When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?

Posted: July 27, 2014 in english history, Genealogy
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We know that there was a free tenant farmer called John Grisdale farming at Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in 1524. As I have suggested before, either he, or possibly his father or even grandfather, had probably arrived in Matterdale sometime in the later 1400s (see here). We know too that Grisdale refers to where the family originally came from and when they moved from ‘Grisdale’ they would have been given the name ‘of’ or ‘de Grisdale’ by the locals to help identify which John or Edward or Robert they were talking about. I have discussed elsewhere which Grisdale this might have been (see here). My own view is that it was present-day Mungrisdale which for a long time was called simply Grisdale. But it is almost certain that the family was called Grisdale before it moved to Matterdale. Here I’d like to explore the question of when, and perhaps also where, the Grisdales first got their name.

In the future I’ll have a lot more to say about the sixteenth century Grisdales of Matterdale but let’s start with saying a little about English family or surnames – how and particularly when they arose and when they stabilized.

oxfordAs in many countries in England names were for centuries just first or ‘christian’ names: Robert or Richard or if we go back before the Conquest then more likely Alfred or Harold. There was a patronymic system, so you might have Robert son of John, from where might arise Johnson. The same was seen in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Using anglicized names, in Scotland a Malcolm mac Donald, i.e. son of Donald might give the family name MacDonald; in Ireland Fergus O (son of) Neill could give the family name O’Neill; while in Wales the family name Price will have come from a son (ap) of Rhys.

I can’t help mentioning the two Irish homosexuals William fitz Gerald and Gerald fitz William. Fitz of course being the Norman-French designation for son. Hence Fitzroy – son of the king.

Before such surnames derived from ‘first’ names became fixed, simply calling someone Edward son of Alfred might not suffice so we find longer names such as Edward son of Alfred son of William.

Such a system of naming is still found in many countries. In Iceland: ‘A man named Jón Einarsson has a son named Ólafur. Ólafur’s last name will not be Einarsson like his father’s; it will become Jónsson, literally indicating that Ólafur is the son of Jón (Jóns + son). The same practice is used for daughters. Jón Einarsson’s daughter Sigríður’s last name would not be Einarsson but Jónsdóttir. Again, the name literally means “Jón’s daughter” (Jóns + dóttir).’ In Iceland too you can still find matronymic names such as Heiðar Helguson (Helga’s son). It must make Icelandic genealogy very hard.

I will later show early examples of this way of naming for real people in Matterdale and in Grisdale itself.

Another major group of English surnames derive from occupations: Wilfred (the) Smith, Henry (the) Tanner or even Margaret Thatcher. Of course Henry the Tanner’s father might not have been a Tanner, he might have been Edward the Butcher. But if you’re called Tanner then somewhere along the line the occupational name of one of your ancestors who was a Tanner became fixed and became the family name.

Then there are surnames derived from characteristics or nicknames: George Strongarm or Stephen Goodenough.

And then there is another large group of names which are locative i.e. they describe a particular place. In an existing stable community someone might be called by the house where he lived, for example Arthur (of the) Newhouse, or a very specific locality, maybe Thomas (of) Underwood. Such names when they were first used only made sense if the other members of the community knew where the ‘Newhouse’ or ‘Underwood’ was; they wouldn’t have meant much to people from elsewhere. This brings us to names such as Grisdale, names referring to slightly larger and further away places. If Jeremiah had moved to the area from Stafford he would often be called Jeremiah de Stafford. If the ‘de Stafford’ became stuck as the family name and the ‘de’ dropped as it often was we get a ‘Stafford’ family.

It is important to note that it made no sense whatsoever for some who lived in Stafford to be called ‘of’ or ‘de Stafford’, because everyone there was ‘of’ Stafford. Don’t get confused because lords of the manor often took a secondary (sometimes primary) appellation from their manor, i.e. Lord X of Stafford, or even in the late thirteenth century a certain John Lancaster de Grisdale (to whom I’ll return on another occasion). Calling someone ‘of’ or ‘de Stafford’ only made sense when someone moved from Stafford to somewhere else and his origin was used to identify him in his new home. This is the case with the name Grisdale.

One final point here: if a man moved to London from a known town such as Lincoln, Norwich or even Stafford there was a good chance that he would be given that name. But if someone moved from the tiny mountainous hamlet of Grisdale (now Mungrisdale) to London then calling him ‘de Grisdale’ probably didn’t make much sense as no one in London would have had any idea where Grisdale was. If however the Grisdale man moved to somewhere much nearer than London he might indeed have been called Grisdale – this is undoubtedly what happens with our Grisdale family. I’ll give two real examples later.

edward3port

King Edward the Third

Before I do this it might be quite instructive to actually look at the real names of the principal families in Matterdale and Grisdale way back in 1332.

Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, the French-speaking kings of England would continually tax their victims, i.e. the people of England, to pay for their luxuries and incessant wars. They periodically taxed both the clergy and the laity. The later taxes are known as Lay Subsidies and are recorded in ‘Rolls’, hundreds of which still survive. There was a Lay Subsidy in 1332, the sixth year of King Edward III, and luckily it includes Cumberland. Here we find the names of the inhabitants of all the parishes, villages and hamlets, as well as the value of their goods and how much tax they should pay (in this case a fifteenth). Both Matterdale and Grisdale (now Mungrisdale and spelt Grisedale in the lay subsidy) were in the Ward of Leath, and here are the inhabitants’ names:

Matterdale 1332:

Robert son of Alicia, Henry del Crokwath, William son of Richard, William de Blatern, Richard servant of Richard, Robert son of Robert, John Gedirwit, John de Burton, Adam son of Robert, John Dickson, Adam son of Richard, Waddle forestar, Adam de Withebathin and Robert son of William

Grisedale 1332:

William Skraghird, Peter son of Hugh, William Slegh, William Riotis,  Robert son of John, Robert son of Gilbert, William son of Robert, Adam son of Peter…… there were seven more names but the Roll was ripped after Adam.

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn, Matterdale

What you can immediately see is how many families didn’t yet have a surname – notice all the ‘sons of’. But some family names had stabilized: William Slegh and John Dikson to name just two. It’s interesting to note that Wilfred Grisdale married Ruth Slee in Matterdale in the seventeenth century and Dickson was a common family name in Matterdale for centuries to come. And then we have the place names: further away places such as ‘de Burton’, ‘de Blatern’ and ‘de Withebathin (Wythburn?), and then local places such as ‘del Crokwath’ – Crookwath being a tenement near Dockray in Matterdale which was farmed by the Grisdales in the seventeenth century. We even find the occupational name Waddle forestar.

So in 1332 the process of stabilizing surnames in Cumberland was nowhere near finished, and you can find the same in all the other places covered by this Lay Subsidy Roll.

One point of parochial Grisdale interest is that while we can see that although families such as the Slees and Dicksons were already in Matterdale in 1332 the Grisdales clearly were not.

In England in general surnames were formed over the period of about 1250 to 1450. In the south of the country many had become fixed by 1350 but in the north, including Cumberland, it wasn’t until about 1450 that most families had a fixed name.

Now let’s return to the question: when and possibly where had the Grisdales become Grisdales?

As I have already said, it is my belief that the first Grisdales arrived in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the second half of the 1400s or maybe as late as 1500. As we have seen even surnames in Cumberland had stabilized by this time and thus we can be reasonably sure that when they arrived they were already called Grisdale or just possibly still ‘de Grisdale’ and that therefore they had not come directly from Grisdale.

Where had they been before?

Are there any mentions of Grisdales before we hear of John Grisdale, the early sixteenth-century farmer at Dowthwaite head? There are just two.

In the year 1407 a certain Rowland de Grisdale held one burgage in the new town of Kendal in Westmorland from its lord Sir William Parr. He had held the same in 1404. Also in 1407 ‘Rolland de Grisedale’ held two tenements (i.e. farms) in Underbarrow/Bradley Field, just a couple of miles west of Kendal, of Sir William Parr’s son John. We know that he had held this tenement in 1390 as well.

Burgage is a medieval land term used in England and Scotland, well established by the 13th century. A burgage was a town (“borough”) rental property (to use modern terms), owned by a king or lord. The property (“burgage tenement”) usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land (Scots, toft), with a narrow street frontage. Rental payment (“tenure”) was usually in the form of money, but each “burgage tenure” arrangement was unique, and could include services. As populations grew, “burgage plots” could be split into smaller additional units. Burgage tenures were usually money based, in contrast to rural tenures which were usually services based. In Saxon times the rent was called a landgable or hawgable.

Burgage Plots

Burgage Plots

It’s interesting to note that almost six hundred years later another Grisdale, Richard, was farming in exactly the same place as Rolland Grisdale was in 1407! I wrote about this later Richard here.

Bradley Field Farm. Here or near here Rolland de Grisdale farmed around 1400

Bradley Field Farm. Here or near here Rolland de Grisdale farmed around 1400

Now we don’t know if this Rolland/Rowland Grisdale was in any way connected with the Grisdales of Matterdale who first appear in the records about a hundred years later. But bear in mind two things. First, if Rolland de Grisdale of Kendal had children its most likely that they would have been called ‘de Grisdale’ too; the fact that we don’t find any children has to do with the paucity of the records not the fecundity of fifteenth century Lakeland people! Second, lo and behold, in 1571 in the Greystoke church records we find the burial of ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’. It might of course be a pure coincidence, but it just might not.

Just try a thought experiment. If this Matterdale Rolland died as a young man in 1571 then his father John could well have been born in the first quarter of the 1500s, and indeed his father might have been the John we know was farming at Dowthwaite Head in 1524, who I think must have been born in around 1470 – 1480. If Rolland of Matterdale had been named by his father John after his own grandfather (as was often done) then we are within spitting distance of Rolland de Grisdale of Kendal. Of course this is pure conjecture, but the fact is the Matterdale Grisdales had to have come from somewhere before they arrived in Matterdale and Rolland of Kendal is the only person bearing the Grisdale name we find in any fifteenth century record.

Halton Lancashire on the River Lune

Halton Lancashire on the River Lune

But now let’s go even further back to the very first Grisdale I can find: Simon de Grisdale. Simon appears in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Roll we have already discussed, not in the Lake District but rather in the parish of Halton in Lancashire, a few miles from Lancaster. He held a tenement in Halton of its lord William de Dacre.

Now here’s another coincidence? Because Dacre lies immediately adjacent to both Matterdale and Grisdale in Cumberland. William was the lord of this Dacre.

He (William) was born on 12 March 1265/6 in Castle Naworth, Yorkshire, the son of Ranulph and Joan de Lucy. He first married Anne Derwentwater (Derwentwater is a lake in the Lakes district of Cumbria). Next he married Joan Garnet, the daughter and sole heir of Sir Benedict Gernet, the Royal Forester.

He obtained a charter for free warren of all his demesne lands at Dacre and Halton in about 1303/4 (actually he first got the manor 1297)…. He joined the expedition of Edward I, the “Hammer of the Scots,” in to Scotland the same year. He was also engaged in the wars in Scotland between 1308 and 1311. The family had neither been rich, nor members of the baronage, but the family’s fortunes rose with the success and booty gained by William in these wars.

‘Though the Dacres and their heirs held Halton for about three centuries, their history belongs to Cumberland and there is little trace of their interest in Lancashire.’

Dacre Castle in 1802, Built by the Dacres in the mid fourteenth century

Dacre Castle in 1802, Built by the Dacres in the mid fourteenth century

Remember too that Dacre was part of the barony of Greystoke as were Matterdale and Grisdale (Mungrisdale).

So is it too much too imagine that when William de Dacre wanted to find farmers for his new Lancashire manor he might have asked his Cumberland steward and he found a Simon living in Grisdale to whom he granted a tenement in Halton, and who then became known as Simon de Grisdale?

Again, I repeat, all this is pure conjecture. So what might we be able to say?

From what we know of English surname formation, and particularly in northern England, the most likely scenario is that sometime in the fourteenth or fifteenth century (and I would say more likely in the fourteenth) an ancestor of the Matterdale Grisdales had moved from Grisdale/Mungrisdale to somewhere else where they started to be called ‘de Grisdale’. The ‘de’ part would most likely have continued in use for quite a while before eventually disappearing – there are hundreds of examples of this. And then, I think, one of this family, called by now Grisdale (and its variant spellings), arrived to take up the farming of the tenement at Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the latter part of the 1400s. This might have been the John Grisdale we find in the records or possibly his father.

Could the person who originally left Grisdale have been the Simon de Grisdale we find in Halton in Lancashire in 1332? Could Rolland de Grisdale in Kendal around 1400 have been one of the family too? We don’t know but it’s certainly possible, after all if Simon and Rolland de Grisdale had sons where did they end up?

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

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Comments
  1. Margaret says:

    Well since the name Grisdale apparently by family stories means Valley where the pigs dwell, is it possible that they may have been Vikings, since that is a Norwegian name? Just a thought.

    Margaret

  2. Stephen Lewis says:

    Well certainly Margaret see: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/were-the-grisdales-vikings-2/

    It was the Norse Irish Vikings who named the valley Grisdale probably in the tenth century.

    See also: http://thewildpeak.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/the-first-scandinavian-settlers-in-north-west-england/

    Best wishes

    Stephen

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