A likely story – Eleanor Grisdale and the King of Mardale

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Family History
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It was probably a typically cold Lakeland day on the 26th January 1842 when young Eleanor Grisdale arrived at Watermillock church for her wedding. Accompanied by her father Benjamin, who farmed at nearby Hurrock Wood, she possibly took a look over Ullswater and considered what her life as the wife of John Holme, the ‘King of Mardale’, would bring.

Horrock Wood Farm

Horrock/Hurrock Wood Farm

The first amusing part of this tale is the wedding announcement in various local newspapers:

At Watermillock on Wednesday, the 26th inst., by the Rev Thomas Lowry, John Holme, Esq, of Chapel Hill, Mardale, Westmorland, the original residence of the ancient family of Holme, whose great ancestor, a native of Stockholm, came to England with William the Conqueror, to Eleanor, only child of Mr. Grisdale of Hurrock Wood, near Ullswater.

Of course nobody called Holme from Stockholm in Sweden ever came over with William the Bastard in 1066, in fact Stockholm didn’t even exist in 1066. Holm/Holme is indeed a Scandinavian toponym meaning ‘a low, flat tract of land beside a river or stream’ or ‘a small island, especially one in a river or lake’. When the Hiberno-Norse settled the Lake District in the tenth century they named numerous places Holm from which many local families derive their name.

It has always amazed me why some people even want to trace their family back to William the Bastard’s Norman-French – thugs who brought centuries-long death and repression to the people of England. But the Holme (sometimes Holmes) family of Mardale obviously loved telling this tale. In William Ford’s 1839 Description of Scenery in the Lake District, he writes of Chapel Hill:

Chapelhill. – Mardale Chapel of Ease, in a picturesque and fertile situation, surrounded by lofty fells, stands here; and Chapelhill is the property and residence of the Holmes’, whose ancestor came into this country with the Conqueror.

Mardale

Mardale

But it gets better. Let me share with you the story of the ‘Kings of Mardale’ given on a website called Mardale Green:

Hidden away in the far North Eastern corner of Westmoreland is the secluded valley of Mardale, a rugged and remote place with mountains on every side, it once offered the perfect hiding place for a family on the run.

One such band was, Hugh Parker Holme and his family (sic), originally a native of Stockholm Sweden, and a knight of the realm who once made his living from war. He entered early Britain within the armies of William the 1st, and for his troubles he was rewarded with a large estate in Yorkshire.

The year was 1209, and Hugh was thought to be involved within the Canterbury Conspiracy, a plot of their day to oust the then King John of England, this incurred the displeasure of John, who had them driven out of their homes, now fearing for their lives, they all headed north, making for safety in Scotland, which was neutral at the time.

King+John

King John

Their march was long and weary, crossing rivers mountain and dale, avoiding all the major routes they managed to remain hidden from view, Hugh sensed they were nearing their goal, but with their last few supplies running desperately low, and night time approaching, they stopped to rest and gather their strength, for the mountains ahead would test them in the days ahead, whilst sitting in a circle with their backs towards each other, looking up they saw the last few streams of daylight breaking through gaps in the blackening skies, suddenly one of Hugh’s sons noticed a light flickering far below them in the distance.

As he spoke, the heavens opened, the light now was fading fast, so they decided to take shelter in a tiny cave they found earlier that evening, little did they know it, but this place was to serve them well in the days ahead, unknown to them they were high upon Rough Crag, in the most inaccessible part of Riggindale (The cave survives to this day and is marked upon modern maps as Hugh’s Cave), with the Scottish border a  short distance away, they closed their eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

As daylight broke, the rain and hail still pounded the ridge, so they waited until the worst of the weather abated, by now  what little supplies they had were gone, and leaving his family behind for the first time since they set out, Hugh went down into the valley alone, to seek new supplies and to check if any news of the plot had reached this place, Hugh would make the trip from cave to green many times and as luck would have it, they heard news of King John’s demise, with him safely in the ground changed everything, so making for neutrality and safety in Scotland was now not so important, they decided to stay a while longer.

The days turned into weeks and the months past so fast, that any fears they had, ebbed slowly away, by now they had left the safety of the cave and ventured down into the valley, where a kind old man, who was getting on in years and needing the care of others, took them in, when the old man passed away, Hugh bought his lands and set too at building his own home, high upon the Rigg, Hugh’s young family added a much needed boost toward village life, the locals were very forthcoming and welcomed them with open arms.

In the years to come, Hugh gained the peoples trust, mainly by the doing of good; they valued his thoughts and eventually involved him within their politics, so much so, that they eventually awarded him with the title, The King of Mardale.

In the centuries that followed, every 1st male of the family line, were dubbed the King, the last male passed away in 1885 with Hugh Parker Holme, his memorial can still be seen in the new church yard, just up the road from the old church in Shap village, the very last line of the family ended with one Mary Elizabeth Holme who died in 1915 at the ripe old age of 90.

It’s all tosh but a great story nonetheless.

The last King of Mardale was indeed Hugh Parker Holme; he was the son of John Holme of Chapel Hill by his second wife Mary Howe, whose mother was a Parker; but the thirteenth century Hugh fleeing from King John is pure imagination.

In 1896, J. Paul Rylands wrote an article called Monumental Inscriptions and other inscriptions in the Church of Mardale wrote:

Most of the inscriptions printed below commemorate members of the Holme family, one of those ancient Lake District yeomen stocks, locally called “statesmen,” which are fast disappearing. The head of this family, for several, if not many, generations, has been known in the neighbourhood by the soubriquet of “the King of Mardale,” and curious legends were told by the dalesmen of the great antiquity of this race. There can be very little doubt that the Holmes have been settled on a small estate in Mardale for a very long period, and that the name of their older house, ‘Chapel Hill,’ near to the church, was its designation in 1670 is clear from an entry in the Shap parish registers. The present house, called ‘Chapel Hill,’ is on a different site.

No printed account of the Holmes of Mardale is extant, their name dues not occur in the Visitation of Westmorland made by Sir Richard St. George, Norroy, in l6l5, and their true origin appears to be unknown…

There are several places called Holme in this county and in Cumberland and Yorkshire, which may have given surnames to distinct families.

But what of Eleanor Grisdale who had married John Holme, the King of Mardale, in 1842? A daughter soon followed: Ann Maria Holme, who was to later marry a wealthy local agricultural merchant called James Cooper Bowstead. But Eleanor sadly died a few months after giving birth. The Carlisle Journal reported her death on 29 July 1843:

At Chapel Hill, Mardale, Westmorland, on the 22nd inst., Eleanor, the youthful wife of John Holme, Esq, in the 22nd year of her age, – universally esteemed and deeply lamented.

The village of Mardale and the original Chapel Hill now no longer exist because in the 1930s a large reservoir, Haweswater, was built to supply Manchester with water and the valley was flooded.

In 1835 the last service was held in Mardale Church.

Last service at Mardale 1935

Last service at Mardale 1935

The last farewell service at Holy Trinity will long be remembered, years hence old men and women, now but larle en’s will tell their children and grandchildren, how on the 18th of August 1935 they were part of the congregation that sad day.

The church held around 75 people, the lord mayor, Alderman Woolam, and the Lady Mayoress with a few others including  Mrs Cormack who played the harmonium, secured the remaining seats.

The 61st Bishop of Carlisle, the right rev Herbert Williams pronounced the final blessing within its walls, it is said that over a thousand people gathered upon the hillside beside listening to the service via loud hailers fastened to the church tower, by a local radio expert from Penrith, many there having Mardalian connections or just a love of old places, the general atmosphere was reverential, for there was something very moving about the service, all be it a simple one.

Some of the throng seemed to think that the locals were unduly hasty at holding the farewell service now, for the rising waters would not flow over the site next week or next month, for the final position for the dam footing had not yet been thought upon.

The psalms sung, were, I will lift up mine eyes into the hills and hymns included, O God Our Help in Ages Past, the Church’s One Foundation and Bright Vision That Delighted, a line which summed up the marvellous beauty of  the valley.

The saddest man amongst the crowd that day was former and last vicar or the parish, Rev Frederick H. J. Barham, who never actually received an official invitation to the service, came out of retirement and travelled north to be present, he donned his clerical garb, he did not go into the church, for the memories of the underhand treatment he received from the hands of the MCWW was too painful a memory to bare, instead he wandered amongst the crowd in his clerical garb talking to them, many of which had been in his old flock for more than twenty five years.

The voices of the great congregation rose high into the hills that day, if only those voices had been heard afar, then this most beautiful place might still be there for all to enjoy.

At the close of the service, the Bishop of Carlisle offered prayers for all the living descendants of the Holme family who had always known and loved this larle church.

King of Mardale

There was a King Across the Water,

And a King down by the sea,

And a King upon an island,

Who King shall always be,

But the King of the fells

Lives only in memory,

 

Now Mardale valley is a lake

An Avalon with no Hand Above the Water,

No sword, no Lady Fairies Daughter,

Reaching from the reservoir

Just a lonely old church tower,

Monument to the last King’s power

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