor McKenny Hughes of Cambridge, Prof. John Morris, London University, Dr. Hicks of London, Mr. Hopkinson and other minor stars.

There were several ladies in the party. I gave them some refreshments, showed them my fossils which highly interested them, and took them afterwards to Brynselwrn quarry to get some graptolites. We next went up the Berwyns to the phosphate mine which was examined with interest and then to Llangynog where there was an excellent lunch ready for us at the expense of Mr. Doveston of ‘The Nursery’ near Oswestry whose two daughters were with us.

All were happy and enjoyed the lunch. I had to carve ducks, which I managed very well. Several amusing speeches were made after dinner. We also had Geological addresses outside in the evening. The day was very warm. The party proceeded to Oswestry in conveyances from there and I came home by those returning to Bala. I felt very much pleased to be with such high geologists. See paper for report of it [Paper not found – ed.] I may add that I had with me Mr. Barrois of Lille, France, Mr. & Mrs. Barbec of Pinner, Watford.

McKenny Hughes must have been delighted to discover an assured and knowledgeable amateur geologist with a large collection of good and accurately identified fossils of the Bala area and a hunger to continue to collect them in the field.  Thomas had arrived fully prepared with geological understanding at the centre of one of the areas of greatest interest to geologists of his time.

For further detail see The Silurian controversy and the Bala area

From this time geologists of note from far and wide began to appear at Ruddy’s door to view his fossils – no doubt at the suggestion of the Professor and his contacts.  In 1878:

August 13th Prof Leonhard Törnquist of the town of Geflé in Sweden visited me for local geological information, and to see my fossils. Dr. Hicks of London sent him. I gave him a nice lot of Bala fossils and showed him the local rocks between here and the tunnel. I found him an excellent botanist, a very good geologist and a most intelligent and well-bred person. He took copies of my sections and wrote down anything of interest I told him. He had dinner and tea with us, and could speak good English. He was about 5 feet 8 inches, fair hair and ruddy complexion. He told me over and over again that he was so pleased he found me, and that he was highly delighted with his visit. I got a great deal of geological knowledge from him regarding his own country.

Screenshot 2017-11-03 14.26.18
Professors Barrois and Törnquist listed as Foreign Members of the Geological Society of London 1917

September 10th Prof Tawney of Cambridge University came to me. Mr. Tawney examined my fossils very minutely, and with great interest. He named my minerals for me and I found him to be very nice. Mr. Tawney is very short and deformed. 

[Further information re Professor Tawney here]

October 18th Mr. Walter Keeping, the Geologist at the University C of Wales came to me for fossils. We spent a real pleasant evening together examining my fossils. I found him to be a most enthusiastic geologist. He named for me many fossils from the Crag and London Clay.  October 19th We went together to Aberhirnant, which pleased him very much and he was much astonished at my familiarity with the rocks. I gave him a nice collection of fossils.

In 1879 a paper ‘On the Upper Part of the Cambrian (Sedgwick) and Base of the Silurian in North Wales’ was published under Ruddy’s name in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society.  There is no mention of the paper in Ruddy’s journal, but that may not be surprising as it coincided with the illness and death of Ruddy’s first wife Mary and his being left responsible for three very young children.  Whilst it is likely that the paper was ‘tidied up’ and edited by Professor McKenny Hughes, there is little doubt that the basis of the work is Ruddy’s.  He was certainly capable of making the stratigraphical sketches included as some are in the original journal.  Also the detailed descriptions, some in the first person: ‘Although I have examined the debris at various openings in the interbedded grits and shales above the Graptolite zone, I have only found Encrinite stems and a few fragments of small bivalves.‘ etc. mirror accounts of expeditions in Ruddy’s journal.  it is clear that McKenny Hughes certainly did not spend the many hundreds of hours in the area needed to provide the detailed descriptions in Ruddy’s paper.

The paper is based on work presented to the Chester Society for Natural Science in the autumn of 1878:

Oct 3rd [1878]  I took my fossils to the annual conversazione of the Chester Society by request of the Committee.  I prepared them by the advice of Mr. Shrubsole for the occasion. Both of us my dear wife and myself had a very hard job for a month before going. I for the first time mounted them upon little boards, so that I had to polish the backs of them on a grindstone, my wife put the papers on the boards, and gummed on the labels as I wrote them. We often sat at work till midnight. My collection took the Chester people by surprise, and I got much praise. I was introduced to Mr. McIntosh of the Birkenhead College who had written to me during the summer. Mr. Shrubsole brought the Revd. Mr Symonds of Pendock to me. Mr. Symonds said he wanted to have the pleasure of shaking me by the hand; he made special mention of me after in his address. Prof Hughes introduced me to one of those who conducted the geological survey in North Wales, that is Mr. Aveline.   William Talbot Aveline, 1822–1903

The last thing Prof. Hughes said to me when parting was that I must now push on and follow up my good work.

Thomas was to continue his working relationship with Professor McKenny Hughes throughout the nineteenth century, leading many further expeditions and producing a list of fossils of the Bala area. (I am unable at present to date this list, but it is certainly not as early as 1874 as suggested by the photographed cover included in the PDF below).  I am inclined to date it from internal evidence to the mid 1880’s.  TR mentions seeing Bala fossils in the London geological museum which he did in late 1881.

Full text of Ruddy’s list of Bala fossils

I have recently discovered that there are 66 examples of Bala fossils collected by Thomas Ruddy in the collection of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge, no doubt transferred there by McKenny Hughes.  These are in addition to over one thousand specimens collected by Ruddy in the Natural History Museum.

A Thomas Ruddy field sketch from 1881

Parental duties 1883

Barmouth Bridge

In September 1883 Frances Harriett Ruddy took the 11 month old Henry Ernest to London for three weeks to visit her mother.  This left Thomas in Wales with the three children of his first marriage, Thomas Alexander aged 13, William Pamplin 11 and Mary Emily 10.  The children are not frequently mentioned in the journal, but Thomas’ affection for them is obvious.  The census of 1881 shows a live- in servant, Jane Richards, at the Garden House, who presumably looked after the children from day to day.  From the accounts in the journal of the months following the death of Thomas’ first wife Mary, it would be reasonable to speculate that additional help was available from staff at Palé and from neighbours.

Thomas gives a series of charming insights into the time he spent with the children of his first marriage during the absence of their stepmother and half brother.

Sunday evening the 9th. The children and I had a ramble up the Berwyn road as it was so fine. We saw several ring ouzels and two British tumuli which had been opened long ago.  

Friday the 14th. The children and I went to Barmouth by the 7.20 train in the morning. It was most pleasant all the way to Dolgelly as the country looked so nice. We had to wait  at Dolgelly for half an hour. The trains were late as it was the Agricultural Show day in  the town. I pointed out several places of interest to the children, and particularly the clear peaks of Cader Idris. We had another most pleasant ride down to Barmouth Junction; the little ones were very excited all the way as they saw gulls, herons, curlews, green plovers  and other birds on the estuary of the Mawddach. The rocky patches were aglow with the  fine-leaved heather and the woods were putting on their autumnal tints of colour. We got out at the Junction to walk over the bridge to Barmouth as it is a charming walk.  

We first explored some of the salt marshes near the Junction. [Lists some plants found]
The boys caught some crabs which caused some fun as the big crabs caught them by the  fingers. The walk over the bridge was most enjoyable as it was blowing a light breeze.  There is a fine view from the bridge up the estuary with the rugged hills on each side with
Cader Idris overlooking all.  

We got into Barmouth at 11 o’clock and went straight through to Llanaber old church. It
was rather warm but it was a pleasant walk with the sea on our left and the rocky heath- clad hills on our right., with various trees and plants mixed up with the heath. We kept  [to] the road all the way. [There follows a list of plants, molluscs & shells found in  churchyard, beach and sand hills] We got back to Barmouth and had tea between 3 and  4 o’clock. After tea I sent Frances a post card to let her know we were in Barmouth.  then walked up to Aberamffroch on the way to Dolgelly. [more details of botanical finds]
we next walked up the road by the side of the estuary, which was a most pleasant walk.

On our return we examined the boats in the town harbour, which pleased the little ones very much..  We left Barmouth at half past seven o’clock and got to Dolgelly by a little past 8 o’clock.  There was a great crowd eager to get into the train, but we had a very comfortable  journey all the way home, where we arrived at half past nine after a most enjoyable day.  

Sunday the 16th. The children and I went up to the cairn called Carnedd Wen [SH999351] which is on the hill overlooking Croggen; it is a very extensive one. From there we  went on to the Berwyn road [B4391] near Brynselwyn, near which we saw another little  cairn, and then home.  

Frances Harriett arrived home with baby Henry on 1st October, bringing her brother William Pamplin Williams, who stayed with the family for a fortnight.

  Following them around, 2017

Some months ago I booked a holiday on the Isle of Man.  I had been on the Island a full 24 hours before it occurred to me that once again I was following in the footsteps of Thomas Ruddy, who worked there between 1863 and  1865. He had chosen the Island over an tempting vacancy in London, since it offered him a further career enhancement in due course:

I had the offer of two situations the same day, one was to go to be journeyman
at Lambeth Palace London, which I declined; the other to go to the Isle of  Man in a place where I was to get the foreman’s place when he left, this I  accepted.  

A web search showed The Nunnery to be about a mile and a half from our hotel in Douglas, so early one morning I set out in search of it. Past the harbour and railway station over the river bridge, and a little way up the hill, I came across a promising- looking gatehouse.

I had discovered that The Nunnery is now part of the University of the Isle of Man, and a private site.  A knock on the impressive wooden door brought a gatekeeper, who confirmed that it was indeed The Nunnery.  He invited me to explore the site further, but time was pressing, and already a sprint would be required to return me to the hotel in time for the day’s excursion.  Thomas lost out in favour of a journey up Snaefell on the electric railway, but I had tracked him down and followed his footsteps to the very gate of his workplace in the 1860’s.

The previous day had brought an expedition to the superb museum in Peel, the House of Mannanen, housed in Peel’s former railway station.  Lingering in the vestibule, a familiar name caught my eye:

Here was my link with Henry Robertson, whose eldest son was Henry Beyer Robertson, named after his Godfather, Charles Beyer. Robertson was co-founder in 1854 of Beyer, Peacock and Co with Charles Beyer and Richard Peacock. Based at Gorton Foundry, in Gorton, Manchester, it would become one of the world’s leading locomotive manufacturers. Robertson knew Beyer because he supplied some of the locomotives to his railways. He was a sleeping partner but his connections with the Great Western Railway proved useful in securing orders.

On the recommendation of Thomas Brassey, Robertson provided the loan, when the original loan of banker Charles Geach fell through. Robertson and Beyer subsequently became close friends for life; Beyer was godfather of Robertson’s daughter in 1854 and of his son Sir Henry Beyer Robertson ten years later.

It is now twelve years since I first opened the trunk of Ruddy and Pamplin family papers left in my keeping by Thomas’ grandson the Revd. Denys Ruddy.  They have been fascinating, with many discoveries and opportunities arising, together with a sense of responsibility for interpreting, publicising and handing on the papers and artefacts.  This is complicated as they are not related to my own family story.

So far, among other things, the enterprise has taken me:

* To the Garden Museum in London, where the journals of William Pamplin the elder (1768 – 1864) have now been donated.

* To the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, where I sat with Queen Victoria’s journal (as edited by her daughter Beatrice) to read the Queen’s account of her visit in 1889 to Palé Hall

* To Cyfarftha Castle Museum in Merthyr Tydfil to see the two detailed drawings by William Pamplin the elder of the water wheel and works there, see here . 

* Correspondence with the Natural History Museum where I discover that Thomas Ruddy donated over one thousand fossil specimens collected by him from the Bala series of rocks.

* To the Grosvenor Museum in Chester to donate the Kingsley Medal awarded to Thomas in 1889, with the related correspondence.

Sadly, attempts to communicate with the present owners of Palé Hall have met with no response.

Sometimes, the task ahead seems daunting.  I am as yet not even a third of the way through transcribing the journals: occasionally I wonder whether it is all worth while.  But it is these moments when Thomas Ruddy, his friend William Pamplin and his employer Henry Robertson intrude into my life – sometimes at the most unexpected moments – I know they and their stories will not let me go.  I remain firmly in their grip.

Henry Ernest Ruddy 1882-1966

The Revd. Henry Ernest Ruddy (r) with his son Denys Henry, taken at Braunston Rectory about ?1942-44. Denys then serving in the RAF.

Born on 13th October 1882, Henry Ernest was the eldest of five children born to Thomas and his second wife Frances Harriet. Remarkably, Henry’s only child, Denys, was the only grandchild from this marriage.  Since he did not marry, the line from Thomas and Frances Harriet, and from Frances Harriet’s Pamplin ancestors stopped with him.

Henry was an able child, gaining entrance to Aberystwyth College, later University and graduating in Applied Maths.  However, feeling a vocation to ordination, Henry then went up to Jesus College Oxford to read Theology. After serving a curacy in Mold, Flintshire, he later took up incumbencies in Scartho, Lincolnshire and then at Aston Clinton and Braunston.  Further research is required into the full details of Henry’s life.

Henry married Lilian Ward (1894-1984) on June 26th 1915.  Although Lilian was born in Staffordshire, the couple married at St. John’s Cathedral, Winnipeg,  Canada.  I believe they met in Wales, as Lilian was living in Rhyl  with her sister Catherine and brother in law Albert Hill from the 1911 census.  I have not been able to discover the circumstances of their Canadian wedding.

Henry inherited his father’s love of the natural world, and in particular of astronomy.  He and Denys were pretty serious in their study of astronomy, using a powerful telescope.

Henry Ernest was the keeper of the Ruddy and Pamplin family Archives, and an indefatigable researcher of the family tree, which he was well placed to do as a clergyman.  He would write to other parish priests around the country asking them to extract information from their registers, which were at that time still kept in vestries, rather than gathered up into county archives.  Through Henry Ernest and Denys Henry, the paperbave passed to the present author, who is doing everything possible to interpret, document and preserve them for posterity.

Henry (right) Denys (centre) and Frances Harriet 1884-1954, Henry’s younger sister, with Perro the dog at Aston Clinton

More about the older half siblings and the younger siblings as they appear in Thomas’ journals.

1882 – New beginnings, old pastimes


William Pamplin’s choir in Llanderfel. WP centre back, FH Ruddy middle row right

At the end of 1881 Thomas records his satisfaction about the events of the year:

Christmas day, Sunday This day was mild and fine. I am thankful to say that it was a happier one to me than the previous one. We all enjoyed ourselves very much and were thankful to be happy together.

New Years Day This was also a very fine day and very enjoyable. The past year has been rather cold, especially in January when we had a fortnight of most severe frost. The summer was rather wet and cold, but the autumn was very fine. To me it has been an eventful year, having married Frances Harriett Williams, the daughter of the late and respected William Williams, Parish Clerk of the church of St. Mary, Newington. Her mother, Frances, is the sister of William Pamplin, who was a publisher and bookseller in London, but now lives in Llanderfel as a freeholder. Her only brother is Parish Clerk in successor to his father.

Thomas no doubt recalled his youthful intention to ‘become a gentleman’ through the route of taking up gardening as a profession.  Here he found himself, a respected and trusted Head Gardener with a high local reputation, married into a family of some note, and through his own passion and scholarship, a noted contributor to a leading scientific community, the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art.

Frances Harriet, his new wife aged 35 was step-mother to his three children by his first marriage, Thomas Alexander, 12, William Pamplin 9 and Mary Emily 7.  There do not appear to be any extant photographs of the new family, and there are very few The journal for 1882 sadly gives us no information about the development of this new family, nor, as in other years does Thomas make any comment about the daily life and work on the Palé estate.  In these middle years of Thomas’ life the journal is almost entirely devoted to chronicling his leisure pursuits in natural sciences and his walks and discoveries in mid Wales.

On the 21st (Tuesday) of this month Frances and I went to Chester on business. We stayed three days and enjoyed it very much. It was the first time for Frances to see Chester so that she was exceedingly pleased with her visit. During our stay we made our home with Mr. & Mrs. George Dickson of Springfield, who made us quite at home and most comfortable. When in the city we made Mr. Shrubsole’s house our head quarters, where we did as we liked and were most kindly treated.

The 21st was very fine, so that we had a pleasant day. All the way to Chester, Frances was very pleased to see the country, because it was new to her.   After settling down at Springfield, we went to the City in the afternoon. We spent the evening with my friends Mr. & Mrs. Shrubsole, where he and I spent most of our time examining fossils. The evening was far gone when we got to Springfield, and very late when we got to bed.

The following day I did some business in the Nursery, and after luncheon, we again went to the City. [Further description, especially of the Roman remains, Dee Mills, Castle and prison]  On Thursday we did some business and got ready for leaving. Our friends pressed us to stay another day, but I had to be home, so that we left with pleasant memories of our visit. We got home by 8.30 and found all right.

In May Frances Harriet’s mother was staying with the Ruddy family.  On the 13th, a Saturday, Thomas and Frances with William and Margaret Pamplin went on an extensive excursion and walk commencing in Dolgelly.  See Thomas’ vivid description here, and note his elegant literary references.

It becomes clear that Thomas was adding to his local prominence as garden designer, produce show judge, local historian and geologist, the skill of a mountain guide:

May 17th Captain Tudor and his friend a Mr. Warren called to make enquiry about going up Snowdon and Cader Idris. Mr. Warren wished to go up Snowdon before going out to China as a British Consul.

In July Thomas, now very much the go-to man for leading geological and natural history expeditions, was engaged for a two day expedition for the Caradoc Field Club, a Shropshire society, sharing some membership with the Chester Society for Natural Science.  See here for a detailed account.

The summer continued in happy natural history pursuits, sometimes shared with William Pamplin, and an increasing number of interested naturalist from overseas as well as local.

August 3rd Mr. Pamplin, Dr. Ralph and I went to Creini by Sarnau. We found several interesting plants, had fine views and enjoyed the walk. Dr. Ralph is a good botanist, microscopist and geologist. He lives in Melbourne, Australia but is over here on a visit of several months. He and I spent a pleasant evening together with our microscopes. (He has his with him.) He was very pleased to see my local collections. [added in a later hand] Dr. Ralph died in 1892 at Melbourne, Australia.

And then, in mid August, Thomas’ and Frances Harriet’s life changed with the addition of their first son, announced by Thomas without any earlier warning.

August 13th  Henry Ernest was born at half past eight o’clock in the evening (Sunday) My beloved wife got over her trouble safely and bravely, for which I felt most thankful. More of Henry Ernest in my next post


1881: A cold winter

Thomas kept records of weather an temperatures, but only included them when there were exceptional events, such as the long cold winter of 1880-81.

The cold of January 1881. Two or three degrees of frost the first week. [Table of temperatures inserted here.]

January 26 Wednesday. This day will rank as one of the coldest days ever known here. The thermometer registered 8 degrees below zero [N.B. Fahrenheit – ed.]. It has been remarkably cold and frosty since the 8th of the month. The frost has been intense with a deep snow. The Dee is nearly all frozen over and a great part of Bala Lake.

28th Friday  Thawing nicely all day. One of the most severe frosts ever known here has now ceased. It was with the greatest difficulty we could keep the water running in the house. The ice on the reservoir was 7 inches in thickness and the frost got into the ground to the depth of 12 inches. We had 30 to 40 degrees of frost for over a week. Water pipes and gas pipes froze in the large towns through England, trains got snowed up and many other inconveniences occurred..

See here for more information on the winter of 1881