Many of the Matterdale Grisdales became priests. I’ve written about a few already, notably the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale school; John Grisdale, who was curate of Troutbeck in Westmorland; Solomon Grisdale who died in mysterious circumstances; and Benjamin Grisdale who was with his friend General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, when the Americans finally won their independence. There are many more. At the upper end of the scale was the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who became the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. Then there was another Solomon who was curate of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire for many years, also Richard Grisdale the curate of Crook in Westmorland, and even Joseph Grisdale, the son of the first Solomon already mentioned, who became the schoolmaster and vicar of Wymondham in Norfolk. This is not an exhaustive list. But what about closer to home in Matterdale itself?
Here I’d like to tell just a little about the life of the curates of Matterdale church, particularly in the seventeenth century following the very unfortunate ‘restoration’ of King Charles the Second. At this time and later the curate of Matterdale Church was Thomas Grisdale. He was the incumbent for fifty-two years, from 1666 until his death in 1718. What was the life of these curates like? What type of men were they? How and by whom were they paid?
The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660
Perhaps it might be good to start with the words of one of England’s greatest historians, Thomas Macaulay. Referring to the seventeenth century, Macauley wrote:
The Anglican priesthood was divided into two sections, which in acquirements, in manners, and in social position, differed widely from each other. One section, trained for cities and courts, comprised men familiar with all ancient and modern learning . . . men of address, politeness, and knowledge of the world; men with whom Halifax loved to discuss the interests of empires, and from whom Dryden was not ashamed to own that he had learned to write. The other section . . . was dispersed over the country, and consisted chiefly of persons not at all wealthier, and not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants. . . The clergy [in these rural districts] were regarded as a plebeian class. … A waiting woman was generally considered as the most suitable helpmate for a parson. . . . Not one living in fifty enabled the incumbent to bring up a family comfortably. … It was a white day on which he was admitted into the kitchen of a great house, and regaled by the servants with cold meat and ale. His children were brought up like the children of the neighbouring peasantry. His boys followed the plough, and his girls went out to service.
Among the priestly Grisdales we might include in the first section the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the vicar of rich St. Martins in the Field in London; the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle and even his brother Benjamin Grisdale, a very well connected army chaplain. But all the rest squarely fall into Macaulay’s second segment, certainly including Thomas Grisdale the long-serving curate of Matterdale. They were to be sure ‘not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants’.
Of course there was a lot of blatant class snobbery coming from the landed gentry when they ever mentioned lowly curates like Thomas Grisdale. One story I like was told by W. J. Conybeare in his excellent The Church in the Mountains published in the Edinburgh Review in 1853. Conybeare was concerned with Wales, Cumberland and Westmorland, all poor ‘mountainous’ areas. He says that a ‘gentleman who resides in Westmoreland’ had written:
As a rule the clergy here are of a low order, and rarely associate with the gentry. In our own village, for instance, where the clergyman is not by any means a bad specimen, no servant is kept at his house, and several of his sons have been brought up to handicraft trades. We are very good friends, but he could not visit at my house. . . . His sister was waiting-maid to a friend of ours.
Conybeare adds wryly:
As an illustration of these statements, it may be worthwhile to mention that the writer of these pages, some years ago, when in a boat on one of the Cumberland lakes, observed upon the road which ran along the shore, a man and woman ride by on the same horse, the man in front, the woman behind. “There goes our priest and his wife,” said the boatman. On landing, soon after, the worthy couple were seen making hay together in a small field which the clergyman farmed.
Good on them!
Conybeare mentions another friend he had consulted ‘who was well acquainted with the diocese of Carlisle who estimated ‘the proportion of the hill-clergy in Westmoreland and Cumberland, who are “more or less intoxicated at one time or another, at parties, fairs, or markets “as one-sixth of the whole number.’ Another informant wrote that ‘several of the clergy’ in his neighbourhood were ‘notorious drunkards’.
‘The social position held by the clergy may be inferred from the above statements’, says Conybeare, adding that their status was in fact ‘precisely the same with that assigned to their predecessors by Mr. Macaulay’.
Conybeare goes to great length to explain the social, economic and political causes of this situation as well as to show how the prevailing view was unfair. I will quote just a little of this fine work:
We have said that Mr. Macaulay’s account of the rural Clergy of the reign of Charles II. would apply almost verbatim to the Mountain Clergy of the present century (ed. the nineteenth). We may add that this condition of things originates in the same cause which he assigns for it; namely, the inadequacy of the parochial endowments. But here we must guard against misconception.
Let it not for a moment be supposed that we consider poverty a degradation to the preacher of the Gospel. God forbid that wealth should be necessary to the ministry of a religion which made the poor of this world rich in faith — a religion whose apostles were Galilean fishermen. A clergy may be very ill-endowed, and yet, by a judicious system of organisation and discipline, and by a proper provision for its education, it may command not only the love of the poor, but the respect of the rich. The efficiency of the Scotch establishment during the last century and a half is a decisive proof of this.
But if we have a clergy taken from the poorer classes of society, and left in indigence, without education, without superintendence, without organisation, and without discipline, then it will inevitably become despised and despicable. Not that a priesthood of vulgar paupers is in reality more contemptible than a hierarchy of well-bred Sybarites; for, in the sight of God, Leo X. was perhaps more despicable than Tetzel; but that the cultivated Epicurean will be able to veil his faults under a more decent disguise.
The careless and undevout members of an uneducated peasant clergy will retain the low tastes and coarse vices of the class from which they sprang; and the zealous (who at the best must be a minority) will disgust their more intelligent parishioners by an illiterate fanaticism. These may be followed by the ignorant, but will be ridiculed by the educated; those will be deservedly despised by rich and poor alike.
When men who are appointed by the State to be the religious guides and examples of the people thus forfeit both the respect of the wise and the esteem of the good, the object of their mission is defeated.
I have no idea what type of curate or man Thomas Grisdale was; he was, as I have said, the curate of mountainous Matterdale for fifty-two years, throughout Charles II’s reign and beyond. I do hope he occasionally got on a horse with his wife Elizabeth Grisdale (nee Noble), my own 6th great grandmother, and made a little hay. He may have liked the odd beer or two too.
But although Thomas was in all likelihood looked down on by the local gentry, it seems he was well regarded by his parishioners. Not only was he their curate for fifty-two years but somewhat after his death we find testimony to the fact that the people of Matterdale could and always had chosen their curates and were very happy with them. The testimony in question was written by the ‘inhabitants’ of Matterdale between 1735 and 1747 to Bishop Fleming of Carlisle:
To the Right Reverend Father in God George Lord Bishop of Carlisle the Petition of the Inhabitants of the Chappelrie of Matterdale humbly showeth That the Chappel of Matterdale is now Vacant that when the Revd Mr. Woof left us before he resigned the place some of the Inhabitants of our Chappelry waited on our Rector the Reverend Mr. Law at his house at Graystock and acquainted him that Mr. William Todhunter of Dacre would be very acceptable to us and hoped he would give him his nomination.
He told us he had given his Consent to the Rev. Mr. Rumney’s son Leonard as soon as Mr. Woof had resigned the place. We drew a writing and with one consent subscribed it to certifie him we were agreed to Recomend to his approbation Mr. William Todhunter and requested of him to give his nomination as his Predecessor had always done to the Person we requested and we told him we believ’d we had a Right and that it was our Duty so to do, He Replied if we had any Right he did not want nor would he have it and that your Lordship was the Properest Judge and to you my Lord, we would refer it.
Wherefore my Lord we Begg you would give us leave to lay our case before you as Briefly as we can and that Mr. Grisdale was the Person we requested his nomination which is the antientest we believe that is at Rose Castle will testefie and Mr. Clerk that succeeded him was the Person the Inhabitants requested and Mr. Taylor that succeeded him was the Person we requested his Father yet Living can testefie and Mr. Walker that succeeded him is at this time Mr. Atkinson’s Curate at Kirkby Thore and will testefie he was the man we requested and Mr. Atkinson that succeeded him was the man we chose and his Lordship your Lordship’s predecessor put him in when our Chappel had been long vacant and Mr. Woof was the man the Major part of the Inhabitants subscribed with If the Revd Mr. Law can say this is not the very truth we’ll say no more and with submission, the reason why we should have something to say we think is because we endowed the Chappel with the salrie my Lord our Ancestours raised forty pounds (a great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce) and lent it at two shillings i’th pound and when the Interest of Money lowered that it would not make four pounds a year and when it was in danger of being lost we withdrew the money and agreed to pay two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings and which with our little Glebe and surplice dues is the salary at this day and some or other is and has been all ways willing to accept of it and we hope we may say we have not one man that had any Blemish in his life and conversation and that the service of Almighty God has been performed with as much Decencie and as good Order as in any Chappel in your Lordship’s Diocess, so we desire your Lordship would be pleased to take the matter into Consideration and do sincerely assure you my Lord that your Judgment and determination shall be final and for ever put an end to our onnhappy janglings and we shall still continue to pray.
Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle
The issue involved here was quite simple: the inhabitants of the chapelry of Matterdale had always chosen their own priest, because, as they say, they paid for him. ‘Mr. Grisdale’, i.e. Thomas Grisdale, ‘was the person we requested, his nomination is the antcientes (ancientest) we believe that is at Rose Castle (the residence of the Bishop’s of Carlisle) will testifie.’ They also chose or requested all Thomas Grisdale’s successors until Mr. Woof and say how this can be proved. Their curates had never been imposed on them against their will – until now.
Now the Revd Mr. Law, the rector of Greystoke, Matterdale’s mother church, was going to impose his own choice: Leonard Rumney, the son of a local vicar who was no doubt a friend of Mr. Law. Regarding the parishioners’ right to choose their own curate the Revd Law had replied that even if they had this right ‘he did not want nor would he have it’. He didn’t give a damn; he’d have his own man.
Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.
Returning to the reason the parishioners had this right, they rightly said because their ancestors had endowed the Chappel with forty pounds to pay the curate’s salary, even though this was a ‘great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce’. When this endowment had proved insufficient they had changed to paying yearly ‘two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings’ – there being thirty-six tenements of this value in Matterdale as we shall see.
Regarding the character and performance of the curates the people of Matterdale had chosen from Mr. Grisdale onwards, the Revd. J. Whitseside had this to say in his excellent 1901 article Matterdale Church and School:
We have been accustomed in late years to some severe strictures on the morals and manners of the old dale priests from critics who too hastily assumed that what was true of a few might be asserted of many. It is, therefore, refreshing to have the testimony of the people of Matterdale — “We have not had one man that had any blemish in his life and conversation.” The whole document is most honourable to the dalesmen, testifying both to their sturdy native independence and their willingness to submit to constituted authority in the Church.
I wrote about the origins of Matterdale church in a recent article (see here). What is abundantly clear is that from the very start in about 1566 when the first ‘chapelry of ease’ was allowed in Matterdale and certainly from 1580 when the chapel got full parochial rights i.e. the right to perform weddings, baptisms and burials, the inhabitants of the valley had always had to pay not only for the curate but for the church building as well.
A document that was in the church safe in Matterdale dated 1699 reads as below. Please do note that all the YEs and YTs for ‘the’ and ‘that’ do not mean people actually talked like this. The Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH; contrary to general opinion nobody ever said ‘Ye Olde Tavern’ or the like.
Whereas about ye eight year of Queen Elizabeth (1566) the Inhabitants of Matterdale did petition for having a church att ye said Matterdale which was granted in Bishop Best his time (1561-1570) with a pviso that they should maintain a Currate att it which ye said Inhabitants did pmise and Ingage to doe.
And in order thereto did make up about fforty pounds Church stock amongst them that ye use thereof might goe to ye Currate which was then Lent forth att two shillings the pound or more. But in ye time of King James the First (1603- 1625) when money came to a Lower use the said Inhabitants were forced to take ye said Church stock into their own hands And pay to ye Currate two shillings which hath so continued ever since.
Now we considering that often part of ye said Church stock is lost and we have it to make up again And often times we have much cost and trouble with sueing for yt which is in dainger to be lost And also when a Tenant dyes ye widow and younger children hath it to pay to ye heir forth of ye deceased man’s goodds And therefore we having ye said Church stock in our own hands doe agree and Covenant to lay it upon our own Lands so that every Tenement of eight shillings Rent shall yearly pay to ye Currate two shillings sixpence of Current English money as a known due forth of ye land accordingly, and to ye first Covenent.
And so every one yt hath more or less rent after yt rate and to continue from ansestor to heirs accordingly as is hereafter subscribed …. doe hereby bind ourselves our heires executors successors on our land as wittnesse our hands and sealls In ye eleavent year of ye Reigne of King William ye third over England &c. and in ye year of our Lord God 1699.
This document includes the signatures of thirty-six inhabitants and how much each is paying towards the upkeep of the curate Thomas Grisdale. It is interesting to note that seven of these thirty-six are other members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan.
James the first, another disastrous king
So since King James’ time, the initial forty pound endowment had been replaced by the two shillings and sixpence paid by each of the thirty six eligible tenement holders. And it seems that this was usually done. The Rev. J. Whiteside quotes the former president of the Cumberland and Westmorland antiquarian and archaeological society as saying: ‘The origin of these chapelries requires to be made known: their salaries are charges on the land, but the deeds creating the charges are at this date rarely forthcoming, and in some places the land owners, who are liable to them, are beginning to repudiate the payment on the ground that they are voluntary payments, were abolished with church-rates or other frivolous and shabby pretence.’ ‘‘A repudiation, says Whiteside, ‘which has not taken root in Matterdale’.
In summary, since 1566 or slightly thereafter, the inhabitants of Matterdale had not only paid the ‘priest wage’ as it was known but also chosen him themselves, subject to the approval of both the Rector of Greystoke and the Bishop of Carlisle – that is until the Revd Mr. Law came along.
In the seventeenth century the average rural priest-wage was very low indeed, generally between five and ten pounds per annum. As we have seen, at best Thomas Grisdale’s wage would have been four pounds ten shillings. How did he and his predecessors and followers survive? Here we have to look at what is called the parish ‘Glebe Terrier’ or just ‘Terrier’.
A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier
A glebe terrier is a term specific to the Church of England. It is a document, usually a written survey or inventory, which gives details of glebe, lands and property in the parish owned by the Church of England and held by a clergyman as part of the endowment of his benefice, and which provided the means by which the incumbent (rector, vicar or perpetual curate) could support himself and his church. Typically, glebe would comprise the vicarage or rectory, fields and the church building itself, its contents and its graveyard… “Terrier” is derived from the Latin terra, “earth”.
The glebe terrier would be drawn up at the time of each visitation, an official visit usually by the archdeacon. The Archdeacon would visit each parish annually, and the bishop visited outlying parts of his diocese every few years to maintain ecclesiastical authority and conduct confirmations.
Each church was entitled to a house and glebe. The glebe lands were either cultivated by the clergyman himself, or by tenants to whom he leased the land. In those cases where the parsonage was not well-endowed with glebe, the clergyman’s main source of income would come from the tithes.
In 1704, when Thomas Grisdale was still curate, such a Terrier was made of Matterdale by the Rector of Greystoke, the summary reads:
Imprimis. One dwelling house with a byer and a barn (sixteen yards in length) to be built at the charges of the hamlet, when they fall; the repair onely at the Charge of the Curate. Item, One Close by estimation two Acres: Item, the Chapple yard ; by estimation half an acre. The curate has right of common (and liberty to get peats and turff) both within the liberties of Weathermealock and Matterdale. Every tenement (whereof there are 36 in number) pays 2s 6d except one cottage called Park Gate which pays 2s onely. Total 4I 9s 6d. For every marriage is 1s 6d whereof !s is due to the rector of Graystock and 6d to the Curate.
Notice the thirty-six tenements in Matterdale (of a certain standing and value), the farmer of each one except one having to still pay the 2s 6d each year, thus giving the total of 4l 9s 6d. In addition we see that the curate might earn a bit more from marriages (though twice as much went to the rector) and had rights of common including getting peat and turf to burn in his ‘dwelling house with a byer and a barn’.
A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:
A perfect Terrier of all the Houses Lands Tenements and augmentations and yearly profits belonging to the Curacy of Matterdale in the parish of Graystock in the County of Cumberland and Diocese of Carlisle.
1. A Thatch house Three lengths of Timber containing a Barn & a Byer with about two acres and a half of arable and meadow ground. Valued at about Two pound ten a year. This lays in Matterdale.
2. Two shillings and sixpence a Tenement which comes to Four pounds Ten shillings.
3. One fourth of an estate lying and being at Burton-in- Lonsdale in the parish of Thornton and County of York let at yearly rent of Ten pound. N.B. No Houses.
4. Brunt Sike Estate in the Hamlet of Howgill in the parish of Sedbecg and County of York containing a dwelling House Bam adjoining a Stable and Loft ov’ it with Twenty four acres of arable and Meadow Ground known by the names of Holme Little Close Hills — Gate House Close High Broom & Thoresgill Let at the yearly rent of fourteen pounds.
5. One half of Hause-foot Estate in the parish of Orton County of Westmorland with a Fine House with one half of the Barn Byer and Stables £7 l0s a year.
Given under our Hands this 4. day of June 1776.
William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.
Of course these other rents didn’t go to the curates of Matterdale.
Finally we should mention one other way the curate and his family could survive. The Rev. Whiteside tells us that the Matterdale curates were also entitled to ‘Whittlegate’. What is Whittlegate? In Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, Daniel Scott wrote this in 1899:
The old customs peculiar to Cumberland and Westmorland of “Whittlegate” and “Chapel Wage” have long since passed out of the list of obligations imposed, although the rector of Brougham might still, if he wished, claim whittlegate at Hornby Hall every Sunday. The parsons of the indifferently educated class already alluded to had to be content with correspondingly small stipends, which were eked out by the granting of a certain number of meals in the course of twelve months at each farm or other house above the rank of cottage, with, in some parishes, a suit of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a pair of clogs. Clarke gives the following explanation of the origin of the term: —
“Whittlegate meant two or three weeks’ victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled among themselves; so that the minister could go his course as regularly as the sun, and complete it annually. Few houses having more knives than one or two, the pastor was often obliged to buy his own knife or ‘whittle.’ Sometimes it was bought for him by the chapel wardens. He marched from house to house with his ‘whittle,’ seeking ‘fresh fields and pastures new,’ and as master of the herd, he had the elbow chair at the table head, which was often made of part of a hollow ash tree — a kind of seat then common.
The reader at Wythburn had for his salary three pounds yearly, a hempen sark or shirt, a whittlegate, and a goosegate, or right to depasture a flock of geese on Helvellyn. A story is still (1789) told in Wythburn of a minister who had but two sermons which he preached in turn. The walls of the chapel were at that time unplastered, and the sermons were usually placed in a hole in the wall behind the pulpit. One Sunday, before the service began, some mischievous person pushed the sermons so far into the hole that they could not be got out with the hand. When the time came for the sermon, the priest tried in vain to get them out. He then turned to the congregation, and told them what had happened. He could touch them, he said, with his forefinger, but could not get his thumb in to grasp them; ‘ But, however,’ said he, ‘ I can read you a chapter out of Job that’s worth both of them put together!'”
So this I hope might give just a flavour of the life of the Matterdale curates in the seventeenth century and beyond.