The Obscure Grisdales of Harrington

Posted: January 14, 2014 in History
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Along the Cumberland coast there are several towns that were important ports and mining centres from the seventeenth century onwards: Whitehaven, Maryport, Workington and Harrington. They are all within a few miles of each other. These towns and harbours were literally owned and developed by two powerful families. In the case of Whitehaven, the Lowthers, later Earls of Lonsdale. In the case of Workington and Harrington, the Curwens. Both families developed deep coal mines that ran out for miles under the sea. The ports were initially developed to transport their coal to Ireland but later developed and traded throughout the world. Our concern here is with a Grisdale family living in Harrington in the first half of the 1700s. 

Workington Hall - Seat of the Curwens

Workington Hall – Seat of the Curwens

To understand what this family might have been doing in Harrington at this time and what might have brought them there, we need to understand slightly more about the town, actually the village, itself.  ‘The manor was held of the fee of Workington by the Harrington (or ‘Haverington’) family in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It descended by marriage to Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk, executed 1554.  In 1556/7 the Crown granted Harrington to Henry Curwen of Workington; thereafter it descended with Workington.’ Coal mining in West Cumbria dates back to the 13th Century when the monks from St Bees Abbey supervised the opening of coal mines at Arrowthwaite. By 1688 there was at least one coal mine in Harrington Park ‘valued at £100 per year’ and also a salt pan at Lowca. It wasn’t until 1760 that Henry Curwen built a quay at Harrington on the south side of the River Wyre. Coal and limestone were soon being exported to Ireland from Harrington, and the increase in this trade led to the development of a local shipbuilding industry.

 At that time (1760) there were no houses in the area and no ships were recorded as belonging to Harrington. But by 1794 there were around 60 ships. The main cargoes were coal being shipped to Ireland from Curwen’s mines nearby, as well as lime from Distington to Scotland.

Harrington Harbour

Harrington Harbour

The Grisdales of Harrington were established there before the quay was built and thus, in all likelihood, they worked either in the early Curwen coal mines or possibly in the salt pan.

Henry ‘Grisedell’ was born in the nearby inland town of Wigton in 1668, the son of Alexander Grisedell and Katherine Yoward. Over the years the family name was recorded using all conceivable variants: Grisdale, Grisdell, Grisedell, Grizdale, Griesdale and Grizedale. I’ll use the more usual Grisdale. It appears that Henry married Ann Harrison in Skelton, Cumberland in 1688, but then, sometime before 1710, Henry moved to Harrington. His daughter Jane was baptized there in that year, followed by John in 1712,  Henry in 1713, Abraham in 1715, Sarah in 1722 and Isaac in  1723. All these children were baptized in St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Harrington, although names such as Abraham and Isaac might hint that there were non-conformist tendencies.

What became of these children? Abraham seems to disappear. Did he become a seamen and die somewhere unrecorded, or did he become a miner? I don’t know.

It seems that Isaac (baptized in 1723 but possibly born before) married Ellenor Sen in 1740, down the coast in Gosforth, Cumberland and had a child called Sarah in 1742 in St Bees.

Jane(1711) had an illegitimate son called Anthony in Arlecdon (Whitehaven) in 1745.

John (1712) married, because he had a son called Henry in nearby St Bees in 1740 and another named Anthony in 1744. This Henry married Elizabeth Hope in Whitehaven in 1761, although a daughter called Sarah had been born the year before, also in Whitehaven. More children followed: John 1767, Elizabeth 1772, Jane 1774, Henry 1777 and William 1779, all born and baptized in Whitehaven. I might return to the fate of these children at a later date. Did William become a Captain in the Muscovy Company or was that someone else? (see here).

Cumberland in 1720

Cumberland in 1720

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