Four Penrith Grisdale Sisters

Posted: July 17, 2014 in Family History
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

This is the story of four Penrith Grisdale sisters born in the 1850s and early 1860s. Their lives turned out to be very different but they always kept in close touch to the end even when thousands of miles apart. The girls were Ann, Agnes, Emma and Hannah. Agnes Grisdale was my great grandmother.

First we need to say a little about the girls’ parents. Their father was a Penrith carpenter called Wilfred – what else! Born in 1815 in Penrith, Wilfred was the first of nine children of William Grisdale and his wife Mary Charters. Strangely enough in this rural town, William, helped by his wife, was a ‘Dancing Master’. I wrote a little about them before (see here).

Wilfrid_Grisdale1

Wilfred Grisdale, the sisters’ father and my 2x great grandfather

William’s was a family that spread all over the world from its origins in Matterdale: William’s brother Wilfred emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816/7 (see here); his son William emigrated to the goldfield town of Mansfield in Australia and had many adventures there (see here and here); while his London-born niece (his brother Gideon’s only child) first became a ballet dancer in Drury Lane, then married a famous painter called John William Gear, emigrated with him to Boston where he committed suicide, and ended up hawking fish in Falmouth in Cornwall (see here). There are others I could discuss.

Coming back to Wilfred, the girls’ father, he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Penrith, no doubt seeing his parents go off each day to teach dancing. But he obviously didn’t have such a bent and having done an apprenticeship he followed the more usual family route and became a joiner/carpenter.

The family lived in Rawcliffe Lane. In 1837 Wilfred married Penrith girl Hannah Robinson in St. Andrew’s church, where hundreds of the family had been and would be baptized, married and buried. Over the next ten years Wilfred and Hannah had seven children: William, Joseph, Thomas, Mary Ann, Wilfred, Elizabeth and Sarah. No doubt worn out by all this child-bearing Hannah died in 1853 at the age of thirty five.

Wilfrid Grisdale2

Wilfred Grisdale again in his Penrith garden

Wilfred was left with all these children. What was he to do? Men in those days, and perhaps still today, couldn’t do without a wife and a mother for their children. If Wilfred couldn’t get another wife soon the options were the orphanage and the workhouse. So in 1855 only two years after his wife’s death he married the widowed Elizabeth Nicholson (nee Hayton), who brought with her two Nicholson children. So now there were nine children. But not content with this Wilfred and Elizabeth soon produced four more daughters, the subject of this story: Ann 1856, Agnes 1858, Emma 1860 and Hannah 1863.

As the girl’s were growing and some of their older half-siblings started to leave, the family was living in Rawcliffe Lane, the same street as Wilfred’s parents.

Wilfred Grisdale spent his last years as the caretaker of Penrith’s Liberal Club in Devonshire Street. He loved horses and gardening and died in Penrith in 1893 aged seventy-seven.

That’s enough factual genealogical background. Let me consider the later lives of the four sisters, in the order of their birth.

Ann Grisdale 1856 – 1937

Nathan, Ann & Douglas

Nathan and Ann (Grisdale) Thomlinson with son Dougie

Oldest sister Ann Grisdale married Westmorland farmer turned ‘Mineral water Carter’ and travelling salesman Nathan Thomlinson in Penrith in 1893. The family stayed in Penrith, living first at in Benson Row before moving sometime during the First World War to 146 Graham Street where they died: Ann in 1937 and Nathan in 1941.

They had two children but one died young. Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson (yes Wilfred again!) was born in 1895. He joined the Border Regiment in 1913 before the outbreak of war and served throughout the war in the Machine Gun Corps, mostly in India but also in North Africa. He became a Sergeant and was demobilized in 1919.

Wilfred Douglas has some family still living not far from Penrith.

Agnes Grisdale 1858 – 1925

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes was my great grandmother. Somehow and somewhere she met the Shropshire-born railway ‘fireman’ and later engine driver Frederick Lewis who lived in Southport in Lancashire. Although trains certainly came to Penrith, I think Agnes had for some reason moved to Southport sometime prior to 1885 but after 1881 when she was still with her parents working as a general domestic servant. The reason is that when Agnes married Frederick on 30 April 1885 in Southport’s St. Andrew’s church, they both said they resided in Southport. Their first child William was born in December; as I say again later: do the maths yourself. Over the next seventeen years nine Southport more children were born, making ten in total: Edith 18887, Wilfred 1889, Percy 1890, Winifred 1892, Agnes 1894, Herbert 1896, Gertrude 1898, Reginald 1900 and Edith 1902.

Throughout this time Frederick was a railway engine driver.

Notice all the ‘Grisdale’ names: Wilfred, Agnes and William, although William Lewis was Frederick’s father.

Briefly said, William Lewis 1885 joined the Royal Navy as a gunner, was commissioned in the First World War, and served for thirty years. He lived near the Chatham naval dockyards in Kent; one of William’s sons was a RAF pilot and was killed in Algeria in 1944 (see here). Son Wilfred became a carpenter like his father but found it difficult to find work so he emigrated to Massachusetts in 1911 and was soon followed by three of his sisters: Agnes, Edith and Gertrude, but only Wilfred and Agnes stayed. Percy Lewis followed his father by becoming a Southport-based engine driver all his life; he was my grandfather.

Frederick Lewis died in Southport 1913 aged fifty-two. Agnes (Grisdale) Lewis died in the same place in 1925 aged sixty-seven.

fred lewis family

Frederick Lewis (top middle) with siblings in Southport in 1882

Obviously I never knew Agnes or Frederick, but I did know several of their children. My ‘American’ grand aunt Agnes Lewis (Agnes Grisdale’s daughter), who was said to be very like her mother, was one of the jolliest people I have ever met.  My ‘American’ grand uncle Wilfred was dearly beloved by his Massachusetts family, not a thing that is said about my Royal Navy grand uncle William.

Agnes Grisdale’s descendants today live in the United States, England, France and even Hong Kong.

Emma 1860 – 1930

Plumpton1 (7)

Stone Mason William Lowthian with parents and son in Plumpton

Now let’s turn to the third sister Emma, born in Penrith in 1860. After living with her parents, sisters and various half siblings, she became a domestic servant in the town. In 1887 she married the Plumpton Stone Mason William Nicholson Lowthian in Penrith – William was seven years her junior.  They had four sons in Plumpton: Joseph William Simpson Lowthian 1887, Herbert Stanley Lowthian 1889, Tom Simpson Lowthian 1896 and Wilfred Edward Lowthian 1902. The family lived in first in a cottage Brockley Moor and then for most of their lives in England at ‘Hill Top’, both in Plumpton Wall.

By 1903 Emma’s eldest son Joseph W. S. had started work in Carlisle as a railway clerk with the London & North-western railway. He was still there in 1911. It was probably through his work with the railway that Joseph had the idea of emigrating to Canada. It might even have been that he had a job offer from the Canadian Pacific Railway, for whom he was to work until his retirement.

1911 was a busy year: on 2 April he was still single and working as a railway clerk in Carlisle, he must then have immediately married local Carlisle girl Phoebe Hodgson Couling before departing a few days later from Liverpool on the steamship Tunisian which arrived in Halifax Nova Scotia on the 14 April. Joseph said he was a clerk and would be that too in Canada, giving his destination as Winnipeg. Whether he ever went to Winnipeg I don’t know because in 1911 he came to Revelstoke, B.C., where he went to work for the Canadian Pacific railway. Phoebe, by now pregnant, arrived in Quebec on the ship Laurentic on 15 July 2011 and took the train to Revelstoke. There their first daughter Amy Elizabeth was born in November – you can do the maths yourself. Another daughter Phoebe was born in 1917, but mother Phoebe died giving birth, aged just thirty-one.

Plumpton2 (5)

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian with her four sons outside their house in Plumpton before they started the move to Canada and the US

But going back to Cumberland, Emma’s husband, the Stone Mason William Lowthian, had died in 1912 aged forty-five. Two years later Emma’s third son Tom Simpson followed his brother to Canada and settled in Field, British Columbia, where he too became an ‘agent’ on the railway. Tom was drafted into the Canadian army, went to fight in France but returned safely at the end of 1918. Back in England in 1915 his younger brother Herbert Stanley, by now living in Penrith, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was killed in Flanders in 1917.

Portland

Portland, Oregon in the 1920s

All this left Emma and her youngest son Wilfred Edwin the only members of the family still in England. This changed in 1922 when they both arrived in Canada on the S/S Montrose, their passages having been paid by Joseph in ‘Vancouver’. Emma said she was coming ‘to keep house for son (who is a widower)’. Actually Joseph had already moved from Vancouver to Seattle in Oregon in 1918, where he was working in the Canadian Pacific’s traffic department as a ticket agent; he moved again to Portland in 1924 and ‘was retired on pension June 30, 1952’. He died in 1953 having been married briefly again in 1924 to an interesting Washington D.C. woman called Maude Sedalia Proctor (worthy of a separate story). He somewhere also had a daughter called Mary.

Brother Tom Simpson moved from Vancouver to Seattle after his marriage in 1924 and had two sons there. Brother Wilfred (Fred) moved to Washington State, married and had one son also called Wilfred.

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian died in Portland in 1930 aged 70; many of her descendents still live in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere in the United States.

Hannah Grisdale 1863 – 1947

grisdale family garden

The four Grisdale sisters together

Unfortunately we don’t know much about the youngest sister Hannah; all I have are a few pictures. She never married and after a life in domestic service in Cumberland and Cheshire died in 1947 in Carlisle aged eighty-four. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t worn out by having children that she lived so long?

I know this has been a bit of a wiz through countless lives, each one of which probably merits a story of its own. To finish I’d like to mention two things. First, I said that the sisters always kept in touch. I know this is true from communications with various descendants of the sisters. Letters were sent backwards and forwards from Oregon. The Thomlinsons and the Lewis’s visiting each other. When Agnes Grisdale died in 1925 flowers and greeting came from the Oregon family. I have lots of other examples.

In my own grandfather’s diary I find several mentions of him going to visit his cousin ‘Dougie’ Thomlinson (i.e. the ex-soldier Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson). But by now all the personal links are gone. When we discover a relative linked to us by the four sisters we are surprised, and I hope delighted too. Such is the way of the world.

wilfred-grisdales-house-in-deerfield

Wilfred Grisdale’s house in Deerfield, Michigan. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all called Wilfred!

Second, I want to mention the name Wilfred. In my Grisdale lineage it is almost the defining family feature, like say Robert is in other lines. It all goes back to the Dockray, Matterdale Blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711 – 1795). Very late in life Wilfred had a number of children with his second wife Ruth Slee. From them are sprung the literally hundreds of Wilfred Grisdales, or people with Wilfred as a middle name, who were and are found throughout the world. This is true in Canada and the United States as well as in Britain. It was even once true in Australia. See here for just one example.

Not only was there my 2x great grandfather, the Wilfred Grisdale I began with, but my ‘American’ grand uncle was called Wilfred Lewis too.

Now this Blacksmith Wilfred was not the first of that name in Matterdale, he was the second. The first was a Wilfred Grisdale born in 1675 in Hollas (The Hollows). He went on to make a fortune in London as a brewer before returning to Cumberland as a lord of the manor. Even after his death his money paid to build Wordsworth House in Cockermouth where the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth was born and raised (see here).

percy in us

My grandfather Percy Lewis with two of his brother Wilfred’s grandchildren in Massachusetts the 1950s

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Comments
  1. Margaret Grisdale says:

    Thank you so much for your interesting family stories that you just quickly scribbled for me, I feel very privileged that you took the time to write. So if I meet a Wilfred Lewis I should presume you are related to him. As in your family, as you know there are similar names in the Grisdale family, my sons are John, Daniel, Robert and Brent Edward just to keep with tradition. As you are an older father so is my son Dan, he is 54 years old and has two boys just turned 6 and one almost 5. I love the picture of you and your daughter. You are very handsome and have some Grisdale characteristics about you. I love reading your blogs. Should I be sharing with relatives who don’t know about you. I have sent on to my sons and sister in law some of the stories.
    How many languages do you speak since you have lived all over the world. I cant believe that once you were wealthy and now you are poor, a family doesn’t cost that much to keep!!
    Margaret

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