Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from?

Posted: July 22, 2013 in Cumberland, Family History, Grisdale

In a number of earlier articles I discussed the undoubted fact that the earliest Grisdales of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale had originally came from a place called Grisdale in Cumberland. There are several Grisdales or Grisedales in Cumberland. My conjecture was and is that at some time prior to the later 1400s one or more people hailing from ‘Grisdale’ came to farm at Dowthwaite. I thought that this Grisdale was most likely the Grisedale Valley/Beck/Tarn area just south of Matterdale on the eastern slopes of Helvellyn. However, while this is still possible, I now think it much more likely that the Matterdale Grisdales originally hailed from present day Mungrisdale, which lies west of Penrith in the parish of Greystoke.

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

The present day parish of Mungrisdale is made up of eight hamlets –Mungrisdale, Bowscale, Mosedale, Heggle Lane, Haltcliffe Bridge,  Hutton Roof,  Murrah and Berrier. It is well known that Mungrisdale was once simply known at ‘Grisdale’ and was historically a part of the barony and parish of Greystoke. Going back to the thirteenth century we find repeated mentions of Grisdale in the Greystoke parish and manorial records. There is no doubt that this Grisdale is present-day Mungrisdale and not Grisedale near Helvellyn and Patterdale. Grisdale started to be called Mungrisdale sometime after 1600. In the Penrith museum you can see a chalice from the Grisdale chapel inscribed, ‘Mounge Grieesdell 1600’. It is generally believed that this means Mungo’s Grisdale, as the church in Mungrisdale is dedicated to the sixth-century Celtic St. Kentigern, often called Mungo.

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

Maps of the area tell the same story, i.e. that Mungrisdale was originally known as Grisdale and continued to be so long after 1600. I include a map engraved by Augustinus Ryther in 1576 included in Christopher Saxton’s Westmorlandiae et Cumberlandiae Comitatus. Here we see ‘Grisedalle chap’ (i.e. chapel). Maps continue to show Mungrisdale as Grisdale at least until the mid 1700s. The second map from 1747 shows ‘Grisdale Chap(el)’, ‘Grisdale’ and ‘Grisdale Beck’.

There are two reasons I now believe that it is from this Grisdale that the Matterdale Grisdales derived their name. First, (Mun)grisdale has always been part of the barony and parish of Greystoke (the earliest records of this are from the thirteenth century). Matterdale too was part of the same barony, whereas Grisedale near Patterdale never was. As the barons of Greystoke were the lords and owners of Matterdale (including Dowthwaite) it was no doubt one of them (or less likely one of their vassals) who originally granted the ‘free’ tenancy of Dowthwaite Head Farm to one of their men from Grisdale. Second, while we know that (Mun)grisdale was a small hamlet, it was a significant enough settlement not only to have an early chapel but also significant enough to be mentioned as the place of birth, death and origin of many families recorded in the registers of Greystoke and to be included in the early manorial records of Greystoke. On the other hand it doesn’t seem that the Grisedale on the slopes of Helvellyn was ever more than a ‘chase’ or private hunting ground.

Mungrisdale Church - St. Kentigern's

Mungrisdale Church – St. Kentigern’s

For the time being I can’t prove this conjecture, but the evidence seems persuasive to me.









  1. […] or Robert they were talking about. I have discussed elsewhere which Grisdale this might have been (see here). My own view is that it was present-day Mungrisdale which for a long time was called simply […]

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