In an earlier article I wrote about a Solomon Grisdale who became Curate of the tiny and poor Durham country parish of Kirk Merrington. I told the story of his ‘Cow’. At that time I still didn’t know from which Grisdale family he came. I now do. Also a correspondent has helped with more details of his life. So this is a slightly longer and more detailed story of Curate Solomon Grisdale’s life.

Solomon Grisdale was born in Patterdale, Westmorland in 1764. He was christened as ‘son of Solomon Grisdale’ on 26 May 1764. Solomon senior was the son of Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Dockray in Matterdale; he married Ann Bewsher at Barton (the principle church for Patterdale) in 1747. They lived initially in Patterdale and had the following children christened there: Joseph 1749 (christened in Barton Church), Ann 1749, Elizabeth 1754, John 1756, Jane 1759, Agnes 1762 and then Solomon in 1764. They subsequently moved to Swinside in Matterdale. Solomon senior died there in 1799 aged 82. In his Will he referred to his surviving children, Ann, the wife of Daniel Thwaites , Joseph, Jane, the wife of Thomas Graves, Agnes and Solomon, who he refers to as a ‘clerk’.

Rose Castle, Palace of the Bishops of Carlisle

Rose Castle, Palace of the Bishops of Carlisle

Although Solomon seems to have been in for a troubled life, things started out quite well. His ‘patron’ was his educated relative, the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who would become the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle. But in 1787 Browne was the Rector of Bowness, and Solomon was ordained Deacon and made Browne’s Assistant Curate on 22 July. The ordination took place in Rose Castle, the salubrious palace of the Bishops of Carlisle. A year later in the same place Solomon was appointed ‘priest’ and curate of Burgh by Sands. He was described as a ‘lit’, which is: ‘The common abbreviation for ‘literate’ or ‘literatus’. Its use indicates that a clergyman did not possess a degree, but that he was judged by the bishop to possess sufficient learning to qualify for ordination.’ Solomon was still curate of Burgh in 1790. Sometime over the next few years he moved to Durham. Why had he changed Dioceses?

Kirk Merrington Church, County Durham

Kirk Merrington Church, County Durham

Solomon married a Mary Earl in Lamesley in County Durham on 16 June 1803. The couple had at least four children: Mary (1803), Joseph (1805), Jonathan (1807) and Ann (1809), all in Merrington, Durham. He was consecrated curate of Kirk Merrington in 1814, having probably already been schoolmaster. Referring to the marriage in Lamesley, my correspondent says, ‘Lamesley does not appear to have any connection to the families at this point. At this time, Solomon was already curate at Merrington so one may wonder why the marriage was not held in his parish. When we consider the date – 16 June 1803 and the date of daughter Mary’s birth – 20 Dec 1803, we may have an answer. Solomon had previously been curate of Rothbury in Northumberland and when I looked at the parish records to check the dates, I came across his predecessor’s burial. Jonathan Earl buried Jan 1801 aged 45. I believe he was Mary’s half brother…  This could be how Solomon and Mary met. Perhaps Mary was housekeeper for Jonathan and stayed on.’

And then there is the story of Solomon’s cow:

Solomon Grisdale, Curate of Merrington, who was very poor, and had a numerous family, lost his only cow. Mr. Surtees determined to raise a subscription for another cow; and waited on the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (the late Earl Cornwallis), then Dean of Durham, and owner of the Great Tithes of Merrington, to ask what he would give? “Give,” said his Lordship, “why a cow to be sure. Go, Mr. Surtees, to Woodifield, my steward, and tell him to give you as much money as will buy the best cow you can find.” Mr. Surtees, who had not expected above a five-pound note, at most, exclaimed, “My Lord, I hope you’’ ride to Heaven upon the back of that cow!” Awhile afterwards he was saluted in the College, by the late Lord Barrington, with – “Surtees, what is the absurd speech that I hear you have been making to the Dean?” “I see nothing absurd in it,” was the reply: “when the Dean rides to Heaven on the back of that cow, many of you Prebendaries will be glad to lay hold of her tail.”

I hope he got the new cow!

Robert Surtees (1779 – 1834) was a historian and antiquary who wrote The History and Antiquities of the county Palatine of Durham (1816). His memoirs were later published in 1852, from which I derive this tale.

Bishop James Cornwallis

One interesting little connection is that Bishop James Cornwallis, who offered to buy Grisdale a replacement cow, was the brother of the Earl Charles Cornwallis who had been the commander of the British forces at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, and who was accompanied there by his friend the Rev Benjamin Grisdale, a distant relative of our poor Solomon, and the brother of the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale I mentioned before.

Just before Solomon’s death in 1818, Merrington was visited by representatives of the Select Committee for the Education of the Poor, where they found “five schools in which 104 children are educated”. One of the schoolmasters (and the curate) was Solomon and he told the visitors that “a considerable part of the poorer class are without the means of education and are desirous of possessing them”.

There is quite a story regarding his death. I thank a correspondent for providing this information. The History of the Urban District of Spennymoor by James J Dodd (1897) stated:

Solomon Grisedale appears to have been pursued by his unfortunate destiny right up to the end of his days. He finished by committing suicide, and the stains of his blood can still be discerned on the floor of the old vicarage at Merrington.

It does look as if the Church ‘closed ranks’ and attempted some type of cover up. I’ll leave that for another time.

Solomon it seems was a ‘very poor’ but good man, although obviously troubled. But he can’t have been that poor because his son Joseph fared somewhat better; he was able to study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (which doesn’t come cheap), and became both a clergyman (curate of Wattlefield) and headmaster of King Edward’s Free Grammar School in Wymondham, Norfolk. He died aged 88 in 1893.

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Comments
  1. Norma Sadler says:

    I read with interest your section on the Priestly Grisdales. I think I can explain why Soloman moved to the Rothbury area of Northumberland. Contact me if you are interested.

  2. Mike Warnes says:

    I am a descendant of Solomon’s and would be very interested to know why Solomon went to Rothbury. Would it be possible for you to put me in touch with Norma.

    On a related issue I have recently had an Ancestry DNA test. One of the many people assessed to be a 5th – 8th cousin identifies, I believe robustly, his ancestors to be Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin. This clearly supports your belief that Solomon is also a descendent of Joseph and Jane.

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