In the 1830s Vauxhall Gardens had been one of London’s ‘pleasure gardens’ since the mid seventeenth century. It ‘drew all manner of men and supported enormous crowds, with its paths being noted for romantic assignations. Tightrope walkers, hot air balloon ascents, concerts and fireworks provided amusement.’ Our story here concerns one such balloon flight and one parachute descent and how a young Thomas Grisdale became involved.

A satirical illustration by Cruikshank entitled 'Vauxhall Fete' celebrating the achievements of Wellington.

A satirical illustration by Cruikshank entitled ‘Vauxhall Fete’ celebrating the achievements of Wellington.

In the late 1700s James Boswell wrote:

Vauxhall Gardens is peculiarly adapted to the taste of the English nation; there being a mixture of curious show, — gay exhibition, musick, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear; — for all of which only a shilling is paid; and, though last, not least, good eating and drinking for those who choose to purchase that regale.

Later, in 1836, Charles Dickens wrote in Sketches by Boz:

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Vauxhall Gardens

We paid our shilling at the gate, and then we saw for the first time, that the entrance, if there had been any magic about it at all, was now decidedly disenchanted, being, in fact, nothing more nor less than a combination of very roughly-painted boards and sawdust. We glanced at the orchestra and supper-room as we hurried past—we just recognised them, and that was all. We bent our steps to the firework-ground; there, at least, we should not be disappointed. We reached it, and stood rooted to the spot with mortification and astonishment. That the Moorish tower—that wooden shed with a door in the centre, and daubs of crimson and yellow all round, like a gigantic watch-case! That the place where night after night we had beheld the undaunted Mr. Blackmore make his terrific ascent, surrounded by flames of fire, and peals of artillery, and where the white garments of Madame Somebody (we forget even her name now), who nobly devoted her life to the manufacture of fireworks, had so often been seen fluttering in the wind, as she called up a red, blue, or party-coloured light to illumine her temple!

And then:

the balloons went up, and the aerial travellers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before tried to wave their flags as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while; and the balloons were wafted gently away…

A printed sketch by

First balloon flight from Vauxhall Gardens by Charles Green in 1836

Always wanting the latest attraction and spectacle the Gardens featured the first balloon ascent from there in 1836. The proprietors asked the famous English balloonist Charles Green to build a new balloon for them; it was first called the Royal Vauxhall and then the Nassau. Green made a first successful flight from Vauxhall Gardens on 9 September 1836 ‘in company with eight persons…  remaining in the air about one hour and a half’. On the 21 September ‘he made a second ascent, accompanied by eleven persons, and descended at Beckenham in Kent’. Further flights followed, including on 7 November, when with two others he crossed the channel and ‘descended the next day, at 7 a.m., at Weilburg in Nassau, Germany, having travelled altogether about five hundred miles in eighteen hours’. A feat that was much celebrated.

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Charles Green’s balloon on the way to Germany in 1836

While successful balloon flights were becoming more common, parachute descents were still rare and highly dangerous. The first parachute jump had been made in France in 1785. In England André-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute jump in 1802 which a professional watercolour artist called Robert Cocking had witnessed. He was inspired to develop a better design which wouldn’t sway from side to side during the descent as Garnerin’s umbrella-shaped parachute had done.

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Cocking’s parachute

His design was based on the theory that an inverted cone-shaped parachute would be more stable. After many years perfecting his design which ‘engrossed very nearly all his attention’, he was ready and persuaded balloonist Charles Green first to let him accompany him on his first balloon flight from Vauxhall Gardens in 1836, and then, in July 1837, to stage a balloon flight with Cocking’s parachute attached underneath, from where he would release when sufficient height had been gained. The event was to be the main attraction of a Grand Day Fete at Vauxhall Gardens on 24 July 1837.

And so at 7.35 on that morning with thousands watched the sixty-one year-old Cocking ‘ascended hanging below the balloon, which was piloted by Green and Spencer’.

As the great balloon rises, his plan is to get up to at least 8000 feet before releasing himself. However, the weight of his apparatus slows the balloon’s ascent. The balloonists, Spencer and Green, jettison much of their ballast in a bid to rise higher. The balloon drifts over South London where it vanishes into a bank of clouds making it unsafe to drop any more ballast for fear of what’s below. Finally, over Greenwich and only a mile up, the balloonists advise Cocking they can get no higher. From his basket, Cocking yells, “Well, now I think I shall leave you. Good night, Spencer. Good night, Green.” With that, he severs the tether.

Mr. Green and Mr. Spencer, who were in the ‘car’ of the balloon, had… a narrow escape.

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The Nassau lifts off with Cocking’s parachute in 1837

At the moment the parachute was disengaged they crouched down in the car, and Mr. Green clung to the valve-line, to permit the escape of the gas. The balloon shot upwards, plunging and rolling, and the gas pouring both the upper and lower valves, but chiefly from the latter, as the great resistance of the air checked its egress from the former. Mr. Green and Mr. Spencer applied their mouths to tubes communicating with an air bag with which they had had the foresight to provide themselves; otherwise they would certainly have been suffocated by the gas. Notwithstanding his precaution, however, the gas almost totally deprived them of sight for four or five minutes. When they came to themselves they found they were at a height of about four miles, and descending rapidly. They effected, however, a safe descent near Maidstone.

‘A large crowd had gathered to witness the event, but it was immediately obvious that Cocking was in trouble. He had neglected to include the weight of the parachute itself in his calculations and as a result the descent was far too quick. Though rapid, the descent continued evenly for a few seconds, but then the entire apparatus turned inside out and plunged downwards with increasing speed. The parachute broke up before it hit the ground and at about 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90 m) off the ground the basket detached from the remains of the canopy. Cocking was killed instantly in the crash; his body was found in a field in Lee.’

Actually Cocking wasn’t instantly killed:

The balloon, freed of the weight, shot up like a skyrocket. Sadly, Cocking goes the other direction at much the same pace. In Norwood, a man described the chute’s descent as like a stone through a vacuum. With a tremendous crash, Cocking’s basket and chute slam into the ground at a farm near Lee. A shepherd is first to reach him. Cocking has been spilled from the basket, his head badly cut, his wig tossed some distance away. A few groans are the only brief sign of life. Carried by cart to the Tiger’s Head Inn, Cocking soon died of his injuries.

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Cocking’s ascent and descent

Well that’s the story of Robert Cocking’s death, the first death by parachuting. The accident was of course widely reported in the press with many witness accounts and the testimony given at the inquest at the Tiger’s Head Inn in Lee.

‘In 1815 cavalry and foot regiments passed through Lee Green on their way to the Battle of Waterloo.’ Was Levi Grisdale with them?

In the early 19th century bare knuckle boxing matches took place at the Old Tiger’s Head. Horse racing and (human) foot racing take place in the 1840s but the police put a stop to these events, probably under pressure from local citizens.

As stated earlier, the first to reach Cocking, who was still alive, was John Chamberlain, a shepherd in the employ of Mr Richard Norman. the proprietor of Burnt Ash Farm (a place that has now disappeared under the suburban sprawl of south London). Chamberlain told the inquest how he had seen the ‘machine’ part from the balloon and it made a sound ‘like thunder’ which frightened his sheep. The ‘machine’ fell to the ground and turned over and was ‘broken to pieces’. He ran to the crash and the man (Cocking) was in the basket ‘up to his chest’ with his head lying on the ground’. The sight ‘quite turned him’. Others then arrived followed by his master Mr. Norman. He then heard a groan from Cocking.

One of the others who soon joined Chamberlain was Thomas Grisdale, Mr Norman’s footman.

Thomas Grisdale, footman to Mr Norman, of Burnt Ash Park, saw the parachute part from the balloon; it appeared to turn over and over; there was a great crackling; it appeared all to come down together; it was all closed up, not expanded; witness assisted: in taking the deceased out of the basket to do which they had to unfasten some ropes which were about him; he was laid on the grass; he breathed and appeared to live for two minutes or so; no ropes were attached to the deceased, but they had to remove the ropes attached to the basket, to get him out.

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Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel where Thomas Grisdale was baptized

For anybody who is interested in who Mr Norman’s footman Thomas Grisdale was, well he was the son of the Joseph Grisdale I wrote about recently in a story called Joseph Grisdale, the Duke of Norfolk and the ‘Majesty of the people’. Joseph was the long-time favourite servant of the 11th Duke of Norfolk, Charles Howard. He was also the nephew of the famous and heroic Hussar Levi Grisdale who I have written much about.

Thomas was born in Arundel in 1808 and like his father went into ‘service’, although Mr Norman of Burnt Ash Farm was nowhere near in the same league as the Duke of Norfolk. He married Ockley-born Charlotte Charman in London in January 1830. Ockley in Surrey was a place where Thomas’s father owned a house. A daughter called Eleanor was born in June, but she died the next year. And then Thomas seems to disappear. Maybe he died soon after witnessing Mr Cocking’s tragic death? I just don’t know.

In 1841 Charlotte was a servant of aristocrat Christopher Thomas Tower at the stately Weald Hall in Brentwood in Essex and she died at her parents’ home of ‘Linacre’ in Cranleigh in Surrey in 1847, aged just thirty-seven.

Weald_Hall

Weald Hall, Brentwood

 

I have wondered for some time what several members of one Grisdale family were doing in Arundel in Sussex in the early 1800s. How had they come to be there? The first son of the heroic Hussar Levi Grisdale, who fought in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, was born in Arundel in 1811 – he too was called Levi. Levi’s sister Jane married Arundel stonemason John Booker in Arundel and their first five children were born there between 1808 and 1814. One of these children, William Booker, was an early emigrant to New Zealand. And then there is Levi and Jane’s older brother Joseph who had three children in Arundel between 1806 and 1811. It is Joseph who provides the original connection with Arundel, through his relationship with Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk.

In general I don’t have any time for Britain’s landed aristocrats. For centuries they were the repressors and exploiters of the people of the island. The Howard family, whose wealth went back at least to the 1300s, were and still are the premier Catholic aristocratic family in the realm. As Dukes of Norfolk they rank first (below the royal family) in the Peerage of England.  Many of the Howard dukes of Norfolk were executed for treason and some of the family even married kings, such as Henry VIII’s wife Catherine Howard.

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Arundel Castle

The families main seat was and still is Arundel Castle in Sussex, but they had lands all over the country: in Holme Lacy in Herefordshire for example and, importantly for the Grisdales, the Howards had, in a roundabout way, become the barons of Greystoke in Cumberland in the late sixteenth century; and of course Matterdale is part of this barony.

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Greystoke Castle,Cumberland

Charles Howard was born in 1746 and became the 11th Duke of Norfolk in 1786. He was first educated by the Catholic priests in Greystoke Castle, where he spent the early years of his life, before being sent to Douai in France for more Catholic teaching. He would later convert to Protestantism for reasons of political expediency. It was no doubt at Greystoke Castle that a young Joseph Grisdale first entered into the Howard family service. Joseph was born in Matterdale in 1769 the son of farmer Solomon Grisdale. The family then moved to Greystoke where Levi was born in 1783.

Solomon Grisdale was a tenant of Charles Howard’s father, the 10th duke of Norfolk, also called Charles. I would imagine that it was sometime in the mid 1780s that Joseph Grisdale entered into service with the Howards at Greystoke Castle, perhaps initially as a footman or something similar. Whatever the case, by 1794 Joseph had moved to London with the new duke and was in his service at the duke’s palatial London residence in St James’s Square called Norfolk House. Joseph married another servant (maybe of the duke) called Martha Broughton in St George’s church in Hanover Square on 6 June 1794 – both were said to be servants living in the parish of St James.

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St James’s Square with Norfolk House on the right

As a servant of the duke Joseph would have travelled around a lot because even in old age he was continually on the move between his various estates. It is likely that buy the time of his marriage Joseph had already moved up the pecking order in the below-stairs hierarchy; maybe he was the duke’s personal valet or maybe, perhaps later, he even became butler – the top of the tree. Given what I will tell later he must have been one or the other. Certainly Joseph would have accompanied the duke during his stays at the ducal seat of Arundel Castle, also to Holme Lacy where the duke’s deranged wife was incarcerated until her death in 1820, and certainly to Greystoke Castle in Cumberland, near where Joseph’s family still lived.

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Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel

By the early 1800s at the latest it seems that Joseph and Martha had their ‘home’ at Arundel. Maybe this was a cottage in the castle’s grounds or perhaps even in the castle itself. It was in Arundel that their three children were born: Mary in 1806, Thomas in 1808 and John in 1811. It’s interesting to note that at least Thomas and John were baptized in the Roman Catholic Fitzalan Chapel in the grounds of Arundel Castle. Actually the Fitzalan Chapel, the private chapel of the dukes of Norfolk, many of whom are buried there, is only a part of the Church of England Arundel parish church of St Nicholas

This charming little church (St Nicholas) beside Arundel Castle and opposite Arundel Cathedral is the local Church of England parish church and dates back to 1380…

A peculiarity of the church is that part of the building is the Fitzalan Chapel which is a Catholic chapel in Arundel Castle’s grounds where the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel are buried. This catholic chapel is separated from the protestant parish church by just a glass screen and it is possible to peer from one to the other.

The duke, Charles Howard, had converted to Protestantism in 1780 in order to get into Parliament as an MP, but ‘remained a Catholic at heart’ as everyone knew. So had the duke’s servant Joseph Grisdale converted to Catholicism or, perhaps more likely, his wife Martha was a Catholic?

The Prince of Wales (later King George the fourth). Levi's admirer and a drinking buddy of Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk

The Prince of Wales (later King George the fourth). Levi’s admirer and a drinking buddy of Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk

Before I tell more of Joseph and the duke let’s try to imagine what led his brother and sister, Levi and Jane, to Arundel as well. When Hussar Levi’s first son Levi was baptized in Arundel in 1811 his brother Joseph was, as we will see, a very valued servant of the duke. Levi was still in the army but at the height of his fame. After he had captured Napoleon’s favourite general Lefebvre in Spain in late 1808, his regiment’s Colonel-in- Chief the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, insisted he was promoted to Corporal saying this would be the first of many promotions – Levi ended up a Sergeant Major. In fact the Prince of Wales had offered to pay for an education for Levi but he had refused this. So maybe Levi and his wife were just visiting brother Joseph at Arundel when their son was born or, just possibly, Levi’s wife Ann was living in Arundel while Levi moved around with his regiment? Regarding sister Jane, I can see no other explanation but that Joseph had got her a job as a servant in the duke’s household at Arundel and while working there she married local mason John Booker in 1805.

It’s not just that Joseph Grisdale was a servant of the duke of Norfolk but it seems he was his favourite and most trusted servant. When the duke died in 1815 at his London residence of Norfolk House he of course left a will. As he didn’t have any children most of the will concerns to whom all his extensive properties should go to; including of course Greystoke in Cumberland. I won’t go into all the details here, but the duke willed that his servants should each receive three years wages, quite a generous gesture. But he singled out just one servant, Joseph Grisdale, to whom he bequeathed on top of three years wages the extremely large sum (for the time) of £300!

When you read below the type of life the duke led and what his servants had to do for him you might like to think as I do, that Joseph Grisdale must have been very close to the duke during his drunken and debauched life – possibly as I have suggested being his personal valet (‘minder’ even), rather than his butler (or one of his butlers).

So what sort of man was Charles Howard, the 11th duke of Norfolk? What had Joseph had to deal with? We might get an idea from the Posthumous Memoirs of My Own Time of Sir N W Wraxall, published in 1836. I’ll quote a length because it gives an idea of England’s aristocratic rulers in the glorious Georgian age. Note that Howard was Lord Surrey before he became duke.

At a time when men of every description wore hair-powder and a queue, he had the courage to cut his hair short, and to renounce powder, which he never used except when going to court. In the session of 1785, he proposed to Pitt to lay a tax on the use of hair-powder, as a substitute for one of the minister’s projected taxes on female servants. This hint, though not improved at the time, was adopted by him some years afterwards. Pitt, in reply to Lord Surrey, observed, that ‘the noble lord, from his rank, and the office which he held (deputy earl-marshal of England), might dispense, as he did, with powder; but there were many individuals whose situation compelled them to go powdered. Indeed, few gentlemen permitted their servants to appear before them unpowdered.’

Courtenay, a man who despised all aid of dress, in the course of the same debate remarked, that he was very disinterested in his opposition to the tax on maid-servants; ‘for’ added he, ‘as I have seven children, the ‘jus septem liberorum’ will exempt me from paying it; and I shall be as little affected by the tax on hair-powder, if it should take place as the noble lord who proposed it’.

 “A natural crop – alias a Norfolk dumpling” showing the Duke of Norfolk. It was drawn by James Gillray and published in 1791

“A natural crop – alias a Norfolk dumpling” showing the Duke of Norfolk. It was drawn by James Gillray and published in 1791

Strong natural sense supplied in Lord Surrey the neglect of education; and he displayed a sort of rude eloquence, whenever he rose to address the house, analogous to his formation of mind and body. In his youth, — for at the time of which I speak he had attained his thirty-eighth year, — he led a most licentious life, having frequently passed the whole night in excesses of every kind, and even lain down, when intoxicated, occasionally to sleep in the streets, or on a block of wood. At the ‘Beef-steak Club,’ where I have dined with him, he seemed to be in his proper element. But few individuals of that society could sustain a contest with such an antagonist, when the cloth was removed. In cleanliness be was negligent to so great a degree, that he rarely made use of water for purposes of bodily refreshment and comfort. He even carried the neglect of his person so far, that his servants were accustomed to avail themselves of his fits of intoxication, for the purposes of washing him. On those occasions, being wholly insensible to all that passed about him, they stripped him as they would have done a corpse, and performed on his body the necessary ablutions. Nor did he change his linen more frequently than he washed himself. Complaining one day to Dudley North that he was a martyr to the rheumatism, and had ineffectually tried every remedy for its relief, ‘Pray, my lord,’ said he, ‘did you ever try a dean shirt?’

Drunkenness was in him an hereditary vice, transmitted down, probably, by his ancestors from the Plantagenet times, and inherent in his formation. His father, the Duke of Norfolk, indulged equally in it; but he did not manifest the same capacities as the son, in resisting the effects of wine. It is a fact that Lord Surrey, after laying his father and all the guests under the table at the Thatched House tavern in St Jameses street, has left the room, repaired to another festive party in the vicinity, and there recommenced the unfinished convivial rites; realizing Thompson’s description of the parson in his ‘ Autumn,’ who, after the foxchase, survives his company in the celebration of these orgies:

‘Perhaps some doctor of tremendous paunch.

Awful and vast, a black abyss of drink.

Outlives them all; and from his buried flock.

Returning late with rumination sad.

Laments the weakness of these latter times.’

Even in the House of Commons he was not always sober; but he never attempted, like Lord Galway, to mix in the debate on those occasions. No man, when master of himself, was more communicative, accessible, and free from any shadow of pride. Intoxication rendered him quarrelsome; though, as appeared in the course of more than one transaction he did not manifest Lord Lonsdale’s troublesome superabundance of courage after he had given offence. When under the dominion of wine, he has asserted that three as good Catholics sat in Lord North’s last parliament as ever existed; namely, Lord Nugent, Sir Thomas Gascoyne and himself. There might be truth in this declaration. Doubts were, indeed, always thrown on the sincerity of his own renunciation of the errors of the Romish church; which aet was attributed more to ambition and the desire of performing a part in public life, or to irreligion, than to conviction. His very dress, which was most singular, and always the same, except when he went to St. James’s, namely, a plain blue coat of a peculiar dye, approaching to purple, was said to be imposed on him by his priest or confessor as a penance. The late Earl of Sandwich so assured me; but I always believed Lord Surrey to possess a mind superior to the terrors of superstition. Though twice married while a very young man, he left no issue by either of his wives. The second still survives, in a state of disordered intellect, residing at Holme Lacy in the county of Hereford.

John Howard, the first Howard Duke of Norfolk fell with Richard the Third at Bosworth in 1485

John Howard, the first Howard Duke of Norfolk, fell with Richard the Third at Bosworth in 1485

As long ago as the spring of 1781, breakfasting with him at the Cocoa-tree coffee-house, Lord Surrey assured me that he had proposed to give an entertainment when the year 1783 should arrive, in order to commemorate the period when the dukedom would have remained three hundred years in their house, since its creation by Richard the Third. He added, that it was his intention to invite all the individuals of both sexes whom he could ascertain to be lineally descended from the body the Jockey of Norfolk, the first duke of that name, killed at Bosworth Field. ‘But having already,’ said he, ‘discovered nearly six thousand persons sprung from him’, a great number of whom are in very obscure or indigent circumstances, and believing, as I do, that as many more may be in existence, I have abandoned the design.’

Fox could not boast of a more devoted supporter than Lord Surrey, nor did his attachment diminish with his augmentation of honours. On the contrary, after he became Duke of Norfolk he manifested the strongest proofs of adherence; some of which, however, tended to injure him in the estimation of all moderate men. His conduct in toasting ‘The sovereign majesty of the people,’ at a meeting of the Whigs, held in February, 1798, at the Crown and Anchor tavern, was generally disapproved and censured. Assuredly it was not in the ‘Bill of Rights,’ nor in the principles on which reposes the revolution of 1688, that the duke could discover any mention of such an attribute of the people. Their liberties and franchises are there enumerated; but their majesty was neither recognised nor imagined by those persons who were foremost in expelling James the Second. The observations with which his grace accompanied the toast, relative to the two thousand persons who, under General Washington, first procured reform and liberty for the thirteen American colonies, were equally pernicious in themselves and seditious in their tendency. Such testimonies of approbation seemed, indeed, to be not very remote from treason.

The Prince of Wales escapes from the French in Flanders in 1794

The Duke of York escapes from the French in Flanders in 1794

The duke himself appeared conscious that he had advanced beyond the limits of prudence, if not beyond the duties imposed by his allegiance; for, a day or two afterwards, having heard that his behaviour had excited much indignation at St James’s, he waited on the Duke of York, in order to explain and excuse the proceeding. When, he had so done, he concluded by requesting, as a proof of his loyalty, that, in case of invasion, his regiment of militia (the West Riding of Yorkshire, which he commanded) might be assigned the post of danger. His royal highness listened to him with apparent attention; assured him that his request should be laid before the king; and then breaking off the conversation abruptly, ‘Apropos, my lord,’ said he, ‘ have you seen “Blue Beard?” This musical pantomime entertainment, which had just made its appearance at Drury-lane theatre, was at that time much admired. Only two days subsequent to the above interview, the Duke of Norfolk received his dismission both from the lord-lieutenancy and from his regiment.

Lord Liverppol - Prime Minister

Lord Liverpool – Prime Minister

As he advanced in age he increased in bulk; and the last time that I saw him, (which happened to be at the levee at Carlton House, when I had some conversation with him,) not more than a year before his decease, such was his size and breadth, that he seemed incapable of passing through a door of ordinary dimensions. Yet he had neither lost the activity of his mind nor that of his body. Regardless of seasons, or impediments of any kind, he traversed the kingdom in all directions, from Greystock in Cumberland, to Holme Lacy and Arundel Castle, with the rapidity of a young man. Indeed, though of enormous proportions, he had not a projecting belly, as Ptolemy Physcon is depictured in antiquity ; or like the late king of Wirtemberg, who resembled in his person our popular ideas of Punch and might have asserted with Falstaff, that ‘he was unable to get sight of his own knee.’ In the deliberations of the house of peers, the Duke of Norfolk maintained the manly independence of his character, and frequently spoke with ability as well as with information. His talents were neither impaired by years nor obscured by the bacchanalian festivities of Norfolk House, which continued to the latest period of his life; but he became somnolent and lethargic before his decease. On the formation of Lord Liverpool’s administration in 1812, he might unquestionably have received ‘the Garter,’ which the Regent tendered him, if he would have sanctioned and supported that ministerial arrangement. The tenacity of his political principles made him, however, superior to the temptation. His death has left a blank in the upper house of parliament.

It’s not for nothing that Charles Howard was referred to as the ‘Drunken Duke’. One can examine what Joseph Grisdale had had to deal with over the years and perhaps why the duke was so generous to Joseph in his will.

crown and anchor

The Crown and Anchor

Yet there was more than this to the duke. Much as I approve of any vilification of England’s debauched, indolent and useless landed aristocracy, I think Charles Howard had one great redeeming quality: in his drunken state he still cared a little about the people. As Wraxall’s writings make clear, Howard had been deprived of some of his offices by King George III for his speech to mark the birthday of the Whig politician Charles James Fox held at the Crown and Anchor on Arundel Street in St. James’, London (yes, named after the seat of the dukes of Norfolk) in early 1798.

The Crown and Anchor tavern was one of the major landmarks of late-Hanoverian London. In the period of popular political discontent which stretched from the 1790s through to the Chartist movement of the 1840s, the tavern’s name became so closely associated with anti-establishmentarian politics that the term ‘Crown and Anchor’ became synonymous with radical political beliefs…

The term ‘tavern’ conjures up images of a typically snug English pub; however this would a wholly inaccurate means of describing the Crown and Anchor. Following extensive refurbishment in the late 1780s the tavern stood at four stories in height and stretched an entire city block from Arundel Street to Milford Lane.

The meeting to celebrate Fox’s birthday was attended by upwards of 2,000 people. The Duke of Norfolk was there, probably with Joseph Grisdale in attendance to look after the drunken duke.

The festivities were an annual event, and 1798 saw one of the largest assemblies ever held at the tavern. The Duke’s penchant for drinking and revelry was renowned in London society, as were his liberal political views, despite his close friendship with the Prince Regent. At the request of the chair of the occasion, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Norfolk proposed a string of toasts to the 2000-strong audience. Though convention stipulated the first toast at such a public occasion be offered as a salutation to the Monarch, the Duke raised his glass and gave instead to ‘the rights of the people’. The flagrant disregard of custom and etiquette met a mix of cheers and murmured disgruntlement. When the room quieted, the Duke continued with an altogether scandalous line-up of toasts bordering on the treasonous: ‘to constitutional redress for the wrongs of the people’; to ‘a speedy and effectual reform in the representation of the people in parliament’; to ‘the genuine principles of the British Constitution’; and to ‘the people of Ireland—may they be speedily restored to blessings of law and liberty’. When he finally offered a toast to the King, it contained a thinly disguised rebuke reminding the Monarch of his duty—to ‘Our Sovereign’s health—the majesty of the people’.

‘The establishment’s reaction to Norfolk’s speech was captured in Gillray’s The Loyal Toast – As Norfolk salutes the majesty of the people a list of his various offices and titles is being shredded behind him.  The Duke was dismissed from all his official positions, including his position on the Privy Council and the Lord Lieutenancy of the West Riding. Signalling that the Duke’s powerful friendships would not protect him, the notification of dismissal was sent during a dinner with the Prince Regent. Despite eventually satisfying the King with proclamations of loyalty, he was not reinstated to his official post until 1807.’

Gillray's The Loyal Toast

Gillray’s The Loyal Toast

What became of faithful Joseph Grisdale after the Duke of Norfolk’s death in 1815? It seems that Joseph used some or all of the money the duke had left him to buy two houses, one at Ockley in Surrey and one at in Rudgwick in Sussex, both on lands in the estates of the dukes of Norfolk. In 1822 Joseph is living at his house in Ockley but then rents it out until 1830.  The house in Rudgwick was rented out by Joseph in 1820, but by 1833 Joseph’s daughter Mary married George Field in Rudgwick church, so maybe Joseph was living there by then having retired from his years of service? As yet I can’t be sure when and where Joseph and Martha died. His children went on to other things – but some still with connections with the dukes of Norfolk – I’ll return to them at a later date.

Old Rudgwick

Old Rudgwick

‘I wish him, however, great pleasure and success in cutting off the Frenchmen’s ears.’

Benjamin was born in 1769 at Knotts in Watermillock. He was the sixth child of another Benjamin and his Westmorland-born wife Sarah Tinkler. In 1774, when Benjamin was only five, his father fell of a ladder and was killed, he was only thirty-nine but left behind a widow and eight children. I’ll tell more about this family another time. It seems that the family stayed on in Watermillock and at least some of the children went to school there. Sarah probably died in 1788 ‘a poor widow’.

View over Ullswater from Knotts Watermillock

View over Ullswater from Knotts Watermillock

What we do know is that probably sometime around the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793, (in that year France declared war on Britain), Benjamin joined the army and became a Dragoon. His older brother Matthew (born 1766) did the same. Thomas Rumney, a Watermillock-born man working in a London counting house, wrote to his brother Anthony in January 1797:

You seem in Cumberland to ride rusty under Mr. Pitt’s whip, but if you will not lead you must be driven. You astonish me by telling me that my old schoolfellow Matt Grisdale has entered into the King’s service in a military capacity of low rank. I wish him, however, great pleasure and success in cutting off the Frenchmen’s ears.

And yes this Thomas Rumney is of the same family as the recent US presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Matthew Grisdale is never heard of again; it’s likely he died fighting the French, but hopefully he did cut off a few Frenchmen’s ears before his own death.

British Dragoons

British Dragoons

What Benjamin did during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars isn’t known, but as he later was a ‘Chelsea Pensioner’ he must have served for fully twenty-one years.

The next we hear of Benjamin is on 19 December 1812 when he married Morland girl Mary Mounsey, either in Lowther church or Thrimby church, Westmorland, very near where his mother had been born. The couple had three daughters: Frances 1815, Ann 1819 and Mary 1821, all baptized in Lowther/Thrimby. The family later lived near Lowther at ‘Shap Beck Gate’ in Thrimby; whether they were already there when the children were born I don’t know.

By 1841 we find Benjamin living at Shap Beck Gate with his wife and daughter Frances; he was said to be an army pensioner. The two younger daughters had already moved away. I’ll tell of them in a minute. As we will see despite Benjamin’s small pension the family was very poor. On 24 June 1846 various newspapers reported an ‘awful and terrific thunder storm’, and then:

On the moor near Shap Beck-gate, in Westmorland, the wife and daughter of Benjamin Grisdale, a labourer, were gathering tufts of wool from the fences on Knipe Scar, when the daughter, a fine young women, was struck by the electric fluid and killed on the spot by the side of her heart-broken mother, who most fortunately escaped destruction but was slightly injured.

Shap Beck and Thrimby 1839

Shap Beck and Thrimby 1839

An inquest was held, reported by the newspapers on 27 June 1846:

On Saturday last… at the house of Mary Grisdale of Shap Beck-Gate on the body of Frances Grisdale aged 31 who was killed on the previous Thursday, during an awful thunderstorm that passed over that part, by the electric fluid. Mary Grisdale the mother of the deceased deposed as follows:

About 4 o’clock in the afternoon I and my daughter were engaged in gathering wool from the fences on Mr. Powley’s farm at Thrimby Grange. A storm of thunder, accompanied by rain, set in, and we became alarmed and were hastening home. When coming through Coat Bank there was a very heavy clap of thunder, and more lightning than I think I ever saw before. The lighting struck me on the left arm, and I thought it was broken. I was then 4 or 5 yards before my daughter. I looked around and not seeing her I walked back a few yards, and found her lying on the ground on her left side. I raised her up but she was quite dead. I remained with her about a quarter of an hour when I got assistance from the Grange.

She had on a bed gown, which was open in front. Her petticoat, stays and shift were very much burnt, and also her cap and bonnet. The flesh is not torn, but she is gravely discoloured. Deceased was thirty-one years of age. Verdict – “Accidental Death”.

The Carlisle Journal added gratuitously that the ‘deceased was a person of rather weak intellect’.

Knipe Scar

Knipe Scar

Benjamin died the next year. His wife Mary was still living at Shap Beck Gate in Thrimby in 1851, still next door to William Powley’s farm at Thrimby Grange. She died sometime in the 1850s.

And what happened to the other two daughters? It seems that Mary (born 1821) went back to Watermillock and had two illegitimate children there; Benjamin in 1850 and Julia in 1860. But she was obviously very poor and was in and out of Penrith Workhouse, where we find her with Benjamin in 1851 and with Benjamin and Julia in 1861. I don’t know what happened to this young Benjamin. Julia was a servant in Yorkshire in 1871 and then I lose track of her.

'Young' Benjamin Grisdale's company on the North West Frontier in 1917

‘Young’ Benjamin Grisdale’s company on the North West Frontier in 1917

Daughter Ann (born 1819) was still living ‘next door’ to her parents in Thrimby in 1841, working as a farm servant on Joseph Richardson’s farm (neighbouring William Powley at Thrimby Grange). She too had two illegitimate children: Sarah born in 1847 in Barton and William born in 1854 in Penrith. In 1861 the three are living at Netherend in Penrith; Ann is a Charwomen, thirteen year-old Sarah is already a domestic servant and William at school. Again I don’t know what became of Sarah, but William continued to live with his mother Ann in Penrith and started work first as an errand boy and then by 1881 as a railway labourer; he was still with his mother in 1891. But it seems that William had married a pauper called Mary Rowlands in 1877 and they had a child called Benjamin Grisdale in Penrith in 1883. This Benjamin joined the Border Regiment in 1914 and spent the First World War on the North West frontier between Afghanistan and present Pakistan. I intend to write about him in the future.

On 12 December 1814 a British fleet was anchored off Cat Island in the Mississippi Sound. It was there to prepare for an attack on New Orleans. One of the ships was the 38-gun frigate HMS Cydnus commanded by Captain Frederick Langford, a long-time colleague of Admiral Lord Nelson. Second in command was a twenty-one year-old Lieutenant Charles Grisdale.  Charles was about to take part in the final acts of the ‘War of 1812’.

In 1812 the United States had opportunistically and rather sneakily declared war on Britain, believing that with Britain fully stretched fighting Napoleon’s French they could use the distraction to grab Canada. Yet even with Britain fighting on two fronts on either side of the Atlantic the war had gone badly for the Americans until the Battle of Plattsburg in September 1814. Even then the British went on to capture Washington until driven out by an unprecedented storm. After a bombardment of Fort McHenry – which inspired the words of the Star Spangled Banner – the British left Baltimore intent on an invasion of Louisiana. And so the British fleet left Jamaica and assembled off Cat Island.

Fort McHenry 1814

Fort McHenry 1814

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

American gunboat Alligator

American gunboat Alligator

The task was to secure a safe place to land the British army on the Gulf Coast. They choose Lake Borgne just east of New Orleans. But this bay was too shallow for warships to enter and it was defended by five American gunboats and two other US ships called the Alligator and the Sea Horse. These would have to be taken before any landing could be made. And so it was that late on December 12 forty-five small boats and barges filled with 1,200 sailors and marines, including Lieutenant Grisdale, started to row from the fleet towards the entrance to Lake Borgne. Arriving on the 13th they anchored overnight and with the next dawn they started their attack. Under the command of Captain Nicholas Lockyer the British soon stormed the American ship Alligator and captured it. Lockyer then ordered the boat flotilla to anchor just beyond the range of the American long guns. His men had rowed 36 miles and now received a much needed rest and breakfast.

At 10.30 they weighed anchor and made straight at the line of American gunboats. The Americans opened fire but their targets were small and little damage was done. The British returned fire with the small canons they carried and grappled and stormed the gunships with musket and bayonets.

By the early afternoon of 14 December it was all over, all the American gunships had been taken. The Americans had lost 6 men with 35 wounded, while British casualties were higher: 17 dead and 77 wounded, many mortally. So ended the ‘Battle of Lake Borgne’, in which Charles Grisdale had taken part.

Battle of Lake Borgne

Battle of Lake Borgne

The British were now free to land, which they did at Pea Island under General John Keane. HMS Cydnus, with Charles Grisdale still second-in-command, helped with the landing.

I won’t here retell the story of the subsequent Battle of New Orleans, which culminated on the 8th January 1815. It was a victory for the Americans under General Andrew Jackson, caused both by British mistakes and the heroic defence of the city by the Americans. In fact the battle had taken place after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in December officially ending the War, but news of this had yet to reach America.

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

We know from reports that Charles Grisdale was with his ship during the Battle of New Orleans, but not what he did. But after the battle while again anchored off Cat Island one final event took place on board the Cydnus that Charles would have witnessed: the court-martial of Captain Henry William Percy. Captain Percy had led a force to try to capture Fort Bowyer in September but had failed. During the action his ship, HMS Hermes, had grounded and Percy had fired it to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. For this he was being court-martialled; but was after much acrimony he was exonerated. Whether this event had something to do with what followed I don’t know.

HMS Cydnus then sailed for Jamaica where Captain Langford and his second-in-command Lieutenant Grisdale parted company. Langford died a few days later in Jamaica and Grisdale set off for home.

Mail Packet Princess MaryThe Royal Cornwall Gazette reported on Saturday 18 February 1815:

During the homeward passage of the Princess Mary Packet, which arrived at Falmouth, from Jamaica, on Monday last, she experienced the most dreadful weather. We lament to state that during its continuance Lieutenant Grisdale, of the Navy, was struck by lightning which caused his death instantaneously. This Gentleman had been Second Lieutenant of the H.M.S Cyndus, 38 Capt. Langford; but in consequence of some disagreement with his Commanding Officer, he had quitted that ship and was on his return to England when he met his untimely fate. We understand that Lieut. Grisdale, was a meritorious young man, and highly respected by his brother Officers for his many estimable qualities.

Charles Grisdale was just twenty-one. I wrote about his family in an article called ‘The extinction of a line’.

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus - HMS Pomone

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus – HMS Pomone

It was probably a typically cold Lakeland day on the 26th January 1842 when young Eleanor Grisdale arrived at Watermillock church for her wedding. Accompanied by her father Benjamin, who farmed at nearby Hurrock Wood, she possibly took a look over Ullswater and considered what her life as the wife of John Holme, the ‘King of Mardale’, would bring.

Horrock Wood Farm

Horrock/Hurrock Wood Farm

The first amusing part of this tale is the wedding announcement in various local newspapers:

At Watermillock on Wednesday, the 26th inst., by the Rev Thomas Lowry, John Holme, Esq, of Chapel Hill, Mardale, Westmorland, the original residence of the ancient family of Holme, whose great ancestor, a native of Stockholm, came to England with William the Conqueror, to Eleanor, only child of Mr. Grisdale of Hurrock Wood, near Ullswater.

Of course nobody called Holme from Stockholm in Sweden ever came over with William the Bastard in 1066, in fact Stockholm didn’t even exist in 1066. Holm/Holme is indeed a Scandinavian toponym meaning ‘a low, flat tract of land beside a river or stream’ or ‘a small island, especially one in a river or lake’. When the Hiberno-Norse settled the Lake District in the tenth century they named numerous places Holm from which many local families derive their name.

It has always amazed me why some people even want to trace their family back to William the Bastard’s Norman-French – thugs who brought centuries-long death and repression to the people of England. But the Holme (sometimes Holmes) family of Mardale obviously loved telling this tale. In William Ford’s 1839 Description of Scenery in the Lake District, he writes of Chapel Hill:

Chapelhill. – Mardale Chapel of Ease, in a picturesque and fertile situation, surrounded by lofty fells, stands here; and Chapelhill is the property and residence of the Holmes’, whose ancestor came into this country with the Conqueror.

Mardale

Mardale

But it gets better. Let me share with you the story of the ‘Kings of Mardale’ given on a website called Mardale Green:

Hidden away in the far North Eastern corner of Westmoreland is the secluded valley of Mardale, a rugged and remote place with mountains on every side, it once offered the perfect hiding place for a family on the run.

One such band was, Hugh Parker Holme and his family (sic), originally a native of Stockholm Sweden, and a knight of the realm who once made his living from war. He entered early Britain within the armies of William the 1st, and for his troubles he was rewarded with a large estate in Yorkshire.

The year was 1209, and Hugh was thought to be involved within the Canterbury Conspiracy, a plot of their day to oust the then King John of England, this incurred the displeasure of John, who had them driven out of their homes, now fearing for their lives, they all headed north, making for safety in Scotland, which was neutral at the time.

King+John

King John

Their march was long and weary, crossing rivers mountain and dale, avoiding all the major routes they managed to remain hidden from view, Hugh sensed they were nearing their goal, but with their last few supplies running desperately low, and night time approaching, they stopped to rest and gather their strength, for the mountains ahead would test them in the days ahead, whilst sitting in a circle with their backs towards each other, looking up they saw the last few streams of daylight breaking through gaps in the blackening skies, suddenly one of Hugh’s sons noticed a light flickering far below them in the distance.

As he spoke, the heavens opened, the light now was fading fast, so they decided to take shelter in a tiny cave they found earlier that evening, little did they know it, but this place was to serve them well in the days ahead, unknown to them they were high upon Rough Crag, in the most inaccessible part of Riggindale (The cave survives to this day and is marked upon modern maps as Hugh’s Cave), with the Scottish border a  short distance away, they closed their eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

As daylight broke, the rain and hail still pounded the ridge, so they waited until the worst of the weather abated, by now  what little supplies they had were gone, and leaving his family behind for the first time since they set out, Hugh went down into the valley alone, to seek new supplies and to check if any news of the plot had reached this place, Hugh would make the trip from cave to green many times and as luck would have it, they heard news of King John’s demise, with him safely in the ground changed everything, so making for neutrality and safety in Scotland was now not so important, they decided to stay a while longer.

The days turned into weeks and the months past so fast, that any fears they had, ebbed slowly away, by now they had left the safety of the cave and ventured down into the valley, where a kind old man, who was getting on in years and needing the care of others, took them in, when the old man passed away, Hugh bought his lands and set too at building his own home, high upon the Rigg, Hugh’s young family added a much needed boost toward village life, the locals were very forthcoming and welcomed them with open arms.

In the years to come, Hugh gained the peoples trust, mainly by the doing of good; they valued his thoughts and eventually involved him within their politics, so much so, that they eventually awarded him with the title, The King of Mardale.

In the centuries that followed, every 1st male of the family line, were dubbed the King, the last male passed away in 1885 with Hugh Parker Holme, his memorial can still be seen in the new church yard, just up the road from the old church in Shap village, the very last line of the family ended with one Mary Elizabeth Holme who died in 1915 at the ripe old age of 90.

It’s all tosh but a great story nonetheless.

The last King of Mardale was indeed Hugh Parker Holme; he was the son of John Holme of Chapel Hill by his second wife Mary Howe, whose mother was a Parker; but the thirteenth century Hugh fleeing from King John is pure imagination.

In 1896, J. Paul Rylands wrote an article called Monumental Inscriptions and other inscriptions in the Church of Mardale wrote:

Most of the inscriptions printed below commemorate members of the Holme family, one of those ancient Lake District yeomen stocks, locally called “statesmen,” which are fast disappearing. The head of this family, for several, if not many, generations, has been known in the neighbourhood by the soubriquet of “the King of Mardale,” and curious legends were told by the dalesmen of the great antiquity of this race. There can be very little doubt that the Holmes have been settled on a small estate in Mardale for a very long period, and that the name of their older house, ‘Chapel Hill,’ near to the church, was its designation in 1670 is clear from an entry in the Shap parish registers. The present house, called ‘Chapel Hill,’ is on a different site.

No printed account of the Holmes of Mardale is extant, their name dues not occur in the Visitation of Westmorland made by Sir Richard St. George, Norroy, in l6l5, and their true origin appears to be unknown…

There are several places called Holme in this county and in Cumberland and Yorkshire, which may have given surnames to distinct families.

But what of Eleanor Grisdale who had married John Holme, the King of Mardale, in 1842? A daughter soon followed: Ann Maria Holme, who was to later marry a wealthy local agricultural merchant called James Cooper Bowstead. But Eleanor sadly died a few months after giving birth. The Carlisle Journal reported her death on 29 July 1843:

At Chapel Hill, Mardale, Westmorland, on the 22nd inst., Eleanor, the youthful wife of John Holme, Esq, in the 22nd year of her age, – universally esteemed and deeply lamented.

The village of Mardale and the original Chapel Hill now no longer exist because in the 1930s a large reservoir, Haweswater, was built to supply Manchester with water and the valley was flooded.

In 1835 the last service was held in Mardale Church.

Last service at Mardale 1935

Last service at Mardale 1935

The last farewell service at Holy Trinity will long be remembered, years hence old men and women, now but larle en’s will tell their children and grandchildren, how on the 18th of August 1935 they were part of the congregation that sad day.

The church held around 75 people, the lord mayor, Alderman Woolam, and the Lady Mayoress with a few others including  Mrs Cormack who played the harmonium, secured the remaining seats.

The 61st Bishop of Carlisle, the right rev Herbert Williams pronounced the final blessing within its walls, it is said that over a thousand people gathered upon the hillside beside listening to the service via loud hailers fastened to the church tower, by a local radio expert from Penrith, many there having Mardalian connections or just a love of old places, the general atmosphere was reverential, for there was something very moving about the service, all be it a simple one.

Some of the throng seemed to think that the locals were unduly hasty at holding the farewell service now, for the rising waters would not flow over the site next week or next month, for the final position for the dam footing had not yet been thought upon.

The psalms sung, were, I will lift up mine eyes into the hills and hymns included, O God Our Help in Ages Past, the Church’s One Foundation and Bright Vision That Delighted, a line which summed up the marvellous beauty of  the valley.

The saddest man amongst the crowd that day was former and last vicar or the parish, Rev Frederick H. J. Barham, who never actually received an official invitation to the service, came out of retirement and travelled north to be present, he donned his clerical garb, he did not go into the church, for the memories of the underhand treatment he received from the hands of the MCWW was too painful a memory to bare, instead he wandered amongst the crowd in his clerical garb talking to them, many of which had been in his old flock for more than twenty five years.

The voices of the great congregation rose high into the hills that day, if only those voices had been heard afar, then this most beautiful place might still be there for all to enjoy.

At the close of the service, the Bishop of Carlisle offered prayers for all the living descendants of the Holme family who had always known and loved this larle church.

King of Mardale

There was a King Across the Water,

And a King down by the sea,

And a King upon an island,

Who King shall always be,

But the King of the fells

Lives only in memory,

 

Now Mardale valley is a lake

An Avalon with no Hand Above the Water,

No sword, no Lady Fairies Daughter,

Reaching from the reservoir

Just a lonely old church tower,

Monument to the last King’s power

I often write about people who have done interesting things or perhaps emigrated or fought in various wars. Some of these people might even have left numerous descendants and be the ancestors of some of us today. I have to say that it is these stories that understandably provoke the most interest and comment. But in any family the vast majority of people led simple and very often unrecorded lives. Some also left no descendants to carry their name or even their memory. Yet they are nonetheless part of ‘our’ extended family and their lives are perhaps more representative than those who were perhaps more heroic. This is the sad story of the tragic but heroic end of a young Manchester warehouseman called William Grisdale.

Bobbins

Bobbins

William was born in 1816 in Over Staveley in Westmorland, the fourth of nine children of bobbin turner John Grisdale and his wife Jennet Stainton. At this time Over Staveley was pretty much totally dedicated to making bobbins to supply the mills in Lancashire and elsewhere. Staveley had first had cotton mills but’ it was the growth of the bobbin mills that caused the most rapid period of change in the village in the years 1820-1850’, by 1851 ‘there were 187 bobbin workers in the Staveley area and well over 100 in the village itself where there were bobbin mills in what had been Rawes Mill, in the old fulling mill at Newgate (Gatefoot today) and in part of the Barley Bridge Mill and at Chadwicks… ‘

Bobbin Mill

Bobbin Mill

William grew up in Over Staveley with his siblings while his father went off to turn bobbins in one of these Staveley bobbin mills. Perhaps William couldn’t find work in the bobbin mills or didn’t like the work; in any case he moved to Liverpool and became a ‘labourer’ living in Crosshall Street, where in 1842 he married a girl from the same  street called Ann Thexton. After their marriage couple moved to Lower Grafton Street in Toxteth, where the next year a son John was born. Sometime over the course of the next few years the family moved from Liverpool to Salford where William found work as a ‘warehouse porter’. In 1851 the family were living in Yearsley Street in Salford, but the next year, sadly, eight year-old John died. Perhaps the family’s grief was assuaged a little when a daughter was born in the spring of 1853, named Jennet after William’s mother.

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

William was obviously a good worker because by 1853 he had become the chief warehoseman at the Manchester Bonded Warehouses in Salford. Bonded warehouses were regulated by the government customs and excise and allowed merchants to delay payment of tax on imported goods until they were sold and delivered to customers from the warehouse. One of the main things stored in these warehouses was spirits.

On Tuesday 21st June, just weeks after the birth of daughter Jennet, William went to his job in the warehouse as usual, it was not however to be a usual day. A few days later several newspapers told what happened:

Reginald’s Newspaper 26 June 1853.

Narrow Escape of the Manchester Bonded Warehouses –

On Tuesday, a man named William Grisdale, was trimming some spirit casks from an open vat containing 1,700 gallons of brandy, in Manchester Bonded Warehouses, when the light in his lamp by some accident set on fire the spirits in one of the casks he was filling, at the bunghole. The flames spread over the outside of the cask, wherever the brandy had run, burning with great ferocity and there was a danger of that in the open vat taking fire.

Grisdale with great presence of mind and intrepidly, rolled the barrel out of doors, and this probably saved the buildings and property from destruction. As it was, a track of flame was left along the floor from the brandy which escaped through the bunghole as he rolled out the cask, and the door through which the cask was rolled also took fire; but, with the assistance of the other warehousemen, the danger was speedily overcome by extinguishing the flames on the floor and door. Grisdale was much burnt about the face, hands, and other parts of the body, and had to be removed for surgical aid, but is likely to recover.

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

The previous day the Manchester Courier had reported similarly but with other details under ‘Fires in Manchester’:

… About one o’clock on Monday, as William Grisdale, a person in the employ of the Bonded Warehouse Company, was engaged under Mr Vivian, the landing waiter, in what is termed ‘vatting’, whilst pouring some brandy into a cask, a drop splashed up from the bunghole to the top of the lamp, and caused a blaze. The flame was augmented by some drops of spirit on the cask, and in another instant the brandy in the cask caught fire, sending forth a large flame from the bung-hole. With great presence of mind, and although enveloped in flames, Grisdale succeeded in rolling the cask to the door. At the time of the accident Mr. Vivian stood a few yards from Grisdale; and seeing him on fire, while he courageously rolled the cask out of the door he pulled of his coat and dashed it against the flame, with which Grisdale’s clothes were enveloped.

Assistance being speedily got, while some of the men succeeded in extinguishing the fire upon Grisdale’s clothes, others put out the flame, which still blazed along the ten yards over which the cask had been rolled. Grisdale, who was badly burned, especially about the legs, was taken at once to the Infirmary surgeon and his own medical man. We are glad to say that he is in a fair way of recovery, and it is to his courage and self-possession that the preservation of the warehouses and their contents are to be attributed.

But the Manchester Courier had just got news that William Grisdale had died at his home two days previously, and on a later page to the above story reported that ‘Grisdale died at his own home on Thursday, leaving a wife and child’. Other reports said he had spent three days in excruciating agony before he died.

Spirit barrels afire

Spirit barrels afire

William’s courage had saved a lot of people a lot of money and a fund was established to help his wife and infant children. In September the Manchester Courier was asking for subscriptions to ‘aid the widow and infant daughter of the late William Grisdale who was burned to death in extinguishing a fire… which he accomplished at the cost of his own life’. Many companies (mostly insurance) and local merchants had already given and their individual contributions were all listed, totalling so far nearly £300.

At least the money would help William’s widow Ann to feed and clothe baby Jennet Grisdale. But it was not to be, because just four months after William had died of his burns one-year old Jennet died too. Widow Ann would soon remarry and have two more daughters but as I said at the beginning who was there to remember William and his two children? His courage and heroism was at least as great as others I have written about on this blog and at least I commemorate him here.

Mary Grisdale was the eighth of ten children of Australian immigrant and ex-soldier Thomas Grisdale and his half-Indian wife Mary Cartwright (see here). She was born in Sandridge, Melbourne in 1863. We know little about her life, just this:

On 6 October 1871 the Melbourne Argus reported:

A man named James Amos was charged at the police court, Drysdale, yesterday, with an attempt to commit a capital offence upon the person of a girl about 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale. The prisoner, who reserved his defense, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

The Geelong Advertiser gave more details on the same day:

Swan Bay on the left

Swan Bay on the left

Circuit Court in Geelong.

OUTRAGE AT SWAN BAY.

The man James Amos, already in charge for larceny, was, on Thursday, further charged, with an attempt to commit rape. The case was heard at Drysdale, before Mr Curlewis, J.P. The court was cleared.

Mary Grisdale sworn, stated she lived with her father, at Swan Bay. Her mother was dead. She remembered going to Mrs Walsh’s about three weeks ago. The prisoner was there. She went in and sat on the sofa. The prisoner was on the other side of the room. Her brother Isaac was there. Prisoner came over and sat on the sofa.

The witness then described what took place, which tended to show that an attempt to commit rape had been made. The witness continued — I called to the prisoner to let me go, as Mr Walshe was coming. He then let me go. When he did so he told me to run and get his pipe, which was against a white stump. I went to Mrs Walshe’s every day. My brother is very young; I do not know his age.

Susannah Walshe deposed she was the wife a farmer at Swan Bay. She knew the prisoner, who; was called “Jimmy, the tinker.” She remembered the 14th of September. On that day she went with her husband to cut firewood. She left Jimmy in charge of the house. He was to mend a teapot. She did not know if the children were there when she left the house. She believed not. She came back about half-past 2. When she came near she heard the prosecutrix screaming. The little boy Isaac was near the door. She heard him call out “I will tell my daddy.” As she passed the window she saw the prisoner holding the girl to him. He appeared to be leaning against the sofa. She hurried round to the door, where she met the prosecutrix, who was crying. Witness asked what was the matter. She did not answer, but ran to her own house. When witness went in she saw the prisoner, who turned his back to her. She did not notice what he was doing. She asked him what he was doing to the children. He said they had been troubling him. I said “It seemed to me that you were behaving indecently.” He answered “I was going to put her out”. Prisoner left at dusk. The girl did not complain to me. I do not know her age, but think she is between nine and ten.

Cross-examined by prisoner — You were not boiling the kettle when I came home. I did not throw the tea on the ground.

Thomas Grisdale—I am a labourer, living at Swan. Bay, and a pensioner of her Majesty’s army. The prosecutrix is my daughter. I know the prisoner, and remember his being at Walshe’s, about three weeks ago. In consequence of what I heard from my son, Isaac, I communicated with the police. My daughter was born at Sandridge. She was either 8 or 9 on the 1st of April last.

C. L. Cunningham, medical practitioner of Drysdale, deposed he had examined the child, but detected no proof of the crime. |The prisoner reserved his defence and was fully committed on a second charge of larceny in stealing articles of clothing from Mrs Walsh. The same prisoner was also committed to take his trial at the next Circuit Court in Geelong.

And then on the 12 October 1871 we hear:

James Amos, an elderly man, was charged with having, on the 14th ult, indecently assaulted a little girl, under 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale, at Swan Bay. He pleaded “Not guilty,” and was undefended. The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.”

What the sentence of James Amos was we don’t know.

This is the last we hear of Mary Grisdale until her marriage to Melbourne fishmonger James Broderick in 1882. The couple had no children and Mary died in 1912, but was, it seems, loved by her relatives:

The Australasian (Melbourne) reported Mary’s death on saturday 5 October 1912:

BRODERICK.-On the 30th September, at her residence, “Maryville,” 58 Brunswick-road, W. Brunswick, Mary, the dearly beloved wife of James Broderick, and beloved sister of Mrs. Fawcett, Mrs. Hargraves, and beloved aunt of Janey Davison, May Barnes, Mary Wall, Alfie O’Neil, aged 49 years