Archive for October, 2014

The tiny Cumbrian hamlet of Grisdale (now called Mungrisdale) lies just north of the old Roman road from Penrith to Keswick. It is without any doubt the place from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name. I have previously discussed when and how the family name probably came into existence in an article called When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?, as well as in other articles on this blog. As I mentioned there it is conceivable, though by no means capable of being proved, that a certain Simon de Grisdale, who we find in Halton in Lancashire in 1332, was the first person from Grisdale who had moved away and took the name of his home place with him when he did. What I’d like to do here is to focus on the years around 1332 and try to say something of what life was like in Grisdale at this time.

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Grisdale/Mungrisdale today

Why 1332? I have chosen this date because in that year there was taken a tax assessment in Cumberland and elsewhere which survives. These assessments are known as Lay Subsidy Rolls (Lay meaning that the tax concerned was being levied on lay people not clerics). Here we find a list of the inhabitants of all the settlements in Cumberland who were due to pay the tax, based on the value of their ‘goods’. Grisedale (spelt here with an E) appears, as indeed does Matterdale. The list of Grisdale inhabitants runs as follows:

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…

Then there seven other people whose names have been ripped out but whose goods and tax assessment are given. The subsidy was ‘one-fifteenth’ and in total the value of the goods of the people of Grisdale was £ 36 33s 6d, giving a total tax due of £2 8s 11d. The sum due from the residents of Matterdale was similar: £2 11s 9d.

Grisdale in 1576

Grisdale in 1576

So there were fifteen men in Grisdale who were taxed. To get an idea of the total population we might multiple this by say four or five to take account of wives, children and other dependents and then add in a few un-free serfs and very poor cottagers. So maybe there were somewhere in the region of 70 to 85 people living in Grisdale in 1332. This number might have been reduced after the Black Death struck England in 1348, a plague that did affect Cumberland but not as severely as it did the south and midlands of the country.

You will have noticed that of the eight people named only three had surnames, William Skraghird, William Slegh and William Riotis, the others were still referred to by naming their father, for example Robert son of John. Note too that all the Christian names are basically French: William, Robert, John, Richard etc.

Was one of these fifteen named or unnamed people the early fourteenth-century progenitor of the Grisdales? One can’t say more than it’s quite possible.

Whatever the case, who were these people of Grisdale? What language did they speak? What was their origin? Who were their rulers?

Let’s start with the question of language. Originally Cumbria had been a Brythonic (i.e. British) speaking area before the Northumbrian English started to make inroads in the seventh century. The ‘English’ hadn’t made much of an impression in the more rugged and barren hilly areas, which would include Grisdale, and the British themselves remained in place for hundreds of years although they too preferred the more fertile valley or coastal areas to the inhospitable mountains.

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

The ethnic and linguistic mix changed radically in the early tenth century when Hiberno-Norse (i.e. Scandinavians from Ireland) started to settle in numbers in north-western England and particularly in Cumbria. They spoke an Old Norse language which had acquired some Irish words from their years in Dublin and other Irish ‘longphorts’. If you have a glance of a Lakeland map today you will immediately see the importance of this settlement, there are Norse place names everywhere. If you were to include field names and topographical names it would take a large volume just to list them (there are several such volumes).

Grisdale was and is one of these Norse place names. It means valley of the pigs (or perhaps valley of the wild boars). There are several Grisdales or Grisedales in Cumberland and even one just across the modern county border in Yorkshire.

It is clear that some of these tenth-century Norse settlers came to Grisdale (i.e. Mungrisdale) and named the place as such, either because they kept their pigs there or because there were wild pigs there when they arrived. I tend to the former explanation. When the first Scandinavians walked into the valley they were to call Grisdale they might have found one or two Cumbric-speaking British living in rude hovels or, equally as likely, they might have found the place completely empty. There were certainly British living in nearby Threlkeld when the Vikings arrived.

saints1

St Kentigern/Mungo

The valley would certainly have been much more wooded than it was to become.

The dedication of the later Chapel in Grisdsale is to St. Kentigern a sixth-century British monk (and incidentally the first Bishop of Glasgow), who was often called St. Mungo – hence the more recent name of the hamlet and valley: Mungrisdale. Whether Kentigern/Mungo had ever actually preached in ‘Grisdale’ in the sixth century is not known. His cult became popular in the twelfth century and it is quite possible, even likely, that the dedication of the chapel happened then – though this doesn’t exclude an oral memory of Kentigern in the area.

Whatever the case, it was these Scandinavian settlers from Ireland who gave the place its name, as they did to most of the other places in the locality. As I have said, the settlers spoke Old Norse sprinkled with a few borrowings from Irish Gaelic. They were to keep their language for quite a long time. As the years and even centuries went by they adopted just a few British words, such as the famous method of counting sheep, bowdlerized in more recent times to eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and, more importantly, through their contact with their English-speaking neighbours their language started to morph into the Cumbrian dialect.

There is very little evidence regarding exactly how and when Norse merged with a variety of northern English in Cumbria. What evidence there is suggests that by the early fourteenth century the ‘merger’ of the languages had gone some way, but it was still as much Scandinavian as it was English. The arrival of the Norman-speaking French in Cumbria in 1091 would have had no direct effect on this process. Indirectly of course, as Old English (Anglo-Saxon) morphed into Middle English under the influence of the conquerors’ French, the people of Grisdale would have French words in their vocabulary too, although whether any French-speaking lord would have understood a word they said is highly doubtful. But for sure by the fourteenth century most Cumbrians, whether they were of Norse, British or English descent, would have understood each other, although the dialect could change radically over distances of only a few miles and someone from the south would have been lost, as some still are.

I would like to stress that this mutual comprehensibility didn’t extend the predominantly French-speaking nobility (or not for a long time anyway). As mentioned, the Norman French first arrived in Cumbria in 1091, twenty-five years after the Conquest. See The Normans come to Cumbria. When they did the rugged independence the Norse Cumbrians of Grisdale and elsewhere had enjoyed for nearly two hundred years came to an abrupt end. As elsewhere in England pretty much all of northwest England was divvied up and given to Norman-French henchmen, the majority of local leaders and landowners were stripped of their position and wealth. We might mention names such as Ranulf de Briquessart (le Meschin), Ivo de Taillebois and many more.

warrior_drawingInterestingly though the ‘barony of Greystoke’ (to use the French title), which included Grisdale and Matterdale, seems to be one of the exceptions that proves the rule. Here a powerful local family with Norse roots and Norse names was able to reach an accommodation with the Norman colonizers. This was the family of Forne Sigulfson, who became the first Norman-sanctioned lord of Greystoke. (See my article about Forne here). It was Forne’s son Ivo who started to built the pele tower at Greystoke in about 1129. Note Forne’s totally Norse name and his son’s French name – Forne probably named his son Ivo to honour and ingratiate himself with the powerful local Norman enforcer Ivo Taillebois. This family with Norse ancestry continued to be the lords of Greystoke (and therefore the lords of the people of Grisdale) until 1306 when the title and lands passed to a slightly related family called Grimethorpe, who took Greystoke as their family name.

It would be nice to think that in the two hundred or so years following 1091 the fact that the lords of Greystoke were originally Norse meant that the simple farmers and shepherds of Grisdale escaped some of the horrors inflicted on the people of England by the hated Norman colonizers – but I think this is most likely wishful thinking.

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Let’s say something about these local lords. They were pretty rough and ruthless types and despite the fact that they exploited the people of their ‘manors’ and stole any surplus, their lives, diets and dress were still very basic. In Cumbria, as I have said, they were mostly but not exclusively French-speaking Normans or sometimes Flemish. Initially they threw up wooden stockades to keep them safe from attacks by the conquered English. In Cumbria these were soon replaced by stone pele towers which served the same purpose and also provided some protection against later Scottish cattle raiders (reivers) and the occasional marauding Scottish army.

They were small stone buildings with walls from 3 to 10 feet thick, square or oblong in shape. Most were on the outskirts of the Lake District, but a few were within its boundaries. Designed to withstand short sieges, they usually consisted of three storeys – a tunnel-vaulted ground floor which had no windows which was used as a storage area, and which could accommodate animals.

The first floor contained a hall and kitchen, and the top floor was space for living and sleeping. The battlemented roof was normally flat for look-out purposes, and to allow arrows to be fired at raiders, and missiles hurled down on unwanted visitors….

Apart from their primary purpose as a warning system, these towers were also the homes of the lairds and landlords of the area, who dwelt in them with their families and retainers, while their followers lived in simple huts outside the walls. The towers also provide a refuge so that, when cross-border raiding parties arrived, the whole population of a village could take to the tower and wait for the marauders to depart.

As noted, Ivo FitzForne built the first stone fortification at Greystoke in about 1129, the building grew to become a large pele tower and in the 14th century after William de Greystoke obtained a royal licence to castellate it, the castle was further enlarged.

Greystoke Castle in 1780 - the original pele tower can still be seen

Greystoke Castle in 1780 – the original pele tower can still be seen

So in 1332 Greystoke did not yet have a castle, the lords still lived in a large pele tower surrounded by their family, armed knights and servants. In that year William de Greystoke, the 2nd ‘Baron Greystoke’, was still a minor and the barony of Greystoke was in the custody of Sir Hugh d’Audley (whose daughter Alice was William’s mother). What do we know about this William de Greystoke, who on reaching his majority in 1342 was the feudal lord of the people of Grisdale? Besides the normal feudal extractions how else did William’s actions impact the people of Grisdale and other parts of his barony?

The main impact was of course war. An idea of the mentality of people like William de Greystoke can perhaps be gained from the words of another Cumberland medieval lord, Lancelot de Threlkeld:

The principal residence of the Threlkeld family was at Threlkeld in Cumberland; but they had large possessions at Crosby long previous to this time, for in 1304 and 1320 Henry Threlkeld had a grant of free warren in Yanwath, Crosby, Tibbay, &c., and in 1404 occurs the name of William Threlkeld, Knight, of Crosby. Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, Knight, was the son of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, by Margaret, daughter and heiress of Henry Bromflatt, Lord Vescy, and widow of John de Clifford. He was wont to say he had three noble houses; one at Crosby Ravensworth for pleasure, where he had a park full of deer; one at Yanwath for comfort and warmth, wherein to reside in winter; and one at Threlkeld, well stocked with tenants, to go with him to the wars.

Lancelot’s Threlkeld tenants were his ‘stock… to go with him to the wars’. William de Greystoke also used his ‘stock’ of tenants to go with him to his wars, including without much doubt some from Grisdale and probably therefore some of the family that would become the Grisdales of Matterdale. I’ll have more to say about William de Greystoke at a later date, for now where did he go to fight his wars? After his majority in 1342 he:

Soon became embroiled in English campaigning on the continent: he was probably in Gascony in 1345–6, at the siege of Calais in 1347, and, perhaps, on the expedition of Henry, duke of Lancaster, to Prussia in 1351–2. In 1353 and again in 1354 he participated in unsuccessful Anglo-Scottish negotiations concerning the release of David II, king of Scots (an English prisoner since his capture at Neville’s Cross in 1346). In September 1354 Greystoke was appointed captain of the border town of Berwick: while he was absent campaigning once more in France it fell into Scottish hands in August 1355. As his second wife he had married Joan, the daughter of Sir Henry fitz Henry (Fitzhugh). He died on 10 July 1359 and was buried in Greystoke church.

So William and his knights plus his ‘stock’ of bowman tenants, no doubt including some from Grisdale, was most probably with sixteen year old Edward the Black Prince (the son of King Edward III) when the English army destroyed the French at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. He was also at the Siege of Calais during which the inhabitants suffered greatly and were reduced to eating dogs and rats. He also went to Prussia to help the Teutonic Knights fight the pagan Lithuanians, and was back again in France in 1355/56 where he and his men quite possibly fought in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 when the Black Prince’s English army destroyed the French chivalry yet again.

The Siege of Calais

The Siege of Calais

 

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

 

It was for all this war service to the French-speaking English king, Edward III, which led to William being granted the right to crenellate his pele tower in Greystock in 1353 – to transform it into a proper castle.

Often these battles at the start of the Hundred Years War are presented as ‘English’ victories over the French. In the sense that it was the simple English soldiers and bowman who won the victories over the massed flower of French chivalry then this is true. But really it was about one group of French noble thugs fighting another group of the same for control of large parts of France. From the English king on down to more humble nobles such as William de Greystoke, while many of them now had started to understand and even speak English, their primary language was still French. A few years before Robert of Gloucester wrote:

And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own; and they spoke French as they did at home, and had their children taught the same. So that the high men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little; but the low men hold to English, and to their own speech still. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth he is.

In 1362, Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English and the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the language of the courts, though this statute was still written in French! French was still the mother tongue of Henry IV (1399-1413), but he was the first to take the oath in English. That most “English” of Kings Henry V (1413–1422) was the first to write in English but he still preferred to use French. It is interesting to note that it was not until the days of Henry VII in the late fifteenth century that an English king married a woman born in England (Elizabeth of York), as well as the fact that Law French was not banished from the common law courts until as late as 1731.

Winter in Mungrisdale

Winter in Mungrisdale

I haven’t said much about the ordinary everyday life of the people of Grisdale in the fourteenth century. When they weren’t suffering at the hands of Scottish reivers and armies, being dragged to France to fight in the Greystokes’ wars or dying of the plague, they farmed a few small strips of land in the valley, tended the sheep on the moors, cut turf to keep them warm, kept a few pigs, worked on their lord’s home farm and tried to get enough money together to pay periodic taxes and regular rents. It was a hard life that wouldn’t change for centuries.

And so dear members of the extended Grisdale family, I hope this gives just a small inkling of where and from whom you come. If you have the name Grisdale/Grisedale your family name line will take you back to Grisdale in Cumbria in the early fourteenth century and, most likely, to the Scandinavians who arrived in Cumbria in the tenth century. Of course you’ll have dozens, even hundreds, of other genealogical and genetic ancestral lines as well, and in that sense you’re a mongrel like everyone else. But unlike other family names (such as mine) the great thing about Grisdale genealogy is that I have yet to find any proven case of someone bearing the name where it can be demonstrated that their family originates anywhere other than Matterdale and thus without much doubt ultimately from Grisdale (Mungrisdale).

Forget our thousand years of brutal kings and queens, our French lords, even (if you wish) the Scandinavian origins of your name. The Grisdale family is, with many others, about as English as you’ll get. That you most likely descend from a few tenth-century Vikings who became farmers and shepherds in remote Cumbrian Grisdale and your ancestors somehow survived centuries-long exploitation and repression to produce you (and even me) is, I think, something to rejoice in.

Rainbow_Over_Mungrisdale

Rainbow over Mungrisdale

One day in late August 1900 at Geluk’s Farm near Belfast in South Africa two companies of the 1st Battalion the King’s Liverpool Regiment were cornered and being attacked by the Afrikaner farmers – the Boers. Many of the company involved were killed, others escaped and one won a Victoria Cross. One of those who died was Liverpudlian Thomas Grisdale.

In 1895 a nineteen year old Thomas Grisdale was living in a pretty squalid area of Toxteth in Liverpool. His boss was foreman Mr Berrick in Dolling Street, Toxteth, and Thomas worked with him ‘carting’ goods on and off trains.

The King's Liverpool Regiment Memorial

The King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial

Whether for reasons of adventure or simply trying to better his position, Thomas decided to join the army. He signed up for the Liverpool militia in October 1895 aged, he said, ‘19 years 4 months’. Two months later he enlisted in the regular army with the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was first attached to the 2nd Battalion but then transferred to the 1st. Having recently returned from Nova Scotia, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, or ‘Liverpools’ as they were generally known, was first posted to garrison duty in the West Indies, but in 1897 they were sent to Cape Colony (Cape Town) in South Africa, where relations between the British and the Boers were once again deteriorating. From the Cape the first battalion, including Thomas, was moved to the town of Ladysmith in Natal, where the ‘1st King’s formed a company of mounted infantry and underwent intensive training’. They were still there two years later when war was declared on 11 October 1899 (the Second Boer War) and Natal was invaded by a Boer force under General Piet Joubert.

Boer Fighters

Boer Fighters

Under General George White 16,000 British soldiers set out from Ladysmith and elsewhere to confront the Boers, but British tactics were out-of-date and they suffered heavy losses in the first major engagements. Regarding Thomas and the 1st Battalion of the Liverpools:

The 1st Battalion was in Ladysmith when war was declared. They were not present at either Glencoe (20th October 1899) or Elandslaagte (21st October). On the 24th Sir George White, being anxious to engage the attention of the Boers and so prevent them falling on General Yule’s column, then retreating from Dundee to Ladysmith, moved out of the latter town and fought the action of Rietfontein. The force which he took out was—5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Mounted Volunteers, 42nd and 53rd Batteries RFA, No 10 Mountain Battery, 1st Liverpools, 1st Devons, 1st Gloucesters, and 2nd King’s Royal Rifles.

Sir George threw out the Lancers and Hussars to seize some ridges and protect his right. The Gloucesters advanced on the left and the Liverpools on their right, the Devons being in support afterwards in the firing line and the King’s Royal Rifles at the baggage. The general’s intention was not to come to close fighting. The two field batteries did admirable work, silencing the Boer guns and keeping down the enemy’s rifle-fire, and what was a tactical success might have been accomplished at very slight loss, but the Gloucesters pushed rather too far forward and suffered severely. Before 2 pm firing had ceased, the Boers had withdrawn westwards, and the danger of that part of their army attacking General Yule was over.

On 26th October General Yule’s force entered Ladysmith, wearied and mud-bedraggled, after a march entailing very great bodily hardship to all and very great anxiety to those in command.

The Boer's 'Long Tom'

The Boer’s ‘Long Tom’

Over the next few days, as the Boers were gathering north of Ladysmith, the British army, including Thomas’s 1st Liverpools, attacked again. But a lot of ‘bungling’ followed; bungling for which many of those in charge were soon to be castigated back home in Britain. I won’t tell the whole tale; the main engagement is usually known as the battle of Nicholson’s Neck. The upshot was that the British retreated to Ladysmith where they were to be besieged by the Boers for the next four months. The Boers literally brought up their big gun; the so-called Long Tom. They bombarded the town but try as they might, and they made several attacks, they couldn’t take Ladysmith.

The Boer bombardments were conducted at no particular time, particularly by their two 6 inch guns. On 24th November 1899 Long Tom caught a company of the King’s Liverpools massed in the open, inflicting 9 casualties, five of them dead.

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

‘During the siege of Ladysmith the Liverpools were located on the north side of the town, and were not in the terrible fighting when the attack was made upon the southern defences on 6th January. Of course a feint was made on the north of the town, but the attack was not pressed as it was at Caesar’s Camp and Waggon Hill…. On the night of the 7th December Colonel Mellor and three companies of the Liverpools seized Limit Hill, “and through the gap thus created” a squadron of the 19th Hussars penetrated some four miles to the north, destroying the enemy’s telegraph line and burning various shelters, etc.’

As the weeks passed conditions in the town got worse and worse for both its inhabitants and for the British soldiers. By the end of February a relief force under General Redvers Buller had, despite several humiliating defeats, managed to fight its way up from the Cape to Ladysmith and the siege was relieved. The Boer besiegers trekked away across the veldt. One of the defeats the British relieving force had suffered was called the Battle of Spion’s Kop, after which Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ‘Kop’ is named. Winston Churchill, who was there after his daring escape from a Boer concentration camp, wrote, ‘Corpses lay here and there. Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.’

On 1st March 1900 … the 1st Liverpools and other troops, now emaciated and worn to absolute weakness, crawled some five miles north of Ladysmith to harass the enemy in their retreat, and did effect some good work in that way.

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

All this Thomas Grisdale had experienced. But his military career was not yet over. General Buller soon decided to go on the offensive and the British moved into the Boer heartlands of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Liverpools were often in action, for example at Amarsfoori on 7 August and at Van Dykes Vlei on 21 August. But then:

On the following day Buller’s army advanced to Geluk, some five or six miles, the (Liverpool) battalion with the Gordons and mounted troops of Dundonald’s Brigade, acting as rear-guard. A very difficult spur, with steep sides, was crossed, and the high hills on the further side occupied. These had been held by the Boers in strength, but they had retired on Buller’s approach. As soon as the infantry of the rear-guard had arrived in camp, the mounted troops of the rear-guard were attacked rather sharply, but they managed to hold their own and to beat off the Boers. Two companies (‘C’ and ‘E’) of the Liverpool Regiment, who formed part of the advance guard, fell into an ambush and lost considerably, leaving, it was reported, some eighty men either killed, wounded, or prisoners in the hands of the Boers. Shortly after arrival in camp, five companies of the Regiment were sent out on outpost duty, taking up a short line and entrenching—two companies were entrenched in front and furnished sentries, with three companies entrenched in rear in support.

William Heaton VC - A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

William Heaton VC – A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

One member of the two Liverpool companies that were ambushed was Private William Edward Heaton:

On the 23rd August, 1900, the Company to which Private Heaton belonged, advancing in front of the general line held by the troops, became surrounded by the enemy and was suffering severely. At the request of the Officer Commanding, Private Heaton volunteered to take a message back to explain the position of the Company. He was successful, though at the imminent risk of his own life. Had it not been for Private Heaton’s courage there can be little doubt that the remainder of the Company, which suffered very severely, would have had to surrender.

Private Heaton was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Twenty-four year old Private Thomas Grisdale was also one of the soldiers at Geluk’s Farm. He unfortunately did not survive, at least not for more than a few hours. The official ‘Natal Field Force’ casualty roll tells us that Private T. Grisdale, number 5080, of the 1st Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) was ‘killed on 24 Aug 1900 at Geluk’.

Like countless young British men over the centuries Thomas was never to return home. As the poet A E Housman once put it:

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

“God save the Queen” we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Thomas's grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

Thomas’s grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

So who was the father of Thomas Grisdale who might or might not have been proud that his son had died to ‘Save the Queen’? His parents were William Grisdale and Margaret Robinson. They had arrived in Liverpool from Penrith, Cumberland in the early 1860s with their three young Cumberland-born children. Seven more children were to be born in Liverpool. Thomas was the couple’s seventh child and was born in the first half of 1876. William was born in Penrith in 1838, the first son of carpenter Wilfred Grisdale (1815-1893) by his first wife Hannah Robinson. William also became a carpenter but probably finding it difficult to make a living moved to Liverpool. He worked first as a labourer but later found work as a joiner. The family lived at 10 Leslie Street in Toxteth Park. The street was later erased from the map when large swathes of Liverpool’s slums were cleared in the second half of the twentieth century.

Although from Penrith the family had, as you might expect, originally come from Matterdale. Thomas’s great grandfather William (1785- 1866) was born there but had moved to Penrith where he was a ‘Dancing Master’. He was the son of Matterdale blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711- 1795) and his young wife Ruth Slee. (I’m sorry there are so many Wilfreds and Williams!) Another son of Wilfred the blacksmith, also called Wilfred, emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816 and founded a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Ontario and Michigan. William, the brother of Penrith Dancing Master Wilfred, emigrated to Victoria, Australia in 1853, joined the gold rush, and later found a decapitated man. Another member of the family became a ballet dancer at Drury Lane, married well, went to Boston but died hawking fish in Falmouth.

Our Private Grisdale’s parents must have been devastated when they heard of his death. Father William died in Liverpool in 1906 in Dolling Street, Toxteth. After his death his wife Margaret was admitted to Toxteth Park Workhouse and died there in 1907.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

 

‘The details are unfit for publication.’ Lancaster Gazette, 1858.

The Furness peninsula on the west side of Morecambe Bay is now a mostly quiet rural spot to the south of the Cumbrian Lakes. But throughout much of its history, when it was in Lancashire, it was full of industry; principally iron ore mining and iron furnaces (called ‘bloomeries’). This story concerns one nineteenth-century iron miner called Christopher Grisdale and how what he did affected a family who worked in one of the furnaces.

The area we are concerned with encompasses Dalton-in-Furness and Ulverston. It is flat country with views of the higher Lakelands to the north and northeast and across the bay to the Cartmel peninsula to the east. Iron mining started here in the early middle ages, but the mines were small, the iron extracted by hand with little machinery and the ore carted away by pack horses.

A horse gin working a mine shaft

A horse gin working a mine shaft

Things started to change in the later 1700s when demand for iron soared to supply the Royal Navy and the nascent industrial towns. New mines were opened and older mines were enlarged, particularly in the Lindal and Marton area between Dalton and Ulverston.

A number of mining techniques were employed in the Lindal and Marton area. Mostly a system of shafts and levels was used. A vertical shaft would be sunk, and the ore would be removed from a horizontal level to its outer limits. Material would be lifted out by a horse gin or steam engine. Sometimes the ground above would be allowed to collapse into the excavated level. The shaft would be extended downwards, and the process would be repeated at a lower level, and so on. This process was known as top slicing, and resulted in large surface depressions above the mine workings, many of which can still be seen.

Cornish miners were brought in and the mines soon moved from using ‘horse gins’ to bring up the ore to using steam-powered winding engines called whimseys. New furnaces were built, two of which were at Newland just east of Ulverston and, in 1747, at Orgrave Mill near Holmes Green between Dalton and Ulverston. The Newland furnace was one of eight charcoal furnaces in Cumbria, ‘it became the home of the Harrison Ainslie company, an important entrepreneurial business which eventually owned all of the iron furnaces in what became known as the Furness area. Newland was the industrial heart of the region’.

‘It produced 28 tonnes of iron per week, and to do that it required 56 tonnes of charcoal each week, which meant a huge volume of timber. Seven or eight men worked there, tough, unrelenting hard graft until the last production run finished in 1893.’

Newland Furnace and Foundry, Ulverston

Newland Furnace and Foundry, Ulverston

Iron miners generally worked as small companies; gangs of men managed by a mine captain, paid monthly as a unit, and the money shared amongst themselves as they saw fit. Miners were easily identifiable by their greasy red appearance, with face, hands and clothes stained red by the iron oxide. Mining was dangerous, and miners were often injured or killed by rockfalls, railway accidents, falling off wet ladders, etc. Nevertheless, or possibly as a result, they tended to be strongly religious, and the area had several Methodist and Baptist chapels, as well as the church.

Ulverston Iron Ore Miners

Ulverston Iron Ore Miners

But not all the ore was smelted locally. Most had to be transported elsewhere. A port was lacking (Barrow-in-Furness hadn’t yet been developed as such), so in 1794-5 a canal was cut, one and a quarter miles in length, connecting Ulverston with Morecambe Bay. It was ‘said to be the shortest, straightest, and deepest in England, and is navigable for vessels of 300 tons burthen, which can be moored in safety in the capacious basin constructed for the purpose’.

After the completion of the canal Ulverston had a considerable coasting trade, exporting iron and copper ore and coppice wood, hoops, slates and gunpowder; but since the opening of the docks at Barrow the port is quite deserted and its shipyards silent. “In 1774,” Mr. West tells us, “there were seventy ships belonging to this place. Coals were then imported, and sold at £1 5s. 6d. per caldron.”

The streets of Ulverston ‘were often ankle deep in red mud, as iron-ore carts passed through regularly en route to the Canal and the iron furnace at Newland – ladies complained they could not get to Church without getting their petticoats filthy’.

mapChristopher Grisdale was born in Dalton in 1828, the illegitimate and only son of Elizabeth (‘Betty’) Grisdale. Betty too had been born in Dalton in 1807, one of two children of Dalton-born Christopher Grisdale and his Yorkshire wife Ruth Hatterton. To link in with a known Grisdale family, Christopher Senior, who was born in 1776, was one of several illegitimate children of an Agnes Grisdale, and it’s nigh on certain that this Agnes was born in 1730 in Heversham, Westmorland to John Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth Holme. John was later to move to Cartmel (in about 1739) and was thus the first Grisdale to inhabit this coastal area. I wrote about this family in a story called ‘Grisdale Cockle Fishermen of the Cartmel Peninsula’.

The Christopher Grisdale we are concerned with (the one born in 1828) was working on a farm near Dalton owned by Thomas Huddleston in 1851. I can find no mention of him before this so I don’t know where and how he was raised or what became of his mother Betty. Thomas Huddleston was related to George Huddleston, one of the principal shareholders in the Ulverston Mining Company and, as we shall see, a powerful local JP and magistrate.

Sometime after 1851 Christopher stopped working on a farm and started working as a miner in one of the local iron mines – most likely in the Lindal/Marton area between Ulverston and Dalton. In 1n 1856 he married Charlotte Jolley in St Mary’s church in Ulverston; a child soon followed though I have yet to determine her/his name.

Let’s here make mention of another local family – the Fells. Christopher Fell had worked in the Orgrave Mill iron foundry near Dalton, but by 1858 he worked in a foundry in Ulverston, probably at Newland. One of his many children was Margaret who was aged just seven on the 13th of June 1858 when she had the misfortune to meet iron miner Christopher Grisdale in Ulverston. Here are the facts of what happened. On 19 June 1858 the Westmorland Gazette reported:

Villainous Assault – At the Magistrates’ Office, Ulverston, on Wednesday, before G Huddleston, Esq., Christopher Grisdale, of Ulverston, labourer, was charged with assaulting Margaret Fell, daughter of Christopher Fell, a child of seven years of age, with intent, on Sunday last. The offense being clearly proved, he was committed to take his trial at the ensuing sessions.

The Lancaster Gazette reported on the same day that Grisdale had ‘carnally to know’ Margaret, i.e. attempted to rape her. On 3 July the same paper reported the trial:

Criminal Assault – Christopher Grisdale, 30, miner, was indicted for attempting at Ulverston, on the 13th June, 1858, carnally to know Margaret Fell, a child under 10 years of age, the second count charged him with assault, occasioning bodily harm; and the third count charged him with indecent assault.

Mr. M’Oubrey appeared to prosecute, and Mr. Higgin for the defence.

On an objection made by Mr. Higgin to an omission on the wording of the first count, the count was withdrawn, and the case was taken upon the second and third counts.

Town Bank School, Ulverston

Town Bank School, Ulverston

This was one of the discreditable cases of which we fortunately have but few in this part of the county. The evidence for the prosecution showed that the little girl, Margaret Fell, who was only seven years of age, was playing near the Town Bank school, Ulverston, on the afternoon of Sunday the 13th June, when the prisoner, whom she had not known before, but who is a married man, with a wife and child, came up, and under the promise of giving her a half-penny or a penny she went with him, and partly having hold of his hand, and partly carried by him, was taken into a field near to the house of Mr. Gregson Fell, and there committed the gross assault with which he was charged; and then set her on the road home by another road. On arriving home she complained to her mother of injury. Supt. Cooper was informed of the circumstance, and under his directions the little girl was examined by Mr. Seatle, surgeon, who found her injured by violence. The details are unfit for publication.

Mr. Higgin addressed the jury in defence of the prisoner. The chairman summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the first count, and the court sentenced the prisoner to be imprisoned in the House of Correction, with hard labour, for 15 months.

Prisoners arriving at Lancaster Castle Prison

Prisoners arriving at Lancaster Castle Prison

So Christopher Grisdale had violently tried to rape little Margaret Fell – “The details are unfit for publication”. What I find rather amazing is that Grisdale received a sentence of only 15 months in prison for his crime – the ‘House of Correction’ probably being Lancaster Castle. This is only a few years since people were hanged or transported to Australia for petty theft or poaching; crimes against property, however small, were nearly always punished more severally than crimes against other common people.

We might normally expect to find Christopher Grisdale somewhere in the records again after his release, but I can find him nowhere, or his wife and child. Had he died in jail? If so we might expect to find his death recorded. Had he died or emigrated? Lots of questions, no answers.

Perhaps there was a sort of justice because although she had no doubt been traumatized, Margaret Fell survived, and went on to marry William Wilkinson in 1875; she had three children and died in Bradford in Yorkshire in 1938 aged 87.

 

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‘A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.’ Proverbs 26:3

In the spring of 1838 a twenty-eight year old girl called Deborah Grisdale died in the Lancaster Lunatic Asylum. Without consulting the asylum’s records I can’t say why she was there or how she died, but I can say something about such asylums and, at the end, I’ll tell where she came from.

Inside Bedlam

Inside Bedlam

‘For as long as the Church controlled the insane, they endured dreadful torments. They were imprisoned, chained to a wall (or if they were lucky to a bed), flogged, starved, insulted, tortured, immersed in iced water and otherwise brutalised. It also seems safe to assume that sexual abuse would have been commonplace in view of twentieth century disclosures about monasteries, seminaries, church schools, orphanages and state mental asylums. Throughout Christendom the insane were kept in insanitary conditions in mad-houses and exposed to public ridicule. The most famous place in England for such people was the hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (“Bedlam”), where visitors were charged a fee to see the inmates, and were allowed to provoke them and laugh at them. A few inmates came to their senses, some died of old age, some died of neglect, starvation, exposure or torture, and many died of “putrid fever” or other infectious diseases that flourished in such conditions.’

Bedlam

Bedlam

The state of these asylums was memorably described by local magistrate Godfrey Higgins, who investigated York asylum in 1814. He found ‘evidence of wrongdoing on a massive scale: maltreatment of the patients extending to rape and murder; forging of records to hide deaths among the inmates; an extraordinarily widespread use of chains and other forms of mechanical restraint; massive embezzlement of funds; and conditions of utter filth and neglect.’ On one visit he forced his way through a hidden door to expose a tiny room crammed with thirteen elderly ladies, practically naked and covered in their own excrement. Higgins ‘became very sick and could no longer remain in the room.  I vomited.’

 

In a Victorian lunatic asylum

In a Victorian lunatic asylum

In Lancashire prior to the 1800s the ‘mentally ill’ were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. In the early 19th Century, pressure from various quarters (particularly from the Quakers) was growing to build county asylums that would provide suitable accommodation and more humane treatment for those suffering from mental disorder. In 1809, one year after the County Asylums Act of 1808, a decision was made to build a new asylum in Lancaster. Designed by architect Thomas Standen, it opened in 1816 as the ‘County Lunatic Asylum for the County Palatine of Lancaster’ – it was here that Deborah Grisdale was sent.

‘The mentally ill inmates, who were classed as ‘lunatics’, were transferred from Lancaster Castle to the Asylum in the outskirts of Lancaster. Despite an attempt to move away from previous mistreatment, inadequate treatment still occurred in the first few years of the Asylum’s existence… During the renovation of the original section of the asylums into housing in the early twenty-first century, there were reports of shackles and padded rooms being found in the cellars of the remains. It is clear that chaining was still seen as a form of treatment of the mentally ill for years after the creation of Asylums.’

Lancaster Moor Asylum

The 1816 Lancaster Asylum

The important thing to keep in mind is that both in the old ‘madhouses’ and the later ‘asylums’, such as in Lancaster, one didn’t have to be mad to be sent there. They were long used as dumping grounds for any people who magistrates found in any way problematic. The list below from a later nineteenth-century asylum shows the lunacy of many of the reasons for which people were sent to a lunatic asylum. It will make you laugh and weep.

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Women in particular could find themselves labelled insane and locked up in madhouses for a range of conditions – from postnatal depression to alcoholism or senile dementia, and even for social transgressions such as infidelity (‘moral insanity’).

Emma Riches

Emma Riches

In the 1850s, Emma Riches, a 27-year-old mother of four, was admitted to the Bethlem asylum (the original Bedlam). ‘Her newest baby was four weeks old when Emma was admitted… with ‘puerperal insanity’, or what we would now call postnatal depression… She had suffered from the illness after the births of each of the children, and been admitted to the same hospital before.’

Emma’s notes record: ‘She never speaks nor appears to notice anything… She cares for nothing, will not eat unless she is forced to do so, nor dress nor undress herself.’

‘There is no clear indication of how Emma was treated by doctors, beyond a remark that the drugs they tried were ineffectual. Nurses are likely to have attempted to persuade her to sew or help out in the kitchens. Uneducated, Emma could not have read books to pass the time or provide an escape from the tedium of her asylum – where she would have been without all of her four children. A second photograph shows her restored to health, wearing her own smart clothes again and about to be discharged back to her family. After almost a year in hospital, her postnatal depression had passed.’

Without going to Preston to look at the asylum’s records, I don’t know why Deborah Grisdale was sent there. In 1835, when she was twenty-four, she had given birth to an illegitimate baby boy in her home village of Allithwaite on the Cartmel peninsula, she called him Jehoshaphat after the fourth king of Judah.

Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.

Should we read anything into this choice of name?

Was Deborah committed for postnatal depression of even ‘moral insanity’? Or was she truly mad? As I said I don’t yet know. All I know is she died in the asylum aged ’28’ in 1838.

Deborah Grisdale was born in 1811 in Allithwaite on the Cartmel peninsula in Lancashire (now in Cumbria). She was the second child and only daughter of cockle fishernan Thomas Grisdale and his wife Mary Armistead, She was named after Thomas’s own mother Deborah Grisdale (nee Grisdale). I wrote about the family in a story called ‘Grisdale Cockle Fishermen of the Cartmel Peninsula’. Of Deborah’s three siblings only one lived long enough to have a family and leave descendants: the first Isaac Armistead Grisdale.

Morecambe Bay Cocklers

Morecambe Bay Cocklers

And what of Deborah’s illegitimate son Jehoshaphat? After his birth in 1835 we next find him in 1841 living with his grandparennts in Allithwaite and then in 1851 working as a farm servant in nearby Seathwaite in Egton cum Newland.. Then he seems to disappear. Did he change his name? Did he join the army? Who knows.

The extended Asylum

The extended Asylum