Iron miner and rapist – Christopher Grisdale

Posted: October 4, 2014 in Family History
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‘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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