The Yorkshire Grisedale

Posted: January 17, 2014 in Family History, Genealogy
Tags: , , ,

When I started writing these family history stories I stated that the vast majority of people with the name Grisdale or Grisedale, wherever they might be in the world, could find their roots in Matterdale, indeed probably in Dowthwaite Head. However I also said that a few people might trace their origins to the other ‘Grisedale’ in the far west of the Yorkshire Dales, near the border with Cumberland. But is this true? Did any Grisdale/Grisdale family ever really originate in this Grisedale? I think perhaps not.

Grisedale Yorkshire

Grisedale Yorkshire

As I have discussed previously, Grisdale is a place name and it is beyond doubt the case that the Matterdale Grisdales had originally moved to Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale from a Grisdale in Cumberland, probably in the fifteenth century if not earlier. This Grisdale was most likely (Mun)grisdale rather than the Grisdale/Grisedale running down to Ullswater (see here). The third place in Cumberland of the same name is Grisedale Pike near Keswick, but this never was a settlement.

And then there is the Yorkshire Grisedale, often spelt historically without the E. It’s a tiny side valley of the small Garsdale and is situated a couple of miles from the town of Sedbergh – which is now in Cumbria but was historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Grisedale really is a miniscule place. In 1975 a Yorkshire Television producer called Barry Cockcroft made a documentary about Grisedale which caused quite a stir. It was called The Dale that Died. ‘The film focused on a 61-year-old former miner, Joe Gibson, who had begun a new life as a sheep farmer in Grisedale. This remote Yorkshire valley had once been the home to 14 families. But when the film-makers arrived Joe, with the help of his wife and son, was the only farmer still living and working in the dale.’ The Yorkshire Post more recently wrote:

Theirs (the people of Grisedale) was a hard life. From this depiction it was easy to see why Grisedale should have “died” with people moving out and leaving houses to become derelict..

Today, entering Grisedale from Garsdale is like stumbling upon a secret, semi-wild place. However, it’s clearly not dead. Some buildings are derelict but many have obvious signs of life. Closer inspection reveals that although not exactly thriving, the story of its death was greatly exaggerated.

Grisedale is a cul-de-sac dale off the Hawes to Sedburgh road bordered by Wild Boar Fell. It’s not the sort of place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. You have to have a reason for going there and that, it seems, is part of its attraction for those who have come to call it home.

But this is all pretty recent history. The question here is whether the valley ever gave its name to people who had moved from there, and that means going back much further. Given that in earlier times people bearing the name of a place, village or town usually got the name because their family had at some remote time come from there, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that there was never anyone called Grisedale/Grisdale who lived in the valley itself.

Sedbergh Church

Sedbergh Church

In the early 1600s, records suggest that there were maybe only a couple of families living in Grisedale. They would go to the church in Sedbergh for baptisms, marriages and burials. The Sedbergh parish registers start in the sixteenth century. In 1618 for example we find Anthony Dawson of ‘Grysdale’ marrying Isabell Bethom. In Sedbergh around the same time we find two Grisdale families, those of Richard and Edward Grysdale. The family name was usually spelt as Grysdale, but we also find Grisdale, Grisedall and Grysedale. At that time most of these rural families were illiterate and the parish priest wrote what he heard. Remember that Shakespeare would even spell the same word three different ways on the same page!

Richard Grysdale married Isabell Makereth in June 1611, but Isabell soon died. With a second wife called Alice Harrison, Richard had twins Agnes and John, who were baptized on 8 July 1616. But Alice herself died following childbirth and was buried a few days after her children were baptized. The family lived in ‘the Mosse’ in Sedbergh, which is most probably present-day The Moss House.

Edward Grysdale and his wife Agnes, who also lived in Sedbergh, had a son John in 1620 and a daughter Margaret in 1623.

Finally there was also a John Grysdale, whose wife Margaret died at Firbank, Sedbergh in 1618.

Two issues arise. First, it seems that the two sons called John eventually moved away from Sedbergh as there is no more mention of them in the records. Second, where had these Grisdales come from? Given the absence of any Grysdales in Sedbergh prior to 1611, it’s pretty clear they come from elsewhere, but, I would suggest, not from nearby Grisedale.

Sedbergh town and church

Sedbergh town and church

It is important here to remark that surnames deriving from places or trades or any other source had almost everywhere stabilized by the fifteenth century. By the time we get to the early 1600s, when we find Grysdales in Sedbergh, anyone who had moved from Grisedale to Sedbergh in recent years would already have had a family name that had become fixed decades, or more likely centuries, before – John (the) Tanner, William (the) Forrester or Richard Stafford. The ancestors of anybody who carried the name Grisdale because they had moved away from ‘Grisedale’ in Yorkshire would have had to have made the move way back in the remote past before names became fixed.

With only two exceptions there is nobody in any historical record called Grisdale (or variants) outside Cumberland in the 1500s, indeed no one outside Matterdale (or nearby locations such as Threlkeld). On the other hand there are a couple of dozen different types of records of sixteenth-century Grisdales in Matterdale, usually found to be living in Dowthwaite Head.

Given all this, it is my conjecture that although the two Sedbergh-born John Grysdales may have married and had children elsewhere, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Grisdale family got their name from this Yorkshire Grisedale.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Now it is quite possible, I would say even probable, that the Sedbergh Grysdales had in fact originated in Matterdale. This can’t be proved so what follows in conjecture. It’s reasonable to assume that Richard and Edward Grisdale of Sedbergh were related, even perhaps brothers. They both named their only sons John, so it could be that their father was a John, maybe the John whose wife Margaret had been buried in Sedbergh in 1618. Note also that Richard Grysdale had named his only daughter Margaret in 1623! Edward, Richard and John were three of the most common names of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the 1500s and into the 1600s and beyond. Among the nine Matterdale militia bowmen who were mustered in Penrith in 1581 there was a John, an Edward and a Richard. A Richard Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head married Janet Grysdell (also of Dowthwaite Head) in 1579. They had a son called John in 1583. The wife of Edward Grysdell ‘junior’ died in 1561 and an Edward Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head had two children in the 1560s. Robert Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1584 had a daughter called Margaret, as well as sons called Edward, John and Christopher. Christopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1597 was said to be the son of Edward Grysdell in his will. And finally there was a John Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1579, and Robert Grysdell mentions his son John in his will of 1584.

So maybe the Richard, Edward and John Grysdale of Sedbergh came from Dowthwaite Head?

I’ll return to the possible fate of the Sedbergh Grisdales another time. All we know for now is that is that Richard’s daughter Agnes died in 1650 in Settlebeck in Sedbergh itself, while Edward’s daughter Margaret married Thomas Harrison in 1662 in Sedbergh and his wife Agnes died in Sedbergh in 1669. Where Richard and Edward and their sons John went remains to be discovered.

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