Some years ago a nice lady in the United States contacted me about her family. There were a couple of mysteries. One of these remains a mystery, but I can now shed some light on the other. Although I do try to write stories rather than genealogical exercises, this article is just that: a genealogical exploration. It is also the story of a line of Penrith cordwainers or shoemakers
Let’s start with a ninety-two year-old ‘pauper’ and former joiner called William Grisdale who died in the Penrith Union Workhouse in 1890. William had spent at least the last ten years of his life in this horrendous institution; which at least gave him food and shelter after he had fallen on hard times. William had married Hannah Butterworth way back in 1821. He spent his whole life as a ‘journeyman joiner’ in Penrith, and between 1821 and 1833 he and Hannah had had six children. Hannah died in 1849 aged just forty-six. Once William’s children had all left in the 1850s, he started to be a lodger with various families in Penrith before having to go to the workhouse sometime in the 1870s.
One little mystery is that it is clear that William was the son of cordwainer (i.e. shoemaker) Thomas Grisdale and his wife Jane Dixon. But it seems that William was baptized Thomas in St Mary’s church in Lancaster on 15th December 1799 and was born on 30 November 1798. His parents usually lived in Penrith, where all their other children were born, but had come somewhat south for at least a year to work in Lancaster. Why Thomas had changed his name to William (which was his grandfather’s name) we still don’t know, but it seems he did.
There is more to tell of William’s children, but maybe another time. Here I want to go back and clear up one other mystery.
As noted, William’s father Thomas was a Penrith shoemaker. He born in 1766 in Penrith and when both he and his wife Jane died (in 1821 and 1845 respectively) he was said to have been a ‘shoemaker’. I keep stressing his vocation because it’s important later. Thomas’s father William was a shoemaker too. His father and his mother, Elizabeth Stewardson, were married in Kendal in 1762. We find William mentioned as a shoemaker in Kendal (probably while an apprentice) but shortly after their marriage the couple moved to Penrith where their children were born, including Thomas in 1766.
Now the mystery was this: Who exactly was William Grisdale? Where had he come from?
When William was buried in Penrith on 18 March 1800 the transcript of the parish registers say he was a ‘shoemaker aged 57’. I will show that either the age given by the informant was a mistake or it is a mistranscription of the original entry. This age led me initially to believe that William was the last child of Matterdale-born Joseph Grisdale and his wife Jane Robinson. Joseph had become the Miller at Pooley Bridge Mill in Barton in Westmorland, and his son William was baptized there on 5 June 1743, which given a few weeks delay from birth to baptism could easily fit William the shoemaker’s supposed age of 57 in March 1800.
But I was never happy with this identification. Millers were a step or two up the social ladder from simple shoemakers and none of the family names prevalent in Joseph’s family ever reappeared among the Penrith Grisdale shoemakers.
I then became convinced that William was actually most likely born in the parish of Watermillock, in which a good part of the valley of Matterdale lies – this as we will see is correct.
In the mid-1790s the Penrith Trade Directory listed only three Grisdales: Jacob, William and Thomas, all listed as cordwainers i.e. shoemakers. Surely there was a relationship between the three? Thomas (born 1766) called his first child Jacob in 1791 and the name appears again later. Now Jacob is a very rare Grisdale name. In fact there is only one earlier occurrence of the name and that is a Jacob Grisdale born in February 1748 in ‘High Lowthwaite’, which is geographically in Matterdale but in Watermillock parish. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Grace Railton. And this Benjamin Grisdale was a shoemaker too! And he too had moved to Penrith because when he wife Grace died in Penrith in 1774 she was said to be the ‘wife of Benjamin Grisdale shoemaker’. This Benjamin had another son called Benjamin in 1736 who also became a ‘shoemaker’.
It was pretty obvious that the cordwainers William and Thomas Grisdale in the Penrith Directory were the father and son I have already discussed. Was William perhaps the brother of Jacob the third Penrith cordwainer in the directory or maybe his cousin?
Back in Watermillock in the early 1740s three William Grisdales were baptized in Watermillock church in 1740, 1741 and 1743. The last two rather unhelpfully both being sons of different Benjamin Grisdales. We can exclude the William born in 1743 because we know what happened to him. The William son of Benjamin born in 1741 attracted me for some time but always seemed wrong for complicated reasons to do with exact places of birth.
That leaves only one William Grisdale who could be our man: William Grisdale son of Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow who was baptized on 16 October 1740. But can this square with his supposed age of 57 when he died in 1800? Well it can because rather stupidly I hadn’t looked at the second page of the marriage bond between William and Elizabeth Stewardson made in Kendal on 19 April 1762. Here it clearly says that William is ‘21’. The ‘and upwards’ which follows is part of the printed form, and Elizabeth’s age is clearly said to be 24, which it was. If William was 21 on 19 April 1762 he would have been born between 20 April 1740 and 20 April 1741, which fits precisely with the William son of Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow baptized in Watermillock church on 16 October 1740. Actually William can’t have been over 21 because there is no other William Grisdale who would then fit the bill.
This attribution now seems blazingly apparent to me but it wasn’t for a long time. William’s age of 21 makes more sense than say 19 if he had been the son of Joseph Grisdale the Miller. In addition William named his first son Thomas, no doubt after his father. Finally it explains why neither he nor his sons named a son Benjamin, which one might have expected if William were the son of a Benjamin.
So what was the relationship between shoemaker William and Thomas, father and son shoemakers, and father and son shoemakers Benjamin and Jacob Grisdale? There must have been one; it just depends on how far back we need to go to find it. Remember young Thomas Grisdale (born 1766) called his first son Jacob and the name crops up again later. It’s most likely that father and son William and Thomas worked with father and son Benjamin and Jacob – they were all shoemakers in Penrith. But what was the ‘blood’ relationship?
Here we enter another quagmire of various Benjamin Grisdales. Theoretically there are four Benjamin Grisdales who might be the shoemaker one: 1) Benjamin son of Thomas Grisdale and Mary Brownrigg, baptized in Matterdale in 1696; 2) Benjamin son of Thomas Grisdale of Dowthwaite, baptized in Matterdale in 1706; 3) Benjamin son of Edward Grisdale of Dowthwaite Head and Elizabeth his wife, baptized in Matterdale in 1711, and 4) Benjamin son of Joseph Grisdale of Townhead (Dockray) and Jane Martin, baptized in Matterdale in 1713.
To cut a long story short, we can exclude the Benjamin (number 3) born in 1711, because we know he died at Brownrigg Farm aged 68 in 1779. While not as certain I believe we should exclude number 2 as well because most likely he was the father of the later illustrious Reverends Browne and Benjamin Grisdale, who both went to Oxford University. This Benjamin married Watermillock girl Ann Browne in 1738. She was the daughter of a well-to-do George Browne of Tongue whose son Joseph (Ann’s brother) not only went to Oxford but was later to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and Provost of Queen’s College! To be honest I don’t see George Browne letting his daughter marry Benjamin Grisdale the son of the rather poor Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Townhead, but I may be wrong.
I don’t know what became of Benjamin number 1 born in 1696, unless of course he is the ‘pauper’ Benjamin who died in Skelton in 1787 said to be 87 years of age. I admit there is a chance that this older Benjamin was the shoemaker we are looking for but for the moment I doubt it.
If all this is correct then the Penrith shoemaker Benjamin Grisdale was the child of Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Townhead (Dockray) in Matterdale, a couple who are the ancestors of numerous people I have written about on this blog. When Joseph died in 1750 he left some money to his sons including Benjamin, who was thus obviously still alive at the time.
Returning to Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow, the father of the shoemaker William Grisdale who married Elizabeth Stewardson in Kendal; who was he? Well at the moment I have not the slightest idea. Could he be linked in some way to the very first Josiah Grisdale who married Sarah Atkinson in Greystoke church in 1735, and who was also living in Ulcatrow in 1737 when his daughter Ann was baptized? This first Josiah Grisdale (from whom countless Grisdales are descended) has always been a complete mystery, because as far as I can see there is no mention of his birth, baptism or even death anywhere. He was clearly a respected Matterdale man because he was a Churchwarden of Matterdale church and also a witness in 1747 to the will of Edward Grisdale the brother of the late Rev. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale School. He was also a witness in 1754 at the marriage of Joseph Grisdale and Dinah Todhunter. If we could find out anything more about his place of birth or death or his parents it would clear up a lot.
So still more questions than answers. However I think with some certainty we can push the family of the nice American lady I mentioned at the beginning back one generation to Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow, whoever he was.