‘There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.’

Lead mining had been going on in the Pennines for hundreds of years. Much of this early mining was carried out by a process known as ‘hushing’. It was a type of opencast working using water. ‘This involved building a small turf dam at the top of a hill above the area to be worked. When it was full the water was released and rushed down the hillside scouring the soil and any loose rock away. Once the vein was uncovered, crowbars, chisels and hammers were used to loosen the rock and extract ore. In this process, which was repeated over and over again, broken rock accumulated on the floor of the hush and was eventually washed away.’ Later on shaft and levels were dug.

map 5One of these Pennine lead mining areas was around Dufton and Milburn in the Eden Valley in Westmorland. The mines here were owned by the local nobility such as the Tufton family, the earls of Thanet. It is, as one writer put it, a place of ‘open moorland, bleak, windswept and inhospitable at the best of times’. The story goes that ‘travelling through this area at the end of the 17th Century two Quaker women were so concerned by the conditions of the lead miners and their families that they sponsored the involvement of the Quakers in lead mining with the formation of the Quaker Company.’

A group of Quakers duly set up such a company, known commonly as the London Lead Mining Company, but more fully as The Company for Smelting Down Lead with Pit coal. ‘The company was set up by a number of Quakers in 1692 with mining interests in Derbyshire, Lancashire, North Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as the North Pennines, mining coal and silver as well as lead and at one time (1705-37) supplying so much silver to the Royal Mint that coins were known as the Quaker coinage.’

In Dufton the company not only developed the lead mines but also built mine workers’ cottages and farmsteads. ‘The company had a smelt-mill to the south of the village and it built a water supply system in the form of a syke, which is still visible on the south side of the village green, and later a piped supply with supply points and central fountain/trough erected in the late nineteenth century.’ The Quaker capitalists were always well intentioned. In Dufton they had a fountain constructed on the village green with a Latin inscription which reads in English:

There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.

Clean water or not, the ‘reality for most was a life cut short by lung disease and a constant struggle to make ends meet’.

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

Not surprisingly the whole of the Pennines become a stronghold of Methodism and other forms of non-conformism. One of the earliest Methodist preachers in the North Pennines was Christopher Hopper: ‘the apostle of Methodism through a large section of the North country’. John Wesley said that Hopper and John Brown first came to nearby Weardale in 1748 but met with no encouragement. Hopper wrote in his diary: ‘It was in a storm of snow that we crossed the quagmires and enormous mountains. When we came into the dale we met with a very cold reception. The enemy had barricaded the place, and made his bulwarks strong.’ He returned the next year when four people ‘found peace with God and agreed to meet together’. Hooper and others kept coming and by 1772 there were one hundred and twenty Methodists in Weardale. One preacher, George Story, wrote:

I exerted myself much above my strength both in preaching and travelling, often venturing in tempestuous weather over those dreary fells when even the mountaineers themselves durst not. I was frequently in danger of being swallowed up in the bogs, or carried away by the torrents. Sometimes I have rode over valleys where the snow was eight or ten feet deep, for two or three furlongs together.

Hopper wrote about his work:

My little substance soon failed, and I saw nothing before me but beggary and great afflictions. Sometimes I was carried above all earthly objects, and had a comfortable view of the heavenly country. At other times I was much depressed, and I could see nothing but poverty and distress.

One family who were eventually to become Methodists was a Grisdale lead-mining family in Dufton/Milburn. Who were they and how had they come there?

North Pennine Lead Miners

North Pennine Lead Miners

In the early 1700s, these Grisdale lead miners were, without much doubt, working for the Quaker-owned London Lead Mining Company. By the late 1730s, John Grisdale and his wife Jennet Robinson were having their first children: daughter Mary was born in 1735, followed by Ann in 1738 and Richard in 1743. John had three brothers, Anthony, Richard and William, who were lead miners too. Their father, another John Grisdale (‘senior’) was probably born in Milburn in the early 1670s, although I can find no record of such a birth. I believe his parents were Anthony Grisdale and Dorothy Hasty who married in nearby Melmerby in July 1671. Anthony died in Milburn. The reason I believe Anthony was the father of John and his brothers (and sisters) is because John named his first born son Anthony in Milburn in 1697, and the name would recur in the families of some of his descendants who became lead miners in nearby Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales in later times.

Anthony is in fact an extremely rare name in the Grisdale family, both at this time and later. Except for the Milburn/Swaledale Anthonys, the only other family where the name crops up at all is in the family of an Anthony Grisdale who was born somewhere in Cumberland around 1600, but by 1627 at the latest was living in the town of Wigton. His son Alexander was the father of the Harrington coal miner Henry Grisdale I wrote about in an earlier article (see here). Several of Henry’s descendants were also called their children Anthony. So I believe that Anthony Grisdale of Milburn, the putative father of John Grisdale Senior, was either another unrecorded son of Anthony Grisdale of Wigton or, less likely though still possible, the son of this Wigton Anthony himself.

Leaving aside these genealogical considerations, there can only have been one thing that brought Anthony Grisdale to the Milburn/Dufton area around the year 1671: to work in the lead mines.

Dufton today

Dufton today

We can get a feel for the Dufton mine from a report entitled ‘A geological account of the Lead Mine in Dufton in Westmoreland’ written by geologist T. Allan to The Journal of Science and the Arts in 1813:

Dufton is situated near the great road from London to Glasgow, and is, consequently, to be visited with less inconvenience than any other mining district in the north of England. It lies three miles north of Appleby in Westmoreland, on the west side of a range of hills which extends from the borders of Scotland, and includes Cross Fell, and the mining district of Alstone Moor. Along the western verge of this range, there are several detached and remarkably regular conical hills, the appearance of which had often attracted my attention, when passing along the road between Penrith and Kendal. It is on the west side of one of these, which is called Dufton Pike, and which I should guess to be about 600 feet high, that the village of Dufton is situated; and the hill is so placed, that the ravine in which the mine occurs is entirely concealed from view…..

The ravine in which the mines are wrought, may be about half a mile wide at the entrance, and extends from Dufton Pike about a mile and a half: the ascent to the mines is steep, but such as to be practicable with carts…

The vein was originally wrought on the summit of the western front of the precipice; and the lead produced by hushing; that is, by bringing a stream of water to run over the place where it crept out. Subsequently a level was constructed…

Augustine Washington Snr.

Augustine Washington Snr.

But what about George Washington? What connection could the Grisdale lead miners have had with the future first President of the United States? The answer lies in the local market town of Appleby, which is situated only three miles from the Dufton lead mine. It was in Appleby that George Washington’s father Augustine Washington (called ‘Gus’) had spent several ‘unhappy years’ at Appleby’s Grammar School as a boy. Despite his unhappiness, in 1729 he decided to send his sons Lawrence and Augustine Jnr there too. They came all the way from Virginia. Lawrence was to stay at the school until 1738 when he returned to Virginia. George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball. He too was all set to come to the Grammar School in Appleby when his father died in 1743.

When the American War of Independence was nearing its end in October 1781, the captured English captain of the frigate Guadeloupe was questioned by George Washington. On hearing that the captain was from Appleby, Washington replied:

I am very glad to meet a Westmorland man, my family sprang from that country and my brother was at Appleby School.

Appleby Grammar School

Appleby Grammar School

Perhaps when John Grisdale and his wife Jennet visited Appleby from time to time to make purchases or join in the fun of the fair, they might just have seen George Washington’s brothers around the Grammar School? Paths do cross, but the Washington and Grisdale families lived in parallel universes. By chance, George Washington didn’t come to study in Appleby and went on to great things. This Grisdale family were set for centuries of mining poverty and death.

It was probably a cold and windy day in New York’s docks in late October 1872 when two young English mothers stepped ashore. Both women had young children and they probably were holding their hands tightly as they walked down the gang-plank. Helen and Mary Ann Campbell had made the two week voyage from Liverpool on Cunard’s steamship Batavia without their husbands, Joseph and John Campbell, who had already been in America for three years. Did the women have any inkling that they would soon be in the heart of the faraway Dakota Territory and witness some of the most famous, and sad, events in the final stages of the ‘winning of the American West’? They would see General Custer depart for his expedition into the Black Hills of the Lakota Indians and the subsequent gold rush that ensued. They would be close to the last resistance of the Native Americans, their victory over General Custer and his Seventh cavalry at Little Big Horn, and the brutal massacres that followed.

Helen’s husband Joseph Hugh Campbell was a former gunner in the British Royal Marine Artillery, and a wheelwright by trade. Her sister-in-law Mary Ann was married to Joseph’s younger brother John Hugh Campbell. It’s most likely that the husbands were in New York to greet their families. Joseph would not even yet have seen his son Charles, who had been born after he had left for America. There was a third brother, Robert, who was in America too, and more than likely he came to New York’s docks too.

Great Yarmouth in the nineteenth century

Great Yarmouth in the nineteenth century

All three brothers were born in the bustling maritime town of Yarmouth in Norfolk, children of millwright Hugh Campbell and his long-term partner Martha Midsummer Callf. Hugh wouldn’t be able to marry Martha until 1874 after his first wife Mary Ward had died. As the family name suggests, the Campbells were originally from Scotland, but Hugh’s grandfather, also called Hugh, had come to Yarmouth from Killin in Perthshire in about 1760. The family were always involved with the sea and some of them went off to London to build ships in the docklands of East London before returning to Norfolk. I might tell this fascinating story at a later time.

Joseph was born in 1839 and probably joined the Royal Marines in the late 1850s. We don’t know the exact date or the cirumstances. But we know that in 1861 he was serving as a gunner in the Royal Marine Artillery based at Fort Cumberland on Portsea, near Portsmouth in  Hampshire on the south coast of England. Fort Cumberland was ‘first built in 1746 on the eastern tip of Portsea Island, protecting the flank of Portsmouth some miles west across the marshes, the fort was later rebuilt in a star-shaped design’.

Fort Cumberland, Portsea, Hampshire

Fort Cumberland, Portsea, Hampshire

‘After the formation of the Royal Marine Artillery in 1804, the Companies that were attached to the Portsmouth Division of Royal Marines required a base to exercise and train with their field artillery and naval cannons. From 1817 Fort Cumberland was used, and from 1858 it became the Head Quarters for the RMA Division until Eastney Barracks was completed in 1867.’

Sometime in 1863 Joseph had either been discharged from the Marines or was back in Norfolk on leave. Whatever the case, he struck up a liaison with a local girl in Norwich called Ellen Dye, the daughter of shoemaker Robert Dye. Ellen became pregnant and delivered a baby daughter in Norwich in April 1864. Joseph and Ellen called the child Constane Campbell Dye. It was a usual pratie for unmarried mothers to give the father’s family name as a middle name. There must have been something real between Joseph and Ellen because two years later they had another child, this time a boy whom they called Robert Hugh Campbell Dye: Robert after Ellen’s father and Hugh after Joseph’s father. Why Joseph and Ellen never married we will never know. What we do know it that less than one one year after the birth of his son Robert, Joseph abandoned Ellen and married someone else: another Norfolk girl called Helen Eastoe. Helen was the daughter of Sprowston wheelwright Edmund Eastoe; she was two years Joseph’s senior. Given that Joseph too became a wheelwright it might well be that he was working with Helen’s father. Joseph and Helen married towards the end of 1867 in Norwich, and their first child, Joseph Hugh Eastoe Campbell, was born the next year.

Ellen and Joseph’s two other children were left to live with Ellen’s parents in Norwich.

Helen became pregnant again in the spring of 1869 and a son called harles Alfred Campbell was born in Norwich in early 1870, but by this time as we will see Joseph had already left for America.

While all this was going on, Joseph’s three-year younger brother John had married as well. John had been given the name John Hugh Campbell Callf when he was born, because, as mentioned his parents weren’t able to marry while Hugh’s first wife was still alive. Joseph too had been given the name Callf at birth but all the family used the name Campbell in later years. John married under his full name of John Hugh Campbell Callf in late 1866 in Norwich, his wife was Mary Ann Hunn, the daughter of carpenter William Hunn. It’s probable that their first daughter Susana (later called Susie) was born in 1865 before their wedding. Two more children followed: Joseph Hugh in 1867 in Norwich and John in 1869 in Holborn in London. Mary Ann’s parents had moved to London and she had moved with them when her husband went to America with his brothers sometime in 1869.

What took Joseph, John and their unmarried brother Robert to America? Did they know people there? Had Joseph been to the United States while in the Marines? Or had they just heard of the opportunities there? We don’t know. But went they did in 1869. The date of their emigration is found in a book published in 1881 called History of southeastern Dakota, in which there are short ‘biographies’ of the prominent citizens of the town of Yankton in that year. Here we find both Joseph and John; they were the owners of the only ‘foundry’ and ‘iron works’ in the town, trading under the name J & J Campbell. John Campbell, it is said, came to America in 1869 and having ‘located in Sioux City in 1872, he removed to Yankton in 1874’. Joseph’s entry tells us he ‘came to America in company with his brothers’. In the English census of 1871, John, Joseph and Robert are absent. Joseph’s wife Helen is listed living in Norwich with their two children and was said to be the ‘wife of wheelwright in N. America’.

New York Docks in 1872

New York Docks in 1872

I believe that the three brothers first lived in New York. There is an entry in the 1870 US Federal census for an English-born ‘carpenter’ called Joseph Campbell, aged 30, living in Ward 20 District 3. This might or might not be our man. Most likely what happened is that the brothers were in New York and once established there wrote back home asking their wives to join them; possibly sending the money for the trip too. When their families arrived in October 1872 they then moved west, possibly first to Sioux City in Iowa and then to Yankton in the Dakota Territory. It is of course possible that the brothers had already made their way out west and that their families had to make the overland trip to join them alone. Remember John’s ‘biography’ says he located in Sioux City in 1872.

The families probably went west by train, first to Sioux City then to Yankton. The railway had reached Sioux City in 1868: ‘The first train rumbled into town. The date, March 9, 1868, was the cause of much local celebrating. “SAVED AT LAST!” read the Sioux City Journal headline.’ By 1873 it had reached Yankton: ‘In 1873 a railroad line was expanded to Yankton, Dakota Territory. Yankton then became the end of the railroad line and much of the business growth Sioux City had gained moved up river.’

The Dakota Territory was established in 1861. It didn’t become a state (actually two states) until 1889.

The Dakota Territory consisted of the northernmost part of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of the United States. The name refers to the Dakota branch of the Sioux tribes which occupied the area at the time. Most of Dakota Territory was formerly part of the Minnesota and Nebraska territories. When Minnesota became a state in 1858, the leftover area between the Missouri River and Minnesota’s western boundary fell unorganized. When the Yankton Treaty was signed later that year, ceding much of what had been Sioux Indian land to the U.S. Government; early settlers formed an unofficial provisional government and unsuccessfully lobbied for United States territory status. Three years later soon-to-be-President Abraham Lincoln’s cousin-in-law, J.B.S. Todd, personally lobbied for territory status and Washington formally created Dakota Territory. It became an organized territory on March 2, 1861. Upon creation, Dakota Territory included much of present-day Montana and Wyoming.

Yankton in 1876

Yankton in 1876

The Territory’s capital was the town of Yankton; in size it was bigger than most European countries. In the early 1870s the white population only amounted to about 12,000 and Yankton itself, the biggest settlement, had just 3,000. This was still very much the land of Native American Indians, particularly, though not exclusively, the Lakota (Sioux) and Cheyenne. As elsewhere the Americans would soon start ethnically cleansing the territory and reducing the Native people to a small underclass.

In 1868 the United States Government had signed a Treaty at Fort Laramie in Wyoming (also called the Sioux Treaty of 1868) with the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brulé bands of Lakota people, Yanktonai Dakota, and Arapaho Nation. This was to guarantee ‘Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and further land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The Powder River Country was to be henceforth closed to all whites’.

Dakota Territory

Dakota Territory

When the Campbells arrived in Yankton, which in Joseph’s case I would date to 1873 because his daughter Charlotte was born in Yankton in January 1874, Dakota was witnessing the first years of a huge wave of immigration called the Great Dakota Boom.

As the economic depression of 1873 abated, the railroads took a new interest in this virgin territory.  Although the federal government made no land grants in Dakota as in other territories, there were plenty of opportunities for profit in the founding of new towns.  Town lots came dear in railroad terminus, and since the companies had the advantage of knowing where the track would be laid next, they invariably held title to the choicest lots.  Of the 285 towns which were platted during the Boom period, 138 of them were founded by the railroads.  89 more were platted along the railroad right of way by private land companies.

These were placed every seven to ten miles along the tracks to provide a market-place for the farmers within driving distance by team and wagon.  While the presence of a railroad meant instant prosperity for the community there was often distrust of the giant monopolies which could place the depot, tracks and outbuildings to their best advantage rather than the town’s.  For this reason, future town sites were often discreetly bought up by agents of the company and a certain amount of skulduggery was not uncommon in the rush for profits.

The influence of the railroads cannot be overemphasized in both the rapid settlement and ultimate success of Dakota Territory.  They tended to neutralize the negative weather and conditions by bringing in fuel, food, fencing and building materials – all unavailable on the treeless plains.  And of course the railroads brought the farmer closer to his marketplace.

People flooded in from the East and from Europe, particularly German Russians, Scandinavians as well as Irish and English. ‘Many a Scandinavian or northern European immigrant first heard of this new land of opportunity from a railroad brochure, poster or flier printed in his own native language.’

‘Unlike earlier pioneers who formed caravans of prairie schooners across the plains, these settlers came by rail, often to within just a few miles of their final destination,’ as most likely did the Campbells. But while the Scandinavians tended to become rural farmers, the English tended to settle in Yankton and other growing settlements.

But in 1873/4 most of the land in Dakota, and particularly the Black Hills, still belonged to the Native American Nations. They had, for sure, already suffered many a defeat at the hands of the U.S. Army, and were on the path to almost total subjugation and annihilation, but they could still live and hunt in the Black Hills, a land sacred to them. This would soon change; the reason being, as usual, gold.

Custer's Black Hills expedition in 1874

Custer’s Black Hills expedition in 1874

As Ernest Grafe writes in The 1874 Black Hills Expedition:

There had always been rumors of gold here, however, and by 1874 the frontier settlements were putting pressure on the government to permit exploration. A financial panic was adding to the pressure, and it’s possible that the railroads were working behind the scenes to generate more business. It was in this atmosphere that Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan ordered a reconnaissance of the Black Hills, allegedly to look for a site on which to build a fort. The reconnaissance would be led by Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who brought along a photographer, several newspapermen and two prospectors — but who never once mentioned building a fort.

Custer’s expedition triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. But Custer had first come to Dakota in April 1873 ‘to protect a railroad survey party against the Lakota’. He and his Seventh cavalry were first stationed in Yankton, whose citizens had rescued them when they were caught in a tremendous snow storm. They would stay in Yankton until May 1874 when they set out on their expedition to the Black Hills. There is no doubt that Joseph Campbell and his family would have seen Custer, his officers and the men of the cavalry on many occasions. Little would they know the fate that awaited them.

After the expedition miners kept arriving to try their luck in the diggings in the Lakota’s Black Hills. They usually come via Yankton, and Joseph and John Campbell would, as the only ‘founders’ and iron workers in town, have supplied many of them with the iron tools and machinery they needed.

General Custer

General Custer

The U.S. Government made noises about stopping this invasion of miners into the Indians’ reservations, but once mining and money was involved their resolve flagged. I won’t retell the whole sorry tale here, but in 1876 General Custer attacked an Indian settlement at Little Big Horn. It was a mistake: there were many more Lakota and Cheyenne warriors there than he had imagined and Custer’s Seventh Cavalry companies were killed to a man. Sitting Bull and his warriors had secured the last victory Native American Indians would ever have over the invading Americans.

News of the death of Custer and his men would have soon reached Yankton. The population of the town were scared, including the Campbell brothers and their families. But their fears were unfounded. The American government despatched more troops and over the coming months started piteously to hunt down the various Indian groups which had dispersed after Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull fled north and found sanctuary for a time in the ‘Land of the Great Mother’: Canada. The U.S. government seized the Black Hills land in 1877.

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

You can read about this sad and brutal history in many books, or watch PBS’s excellent documentary series The West. The battle of Little Big Horn was the last time Native Americans were able to resist the American invasions of their land. From now on the Lakota and the other local tribes were herded into smaller reservations and had to rely on patchy deliveries of ‘rations’ to survive. Their children were to be shipped off to faraway schools to be deracinated; stripped of their language and culture and introduced to the dubious benefits of Christianity. ‘How the West was won’ is a brutal and sad tale. It tells us more about American savagery than it does about the ‘barbarous’ Indians.

In 1880 – 1882 Joseph and John Campbell were still in Yankton running the ‘Yankton Iron Works’. Since his family’s family arrival in Dakota Joseph and Helen had had four more children: Charlotte in 1874, John Robert in 1877, Constance Elizabeth in 1880 and Helen in 1882. His brother John and his wife Mary Ann had had two: Martha Caroline in 1878 and Robert Hugh in 1879.

Where had their younger brother Robert been all this time? Although he had come to America with his brothers, the first mention of him I can find is in 1895 in Sioux City, Iowa. He would marry seventeen year-old Kansas-born girl Ada Maud Parsons in Sioux City in 1898 and have a son called William Herbert the next year. Perhaps Robert had spent more than twenty years seeking his fortune, first in the Black Hills and then elsewhere before marrying in Sioux City aged thirty-eight? We don’t know. Sometime before 1910 Robert and Ada ‘divorced’ and she took their son to live with her parents in Marshall, Iowa, but by 1915 she was back in Sioux City with her parents, by now, she said, a ‘widow’. In 1920, still with her parents, she said she was ‘single’. But Robert wasn’t dead, he was back in Sioux City living with Ada in 1925 and 1928 before disappearing again by 1930 when Ada was back with her parents but still said to be ‘married’. Nothing more is heard of Robert. Ada eventually moved to California where she died in 1969 aged eighty-eight.

Sioux City, Iowa in 1873 as the Campbells first saw it

Sioux City, Iowa in 1873 as the Campbells first saw it

But what of Joseph and John and their families who we left in Yankton? John took his family back to Sioux City in the mid 1880s where he and Mary Ann had two more children: William Arthur in 1887 and Mildred in 1889. He was still there in 1910, aged 66 and unemployed, living with his widowed daughter Martha Gardner and her children and his divorced daughter Mildred Lowe. After that there is no trace of John, but his wife Mary Ann (nee Hunn) died in 1915 and is buried in Sioux City’s Graceland Cemetery.

Joseph too left Yankton. Possibly by way of Sioux City the family moved to Chicago in 1891. In 1900 the family are living in Chicago’s 12th Ward and Joseph is working as an ‘engineer’ in a stationer’s printing shop. Helen was said to have had eleven children (I can only identify six), of which five were still alive. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that Helen died two years later aged sixty-three of ‘Hemiplegia’, most probably brought on by a stroke.

Joseph lived on. He was by now in his sixties, a former Royal Marine gunner, a wheelwright, a founder, a machinist and an engineer. After thirty years in America did he ever, I wonder, think of the family he had abandoned back in England? In Dakota he had christened a daughter Constance. It was a family name and he had given the same name to his first child with Ellen Dye back in 1864. Did he ever think of his first two children: Constance Campbell Dye and Robert Hugh Campbell Dye? Maybe yes, maybe no. I sometimes think about this because Joseph was my 2nd great grandfather, and his first child Constance Campbell Dye was my great grandmother. Already by the time his wife died in 1902, Joseph had ten grandchildren back in Norfolk, another was to follow in 1905.

Mankato in the1920s

Mankato in the1920s

Whatever the case, Joseph’s amazing life was far from over. In 1910 he was still working as an engineer in a Chicago ‘water works’. In 1920, aged seventy-nine, he was living with his son John’s family but still working as an engineer! Sometime in the 1920s Joseph had to call time on his long working life and he moved to North Mankato in Nicollet County, Minnesota. He spent his last years living with his granddaughter Grace Michel, her husband Bernard, and their children. It was here in Mankato a long way from Norfolk that Joseph Hugh Campbell died on 26 October 1931 aged ninety-two; he was buried with his wife and son Charles back in Chicago’s Forest Home Cemetery.

Joseph has a lot of descendants in the United States plus many in England too, including myself. What had become of Joseph’s first ‘love’ Ellen Dye and his two children Constance and Robert? Ellen married Norwich shoemaker Henry Bell and had five children with him. She continued to work as a silk weaver in Norwich until her death in 1920 aged seventy-six. Joseph’s son Robert married Flora Hoy Davidson in 1892 but they had no children. He died in Norwich in 1948. Joseph’s first born child Constance Campbell Dye on the other hand married Norwich shoemaker Henry Allen in 1882 and had eleven children over the next twenty-three years, while also, like her mother, working as a silk weaver. Her fourth child, my grandfather, was born in 1887; he was named Robert after Constance’s grandfather Robert Dye.

Joseph Hugh Dye led an amazing life!

Robert Allen (Joseph's grandson) with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin

Robert Allen (Joseph’s grandson) with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin






Thomas Grisdale was born in 1639, the son of Symund Grisdale and his first wife Jane. The family lived and farmed in Borrowscale in Matterdale. In 1664 Thomas married Dorothy Rakestreye in Matterdale church. Many people all over the world think that Thomas and Dorothy are their distant ancestors. They are, I’m afraid to say, most likely wrong. As I will show, father Symund together with Thomas and Dorothy and their children moved away from Matterdale never to return. While I have known this for some years, until now I have never been able to find out what happened to Thomas’s many children. Here I can just partly do so. In addition, I’ll show who actually were the Matterdale ancestors of those who have Thomas and Dorothy in their family trees.

Norman Cragg Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Norman Crag Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Thomas Grisdale married twenty-three year-old Watermillock-born Dorothy Rakestreye on 25 April 1664 in Matterdale church. Several children soon followed: Ann 1665, Thomas 1667, Jane 1669, Margaret 1673-1673, Solomon 1674, Dorothy 1677, Jonathan 1690, Charles 1682 and Joseph 1685, The parish records give the place of birth of all these children as Borrowscale (with various spellings). But sometime soon after the baptism of Joseph in November 1685 the family moved away. In fact they moved north to live, and probably farm, in Norman Crag in Hutton Roof in the parish of Greystoke. In Norman Crag Thomas and Dorothy had another child who they baptized Samuel in Greystoke church in 1688.

Father Symund Grisdale, said to be “now of Ormand Crag late of Matterdale being about 86 years of age”, was buried in Greystoke on 24 December 1692. A few days later on the 9th of January 1693 (92 in the old calendar), Thomas and Dorothy’s daughter Dorothy was also buried there, she being “the daughter of Thomas Grisedale of Ormand Cragg in Hutton Roof”. Finally on 23 June 1696, Thomas’s wife Dorothy (nee Rakestreye) – “the wife of Thomas Grisedall of Normand Cragg” – was also buried in Greystoke. And that’s the last we hear of the family. Thomas seems to have still been alive in 1696, as were most of his children. Where did they go to next? Before I offer some thoughts on this mystery, let me return to the question of who were the actual ancestors of certain Matterdale Grisdale lines if they weren’t Thomas and Dorothy.

In the case of daughter Dorothy (born 1677), she clearly died at the age of 15 in 1693 in Hutton Roof. This definitively excludes her from being the Dorothy who married Lancelot Dawson in Matterdale in 1712. We know in fact that this Dorothy died in Matterdale in January 1775 said to have been “aged 85”, implying a birth in about 1692 – I would suggest in Watermillock.

Turning to Dorothy and Thomas’s other children. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of them ever returned to Matterdale. Those people who see Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale as being their ancestors do so, I believe, because they see son Joseph born in 1685 as being the only Joseph who could have married Jane Martin in Matterdale in November 1709. One person makes such a conjecture and others simply copy it. But there is another Joseph Grisdale who I believe is the person who married Jane Martin and from this couple countless Grisdale families descend, including many of those about whom I have written stories here. The Joseph who married Jane Martin was in all likelihood born the son of another Thomas Grisdale in Ulcatrow in 1687. Now the farm at Ulcatrow is geographically in Matterdale itself but lies within the parish of Watermillock, and that is where Joseph’s baptism took place and was recorded.

But again, what therefore became of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale’s children, and for that matter Thomas himself? After years of finding no traces, I believe that I have found one pretty conclusively and another one quite probably.

Son Solomon (born in 1674 at Borrowscale) resurfaces in, of all places, Dublin in Ireland. In 1701 we find a Solomon Grisdale working as a mathematics teacher in Fishamble Street in Dublin.

John Whalley was a notorious quack and astrologer, who flourished in Dublin in the latter part of the 17th century. ‘He learned the trade of shoemaking; but found the compiling of prophetic almanacks, compounding quack medicines, and practising necromancy more profitable employments.’ In the English edition of Ptolemy’s astrological treatise, the Quadripartitum, Whalley recommended Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill “masters of the mathematical school next door to the post office in Fishamble Street, Dublin”.

In A history of the City of Dublin by J. T. Gilbert published in 1854-59, we can also read: “Next to the Post office was a mathematical school kept in 1701 by Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill.”

There can be little or no doubt that this Solomon Grisdale teaching mathematics in Dublin in 1701 was the son of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale of Matterdale and, later, of Hutton Roof. Simply and literally there is no other Solomon it could be. How and when Solomon moved to Dublin, where and how he had gained a mathematical education, and whether he moved to Dublin alone or with some of his family remain mysteries.

Next we find three baptisms in Church of Ireland (COI, i.e. Protestant) churchs in Dublin: Mary  Grisdell baptized in 1696 in St. Michan’s COI church in 1696, the daughter of Thomas and Mary; then Hannah Greisdel, baptized in St. Mary’s (COI) in 1698, daughter of Thomas and Mary; then John Grasdell, also baptized in St. Mary’s in 1701, son of Thomas and Mary. Could this Thomas be the son of Thomas and Dorothy?

Then we find various interesting entries in the registers of the protestant church of St. Peter and St. Kevin in Dublin starting with the burial in December 1735 of an Ann Grisdell. But then we also see burials for various Grizells, Grissialls and Grisells with addresses all close to the church and indeed close to Fishamble Street: Mr Grisell from Lazy Hill (now Townsend Street) in 1713, Mrs Grisell of Brides Street in 1710, a child of Mr Grisell of Kevin Street in 1700, Cathren Grissial in 1745, John Grizell in 1733 and Thomas Grisell in 1734.

There are even more people called Grisell/Grizell in Dublin at this time (and it is interesting to note not later and not earlier): Joseph Grisell was buried in St Audeon’s (COI) in 1704, Ann Grizell was baptized in St Mark’s COI in 1736, the daughter of Alexander and Brackney. Ann Maria Grizell of Lazer’s Hill (the same place as Lazy Hill) was also baptized in St. Mark’s in 1738, the daughter of William and Mary. This William and Mary Grizell of Lazer’s Hill had three more children baptized in Dublin: William Grizell in 1742 at St. Mark’s, Ann in 1746 in Fleet Street church and Catherine in 1748 in St. Mark’s.

Could these various people called Grizell/Grisell be related to Dublin Solomon and Thomas Grisdale or even Ann Grisdell who died in 1735? It’s an avenue I think worth exploring.

It’s an ongoing research.

It is perhaps not a well known fact that between one-half and two-thirds of white immigrants to the American colonies between the 1630s and the American Revolution had come under indentures. Indentured servitude was a form of debt bondage, established in the early years of the American colonies and elsewhere, including in the Caribbean. It was in many ways a form of voluntary or involuntary slavery. The belief that most early American immigrants were akin to the Pilgrim Fathers is a myth. One Cumberland man who sold himself into such bondage to the planters of Jamaica was Joseph Grisdell.

A half million Europeans went as indentured servants to the Caribbean before 1840.

Most were young men, with dreams of owning their land or striking it rich quick would essentially sell years of their labor in exchange for passage to the islands. However, forceful indenture also provided part of the servants: contemporaries report that youngsters were sometimes tricked into servitude in order to be exploited in the colonies. The landowners on the islands would pay for a servant’s passage and then provide them with food, clothes, shelter and instruction during the agreed upon term. The servant would then be required to work in the landowner’s (master) field for a term of bondage (usually four to seven years). During this term of bondage the servant had a status similar to a son of the master. For example they were not allowed to marry without the master’s permission. They could own personal property. They could also complain to a local magistrate about mistreatment that exceeded community norms. However, his contract could be sold or given away by his master. After the servant’s term was complete he became independent and was paid “freedom dues”. These payments could take the form of land which would give the servant the opportunity to become an independent farmer or a free laborer. As free men with little money they became a political force that stood in opposition to the rich planters.

White Indentured Servants in America

White Indentured Servants in America

But indentured servants were exploited as cheap labour and could be severely maltreated. ‘The seventeenth-century French buccaneer Alexander Exquemelin reported malnourishment and deadly beatings by the servants’ masters and generally harsher treatment and labour than that of their slaves on the island of Hispaniola. The reason being that working the servants excessively spared the masters’ slaves, which were held as perpetual property as opposed to the temporary services of servants.’

The Caribbean landowners’ reputation as cruel masters became a deterrence to the potential indentured servant. In the 17th century, the islands became known as death traps, as between 33 to 50 percent of indentured servants died before they were freed, many from yellow fever, malaria and other diseases.

But this reputation didn’t deter Joseph Grisdell. On 16 October 1736 Joseph signed a four year indenture bond with the London ‘chapman’ William Burge to serve in Jamaica, no doubt on a sugar or tobacco plantation. It must be said he must have been desperate.

Joseph gave his age as 19, his occupation as ‘sawyer’, and his place of residence as Blackhill in Cumberland. He said that his mother lived in Dublin.

The fact that Joseph gave his origin as Cumberland strongly suggests that his name was in fact Grisdale. Grisdell was not an unusual spelling of the name, particularly when people moved away. As far as I can tell the ‘Blackhill’ in Cumberland most likely refers to a small village two miles south of Carlisle, variously called Blackhill, Blackhell, Blackhall or Blackwell, the name deriving from the black heathy district, being part of the Inglewood forest.

Under the terms of these Agreements, the “Master” would provide the “Servant” with his passage to Jamaica, clothes, food and drink, washing, lodging, and a small annual salary, and the “Servant” would agree to serve in Jamaica for a certain number of years, in Joseph’s case four. One such agreement made in 1739 by Patrick Burke of Dublin reads as follows:

London, the 30th Day of June
One Thousand, Seven Hundred and 1739

Be it remember’d that Patrick Burke of Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland Bookkeeper his Father and Mother being dead, did by Indenture bearing like Date herewith, agree to serve Joseph Whilton of London Chapman, or his assigns four years in Jamaica In the Employment of a Bookkeeper at 30 li [i.e. £30] per annum Current Money of Jamaica and did declare himself to be then of the Age of Eighteen Years, a single Person, no Apprentice, nor Covenant or Contracted Servant to any other Person or Persons. And the said Master did thereby Covenant at his own Cost, to send his said Servant to the said Plantation; and at the like Costs to find him all necessary [crossed out - Clothes] Meat, Drink, Washing, and Lodging as other Servants in such Cases are usually provided for, and allowed, excepted provided he understands the business of a Bookkeeper.

Patrick Burke
Allow’d the 28th of July 1739
before me Micajah Perry, Mayor
[then Lord Mayor of London]

indentured servant advertisement

indentured servant advertisement

Now a ‘chapman’ like Joseph Whilton in Patrick Burke’s case or William Burge in Joseph Grisdell’s case was a buyer or merchant. They entered into indentures with multiple poor English and Irish people, shipped them to America or the Caribbean and there sold them on to the planters. When the ship arrived, the captain would often advertise in a newspaper that indentured servants were for sale. One example of such an advert in America read:

Just imported, on board the Snow Sally, Captain Stephen Jones, Master, from England, A number of healthy, stout English and Welsh Servants and Redemptioners, and a few Palatines [Germans], amongst whom are the following tradesmen, viz. Blacksmiths, watch-makers, coppersmiths, taylors, shoemakers, ship-carpenters and caulkers, weavers, cabinet-makers, ship-joiners, nailers, engravers, copperplate printers, plasterers, bricklayers, sawyers and painters. Also schoolmasters, clerks and book-keepers, farmers and labourers, and some lively smart boys, fit for various other employments, whose times are to be disposed of. Enquire of the Captain on board the vessel, off Walnut-street wharff, or of MEASE and CALDWELL.

This was the fate awaiting Joseph when he arrived in Jamaica. Whether Joseph died in Jamaica or ever returned home is unknown. But what Grisdale family of Cumberland did he come from and what was the Dublin connection? There was a Dublin connection with the Matterdale Grisdales at this time, a subject to which I will return.

Patrick Burke's Jamaican Indenture, 1739

Patrick Burke’s Jamaican Indenture, 1739

“A mighty meeting there was and is to this day, near Sedbergh, which I gathered in the name of Jesus.”

George Fox, in his journal

In England the seventeenth century has often been called the Century of Dissent. Many poor and oppressed people, and even some not so poor and oppressed, started to reject the authority and brutality of the church and crown. Some Puritans left for Holland and from there made their way to America – the Pilgrim Fathers. But many dissenters remained. Eventually this discontent led to the English Revolution and the execution of King Charles the First, and the advent of the Levellers and Diggers. But this was also the background to the rise of the Society of Friends, the Quakers. If any one man can be called the founder of the Quakers it was George Fox, who one day in 1652 arrived in Brigflatts near Sedbergh in Cumbria.

While travelling through the northern Dales making contact with and preaching to fellow Friends and Seekers, George Fox had arrived at Pendle Hill in Lancashire:

As we travelled we came near a very great hill, called Pendle-Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top.

This George did ‘with difficulty’ because the hill was ‘very steep and high’.

From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in which places he had a great people to be gathered.

George Fox Preaching in a Tavern circa 1650

George Fox Preaching in a Tavern circa 1650

In a local inn that night Fox wrote a ‘paper to the priests and professors’ declaring ‘the day of the Lord…’. It was after this, he later wrote, ‘that the Lord opened unto me, and let me see a great people in white raiment by a river side, coming to the Lord, and the place I saw them in was about Wensleydale and Sedbergh’. So that is where George now headed.

Having preached in Wensleydale, Fox wrote that he ‘went also through Grisdale, and several others of those Dales, in which some were convinced’. From here he was directed to find Richard Robinson, one of the leaders of the group who lived at Brigflatts near Sedbergh: ‘He passed through a village of flax-weavers whose settlements lay in the low flatts that bordered the rushing river Rawthey a mile or two outside of Sedbergh Town.’ Fox wrote:

So when I came to Richard Robinson’s I declared the Everlasting Truth to him, and yet a dark jealousy rose up in him after I had gone to bed, that I might be somebody that was come to rob his house, and he locked all his doors fast. And the next day I went to a separate meeting at Justice Benson’s where the people generally was convinced, and this was the place that I had seen a people coming forth in white raiment; and a mighty meeting there was and is to this day near Sedbergh which I gathered in the name of Jesus.

‘This identifies Brigflatts as the place in the vision – the riverside refers to the Rawthey which flows past the end of Brigflatts Lane and the reference to “people in white raiment” could be a reference to the large community of Flax Weavers, living in the lane at the time, who were making white linen.’

Later that week Fox goes on to preach in the churchyard of Sedbergh church and then on to the great open-air meeting on Firbank Fell which is now usually identified as the start of the Quaker movement. The crag upon which Fox preached is now known as Fox’s Pulpit and is a popular destination for those tracing the origins of the Society.

Many Quakers see the meeting and sermon on Firbank Fell as the real start of the future success of the movement. At ‘Fox’s Pulpit’ there is still an inscription that reads:


Brigflatts Friends Meeting House

Brigflatts Friends Meeting House

‘A permanent Meeting was settled by Fox at Brigflatts later in 1652 and has continued uninterrupted until this day. The Meeting House was built 23 years later and in 1677 Fox returned here with his wife Margaret and her daughter. He records that about 500 were present at that Meeting and “a very good Meeting it was”’.

Among the large crowd of Seekers and Friends on that day at Firbank in 1652, it is most likely that there were one or more members of the Sedbergh ‘Grysdale’ family who I discussed in an earlier article (see here).

That article was concerned with where this Grisdale family might have originated, but whatever the truth, they were well established in Sedbergh by the time George Fox preached at Firbank. Margaret, the wife of John Grysdale, died in 1818 at Firbank, and thus it seems likely that John was actually one of the Flax weavers living in and around Brigflatts, one of the people in ‘white raiment’.

John’s putative sons Richard and Edward Grysdale were having children in the 1610s and 1620s in Sedbergh and were quite possibly still alive in 1652, as without doubt were their children. Both Edward and Richard had only one son each, both were called John. We know that one of these Johns stayed in Sedbergh and was a Quaker. There are two references in Quaker records to his death in 1696. He was said to be of Settlebeck (in Sedbergh) and was buried in the cemetery of the Brigflatts Friends Meeting house which had been built in 1674.

Although the Conventicle Act of 1670 – which forbade non-conformist meetings – was still in force, in 1674 the Friends of this area decided to build a Meeting House and purchased a piece of ground at Brigflatts from John Dawson for ten shillings (50p). The building is very much in the style of local farmhouses of that period, practical, simple and undecorated. It was built without an architect by and for the people who would use it. Materials were provided by Friends who had them, labour provided by everyone else. Unusually for the time the building was roofed with some 40 tons of local flags – thatch being the more usual material for buildings of this size at the time. Perhaps the builders were making a statement about the permanency of their creation. Originally the building had just an earth floor and was heated by an open fire at the west end of the building. An open loft existed at the first floor level at the west end reached by a ladder.

Inside of Brigflatts Meeting House

Inside of Brigflatts Meeting House

The meeting house is still in use today.

Brigflatts, near Sedbergh, Cumbria, is one of the most famous Quaker meeting houses, known and loved by Friends all over the world. Far beyond the boundaries of the Society, it is acknowledged for all the simplicity of its lime-washed stone walls and interior woodwork — panelling, columns and balustrading — as one of England’s vernacular gems. For many, the peace and tranquillity of the Meeting House at Brigflatts leave a lasting impression. Three-and-a-quarter centuries after George Fox first visited the hamlet of Brigflatts; it is still the home of a Friends’ Meeting. It receives more than 2,000 visitors a year from all over the world, many coming to explore the “1652 Country”, the birthplace of Quakerism. Visiting groups and individuals regularly join local Friends in worship on Sunday mornings.

Brigflatts Cemetery

Brigflatts Cemetery

So good Quaker John Grysdale of Sedbergh had made his dissent against social and religious oppression and persecution. Was he perhaps involved in 1660 ‘when five hundred Friends, many from the Sedbergh district, were imprisoned for such offenses as non-attendance of church and non-payment of church dues’? ‘Some died in prison, while others had their belongings confiscated.’ It’s a pity that by the time John died in 1696 the good work of the English Revolution had been undone and the hateful kings were back. The Quakers of course went on to achieve many wonderful things in England and America, particularly in William Penn’s Pennsylvania.

This is the end of this little story. I hope one day to know more about the Grysdale Quakers of Sedbergh. However, for those interested, in A Book of Quaker Saints, Lucy Violet Hodgkin tells us a little more about these ‘People in White Raiment’ as later Quaker hagiography viewed them:

These flax-weavers of Brigflatts were a company of ‘Seekers,’ unsatisfied souls who had strayed away like lost sheep from all the sects and Churches, and were longing for a spiritual Shepherd to come and find them again and bring them home to the fold.

George Fox was a weaver’s son himself. Directly he heard it, the whirr of the looms beside the rushing Rawthey must have been a homelike sound in his ears. But more than that, his spirit was immediately at home among the little colony of weavers of snowy linen; for he recognised at once that these were the riverside people ‘in white raiment,’ whom he had seen in his vision, and to whom he had been sent.

Not only the flax-weavers, but also some of the ‘considerable people’ of the neighbourhood accepted the message of the wandering preacher, who came to them over the dales that memorable Whitsuntide. The master of the house where the meeting was held, Colonel Gervase Benson himself, and his good wife Dorothy also, were ‘convinced of Truth,’ and faithfully did they adhere thereafter to their new faith, through fair weather and foul. In later years, men noted that this same Colonel Benson, following his teacher’s love of simplicity, and hatred of high-sounding titles, generally styled himself merely a ‘husbandman,’ notwithstanding ‘the height and glory of the world that he had a great share of,’ seeing that ‘he had been a Colonel, a Justice of the Peace, Mayor of Kendal, and Commissary in the Archdeaconry of Richmond before the late domestic wars. Yet, as an humble servant of Christ, he downed those things.’ His wife, Mistress Dorothy, also, was to prove herself a faithful friend to her teacher in after years, when his turn, and her turn too, came to suffer for ‘Truth’s sake…..’

But in these opening summer days of 1652, no shadows fell on the sunrise of enthusiasm and of hope, as, in the good Justice’s house beside the rushing Rawthey, the gathering of the ‘great people’ began.

This was the Truth that had grown dusty and neglected in England in this seventeenth century. The ‘still, small Voice’ had been drowned in the clash of arms and in the almost worse clamour of a thousand different sects. Now that, after his own long search in loneliness and darkness, George Fox had at length found the Voice speaking to him unmistakably in the depths of his own heart, the whole object of his life was to persuade others to listen also to ‘the true Teacher that is within,’ and to convince them that He was always waiting to speak not only in their hearts, but also through their lives. ‘My message unto them from the Lord was,’ he says, ‘that they should all come together again and wait to feel the Lord’s power and spirit in themselves, to gather them together to Christ, that they might be taught of Him who says “Learn of Me.”‘

This was the Truth—an actual, living Truth—that not only the flax-weavers of Brigflatts, but many other companies of ‘Seekers’ scattered through the dales of Yorkshire and Westmorland, as well as in many other places, had been longing to hear proclaimed. ‘Thirsty Souls that hunger’ was one of the names by which they called themselves. It was to these thirsty, hungering Souls that George Fox had been led at the very moment when he was burning to share with others the vision of the ‘wide horizons of the future’ that had been unfolded to him on the top of old Pendle Hill.

No wonder that the Seekers welcomed him and flocked round him, drinking in his words as if their thirsty souls could never have enough. No wonder that he welcomed them with equal gladness, rejoicing not only in their joy, but yet more in that he saw his vision’s fulfilment beginning. Here in these secluded villages he had been led unmistakably to the ‘Great People,’ whom he had seen afar off, waiting to be gathered.

Within a fortnight from that assembly on Whit-Sunday at Justice Benson’s house George Fox was no longer a solitary, wandering teacher, trying to convince scattered people here and there of the Truths he had discovered. Within a fortnight—a wonderful fortnight truly—he had become the leader of a mighty movement that gathered adherents and grew of itself, spreading with an irresistible impulse until, only a few years later, one Englishman out of every ninety was a member of the SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.

George Fox - Quaker Founder

George Fox – Quaker Founder

When I started writing these family history stories I stated that the vast majority of people with the name Grisdale or Grisedale, wherever they might be in the world, could find their roots in Matterdale, indeed probably in Dowthwaite Head. However I also said that a few people might trace their origins to the other ‘Grisedale’ in the far west of the Yorkshire Dales, near the border with Cumberland. But is this true? Did any Grisdale/Grisdale family ever really originate in this Grisedale? I think perhaps not.

Grisedale Yorkshire

Grisedale Yorkshire

As I have discussed previously, Grisdale is a place name and it is beyond doubt the case that the Matterdale Grisdales had originally moved to Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale from a Grisdale in Cumberland, probably in the fifteenth century if not earlier. This Grisdale was most likely (Mun)grisdale rather than the Grisdale/Grisedale running down to Ullswater (see here). The third place in Cumberland of the same name is Grisedale Pike near Keswick, but this never was a settlement.

And then there is the Yorkshire Grisedale, often spelt historically without the E. It’s a tiny side valley of the small Garsdale and is situated a couple of miles from the town of Sedbergh – which is now in Cumbria but was historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Grisedale really is a miniscule place. In 1975 a Yorkshire Television producer called Barry Cockcroft made a documentary about Grisedale which caused quite a stir. It was called The Dale that Died. ‘The film focused on a 61-year-old former miner, Joe Gibson, who had begun a new life as a sheep farmer in Grisedale. This remote Yorkshire valley had once been the home to 14 families. But when the film-makers arrived Joe, with the help of his wife and son, was the only farmer still living and working in the dale.’ The Yorkshire Post more recently wrote:

Theirs (the people of Grisedale) was a hard life. From this depiction it was easy to see why Grisedale should have “died” with people moving out and leaving houses to become derelict..

Today, entering Grisedale from Garsdale is like stumbling upon a secret, semi-wild place. However, it’s clearly not dead. Some buildings are derelict but many have obvious signs of life. Closer inspection reveals that although not exactly thriving, the story of its death was greatly exaggerated.

Grisedale is a cul-de-sac dale off the Hawes to Sedburgh road bordered by Wild Boar Fell. It’s not the sort of place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. You have to have a reason for going there and that, it seems, is part of its attraction for those who have come to call it home.

But this is all pretty recent history. The question here is whether the valley ever gave its name to people who had moved from there, and that means going back much further. Given that in earlier times people bearing the name of a place, village or town usually got the name because their family had at some remote time come from there, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that there was never anyone called Grisedale/Grisdale who lived in the valley itself.

Sedbergh Church

Sedbergh Church

In the early 1600s, records suggest that there were maybe only a couple of families living in Grisedale. They would go to the church in Sedbergh for baptisms, marriages and burials. The Sedbergh parish registers start in the sixteenth century. In 1618 for example we find Anthony Dawson of ‘Grysdale’ marrying Isabell Bethom. In Sedbergh around the same time we find two Grisdale families, those of Richard and Edward Grysdale. The family name was usually spelt as Grysdale, but we also find Grisdale, Grisedall and Grysedale. At that time most of these rural families were illiterate and the parish priest wrote what he heard. Remember that Shakespeare would even spell the same word three different ways on the same page!

Richard Grysdale married Isabell Makereth in June 1611, but Isabell soon died. With a second wife called Alice Harrison, Richard had twins Agnes and John, who were baptized on 8 July 1616. But Alice herself died following childbirth and was buried a few days after her children were baptized. The family lived in ‘the Mosse’ in Sedbergh, which is most probably present-day The Moss House.

Edward Grysdale and his wife Agnes, who also lived in Sedbergh, had a son John in 1620 and a daughter Margaret in 1623.

Finally there was also a John Grysdale, whose wife Margaret died at Firbank, Sedbergh in 1618.

Two issues arise. First, it seems that the two sons called John eventually moved away from Sedbergh as there is no more mention of them in the records. Second, where had these Grisdales come from? Given the absence of any Grysdales in Sedbergh prior to 1611, it’s pretty clear they come from elsewhere, but, I would suggest, not from nearby Grisedale.

Sedbergh town and church

Sedbergh town and church

It is important here to remark that surnames deriving from places or trades or any other source had almost everywhere stabilized by the fifteenth century. By the time we get to the early 1600s, when we find Grysdales in Sedbergh, anyone who had moved from Grisedale to Sedbergh in recent years would already have had a family name that had become fixed decades, or more likely centuries, before – John (the) Tanner, William (the) Forrester or Richard Stafford. The ancestors of anybody who carried the name Grisdale because they had moved away from ‘Grisedale’ in Yorkshire would have had to have made the move way back in the remote past before names became fixed.

With only two exceptions there is nobody in any historical record called Grisdale (or variants) outside Cumberland in the 1500s, indeed no one outside Matterdale (or nearby locations such as Threlkeld). On the other hand there are a couple of dozen different types of records of sixteenth-century Grisdales in Matterdale, usually found to be living in Dowthwaite Head.

Given all this, it is my conjecture that although the two Sedbergh-born John Grysdales may have married and had children elsewhere, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Grisdale family got their name from this Yorkshire Grisedale.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Now it is quite possible, I would say even probable, that the Sedbergh Grysdales had in fact originated in Matterdale. This can’t be proved so what follows in conjecture. It’s reasonable to assume that Richard and Edward Grisdale of Sedbergh were related, even perhaps brothers. They both named their only sons John, so it could be that their father was a John, maybe the John whose wife Margaret had been buried in Sedbergh in 1618. Note also that Richard Grysdale had named his only daughter Margaret in 1623! Edward, Richard and John were three of the most common names of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the 1500s and into the 1600s and beyond. Among the nine Matterdale militia bowmen who were mustered in Penrith in 1581 there was a John, an Edward and a Richard. A Richard Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head married Janet Grysdell (also of Dowthwaite Head) in 1579. They had a son called John in 1583. The wife of Edward Grysdell ‘junior’ died in 1561 and an Edward Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head had two children in the 1560s. Robert Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1584 had a daughter called Margaret, as well as sons called Edward, John and Christopher. Christopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1597 was said to be the son of Edward Grysdell in his will. And finally there was a John Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1579, and Robert Grysdell mentions his son John in his will of 1584.

So maybe the Richard, Edward and John Grysdale of Sedbergh came from Dowthwaite Head?

I’ll return to the possible fate of the Sedbergh Grisdales another time. All we know for now is that is that Richard’s daughter Agnes died in 1650 in Settlebeck in Sedbergh itself, while Edward’s daughter Margaret married Thomas Harrison in 1662 in Sedbergh and his wife Agnes died in Sedbergh in 1669. Where Richard and Edward and their sons John went remains to be discovered.

Along the Cumberland coast there are several towns that were important ports and mining centres from the seventeenth century onwards: Whitehaven, Maryport, Workington and Harrington. They are all within a few miles of each other. These towns and harbours were literally owned and developed by two powerful families. In the case of Whitehaven, the Lowthers, later Earls of Lonsdale. In the case of Workington and Harrington, the Curwens. Both families developed deep coal mines that ran out for miles under the sea. The ports were initially developed to transport their coal to Ireland but later developed and traded throughout the world. Our concern here is with a Grisdale family living in Harrington in the first half of the 1700s. 

Workington Hall - Seat of the Curwens

Workington Hall – Seat of the Curwens

To understand what this family might have been doing in Harrington at this time and what might have brought them there, we need to understand slightly more about the town, actually the village, itself.  ‘The manor was held of the fee of Workington by the Harrington (or ‘Haverington’) family in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It descended by marriage to Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk, executed 1554.  In 1556/7 the Crown granted Harrington to Henry Curwen of Workington; thereafter it descended with Workington.’ Coal mining in West Cumbria dates back to the 13th Century when the monks from St Bees Abbey supervised the opening of coal mines at Arrowthwaite. By 1688 there was at least one coal mine in Harrington Park ‘valued at £100 per year’ and also a salt pan at Lowca. It wasn’t until 1760 that Henry Curwen built a quay at Harrington on the south side of the River Wyre. Coal and limestone were soon being exported to Ireland from Harrington, and the increase in this trade led to the development of a local shipbuilding industry.

 At that time (1760) there were no houses in the area and no ships were recorded as belonging to Harrington. But by 1794 there were around 60 ships. The main cargoes were coal being shipped to Ireland from Curwen’s mines nearby, as well as lime from Distington to Scotland.

Harrington Harbour

Harrington Harbour

The Grisdales of Harrington were established there before the quay was built and thus, in all likelihood, they worked either in the early Curwen coal mines or possibly in the salt pan.

Henry ‘Grisedell’ was born in the nearby inland town of Wigton in 1668, the son of Alexander Grisedell and Katherine Yoward. Over the years the family name was recorded using all conceivable variants: Grisdale, Grisdell, Grisedell, Grizdale, Griesdale and Grizedale. I’ll use the more usual Grisdale. It appears that Henry married Ann Harrison in Skelton, Cumberland in 1688, but then, sometime before 1710, Henry moved to Harrington. His daughter Jane was baptized there in that year, followed by John in 1712,  Henry in 1713, Abraham in 1715, Sarah in 1722 and Isaac in  1723. All these children were baptized in St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Harrington, although names such as Abraham and Isaac might hint that there were non-conformist tendencies.

What became of these children? Abraham seems to disappear. Did he become a seamen and die somewhere unrecorded, or did he become a miner? I don’t know.

It seems that Isaac (baptized in 1723 but possibly born before) married Ellenor Sen in 1740, down the coast in Gosforth, Cumberland and had a child called Sarah in 1742 in St Bees.

Jane(1711) had an illegitimate son called Anthony in Arlecdon (Whitehaven) in 1745.

John (1712) married, because he had a son called Henry in nearby St Bees in 1740 and another named Anthony in 1744. This Henry married Elizabeth Hope in Whitehaven in 1761, although a daughter called Sarah had been born the year before, also in Whitehaven. More children followed: John 1767, Elizabeth 1772, Jane 1774, Henry 1777 and William 1779, all born and baptized in Whitehaven. I might return to the fate of these children at a later date. Did William become a Captain in the Muscovy Company or was that someone else? (see here).

Cumberland in 1720

Cumberland in 1720