From Matterdale to Alberta – the story of the English past of one Canadian Grisdale family

Posted: July 16, 2014 in Canadian history, Family History
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One probably rather cold day in October 1911 a large Grisdale family were walking the last few miles from the railway station in Okotoks near Calgary in Alberta to meet father Robert who had been working on a cousin’s ranch since the spring. The family consisted of Nancy, Robert’s wife, and his eight children. News of the family’s arrival in Canada from England hadn’t yet reached Robert and when two of his sons, Robert (Bob) and Thomas (Tom), ran ahead of the others and rounded a corner of a large barn, father Robert was surprised to say the least. His grandson Bill said that his father Tom ‘would never forget the look on his father’s face’.

Okotoks Railway Station

Okotoks Railway Station in 1909

I’ll return at the end to say just a little about the family’s life in Canada, where a veritable clan of descendents still live. But here I’d mostly like to say something about the family before it took the big decision to emigrate and why it had done so. I’ll tell something too of the family’s deeper history.

Robert, who was so surprised by his family’s arrival, was born in 1867 in Benson Hall in Scalthwaiterigg in Westmorland in England, the first of four children of a young but up-and-coming farmer called Richard Grisdale and his wife Agnes Martindale. He was baptized Robert Edward – Robert after so many of his ancestors and Edward after his maternal grandfather Edward Martindale. The imposing Benson Hall, where Robert was born, was the farming home of the Martindales. Today it is a listed building.  I’m afraid I don’t yet have a photograph so here’s how it’s described in the Listed Buildings Report, you can skip this bit if you want:

Possible pele tower at Benson Hall. The present building of C17 and C18 date appears to contain an earlier tower within the existing building. Farmhouse. Probably C16 with C18 and C19 extensions.

Stone rubble with slate roofs. West facade of 3 storeys and 3 bays, 2nd and 3rd bays are C18. Windows have flat arches and are sashed with vertical glazing barns and horns; 1st bay of ground floor has small light. Possible loop to 2nd floor. Entrance to 2nd bay has C20 door. Gable-end stacks.

North return has sashed windows and attic windows. South return has blocked entrance and 2 windows, the 1st former entrance, under dripcourse, to ground floor. East elevation has projection to north end under catslide roof and with canted angle. Round-headed stair window has small-paned fixed glazing with top intersecting glazing bars. Large single-storey gabled C19 extension.

Interior has thick wall, the original east wall to 1st bay, with entrance passage through, which has draw bar holes to former external entrance. Oval holes in floors above passage have iron grilles in timber frames and rectangular hole in attic floor, probably for hoisting purposes. Spiral stair opens off passage. Vaulted chamber to ground floor. Stair has open string; upper flight has 2 turned balusters to the tread, and balustrading to 2nd floor. 6-fielded-panel doors with H-L hinges and drop handles.

Room to 1st floor has entrance to spiral stair and closet with opening to small chamber in floor, possibly priest hide, cased beams, dado rail and cornice, fireplace has eared architrave, lattice frieze and dentilled cornice; similar room has later partition. Attic, not inspected, has moulded beams with run out stops, probably C16, and access down ladder to chamber in north-east angle, said to be cock pit but possible priest hide or storage space.

Shortly after Robert’s birth, his father Richard somehow managed to get the tenancy of a 700 acre farm called Barrowfield in not too distant Underbarrow, just west of Kendal. More children were born there: Jane 1869, Thomas 1871 and John 1873.

Barrowfield Farm

Barrowfield Farm

Richard was still in his twenties as his family grew and things looked promising. After all although all his ancestors had been farmers none had had a farm as large as 700 acres. But tragedy was soon to strike. In 1876 Richard Grisdale died aged just twenty-nine. The cause of Richard’s death I have yet to ascertain. So Agnes was left with four young children and certainly couldn’t stay at Barrowfield Farm any longer. I am sure Richard’s premature death profoundly altered the whole subsequent history of the family, to which I will return.

Boredale Head farm

Boredale Head farm

Let’s go back a bit, even a lot, because of course these Grisdales, like almost if not all others, hailed from Matterdale and more specifically from Dowthwaite Head farm (see here). In a previous article I told of how an earlier Robert Grisdale (born in 1705 in Dockray, Matterdale) had moved from Matterdale, married Johnby girl Esther Gatesgarth, and in about 1738 taken the tenancy of Boredale Head farm in Martindale in Westmorland, which lies on the other side of Ullswater from Matterdale (see here). I also told of how some of his sons moved to farm and run an inn in nearby Patterdale and Hartsop in the 1770s. One of these sons was Thomas Grisdale (1746-1813). I’m sorry there are and will be so many Roberts and Thomases!

Probably in 1774 Thomas took over Caudale Beck farm on the shores of the small lake called Brothers Water near Hartsop. After his death there in 1813 one of his nephews took the farm. But two of Thomas’s sons, Robert (1782-1861) and George (1789-1864), who were both born at Caudale Beck farm, went to farm at the next-door but more imposing Hartsop Hall, probably in about 1809. George eventually moved on to farm elsewhere in Patterdale, but Robert kept the tenancy of Hartsop Hall until his death in 1861, being helped in the early years by his large family.

Caudale Beck farmhouse

Caudale Beck farmhouse

Hartsop-born Robert had married Elizabeth Jackson in Martindale in 1807; their children were: Thomas 1808, John 1809, Elizabeth 1811, Robert 1815, Jane 1817 and Mary 1820, all except Thomas born in Hartsop. Thomas the first child was born in Martindale at the former Grisdale farm called Boredale Head (or Dale Head for short). It seems clear to me that what happened is that sometime in his youth Robert went back to work on Boredale Head farm where Elizabeth Jackson’s parents John and Elizabeth Jackson were now the tenants; we find the Jackson family there in 1787 in the Constable’s census of Westmorland, including young Elizabeth herself. There Robert met Elizabeth and they married and had their first child in Martindale in 1808 before moving back to Hartsop. We don’t know a great deal about the life of Robert Grisdale Senior of Hartsop Hall, just two things might be of interest. In 1903, the Rev W. P. Morris, the Rector of Patterdale wrote in The Records of Patterdale:

Robert Grisdale, the then farmer (of Hartsop Hall), was one night riding home on horseback from Cockermouth when he was accosted by two of them (a gang of robbers) when coming through Dockray. He at once perceived what their intentions were, but he showed them his pistol and galloped home in safety. It was not considered safe for any person to be out when darkness had set in. The gang consisted of four men, who went about wearing masks and carrying rifles and pistols.

On another occasion:

There is a right of way through the house. It was into this house that the notorious gang of burglars attempted to enter with the intention of murdering the whole family. These desperadoes were the terror not only of the neighbourhood of Patterdale, but also in and about Penrith.

Hartsop Hall

Hartsop Hall

I gave a fuller version of this story in an article called Robert Grisdale’s Escape (see here). Another aspect of his life that is I think worth mentioning is that while he was the farmer at Hartsop Hall the Patterdale Hunt kept its fox-hounds there. The Rev. W. P. Morris also wrote:

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were two packs of foxhounds in the neighbourhood — one at Patterdale, and the other at Matterdale. The masters of both packs were very proud of their respective charges, and great jealousy existed between the huntsmen. There was, therefore, great rivalry between the two villages. It is said of a gentleman now dead that on one occasion he saw the hounds coming in full cry in the direction of his own house, with reynard before them. He enquired whose hounds they were. “Patterdale,” was the reply. “Then I join you,” and good sport they had.

Years ago the Patterdale hounds had their abode at Hartsop, and they were afterwards removed to near Patterdale Hall, where they remained until about thirty years ago. In or about the year 1871 the two packs became one, and were placed together in the kennels at Grassthwaite How.

The last master of the hounds before amalgamation was John Gelderd, and his predecessors were John Grisdale and John Walton…

Given that the pack ‘had their abode’ at Hartsop Hall, I guess Robert Grisdale Senior was one of the huntsmen. Note that John Grisdale (his son) was one of the last masters of the Patterdale hounds before amalgamation with Matterdale in 1871.

Staying with the fox hunting stories, as I said the fourth child of Robert of Hartsop Hall was also confusingly called Robert; he was born in 1815, probably in the Hall. He grew to maturity when the Patterdale fox-hounds were based there. It seems he achieved some renown as a huntsman because in about 1880, long after he had moved to farm at Yoad Pott farm in Selside (which I will tell about), the Patterdale fox hunt came to Selside to cheer him up. A poem was written to ‘celebrate’ this rural event. It was republished in the Horse and Hound in 1940 and I thank a Canadian Grisdale for sending it to me:

 Tis of Selside famed fox chase I’m going to relate

In the year 1880 that well known date

When to cheer Robert Grisdale of fox hunting fame

To Yoadpot, the fox hounds from Patterdale came

Joe Bowman the huntsman, that glorious morn

Aroused the gay start with his shrill bugle horn

Far famed was our huntsman, far-famed was his pack

Nor beauty nor music nor speech did they lack

You’ll always find him just the same

At Grasmere sports you’ll hear his name

His Mardale Hunts will live in fame

Away my lads away.

So Robert Grisdale, born and brought up at Hartsop Hall, was far-famed as a huntsman and ‘far-famed was his pack’, ‘at Grasmere sports you’ll hear his name, his Mardale Hunts will live in fame’. How did the famed huntsman Robert Grisdale move away from the environs of Ullswater, where the family had been from at least the late 1400s, to ‘faraway’ Selside just north of the Westmorland county town of Kendal? (I mean faraway by English not Canadian standards.)

Lake District Fox Hunting

Lake District Fox Hunting

In 1846, aged thirty, Robert had married Jane Ward in Selside chapel. Jane’s father, Richard Ward, was at the time of Jane’s marriage a farmer at Forest Hall farm in Fawcett Forest, Westmorland, i.e. in Selside. Maybe with Richard Ward’s help Robert Grisdale as able to get the tenancy of Yoad Pot farm, where the Patterdale fox hounds visited him in 1880. Perhaps Robert and Jane’s marriage was a bit of a shotgun affair? They were married on 11 June 1846 and their first child Richard, named after Jane’s father, was born a few weeks later on 19 July 1846 at the Ward family farm, Forest Hall. Nine more children followed over the next twenty-four years.

Map showing Yoad Pot, a few miles NNE of Kendal (at the top)

Map showing Yoad Pot, a few miles NNE of Kendal (at the top)

I’m trying to stay with the direct ancestry of Canadian emigrant (or immigrant if you’re Canadian) Robert Edward Grisdale, because this Richard Grisdale was Robert Edward’s father. If I considered brothers and sisters of all these Grisdales we’d soon be all over the place and all over the world!

Richard Grisdale and Agnes Martindale

Richard Grisdale and Agnes Martindale

Richard and his many siblings grew up at Yoad Pott farm (now spelt Yoad Pot); but in 1867, aged 21, he married Agnes Martindale in Kendal parish church. Agnes’s father, as I mentioned at the start, was the yeoman tenant farmer of Benson Hall and this is where Richard and Agnes’s first son Robert Edward was born in 1867. Now we come full circle to where we began. It’s not a thing I usually do but I’ll repeat what I said earlier.

Shortly after Robert’s birth his father Richard somehow managed to get the tenancy of a 700 acre farm called Barrowfield in not too distant Underbarrow, just west of Kendal. More children were born there: Jane 1869, Thomas 1871 and John 1873. Richard was still in his twenties as his family grew and things looked promising. After all although all his ancestors had been farmers none had had a farm as large as 700 acres. But tragedy was soon to strike. In 1876 Richard Grisdale died aged just twenty-nine. The cause of Richard’s death I have yet to ascertain. So Agnes was left with four young children and certainly couldn’t stay at Barrowfield Farm any longer.

What was widow Agnes to do? She sent her eldest child, our Robert Edward, to live back to Benson Hall where he was born in Benson Hall with her brother Robert Sinkinson Martindale and his wife Agnes and their family. Here we find him in 1881. Agnes herself moved from Yoad Pott to the nearby resort town of Bowness-on-Windermere with her children Jane and Jane and opened a ‘lodging house’ in Craig Walk – what we might perhaps call today a ‘bed and breakfast’ or even a hotel. Son Thomas, who was born in 1871, went elsewhere, but he stayed in the area because he was still working as a ‘servant’ in Scalthwaiterigg in 1891.

But widow Agnes Grisdale (nee Martindale), Robert Grisdale’s mother, soon remarried. In 1882 she married carpenter William Abel Jeffrey in Windermere. William was nine years her junior. They continued to live in Craig Walk in Bowness with Jane and John Grisdale and had three children together before Agnes’s death in 1897.

The next we hear of Canadian immigrant Robert Edward is in May 1891 when he married Nancy Bewley in Skelsmergh  church near Scalthwaiterigg. Between 1892 and 1909 eight children were born in Bowness to Robert and Nancy, all of whom survived and made it to Canada. They were: Jennie 1892, Annie 1894, Agnes 1897, Robert Edward 1899, Thomas Bewley 1901, John/Jack 1904, Nancy 1906 and Jessie 1909. The Bewley family originally came from Beck Grains near Uldale in Cumberland (where Nancy was born), but by the later 1800s had moved slightly south to Low House Head on Dunmail Raise near Wythburn.

Robert Edward Grisdale as a Carter/Carrier in Westmorland

At the time of his marriage to Nancy Bewley in 1891 Robert was still working as ‘farm servant’ on his uncle Robert Martindale’s farm at Benson Hall in Scalthwaiterigg. We can probably therefore surmise that since the age of 8 when his father died Robert had been brought up with his uncle’s family. He no doubt met Nancy Bewley nearby because the Bewley family had recently moved to the area. But the young couple soon moved to Bowness-on-Windermere to live in Craig Walk, the same street where Robert’s remarried mother Agnes was living with William Jeffrey and Robert’s siblings and two (soon to be three) new half-sisters.

But very soon after Robert struck out on his own. He became a self-employed ‘carter and carrier’, a profession he would continue until his move to Canada in 1911. In 1901 the family were living in Craig Walk in Bowness but sometime thereafter they moved to 2 North Terrace in the same town where we find them on  2 April 1911, Robert being called a ‘general carrier’.

Photo for dad - house (1)

2 North Terrace, Bowness

But only a few weeks after the 1911 UK census had been taken on 10 May ‘Horseman’ Robert Grisdale was on board the British-built Canadian Pacific Railroad steamship Monmouth in Avonmouth (Bristol) bound for Montreal. How had this come about? The family story is that Robert had found it well-nigh impossible to support a family including a wife and eight children as a self-employed ‘carrier’. Bill Grisdale, one of Robert’s Canadian grandsons told a Canadian newspaper:

They were starving; my grandfather couldn’t look after the wife and kids. He had a livery stable, but the word is in the family that they just couldn’t live.

 

 

George Hoadley

George Hoadley

By 1911 Robert was forty-three years old and he needed to find another way to support his family. What seems to have happened is that he was offered a chance by a Wetheral-born cousin called George Hoadley who had emigrated to Canada in 1890 and was now an established rancher outside Okotoks in Alberta. His ranch was called Wetheral, named after his place of birth in Cumberland, and he would go on to be a successful Alberta politician (see here).

The family story goes that Robert sold his carting business and George Hoadley paid for his passage to Canada in return for accompanying some horses to be brought from England to George’s ranch in Alberta – hence Robert description as ‘Horseman’ in the manifest of the steamship Monmouth. Remember Robert, like so many of his ancestors, was in some way a ‘horseman’.

So Robert went to Canada without his family and after he arrived in Montreal in late May 1911 he no doubt guided the horses by train to cousin George Hoadley’s ranch near Okotoks, where he started to work. But how to get his family to join him? Again the family story is that his brother John (who by now was living in York working as a ‘Ladies Tailor Costumer (sic) & Fur Dealer’) agreed to lend the money for the passage of his brother’s family to Canada.

r e grisdale family

The family in about 1910 before their emigration to Canada

And thus it was that in October 1911 Nancy Grisdale and her eight children made the trip from Bowness in Westmorland to the great imperial port of Liverpool and on the 6th of October boarded the steamship Corsican bound for Montreal, where they all safely arrived on 12 October after a journey of only six days. They gave their destination as Okotoks in Alberta.

Steamship Corsican in 1911

Steamship Corsican in 1911

We’re on the final straight here. I won’t be presumptuous enough to tell the story of this Grisdale family in Canada. In 2011, the 100th anniversary of the family’s arrival, many of Robert and Nancy’s descendants gathered in Okotoks to celebrate. They wrote and published a book called Just Another Milefrom The Lake District to Okotoks and Beyond, telling many family stories. Referring to Nancy and the children’s arrival in Canada the books says:

From Montreal they travelled by train to Calgary Alberta arriving Oct. 16, 1911.  Robert had not yet received the letter telling him of their arrival date so when they go off the train in Calgary, he was not there to meet them.  It was later learned that Senator Patrick Burns had noticed Nancy and her brood of eight children.  He then treated them all to hot chocolate and saw them off on the correct train to Okotoks.  Again arriving in Okotoks Robert was not there to meet them.  Upon making enquiries as to where they could find him Nancy was told to follow the track as he could be found just another mile west.  The entire family with all their baggage walked up the track to the Hoadley Ranch.  Robert (Bob) Jr. would recall years later telling the story of how he and his brother Tom ran ahead of the rest to a big barn and as they ran around the corner of the barn they ran right into their father.  They said they would never forget the look on their father’s face.

IMG_1081 (1)

The second Grisdale house in Okotoks

Hence the name of the book “Just Another Mile….”. A report in the Calgary Herald tells of how ‘the family suffered that first winter on the unforgiving prairies, with “hardly enough woollens to go around,” but how, like so many other tenacious pioneers back then, they stuck it out and established themselves as pillars of the community’. Robert’s grandson Ted (Edward), born in Okotoks in 1932, said that the family lived at the farm (George Hoadley’s) for a short period before eventually moving to Okotoks where Robert and Nancy lived and worked for the rest of their lives. He added:

He (Robert) did an awful lot, he had a shop where he made windows and doors and he did a lot of finishing stuff. He worked in the lumber yard for a time in Okotoks and had several different jobs.

And then:

When I was growing up, I couldn’t stand on a street corner in Okotoks without bumping into another Grisdale.

And here I will leave the family; anyone interested in finding out more about the family’s Canadian history can visit the family’s website: http://grisdale2011.wordpress.com/. I am grateful to the family for their help and many of the pictures.

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The family in Alberta circa 1920

 

The Monmouth on which Robert Grisdale 'Horseman' travelled to Canada

The Monmouth on which Robert Grisdale ‘Horseman’ travelled to Canada

Another view of Barrowfield Farm where Robert Edward spent his early tears

Another view of Barrowfield Farm where Robert Edward spent his early tears

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  1. […] From Matterdale to Alberta – the story of the English past of one Canadian Grisdale family […]

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