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.

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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

Realities of Victorian Life and Death: 1880

geograph-608425-by-richard-croft

It is little wonder that we can sometimes view Victorian culture as being inclined to melancholy and mourning.  Death and dangerous illness were always nearby, and no class of society was exempt from their touch.  In the first few months of 1880, when Thomas had been a widower for less than a year, tragedy struck the Robertson family and the staff of Palé.

First, Alexander Sherriff, the husband of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson’s second daughter Annie, died at the family’s London house; they had been married less than eight years.  She had become a widow at 25.

February 8th Sunday   Mr. Sherriff died at Lancaster Gate London aged 32. This has cast quite a gloom over us all, but especially Mrs. Sherriff and Mrs. Robertson. Mr. Sherriff to my knowledge was most honourable and straightforward, free from all mischief making, and deservedly popular. He used to come to see my collection, and was always amiable and humble in manners.

Within ten days Mrs. Robertson’s brother John Dean fell ill:

Feb. 18th, Wednesday   Mr. Dean took Scarlet fever, which has cast another gloom over Palé.   Feb 25th  Mr. Dean in a most critical condition.

A member of Palé staff was the next victim, but fortunately Joh Dean survived.

March 8th Monday Miss Jarvis the head housemaid died of the fever after 4 days’ illness. She was a quiet, good and industrious servant, whose untimely death all deplore.

Mr. Dean, I am thankful to say is past danger, he came out of doors today for the first time March 19th.

Thomas’ family escaped the illnesses on the estate that winter, and so Little Mary Emily began her education, just nine months after the death of her own mother.

March 23rd Mary Emily’s first day at school.

These are mournful journal entries, the only ones until May of that year, but they bring sharply into focus he realities of life and death in the nineteenth century.  The rest of the year becomes more cheerful!

First year at Palé

Thomas began work on the day after his arrival at Palé, engaging men to work and arranging to move from the Inn of Bryntirion situated at the foot of Palé’s drive, where he had spent the first night in rooms arranged for him by Mr Dickson of the Nurseries, to the nearby Brynbwlan farmhouse farmed by Mr & Mrs. Ellis.  Within five days he had decided that he was ready for his pregnant wife to join him, and had planned for the purchase of a large quantity of trees and shrubs.

January 23rd Saturday I went back to Chester for my wife and I ordered about £100 worth of trees and shrubs. My wife and I came here for good on the 25th of Jany. Monday 1869.  [£100.00 probably worth £4,000 – £5,000 today]

There are few journal entries for the first few months of 1869, but on the 26th March a notable event is recorded – the birth of a first child, Thomas Alexander.  [Thomas and Mary had married in December the previous year.  Slight raise of eyebrows from editor/transcriber!]

Four days later, Thomas secured a permanent post at Palé:

March 30th Tuesday. I engaged to be Mr. Robertson’s permanent gardener. Mr. & Mrs. Robertson were leaving for London; they told me that several wanted the place, but that they would much rather that I would take it; and that I would be at liberty to make myself comfortable. [Mr and Mrs Robertson owned a house in Lancaster Gate, London, where they resided for several long periods each year.]

By the end of April Thomas records walks in the area with friends.  Unfortunately he does not record the friends’ names or details.  Descriptions of walks form a substantial part of the journal through the rest of his life.

The full journal entries from January to April 1869 here

 

Mr – and Mrs Ruddy

 

Screenshot 2016-03-31 17.31.32
A photograph of Thomas taken in Chester. Possibly aged 27, about to begin work at Palé

 

Before commencing work at Palé Hall in January 1869, Thomas spent two years at Middleton Hall, Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire.  During this time he married Mary Blackhall, daughter of an Edinburgh family.  Mary makes a very unexpected entry to the journal coming as a great surprise to the transcriber:

1868 October 27 Tuesday                I observed a very beautiful lunar rainbow; it appeared after a shower 8.15pm. It had no colour. My year being coming to a close I resolved to try and get a better situation. I was very comfortable, but it was a very out of the way place and Lord Denman (although very kind) had no money to spend on the garden. I was welcome to Dicksons of Chester so that I told Lord Denman to try and get one to succeed me. I was now married to Mary Blackhall, daughter of John Blackhall of Edinburgh and sister to the manager for Paton and Ritchie booksellers Edinburgh.

Screenshot 2016-03-31 17.24.49
Mary Blackhall of Edinburgh

Thomas gives no hint of how they met, but their marriage certificate for the 18th December 1868 may provide a clue.  Married at Stoney Middleton, Mary’s profession is stated as ‘lady’s maid’ so perhaps it was at Middleton Hall that they met.  The certificate gives Mary’s father’s name as Alexander, and the naming of their first child Thomas Alexander may confirm this, as do the other records concerning Alexander.

Thomas signals his satisfaction at the beginning of 1869:   January 1st The past year was a happy one for me and I had excellent health, and I took to wife a daughter of ‘Auld Reekie’. It was an unusually hot summer, about the hottest for many years, 90 or over in the shade.