In the eighteenth century Old Testament names became popular in England. One family in which this was true was that of farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Mary Grisdale (they were ‘cousins’). After their marriage in Matterdale Church in 1763 they had twelve children, including sons with the Biblical names Joseph, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Benjamin. I have written much about Levi (see here and here), something of daughter Jane (see here) and a little about Solomon’s grandson Solomon who took the stage-name Walter and became a famous actor (see here). I’d now like to turn our attention to son Simeon and his son and grandson, both called Simeon too. It is a story of bankruptcy, bigamy and battles. In order not to make the story excessively long I will split it into three parts. This first part concerns the little we know about Solomon’s son Simeon, who I will call Simeon 1 when necessary to avoid confusion.

Solomon Grisdale was born in Matterdale in 1739, the son of farmer Jonathan Grisdale and Mary Jackson, and the grandson of Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray (my own 5th great grandparents). Like his father and grandfather Solomon was a farmer. Where exactly in Matterdale he first farmed isn’t known, but after his marriage in 1763 (at the latest by 1776) the family were farming at ‘Hill’. Now this is a farm lying between Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell. It lies geographically in Matterdale but is administratively in the parish of Watermillock. The family probably moved for a short time to nearby Patterdale, because it was here in 1780 that son Simeon was born and baptized. Shortly thereafter they moved to Greystoke parish where the rest of the children were born, including the later to be famous Levi in 1783.

patterdale-birds-eye

Patterdale where Simeon was born

But the family was too big to be supported from a small Cumberland farm and thus most of Solomon and Mary’s children had to move away and find their own way in life. Levi went to London and joined the army; Thomas went to Kent (after a time in the army I think); sister Jane to Arundel in Sussex; while Joseph went to London.

All Saints Church in Houghton

All Saints Church in Houghton

Sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century Simeon somehow found his way to bucolic Hampshire. He married local girl Ruth Russell in the church of All Saints in the Hampshire village of Houghton in July 1805. It’s clear that Ruth was already pregnant when she married Simeon because their son, also christened Simeon, was born in Houghton in November of the same year, to be followed three years later by a daughter Mary, also born in Houghton.

Nothing more is heard of the family for some time. However we do know what Simeon did: he became a ‘Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper’ in the village. The Victoria County History described the village thus in 1908:

The parish of Houghton, lying south-west of Stock-bridge and north-west of King’s Somborne, is detached from the other parishes of Buddlesgate Hundred. It comprises 33 acres of land covered by water and 2,639 acres of land, which rises generally from south-east to north-west from the low-lying country near the River Test, which flows along the east of the parish to the downland, which stretches away north to Houghton Down, behind which rises Danebury Hill in Nether Wallop parish…

The main village street, curving west for a few yards at the north end of the village, turns sharply north and runs uphill past Houghton Lodge, the residence of Colonel E. St. John Daubney, which lies back from the road on the east, on to North Houghton.

We can perhaps visualize Simeon and Ruth baking bread in the early hours of each day and working in their shop while the two children were at school or playing in the nearby fields.

In Fleet Prison

In Fleet Prison

And so life went on. But probably by the early 1820s, when his children were reaching adulthood, Simeon’s business in Houghton was not going well and it was either closed or sold. We can imply from later events that Simeon had debts although he wasn’t declared bankrupt. Around this time, either with or without his family, Simeon moved to ‘London’ or better said to the still rural area of Holloway/Hornsey/Crouch End in the parish of Islington. He became an ‘Ostler’, which is someone who looks after horses in an inn, usually a coaching-inn. He lived in Duval’s Lane near Crouch End, to which I will return. But it seems that Simeon couldn’t pay off his creditors and was thrown into debtor’s prison – most probably into the notorious Fleet Prison.

How long Simeon was in prison I don’t know, but in 1825 he petitioned the ‘Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors and Office of the Commissioners of Bankrupts and successors’ to be released. This Court had been established by the Insolvent Debtors (England) Act in 1813, during the reign of King George III. ‘It was enacted in response to the demands on the prison system imposed by the numbers of those being incarcerated for debt, and some concern for their plight. The Act created a new Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors that remained in existence until 1861, under the jurisdiction of a newly appointed Commissioner. Those imprisoned for debt could apply to the court to be released – unless they were in trade or guilty of fraudulent or other dishonest behaviour – by reaching an agreement with their creditors that ensured a fair distribution of their present and future assets.’

Simeon’s petition was to be heard on 11 April 1825 at ‘Nine o’clock of the Forenoon’ at the Court which resided in Portugal Street in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields. Simeon was said to be ‘formally of Houghton, Hampshire. Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper, and later of Holloway, Middlesex. Ostler’.

A wonderful description of this Court which would decide Simeon’s fate was written by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers in 1837. I think it worth quoting in full:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

It is, and has been, time out of mind, the remarkable fate of this court to be, somehow or other, held and understood, by the general consent of all the destitute shabby-genteel people in London, as their common resort, and place of daily refuge. It is always full. The steams of beer and spirits perpetually ascend to the ceiling, and, being condensed by the heat, roll down the walls like rain; there are more old suits of clothes in it at one time, than will be offered for sale in all Houndsditch in a twelvemonth; more unwashed skins and grizzly beards than all the pumps and shaving-shops between Tyburn and Whitechapel could render decent, between sunrise and sunset.

Lincoln's Inn Fields in the 1800s

Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the 1800s

It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connection with, the place they so indefatigably attend. If they had, it would be no matter of surprise, and the singularity of the thing would cease. Some of them sleep during the greater part of the sitting; others carry small portable dinners wrapped in pocket-handkerchiefs or  sticking out of their worn-out pockets, and munch and listen with equal relish; but no one among them was ever known to have the slightest personal interest in any case that was ever brought forward. Whatever they do, there they sit from the first moment to the last. When it is heavy, rainy weather, they all come in, wet through; and at such times the vapours of the court are like those of a fungus-pit.

A casual visitor might suppose this place to be a temple dedicated to the Genius of Seediness. There is not a messenger or process-server attached to it, who wears a coat that was made for him; not a tolerably fresh, or wholesome-looking man in the whole establishment, except a little white-headed apple-faced tipstaff, and even he, like an ill-conditioned cherry preserved in brandy, seems to have artificially dried and withered up into a state of preservation to which he can lay no natural claim. The very barristers’ wigs are ill-powdered, and their curls lack crispness.

pickwickBut the attorneys, who sit at a large bare table below the commissioners, are, after all, the greatest curiosities. The professional establishment of the more opulent of these gentlemen, consists of a blue bag and a boy; generally a youth of the Jewish persuasion. They have no fixed offices, their legal business being transacted in the parlours of public-houses, or the yards of prisons, whither they repair in crowds, and canvass for customers after the manner of omnibus cads. They are of a greasy and mildewed appearance; and if they can be said to have any vices at all, perhaps drinking and cheating are the most conspicuous among them. Their residences are usually on the outskirts of ‘the Rules,’ chiefly lying within a circle of one mile from the obelisk in St. George’s Fields. Their looks are not prepossessing, and their manners are peculiar.

Mr. Solomon Pell, one of this learned body, was a fat, flabby, pale man, in a surtout which looked green one minute, and brown the next, with a velvet collar of the same chameleon tints. His forehead was narrow, his face wide, his head large, and his nose all on one side, as if Nature, indignant with the propensities she observed in him in his birth, had given it an angry tweak which it had never recovered. Being short-necked and asthmatic, however, he respired principally through this feature; so, perhaps, what it wanted in ornament, it made up in usefulness.

‘I’m sure to bring him through it,’ said Mr. Pell.

‘Are you, though?’ replied the person to whom the assurance was pledged.

‘Certain sure,’ replied Pell; ‘but if he’d gone to any irregular practitioner, mind you, I wouldn’t have answered for the consequences.’

‘Ah!’ said the other, with open mouth.

‘No, that I wouldn’t,’ said Mr. Pell; and he pursed up his lips, frowned, and shook his head mysteriously.

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837

We can imply that Simeon was released from prison by the court on April 11 but he no doubt still had debts to pay. It’s possible that Simeon had become so weak from his time in debtors’ prison or he may have caught an illness there, whatever the case only a couple of weeks after his release Simeon died and was buried in Islington on 7 June 1825, aged just forty-four. At the time of his death Simeon was said to reside at Duval’s Lane in Islington. Now here I could leave the story and you can if you wish, but I think it interesting to explore Duval’s Road a bit more and suggest where exactly Simeon had worked as an Ostler before being thrown into prison for debt.

Duval’s Lane (which is now Hornsey Road) was named after a French-born ‘gentleman highwayman’ called Claude Du Val (1643-1670). ‘In a map of the suburbs of London in 1823, “Duval’s Lane” is shown as running from Lower Holloway towards Crouch End, with scarcely a house on either side. A small and crooked road, marked Hem Lane, with “Duval’s House” at the corner, leads also through fields towards “Hornsey Wood House,” and so into the Green Lanes—all being open country. The now populous district of Crouch End appears here as a small group of private residences. Between the “Wood House” and Crouch End is Stroud Green, around which are five or six rustic cottages. On the other side of the “Wood House” is the “Sluice House,” where privileged persons and customers of “mine host” went to fish in the New River and to sup upon eels, for which that place was famous, as stated above. Upper Holloway itself figures in this map as a very small collection of houses belonging apparently to private residents.’

Claude Duvall was born in Domfront, Orne, Normandy in 1643 to a noble family stripped of title and land. His origin and parentage are in dispute. He did however have a brother Daniel Du Val. At the age of 14 he was sent to Paris where he worked as a domestic servant. He later became a stable boy for a group of English royalists and moved to England in the time of the English Restoration as a footman of the Duke of Richmond (possibly a relation) and rented a house in Wokingham.

The legend goes that before long Du Val became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches in the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. However, unlike most other brigands, he distinguished himself with rather gentlemanly behaviour and fashionable clothes. However, there is no valid historical source for this assertion. He reputedly never used violence. One of his victims was Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, whom he relieved of 50 guineas and tied to a tree. There are many tales about Du Val. One particularly famous one — placed in more than one location and later published by William Pope — claims that he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman when his wife agreed to dance the “courante” with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Du Val.

Frith's painting of Duval

Frith’s painting of Duval

If his intention was to deter pursuit by his non-threatening behaviour, he did not totally succeed. After the authorities promised a large reward, he fled to France for some time but returned a few months later. Shortly afterwards, he is said to have been arrested in the Hole-in-the-Wall tavern in London’s Chandos Street, Covent Garden. However, there is no record of this in valid historical sources. His ‘life’, as described here, is a typical example of entertaining stories invented for various reasons over centuries transmuting into so-called historical fact. (The ‘story’ of Dick Turpin is another example where the accepted story is very different from the actual historical record.)

On 17 January 1670, judge Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies (others remained unproven) and sentenced him to death. Despite many attempts to intercede, the king did not pardon him and he was executed on 21 January at Tyburn. When his body was cut down and exhibited in Tangier Tavern… it drew a large crowd. It is traditionally thought Du Val was buried under the centre aisle of the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden; the parish register notes the burial of a “Peter Du Val” in January 1670.

A memorial at the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

An Ostler

An Ostler

Good stuff, but returning to Simeon, can we be a little more precise as to where he might have worked as an Ostler? I think we can. Ostlers, as I have said, looked after the horses in inns, usually in coaching-inns. In 1817 in Picturesque rides and walks,: With excursions by water, thirty miles round the British metropolis; illustrated in a series of engravings, coloured after … country within the compass of that circle ‘, J Hassell wrote:

The Hornsey coaches, of course, pass through Crouch End, where there is a respectable house of accommodation, the King’s Arms. From thence you take the first turning to the left that leads up Duval’s Lane, a pleasant and well-inhabited spot, to the metropolis, by the high road through Islington.

It is quite possible (but by no means certain) that Simeon Grisdale was an Ostler at the King’s Arms in Crouch End. The inn’s successor (now called the King’s Head) still exists and was in fact my ‘local’ for many years when I lived just off ‘’Duval’s Lane’!

Finally, Holloway and Hornsey were frequented by another well-known highwayman: Dick Turpin. Walter Thornby wrote in Old and New London in the 1870s:

Hornsey Road, which in Camden’s time was a “sloughy lane” to Whetstone, by way of Crouch End, seventy years ago [in 1802] had only three houses, and no side paths, and was impassable for carriages.

It was formerly called Devil’s, or Du Val’s, Lane, and further back still Tollington Lane. There formerly stood on the east side of this road, near the junction with the Seven Sisters’ Road, an old wooden moated house, called “The Devil’s House,” but really the site of old Tollington House.

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Tradition fixed this lonely place as the retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St. Giles’s, and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, by torchlight.

The tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil’s House in Devil’s Lane is mentioned in a survey of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as near a great northern road.

The moat used to be crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow. In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest, he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round Islington.

A gentleman telling him audaciously he had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, “Tis, no matter for that, I’m not afraid of being taken by you; so don’t stand hesitating, but stump up the cole.” Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to Dick.

And here I will leave the story of the first Simeon Grisdale. Whether his family had come with him to London or not his children were soon back in Hampshire. I will take up their story in part 2.

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

 

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