David Rutter Thomas : ‘A true and faithful servant’.

Quentin R.H. Dodd.

During the second half of the nineteenth century the town of Mold was dominated by the solicitors partnership of Kelly & Keene who were unquestionably, in legal knowledge and administration, supreme. In those days the only resources available to them were :- the postal service, telegraph, their own inherent abilities and the skills of their clerks. Partners Tom Kelly and Alfred Keene would never have received, let alone accept, a draft will that referred to a ‘soul executor’ or a report of an inquest which said the deceased had died from ‘terrible confusion’ at the base of the skull ( instead of ‘cerebral contusion’ ) as has been my experience. Over the years they employed an amazing collection of men. This is the story of one of them, a man who was continuously employed by the firm for an incredible seventy-two years!

David Rutter Thomas was retired and in his late eighties when I first encountered him during his occasional visits to see Hugh Gough, a later partner in the practice. On arrival he would invariably announce himself as ‘Mr. Thomas Hemington’ ( the house where he lived in Pwll Glas), while at the same time displaying a bow tie and flower in season – a characteristic that marked out Kelly & Keene clerks of that era. He was essentially a very gentle and unassuming man but he had had a very full life.

Both he and I began with the firm on 3 October; he in 1879 and myself seventy-six years later in 1955. It is said that as a youngster he had considered taking up teaching as a career, coming as he did from a home where books were given a prominent place. However, he finally opted for the law. Up to the 1920s the family home was at Oak Villa, his father being employed as a bookseller’s assistant and printer. Neither he, nor his three sisters, married and after their parents’ death the four of them bought ‘Hemington’, behind Bailey Hill. Rutter Thomas was a devout high-churchman who was associated with Mold Parish Church all his life. For many years he was the oldest member of the choir, having attended the chancel stalls since childhood. Unlike his fellow-choristers, after receiving communion, he would remain standing alone to quietly say to himself the first chapter of John’s gospel, verses 1-14.

On his retirement from practice the Chester Chronicle invited him to write four articles on his memories and very illuminating they are. In them his familiarity with Mold is as extensive as his knowledge of Stone’s Justice Manual. He tells the story of when, as a boy chorister, the services of St. Mary’s Choir were secured to sing at matins and evensong at Hope Church to commemorate the re-installation and blessing of the organ. Excitement was high when all the surplices were packed into a huge wooden box and they all travelled to Hope by train. The morning service passed uneventful and in the afternoon the choirboys were given tea in Abermorddu School. Later they retired to a nearby hill that was practically covered in blackberries. The boys were engrossed in picking and eating when they heard the ding-dong of the church bell recalling them. There was a stampede and they arrived back at the church breathless with no time to spare and no time to discriminate in the selection of vestments. As a result, some of the bigger boys were garbed in short surplices while the smaller members had them trailing.

Over the years he contributed to all aspects of the law practice, succeeding William Theophilus Thomas as Deputy Clerk to the Magistrates until his own retirement in 1951. In one of his newspaper accounts he respectfully recorded the official designation of his predecessor, while wistfully adding, ‘with a side line of a Congregational Minister.’ Outside office hours his interests were wide and varied. His early adherence to St.Mary’s Church has already been noted. It should also be added that for forty-six years, from 1894 until 1940, he was Clerk to the Mold Rural Parish Council. No doubt the nature of his occupation brought him membership of the Sir Watkin Lodge which first conferred upon him the position of Senior Worshipful Master in 1.908. In the 1890’s he was fund-raising for Mold Red Star Football Club and in 1901 used his organizational skills for welcoming home members of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Volunteers after their exploits in the Boer War. The 1900s also saw his boss Colonel Keene take on the chairmanship of Mold Cricket Club with Rutter Thomas recruited as its Honorary Treasurer. He was indeed a man of many parts. Rutter Thomas was certainly more than merely an organizer. This man of small stature and fine baritone voice played the part of Sir Joseph Porter in Mold Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s 1909 production of H.M.S. Pinafore. He sang the immortal lines :

‘ When I was a lad I served a term,

As office boy to an Attorney’s firm.

[ cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,

And I polished the handle of the big front door.

I polished up the handle so carefully,

That now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navy

As office boy I made such a mark,

That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.

I served the writs with a smile so bland,

And I copied all the letters in a big round hand.

I copied all the letters in a hand so free,

That now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navy.’

Perhaps the last line of each verse should be changed to be his epitaph,

That I was indispensable to my community.

His sense of fun meant that he was a keen political observer. He would have been seven or eight at the election of 1874 when Thomas Thelwell Kelly was the local political agent for the Conservative Party. He could recall every window in the Black Lion ( the Tory headquarters ) being broken and two close friends severing their friendship because they could not agree how the Empire should be run. He tells of Joseph Eaton in the 1890s and his politics :

‘ Sixty years ago Mr Joseph Eaton, the doyen of the Eaton family, was one of the town’s local celebrities. ( Of the family it was freely stated, “Whatever you discovered in the Eaton family you would never find a fool.”) Latterly the old gentleman and his aged wife occupied a shop in Wrexham Street, wherein no business was transacted and in the window was displayed a card inscribed, “Mind your own business!” Joseph Eaton was a person of strong mentality, an uncompromising radical and noncomformist, dour and almost vitriolic in speech and pen.

Mr Gladstone had presented this devoted disciple with a discarded top hat which was greatly prized by the recipient. On the occasion of a Conservative meeting at the Market Hall, the audience consisted largely of devotees from the opposition camp, Mr Eaton was wont to cross the entire front of the Hall wearing the Gladstone headware. This was promptly and enthusiastically recognized by the audience with results that can readily be imagined….

And now for the reverse side of the picture. Accompanied by two school-fellows I attended a Liberal meeting in the same building. We were perched on the back of a form at the rear of the Assembly Room. Half a dozen fellows (known to me) were present, bent on making trouble. The first ‘turn’ was a diminutive tailor who was greeted by the obstructionists’ first’bombshell’ – “Give him a pint he’s nervous!” Thereafter every succeeding speaker was subjected to interuption and endeavouring in vain to gain a hearing. The position became intolerable and then ensued a scene I shall never forget. Infuriated, the audience turned and made en masse for the interrupters whom they bundled bodily down the steps of the Hall’s rear entrance and into the street. To resume with the original programme was out of the question and for the remainder of the evening Mr John Morgan, the Liberal Agent (“Rambler” of the Wrexham Advertiser) gave a blackboard demonstration on “How to fill in your ballot paper.”

Rutter Thomas was also a teller and presiding officer for elections and tells us :-

‘Despite the extension of the franchise (the vastly increased size of the lists of voters tells its own story ) the role of the Returning Officer is in some respects no more exacting than that of his predecessors, thanks to the arrival of the telephone and the motor car. I recall the time when the voting compartments were delivered by road and the ballot boxes conveyed to the presiding officers by rail, when a special train was chartered to bring the Maelor boxes to Flint for the counting of the votes. In those days the votes were counted on the evening of the poll and after the declaration, the Mold counters were wont to seek well-earned relaxation. On the last of such occasions I well remember the participants were Thomas Holt Ollive, Alfred Herbert Parry, Wilfred Trubshaw, Will Evans (chemist) and myself. Those were the days! A long expenence of the polling stations served to convince me that the temperament of the individual is materially affected by occupation and environment. Byway of illustration I found the average miner voter dour and unresponsive, while his surface-working brother – the brickmaker for instance – was a more animated proposition.’

His delicious sense of humour again gets the better of him when he describes acting as an elections teller;

 ‘Years ago I was presiding at an important Buckley Polling Station. One cheery voter carrying a euphonium and obviously en route to band practice having recorded his vote said, “Shall I give ver a chune, mister ? ” I politely, but firmly declined the offer, whereupon he left the station, but compromised by playing The Last Rose of Summer on the mat outside.’ He also recalls Whit Monday celebrations : In the days of my youth the county town donned festival garb on Whit Monday. High Street was crowded from end to end with an alluring array of booths and stalls containing ginger bread to “Jack-in-the-box” and shooting galleries. The Friendly Societies celebrated their anniversaries. They were the Foresters with headquarters at the Black Lion Hotel, the Star Club, the Royal Oak and the Oddfellows ( Lower Vaults ). Headed by a brass band the members walked in procession to the Parish Church for service and afterwards repaired to their respective headquarters for dinner. In the evening dancing took place on the Bailey Hill, music being supplied by a band conducted by Mr Luther Jones, a noted cornetist. My aesthetic soul revolte against the rough wooden boards which constituted the band stand and that the musicians were regaled with beer! The only musician I remember at the moment, apart from the conductor, was “Sam the Mangle”! Owing to drastic legislation the Friendly Societies were dissolved, the survivor for a brief period being the Royal Oak Club. The members continued their anniversary, including church service and dinner but excluding the band.’

David Rutter Thomas certainly had pride in the Mold Cosmopolitan Society Literary, Scientific and Social which was formed for the purpose of discussing social problems, politics, the arts and sciences ‘upon a common platform of human brotherhood.’ It held its inaugural meeting in 1891 under clearly defined rules and by 1906 could boast 160 members. The Cosmopolitans met once a week, every Tuesday from October to March with its committee comprising of seven men and four women. It is easy to understand how Rutter Thomas found such an intellectual stimulus from this. The advent of radio and the moving pictures ( which came to Mold in 1913) did not sound its death knell, but the Second World War did.

He acknowledged his enthusiasm and pride for this society by openly declaring: I am obsessed with a desire not to conclude my causerie without including a reference to the Mold Cosmopolitan Society of which I was privileged to be one of the original members. It was founded in 1891 and our hopes that it would attain its jubilee were not destined to realized. Its founder was Mr E P Edwards MRCVS a native of Mold who fresh from college experience in Edinburgh, framed its constitution which included meetings in camera, the exclusion of the eternal feminine and the Press and voting for membership by ballot. But Mold was not the Scottish capital in the course of time these restrictions were cancelled. During its long and not unchequered career the society was regarded as an important factor in the cultural life of the district. I have only space to refer to one memorable incident which serves to lend truth to the adage “times change and we change with them.” At a weekly meeting held 25 years ago ( about 1926 ) an address was given by a member of the Liverpool Fabian Society who in unmeasured terms indicted the Royal Family and monarchial system.

In the discussion that followed Mr W B Rowdon, a resident much respected for his intellectual attainments stated he was grieved and shocked to hear the views expressed by the speaker especially with regard to the Royal Family. Mr Lecturer, in no way abashed, rejoined that he was glad to hear Mr Rowdon was grieved and shocked as that was what he had come to Mold for. Later the Society passed a vote of censure on the committee for having included a Fabian lecture in the syllabus.

A staunch friend and supporter of the Society was Mr Peter E Roberts of Bromfield Hall who for some time occupied the dual position of President and Chairman of Committee in presenting to his native town the handsome municipal building in Earl Road the donor stipulated that one room known as the “lecture room” should be reserved for the exclusive use of the Cosmopolitan Society.’

The title of the Fabian’s lecture that caused such a furore amongst the Society’s Tory members was, ‘Is unemployment remediable?’ Other subjects heard and discussed included :

‘The Petty Annoyances and Worries of Life’ ‘ Jesters ancient and modern’

‘National Awareness in Europe during the 19th Century’ ‘Borderland of Insanity’

‘Is municipal trading to the advantage of the community’ ‘British Government Funds’

‘Scenery and the causes to which it is due gases’ ‘Marriage Customs’ ‘Vaccination’

‘Robert Owen : Dreamer and Reformer’ ‘Nature and Properties of a gas Flame’

His court memories recall another, such as, ‘Munition Manufacture for the First World War’ and ‘W E Gladstone’ Of the latter he tells :

‘William Evvart Gladstone was at the zenith of his fame when to the surprise of Bench, Police and officials he entered the Court House at Hawarden while business was in progress. The call of the eminent visitor was explained by the fact that the list of business included a case where a farmer on the Hawarden Estate had been assaulted by gypsies. He occupied a seat in my vicinity and I observed his penetrating dark eyes, a featureI  had not noticed in my pictorial representation of the great statesman. During the period of the Irish Home Rule troubles Hawarden Castle was guarded night and day by Police officers. Subsequently the cost incurred by this protection was the subject of protest by the Police Authority, which was humorously referred to by Punch as “the Skinflintshire Constabulary.”!

In preparation for the National Eisteddfod in Mold in 1873 the Executive Committee decided to appeal to Mr Gladstone to preside at one of their meetings. A deputation was appointed to attend at Havvarden Castle to present a personal appeal. Mr Gladstone agreed on condition that he was enabled to reach the House of Commons the same day in time for an important Home Rule debate. (It is interesting to see in the final accounts

for the Eisteddfod which show a profit of over seven hundred pounds, an item of “expenditure for Mr Gladstone’s train of Ten pounds.”) The deputation gave the required assurance and a special train was chartered. During this period Hawarden was the Mecca of Gladstone ‘ fans’ – especially from Lancashire.

On one occasion a huge train-load of visitors had arrived and were assembled outside the Glynne Arms Hotel, opposite the main entrance to the Castle grounds. The veteran statesman appeared through the door and an indiscreet admirer – seeking notoriety among his fellow excursionists – approached the GOM with extended hand and a cordial “How are you Mr Gladstone?” ” I don’t know you ,sir,” responded Mr Gladstone, eyeing the stranger with disfavour. An incident which served to show that if the great man did not resent the role of national idol he had no room for presumption.

Mr and Mrs Gladstone were frequent visitors to Mold, travelling in an old-time and comfortable ‘Victoria.’ They visited the residence of Gladstone-street occupied by PC and Mrs Pearson, the latter having been a valuable member of the Hawarden Castle menage. A collateral attraction was tea including “Mitcham House” light cakes, a delicacy much enjoyed by the distinguished guests.’

After seventy of his seventy-two years sendee, Cwyfan Hughes (the Keene & Kelly Senior Partner at that time) decided that David Rutter Thomas was so special that he organized a dinner for him at the Dolphin Hotel. All the real, great and good of the North Wales legal profession attended with Edward Jones, a Liverpool barrister and later a judge, as guest speaker. He was a Welsh speaking teetotaler who could get high on a pint of orange juice, or “Jungle Juice” as he called it. The official photograph of the dinner shows them all clustered around and in the middle a little man completely bewildered by the event. Alongside him are Kerfoot Roberts and Cynl Jones, the criminal advocacy giants of the time. Hugh Gough is almost obscured on the right at the back row. Cwyfan Hughes is the young man with the mirror behind him. The Chester Chronicle reported his retirement two years later.

When David Rutter Thomas died in his 91st year, in August 1957, the Vicar of Mold Canon John Davies ( father of the present Bishop) drove 250 miles back from Scotland where he was on holiday. An area meeting of bell ringers rang a muffled peal and two former curates assisted with an 11 am requiem service and another at 2 pm. Anybody who was anybody joined High Sheriff, Chief Constable and Civic leaders at the Church.

So Mold said farewell to a most remarkable man.

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