The Rev Robert Grisdale – Founder of Matterdale School

Posted: September 30, 2012 in Cumbria, Genealogy, Grisdale, History

Robert Grisdale was born in 1664 (or possibly in 1667) in Matterdale in Cumberland; I will return to his family connections later. He was the founder of Matterdale School. The Trust deeds of the School were established in 1716 and the School itself opened for business in 1722 was a yearly endowment of £200 provided by Robert. By this time Robert had for many years been a clergyman at the church of Saint Martin in the Fields in London. How did he get there? What was his story? I can’t reconstruct it all, but at least a little of his life can be told.

In those days, as indeed is still the case today, you couldn’t just jump from a simple rural family, as the Matterdale Grisdales were, to the dizzying heights of being a clergyman in one of London’s most illustrious churches. You needed an education and a bit of luck.

Queen’s College Oxford in 1675

Robert entered Queen’s College in Oxford University in 1683, aged supposedly nineteen. In March 1689 he received his BA and by 1692 his MA. He later became a Fellow of the college and received his Doctorate in Divinity. It seems pretty clear that he must have attended the Free Grammar School in the nearby village of Barton in Westmorland. The school had been established by 1649 by Dr. Lancelot Dawes and Dr. Gerard Langbaine  and had many links with Queen’s College, Oxford – Dawes and Langbaine was both born in Barton and had both studied at Queen’s.

Rev Dr William Lancaster

The reason why I think it is pretty certain that Robert attended this school is because of his close association with Dr William Lancaster. William was born in 1650 the son of William Lancaster of Stockbridge in Barton. He had also attended Queen’s College and later on was to become its Provost and Vice Chancellor of the University. But for now the important thing to know is that for some time he was a school master of Barton Free Grammar School – a note in the Barton registers says that in 1669 William Lancaster “schoolmaster” became a Church Warden. A mean competitor was later to jibe that he had once been “a little petty schoolmaster in Westmorland”. Not only that, but when Robert entered Queen’s College in 1683 William Lancaster was teaching there. “In college, he became celebrated as tutor. From the beginning of 1686 till 1 August he was junior bursar, for the next four years he held the post of senior bursar.” Finally, William became Vicar of Saint Martin’s in the Field Church in London in 1692, and low and behold Robert Grisdale became a ‘clerk’  and curate there, a post he held until his death in 1723 (William died in 1717). I think it not unreasonable to summise the Robert was taught by William Lancaster at both Barton School and Oxford University and that it was William who gave him his post at Saint Martin’s in the Field. There are in fact many records in London linking the two men.

Robert married Phoebe King on the 29 October 1697 at Saint Martin’s Church in London. They had four children all born in London and baptised at Robert’s church: Elizabeth (1698) John (1700) Luke King Grisdale (1702), and Robert (1703). It seems that only Elizabeth survived. She gave a collection of theological books to Matterdale School in 1723 and is the only child named by Robert in his will in 1722. It seems she never married, so I think Robert’s line died out.

There is much more information available about Robert but one thing that has remained a mystery to those interested in Matterdale and the Grisdale family is: What is the connection of Robert to the other Grisdales of Matterdale in the seventeenth century? The problem is that there are large gaps in the Matterdale records around the time of his birth. Remember this is the time of the Civil War and the troubles afterwards. So there is absolutely no record of a birth of a Robert Grisdale in or about 1664 in Matterdale or elsewhere. This has led people to conjecture other birth dates and different parents. But I think several things can get us nearer an answer.

First there is Robert’s will. In his will his main concern is with his daughter Elizabeth but he also leaves money to Edward “my brother” and to his sister Mararget Judson and to the children of his sister Mary Judson. Now a Mary Grisdale married John Judson “of Askham” in Matterdale Church in 1699. They went to live in Askham and had several children. Mary died there in 1720. I think this Mary can only be the one baptized in Barton in 1677 – the daughter of  Thomas Grisdale – there is no other Mary Grisdale. Thus I think Robert’s father was a Thomas who had moved temporarily to Barton to be close to his son Robert in the Free School there.

Regarding Margaret Judson, I can find no record of a Margaret Grisdale marrying a Judson (but obviously she did). I think this Margaret was the one baptized in Matterdale in 1667  the daughter of Thomas Grisdale of Troutbeck.

Next there is Edward Grisdale, Robert’s brother. I can find no Edward Grisdale son of Thomas in Matterdale, however he was certainly Robert’s brother because not only is he stated as such in Robert’s will but an Edward Grisdale (of Douthwaite) is noted as being a brother in the 1716 Deed of Trustees of Matterdale School. So Edward remains a bit of a mystery? Although two of his children did move to London and had connections with Saint Martin’s in the Field!

Also added to the list of Matterdale Trustees is the note that William Wilson (Trustee) was the “nephew in law” of Robert. I take this to mean he was the husband of Robert’s niece. Now William Wilson married an Elizabeth Grisdale in 1722 in Matterdale. The only Elizabeth this could be is the one born to a Thomas Grisdale in 1699, again in Matterdale. If this is so it implies that Robert also had a brother called Thomas and if Robert’s father was Thomas as well then the brother Thomas was either born of a father Thomas in 1666 or 1672 (there are two listed in the Parish records). Perhaps Elizabeth’s father Thomas had died before Robert made his will in 1722?

Finally, in support of the idea that Robert’s father was a Thomas Grisdale is the entry in the much later record of Oxford University Alumni:

Robert Grisdale: Son of Thomas, of “Crostormount in Barton,” Westmorland, pp. Queen’s Coll., matric. 23 May, 1683, aged 19; B.A. 22 March, 1688-9, M.A. 1692; of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, clerk; licenced 29 Oct., 1697, to marry Phœbe King of same, spinster.

See London Marriage Licences, ed. Foster.

This clearly states that at the time of his marriage (maybe) Robert’s father was a Thomas. Crostormont is actually Cross Dormant, a farm in Barton! The fact that “Crostormont in Barton” is in quotation marks implies I think copying from Robert’s college entrance records.

But still there is no record of either a Robert or an Edward being born with a father Thomas at about the right date!

One other point is worth mentioning. The entry in the list of Oxford Alumni gives Robert as being 19 when he “matriculated” (i.e. entered) in 1783, implying a date of birth in about 1664. But this seems a bit old given the customs at the time. And in fact in one copy of Robert’s marriage records in 1697 his age is given as 30! This implies a birth year of 1667 not 1664. Maybe the “19” could have been “16”? Of course sometime approximate ages were given but his new wife Phoebe King was said to be 19 (exactly) so maybe Robert was actually 30.

So if Robert’s father was a Thomas as I am tending to believe, then who was his mother? Naming patterns are important. Robert named his only daughter Elizabeth and if he had a brother called Thomas (as I am suggesting) then this Thomas also named a daughter Elizabeth. So was Robert’s mother called Elizabeth?

One possibility is that the Thomas Grisdale who married an Elizabeth Atkinson in 1657 in Matterdale. But then again maybe this couple were the parents of Wilfred Grisdale the Brewer I discussed in an earlier article in this blog?

I would welcome other ideas.

  1. […] a lot about Matterdale; but what about its school? I discussed the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale in an earlier article. He was Matterdale School’s founder and benefactor. Here I’d simply like […]

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