Archive for June, 2013

West Ham United is perhaps the most London of London’s football clubs. So how was it that the chairman of the club at the time of its move to Upton Park in 1904 was a Liverpudlian called Joseph Grisdale? And what did Joseph have in common with the club’s nickname of ‘The Hammers’?

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

Success in families ebbs and flows. Some improve their educational and financial position. Some, through ill luck or indolence, slip down the ladder. This is the story of one man who was on the up: Joseph Grisdale. Through hard work, and quite probably with a bit of luck as well, Joseph rose from his comparatively simple origins in Liverpool’s docklands to become Chairman of West Ham Football Club in London’s East End, before being able to retire in comfort to bucolic Hampshire.

Joseph was born in Liverpool’s docklands in 1857. He was the son of mariner Matthew Grisdale and his wife Sarah Tickle. Matthew was the grandson of another Matthew, a Lake District man who had made a fortune as a corn merchant in the late eighteenth century in the then thriving Cumberland port of Whitehaven. Matthew Senior’s son Thomas became a pawnbroker, first in Dublin and later in Liverpool. He died in Liverpool 1856.

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

Because of the family’s many maritime connections in both Whitehaven and Liverpool, Matthew Junior (i.e. Thomas’s son and Joseph’s father) became a mariner (Thomas’s first Dublin-born son Joseph became a China Tea Clipper Captain and died in Shanghai in 1859). When Matthew married Sarah in 1856, he is listed as a ‘mariner’ and when Joseph was born the next year he gave his occupation as a ‘ship’s steward’. By 1861 Matthew had, at least temporarily, left the sea and was working on land as a ‘labourer’ and living in Plumb Street Court. Ten years later, in 1871, he was an ‘engine driver’. Matthew probably alternated periods at sea with periods on land, because at the time of the births of some of his later children his occupation was once again given as ‘mariner’. It would be nice to know a little more about Matthew’s life, as when his son Joseph married in early 1878 Matthew was said to be a ‘Gentleman’, and when he died later in the same year he left the tidy sum of ‘under’ £3,000 in his will.

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Let us return to the subject of this article, namely Matthew’s son Joseph. Somehow and somewhere both Joseph and (later) his younger brother Lowther were apprenticed as coppersmiths in the shipbuilding industry – probably in Liverpool. Joseph married mariner’s daughter Annie McKenzie in Everton in January 1871 when he was already a coppersmith. His younger brother Lowther would marry Annie’s sister Mary Elizabeth McKenzie in 1888 in London. Sometime after his father’s death, Joseph moved from Liverpool to West Ham in London’s East End. Somehow he had got work as a coppersmith in the massive Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Maybe someone from the yard had come to Liverpool looking for skilled men or perhaps Joseph had heard of the opportunities another way.

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Whatever the case, by 1881 Joseph was living with his wife Annie, daughter Frances and his mother-in-law Catherine McKenzie and her daughter Mary (Lowther’s future wife) at 14 Lennox Street in London’s grim but vibrant East End. Joseph and Annie were to have seven more children in London before Annie died in 1901; Joseph married again the next year. The family had moved to nearby Newman Street by 1891, then by 1901 to Barking Road – all places near Joseph’s workplace. By 1891 Joseph’s brother Lowther and his new family had joined Joseph in London and the two brothers and two sisters lived and worked together.

The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company had been founded in 1837 and by the later 1800s ‘it was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics Magazine in 1861 as “Leviathan Workshops”’

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

During its existence, from its start in 1837 until competition from northern English shipyards forced its eventual closure in 1912, the yard built 144 warships and numerous other vessels. We can perhaps envisage the type of work Joseph had to do as a coppersmith if we think about all the copper pieces, boilers and pipes used in ships and ships’ engines at that time. Among the many ships Joseph undoubtedly helped to build was the HMS Sans Pareil, a 10,470 ton battleship launched in 1887.

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

From the later 1800s the yard’s ‘workforce was very much under the control of the managing director, Arnold Hills. His approach to industrial relations was that of the enlightened patriarch. He did not always agree with his employees, however, and his support for the firm’s right to employ non-union men was deeply unpopular’. There were strikes and Hills was ‘hissed’ by his own workmen as he entered the yard. He decided that better labour relations were needed and ‘in 1892 he put forward a ‘Good Fellowship scheme’ of bonuses on top of standard wage rates. Two years later a working day of eight hours rather than nine was introduced.’ This was at a time when 10 or even 12 hour days were the norm.

As well as promoting shorter working hours and profit-sharing, Hills encouraged his workers to become involved in the company sports and social activities. He spent a lot of time and money on the formation of works clubs of every kind. These included a temperance league, cycling club, cricket club and brass band.

And so we come to football. In 1895, at the instigation of Hills and foreman and referee Dave Taylor, a works’ football team was formed. The Thames Ironworks Gazette announced: ‘Mr. Taylor, who is working in the shipbuilding department, has undertaken to get up a football club for next winter and I learn that quoits and bowls will also be added to the attractions.’

Syd King, one of the first players and later a long-serving manager of West Ham, wrote about the formation of the club:

In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of “hammers” was heard on the banks of Father Thames and the great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Iron Works Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the north country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goal wards. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines and their first principal was to choose their team from men in the works.

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

‘The team played on a strictly amateur basis for 1895 at least, with a team featuring a number of works employees including Thomas Freeman (ships fireman), Walter Parks (clerk), Tom Mundy, Walter Tranter and James Lindsay (all boilermakers), William Chapman, George Sage, and William Chamberlain and apprentice riveter Charlie Dove.’

The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University “Blue”, but changed the following season by adopting the sky blue shirts and white shorts combination worn through 1897 to 1899. In 1899 they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time.

In 1900 Thames Ironworks F.C. was disbanded and was re-launched as West Ham United F.C.

Because of the original “works team” roots and links (still represented upon the club badge), they are still known to this day as ‘the Irons’ or ‘the Hammers’ amongst fans and the media.

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

Joseph Grisdale was probably too old to have played in the works’ team, even if he might have been one of those who Syd King said ‘had chased the big ball in the north country’. But he was no doubt involved in some way because in 1901, when the team was still playing matches at the Memorial Ground in Plaistow, Joseph was made a Director of the club. When West Ham United moved to Upton Park in 1904, Joseph became Chairman of the club, a position he would hold until 1909.

As mentioned, West Ham United F.C. got its name The Hammers due to its origins in shipbuilding. Many of the early players were ‘metal-bashers’, as was Joseph the coppersmith.

Perhaps Joseph was better rewarded for his chairmanship of West Ham than he was for his work in the shipbuilding yard? Whatever the case, he obviously did make a little money as by 1911 he was able to move the family to the slightly leafier London suburb of Woodford Green where he became a self employed ship repairer and an ‘employer’. Perhaps he had been laid off before the demise of the Thames Ironworks yard?

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

It could be that Joseph continued to work as a coppersmith and a ship repairer during the First World War (there was certainly a demand for his skills), but what we know for certain is that sometime before 1921 he had been able to retire with his family to the pretty rural location of Holly Nook in Sarisbury in bucolic Hampshire. Certainly and literally a breath of fresh air! He died there in June 1921 leaving £7,490 in his will.

On a July day in 1807 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was sitting on a raft in the middle of the River Nevan, near Tilsit in Russia, making a treaty with Tsar Alexander 1. It was a meeting that in a roundabout way would have a profound effect on the life of one Cumbrian called William Grisdale.

Napoleon was at the height of his power. The French army had recently defeated the Austrians at Austerlitz and the Russians at Friedland, while Prussia had been occupied. Napoleon was now master of much of continental Europe. Just one irritant remained: the British, who three years before at the Battle of Trafalgar had smashed the French fleet, and that of France’s ally (at the time) Spain. The Royal Navy still ruled the seas, though the French seemed pretty unstoppable on land.

The Continental Blockade

The Continental Blockade

The agreement Napoleon made with the Tsar, plus the one he made two days later with the Prussians, became known as the Treaties of Tilsit. The treaties were ‘the most significant deal in Napoleonic history and reinforced French domination in Europe.’ Prussia was stripped of half her territory, while among other things the Russians agreed to join Napoleon’s ‘continental blockade’ (known in French as the Blocus continental), aimed at Britain. The point of the blockade was to deprive Britain of her trading links and thus to weaken her before France’s planned invasion. Napoleon wanted to force every European country to join France in bringing the pesky British to their knees.

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

The problem was both that the French Navy was no match for the Royal Navy after Trafalgar and that certain countries, such as Denmark, remained neutral and continued to insist on their right to trade wherever and with whomsoever they wished. Denmark had the second largest merchant marine in Europe and a very respectable Navy as well.

So while Napoleon was chatting with Tsar Alexander on his raft, the two hatched a plot against Britain. But a disgruntled Russian general, Prince Vassili Troubetzkoi, leaked the plot between the two nations to the British. It was said that ‘the Franco-Russian alliance signed at Tilsit had included a secret agreement to force Denmark and Sweden into Napoleon’s continental blockade of British trade.’

The essence of the plot was also revealed in a letter French informant Count D’Antraigues wrote on 21 July 1807 to British Foreign Secretary Lord Canning:

Napoleon … has proposed a maritime league of this country [i.e. Russia] against England and the unification of the Russian squadrons with those of Sweden and Denmark, being certain, he says, of the forces of Spain and Portugal in order to attack England at close quarters (corps à corps).

The British were already fearful that the Danish fleet might fall into French hands but this information confirmed their suspicions of Napoleon’s intentions. If the French moved into Denmark, or forced the country to join them as allies against the British, not only would the French continental blockade be tightened, but, worse, the powerful Danish fleet could fill the gap left in France’s naval forces after Trafalgar. British control of the seas could be threatened, opening the way for a French invasion.

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

Something had to be done. The British government requested Denmark to hand over its fleet to the British, which the British said they would return after Napoleon had been defeated. The Danes refused. (Actually Portugal faced with the same request did hand over its Navy and got it back later!) So despite a lot of internal opposition (the Danes were after all ‘brothers’ of the English), an army of 27,000 men under Lard Cathcart and Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) was assembled and sent to the island of Zealand ‘ready to besiege Copenhagen’, while a ‘fleet of warships under Admiral James Gambier, amply equipped with bomb vessels, sailed menacingly up The Sound between Copenhagen and Sweden.’

The Danes were asked again to hand over their fleet. Again they refused. The British army moved to the Danish peninsula and quickly defeated the Danish militia south of Copenhagen at the Battle of Køge on 29 August. The main Danish Army was in the south, in Schleswig-Holstein, ready to repulse any French invasion.

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807 2

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807

After a few more ‘skirmishes’ and more discussions, the British decided they’d have to take the Danish Navy by force. On 2 September a massive land and sea-based bombardment of Copenhagen began which lasted three nights. For the first time the British employed the newly developed ‘Congreve Rockets’, described by one British soldier as ‘fiery serpents in the sky’. The rockets and other shells poured down on the city, starting fire storms and killing over 2,000 Danish civilians and destroying 30% of the buildings.

Rather than send British troops into a dangerous and time-consuming siege, the British command decided to shell the city into submission. Wellesley’s batteries of land-based artillery and Gambier’s floating batteries opened fire on 2 September, 1807. 5,000 rounds were fired into the city on the first night of the shelling, crashing indiscriminately into militia barracks, city defences and civilian homes.

The British unleashed their new weapon, the Congreve Rocket. This had been copied from the Mysorean Rocket artillery used against them by the armies of Tipoo Sultan in the Mysore Wars, and consisted of a strong iron tube with a conical nose, packed with gunpowder. These new weapons of mass destruction hammered Copenhagen, starting fires that the defending militias were hard-pressed to keep under control.

2,000 rounds hammered Copenhagen on the night of 3 September, with 7,000 more dropping into the city on 4 September. The noise, smoke and destruction caused by the shelling, combined with the raging fires, tore the heart out of the Danish defence, and the shocked and awed Peymann (the Danish commander) was forced to sue for peace. On 7 September, disobeying orders to burn the ships in Copenhagen harbour, Peymann handed the city and the fleet to the British. 5,000 Danish soldiers, civilians and militiamen lay dead — the butcher’s bill for King George only ran to 42.

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

The Danes surrendered their fleet; a large number of which were towed or sailed back to England, although only four were ever used by the Royal Navy.

From the British point of view the danger of the Danish fleet falling into French hands had been averted. The Danes saw it differently, and after the bombardment of their capital they joined the French side. In most histories of the Napoleonic Wars the Battle or Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 is usually just a footnote. None of the heroics of Trafalgar or Waterloo here – it was a regrettable though necessary action.

Over the whole campaign there were several hundred British casualties, dead and wounded; a tally General Arthur Wellesley described as ‘trifling’. Trifling it might have been in the greater scheme of things, but it was not trifling for the British soldiers and sailors killed and injured, or for the thousands of dead Danish civilians, soldiers and their families.

One of the British injured was William Grisdale, a ‘soldier’ in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards, later to be called the Scots Guards. William was born in Crosthwaite in Cumberland in 1780 or early 1781. He started to work as a tailor but in 1798, aged 17, he joined the army: the 3rd Foot Guards as mentioned. There is no birth or baptismal record for William in Crosthwaite. He could very well have been illegitimate and perhaps related to the weaver Joseph Grisdale (whose wife was Ann Tickell), who lived in Portinscale in the Parish of Crosthwaite.

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

William was in the regiment’s first battalion and served and fought with them for over nine years in the Netherlands, Spain and Egypt. He survived many battles and avoided the plague in Egypt, but in 1807 his regiment was part of the force sent to Copenhagen. There he was badly injured. How and where isn’t known. Possibly it was at the Battle of Køge or maybe in one of the other ‘trifling’ skirmishes with the Danes. But what we do know is that William became a paralytic. In modern English slang paralytic means being in a state of extreme inebriation; being in fact legless. But, then and now, in medical terms paralytic simply means paralysed.

When the British force returned to England, paralytic William was with them, and was probably sent to an army hospital. Early in 1808 his regiment, like many others, was preparing for what has become known in Britain as the Peninsular War (it’s called the War of Independence in Spain).  This was a long and brutal, though ultimately successful, attempt to remove Napoleon’s brother Joseph from the Spanish throne and the French themselves from the Iberian Peninsula. William Grisdale was obviously in no fit state to accompany them.

On 23 April 1808, William was discharged from the army, aged 27, after 9 years and 203 days service in the 3rd Foot Guards. He was at the time a part of the ‘Hon. Lt. Colonel Fermor’s Company’ – Fermor being Thomas William Fermor, later 4th Earl of Pomfret. He had ‘served honestly and faithfully’ and he was recommended as ‘a proper Object of His Majesty’s Royal Bounty of Chelsea Hospital’. The regiment’s medical officer wrote that William was ‘paralytic and totally unfit for further service’.

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

What became of William, the paralysed Scots Guardsman? Perhaps he did get a small Chelsea pension. But it seems unlikely that he would have enjoyed a long retirement recounting his exploits, as did his relative Levi Grisdale, who was at the very moment of William’s discharge, preparing to go to Spain to accomplish his famous exploits there. All we know is that William returned to Crosthwaite and died there in 1828, aged about 47.

Such are the ‘trifling’ casualties of war.