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.

Jedburgh- in the steps of Thomas’ youth.

Duck Row, Jedburgh, where Thomas’ mother and siblings lived in 1871

In 1861 Thomas’ parents and siblings were living in Bedrule parish, four miles from Jedburgh, whilst Thomas had already embarked on his gardening apprenticeship at Minto House. His father died in 1865, and by the 1871 census his mother and his brother James were living in Duck Row in Jedburgh.

The address seems a very pleasant one, the short row of houses shown above currently command a higher than average sale price for the town. However, the census document shows that 1 Duck Row, now a Category B listed building called The Pipers house, with its own commemorative plaque to Robin Hastie, the last Town Piper, was in 1871 a house of multiple occupation. Four ‘households’ lived there; 12 people in all.

1871 census

A recent brief visit to the town suggested that this was a very appropriate area to nurture early interest in a budding geologist.

From the Castle Museum, Jedburgh

A successor to the ‘Borders Enlightenment’ scientists in the mid 19th century was local millwright and amateur archivist and geologist Adam Mathieson, who became a good friend and mentor to Thomas.

More of him in my next post.

Bedrule -in the steps of Thomas’ childhood

Houses at Bedrule hamlet’s centre

It is not possible to be certain exactly when and under what circumstances Thomas’ family left Ireland, although letters between Thomas’ daughter Caroline – ‘Carrie’ and a Ruddy relative still living in Westport Co. Mayo in 1916/17 confirm that the potato famine was the cause of their emigration. This retrospective reflection is prompted by my first visit to the Jedburgh recently. I thought I might have found Thomas’ childhood home ( picture above) but close examination of the census shows that a further visit will be necessary.

We pick them up again in the 1861 census, living in Bedrule. There are Thomas senior and his wife Mary, and Thomas junior’s siblings James and Annie. The youngest son John had died the previous year, aged 12, and our Thomas was already working as an apprentice at a Minto house. We find him there on the 1861 census, the only time he states Ireland as his place of birth on a census.

The census above details the family as living in Newton, part of the central hamlet at the centre of a larger parish area of the same name but to the north of the main hamlet.

Bedrule is a tiny village four miles from Jedburgh, but it has a proud and interesting history. Thomas senior and his son James are recorded as labourers. Several children from the census, including Annie Ruddy are recorded as scholars. Where did they go to school? For it was surely there that Thomas received the quality of education that prepared him to study confidently French, Latin and Geometry while living in the garden bothy at Minto House.

It also laid down the sophisticated writing style which characterises his journal, as in this reflection on his Bedrule childhood:

By this time we were living at Menslaws by the side of the Rule,
a little above where it enters the Teviot, and in sight of Minto, a famous garden of the seat of the Earl of Minto. It was on a pleasant May evening that I went with my father and Robert Daniel to see Mr. Williamson the gardener of Minto. He received us very kindly, took us through the garden, and explained everything. I looked on the inside of this grand garden with awe, I admired in silence; the feather-likeAsparagus astonished me – I was so pleased with everything, that I thought it must be very pleasant to be a gardener; and then there was Mr Williamson going about “dressed like a gentleman”, and the young gardeners looked so very neat and smart that I formed a high opinion of the whole.

Bedrule parish, showing Jedburgh to the east and Minto to the west. Newton is on the road and river, north of Bedrule hamlet.

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

1889: The Royal Household

From Skitch
Photograph of Queen Victoria in 1889 (not at Palé ) taken by Princess Beatrice

Queen Victoria’s visit to Palé Hall, August 1889 was made using the Royal Train, as the Queen was en route from Osbourne House to Balmoral Castle.  Many of the Royal Household arrived with her and are mentioned in Thomas Ruddy’s account.

Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen’s Private Secretary

220px-Henry_Ponsonby_Vanity_Fair_1883-03-17

Wikipedia entry

Lady Churchill, Lady of the bedchamber and Queen Victoria’s longest serving member of her household.

220px-Jane,_Baroness_Churchill_(1826-1900),_Darmstadt_1862

Dr. James Reid, the Queen’s Physician, an influential member of her household.

Wikipedia article

Harriet Phipps, appointed Lady of the Bedchamber in 1889

220px-Harriet_Lepel_Phipps_by_C_Silvy

Wikipedia article 

Major Bigge, Later 1st Baron Stamfordham, Private Secretary to Queen Victoria and later to George V

img_5370

Wikipedia article 

Abdul Karim Hafiz ‘The Munshi’ Queen Victoria’s controversial Indian Servant

(portrayed in the recent film Victoria and Abdul)

Screenshot 2017-09-08 09.40.18

Wikipedia article

Sir John McNeill, Equerry

joined the Queen’s Household after a distinguished military career during which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Screenshot 2018-08-16 15.55.52

Wikipedia article

1887-8 Homes and Gardens

Llantysilio Hall by Eirian Evans, used under Creative Commons licence

On the death of Charles Beyer, Henry Robertson’s business partner in 1876, Llantysilio Hall, the house Beyer had built soon after Robertson had built Palé, was left to Henry Beyer Robertson and Annie Robertson for their lifetimes.  Both were godchildren of Beyer.

More photographs and details here

Thomas was involved with work there in November 1887 following the death of the Head Gardener at Llantysilio.

Thursday the 3rd   Mr Robertson sent me to Llantysilio Gardens to look over the fruit and other things, because Mr Massey the old Gardner had died suddenly the previous day. I left here by the 11.20 which did not stop at Berwyn station, so I had to go onto Llangollen, and as it was sunny and fine, I had a pleasant walk back on the towpath of the canal.  The canal runs along side of the river all the way, and the scenery is beautiful and interesting. I got to Llantysilio at 1 o’clock, and went over the whole establishment with the men. Mr Robertson went from here on business by the first train; he was met at Llangollen by the person who has charge of the Hall and stables, and he, Mr Haynes had orders to meet me and assist me to see the place. The Hall is very large, well furnished, and well-kept, but it is difficult to let it.  It is the property of Mr Robertson’s only son, to whom it was left by his godfather, Mr Bayer (a German ) of the engineering firm of Bayer, Peacock and co. of Manchester (Gorton)  [Footnote by TR: the Co. is Mr Robertson chiefly.] 

The kitchen garden is small and old-fashioned, having two large yew  hedges, broad gravel walks, and diagonal grass walks. The flower garden is also in it. It contains peaches, figs, apricots and pears, et cetera on the walls which do fairly well; and there is the remains of a fine old Mulberry tree in it as a standard, but the tops of the principal limbs have been destroyed by the wind. There is a fine old Walnut tree just outside the kitchen garden with a growth of 13’6″. The Mulberry and walnut must have been planted in the early part of the 17th century – in the reign of James the second – both are evidently of great age. There is a vinery, greenhouse and melon house near the kitchen garden; indeed the melon house is in it.

The situation is very beautiful, almost surrounded by hills, with the Dee sweeping round the park. Mr and Mrs Haynes kindly gave me tea before leaving, which was very acceptable, and Mr Haynes came to Berwyn station with me, where I caught the 4.28 train.  We came through the park by the side of the river, and by the weir at the entrance of the canal, the weir is styled the “Horseshoe Falls”.  From the “Falls” I walked along the canal and over the chain bridge to the station.

In November Thomas visited Llantysilio Hall again.  In typical fashion, he used the time in the area to see a site of local interest:

Monday the 14th [November] I had to go again to Llantysilio to settle about various things. I have charge of the gardens and men for the present. I went by the 9.39 train, alighting at Berwyn station. After seeing the men and looking over things, I went across the fields by a pathway to Valle Crucis Abbey and the pillar of Eliseg.  The ruins of the abbey are by the side of a small stream with two sloping riches of hills on either side, and shut in by hills at each end. The situation is very beautiful and of great interest. The abbey is the finest monastic ruin in North Wales, it is said.  Thomas follows with information about Valle Crucis.

He was back at Llantysilio again later in the same month:

Tuesday 22nd I left here for Llantysilio and Llangollen by the 9.33 train. I got out at Berwyn station, crossed the river by the Chain bridge, and walked along the side of the canal to the very beautiful weir constructed by Telford.  The Llangollen people call it the “Horseshoe Falls”. Bryntysilio, the seat of Sir Theodore Martin immediately overlooks it, and Llantysilio church is a little farther on. When I got to the gardens, I had a look round and afterwards saw all through the Hall of Llantysilio which is very substantial, and well furnished. I got onto the outside of the water tower from which I had a beautiful view of the Vale and neighbourhood.  Plas Berwyn just on the opposite side of the river; it is a nice looking hole of moderate size, with a small sized garden attached, which is only partly walled in, and with one or two hothouses. This (Plas Berwyn) is the seat of Major Tottenham, but he has another seat and estate in Wicklow. Major and Mrs Tottenham have been here to see the gardens several times.

After seeing about, I started to walk to Llangollen at 12:20. I got onto the side of the canal, and walked very fast all the way, arriving in town a little after 1 o’clock.  I was very pleased to see the crossbills on my way there; a flock of six flew on to an ash tree where they soon began to eat the kernels of the seeds. I also saw two or three feeding on the Larch cones opposite Llangollen Bridge, on the side of the canal.

When in town I arranged with Mrs Ellis the greengrocer about the fruit and vegetables of Llantysilio Gardens, and got a blank book to continue my journal at Horsepool’s Fancy Shop.

Advertisement for Horspool’s shop from a newspaper of the 1880’s
The new journal purchased from Horspools
Opening pages of the new journal

In April 1888, soon after the death of Henry Robertson, Thomas was back at Llantysilio:

Thursday the 26th I went to Llantysilio.  At lunch I went for a ramble through the young covert leading westward to the river. I had the pleasure of seeing the lesser spotted woodpecker for the first time.  It was on an old tree near the gardens (an ash tree) and I followed it from tree to tree, and observed it tapping the trees, and running over the trunks and limbs in search of food.  Its peculiar note first attracted my attention. I was very highly pleased to see it. I brought home a few fine bunches of primroses for the ladies here, who made a wreath with some of them and placed it on their father’s grave.

In May Henry Beyer Robertson involved Thomas in further work at Llangollen, this time at a house known as Woodlands, the former railway station of the town.  Thomas was not to know that in 1906, on his retirement, he would move to Woodlands, provided for him by Roberson, by then, Sir Henry.

Monday the 14th I went to Llangollen to see about cropping the garden at the Woodlands, a villa belonging to Mr Robertson. After looking over the garden, I went to Llantysilio by way of Valle Crucis Abbey. I had my luncheon sitting on the hillside opposite the abbey; after my luncheon, I went to see the ruins, but did not go inside. I examined the outside with much interest and as the rubbish has been cleared away, there is much to be seen from the outside.  The western or main entrance must have been very beautiful; it is now of great interest to those who take interest in such buildings.  The only plant of interest to be seen was the wall-flower, which grew on the ruined walls. Several good walnut trees grow on the side of the avenue, but they are not of the same age as the ruins.

Valle Crucis Abbey by Robert Edwards from Geograph and used under creative commons license

[the rest of pages 14 and 15 are historical details re Valle Crucis]

 From the abbey I went to Llantysilio; I botanised on the way, and found the Monchia and Filago minimaon the road side opposite the abbey, and the cowslip plentiful in the pasture between the abbey and Llantysilio.  I came home with the 5.19, much pleased with my day at Llangollen.

Friday the 18th I went again to Llangollen to get men to work the Woodlands garden, after arranged for manure, and while the men were at dinner I went for a ramble along the canal side to near the Sun Inn. [The next sentence heavily scored out – appears he thought he had found a rare plant – assume he later found himself mistaken – Followed by a long list of plants found]

…… From the road and canal I went up a winding Lane plus past Erwwen and Caecock and lunched sitting on the block of limestone…….I next went up to Dinas Bran, had a beautiful view around …… From Llangollen I went to the Woodlands again and from there home by the 5.19.  The Woodlands was formerly the railway station of Llangollen, but when the railway was extended to Corwen, the present station was built.

Siamber Wen From the collections of the National Monuments Record of Wales © Copyright: National Buildings Record Collection

Wednesday the 23rd I went to Llangollen to see the Woodlands again. After I got the men to work I had a look through Siamber Wen gardens, the residence of the misses Robertson, sisters to the late Mr Robertson. The house is on the north side of the canal, opposite Llangollen Bridge.  It is a nice little place, and the house being like a miniature castle, it has a striking appearance.  Miss Anne Robertson kindly went over the place with me and showed me the rooms, and offered me wine, and was very kind.  from there I walked along the side of the canal to Pontrefelin, and then past the Abbey to Llantysilio.  

Description and photographs of Siamber Wen http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/27888/details/siambr-wen-siamber-wen-wern-road-llangollen#images

The 1891 census for Wales shows three Robertson sisters living at Siamber Wen

Henry Robertson’s three unmarried sisters, Christina, Anne and Jessie lived at Siamber Wen in 1888 when Thomas visited them.  Anne and Jessie had lived there at least from 1861, together with their brother John, who died at Siamber Wen in 1883.  It is not clear when their sister Christina joined them.

Thomas left the Robertson family in their castellated villa, and botanised as he returned home full of the joys of spring.

I saw several species of pondweed in the canal, the Teesdalia moenchia, Filago etc. on the roadside when skirting Y Foel Abbey, the hill opposite the Abbey. I found the Lysimachia vulgaris  in a ditch between the Abbey and Llantysilio when I went that way on the fourteenth. I saw nothing else of much interest. I got home from Llantysilio by the 5.19, much pleased.

Lysimachia Vulgaris

1887 Excursion with the N. Staffordshire Field Club

Vyrnwy Dam by David Purchase, via Geograph. (Creative Commons)

 

Construction of the dam for the Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir. https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

Thomas was regularly leading field expeditions for local natural history societies, particularly the Chester Society for Natural Science. He offered expert knowledge on both geology and botany, but no doubt commented on birds as well, as this was another of his studies.  His reputation as an expedition guide was obviously growing, and in 1887 he was approached by the most distant group yet, and set out to plan a comprehensive programme for late June of that year which would involve the Palé family, as the Robertsons were to offer tea and a tour of the Palé gardens led by Thomas as part of the programme.

Saturday the 21st [May 1887] Mr Wilkins, solicitor, Uttoxeter, came to see me so as to make arrangements for a visit of the North Staffordshire field club to visit Bala, etc. He wanted me to be their guide, and to make out a programme for him. He had tea with us, and we enjoyed his visit very much.  I met him at the station and saw him off by last train to the Lion, Bala, to make arrangements for the excursion.

By chance or arrangement, Frances Ruddy and the small children visited their Grandmother, Frances Williams, in London at the time of the expedition, thus a letter to Frances describing the expedition is also preserved amongst the pages of the journal.

The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 1

Thursday the 23rd   The members of the North Staffordshire Field Club came to see my fossils, and to see over the gardens. I had a telegram at 4 o’clock from Bala to say a start would be made for Palé at 4:40.  At 5:15, seven work and it’s full of ladies and gentlemen arrived (41 in all) .

My friend Mr Wilkins who sent me the telegram from Bala soon came to me and after introducing me to some of the leading members, Such as the President, Dr Arlidge and the Secretary the Rev Thos W Daltrey of Madeley Vicarage Newcastle Staffs.  I took them through the upper garden, and pointed out my hardy ferns and interesting plants. We crossed the road and went to the lawn in front of the dining room where Mr and Mrs Robertson and family were in waiting to receive the party. After I introduced the leader (Mr Wilkins) President, & Secretary, they were all asked to partake of tea and other refreshments in the dining room, and act which was highly appreciated. The young ladies attended to their wants, and Mr Robertson and his son were most attentive and kind to them.  Mrs. Robertson being an invalid could do nothing but chat to them.

They went round the grounds, so the so-called cromlech, the tumulus in the park, and as I had my fossils arranged in the front room etc.  I had the most interesting plants of our district also ready for their inspection.  My fossils rather took them by surprise, although their programme called it “most extensive and unique collection “. The plants pleased and very much, and they freely took specimens with them. My collection of birds’ eggs was also examined with much interest, and my ancient weapons too came in for close inspection.     Mr Harry Robertson kindly assisted me to show the collections.  A vote of thanks was given to Mr Robertson, and the party left at 7:40, highly pleased.

The involvement of the whole Robertson family in this visit is quite remarkable, and demonstrates the close relationship and trust between the family and their Head Gardener.

The North Staffordshire Field Club visit Day 2

The main objective of the party’s second day was the site of the construction of the reservoir to be known as Lake Vyrnwy, involving the inundation of the village of Llanwddyn.  They were joined by some members of the Chester Society for Natural Science.  Thomas had previously visited the site and made himself known to the construction manager, Mr. Bickerton.

Obituary for W.H. Bickerton, site manager for Lake Vyrnwy, pasted into the back of TR’s journal

A very clear series of photographs of the construction of the dam which well illustrate Thomas’ description can be found here:

 https://www.lake-vyrnwy.com/history.html

It is notable that included in the visit was Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes of Cambridge, Thomas’ mentor in his practical research of the Bala fossils.  Professor Hughes had connections with both the Chester Society for Natural Science and the North Staffordshire Field Club, and had probably recommended Thomas as guide for the expedition.

Also of interest is the inclusion of a number of ladies, mainly the wives of members, in the expedition. We can imagine these ladies, clad in voluminous long skirts and laced boots, and wearing hats (as shown in photos of the era) gamely clambering over the enormous construction site.

 Friday, June 24  Having to act as one of the guides or leaders to the members of the North Staffordshire Field Club and over 50 of the members of the Chester Society of Natural Science, I left here by the 9.10 train. I met with the Chester folks at our station, and got into a carriage with Mr Siddall, Mr Shepheard, Mr Newstead, Mr Lucas et cetera.  At Bala I had a chat with Mr and Mrs. George Dixon (Mayor and Mayoress of Chester last year) Mr Shone, Prof. Hughes and Mrs. Hughes, and several others of my Chester friends.  Prof Hughes was to act as Guide with me.

 I went in the same carriage as Mr Wilkins, Dr. Arledge, Rev. T.W. Daltrey, and Miss Ashdown.  It was very warm and dusty most of the way, but all of the party enjoyed their ride, and were delighted with the scenery along the route. There was not much time for geology, but we found several interesting plants; the most interesting to me what’s the Geranium sylvaticumin full bloom. Mr. Siddall  has botanised a very great deal of North Wales but he never saw the plant before, and it was new to the other botanists of the party.

 We had lunch in the village [Llanwddyn, the vilage later drowned under the Vyrnwy Reservoir – ed. ], and on getting to the works we were taken in tram cars to the quarries, where a short address was delivered to the party by the resident engineer, Mr Deacon.  There are three or four managers and to him, my old friend Mr Bickerton being one of them. Mr Bickerton had a few fossils to show me, which had been found in the quarries.

After we saw the quarries, we were taken in the tram cars to the embankment, over which most of us walked. It was a rough walking, as it was in an unfinished state, but the managers and Mr Deacon did all they could to assist us. I helped Mr. Dixon to get Mrs. Dixon over it.  The plans of the embankment were explained to us, and indeed we had every facility to see and understand the gigantic works. The Chester members went over Bwlch y groes to Llanwuchllyn, but I returned to Bala with the Staffordshire people. We returned from the works by the new road along the south side of the valley. I saw the white and yellow waterlilies growing in the stream in the valley. We passed close to Eunant Hall, a small shooting box, which will be almost covered with water when the valley is drowned.

Eunant Hall From https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/10694