George Washington, Methodism and Grisdale lead miners

Posted: April 16, 2014 in History
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‘There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.’

Lead mining had been going on in the Pennines for hundreds of years. Much of this early mining was carried out by a process known as ‘hushing’. It was a type of opencast working using water. ‘This involved building a small turf dam at the top of a hill above the area to be worked. When it was full the water was released and rushed down the hillside scouring the soil and any loose rock away. Once the vein was uncovered, crowbars, chisels and hammers were used to loosen the rock and extract ore. In this process, which was repeated over and over again, broken rock accumulated on the floor of the hush and was eventually washed away.’ Later on shaft and levels were dug.

map 5One of these Pennine lead mining areas was around Dufton and Milburn in the Eden Valley in Westmorland. The mines here were owned by the local nobility such as the Tufton family, the earls of Thanet. It is, as one writer put it, a place of ‘open moorland, bleak, windswept and inhospitable at the best of times’. The story goes that ‘travelling through this area at the end of the 17th Century two Quaker women were so concerned by the conditions of the lead miners and their families that they sponsored the involvement of the Quakers in lead mining with the formation of the Quaker Company.’

A group of Quakers duly set up such a company, known commonly as the London Lead Mining Company, but more fully as The Company for Smelting Down Lead with Pit coal. ‘The company was set up by a number of Quakers in 1692 with mining interests in Derbyshire, Lancashire, North Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as the North Pennines, mining coal and silver as well as lead and at one time (1705-37) supplying so much silver to the Royal Mint that coins were known as the Quaker coinage.’

In Dufton the company not only developed the lead mines but also built mine workers’ cottages and farmsteads. ‘The company had a smelt-mill to the south of the village and it built a water supply system in the form of a syke, which is still visible on the south side of the village green, and later a piped supply with supply points and central fountain/trough erected in the late nineteenth century.’ The Quaker capitalists were always well intentioned. In Dufton they had a fountain constructed on the village green with a Latin inscription which reads in English:

There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.

Clean water or not, the ‘reality for most was a life cut short by lung disease and a constant struggle to make ends meet’.

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

Not surprisingly the whole of the Pennines become a stronghold of Methodism and other forms of non-conformism. One of the earliest Methodist preachers in the North Pennines was Christopher Hopper: ‘the apostle of Methodism through a large section of the North country’. John Wesley said that Hopper and John Brown first came to nearby Weardale in 1748 but met with no encouragement. Hopper wrote in his diary: ‘It was in a storm of snow that we crossed the quagmires and enormous mountains. When we came into the dale we met with a very cold reception. The enemy had barricaded the place, and made his bulwarks strong.’ He returned the next year when four people ‘found peace with God and agreed to meet together’. Hooper and others kept coming and by 1772 there were one hundred and twenty Methodists in Weardale. One preacher, George Story, wrote:

I exerted myself much above my strength both in preaching and travelling, often venturing in tempestuous weather over those dreary fells when even the mountaineers themselves durst not. I was frequently in danger of being swallowed up in the bogs, or carried away by the torrents. Sometimes I have rode over valleys where the snow was eight or ten feet deep, for two or three furlongs together.

Hopper wrote about his work:

My little substance soon failed, and I saw nothing before me but beggary and great afflictions. Sometimes I was carried above all earthly objects, and had a comfortable view of the heavenly country. At other times I was much depressed, and I could see nothing but poverty and distress.

One family who were eventually to become Methodists was a Grisdale lead-mining family in Dufton/Milburn. Who were they and how had they come there?

North Pennine Lead Miners

North Pennine Lead Miners

In the early 1700s, these Grisdale lead miners were, without much doubt, working for the Quaker-owned London Lead Mining Company. By the late 1730s, John Grisdale and his wife Jennet Robinson were having their first children: daughter Mary was born in 1735, followed by Ann in 1738 and Richard in 1743. John had three brothers, Anthony, Richard and William, who were lead miners too. Their father, another John Grisdale (‘senior’) was probably born in Milburn in the early 1670s, although I can find no record of such a birth. I believe his parents were Anthony Grisdale and Dorothy Hasty who married in nearby Melmerby in July 1671. Anthony died in Milburn. The reason I believe Anthony was the father of John and his brothers (and sisters) is because John named his first born son Anthony in Milburn in 1697, and the name would recur in the families of some of his descendants who became lead miners in nearby Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales in later times.

Anthony is in fact an extremely rare name in the Grisdale family, both at this time and later. Except for the Milburn/Swaledale Anthonys, the only other family where the name crops up at all is in the family of an Anthony Grisdale who was born somewhere in Cumberland around 1600, but by 1627 at the latest was living in the town of Wigton. His son Alexander was the father of the Harrington coal miner Henry Grisdale I wrote about in an earlier article (see here). Several of Henry’s descendants were also called their children Anthony. So I believe that Anthony Grisdale of Milburn, the putative father of John Grisdale Senior, was either another unrecorded son of Anthony Grisdale of Wigton or, less likely though still possible, the son of this Wigton Anthony himself.

Leaving aside these genealogical considerations, there can only have been one thing that brought Anthony Grisdale to the Milburn/Dufton area around the year 1671: to work in the lead mines.

Dufton today

Dufton today

We can get a feel for the Dufton mine from a report entitled ‘A geological account of the Lead Mine in Dufton in Westmoreland’ written by geologist T. Allan to The Journal of Science and the Arts in 1813:

Dufton is situated near the great road from London to Glasgow, and is, consequently, to be visited with less inconvenience than any other mining district in the north of England. It lies three miles north of Appleby in Westmoreland, on the west side of a range of hills which extends from the borders of Scotland, and includes Cross Fell, and the mining district of Alstone Moor. Along the western verge of this range, there are several detached and remarkably regular conical hills, the appearance of which had often attracted my attention, when passing along the road between Penrith and Kendal. It is on the west side of one of these, which is called Dufton Pike, and which I should guess to be about 600 feet high, that the village of Dufton is situated; and the hill is so placed, that the ravine in which the mine occurs is entirely concealed from view…..

The ravine in which the mines are wrought, may be about half a mile wide at the entrance, and extends from Dufton Pike about a mile and a half: the ascent to the mines is steep, but such as to be practicable with carts…

The vein was originally wrought on the summit of the western front of the precipice; and the lead produced by hushing; that is, by bringing a stream of water to run over the place where it crept out. Subsequently a level was constructed…

Augustine Washington Snr.

Augustine Washington Snr.

But what about George Washington? What connection could the Grisdale lead miners have had with the future first President of the United States? The answer lies in the local market town of Appleby, which is situated only three miles from the Dufton lead mine. It was in Appleby that George Washington’s father Augustine Washington (called ‘Gus’) had spent several ‘unhappy years’ at Appleby’s Grammar School as a boy. Despite his unhappiness, in 1729 he decided to send his sons Lawrence and Augustine Jnr there too. They came all the way from Virginia. Lawrence was to stay at the school until 1738 when he returned to Virginia. George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball. He too was all set to come to the Grammar School in Appleby when his father died in 1743.

When the American War of Independence was nearing its end in October 1781, the captured English captain of the frigate Guadeloupe was questioned by George Washington. On hearing that the captain was from Appleby, Washington replied:

I am very glad to meet a Westmorland man, my family sprang from that country and my brother was at Appleby School.

Appleby Grammar School

Appleby Grammar School

Perhaps when John Grisdale and his wife Jennet visited Appleby from time to time to make purchases or join in the fun of the fair, they might just have seen George Washington’s brothers around the Grammar School? Paths do cross, but the Washington and Grisdale families lived in parallel universes. By chance, George Washington didn’t come to study in Appleby and went on to great things. This Grisdale family were set for centuries of mining poverty and death.

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Comments
  1. fascinating piece with some really interesting nuggets of knowledge!

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