‘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:

vauxgdn

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.

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Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel where Thomas Grisdale was baptized

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

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

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

Weald_Hall

Weald Hall, Brentwood

 

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

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

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

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

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

View over Ullswater from Knotts Watermillock

View over Ullswater from Knotts Watermillock

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

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

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

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

British Dragoons

British Dragoons

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

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

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

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

Shap Beck and Thrimby 1839

Shap Beck and Thrimby 1839

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

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

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

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

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

Knipe Scar

Knipe Scar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fort McHenry 1814

Fort McHenry 1814

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

American gunboat Alligator

American gunboat Alligator

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

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

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

Battle of Lake Borgne

Battle of Lake Borgne

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

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

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrock Wood Farm

Horrock/Hurrock Wood Farm

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

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

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

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

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

Mardale

Mardale

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

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

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

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

King+John

King John

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all tosh but a great story nonetheless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1835 the last service was held in Mardale Church.

Last service at Mardale 1935

Last service at Mardale 1935

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of Mardale

There was a King Across the Water,

And a King down by the sea,

And a King upon an island,

Who King shall always be,

But the King of the fells

Lives only in memory,

 

Now Mardale valley is a lake

An Avalon with no Hand Above the Water,

No sword, no Lady Fairies Daughter,

Reaching from the reservoir

Just a lonely old church tower,

Monument to the last King’s power

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

Bobbins

Bobbins

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

Bobbin Mill

Bobbin Mill

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

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

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

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

Reginald’s Newspaper 26 June 1853.

Narrow Escape of the Manchester Bonded Warehouses –

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

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

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

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

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

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

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

Spirit barrels afire

Spirit barrels afire

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

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