Once again Thomas and his family get a close up view of the Queen and her retinue as she sets out to visit Llangollen, first using the royal Train and then setting out in a carriage to visit Sir Theodore Martin at his home, Bryntisilio Hall nearby.
26th August, the birthday of the late Prince Albert, was a fitting day to visit the man whom Victoria had chosen to write her husband’s biography.
Further information about Sir Theodore below. I suspect that some of the description of the Queen’s afternoon was copied from a local or national newspaper, as this technique was used in other places in the journal by Thomas.
At half past three o’ clock we all went to the stand at the station again to see the Queen and her attendants go by the Royal Train to Llangollen. There were a great number of people to see the train leave, and all were very orderly. We had a very near and good view of the Royal party. The Prince and Princesses went with the Queen. The afternoon was sunny and fine, and added much to the pleasant scene. when the Queen got out of the carriage, she walked alone to the train. The people cheered long and loud when the Queen was going to the station and when the train was leaving.
After I got back here, I had the flower vases to fill for the dining table, because the Queen was to have guests and dine downstairs in the usual dining room. There were to be eleven to dinner including the Queen; there were eleven on Saturday too, and four upstairs. The Queen returned at 7 o’clock, bringing many bouquets with her.
The Queen arrived at Llangollen at two minutes past 4 o’clock, there were hundreds of people there to see the Royal party, who had a very loyal reception. The Queen walked to her carriage (the carriage left here for Llangollen in the morning) with the aid of the Llanderfel stick. The two scarlet liveried servants mounted on grey horses preceded the Queen’s carriage; the carriage was drawn by four horses (greys), the near horses being mounted by postillions in blue and gold. The Gillies were seated behind the carriage, and following the carriage were Colonel Cornwallis West M.P. on horseback, the equerries and two outriders. The second carriage contained Sir H. Ponsonby and Mr. Raikes MP in private clothes, with them were Lady Churchill and Hon Harriet Phipps. The road was lined with people in various places along the route, many being on the slope of the open hillside On approaching Bryntisilio. The Queen, the Prince and Princesses were loudly and loyally cheered all the way, the Royal party acknowledged the reception by bowing and smiling. The Indians followed in a closed carriage.
It is a beautiful and pleasing route all the way from Llangollen to Bryntysilio; the north side of the road slopes up into the hills, the north side slopes down to the canal and river, and the south side of the river slopes up into hills again. Pretty villas enliven the scene, and the whole is beautifully wooded, and at the present time the trees are changing into their autumn tints. At Pentrefelin, the Queen had a view up the vale of Valle Crucis, but could not see the Abbey ruins.
Bryntysilio, the seat of Sir Theodore Martin is on rising ground overlooking the vale of Llangollen and the vale past Llantysilio, for some distance. This is certainly beautifully situated, and although of no great size, it has a good effect. It was in one of the rooms looking up the vale, immediately overlooking the church of Llantysilio, and on the first floor that Sir Theodore wrote the life of Prince Albert; the Queen wished to see this room. The Queen had tea with Sir Theodore and Lady Martin, and Miss Alice Helps, daughter of Sir Arthur Helps. During Her Majesty’s stay there was some singing by 20 of the Llangollen Choral Society.
Like Henry Robertson, Sir Theodore Martin was an Edinburgh Scot who later settled in Wales. Wikipedia article
On returning to Llangollen, the Queen halted for a minute or two to receive an address of welcome from the inhabitants, and then went on the Holyhead road to Corwen. The Queen made a halt at Glyndyfrchwy to accept a bouquet from Miss Tottenham, shook hands with Major and Mrs. Tottenham and said they lived in a beautiful country. The Queen arrived at Corwen at 7 o’clock, left Llangollen about 5.45. The Royal Carriage came to a standstill in the middle of the square at Corwen, here the Queen received an address of welcome, and then drove on to the station where the Queenentered the saloon of her Royal train and made the rest of the journey by rail. The Queen had a loyal and hearty reception all along the route, sothat she was much pleased with her visit. And as the whole route is through a beautiful part of the country, and the day was fine, Her Majesty could not help being pleased with the people and the country.
In the evening, the Lord Lieutenant of Merioneth (Captain Pryce), the Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire (Col. Cornwallis West MP) and Sir Watkin and Lady Williams Wynn hadthe honour of dining with the Queen. After dinner the members of the Llanderfel choir again sang a selection of music in
Welsh. The Queen gave the conductor, Mr. W. T. Jones of Brynmelyn a silver mounted ivory baton as a memento of her visit.
There are a number of interesting illustrations and commentary on Queen Victoria’s visit at the Wrexham History site
For Thomas, the main event of the morning was the opportunity to show several senior members of the Queen’s household his fossil collection. Sir Henry Ponsonby, Sir John McNeill and Dr. Reid seem to have been interested in the well displayed collection which Henry Beyer Robertson had asked him to display during the visit. See here for the Royal Household
Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry had an eventful visit to a coal mind during the morning, descending to the coal face, hewing a piece of coal each, and setting off an electrical charge. Meanwhile the Queen’s morning began with her marking with sadness the birthday of her late husband. “This dear dear day, spent for the 27th time without my darling Husband, the light of my life.” A carriage ride up the hill road behind Palé towards the Berwyn mountains, providing her with good views may have lightened her mood. Thomas found a number of interested people arriving at his house to get a view of the Queen.
Monday the 26th. There was nothing very particular going on until breakfast was over. At 10.30 Prince Henry, the Princesses, the Hon. Harriet Phipps & Major Bigge in attendance, left here in the Royal train for Ruabon to go a coal pit. The carriage of Major Evan Morris (Mayor of Wrexham) was waiting at the station and took them to the Winnstay Colliery, half a mile away. At the coal pit they put on dust cloaks and caps,the gentlemen put on overalls. They were accompanied in the descent by Major Morris, chairman of the colliery, the engineer, the underground manager, Sir W. Wynn, and others connected with the colliery. They were pushed along in tubs for about five hundred yards, and on getting to the coal, each cut out a piece with a pick; afterwards the Princess Beatrice fired a shot by electricity to bring down some coal, and then the party returned to the surface. They kept the pieces of coal they got out as trophies, and were well pleased with their visit. The miners, above and below the surface cheered them heartily. The Royal party got back here in time for luncheon.
A good drawing of Princess Beatrice hewing coal, originally from ‘The Graphic’ here (not available on this page for copyright reasons)
At 11.20, the Queen, attended by Lady Churchill, went out at the gate by my house for a drive over the Berwyn road.When the queen passed my house, she took a good look at itso that we had a close and full view of her. My friend Mr. Robinson of Shrewsbury came into my house to see the Queen pass, and three ladies from Bournemouth (the Misses Hull) friends of Mrs. Roy asked to come in too so as to have a view of the Queen. They were all satisfied, for they had an excellent view of her. Mrs. Roy (Mrs. Robertson’s sister) lives near the Misses Hull at Bournemouth, and as they were coming to Bala, Mrs.Roy told them to come to me and I would be sure to show them all there was to be seen at Palé. They came to me three or four times last week, and their great ambition was to see the Queen in her pony carriage anywhere in the grounds. They are ladies pretty well in years, and as they made themselves agreeable, I did all I could for them, but they could not see the Queen in her pony carriage. The Misses Hull took much interest in my collection of fossils and other objects of interest. They told me that Mrs. Roy often talked about me, so that in name I was no stranger to them.
The two Highlanders accompanied the Queen in her carriage, but no other guards or attendants. Mr. Robertson went up the hill on foot and met the carriage at the head of the old lane at Wernol, there he was taken into the carriage and sat with the Highlanders, and then he acted the guide to the Queen. They went to Palé stables on the hill near Pontcwmbedw; here the Queen had a good view of all the Berwyn heights, the valley ofLlandrillo and a retrospect view of the hills north and west ofBala. On the return journey the Queen had a distant view of Snowdon, the Moelwyns at Festiniog and a very pleasant view of the valley of the Dee from Llanderfel to Bala. The route for two miles went through a wild moorland, covered in heather in full bloom. Palé mill is the only roadside dwelling all the way from here to where the Queen went, and indeed for three or four miles further. The distance from here to Palé grousing stables is 3 and a quarter miles.
At Mr. Robertson’s request I laid out my collection of fossils in the fruit room, which is a well-lighted and convenient place to display it. I arranged the fossils into groups, according to their natural divisions. The fossils are mounted on little wooden tablets,
covered with blue paper, so that when spread out there is nothing to be seen but the blue surface, the fossils, and the labels with the names. On the back of each tablet there is a label to give the exact locality of the fossil and other information about it. The arrangement of the collection has a pleasing and effective appearance, and as most of the specimens are good, even those who know little or nothing of geology usually take an interest in the collection.
The kinds of fossils that would have been displayed in Thomas’ collection.
Mr Robertson told Dr. Reid that I had a well known collection, and the Doctor said he wished to inspect it. I got out several other objects of interest, such as visible gold in quartz from the much vaunted Mount Morgan or Gwynfynydd gold mine at Dolgelly, a fine bronze celt found on Palé estate, two stone celts from Antrim, Ireland, flint arrowhead from near Arenig, flint flakes from Bala Lake. I also had a geological map of North Wales, books on geology and the local Natural History of the district. I did not display all my local fossils, but the selection covered a space ten feet in length and two feet in width.
After the Queen went out for a drive, I had the pleasure of conducting General Sir Henry Ponsonby and General Sir John McNeill over the gardens and hot houses, and also of showing them my fossils and the other objects laid out. Both gentlemen were most surprised at the extent of my collection and took much interest in all I showed them. The gold quartz was of much interest to them, and Sir Henry asked me to point out on the map the situation of the Mount Morgan gold mine. They were very chatty and of pleasant manner, so that I felt quite at ease with them.
Sir Henry is very tall, six feet or over, Sir John about 5 ft 8 to 5ft 9. I gave Sir John a peach when leaving the fruit room. Sir Henry said he never ate fruit in the morning. Dr. Reid and I had a minute inspection of my collection and I gave him much information about them. Dr. Reid took special interest in the various groups, and examined them with care. I left the key of the door in a place where he could find it at any time, and he said he would go and look over the collectiuon whenever he had time.
The Queen returned from the Berwyns at half past twelve o’clock; when passing my house, we had another good view of her as she looked at the creepers on the house when passing. The pretty scarlet Tropaeolum speciosum was well in bloom, and much admired by everybody.
Thomas had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his skill as Head Gardener on Saturday 24th August. Having provided fruit for the royal breakfast, he once again picked peaches and grapes from the hothouses for the meal in the evening. As well as this he decorated the table with flowers from the garden, chiefly, it seems carnations and pinks.
Having organised the tennis court for the party in the morning, once again Thomas put out the tennis equipment and was rewarded in the late afternoon by the sight of Princess Beatrice and her husband and Princess Alix with members of their household playing tennis. Visitors to Palé might bring to mind the sight of the future ill-fated Tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna playing tennis on a Welsh lawn.
Queen Victoria sent him her bouquet from the previous day and asked him to strike cuttings from the myrtle it contained. Myrtle was very significant to Victoria as she had been given a plant by her late husband’s grandmother some of which was used in her wedding bouquet, and plants from it were established at Osborne in the Isle of Wight, from where royal brides continue to carry sprigs in bridal bouquets.
The highlight of the day came when having arranged a group of flower vases on the Queen’s supper table, he and his wife Frances were invited to view the table arrangement and Frances was allowed to sit in the Queen’s chair. Thomas records the details of the table setting in a plan (see below).
At 3 o’clock Frances, the children, and myself went to the stand at the station to see the Queen, the Princesses, and Prince Henry, attended by her suite, leave by the Royal train at 3.30 for Ruabon. Her carriage was drawn by a pair of greys. Semi-state carriages from Windsor were to be ready at Ruabon, and the Royal carriages from here went to Ruabon to take the members of the household and servants, and the Indian attendants.
The procession went all the way from Ruabon to Wrexham, through part of the town, and then To Acton park where the children belonging to the various schools were arranged in order. Several addresses were presented to the Queen, in the park, the children sang, and all passed off well. Wrexham was much decorated, and great enthusiasm and good will prevailed all through. Indeed, there was not a disloyal shout heard along the route during the procession. Good nature and fun was the order of the day.
The Indians caused much talk and curiosity. I was told by an onlooker that he heard somebody call out “Here comes the Shah”, and another called out at once “There are four Shahs”. After the procession passed on, an old lady in the crowd was saying she could not see the Queen; somebody told her the Queen was in the first carriage, an elderly lady, the old lady said “Well, I saw that lady well enough, but she did not wear a crown.”It was calculated that about 12000 to 14000 school children were got together in the park.
The Royal party got into the park about 25 minutes past 5 o’clock, and left Wrexham station at 6 o’clock in the Royal train which went to Wrexham from Ruabon. There were flags and various decorations, and stands for people all the way from Ruabon to Wrexham.
After I got back from the station, I made up the flower vases for the large dining room table, because the Queen was to dine downstairs with her guests. Mr. Robertson and theBishop of St Asaph (Dr. Edwards) were invited and dined with the Queen. I filled two glass crosses, one glass circle in two parts, six finger glasses, and one tall glass. I had plenty of nice flowers, and an abundance of carnations and picotees. I sent in some fine fruit for the Royal table, and took out the racquets and balls to the tennis ground.
After the royal party got back here, some of the members of the Household and Princesses played at tennis until it got too dark. I was in the dining room at the time, and could see Princess Henry very active. While I was in the dining room the Queen sent me by Mr. Thompson, her page, the bouquet she had presented to her at Glanllyn the previous day. The bouquet was presented to the Queen by Miss Williams Wynn, the little daughter and only daughter of Sir Watkin and Lady Williams Wynn. There was much myrtle in the bouquet, and the Queen wished me to root some of the sprigs for her. I learned afterwards when at Glanllyn that the myrtle came from Llangedwen, the home of the Dowager Lady W. Wynn.
Mr. Thomson said I could take Frances to see the table set ready for the Queen and her guests. We went together to see it and were very pleased to see the arrangements of the table. Mr. Thomson was very kind and would insist upon Frances sitting on the chair which the Queen was to occupy when dining. It was a low chair with a footstool in front of it. Mr. Martin also was very good natured; he is the chief in the pantry for the Queen at Palé. The chief of the Queen’s Indian attendants stood near the door of the dining room, ready to stand behind the Queen’s chair and attend to her wants. Mr. Thomson had to bring the chair from her upstairs dining room, take it up again, and attend to special wants. The table was arranged in the following order –
Mr. Thomson had to see that the table was properly set, and everything correct. Frances and I came away well pleased with our inspection.
Roberts family (Father and nine sons) gave a selection of music on harps and other stringed instruments, and so ended Saturday’s doings – I may add that the Roberts band is well known in most of Wales as very good musicians. Their home is at Newtown, Montgomeryshire.
The Indian who attended to the queen is named the Munshi Hafiz Abdul Karim; he acts as Hindustani instructor-secretary to the queen, and is in great favour with her. Munshi is his title, the rest is his name.
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.
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 ofthe 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.
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.
[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 18thI 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.
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.
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.
As mentioned in my last post, Thomas Ruddy was frequently invited to look at, or sometimes advise on neighbouring estate gardens. At a time of great interest and expenditure on gardens by landowners, and perhaps particularly by newly rich ones, there would have been a degree of one-upmanship involved. Henry Robertson had gone to great lengths to engage a particularly well-equipped Head Gardener in 1869 when he employed Thomas Ruddy. As a person of local consequence, an MP and a Deputy Lieutenant, he had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Talk of estates, gardens and such currently popular acquisitions as vineries, hot houses etc. must have been among favourite subjects of conversation.
It is interesting to note that Mr. Fitz Hugh went to some lengths to welcome his guest, providing transport from Wrexham station, meeting and speaking to him on his arrival and ensuring lunch was provided in the mansion. The day ended with a long talk about the garden with Mr. Fitz Hugh, transport back to the station and expenses of the day paid.
August 27 Wednesday Mr Fitz-Hugh of Plas Power invited me to see his gardens, so I left here by the 929 and got to Wrexham a little after 11. There was a groom with a trap waiting for me. It was a very pleasant drive to the mansion especially at the drive-through the Park. The drive is  1 mile in length from the lodge to the mansion. The Park is said to be the finest in North Wales. There is fine timber in it; fine old Oaks, elms, beaches, Spanish chestnuts et cetera. On arriving at the mansion I had a short talk with Mr Fitz-Hugh in a room, after which he took me through the ground to the Gardener Mr Clarke. Mr Clarke is from near York, is about 45 or so – middle height. We had a look at the peaches on the wall, the melon and strawberry pits, etc.
I had dinner in the mansion at 1 o’clock. After dinner I went round again, saw the vineries, greenhouse et cetera there are two vineries – the vines are in a very exhausted state, so that the grapes were very poor. The houses have been neglected and are very unsatisfactory. There is no peach house because the peaches do very well outside. The trees were in fair condition and had a nice crop. The melons were a failure, having rotted off at the base of the stalks. Chrysanthemums were planted out and were very good. It is a first rate deep loam and the climate is very much drier and warmer than here, so that trees and crops grow rapidly and well. The ornamental grounds are very beautiful, and contain good specimens of conifers in excellent health and branching to the ground.
After seeing the gardens we went to see a very fine section of Offa’s Dyke. There is about a mile of it through the Park, mostly in excellent preservation. It is about 30 feet wide at the top running to a narrow bottom. Depth about 20 feet. The whole of the material excavated is thrown up on the English side of the trench. Section of it [drawn section included on page]
Section labels: No. 1. Welsh side old level of soil. 2. The excavated ditch or trench called the ‘Dyke’. 3 old level of ground on the English side. 4. the excavated material thrown up on one side. Number two is 20 feet deep, number 4, 10 feet above old level of soil. It is supposed that King Offa had it dug to form either a defensive work or boundary between England and Wales. But some consider it to be a Roman work. It begins at the sea in Flintshire and runs to the Severn or the Wye – 100
miles. [added later] Offa’s Dyke is now considered to have been made to stop the Welsh from stealing English cattle. Builder August 28, 1886.
From Offa’s Dyke I went up to the west drive to the Minera Road then down to a romantic dingle at a mill. Followed the dingle by a private walk to the South Lodge. The dingle is very pretty, contains some fine old oaks and other trees, is bedecked with ferns and shrubs et cetera. The river runs over sandstone rock into which it has cut deeply in some places. The river has its source in the hills of Cym-y-brain, comes past the mining district of Minera, passes the village of Bersham, and enters the Dee under the name of the Clywedog. It used to be a good trout stream, but it is now so much poisoned with the lead refuse and lime that no trout can live in it. Near the village of Bersham I saw the private little church which Mr Fitz-Hugh had built for his own use, servants, and some of his tenants. It has a groined stone roof, and is elaborately carved in Grecian style.
I saw where Mr John Wilkinson, ironmaster, used to cast cannon about a century ago or so. The works were near the little river, a short distance from the village of Bersham. Mr Wilkinson had the privilegeof coining copper tokens. I have two of them his home was Brymbo Hall a few miles north of Plas Power. I returned through the Park to the mansion where I had tea. It is a very roomy brick mansion with stone quoins. There is a terrace wall half round it and the flower garden; the latter is in the Dutch style and the mansion is roughly Elizabethan. I had a long talk with Mr Fitz-Hugh about his gardens before I left. The day was rather wet but I enjoyed my visit very much. Mr Fitz-Hugh was very kind and free, paid my expenses, and made the groom take me to the station. I returned home by the last train.
This and other visits and encounters throw light on the very delicately nuanced relationship between Head Gardener and gentry at a time of very firm class distinctions. There were a unique set of relationships between trusted and long standing senior staff members of large houses – housekeepers, butlers, gamekeepers, head gardeners and so on which gave them access quite intimately to the private life of the resident family, and by association with other notable families of the area.
Thomas records many visits to the great houses of mid Wales, sometimes at the invitation of the owner, with the hope of advice being given, at other times in a spirit of curiosity or even competition. He doesn’t hold back in his comments in what was, after all, a private journal.
The Head Gardener of Nannau, Mr. Cooke, had visited Palé in September 1885. It is not clear whether his visit was unannounced. It may be that there was a small degree of wishing to see the estate as it was, without the opportunity of any tidying up in advance of a visit from a colleague. Thomas’ return visit was certainly unannounced.
16th Wednesday Mr. Cooke and friend called here for a run round the garden. Mr. Cooke is Gardener at Nannau, Dolgelly.
In June 1886 Miss Keable, Thomas’ wife’s friend and cousin stayed in the village. As Frances Harriet had three very small children at the time, as well as her three elder step children, Thomas conducted Miss Fanny Hannah Keable on several expeditions during her visit, including to Nannau.
Miss Fanny Hannah Keable, Born in Battersea 1851, died Edinburgh 1936
Tuesday the 8th Miss Keable and I went to Nannau near Dolgelly. We left here by the 11 train and got out at Bontnewyd station, from which we walked up an old road and through the Park to the Mansion. The day was threatening rain, but it cleared up and became very warm and fine. We lunched at 10 o’clock by the side of the little rill in full view of Cader Idris. Cader was very interesting to watch for scarcely could we get a glimpse of it before the mist enveloped it over and over again. At last the sun shone brightly and then the mist disappeared and Cader stood out in all its beauty.
I found several interesting plants on the roadside between the station and the park, such as the bog Pimpernel the black Briony the Tutsan Saint John’s wort and the moonwort -four in a little field where we had lunch. In the same field I caught a pair, or at least two, pretty Cinnabar months the first I ever saw, and the first Mr H. B. Robertson ever saw in Wales. On our way through the park we saw a small herd of deer. The park is rocky and undulated but is very poorly wooded. It seems to have been well wooded at one time but when the old family of Vaughan got involved in debt, I expect that the timber was one of the 1st to be turned into money. Passed two or three rustic towers, two lodges and a little pond on the way up, and we left the old kitchen garden on our left in which once stood the old “Haunted Oak”.
“Of evil fame was Nannau’s antique tree Yet styled the hollow oak of Demonie.”
It fell on the 13 July 1813. It is said that Owen Glyndwr slew his cousin Howel Sele of Nannau and threw his body into the hollow of this oak where the skeleton was discovered many years after.
We got to the modern gardens about 2 o’clock; they are near the mansion, a mile from the old kitchen garden. Mr Cooke the gardener unfortunately was from home having gone for the afternoon to the village of Llanfachreth, a most out of the way church and village 1 1/2 miles from Nannau. We met the proprietor Mr Vaughan a tall burly elderly gentleman. He was very civil and regretted Mr Cooke was from home, and asked me several questions about Palé. We saw through the houses – one peach house, three vineries, I large unheated peach house in which grew (planted out) roses, peas et cetera. The crop of peaches was very poor. There is a nice little greenhouse and pits. The kitchen garden is made up of a number of patches, enclosed by hedges and the grounds are very nice, but contain nothing in particular. The mansion is a modern native stone plain building and it is said to be the most elevated site of a mansion in Britain, being 700 feet above sea level.
There are many interesting pages regarding Nannau in this website, including the census return showing the Roberts family at the Coachman’s house in 1891.
It stands on a watershed as it were of the park at the West base of Moel Offrwm, a rounded hill from which very extensive views can be obtained.
After seeing the gardens I left my companion at the Coachman’s house, she having known Mrs Rogers 10 years ago when once round the Precipice Walk. I thought of going to hunt up Mr Cooke at Llanfachreth, and went within half a mile of the village, then I feared I would not have time to go there, so turned back and went onto the Precipice Walk where I sat down and rested. From my position I had very pleasing and extensive views. Cader stood on my left, Barmouth and the sea further on, the noble estuary extending almost to Dolgelly, the rugged slopes on each side of the river Mawddach, which run along the bottom of the narrow Vale at the foot of the slope where I was sitting. Far north I could see Snowdon and at the mountains, and to my right beyond Llanfachreith stood the hill of Robell Fawr, and further on Arenig and Aran. It was very warm, but a nice breeze called the air a little.
I next went to the little lake of Cynwch, which is situated about half a mile from the mansion in a hollow between two low wooded ridges. It is a most desolate looking lake, entirely devoid of beauty or interest. The sides are composed of roughangular fragments of rock without a patch of gravel. I picked up a few fragments of plants, which had been cast upon the shore – they were leaves of quill wort but I could not see the plant growing, nor could I see any Lobelia, shells, or anything else of interest. The lake is about a mile in length and a quarter mile wide. It does not seem to be deep and it stands about 100 feet higher than the mansion. On my way back I met F. K. and Mrs. Rogers. I saw Lobelia in abundance growing in a pond between the mansion and the lake. We left in at 6:20 o’clock and got to Dolgelly by 7.20. We walked pretty fast all the way, distance about 4 miles. Saw a few good trees along the drive, and several fine four-leaved beech, Austrian Pine, etc. We had pretty glimpses of the scenery on the way home, and got here safely.