The tiny Cumbrian hamlet of Grisdale (now called Mungrisdale) lies just north of the old Roman road from Penrith to Keswick. It is without any doubt the place from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name. I have previously discussed when and how the family name probably came into existence in an article called When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?, as well as in other articles on this blog. As I mentioned there it is conceivable, though by no means capable of being proved, that a certain Simon de Grisdale, who we find in Halton in Lancashire in 1332, was the first person from Grisdale who had moved away and took the name of his home place with him when he did. What I’d like to do here is to focus on the years around 1332 and try to say something of what life was like in Grisdale at this time.

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Grisdale/Mungrisdale today

Why 1332? I have chosen this date because in that year there was taken a tax assessment in Cumberland and elsewhere which survives. These assessments are known as Lay Subsidy Rolls (Lay meaning that the tax concerned was being levied on lay people not clerics). Here we find a list of the inhabitants of all the settlements in Cumberland who were due to pay the tax, based on the value of their ‘goods’. Grisedale (spelt here with an E) appears, as indeed does Matterdale. The list of Grisdale inhabitants runs as follows:

William Skraghird, Peter son of Hugh, William Slegh, William Riotis,  Robert son of John, Robert son of Gilbert, William son of Robert, Adam son of Peter…

Then there seven other people whose names have been ripped out but whose goods and tax assessment are given. The subsidy was ‘one-fifteenth’ and in total the value of the goods of the people of Grisdale was £ 36 33s 6d, giving a total tax due of £2 8s 11d. The sum due from the residents of Matterdale was similar: £2 11s 9d.

Grisdale in 1576

Grisdale in 1576

So there were fifteen men in Grisdale who were taxed. To get an idea of the total population we might multiple this by say four or five to take account of wives, children and other dependents and then add in a few un-free serfs and very poor cottagers. So maybe there were somewhere in the region of 70 to 85 people living in Grisdale in 1332. This number might have been reduced after the Black Death struck England in 1348, a plague that did affect Cumberland but not as severely as it did the south and midlands of the country.

You will have noticed that of the eight people named only three had surnames, William Skraghird, William Slegh and William Riotis, the others were still referred to by naming their father, for example Robert son of John. Note too that all the Christian names are basically French: William, Robert, John, Richard etc.

Was one of these fifteen named or unnamed people the early fourteenth-century progenitor of the Grisdales? One can’t say more than it’s quite possible.

Whatever the case, who were these people of Grisdale? What language did they speak? What was their origin? Who were their rulers?

Let’s start with the question of language. Originally Cumbria had been a Brythonic (i.e. British) speaking area before the Northumbrian English started to make inroads in the seventh century. The ‘English’ hadn’t made much of an impression in the more rugged and barren hilly areas, which would include Grisdale, and the British themselves remained in place for hundreds of years although they too preferred the more fertile valley or coastal areas to the inhospitable mountains.

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

The ethnic and linguistic mix changed radically in the early tenth century when Hiberno-Norse (i.e. Scandinavians from Ireland) started to settle in numbers in north-western England and particularly in Cumbria. They spoke an Old Norse language which had acquired some Irish words from their years in Dublin and other Irish ‘longphorts’. If you have a glance of a Lakeland map today you will immediately see the importance of this settlement, there are Norse place names everywhere. If you were to include field names and topographical names it would take a large volume just to list them (there are several such volumes).

Grisdale was and is one of these Norse place names. It means valley of the pigs (or perhaps valley of the wild boars). There are several Grisdales or Grisedales in Cumberland and even one just across the modern county border in Yorkshire.

It is clear that some of these tenth-century Norse settlers came to Grisdale (i.e. Mungrisdale) and named the place as such, either because they kept their pigs there or because there were wild pigs there when they arrived. I tend to the former explanation. When the first Scandinavians walked into the valley they were to call Grisdale they might have found one or two Cumbric-speaking British living in rude hovels or, equally as likely, they might have found the place completely empty. There were certainly British living in nearby Threlkeld when the Vikings arrived.

saints1

St Kentigern/Mungo

The valley would certainly have been much more wooded than it was to become.

The dedication of the later Chapel in Grisdsale is to St. Kentigern a sixth-century British monk (and incidentally the first Bishop of Glasgow), who was often called St. Mungo – hence the more recent name of the hamlet and valley: Mungrisdale. Whether Kentigern/Mungo had ever actually preached in ‘Grisdale’ in the sixth century is not known. His cult became popular in the twelfth century and it is quite possible, even likely, that the dedication of the chapel happened then – though this doesn’t exclude an oral memory of Kentigern in the area.

Whatever the case, it was these Scandinavian settlers from Ireland who gave the place its name, as they did to most of the other places in the locality. As I have said, the settlers spoke Old Norse sprinkled with a few borrowings from Irish Gaelic. They were to keep their language for quite a long time. As the years and even centuries went by they adopted just a few British words, such as the famous method of counting sheep, bowdlerized in more recent times to eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and, more importantly, through their contact with their English-speaking neighbours their language started to morph into the Cumbrian dialect.

There is very little evidence regarding exactly how and when Norse merged with a variety of northern English in Cumbria. What evidence there is suggests that by the early fourteenth century the ‘merger’ of the languages had gone some way, but it was still as much Scandinavian as it was English. The arrival of the Norman-speaking French in Cumbria in 1091 would have had no direct effect on this process. Indirectly of course, as Old English (Anglo-Saxon) morphed into Middle English under the influence of the conquerors’ French, the people of Grisdale would have French words in their vocabulary too, although whether any French-speaking lord would have understood a word they said is highly doubtful. But for sure by the fourteenth century most Cumbrians, whether they were of Norse, British or English descent, would have understood each other, although the dialect could change radically over distances of only a few miles and someone from the south would have been lost, as some still are.

I would like to stress that this mutual comprehensibility didn’t extend the predominantly French-speaking nobility (or not for a long time anyway). As mentioned, the Norman French first arrived in Cumbria in 1091, twenty-five years after the Conquest. See The Normans come to Cumbria. When they did the rugged independence the Norse Cumbrians of Grisdale and elsewhere had enjoyed for nearly two hundred years came to an abrupt end. As elsewhere in England pretty much all of northwest England was divvied up and given to Norman-French henchmen, the majority of local leaders and landowners were stripped of their position and wealth. We might mention names such as Ranulf de Briquessart (le Meschin), Ivo de Taillebois and many more.

warrior_drawingInterestingly though the ‘barony of Greystoke’ (to use the French title), which included Grisdale and Matterdale, seems to be one of the exceptions that proves the rule. Here a powerful local family with Norse roots and Norse names was able to reach an accommodation with the Norman colonizers. This was the family of Forne Sigulfson, who became the first Norman-sanctioned lord of Greystoke. (See my article about Forne here). It was Forne’s son Ivo who started to built the pele tower at Greystoke in about 1129. Note Forne’s totally Norse name and his son’s French name – Forne probably named his son Ivo to honour and ingratiate himself with the powerful local Norman enforcer Ivo Taillebois. This family with Norse ancestry continued to be the lords of Greystoke (and therefore the lords of the people of Grisdale) until 1306 when the title and lands passed to a slightly related family called Grimethorpe, who took Greystoke as their family name.

It would be nice to think that in the two hundred or so years following 1091 the fact that the lords of Greystoke were originally Norse meant that the simple farmers and shepherds of Grisdale escaped some of the horrors inflicted on the people of England by the hated Norman colonizers – but I think this is most likely wishful thinking.

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Let’s say something about these local lords. They were pretty rough and ruthless types and despite the fact that they exploited the people of their ‘manors’ and stole any surplus, their lives, diets and dress were still very basic. In Cumbria, as I have said, they were mostly but not exclusively French-speaking Normans or sometimes Flemish. Initially they threw up wooden stockades to keep them safe from attacks by the conquered English. In Cumbria these were soon replaced by stone pele towers which served the same purpose and also provided some protection against later Scottish cattle raiders (reivers) and the occasional marauding Scottish army.

They were small stone buildings with walls from 3 to 10 feet thick, square or oblong in shape. Most were on the outskirts of the Lake District, but a few were within its boundaries. Designed to withstand short sieges, they usually consisted of three storeys – a tunnel-vaulted ground floor which had no windows which was used as a storage area, and which could accommodate animals.

The first floor contained a hall and kitchen, and the top floor was space for living and sleeping. The battlemented roof was normally flat for look-out purposes, and to allow arrows to be fired at raiders, and missiles hurled down on unwanted visitors….

Apart from their primary purpose as a warning system, these towers were also the homes of the lairds and landlords of the area, who dwelt in them with their families and retainers, while their followers lived in simple huts outside the walls. The towers also provide a refuge so that, when cross-border raiding parties arrived, the whole population of a village could take to the tower and wait for the marauders to depart.

As noted, Ivo FitzForne built the first stone fortification at Greystoke in about 1129, the building grew to become a large pele tower and in the 14th century after William de Greystoke obtained a royal licence to castellate it, the castle was further enlarged.

Greystoke Castle in 1780 - the original pele tower can still be seen

Greystoke Castle in 1780 – the original pele tower can still be seen

So in 1332 Greystoke did not yet have a castle, the lords still lived in a large pele tower surrounded by their family, armed knights and servants. In that year William de Greystoke, the 2nd ‘Baron Greystoke’, was still a minor and the barony of Greystoke was in the custody of Sir Hugh d’Audley (whose daughter Alice was William’s mother). What do we know about this William de Greystoke, who on reaching his majority in 1342 was the feudal lord of the people of Grisdale? Besides the normal feudal extractions how else did William’s actions impact the people of Grisdale and other parts of his barony?

The main impact was of course war. An idea of the mentality of people like William de Greystoke can perhaps be gained from the words of another Cumberland medieval lord, Lancelot de Threlkeld:

The principal residence of the Threlkeld family was at Threlkeld in Cumberland; but they had large possessions at Crosby long previous to this time, for in 1304 and 1320 Henry Threlkeld had a grant of free warren in Yanwath, Crosby, Tibbay, &c., and in 1404 occurs the name of William Threlkeld, Knight, of Crosby. Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, Knight, was the son of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, by Margaret, daughter and heiress of Henry Bromflatt, Lord Vescy, and widow of John de Clifford. He was wont to say he had three noble houses; one at Crosby Ravensworth for pleasure, where he had a park full of deer; one at Yanwath for comfort and warmth, wherein to reside in winter; and one at Threlkeld, well stocked with tenants, to go with him to the wars.

Lancelot’s Threlkeld tenants were his ‘stock… to go with him to the wars’. William de Greystoke also used his ‘stock’ of tenants to go with him to his wars, including without much doubt some from Grisdale and probably therefore some of the family that would become the Grisdales of Matterdale. I’ll have more to say about William de Greystoke at a later date, for now where did he go to fight his wars? After his majority in 1342 he:

Soon became embroiled in English campaigning on the continent: he was probably in Gascony in 1345–6, at the siege of Calais in 1347, and, perhaps, on the expedition of Henry, duke of Lancaster, to Prussia in 1351–2. In 1353 and again in 1354 he participated in unsuccessful Anglo-Scottish negotiations concerning the release of David II, king of Scots (an English prisoner since his capture at Neville’s Cross in 1346). In September 1354 Greystoke was appointed captain of the border town of Berwick: while he was absent campaigning once more in France it fell into Scottish hands in August 1355. As his second wife he had married Joan, the daughter of Sir Henry fitz Henry (Fitzhugh). He died on 10 July 1359 and was buried in Greystoke church.

So William and his knights plus his ‘stock’ of bowman tenants, no doubt including some from Grisdale, was most probably with sixteen year old Edward the Black Prince (the son of King Edward III) when the English army destroyed the French at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. He was also at the Siege of Calais during which the inhabitants suffered greatly and were reduced to eating dogs and rats. He also went to Prussia to help the Teutonic Knights fight the pagan Lithuanians, and was back again in France in 1355/56 where he and his men quite possibly fought in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 when the Black Prince’s English army destroyed the French chivalry yet again.

The Siege of Calais

The Siege of Calais

 

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

 

It was for all this war service to the French-speaking English king, Edward III, which led to William being granted the right to crenellate his pele tower in Greystock in 1353 – to transform it into a proper castle.

Often these battles at the start of the Hundred Years War are presented as ‘English’ victories over the French. In the sense that it was the simple English soldiers and bowman who won the victories over the massed flower of French chivalry then this is true. But really it was about one group of French noble thugs fighting another group of the same for control of large parts of France. From the English king on down to more humble nobles such as William de Greystoke, while many of them now had started to understand and even speak English, their primary language was still French. A few years before Robert of Gloucester wrote:

And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own; and they spoke French as they did at home, and had their children taught the same. So that the high men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little; but the low men hold to English, and to their own speech still. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth he is.

In 1362, Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English and the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the language of the courts, though this statute was still written in French! French was still the mother tongue of Henry IV (1399-1413), but he was the first to take the oath in English. That most “English” of Kings Henry V (1413–1422) was the first to write in English but he still preferred to use French. It is interesting to note that it was not until the days of Henry VII in the late fifteenth century that an English king married a woman born in England (Elizabeth of York), as well as the fact that Law French was not banished from the common law courts until as late as 1731.

Winter in Mungrisdale

Winter in Mungrisdale

I haven’t said much about the ordinary everyday life of the people of Grisdale in the fourteenth century. When they weren’t suffering at the hands of Scottish reivers and armies, being dragged to France to fight in the Greystokes’ wars or dying of the plague, they farmed a few small strips of land in the valley, tended the sheep on the moors, cut turf to keep them warm, kept a few pigs, worked on their lord’s home farm and tried to get enough money together to pay periodic taxes and regular rents. It was a hard life that wouldn’t change for centuries.

And so dear members of the extended Grisdale family, I hope this gives just a small inkling of where and from whom you come. If you have the name Grisdale/Grisedale your family name line will take you back to Grisdale in Cumbria in the early fourteenth century and, most likely, to the Scandinavians who arrived in Cumbria in the tenth century. Of course you’ll have dozens, even hundreds, of other genealogical and genetic ancestral lines as well, and in that sense you’re a mongrel like everyone else. But unlike other family names (such as mine) the great thing about Grisdale genealogy is that I have yet to find any proven case of someone bearing the name where it can be demonstrated that their family originates anywhere other than Matterdale and thus without much doubt ultimately from Grisdale (Mungrisdale).

Forget our thousand years of brutal kings and queens, our French lords, even (if you wish) the Scandinavian origins of your name. The Grisdale family is, with many others, about as English as you’ll get. That you most likely descend from a few tenth-century Vikings who became farmers and shepherds in remote Cumbrian Grisdale and your ancestors somehow survived centuries-long exploitation and repression to produce you (and even me) is, I think, something to rejoice in.

Rainbow_Over_Mungrisdale

Rainbow over Mungrisdale

One day in late August 1900 at Geluk’s Farm near Belfast in South Africa two companies of the 1st Battalion the King’s Liverpool Regiment were cornered and being attacked by the Afrikaner farmers – the Boers. Many of the company involved were killed, others escaped and one won a Victoria Cross. One of those who died was Liverpudlian Thomas Grisdale.

In 1895 a nineteen year old Thomas Grisdale was living in a pretty squalid area of Toxteth in Liverpool. His boss was foreman Mr Berrick in Dolling Street, Toxteth, and Thomas worked with him ‘carting’ goods on and off trains.

The King's Liverpool Regiment Memorial

The King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial

Whether for reasons of adventure or simply trying to better his position, Thomas decided to join the army. He signed up for the Liverpool militia in October 1895 aged, he said, ‘19 years 4 months’. Two months later he enlisted in the regular army with the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was first attached to the 2nd Battalion but then transferred to the 1st. Having recently returned from Nova Scotia, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, or ‘Liverpools’ as they were generally known, was first posted to garrison duty in the West Indies, but in 1897 they were sent to Cape Colony (Cape Town) in South Africa, where relations between the British and the Boers were once again deteriorating. From the Cape the first battalion, including Thomas, was moved to the town of Ladysmith in Natal, where the ‘1st King’s formed a company of mounted infantry and underwent intensive training’. They were still there two years later when war was declared on 11 October 1899 (the Second Boer War) and Natal was invaded by a Boer force under General Piet Joubert.

Boer Fighters

Boer Fighters

Under General George White 16,000 British soldiers set out from Ladysmith and elsewhere to confront the Boers, but British tactics were out-of-date and they suffered heavy losses in the first major engagements. Regarding Thomas and the 1st Battalion of the Liverpools:

The 1st Battalion was in Ladysmith when war was declared. They were not present at either Glencoe (20th October 1899) or Elandslaagte (21st October). On the 24th Sir George White, being anxious to engage the attention of the Boers and so prevent them falling on General Yule’s column, then retreating from Dundee to Ladysmith, moved out of the latter town and fought the action of Rietfontein. The force which he took out was—5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Mounted Volunteers, 42nd and 53rd Batteries RFA, No 10 Mountain Battery, 1st Liverpools, 1st Devons, 1st Gloucesters, and 2nd King’s Royal Rifles.

Sir George threw out the Lancers and Hussars to seize some ridges and protect his right. The Gloucesters advanced on the left and the Liverpools on their right, the Devons being in support afterwards in the firing line and the King’s Royal Rifles at the baggage. The general’s intention was not to come to close fighting. The two field batteries did admirable work, silencing the Boer guns and keeping down the enemy’s rifle-fire, and what was a tactical success might have been accomplished at very slight loss, but the Gloucesters pushed rather too far forward and suffered severely. Before 2 pm firing had ceased, the Boers had withdrawn westwards, and the danger of that part of their army attacking General Yule was over.

On 26th October General Yule’s force entered Ladysmith, wearied and mud-bedraggled, after a march entailing very great bodily hardship to all and very great anxiety to those in command.

The Boer's 'Long Tom'

The Boer’s ‘Long Tom’

Over the next few days, as the Boers were gathering north of Ladysmith, the British army, including Thomas’s 1st Liverpools, attacked again. But a lot of ‘bungling’ followed; bungling for which many of those in charge were soon to be castigated back home in Britain. I won’t tell the whole tale; the main engagement is usually known as the battle of Nicholson’s Neck. The upshot was that the British retreated to Ladysmith where they were to be besieged by the Boers for the next four months. The Boers literally brought up their big gun; the so-called Long Tom. They bombarded the town but try as they might, and they made several attacks, they couldn’t take Ladysmith.

The Boer bombardments were conducted at no particular time, particularly by their two 6 inch guns. On 24th November 1899 Long Tom caught a company of the King’s Liverpools massed in the open, inflicting 9 casualties, five of them dead.

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

‘During the siege of Ladysmith the Liverpools were located on the north side of the town, and were not in the terrible fighting when the attack was made upon the southern defences on 6th January. Of course a feint was made on the north of the town, but the attack was not pressed as it was at Caesar’s Camp and Waggon Hill…. On the night of the 7th December Colonel Mellor and three companies of the Liverpools seized Limit Hill, “and through the gap thus created” a squadron of the 19th Hussars penetrated some four miles to the north, destroying the enemy’s telegraph line and burning various shelters, etc.’

As the weeks passed conditions in the town got worse and worse for both its inhabitants and for the British soldiers. By the end of February a relief force under General Redvers Buller had, despite several humiliating defeats, managed to fight its way up from the Cape to Ladysmith and the siege was relieved. The Boer besiegers trekked away across the veldt. One of the defeats the British relieving force had suffered was called the Battle of Spion’s Kop, after which Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ‘Kop’ is named. Winston Churchill, who was there after his daring escape from a Boer concentration camp, wrote, ‘Corpses lay here and there. Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.’

On 1st March 1900 … the 1st Liverpools and other troops, now emaciated and worn to absolute weakness, crawled some five miles north of Ladysmith to harass the enemy in their retreat, and did effect some good work in that way.

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

All this Thomas Grisdale had experienced. But his military career was not yet over. General Buller soon decided to go on the offensive and the British moved into the Boer heartlands of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Liverpools were often in action, for example at Amarsfoori on 7 August and at Van Dykes Vlei on 21 August. But then:

On the following day Buller’s army advanced to Geluk, some five or six miles, the (Liverpool) battalion with the Gordons and mounted troops of Dundonald’s Brigade, acting as rear-guard. A very difficult spur, with steep sides, was crossed, and the high hills on the further side occupied. These had been held by the Boers in strength, but they had retired on Buller’s approach. As soon as the infantry of the rear-guard had arrived in camp, the mounted troops of the rear-guard were attacked rather sharply, but they managed to hold their own and to beat off the Boers. Two companies (‘C’ and ‘E’) of the Liverpool Regiment, who formed part of the advance guard, fell into an ambush and lost considerably, leaving, it was reported, some eighty men either killed, wounded, or prisoners in the hands of the Boers. Shortly after arrival in camp, five companies of the Regiment were sent out on outpost duty, taking up a short line and entrenching—two companies were entrenched in front and furnished sentries, with three companies entrenched in rear in support.

William Heaton VC - A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

William Heaton VC – A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

One member of the two Liverpool companies that were ambushed was Private William Edward Heaton:

On the 23rd August, 1900, the Company to which Private Heaton belonged, advancing in front of the general line held by the troops, became surrounded by the enemy and was suffering severely. At the request of the Officer Commanding, Private Heaton volunteered to take a message back to explain the position of the Company. He was successful, though at the imminent risk of his own life. Had it not been for Private Heaton’s courage there can be little doubt that the remainder of the Company, which suffered very severely, would have had to surrender.

Private Heaton was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Twenty-four year old Private Thomas Grisdale was also one of the soldiers at Geluk’s Farm. He unfortunately did not survive, at least not for more than a few hours. The official ‘Natal Field Force’ casualty roll tells us that Private T. Grisdale, number 5080, of the 1st Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) was ‘killed on 24 Aug 1900 at Geluk’.

Like countless young British men over the centuries Thomas was never to return home. As the poet A E Housman once put it:

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

“God save the Queen” we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Thomas's grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

Thomas’s grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

So who was the father of Thomas Grisdale who might or might not have been proud that his son had died to ‘Save the Queen’? His parents were William Grisdale and Margaret Robinson. They had arrived in Liverpool from Penrith, Cumberland in the early 1860s with their three young Cumberland-born children. Seven more children were to be born in Liverpool. Thomas was the couple’s seventh child and was born in the first half of 1876. William was born in Penrith in 1838, the first son of carpenter Wilfred Grisdale (1815-1893) by his first wife Hannah Robinson. William also became a carpenter but probably finding it difficult to make a living moved to Liverpool. He worked first as a labourer but later found work as a joiner. The family lived at 10 Leslie Street in Toxteth Park. The street was later erased from the map when large swathes of Liverpool’s slums were cleared in the second half of the twentieth century.

Although from Penrith the family had, as you might expect, originally come from Matterdale. Thomas’s great grandfather William (1785- 1866) was born there but had moved to Penrith where he was a ‘Dancing Master’. He was the son of Matterdale blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711- 1795) and his young wife Ruth Slee. (I’m sorry there are so many Wilfreds and Williams!) Another son of Wilfred the blacksmith, also called Wilfred, emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816 and founded a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Ontario and Michigan. William, the brother of Penrith Dancing Master Wilfred, emigrated to Victoria, Australia in 1853, joined the gold rush, and later found a decapitated man. Another member of the family became a ballet dancer at Drury Lane, married well, went to Boston but died hawking fish in Falmouth.

Our Private Grisdale’s parents must have been devastated when they heard of his death. Father William died in Liverpool in 1906 in Dolling Street, Toxteth. After his death his wife Margaret was admitted to Toxteth Park Workhouse and died there in 1907.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

 

‘The details are unfit for publication.’ Lancaster Gazette, 1858.

The Furness peninsula on the west side of Morecambe Bay is now a mostly quiet rural spot to the south of the Cumbrian Lakes. But throughout much of its history, when it was in Lancashire, it was full of industry; principally iron ore mining and iron furnaces (called ‘bloomeries’). This story concerns one nineteenth-century iron miner called Christopher Grisdale and how what he did affected a family who worked in one of the furnaces.

The area we are concerned with encompasses Dalton-in-Furness and Ulverston. It is flat country with views of the higher Lakelands to the north and northeast and across the bay to the Cartmel peninsula to the east. Iron mining started here in the early middle ages, but the mines were small, the iron extracted by hand with little machinery and the ore carted away by pack horses.

A horse gin working a mine shaft

A horse gin working a mine shaft

Things started to change in the later 1700s when demand for iron soared to supply the Royal Navy and the nascent industrial towns. New mines were opened and older mines were enlarged, particularly in the Lindal and Marton area between Dalton and Ulverston.

A number of mining techniques were employed in the Lindal and Marton area. Mostly a system of shafts and levels was used. A vertical shaft would be sunk, and the ore would be removed from a horizontal level to its outer limits. Material would be lifted out by a horse gin or steam engine. Sometimes the ground above would be allowed to collapse into the excavated level. The shaft would be extended downwards, and the process would be repeated at a lower level, and so on. This process was known as top slicing, and resulted in large surface depressions above the mine workings, many of which can still be seen.

Cornish miners were brought in and the mines soon moved from using ‘horse gins’ to bring up the ore to using steam-powered winding engines called whimseys. New furnaces were built, two of which were at Newland just east of Ulverston and, in 1747, at Orgrave Mill near Holmes Green between Dalton and Ulverston. The Newland furnace was one of eight charcoal furnaces in Cumbria, ‘it became the home of the Harrison Ainslie company, an important entrepreneurial business which eventually owned all of the iron furnaces in what became known as the Furness area. Newland was the industrial heart of the region’.

‘It produced 28 tonnes of iron per week, and to do that it required 56 tonnes of charcoal each week, which meant a huge volume of timber. Seven or eight men worked there, tough, unrelenting hard graft until the last production run finished in 1893.’

Newland Furnace and Foundry, Ulverston

Newland Furnace and Foundry, Ulverston

Iron miners generally worked as small companies; gangs of men managed by a mine captain, paid monthly as a unit, and the money shared amongst themselves as they saw fit. Miners were easily identifiable by their greasy red appearance, with face, hands and clothes stained red by the iron oxide. Mining was dangerous, and miners were often injured or killed by rockfalls, railway accidents, falling off wet ladders, etc. Nevertheless, or possibly as a result, they tended to be strongly religious, and the area had several Methodist and Baptist chapels, as well as the church.

Ulverston Iron Ore Miners

Ulverston Iron Ore Miners

But not all the ore was smelted locally. Most had to be transported elsewhere. A port was lacking (Barrow-in-Furness hadn’t yet been developed as such), so in 1794-5 a canal was cut, one and a quarter miles in length, connecting Ulverston with Morecambe Bay. It was ‘said to be the shortest, straightest, and deepest in England, and is navigable for vessels of 300 tons burthen, which can be moored in safety in the capacious basin constructed for the purpose’.

After the completion of the canal Ulverston had a considerable coasting trade, exporting iron and copper ore and coppice wood, hoops, slates and gunpowder; but since the opening of the docks at Barrow the port is quite deserted and its shipyards silent. “In 1774,” Mr. West tells us, “there were seventy ships belonging to this place. Coals were then imported, and sold at £1 5s. 6d. per caldron.”

The streets of Ulverston ‘were often ankle deep in red mud, as iron-ore carts passed through regularly en route to the Canal and the iron furnace at Newland – ladies complained they could not get to Church without getting their petticoats filthy’.

mapChristopher Grisdale was born in Dalton in 1828, the illegitimate and only son of Elizabeth (‘Betty’) Grisdale. Betty too had been born in Dalton in 1807, one of two children of Dalton-born Christopher Grisdale and his Yorkshire wife Ruth Hatterton. To link in with a known Grisdale family, Christopher Senior, who was born in 1776, was one of several illegitimate children of an Agnes Grisdale, and it’s nigh on certain that this Agnes was born in 1730 in Heversham, Westmorland to John Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth Holme. John was later to move to Cartmel (in about 1739) and was thus the first Grisdale to inhabit this coastal area. I wrote about this family in a story called ‘Grisdale Cockle Fishermen of the Cartmel Peninsula’.

The Christopher Grisdale we are concerned with (the one born in 1828) was working on a farm near Dalton owned by Thomas Huddleston in 1851. I can find no mention of him before this so I don’t know where and how he was raised or what became of his mother Betty. Thomas Huddleston was related to George Huddleston, one of the principal shareholders in the Ulverston Mining Company and, as we shall see, a powerful local JP and magistrate.

Sometime after 1851 Christopher stopped working on a farm and started working as a miner in one of the local iron mines – most likely in the Lindal/Marton area between Ulverston and Dalton. In 1n 1856 he married Charlotte Jolley in St Mary’s church in Ulverston; a child soon followed though I have yet to determine her/his name.

Let’s here make mention of another local family – the Fells. Christopher Fell had worked in the Orgrave Mill iron foundry near Dalton, but by 1858 he worked in a foundry in Ulverston, probably at Newland. One of his many children was Margaret who was aged just seven on the 13th of June 1858 when she had the misfortune to meet iron miner Christopher Grisdale in Ulverston. Here are the facts of what happened. On 19 June 1858 the Westmorland Gazette reported:

Villainous Assault – At the Magistrates’ Office, Ulverston, on Wednesday, before G Huddleston, Esq., Christopher Grisdale, of Ulverston, labourer, was charged with assaulting Margaret Fell, daughter of Christopher Fell, a child of seven years of age, with intent, on Sunday last. The offense being clearly proved, he was committed to take his trial at the ensuing sessions.

The Lancaster Gazette reported on the same day that Grisdale had ‘carnally to know’ Margaret, i.e. attempted to rape her. On 3 July the same paper reported the trial:

Criminal Assault – Christopher Grisdale, 30, miner, was indicted for attempting at Ulverston, on the 13th June, 1858, carnally to know Margaret Fell, a child under 10 years of age, the second count charged him with assault, occasioning bodily harm; and the third count charged him with indecent assault.

Mr. M’Oubrey appeared to prosecute, and Mr. Higgin for the defence.

On an objection made by Mr. Higgin to an omission on the wording of the first count, the count was withdrawn, and the case was taken upon the second and third counts.

Town Bank School, Ulverston

Town Bank School, Ulverston

This was one of the discreditable cases of which we fortunately have but few in this part of the county. The evidence for the prosecution showed that the little girl, Margaret Fell, who was only seven years of age, was playing near the Town Bank school, Ulverston, on the afternoon of Sunday the 13th June, when the prisoner, whom she had not known before, but who is a married man, with a wife and child, came up, and under the promise of giving her a half-penny or a penny she went with him, and partly having hold of his hand, and partly carried by him, was taken into a field near to the house of Mr. Gregson Fell, and there committed the gross assault with which he was charged; and then set her on the road home by another road. On arriving home she complained to her mother of injury. Supt. Cooper was informed of the circumstance, and under his directions the little girl was examined by Mr. Seatle, surgeon, who found her injured by violence. The details are unfit for publication.

Mr. Higgin addressed the jury in defence of the prisoner. The chairman summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the first count, and the court sentenced the prisoner to be imprisoned in the House of Correction, with hard labour, for 15 months.

Prisoners arriving at Lancaster Castle Prison

Prisoners arriving at Lancaster Castle Prison

So Christopher Grisdale had violently tried to rape little Margaret Fell – “The details are unfit for publication”. What I find rather amazing is that Grisdale received a sentence of only 15 months in prison for his crime – the ‘House of Correction’ probably being Lancaster Castle. This is only a few years since people were hanged or transported to Australia for petty theft or poaching; crimes against property, however small, were nearly always punished more severally than crimes against other common people.

We might normally expect to find Christopher Grisdale somewhere in the records again after his release, but I can find him nowhere, or his wife and child. Had he died in jail? If so we might expect to find his death recorded. Had he died or emigrated? Lots of questions, no answers.

Perhaps there was a sort of justice because although she had no doubt been traumatized, Margaret Fell survived, and went on to marry William Wilkinson in 1875; she had three children and died in Bradford in Yorkshire in 1938 aged 87.

 

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‘A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.’ Proverbs 26:3

In the spring of 1838 a twenty-eight year old girl called Deborah Grisdale died in the Lancaster Lunatic Asylum. Without consulting the asylum’s records I can’t say why she was there or how she died, but I can say something about such asylums and, at the end, I’ll tell where she came from.

Inside Bedlam

Inside Bedlam

‘For as long as the Church controlled the insane, they endured dreadful torments. They were imprisoned, chained to a wall (or if they were lucky to a bed), flogged, starved, insulted, tortured, immersed in iced water and otherwise brutalised. It also seems safe to assume that sexual abuse would have been commonplace in view of twentieth century disclosures about monasteries, seminaries, church schools, orphanages and state mental asylums. Throughout Christendom the insane were kept in insanitary conditions in mad-houses and exposed to public ridicule. The most famous place in England for such people was the hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (“Bedlam”), where visitors were charged a fee to see the inmates, and were allowed to provoke them and laugh at them. A few inmates came to their senses, some died of old age, some died of neglect, starvation, exposure or torture, and many died of “putrid fever” or other infectious diseases that flourished in such conditions.’

Bedlam

Bedlam

The state of these asylums was memorably described by local magistrate Godfrey Higgins, who investigated York asylum in 1814. He found ‘evidence of wrongdoing on a massive scale: maltreatment of the patients extending to rape and murder; forging of records to hide deaths among the inmates; an extraordinarily widespread use of chains and other forms of mechanical restraint; massive embezzlement of funds; and conditions of utter filth and neglect.’ On one visit he forced his way through a hidden door to expose a tiny room crammed with thirteen elderly ladies, practically naked and covered in their own excrement. Higgins ‘became very sick and could no longer remain in the room.  I vomited.’

 

In a Victorian lunatic asylum

In a Victorian lunatic asylum

In Lancashire prior to the 1800s the ‘mentally ill’ were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. In the early 19th Century, pressure from various quarters (particularly from the Quakers) was growing to build county asylums that would provide suitable accommodation and more humane treatment for those suffering from mental disorder. In 1809, one year after the County Asylums Act of 1808, a decision was made to build a new asylum in Lancaster. Designed by architect Thomas Standen, it opened in 1816 as the ‘County Lunatic Asylum for the County Palatine of Lancaster’ – it was here that Deborah Grisdale was sent.

‘The mentally ill inmates, who were classed as ‘lunatics’, were transferred from Lancaster Castle to the Asylum in the outskirts of Lancaster. Despite an attempt to move away from previous mistreatment, inadequate treatment still occurred in the first few years of the Asylum’s existence… During the renovation of the original section of the asylums into housing in the early twenty-first century, there were reports of shackles and padded rooms being found in the cellars of the remains. It is clear that chaining was still seen as a form of treatment of the mentally ill for years after the creation of Asylums.’

Lancaster Moor Asylum

The 1816 Lancaster Asylum

The important thing to keep in mind is that both in the old ‘madhouses’ and the later ‘asylums’, such as in Lancaster, one didn’t have to be mad to be sent there. They were long used as dumping grounds for any people who magistrates found in any way problematic. The list below from a later nineteenth-century asylum shows the lunacy of many of the reasons for which people were sent to a lunatic asylum. It will make you laugh and weep.

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Women in particular could find themselves labelled insane and locked up in madhouses for a range of conditions – from postnatal depression to alcoholism or senile dementia, and even for social transgressions such as infidelity (‘moral insanity’).

Emma Riches

Emma Riches

In the 1850s, Emma Riches, a 27-year-old mother of four, was admitted to the Bethlem asylum (the original Bedlam). ‘Her newest baby was four weeks old when Emma was admitted… with ‘puerperal insanity’, or what we would now call postnatal depression… She had suffered from the illness after the births of each of the children, and been admitted to the same hospital before.’

Emma’s notes record: ‘She never speaks nor appears to notice anything… She cares for nothing, will not eat unless she is forced to do so, nor dress nor undress herself.’

‘There is no clear indication of how Emma was treated by doctors, beyond a remark that the drugs they tried were ineffectual. Nurses are likely to have attempted to persuade her to sew or help out in the kitchens. Uneducated, Emma could not have read books to pass the time or provide an escape from the tedium of her asylum – where she would have been without all of her four children. A second photograph shows her restored to health, wearing her own smart clothes again and about to be discharged back to her family. After almost a year in hospital, her postnatal depression had passed.’

Without going to Preston to look at the asylum’s records, I don’t know why Deborah Grisdale was sent there. In 1835, when she was twenty-four, she had given birth to an illegitimate baby boy in her home village of Allithwaite on the Cartmel peninsula, she called him Jehoshaphat after the fourth king of Judah.

Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.

Should we read anything into this choice of name?

Was Deborah committed for postnatal depression of even ‘moral insanity’? Or was she truly mad? As I said I don’t yet know. All I know is she died in the asylum aged ’28’ in 1838.

Deborah Grisdale was born in 1811 in Allithwaite on the Cartmel peninsula in Lancashire (now in Cumbria). She was the second child and only daughter of cockle fishernan Thomas Grisdale and his wife Mary Armistead, She was named after Thomas’s own mother Deborah Grisdale (nee Grisdale). I wrote about the family in a story called ‘Grisdale Cockle Fishermen of the Cartmel Peninsula’. Of Deborah’s three siblings only one lived long enough to have a family and leave descendants: the first Isaac Armistead Grisdale.

Morecambe Bay Cocklers

Morecambe Bay Cocklers

And what of Deborah’s illegitimate son Jehoshaphat? After his birth in 1835 we next find him in 1841 living with his grandparennts in Allithwaite and then in 1851 working as a farm servant in nearby Seathwaite in Egton cum Newland.. Then he seems to disappear. Did he change his name? Did he join the army? Who knows.

The extended Asylum

The extended Asylum

‘I will bury him myself. And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory… I have longer to please the dead than please the living here.’ Antigone, Sophocles.

Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, unfurled the Royal Banner in Carlisle in February 1537. He was declaring martial law in the North of England. Martial law wasn’t really law at all; it was simply a suspension of the accepted process and procedures of English law. It meant that anyone taking part in or supporting a rebellion, or defying the crown in any way, could be summarily dealt with as a traitor. They could be executed without the bother or uncertainties of a jury trial.

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Howard had taken it upon himself to ‘unfurl the banner’ in the name of King Henry VIII, whose authority had been challenged by the recent uprising in Lincoln, by the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham and by a serious rebellion in Westmorland and Cumberland. Henry had broken with Rome and, advised by the unpopular Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, was setting about dissolving and robbing catholic England’s monasteries and abbeys. He was also increasing the tax burden of the people and encouraging the theft of common land via private enclosure. All of these measures were deeply unpopular over great swathes of the country. They were obviously resented and resisted by monks, friars and other clergymen, but also by gentry and commoners as well – though for different reasons.

The uprising in Lincoln in late 1536 had managed to muster thousands of people to the cause but had ended after just two weeks. Just as the King’s representatives were about to wreak their revenge on the Lincoln rebels, a more serious challenge arose: the people of Yorkshire and surrounding parts of Northumberland, Durham and Lancashire had also rebelled. Under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske, this was essentially a conservative protest and one that the rebels wanted, if at all possible, to keep non-violent. Aske himself christened it the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’, a name that perhaps unfortunately has stuck. The rebels didn’t want to challenge the King’s right to rule, rather they wanted to pressure him to stop the dissolution of the monasteries, restore the link with Rome and suppress the spread of Lutheran versions of Protestantism. They also hoped that some of Henry’s hated advisers would be removed, particularly Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, who they blamed for both the religious policies and, as importantly, their own worsening economic plight.

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

In this sense the Pilgrimage of Grace was both a social and a religious revolt. The impetus came from below, from the ‘commoners’, but some of the local gentry joined in willingly, while others needed to be coerced.

Under Aske’s leadership, the leaders of the rebellion called themselves ‘Captains of Poverty’ or sometimes, in the case of monks and priests, ‘Chaplains of Poverty’. These captains started to call out the northern ‘host’, usually a thing done by the king or the local barons. Their numbers swelled, to reach around 28.000 – 35,000 by October 1536. They were disciplined and organized and more than enough to face down, and defeat if necessary, the 4,000 mercenary troops, under the Duke of Norfolk, who Henry had sent to put them down. The rebels had captured Pontefract castle without much trouble.

Robert Aske - Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

Robert Aske – Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

This isn’t the place to retell the events and causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace. There are many fine histories of what happened. In brief, Norfolk knew he couldn’t defeat the rebels by force of arms, so he prevaricated and seemed to play along with, even sympathize with, their demands. A truce was called on 27 October at Doncaster Bridge and on 6 December Norfolk promised a royal pardon in the name of the King. He also promised that many of the rebels’ demands would be met. Eventually, and not without great deliberation, the northern rebel host dispersed and the Pilgrimage was effectively over. It is only in retrospect that we can judge them naive.

All this was not to Henry’s liking. Henry’s instinctive and invariable reaction was always to crush any opposition, not to make concessions or compromises. He soon reneged on the pardon and had many of the leaders or sympathizers of the revolt executed. He never took England back to Rome and he redoubled his drive to dissolve the monasteries and expropriate and appropriate their considerable wealth.

Let us return to events in Westmorland or Cumberland (which together I rather anachronistically will call Cumbria). This was a region that the Duke of Norfolk himself was to call the ‘poorest shire in the realm’. During the Pilgrimage appeals had been made to the people of these counties to join in and to take the Pilgrims’ Oath. Local ‘Captains’ were appointed and some of them were to go to Yorkshire on at least two occasions to consult with Robert Aske and the other leaders. Two of the most prominent Cumbrian captains were Nicholas Musgrave and Robert Pullen, but several others went as well.

The Cumbrian captains started to gather support. To try to remain anonymous they usually called themselves ‘Captain Poverty’ – like their Yorkshire colleagues. Eventually a force of 15,000 was gathered and was planning to march on Carlisle, the administrative and military centre of the ‘West Marches’. But before they could progress any further, news came that the Pilgrimage was over and, despite the fact that Sir Francis Bigod and John Hallam tried to resurrect it, unsuccessfully as it turned out, the Cumbrian rebel host disbanded and returned home.

Over Christmas 1536, and into the early New Year, the commoners started to fear that their local gentry had abandoned them and that they had slipped off to London to declare their allegiance to King Henry. They were right. Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds wrote in 1915, in their still seminal two volume study The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy:

The chief reason for the agitation was the departure of so many gentlemen to court. The commons distrusted the King, who might have the gentlemen beheaded, and they distrusted the gentle men, who might betray them to the King. When the gentlemen were away, the bailiffs and other officers found it impossible to keep order.

And that might have been that were it not for Henry’s reprisals. He wanted all the leaders of the Pilgrimage hunted down and executed as traitors. In early January 1537, it became known that ‘Captains’ Nicholas Musgrave and Thomas Tibbey were in the Westmorland town of Kirkby Stephen. On 6 January, Thomas Clifford, the ‘bastard son’ of Henry Clifford, the first earl of Cumberland, was sent to the town to capture them. ‘Musgrave was warned and with Thomas Tibbey he took refuge in the church steeple, so defensible a position that Clifford was obliged to withdraw without his prisoners’. This, we are told, ‘stirred the country greatly’. A watch was to be kept for them in every town. ‘The men of Kirkby Stephen plucked down all the enclosures in their parish and sent orders to the surrounding parishes to follow their example.’

Things started to get tense. In Cumberland, one of the King’s men, Sir Thomas Curwen, wrote that ‘The west parts, from Plumland to Muncaster, is all a flutter’. He told how ‘on Saturday 13 January a servant of Dr Legh came to Muncaster. The whole country rose and made him prisoner. He was carried to Egremont and thence to Cockermouth. A great crowd filled the market-place, crying, “Strike off his head!” and “Stick him!”

Kirkby Stephen Church

Kirkby Stephen Church

The region was in ferment and it only needed a spark to set it alight. This spark was provided on 14 February when ‘bastard’ Thomas Clifford returned to Kirkby Stephen, once again trying to capture Musgrave and Tibbey. This time he came with a group of ‘mosstroopers from the waters of Esk and Line ’. These were rough border reivers, ‘strong thieves of the westlands’, with a penchant for violence.

Musgrave and Tibbey fled to their old fastness in the steeple, and there defied their pursuers. The townsfolk took no part either for or against the rebels, but while Clifford and some of his men were debating how to take their quarry, the rest of the riders, following their inbred vocation, fell to plundering. This was more than flesh and blood could bear. The burgesses caught up their weapons and fell upon the spoilers, causing a timely diversion in favour of the men in the steeple. Scattered about the narrow streets of the town, the horsemen were at a disadvantage and soon showed that their prowess was not equal to their thievishness. Two of the townsmen were killed in the skirmish, but their enraged fellows drove the borderers from the town and followed up their retreat until they were forced to take refuge in Brougham Castle.

Moss Troopers

Moss Troopers

Musgrave and Tibbey had escaped again. But having witnessed the brutality of the King’s forces, the local people realized that they would get no quarter or justice either from the King or the local nobility. They could expect no fair hearing of their economic or other grievances. ‘The commons saw that they were committed to a new rebellion, although they had risen in defence of their property ; indeed, a panic seems to have spread through the countryside that they would all be treated like the people of Kirkby Stephen. The two captains raised all the surrounding country and sent the following summons to the bailiff of Kendal, whom they knew to be on their side’:

To the Constable of Mellynge. ‘Be yt knowen unto you Welbelovyd bretheren in god this same xii day of februarii at morn was unbelapped on every syde with our enimys the Captayne of Carlylle and gentylmen of our Cuntrie of Westrnerlonde and haithe destrowed and slayn many our bretheren and neghtbers. Wherfore we desyre you for ayde and helpe accordyng to your othes and as ye wyll have helpe of us if your cause requyre, as god forbede. this tuysday, We comande you every one to be at Kendall afore Eight of the clok or els we ar lykly to be destrowed. Ever more gentyll brether unto your helpyng honds. Captayn of Povertie. ‘

None of the local gentry joined them and very few priests. They were more afraid of losing their aristocratic privileges and the wrath of the King than they were concerned about Henry’s religious reforms. The ‘commoners’ were on their own. Their plans were simple. ‘They had long before decided that the first step in case of a new rebellion was to seize Carlisle.’

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Duke of Norfolk was still in Yorkshire continuing his clean-up and reprisals after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Carlisle was commanded by Sir John Lowther, Thomas Clifford and John Barnsfeld. They were out-numbered and they were worried. They knew that they needed the help of Sir Christopher Dacre, who, in the absence of his nephew Lord William Dacre, welded the most power in the area. Christopher Dacre’s loyalty to the crown was still much in doubt and the Clifford and Dacre families were old adversaries – enemies even. On 15 February the three Carlisle commanders wrote to Sir Christopher Dacre:

In the King our sovereign lord’s name we command you that ye with as many as ye trust to be of the King’s part and yours, come unto this the King’s castle in all goodly haste possible, for as we are informed the commons will be this day upon the broad field … further that ye leave the landserjeant with the prickers of Gillisland so that he and they may resist the King’s rebels if the said prickers of Gillesland will take his part, or else to bring him … and that ye come yourself in goodly haste. (Castle, of Carlisle, 15 February at 10 hours.)

When the Duke of Norfolk, who was in Richmond, heard about the danger in Cumbria, he too wrote to Dacre on the same day:

Cousin Dacres, I know not whether you received the letter I sent you yesterday. I hear those commons now assembled draw towards Carlisle, and doubt not you will gather such company as you may trust and, after your accustomed manner, use those rebels in a way to deserve the King’s thanks and to aid your nephew, my very friend, whom I look for every hour. I will not instruct you what ye shall do, for ye know better than I. Spare for no reasonable wages, for I will pay all. And spare not frankly to slay plenty of these false rebels; and make true mine old sayings, that ‘Sir Christopher Dacre is a true knight to his sovereign lord, an hardy knight, and a man of war’. Pinch now no courtesy to shed blood of false traitors; and be ye busy on the one side, and ye may be sure the duke of Norfolk will come on the other. Finally, now, Sir Christopher, or never. (Richmond, 15 Feb.) Your loving cousin if ye do well now, or else enemy for ever.

Norfolk had written to the king the previous day informing Henry that ‘when Cumberland’s bastard son, deputy captain of Carlisle, came to take two traitors at Kirkby Stephen, they keeping the steeple, his horsemen, in great part strong thieves of the Westlands, began to spoil the town, and the inhabitants rose to defend both their goods and the traitors. A skirmish ensued, in which one or two rebels were slain, and Thomas my lord’s bastard son, was forced to retire to Browham (Brougham) castle. The country has since risen, some say 4,000 or 5,000 together, and are sending for others to aid them.’

Norfolk thought that ‘no such thing would have occurred if this enterprise had been handled as it was promised’.

By 16 February about 6,000 local Cumbrians were camped on Broadfield Moor, a few miles south of Carlisle. They were ‘more or less effectively armed and mounted’. They knew Carlisle was, as it has always been, the key to controlling the region. They didn’t have gentry leadership, but in no way were they a rabble, as too many histories have disparagingly called them. They were in fact the very same people, the same ‘host’, which the local barons would usually call out when they needed military support. Clifford and the other commanders of the town had been busy rallying the local ‘artisans’ to the defence of the town. The Cumbrian host didn’t really know how to go about attacking or besieging a fortified town.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle

On Saturday 17 February, the host prepared for the assault on Carlisle. ‘The rebels carried a cross as their banner principal… It does not seem to have been such a vigorous attack as the word now implies. They approached within bow-shot, and showered arrows on the defenders who appeared on the city walls. This went on until they exhausted their supply of arrows, when they retired a little way to consider what to do next.’

After the failure of their attempt to take the town, the rebels were considering how best to attack again when, suddenly, Sir Christopher Dacre arrived on the scene with ‘five hundred border spearmen’ – called ‘prickers’. The commons broke and turned to flee. This emboldened the defenders and they sallied forth from Carlisle. Together with Dacre’s men they set about the now fleeing commoners. The mosstroopers were ‘in no mood to spare the countryfolk who had beaten them so ignominiously on Monday’.

The rejoicings in London were great. Sir Christopher Dacre was the hero of the hour. It was said that he had slain 700 rebels or more and taken the rest prisoners, hanging them up on every bush.

Exactly how many of the commoners were massacred is not known. Perhaps not the 700 reported. But compare this with the fact that in the whole of the more famous Pilgrimage of Grace (I exclude the later reprisals) there had only been one death – and that was accidental. Hundreds of prisoners were taken back to Carlisle, including it seems Thomas Tibbey, but not Nicholas Musgrave. The rest of the host fled back to their homes or went into hiding. Christopher Dacre had proved his loyalty and was later rewarded for his decisive intervention.

On the day of the attack and subsequent massacre, the Duke of Norfolk was still at Barnard’s Castle in Yorkshire and had raised 4,000 men – ‘everyone they could trust.’ But news soon reached him that this ‘splendid little army’ would not be needed. Norfolk was delighted. He wrote to King Henry that Christopher Dacre had ‘shown himself a noble knight’ and that ‘seven or eight hundred prisoners were taken.’ He was, he wrote, ‘about to travel in all haste to Carlisle to see execution done.’

Norfolk arrived at Carlisle on Monday 19 February. This is when he ‘unfurled the banner’ and imposed martial law, not just on Cumbria but on the whole of the North of England. He used the pretext of the Carlisle events to be better able to punish those involved in draconian fashion, as well to be able to more easily and brutally punish those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace itself. Norfolk reported that: ‘There were so many prisoners in the town that he found great difficulty in providing for their safe-keeping.’ ‘He wrote that night to the Council to promise that if he might go his own way for a month he would order things to the King s satisfaction. It would take some time, because he must himself be present at all the convictions and proceed by martial law, and there were many places to punish.’ He added, significantly, that ‘not a lord or gentleman in Cumberland and Westmorland could claim that his servants and tenants had not joined in the insurrection.’

Proclamations were issued which ‘commanded all who had been in rebellion to come to Carlisle and submit themselves humbly to the King’s mercy.’  ‘The country people began to straggle into the city in scattered, dejected bands. They had lost their horses, harness, and weapons in the chase; they were in instant fear of a traitor’s death for themselves, and of fire, plunder, and outrage for their homes and families.’ Norfolk wrote that ‘they were contrite enough to satisfy any tyrant’ and ‘if sufficient number of ropes might have been found (they) would have come with the same about their necks’

Taking advice from the local lords, Norfolk chose seventy-four of the ‘chief misdoers’. ‘That is of the braver and more determined of them, and turned the rest away without even a promise of pardon’.

On 21 February, Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell: ‘The poor caitiffs who have returned home have departed without any promise of pardon but upon their good a bearing. God knows they may well be called poor caitiffs; for at their fleeing they lost horse, harness, and all they had upon them and what with the spoiling of them now and the gressing (taxing) of them so marvellously sore in time past and with increasing of lords’ rents by inclosings, and for lack of the persons of such as shall suffer, this border is sore weaked and specially Westmoreland; the more pity they should so deserve, and also that they have been so sore handled in times past, which, as I and all other here think, was the only cause of this rebellion.’

Norfolk knew that if he left justice to the mercy of local juries he probably wouldn’t be able to execute as many as both he and, importantly, the King and Thomas Cromwell wanted. ‘Many a great offender’, he said, would be acquitted if juries were called. He was quite honest about this. He later wrote to the King:

All the prisoners were condemned to die by law martial, the King’s banner being displayed. Not the fifth part would have been convicted by a jury. Some protested that they had been dragged into rebellion against their will. The most part had only one plea, saying, ‘I came out for fear of my life, and I came forth for fear of loss of all my goods, and I came forth for fear of burning of my house and destroying of my wife and children… A small excuse will be well believed here, where much affection and pity of neighbours doth reign. And, sir, though the number be nothing so great as their deserts did require to have suffered, yet I think the like number hath not been heard of put to execution at one time.

As the Dodds wrote: ‘They had not, in fact, turned against the law, they had risen to defend all that the law should have defended for them from Clifford’s police, the thieves of the Black Lands.’

Henry the Eighth

Henry the Eighth

Henry was pleased with what Norfolk and the defenders of Carlisle had done. His reply to Norfolk on the 22nd was blunt and brutal. He started with his thanks: ‘We have received your letters of the 16th, about the new assembly in Westmoreland, and your others of the 17th by Sir Ralph Evers, touching the valiant and faithful courage of Sir Chr. Dacres in the overthrow of the traitors who made assault upon Carlisle, reporting also the good service done by Thomas Clifford, and the perfect readiness of all the nobles and gentlemen in Yorkshire and those parts to have served in your company against them. We shall not forget your services, and are glad to hear also from sundry of our servants how you advance the truth, declaring the usurpation of the bishop of Rome, and how discreetly you paint those persons that call themselves religious in the colours of their hypocrisy, and we doubt not but the further you shall wade in the investigation of their behaviours the more you shall detest the great number of them and the less esteem the punishment of those culpable…  We desire you to thank those that were ready to have served us. We have thanked Sir Chr. Dacres in the letters which you shall receive herewith, and will shortly recompense him in a way to encourage others.’

Referring to Norfolk’s decision to declare martial law, Henry continued:

We approve of your proceedings in the displaying of our banner, which being now spread, till it is closed again, the course of our laws must give place to martial law… Our pleasure is, that before you shall close up our said banner again, you shall, in any wise, cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village, and hamlet, that have offended in this rebellion, as well by the hanging them up in trees, as by the quartering of them and the setting of their heads and quarters in every town, great and small, and in all such other places, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all other hereafter, that would practise any like mater.

Finally, as these troubles have been promoted by the monks and canons of those parts… you shall without pity or circumstance, now that our banner is displayed, cause the monks to be tied up without further delay or ceremony.

Anyone who had participated in the uprising and escaped was still pursued. On February 28 the earls of Sussex and Derby and Sir Herbert Fitzherbert wrote to the King from Warrington in Lancashire: ‘There came lately to Manchester one William Barret, a tanner dwelling in Steton in Craven, who declared to the people that my lord of Norfolk at this his being in Yorkshire would, as he heard, either have of every plough 6s. 8d. or take an ox of every one that would not pay, and that every christening and burying should pay 6s. 8d. Being apprehended and brought before us, he confessed he was one of those who made the late assault at Carlisle and shot arrows at those in the town, and that the constables of the townships, after divers bills set upon church doors, warned him and his company so to rise, alleging that one of the Percies would shortly join them. We think he deserves the most cruel punishment; but Mr. Fitzherbert says the words are no ground for putting him to death, and that he cannot be indicted in one shire for an offence committed in another; we therefore forbear to proceed till we know your pleasure.’ (Warrington, 28 Feb.)

This brings us to the main point of this short article. What was to be the fate of the 74 rebels that Norfolk and the local lords had picked for summary execution? Henry had ordered Norfolk to hang ‘them on trees, quartering them, and setting their heads and quarters in every town’. We don’t know how many of them, if any, were actually hung, drawn and quartered as Henry had clearly wanted, and as was often the case for traitors under martial law. The punishment itself was described by Chronicler William Harrison as follows:

The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose.

Gibbet Irons

Gibbet Irons

It’s most likely that none of the rebels were hung, drawn and quartered. Even Robert Aske was finally spared this fate. They were in all probability all ‘hung in chains’. When Norfolk later wrote to Thomas Cromwell, he said, ‘All in this shire were hung in chains.’  What was hanging in chains? It was a form of punishment and deterrence used for centuries in England until it was abolished in 1834. An eighteenth century French visitor to England, Cesar de Saussure,  described what happened:

There is no other form of execution but hanging; it is thought that the taking of life is sufficient punishment for any crime without worse torture. After hanging murderers are, however, punished in a particular fashion. They are first hung on the common gibbet, their bodies are then covered with tallow and fat substances, over this is placed a tarred shirt fastened down with iron bands, and the bodies are hung with chains to the gibbet, which is erected on the spot, or as near as possible to the place, where the crime was committed, and there it hangs till it falls to dust. This is what is called in this country to ‘hang in chains’.

But in Tudor times the punishment was often even more barbaric. People were frequently hung alive in chains and they first starved in agony before putrefying on the gibbet. How many of the rebels were ‘gibbeted’ alive and how many dead is not known. The point of these executions was of course not simply to kill people, it was also to make them and their relatives suffer and to be so terrifying that it would act as a deterrent to any future challenges to royal authority. The cadavers were not allowed to be removed and buried. They should remain rotting, sometimes for years, in full sight of their communities. For the condemned and their relatives this was not just a question of suffering and grief, it was also a matter concerning their eternal souls: Many still believed that the resurrection of the dead on judgement day ‘required that the body be buried whole facing east so that the body could rise facing God’

Hanging in Chains

Hanging in Chains

The rebels were hanged (in chains) in their own villages, ‘in trees in their gardens to record for memorial’ the end of the rebellion.

Twelve were hanged in chains in Carlisle for the assault on the city, eleven at Appleby, eight at Penrith, five at Cockermouth and Kirkby Stephen, and so on; scarcely a moorland parish but could show one or two such memorials. Some were hanged in ropes, for iron was ‘marvellous scarce’ and the chain-makers of Carlisle were unable to meet the demand. The victims were all poor men, farm hands from the fields and artisans of the little towns; probably the bailiff of Embleton was the highest man among them. Only one priest suffered with them, a chaplain of Penrith.

Once the executions of these poor men had been carried out, in village after village throughout Cumberland and Westmorland, their women wanted to bury their husbands, sons and fathers. Like latter-day Antigones, they thought this to be their natural right and duty. But Henry’s law, like that of Creon, forbade it. At great risk to their own safety and lives, the women crept out at night and cut down their men and secretly buried them.

In May, when Norfolk heard that ‘all’ the rebels’ bodies had been cut down and buried, he ordered the Cumberland magistrates to seek out the ‘ill-doers’. They sent him nine or ten confessions in reply, but he did not consider these nearly enough: ‘It is a small number concerning seventy-four that hath been taken down, wherein I think your Majesty hath not been well served.’

The Dodds write: ‘Of all the records these brief confessions are the most heart-breaking and can least bear description. The widows and their neighbours helped each other. Seven or eight women together would wind the corpse and bury it in the nearest churchyard, secretly, at nightfall or day break. Sometimes they were turned from their purpose by the frightened priest, and then the husband’s body must be buried by a dyke-side out of sanctified ground, or else brought again more secretly than ever and laid in the churchyard under cover of night. All was done by women, save in two cases when the brother and cousin of two of the dead men were said to have died from the “corruption” of the bodies they had cut down.’

Norfolk asked the King what he should do with these offenders. They were all, he said, women: ‘the widows, mothers and daughters of the dead men’. Thomas Cromwell was displeased, suspecting that Norfolk had ordered or countenanced this. Norfolk tried to placate him and shift any blame to the Earl of Cumberland. He wrote to Cromwell:

I do perceive by your letter that ye would know whether such persons as were put to execution in Westmorland and Cumberland were taken down and buried by my commandment or not: undoubtedly, my good lord, if I had consented thereunto, I would I had hanged by them; but on my troth, it is 8 or 9 days past since I heard first thereof, and then was here with me a servant of my lord of Cumberland called Swalowfield, dwelling about Penrith, by whom I sent such a quick message to my said lord, because he hath the rule in Cumberland as warden, and is sheriff of Westmorland and hath neither advertised me thereof, nor hath not made search who hath so highly offended his Majesty, and also commanding him to search for the same with all diligence, that I doubt not it shall evidently appear it was done against my will.

We don’t know what the subsequent inquiries about these women’s actions disclosed and what, if any, were the consequences.

Henry's Field of the Cloth of Gold

Henry’s Field of the Cloth of Gold

This brutal episode in English history is usually given scant mention in histories of the period, particularly in histories of Henry VIII  – concerned as they depressingly are with political machinations, battles and the deeds of ‘great men’. Yet surely such events tell us more about the real history of England, or better said the real history of the English people, than do Henry’s dealings with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Papacy, his opulent and ostentatious ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ or his tedious litany of marriages?

Of course the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Cumbrian rebellion had failed – although taken together they were the most significant challenge Henry would ever face at home. But in the case of the Cumbrian rebellion, its significance does not lie in its success or failure. It lies in the fact that it is just another much neglected example of what happens when ordinary English people try to protest against the repression of their rulers, their economic pauperization or the suppression of their religious or other rights. As Leveller leader Colonel Thomas Rainborough was to write in the seventeenth century:

For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government.

Antigone buries her brother

Antigone buries her brother

What I find a pity is that Antigone’s poignant and courageous act of burying her brother, whether it really happened or not, has been studied and dissected for at least two thousand years. German Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel even saw it as a clash of right against right: familial natural right against the right of the state; others interpret it differently. Yet ‘only’ five hundred years ago, dozens of poor Cumbrian women did the same thing and ran the same risk as Antigone, but they are hardly remembered at all. Who would dare today to present their bravery and humanity as a clash of two equally valid rights?

Sources:

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12; Madeleine Hope Dodds & Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy, (1915); M. L. Bush, The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536, (1996); Michael Bush & David Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Postpardon Revolts of December 1536 to March 1537 and Their Effect, (1999).

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.

NassauBalloon-featured-image

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.

cocking use

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.

nassau

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.

cocking grisdale

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.

fitzalan

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.

arundel 2

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.

greystoke

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.

norfolk house

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.

fitzalan

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