Posts Tagged ‘Cumbria’

In the little Cumbrian valley of Matterdale there is a local story that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three hundred years. It tells of how in the late seventeenth century one poor tenant farmer walked hundreds of miles to London to testify in front of the highest court in the land – the House of Lords – in a trial which pitted a group of Matterdale farmers against a powerful local lord of the manor. Is this story true? If so what was it all about and what was the outcome?

Luckily the records of the trial survive in the archives of the House of Lords and so it is possible to reconstruct much of the real history of this small episode. More than this, the long and costly struggle of the Matterdale farmers gives us a lovely insight into the centuries-long, and much opposed, English enclosure process – a process that was just beginning to bite in Cumberland in the seventeenth century.

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

In those days, it was relatively unusual for poor tenant farmers (not to speak of still poorer cottagers and landless peasants) to somehow be able to manage to take their complaints and grievances against their lords all the way through the different levels of the English legal system right up to the House of Lords. It was also quite rare for them to eventually win, as these Matterdale farmers did! Such rarity was both because the legal system was increasingly stacked against poor rural people trying to uphold their age-old common rights against the insidious and inexorable encroachments of powerful local lords, but also it was simply a question of money. Most small farmers simply just couldn’t afford the huge expense of lawyers plus the time and effort required to pursue their case to the very end.

Later I will provide a little background on the English enclosure movement and what protecting common rights meant, as well as giving some colour regarding the protagonists themselves, the judges and the witnesses who were called to appear before the House of Lords. I will also ask if we can identify the person who “walked to London”. But first what follows is the true story of the legal case as best I can reconstruct it.

Background to the trials

Matterdale

Cumberland was a very poor and sparsely populated county. It wasn’t “champion” arable country as was to be found in much of the south and east of the country. It was and still is a land of lakes, mountains and moors. Great barons and lords held almost all the land in “fee” either directly from the King or from their feudal superiors – i.e. from more powerful magnates. The common people, particularly but not only customary tenant farmers, still pastured their livestock on the moors. These once natural rights to “the common treasury of all” had by now become “customary” rights. The Cumbrian farmers’ ‘right of common pasture’ on certain moors near Matterdale lay at the heart of the legal battle that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century, the greatest landowning barons in the area were the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, but another powerful family was the Huddlestons – historically Catholic like the Dukes of Norfolk themselves. Andrew Huddleston had recently converted to Protestantism to avoid the problems and religious persecution suffered by other members of his family. He was the Lord of the Manor of Hutton John. It was Andrew’s actions that were the cause of the farmers’ complaints and legal battles.

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

In 1686, William Mounsey and fifty-three other named customary tenant farmers from Matterdale hired a lawyer and brought a writ, an ‘English Bill’, before the Court of Exchequer in London. Their claim was that they had all had a right of common pasture for their livestock on three nearby moors and wastes in the Manor of Hutton John, called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire.  But that the lord of the manor, Andrew Huddleston, claimed that the three moors were part of his manor and thus ‘belonged’ to him alone and that the farmers had no right of common pasture there. Like his father before him, he had tried to prevent the farmers from making use of these moors for grazing their livestock. When they didn’t stop he impounded (i.e. seized) their cattle. As the farmers couldn’t fight him physically they had had to resort to the law.

The case is called William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston.

On July 1st 1686, the Exchequer judges referred the case to the Court of Common Pleas, to be heard at the next session of the Cumberland Assizes in Carlisle. This was duly held. The Carlisle assize court was presided over by an itinerant judge; a jury of twelve local men was convened. The judge in the case was called Thomas Powell (later Sir Thomas). The court and the jury heard the arguments of the plaintiff farmers and of the defendant Andrew Huddleston (or at least from their counsels), as well as taking the testimony of other witnesses.

The jury found in the farmers’ favour. But Huddleston wasn’t having any of it. As we will see he was later to argue that the true decision of the jury wasn’t in fact that all these fifty-four Matterdale tenants had a right of common pasture on ‘his’ moors and wastes, but that only he and William Mounsey had such a right. However, in the immediate aftermath of the trial what he in fact did was to continue to harass the farmers and impound their cattle.

The farmers wouldn’t lie down for this. They believed they had right on their side. As the law allowed, they made an appeal to the Court of Appeal to have the trial decision upheld and enforced. This meant returning to the judges of the Court of Exchequer in London when they sat to judge such matters of supposed Error and ‘Equity and Justice’. These sittings were held in the “Exchequer Chamber”. We are told that the judges in the Exchequer Chamber questioned the original Carlisle trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Thomas Powell, and examined the trial record (the so-called Postea). They upheld the original verdict that all the farmers had the customary right of common pasture and made an injunction restraining Huddlestone from harassing the farmers further.

The House of Lords

London in 1690

Andrew Huddleston still refused to accept the verdict and the injunction made against him that he should refrain from harassing the farmers and impounding their cattle. He decided to appeal to the House of Lords to “reverse” the judgement and decree of the Court of Exchequer and asked that he be “restored to all that he hath lost thereby”.

His petition to the House, written by his counsels Samuel Buck and B. Tonstall, is dated the 3rd of April 1690. His case was that there had been an error in the recording of the verdict of the jury at the Carlisle court and that it had actually found that only he and William Mounsey had the common customary right to pasture their livestock on the moors and not that all the farmers had this right as the Court of Exchequer had found. His petition reads:

At ye next assizes for ye said County after aview averdict was given upon ye said issue that the said Mounsey hath only right of common in Westermellfell and the said verdict was indorsed on ye Pannell and yet afterwards at ye hearing upon ye equity… the said court by reason of ye said verdict decreed that all ye said 53 tenants of Matterdale should enjoy right of Common in Westermellfell and that your petitioner should pay costs and be perpetually enjoyned from distreining any (of) ye said Tenants cattle upon ye said Westermellfell.

He based his case on his contention that:

Ten of the said Jury certified upon Oath filed in ye said Court that it was the meaning of the said Jury that ye said Mounsey had only rights of Comon in Westermellfell and no other of the tenants of Matterdale.

And that:

Ye Postea was not filed in ye Court of Common Pleas….  until ye last long vacacon (vacation) and then notwithstanding ye indorsement Judgement was entered as if it had been found that all ye fifty-three tenants had and ought to have Comon in Westermellfell. All of which your petitioner assignes for Error in ye said Judgement and Decree.

Thus his petition to reverse the decision of the court of appeal was “ by reason of ye said indorsement of Record and ye said Certificates ready to be produced” which proved that “it was not found that any of the said tenants had or ought to have any common…”

Now this all may seem a bit obscure and full of French Law expressions, and it is, but as far as I can understand it essentially Huddleston was arguing that the verdict of the Carlisle trial (no doubt along with a list of jurors) was recorded and annexed to or “indorsed” to the writ on a parchment “Pannell”. This had been either not been seen or was ignored by the Court of Appeal. In addition, the Postea, which was the written report of the clerk of the court after a trial detailing the proceedings and the decision reached, had been delayed in being submitted to the Court of Common Pleas in London and thus had not been seen by the judges of the Exchequer Chamber. He was also claiming that he had sworn written statements (affidavits) from ten of the Carlisle jurymen that they had in fact only found that Mounsey had a right of common and not all the tenant farmers.

On the 3rd April 1690 the House of Lords considered Huddleston’s petition:

Upon reading the Petition of Andrew Hudlestone Esquire; shewing, “That William Munsey, and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Grastocke, in the County of Cumberland, in Mich’mas Terme, 36°Car. IIdi, exhibited their English Bill in the Court of Exchequer against your Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John, complaining, that at a Hearing, 1° Julii 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have or ought to have Common of Pasture in the said Moors, or any Part thereof; and also of the Judgement given upon that Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous,” as in the Petition is set forth:

It is thereupon ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said William Munsey, and the Fifty-three other Tenants before-mentioned, may have a Copy or Copies of the said Petition; and be, and are hereby, required to put in their Answer or respective Answers thereunto, in Writing, on Thursday the 17th Day of this Instant April, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; whereof the Petitioner is to cause timely Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they answer accordingly.

This was a tight deadline for the farmers and their counsel asked for an extension, which the Lords granted on the 15th of April:

The House being this Day moved, “That William Munsey and the Inhabitants of Materdale in Cumberland may have a longer Time to answer to the Petition and Appeal of Andrew Hudleston, they being at a great Distance from London:”

It is thereupon ORDERED, That the said William Munsey and others the Inhabitants aforesaid have hereby Time given them for answering thereunto, until Thursday the First Day of May next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon.

The Matterdale farmers gave their answer on the 30th April 1690. They stated yet again that they held they held customary tenements in “the Barony of Greystoke in the County of Cumberland” and that these tenements were “descendible from ancestor to heire according to the custom of the said Barony under diverse rents and services”. In addition they:

Became duly intituled under the right and tithe of the then Duke of Norfolk Lord and owner of the said Barony or otherwise to have common of pasture for all their goates, sheep and cattle levant and couchant on the said customary tenements yearly and at all times of the year in and upon certain Moores or Wast grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermellfell and Redmire or some of them in the parish of Graystoke  as to their customary tenements belonging and which they and their Ancestors and predecessors, tenants of the said customary tenements, had from tyme out of mind enjoyed and ought to enjoy and being molested therein unjustly by the now Appellant who claymes to be Lord of the Manor of Hutton John and that the said Moores and Wastes lye within that Manor and pretended that the now Respondents had no right of common there.

The farmers then described how they had wanted to assert and establish their right of common and had thus presented their ‘English Bill’ to the Court of Exchequer and how their case had been sent for trial at the Carlisle assizes, in the Court of Common Pleas, the question being:

Whether all or any of the customary tenants of the late Henry Duke of Norfolk in Matterdale … have (from) tyme out of mind had and ought to have common of pasture on the waste grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire in any part thereof and at all tymes of the year..

They stated that “upon a long and full evidence and examination on both sides the Jury gave a verdict that all the said customary tenants had common of pasture for their said cattle”, and that this decision had been so recorded in the Postea. They went on to explain how the case “came again to be heard in the Exchequer Chambor” (the appeal court), how the judges had once again examined witnesses, read the Postea and heard counsel for both parties. The judges had also examined the original trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Tomas Powell, and had “decreed that all respondents had right of common… and that they should enjoy the same without the least disturbance or interruption of the now Appellant (Huddleston) and that “an injunction was awarded for quiet enjoyment and restraining of the Appellant”.

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

Basically the farmers were claiming that both the Court of Common Pleas sitting in Carlisle and subsequently the Exchequer appeal court, sitting in the Exchequer Chamber, had found for them. Their rights, they said, had been upheld “in diverse Tryalls at Law”, but that the petitioner Huddleston “being unreasonably vexatious did still molest and interrupt (them) in the enjoyment of their common by impounding their cattle and otherwise and yet (i.e. still) refusing to suffer their right and title to the said common”. Regarding Huddleston’s claim that he had affidavits from ten of the original Carlisle jury, the farmers “suggested that if he had “procured” such certificates then they believed these to have been “unduly obtained” and that “they ought not to be made use of against them in this case” because it would be of “dangerous consequence to admit new evidence” or give credence to any statements of the jurors which were “in opposition or diminution to their verdict entered of record and verified by the Judge before whom the Tryall was had”.

In essence I think we see here the implicit suggestion of the farmers that Huddleston had somehow pressured or extorted the jurors to recant their original decision. We will never know the truth but such things were not unheard of.

Some of the exasperation of the farmers comes to us clearly over the centuries from their final words. Being they said “but poor men” they were “not able to contend with the Appellant who is rich and powerfull and uses all means to weary (us) out”.

They asked that the House of Lords dismiss Huddleston’s petition “with costs” because they had already occurred significant costs and trouble “in the proceedings so far” and that there was still more to pay.

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

The Lords set the 10th May 1690 for the hearing of the case and asked Huddleston to “cause Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they attend with their Counsel accordingly” on that day. They also ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House, on Monday the 12th of this Instant May, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents, and wherein Andrew Hudlestone Esquire is Appellant”.

The date of the hearing was moved back twice more, both because the “respondents and Andrew Hudlestone” were “far distant from London” and because their Lordships had had to deal with “more weighty matters”. A final date of 4th December 1690 was eventually fixed.

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

The Custos Brevium of the Court of Common Pleas do attend at the Bar of this House To-morrow, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, with the Record of the Postea and Verdict in the Cause tried at the Assizes at Carlisle, between Andrew Hudleston Esquire and Mr. William Mounsey; and hereof he may not fail.

The Custos Brevium was the chief clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. The judges wanted to see for themselves the written record of the Carlisle trial which was such a bone of contention.

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

Upon hearing Counsel this Day at the Bar, upon the Petition of Andrew Hudleston Esquire, shewing, “That William Mounsey and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Graystocke, in the County ofCumberland, in Michaelmas Terme, 36° Car. 11di, exhibited their English Bill, in the Court of Exchequer, against the Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John; complaining, that, at a Hearing, the First of July 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have, or ought to have, Common of Pasture in the Moors or Wastes in the Petition mentioned, or any Part thereof, as also of the Judgement given upon the Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous;” as also upon hearing Counsel upon the Answer of William Mounsey, Richard Grisedale, Jos. Grisedale, Thomas Atkinson Junior, Thomas Atkinson Senior, Edward Grisedale Senior, Edward Grisedale Junior, Thomas Grisedale, Thomas Grisedale, John Pauley, William Greenhow, Robert Grisedale, John Benson, John Wilkinson, William Robinson, Michaell Grisedale, William Dockeray, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Harrison, Thomas Hoggart, John Wilson, George Martin, John Harrison, John Neffeild, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hodgson, William Wilkinson, Richard Wilkinson, John Dawson, Rich. Sutton, John Nithellson, John Robinson, Chamberlaine Dawson, John Mounsey, William Wilson, Robert Hudson, James Hudson, Agnes Gibson, Robert Rukin, John Brownrigg, Michaell Atkinson, John Greenhow, John Birkett, Thomas Brownrigg, William Robinson, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, John Greenbow, Thomas Greenhow, and John Coleman, put in thereunto:

After due Consideration had of what was offered by Counsel on either Side thereupon, it is ORDERED and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said Petition of Andrew Hudleston be, and is hereby, dismissed this House; and that the Decree made in the Court of Exchequer, from which he appealed to this House, be, and is hereby, affirmed.

The Matterdale farmers had won. At least for the time being they and their descendants would be able to benefit from their common and customary rights to graze their cattle and other livestock on these Cumberland moors. Of course the Huddleston family didn’t give up their quest to deny the farmers their ancient rights and they were finally able to completely enclose Hutton Fell by an Act of Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century, by which time many of the members of the families who brought Andrew Huddleston to court had already been forced off the land, to move to the satanic mills of the northern industrial towns, to join the army or to emigrate. But that is another story.

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

The full list of all the fifty-four Matterdale farmers was given in the Lords final ruling quoted above as well as in the farmers’ answer to Huddleston’s petition. They were all members of long-established Matterdale families. William Mounsey himself was one of the wealthier tenants and came from Brownrigg in Matterdale, others farmed up and down Matterdale valley, from Douthwaite Head in the south to near Hutton John in the north.

As has been mentioned, Andrew Huddleston came from a long line of Catholics, whose cadet branch had become Lords of Hutton John. Andrew’s Uncle John was a catholic priest and had helped King Charles the Second escape following the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651 and when Charles was restored after the English Revolution he became his confidant and reconciled him to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Unlike many of his relatives (including his father) Andrew was flexible and converted to the Anglican faith and then set about restoring his family’s fortunes. The Huddlestons remained Lords of Hutton John for centuries to come.

Regarding the witnesses who were called to the House of Lords as witnesses; on November 8th 1690, when Andrew Huddleston petitioned that “your Lordships appoint a day” for the hearing, his counsel also humbly conceived that “Sir Wilfred Lawson Bart., John Pattinson, Thomas Benn and John Huddleston be fit and material witnesses in the cause”. I will have to leave it for a later time to look at who these people were (and it is certainly of interest). Suffice it to say they were obviously being called to bolster Huddleston case regarding the alleged customary rights of the tenant farmers as well to challenge the decision of the jury at the Carlisle assizes as it had been interpreted by the Court of Exchequer.

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

But if we want to know who the Matterdale farmer was who, according to the local oral history, walked to London to appear before the House of Lords, we need perhaps to look at the witnesses called to give evidence for the farmers themselves. Earlier I mentioned that the House of Lords had ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House … as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents”. Now Charles Howard (of Greystoke) was the brother of Henry the sixth Duke of Norfolk who had died in 1684 and to whom the farmers repeatedly made reference in trying to establish the legality of their rights of common pasture. He was no doubt being called to testify to this effect. John Aglionby’s family had supposedly come over with William the Conqueror and were a long-established Cumbrian gentry family. John himself was a lawyer and a long-serving recorder of the Carlisle Assizes and was thus without much doubt being called to testify regarding the decision of the jury and court in the original trial. James Bird Esq. remains obscure for the moment, but John Mounsey, who was a “gentleman”, was William Mounsey’s brother. He and John Grisedale (certainly a relative of the numerous Grisdales amongst the Matterdale farmers) were probably being called either to give evidence regarding the customary rights of the farmers “from time immemorial” or regarding the verdict of the Carlisle trial.

So perhaps it was John Mounsey or John Grisedale who had “walked to London”? After all they are the two most likely contenders as we know that the House of Lords had demanded their presence. But of course it could equally as well have been William Mounsey himself or one of the other fifty-three, in their capacity as respondents to Huddleston’s petition. Perhaps we will never know.

What was it all about?

It’s certainly pleasing to know that this group of “poor men” finally prevailed over the “rich and powerful” Andrew Huddleston. It was obviously pretty crucial to their future livelihood that they could continue to pasture their animals on the moors.  But where does this small legal fight fit in the longer sweep of English history?

The majority of the English rural population had “from time out of mind” relied upon being able to make use of the huge swathes of England that were not under cultivation or definitively enclosed to supplement their meagre livelihood. They collected wood from the forests for building and heating, they foraged wild fruits, berries and leaves to supplement their diets, they cut peat or turf to burn and they grazed their goats, sheep and cattle on the wastes and moors. This they had done for as long as people had lived in a specific locality – in England certainly from well before the Norman Conquest. Without wishing to romanticise pre-conquest England, the land and it bounty were a “common treasury” for all.

When The Norman French arrived in and after 1066, England was divvied up between the King and his secular and religious followers. The French feudal system was imposed with a vengeance. The long process of denying people their “rights” (to use an anachronistic term) to make use of the Commons had begun. The Norman French Kings created private “forests” for their own hunting while the French religious and lay barons and lords went about reducing most of the population to de facto or de jure serfdom. But while there was  hardly any part of the country that was not owned (or held in feudal fee) by the Kings or the great magnates and lords, there were still enormous amounts of wastes, woods and moors surrounding the hundreds of nucleated, and usually cultivated, villages. The local people continued to use these commons but now their right to do so had become “customary” rather than what we might call natural.

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

These customary rights were just part of a whole elaborate web of mutual feudal rights and obligations between lords and their vassals. To take the example of Cumbrian tenant farmers, they had the right to live on and work their tenements because their ancestors had before them. They had to pay rents, they owed labour services on the lords’ home farms – including various boon-days when the harvest needed gathering. They had to pay a fine or “relief” when the tenant died and his successor took over and when the manor itself passed from one generation to the next. But they also had rights in the common. By the seventeenth century all these rights and obligations were seen as deriving from custom. Sometimes they were written down but sometimes the customs were just that: customary, and were claimed to have existed from time immemorial.

An important part of the history of the English people in the nine hundred years following the Conquest is the history of how the majority of English people was inexorably deprived of its common rights and slowly but surely forced off the land. This was the process of English enclosures. It took a long time, starting I would suggest in the thirteenth century, gaining momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reaching its brutal climax with the Parliamentary Enclosures of the nineteenth century; by which time England had been effectively fully privatised.

George Orwell once put it thus:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

In the previous century Karl Marx had already summed up what the Enclosures were all about:

We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth […] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property […] a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called ‘capital farms’ or ‘merchant farms’, and ‘to set the country folk at liberty’ as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

The small victory of the Matterdale farmers in 1690 was important to them, but in the longer term their victory was almost pyrrhic. The Huddlestons wanted more land and they wanted exclusive use of that land. They wanted “private property” in its modern sense. They, like so many other “noble” English families, finally got what they wanted. The bulk of the rural population could no longer support itself. If people couldn’t have access to the commons they were drawn into the new industrial cities and towns there to become a new class of urban proletariat, or perhaps they went to fights the Kings’ wars or had to emigrate to Canada or America or perhaps they were convicted of petty crimes undertaken to feed themselves and their families and were transported to Australia. The descendants of the Matterdale farmers did all of these.

Sources

The details of the hearing of the case William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston are held in the archives of the House of Lords. Huddleston’s petition: HL/PO/JO/10/1/422/250 and Mounsey et al’s reply: HL/PO/JO/3/184/1. The House of Lords Journal Volume pages 447, 465, 486, 488, 545, 548, 577 and 578 provide further information.

There are also documents relating to the original Carlisle assize trial  held in the Cumbria record office, including D HUD 1/20  and D HGB/1/115.

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.

mun

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

This is on updated version of an earlier article.

Anybody with the name Grisdale today will, like everybody else on the planet, have an extremely mixed genealogical and genetic ancestry. They will have thousands of ancestors, some of whom will have originated in some surprising places. Surnames are usually passed down the paternal line although this is only one line among hundreds we might choose to explore.

Be that as it may. But one of the interesting aspects of the large Grisdale family is that wherever it is possible to trace a person’s ancestry it almost variably goes back to Matterdale. I have yet to find any instance of ancient Grisdale roots in Grisedale in Yorkshire (see here). My belief is that the place Grisdale from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name is actually modern Mungrisdale just north of Matterdale and not the Grisedale/Grisdale Beck, bridge, Tarn area just south near Patterdale  and certainly not Grisedale Pike near Kewsick. Mungrisdale was for long simply called Grisdale. See my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from?

1576

1576 map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

Of course Grisdale (and its variant spellings) is in the first instance a place name. The etymology is quite clear: ‘dale’ is from the Old Norse ‘dalr’ meaning valley, while ‘gris’ is most likely from the Old Norse word gris, meaning boar, i.e. a wild pig. Whether the four Grisdales/Grisedales in Cumbria and Yorkshire were full of boars when they were settled by Scandinavians or whether they refer to the name of an original settler called ‘The Boar’ is unknown, though I tend to prefer the later interpretation.

oxfordI’ll concentrate here on the Cumberland Grisdales. Because Grisdale is a place name, then the early people taking the name were most likely styled as such because they came from there and had most probably moved some way away. They would have been referred to, for example, as John or Richard of Grisdale (or in the Norman French version John or Richard de Grisdale), to distinguish them from other Johns and Richards living nearby. If people lived in the same place, say Grisdale itself, they’d be no need to say they were ‘of Grisdale’.

Other naming patterns were also used. So one might have say a Robert (the) Butcher, John (the) Tailor or Richard Johnson (son of John). We often also find whole strings of ancestry: like John son of William son of Robert. The patronymic suffix son, as in Richardson, is a Germanic and Scandinavian usage; the Welsh used ‘ap’, Robert ap Rhys would become anglicised as Robert Price; in Scotland there is ‘Mac’, in Ireland ‘O’; while the Normans had ‘Fitz’. I’ve used names like John, Richard, William and Robert here because they were certainly common Grisdale names at a later date. But these names are all Norman and only started to be used extensively in England in the twelfth century after the Norman Conquest. Before that we might conjecture names like Sigulf (of) Grisdale – and Sigulf for example means something like Victorious Wolf! See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales? for a fuller discussion of names.

Let’s be more precise in locating the two Cumbrian Grisdales neighbouring Matterdale.

Today on the eastern slopes of Helvellyn, running down to Lake Ullswater, we find a valley called Grisedale with Grisedale Beck (Scandinavian for stream) running down it. At the head of the dale lies Grisedale Forest, which was once a hunting preserve of the local lords, and then Grisedale Tarn. ‘Forest’ it should be remembered did not at this time primarily refer to a wooded area (though it might be so), it was an area strictly reserved for the nobility’s hunting of deer and even boars. In Norman times, these areas were tightly controlled and protected by the lords’ foresters and by forest law. Settlement within the forests was highly discouraged, even banned. As I have argued elsewhere I don’t presently think this is where our Grisdales originally came from. I prefer Mungrisdale which was for centuries just called Grisdale. In my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from? I summarized the reasons for my preference:

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

‘There are two reasons I now believe that it is from this Grisdale that the Matterdale Grisdales derived their name. First, (Mun)grisdale has always been part of the barony and parish of Greystoke (the earliest records of this are from the thirteenth century). Matterdale too was part of the same barony, whereas Grisedale near Patterdale never was. As the barons of Greystoke were the lords and owners of Matterdale (including Dowthwaite) it was no doubt one of them (or less likely one of their vassals) who originally granted the ‘free’ tenancy of Dowthwaite Head Farm to one of their men from Grisdale. Second, while we know that (Mun)grisdale was a small hamlet, it was a significant enough settlement not only to have an early chapel but also significant enough to be mentioned as the place of birth, death and origin of many families recorded in the registers of Greystoke and to be included in the early manorial records of Greystoke. On the other hand it doesn’t seem that the Grisedale on the slopes of Helvellyn was ever more than a ‘chase’ or private hunting ground.’

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

So who had settled Grisdale originally? Clearly one or more Scandinavians, whether one was called ‘The Boar’ or not. And when? Well probably in the tenth century. Present day Cumberland and Westmorland (Land West of the Moors) were originally part of a British kingdom called ‘Cumbria’. The people were British and spoke a British language called Cymric – from whence the names Cumbria and Cumberland derive. They lived all over the area, more in the more fertile flatlands surrounding the hills but also partly in the uplands too. One example of an upland Cymric settlement is Great Crosthwaite near Keswick. Certainly this is a partly Scandinavian name – ‘thwaite’ is a Scandinavian word meaning clearing. But the Cross itself refers us back to the sixth century British Saint Kentigern, and a Celtic church and cross dedicated to him had probably stood on the site for centuries before the advent of the Vikings.

The Anglo-Saxons first started to arrive in southern Britain in the fifth century, later in the North East. They hadn’t managed to make much impression in the western mountainous regions of Cumberland, though they did a little more so in Westmorland. What made more impact was the arrival of Norwegian ‘Vikings’ in the tenth century from their bases in Ireland and the Isle of Man. First they raided and then they settled.

vikings_arrive

Vikings arrive

It was most probably one of these Hiberno-Norse ‘Vikings’, who might or might not have been called ‘The Boar’, who first settled Grisdale and gave it its name. For a fuller discussion of the Norse settlement see my article The first Scandinavian settlers in North West England.

One thing of importance is that until the great Norman monasteries and abbeys were founded in the twelfth century – such as Furness and Saint Bees – and they established a huge wool industry based on upland sheep ‘granges’, most of Cumberland was still forested. When individual Norwegians wanted to settle in these remote areas they usually first had to clear parts of the forest, creating ‘thwaites’.

Turning to the name Grisdale: probably coming from present day Mun(grisdale) some people ‘of Grisdale’ started to spread out and create or join other settlements. When exactly this happened is lost in the mists of time.. The first mention we find in the historic record of someone actually called ‘of Grisdale’ was a certain Simon de Grisdale in Halton in Lancashire in the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332. There is also a burgess and farmer called Rolland de Grisdale in the newly created town of Kendal in 1404/7.  See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

But the first Grisdales we can truly identify in any numbers were the Grisdales of Matterdale in the mid sixteenth century. The earliest mention is to a freee yeoman farmer John Grisdale farming at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. I wrote about John in an article called Dowthwaite Head and the first Matterdale Grisdales.  One or two other Grisdales appear quite early too in Crosthwaite and a few other Cumbrian areas, but these seem to have moved there from Matterdale.

Matterdale itself is a Scandinavian place name. It lies just a little south of Mun(grisdale) and just over the hill from Grisedale Beck near Patterdale. In later times it had three main hamlets: Matterdale End, Dockray and Dowthwaite Head. The Grisdales of Matterdale were found in all three. A major group of them became yeoman farmers in Dowthwaite Head, a place itself signifying a clearing made in the woods, probably by some Scandinavian – possibly Dudh. Others lived only a couple of miles away at Crookwath near Dockray. Crookwath means crooked ford or shallow in Old Norse. We don’t know whether such places as Dowthwaite and Crookwath were first cleared by Viking settlers in the early days of Norwegian settlement in the tenth century or much later by these settlers’ descendants, who were probably still speaking a roughly Norse language.

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn

We know that many people were well establised in different parts of Matterdale by 1332, because in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Roll we find their names (see here). We also find one of them was living at Crookwath and we know from people who had moved away that Dockray existed too – they took the name ‘de Dockray’.

While it seems reasonable to assume that such places as Grisdale, Matterdale, Dowthwaite, Dockray and even little Crookwath were Norwegian settlements this doesn’t necessarily mean that all subsequent people carrying the place name Grisdale as their family name were genetic descendants of these early ‘Vikings’. They quite possibly could be, but they could as well be, for instance, descendants of British Cymric people who happened ‘still’ to be living in the Grisdale area, or even later Anglo-Saxon or Norman immigrants, or a mixture of all three. If I refer today to ‘Robert from Scotland’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that Robert’s ancestors were Scots, they could have come from anywhere.

Gowbarrow Hall - A Stateman's Farm

Gowbarrow Hall – A Stateman’s Farm

What is sure is that in the years after 1524 and then following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1537 there started to be many Grisdales in Matterdale. We know this both from early entries in the Greystoke Parish records (Matterdale hadn’t yet got a church), from numerous Grisdale wils and from the Cumberland muster role in 1581 when nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ from Matterdale turned up in Penrith to stand ready, once again, to defend Cumberland against the Scots. It was families such as these Grisdales who first started to carve out the landscape of Matterdale we see today. The Grisdale family or ‘clan’ became classic examples of what is called in Cumberland ‘statesmen’. They were still sheep farmers and tenants of the local lord but they had gained the ‘customary’ right to pass on their tenancies to their heirs. In the seventeenth century these ‘statesmen’ built single-story stone long-houses which accommodated their families and their animals, structures of Cumberland so noticeable to this day. These long-houses were either built on top of, or more usually next to, existing wooden long-houses, which often became the future barns or bryers.

What about the original question: ‘Were the Grisdales Vikings?’ The most likely conjecture is that the historic Grisdales of Matterdale had originated from not so far away (Mun)grisdale, but had done so in the fourteenth century before arriving in Matterdale towards the end of the fifteenth century from elsewhere (see here).

In addition, Grisdale was, it is clear, a Viking or better-said a Scandinavian settlement, dating perhaps from as far back as the tenth century. So it’s quite likely that they were descended, at least in the paternal line, from early Vikings, although by the time they appear in the historical record in any number, in the sixteenth century, they most likely would have had English, Celtic and even Norman ‘blood’ as well.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

Another thing to consider more is family naming patterns. These, I think, also tend to argue for a later arrival. We don’t know much about early Scandinavian naming patterns in Cumbria but there is a lot of evidence from, for example, the many Nordic and Icelandic sagas. Some of which refer to events that took place in Britain. Here the patronymic suffix ‘son’ is usually used. Even in the early eleventh century, when Scandinavian Forne became the ‘first’ Norman Baron of Greystoke, he was referred to as Forne Sigulfson and his daughter Edith, who became King Henry I’s mistress, was called Edith Fitz-Forne Sigulfson (Edith daughter of Forne, son of Sigulf). See here and here.

Surnames, as we know them today, whether derived from occupations, places of settlement, topographical features or ancestors, only really started to stabilise in the late middle ages. I discussed what we might infer from naming patterns in my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?

The great days of Cumbrian statesmen such as the Matterdale Grisdales were not to last. Their economic prosperity declined. Some were able to take a step up to the level of local gentry, some sank into poverty and obscurity, others moved to the squalor of the industrial towns in Lancashire, yet more joined the army or the church or they went to sea, while others emigrated. The Grisdales of Matterdale did all of these.

From its early days in Dowthwaite Head around 1500, the Grisdale family inexorably grew and spread out. Even in the sixteenth century members of the family had started to work and farm throughout the valley of Matterdale, and even further afield. They moved for instance to Hollas (Hollows), as well as to Matterdale End, Dockray, Crookwath, Mills, Ulcatrow and to nearby parishes such as Keswick and Threlkeld (to name just two). Some even ventured to London. In the eighteenth century they started to move to Penrith, Kendal, Carlisle, Patterdale and elsewhere, as well as to Lancashire and Yorkshire. And so it went on. By the nineteenth century the family started to emigrate overseas: to Canada, the United States, Australia, India and even South Africa. Many of the articles on this blog have been concerned with such families.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

One of the upshots of this century-long process of birth and emigration has been that the number of people carrying the Grisdale name in Matterdale itself has fluctuated enormously. I hope to be able to provide some estimates of numbers in the future. But what is abundantly clear is that starting with maybe just 5 to 10 Grisdales in Dowthwaite Head in the early years of the sixteenth century, the family grew rapidly. During the seventeenth century and much of the eighteenth, the Grisdales were, it seems, everywhere. They were one of the most numerous and influential families in the valley. They were mostly yeomen farmers, but the family also produced innumerable clergymen (some famous, most not), some entrepreneurs who became rich, while, naturally, many joined the army.

Yet by the time we reach the late eighteenth century the exodus from Matterdale had really heated up; spurred it should be said by the on-going land grab called the ‘enclosures’. My own Grisdale family left Matterdale in around 1810-1815 and settled  in nearby Penrith. As the decades passed, more and more Grisdale families gradually left, until in 1891 there was only one person called Grisdale still living in Matterdale. He bore the common family name Solomon. Of course it wasn’t that there  weren’t many other people still in Matterdale who were descended from the hundreds of Grisdales who had lived in the valley for the last 500 years, there were. But in 1891 the 23 year old Solomon Grisdale was the last to carry the name.

Solomon was born in 1868 and christened on 22 September in Matterdale church. He was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Grisdale (born 1842), who was herself the illegitimate daughter of Ann (born 1818). Ann was the first of nine children of the well-to-do Dockray yeoman farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Wilson. I won’t here tell the story of these two illegitimate births except to say that historically, while such births outside wedlock were not unheard off, they were in this family very rare. This family were descended from Joseph Grisdale (1687-1750) and Jane Martin (1687-1769), who were also yeoman farmers in Dockray, and from whom so many of the people I have discussed in this blog are also descended. Of course before that the family can be traced back to Dowthwaite Head.

At first Solomon’s mother Elizabeth had continued to live with her new son on the farm of her grandmother Elizabeth, with other members of the family. Solomon Senior had died in 1866. In 1878, when Solomon was ten, his mother married a Yorkshire road contractor called John Raine, and in 1881 the family were living just outside Dockray at High Row. They were still there ten years later and the 23 year-old Solomon was a labourer working building roads with his stepfather. By now, as I have said, Solomon was the only Grisdale in Matterdale.

In 1896 Solomon married Harriot Nicholson in the Church of All Saints in next door Watermillock. He was a ‘main road foreman’ or ‘contractor’ in his own right. The couple lived in Dockray and two children followed: Thomas in 1897 and Laura in 1905 (there may have been others who died young).

And here, finally, we do come to the last of the Matterdale Grisdales, for Thomas and Laura were the very last.

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

It is interesting to consider that both Thomas and Laura were christened in Matterdale church, a place with so many connections with the Grisdale family going back to the 1580s. Thomas would also have attended the old Matterdale School, founded in 1722 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale.

What became of them? Well their stories are very different.

Solomon decided that there were probably better opportunities for road building in the Cumberland town of Cockermouth than there were in rural Matterdale. He took his family there soon after 1905. A third child called Percy was born there in 1908, followed in 1919 by a daughter Edna. The family lived at ‘2 The Laurels’ until their death many years later. Would Solomon have known that just around corner the rather grand Cockermouth house now called Wordsworth House, where the poet William Wordsworth was born, had been bought with Grisdale money? I guess not.

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Once Thomas was old enough he started to work with his father building roads. By 1915, when he was only 18, he had progressed to be an ‘Assistant Surveyor’. But Thomas had the misfortune to be born when he was. He was just coming to adulthood when the Great War broke out. Like countless millions of others throughout Europe, Thomas Grisdale volunteered to join the army. He enlisted in Cockermouth in the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment on the 22nd November 1915. He had just turned eighteen. After some months training he was shipped from  Southampton to France on 6 May 1916. I won’t tell of Thomas’s military life here. Suffice it to say that he fought in many of the important battles of the Great War over the course of the next two years. After being wounded in September 1916 he spent some time recovering back in England, but he was soon back in the trenches in March 1917. After fighting at Paschendale, in March 1918 Thomas’s regiment found itself ‘based at Roisel, working on road and tramway construction and building large dug outs at Templeux’. This was unfortunate because this was where and  when the German army had planned a huge attack, now called the Kaiser’s Battle, which started on the 21st of March

On March 21, 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army. The artillery bombardment began at 4.40 am on March 21. The bombardment hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours…

Although the British had learned the approximate time and location of the offensive, the weight of the attack and of the preliminary bombardment was an unpleasant surprise. The Germans were also fortunate in that the morning of the attack was foggy, allowing the storm troopers leading the attack to penetrate deep into the British positions undetected.

By the end of the first day, the British had lost nearly 20,000 dead and 35,000 wounded, and the Germans had broken through at several points on the front of the British Fifth Army. After two days Fifth Army was in full retreat. As they fell back, many of the isolated “redoubts” were left to be surrounded and overwhelmed by the following German infantry. The right wing of Third Army became separated from the retreating Fifth Army, and also retreated to avoid being outflanked.

One of the 20,000 British dead on this one day was Thomas Grisdale. There is much more to tell, another time I hope. Thomas was buried at the Pozieres Memorial Cemetery in France. Back home in England he is remembered on the Cockermouth War Memorial and on the gravestone of his parents Solomon and Harriot.

Thomas’s younger sister Laura Grisdale never married and stayed in Cockermouth for the rest of her life. She died in Cockermouth in 2006, aged 101! She was for sure truly the last Matterdale Grisdale.

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

In the little Cumbrian valley of Matterdale there is a local story that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three hundred years. It tells of how in the late seventeenth century one poor tenant farmer walked hundreds of miles to London to testify in front of the highest court in the land – the House of Lords – in a trial which pitted a group of Matterdale farmers against a powerful local lord of the manor. Is this story true? If so what was it all about and what was the outcome?

Luckily the records of the trial survive in the archives of the House of Lords and so it is possible to reconstruct much of the real history of this small episode. More than this, the long and costly struggle of the Matterdale farmers gives us a lovely insight into the centuries-long, and much opposed, English enclosure process – a process that was just beginning to bite in Cumberland in the seventeenth century.

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

In those days, it was relatively unusual for poor tenant farmers (not to speak of still poorer cottagers and landless peasants) to somehow be able to manage to take their complaints and grievances against their lords all the way through the different levels of the English legal system right up to the House of Lords. It was also quite rare for them to eventually win, as these Matterdale farmers did! Such rarity was both because the legal system was increasingly stacked against poor rural people trying to uphold their age-old common rights against the insidious and inexorable encroachments of powerful local lords, but also it was simply a question of money. Most small farmers simply just couldn’t afford the huge expense of lawyers plus the time and effort required to pursue their case to the very end.

Later I will provide a little background on the English enclosure movement and what protecting common rights meant, as well as giving some colour regarding the protagonists themselves, the judges and the witnesses who were called to appear before the House of Lords. I will also ask if we can identify the person who “walked to London”. But first what follows is the true story of the legal case as best I can reconstruct it.

Background to the trials

Matterdale

Cumberland was a very poor and sparsely populated county. It wasn’t “champion” arable country as was to be found in much of the south and east of the country. It was and still is a land of lakes, mountains and moors. Great barons and lords held almost all the land in “fee” either directly from the King or from their feudal superiors – i.e. from more powerful magnates. The common people, particularly but not only customary tenant farmers, still pastured their livestock on the moors. These once natural rights to “the common treasury of all” had by now become “customary” rights. The Cumbrian farmers’ ‘right of common pasture’ on certain moors near Matterdale lay at the heart of the legal battle that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century, the greatest landowning barons in the area were the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, but another powerful family was the Huddlestons – historically Catholic like the Dukes of Norfolk themselves. Andrew Huddleston had recently converted to Protestantism to avoid the problems and religious persecution suffered by other members of his family. He was the Lord of the Manor of Hutton John. It was Andrew’s actions that were the cause of the farmers’ complaints and legal battles.

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

In 1686, William Mounsey and fifty-three other named customary tenant farmers from Matterdale hired a lawyer and brought a writ, an ‘English Bill’, before the Court of Exchequer in London. Their claim was that they had all had a right of common pasture for their livestock on three nearby moors and wastes in the Manor of Hutton John, called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire.  But that the lord of the manor, Andrew Huddleston, claimed that the three moors were part of his manor and thus ‘belonged’ to him alone and that the farmers had no right of common pasture there. Like his father before him, he had tried to prevent the farmers from making use of these moors for grazing their livestock. When they didn’t stop he impounded (i.e. seized) their cattle. As the farmers couldn’t fight him physically they had had to resort to the law.

The case is called William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston.

On July 1st 1686, the Exchequer judges referred the case to the Court of Common Pleas, to be heard at the next session of the Cumberland Assizes in Carlisle. This was duly held. The Carlisle assize court was presided over by an itinerant judge; a jury of twelve local men was convened. The judge in the case was called Thomas Powell (later Sir Thomas). The court and the jury heard the arguments of the plaintiff farmers and of the defendant Andrew Huddleston (or at least from their counsels), as well as taking the testimony of other witnesses.

The jury found in the farmers’ favour. But Huddleston wasn’t having any of it. As we will see he was later to argue that the true decision of the jury wasn’t in fact that all these fifty-four Matterdale tenants had a right of common pasture on ‘his’ moors and wastes, but that only he and William Mounsey had such a right. However, in the immediate aftermath of the trial what he in fact did was to continue to harass the farmers and impound their cattle.

The farmers wouldn’t lie down for this. They believed they had right on their side. As the law allowed, they made an appeal to the Court of Appeal to have the trial decision upheld and enforced. This meant returning to the judges of the Court of Exchequer in London when they sat to judge such matters of supposed Error and ‘Equity and Justice’. These sittings were held in the “Exchequer Chamber”. We are told that the judges in the Exchequer Chamber questioned the original Carlisle trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Thomas Powell, and examined the trial record (the so-called Postea). They upheld the original verdict that all the farmers had the customary right of common pasture and made an injunction restraining Huddlestone from harassing the farmers further.

The House of Lords

London in 1690

Andrew Huddleston still refused to accept the verdict and the injunction made against him that he should refrain from harassing the farmers and impounding their cattle. He decided to appeal to the House of Lords to “reverse” the judgement and decree of the Court of Exchequer and asked that he be “restored to all that he hath lost thereby”.

His petition to the House, written by his counsels Samuel Buck and B. Tonstall, is dated the 3rd of April 1690. His case was that there had been an error in the recording of the verdict of the jury at the Carlisle court and that it had actually found that only he and William Mounsey had the common customary right to pasture their livestock on the moors and not that all the farmers had this right as the Court of Exchequer had found. His petition reads:

At ye next assizes for ye said County after aview averdict was given upon ye said issue that the said Mounsey hath only right of common in Westermellfell and the said verdict was indorsed on ye Pannell and yet afterwards at ye hearing upon ye equity… the said court by reason of ye said verdict decreed that all ye said 53 tenants of Matterdale should enjoy right of Common in Westermellfell and that your petitioner should pay costs and be perpetually enjoyned from distreining any (of) ye said Tenants cattle upon ye said Westermellfell.

He based his case on his contention that:

Ten of the said Jury certified upon Oath filed in ye said Court that it was the meaning of the said Jury that ye said Mounsey had only rights of Comon in Westermellfell and no other of the tenants of Matterdale.

And that:

Ye Postea was not filed in ye Court of Common Pleas….  until ye last long vacacon (vacation) and then notwithstanding ye indorsement Judgement was entered as if it had been found that all ye fifty-three tenants had and ought to have Comon in Westermellfell. All of which your petitioner assignes for Error in ye said Judgement and Decree.

Thus his petition to reverse the decision of the court of appeal was “ by reason of ye said indorsement of Record and ye said Certificates ready to be produced” which proved that “it was not found that any of the said tenants had or ought to have any common…”

Now this all may seem a bit obscure and full of French Law expressions, and it is, but as far as I can understand it essentially Huddleston was arguing that the verdict of the Carlisle trial (no doubt along with a list of jurors) was recorded and annexed to or “indorsed” to the writ on a parchment “Pannell”. This had been either not been seen or was ignored by the Court of Appeal. In addition, the Postea, which was the written report of the clerk of the court after a trial detailing the proceedings and the decision reached, had been delayed in being submitted to the Court of Common Pleas in London and thus had not been seen by the judges of the Exchequer Chamber. He was also claiming that he had sworn written statements (affidavits) from ten of the Carlisle jurymen that they had in fact only found that Mounsey had a right of common and not all the tenant farmers.

On the 3rd April 1690 the House of Lords considered Huddleston’s petition:

Upon reading the Petition of Andrew Hudlestone Esquire; shewing, “That William Munsey, and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Grastocke, in the County of Cumberland, in Mich’mas Terme, 36°Car. IIdi, exhibited their English Bill in the Court of Exchequer against your Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John, complaining, that at a Hearing, 1° Julii 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have or ought to have Common of Pasture in the said Moors, or any Part thereof; and also of the Judgement given upon that Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous,” as in the Petition is set forth:

It is thereupon ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said William Munsey, and the Fifty-three other Tenants before-mentioned, may have a Copy or Copies of the said Petition; and be, and are hereby, required to put in their Answer or respective Answers thereunto, in Writing, on Thursday the 17th Day of this Instant April, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; whereof the Petitioner is to cause timely Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they answer accordingly.

This was a tight deadline for the farmers and their counsel asked for an extension, which the Lords granted on the 15th of April:

The House being this Day moved, “That William Munsey and the Inhabitants of Materdale in Cumberland may have a longer Time to answer to the Petition and Appeal of Andrew Hudleston, they being at a great Distance from London:”

It is thereupon ORDERED, That the said William Munsey and others the Inhabitants aforesaid have hereby Time given them for answering thereunto, until Thursday the First Day of May next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon.

The Matterdale farmers gave their answer on the 30th April 1690. They stated yet again that they held they held customary tenements in “the Barony of Greystoke in the County of Cumberland” and that these tenements were “descendible from ancestor to heire according to the custom of the said Barony under diverse rents and services”. In addition they:

Became duly intituled under the right and tithe of the then Duke of Norfolk Lord and owner of the said Barony or otherwise to have common of pasture for all their goates, sheep and cattle levant and couchant on the said customary tenements yearly and at all times of the year in and upon certain Moores or Wast grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermellfell and Redmire or some of them in the parish of Graystoke  as to their customary tenements belonging and which they and their Ancestors and predecessors, tenants of the said customary tenements, had from tyme out of mind enjoyed and ought to enjoy and being molested therein unjustly by the now Appellant who claymes to be Lord of the Manor of Hutton John and that the said Moores and Wastes lye within that Manor and pretended that the now Respondents had no right of common there.

The farmers then described how they had wanted to assert and establish their right of common and had thus presented their ‘English Bill’ to the Court of Exchequer and how their case had been sent for trial at the Carlisle assizes, in the Court of Common Pleas, the question being:

Whether all or any of the customary tenants of the late Henry Duke of Norfolk in Matterdale … have (from) tyme out of mind had and ought to have common of pasture on the waste grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire in any part thereof and at all tymes of the year..

They stated that “upon a long and full evidence and examination on both sides the Jury gave a verdict that all the said customary tenants had common of pasture for their said cattle”, and that this decision had been so recorded in the Postea. They went on to explain how the case “came again to be heard in the Exchequer Chambor” (the appeal court), how the judges had once again examined witnesses, read the Postea and heard counsel for both parties. The judges had also examined the original trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Tomas Powell, and had “decreed that all respondents had right of common… and that they should enjoy the same without the least disturbance or interruption of the now Appellant (Huddleston) and that “an injunction was awarded for quiet enjoyment and restraining of the Appellant”.

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

Basically the farmers were claiming that both the Court of Common Pleas sitting in Carlisle and subsequently the Exchequer appeal court, sitting in the Exchequer Chamber, had found for them. Their rights, they said, had been upheld “in diverse Tryalls at Law”, but that the petitioner Huddleston “being unreasonably vexatious did still molest and interrupt (them) in the enjoyment of their common by impounding their cattle and otherwise and yet (i.e. still) refusing to suffer their right and title to the said common”. Regarding Huddleston’s claim that he had affidavits from ten of the original Carlisle jury, the farmers “suggested that if he had “procured” such certificates then they believed these to have been “unduly obtained” and that “they ought not to be made use of against them in this case” because it would be of “dangerous consequence to admit new evidence” or give credence to any statements of the jurors which were “in opposition or diminution to their verdict entered of record and verified by the Judge before whom the Tryall was had”.

In essence I think we see here the implicit suggestion of the farmers that Huddleston had somehow pressured or extorted the jurors to recant their original decision. We will never know the truth but such things were not unheard of.

Some of the exasperation of the farmers comes to us clearly over the centuries from their final words. Being they said “but poor men” they were “not able to contend with the Appellant who is rich and powerfull and uses all means to weary (us) out”.

They asked that the House of Lords dismiss Huddleston’s petition “with costs” because they had already occurred significant costs and trouble “in the proceedings so far” and that there was still more to pay.

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

The Lords set the 10th May 1690 for the hearing of the case and asked Huddleston to “cause Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they attend with their Counsel accordingly” on that day. They also ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House, on Monday the 12th of this Instant May, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents, and wherein Andrew Hudlestone Esquire is Appellant”.

The date of the hearing was moved back twice more, both because the “respondents and Andrew Hudlestone” were “far distant from London” and because their Lordships had had to deal with “more weighty matters”. A final date of 4th December 1690 was eventually fixed.

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

The Custos Brevium of the Court of Common Pleas do attend at the Bar of this House To-morrow, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, with the Record of the Postea and Verdict in the Cause tried at the Assizes at Carlisle, between Andrew Hudleston Esquire and Mr. William Mounsey; and hereof he may not fail.

The Custos Brevium was the chief clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. The judges wanted to see for themselves the written record of the Carlisle trial which was such a bone of contention.

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

Upon hearing Counsel this Day at the Bar, upon the Petition of Andrew Hudleston Esquire, shewing, “That William Mounsey and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Graystocke, in the County ofCumberland, in Michaelmas Terme, 36° Car. 11di, exhibited their English Bill, in the Court of Exchequer, against the Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John; complaining, that, at a Hearing, the First of July 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have, or ought to have, Common of Pasture in the Moors or Wastes in the Petition mentioned, or any Part thereof, as also of the Judgement given upon the Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous;” as also upon hearing Counsel upon the Answer of William Mounsey, Richard Grisedale, Jos. Grisedale, Thomas Atkinson Junior, Thomas Atkinson Senior, Edward Grisedale Senior, Edward Grisedale Junior, Thomas Grisedale, Thomas Grisedale, John Pauley, William Greenhow, Robert Grisedale, John Benson, John Wilkinson, William Robinson, Michaell Grisedale, William Dockeray, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Harrison, Thomas Hoggart, John Wilson, George Martin, John Harrison, John Neffeild, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hodgson, William Wilkinson, Richard Wilkinson, John Dawson, Rich. Sutton, John Nithellson, John Robinson, Chamberlaine Dawson, John Mounsey, William Wilson, Robert Hudson, James Hudson, Agnes Gibson, Robert Rukin, John Brownrigg, Michaell Atkinson, John Greenhow, John Birkett, Thomas Brownrigg, William Robinson, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, John Greenbow, Thomas Greenhow, and John Coleman, put in thereunto:

After due Consideration had of what was offered by Counsel on either Side thereupon, it is ORDERED and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said Petition of Andrew Hudleston be, and is hereby, dismissed this House; and that the Decree made in the Court of Exchequer, from which he appealed to this House, be, and is hereby, affirmed.

The Matterdale farmers had won. At least for the time being they and their descendants would be able to benefit from their common and customary rights to graze their cattle and other livestock on these Cumberland moors. Of course the Huddleston family didn’t give up their quest to deny the farmers their ancient rights and they were finally able to completely enclose Hutton Fell by an Act of Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century, by which time many of the members of the families who brought Andrew Huddleston to court had already been forced off the land, to move to the satanic mills of the northern industrial towns, to join the army or to emigrate. But that is another story.

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

The full list of all the fifty-four Matterdale farmers was given in the Lords final ruling quoted above as well as in the farmers’ answer to Huddleston’s petition. They were all members of long-established Matterdale families. William Mounsey himself was one of the wealthier tenants and came from Brownrigg in Matterdale, others farmed up and down Matterdale valley, from Douthwaite Head in the south to near Hutton John in the north.

As has been mentioned, Andrew Huddleston came from a long line of Catholics, whose cadet branch had become Lords of Hutton John. Andrew’s Uncle John was a catholic priest and had helped King Charles the Second escape following the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651 and when Charles was restored after the English Revolution he became his confidant and reconciled him to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Unlike many of his relatives (including his father) Andrew was flexible and converted to the Anglican faith and then set about restoring his family’s fortunes. The Huddlestons remained Lords of Hutton John for centuries to come.

Regarding the witnesses who were called to the House of Lords as witnesses; on November 8th 1690, when Andrew Huddleston petitioned that “your Lordships appoint a day” for the hearing, his counsel also humbly conceived that “Sir Wilfred Lawson Bart., John Pattinson, Thomas Benn and John Huddleston be fit and material witnesses in the cause”. I will have to leave it for a later time to look at who these people were (and it is certainly of interest). Suffice it to say they were obviously being called to bolster Huddleston case regarding the alleged customary rights of the tenant farmers as well to challenge the decision of the jury at the Carlisle assizes as it had been interpreted by the Court of Exchequer.

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

But if we want to know who the Matterdale farmer was who, according to the local oral history, walked to London to appear before the House of Lords, we need perhaps to look at the witnesses called to give evidence for the farmers themselves. Earlier I mentioned that the House of Lords had ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House … as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents”. Now Charles Howard (of Greystoke) was the brother of Henry the sixth Duke of Norfolk who had died in 1684 and to whom the farmers repeatedly made reference in trying to establish the legality of their rights of common pasture. He was no doubt being called to testify to this effect. John Aglionby’s family had supposedly come over with William the Conqueror and were a long-established Cumbrian gentry family. John himself was a lawyer and a long-serving recorder of the Carlisle Assizes and was thus without much doubt being called to testify regarding the decision of the jury and court in the original trial. James Bird Esq. remains obscure for the moment, but John Mounsey, who was a “gentleman”, was William Mounsey’s brother. He and John Grisedale (certainly a relative of the numerous Grisdales amongst the Matterdale farmers) were probably being called either to give evidence regarding the customary rights of the farmers “from time immemorial” or regarding the verdict of the Carlisle trial.

So perhaps it was John Mounsey or John Grisedale who had “walked to London”? After all they are the two most likely contenders as we know that the House of Lords had demanded their presence. But of course it could equally as well have been William Mounsey himself or one of the other fifty-three, in their capacity as respondents to Huddleston’s petition. Perhaps we will never know.

What was it all about?

It’s certainly pleasing to know that this group of “poor men” finally prevailed over the “rich and powerful” Andrew Huddleston. It was obviously pretty crucial to their future livelihood that they could continue to pasture their animals on the moors.  But where does this small legal fight fit in the longer sweep of English history?

The majority of the English rural population had “from time out of mind” relied upon being able to make use of the huge swathes of England that were not under cultivation or definitively enclosed to supplement their meagre livelihood. They collected wood from the forests for building and heating, they foraged wild fruits, berries and leaves to supplement their diets, they cut peat or turf to burn and they grazed their goats, sheep and cattle on the wastes and moors. This they had done for as long as people had lived in a specific locality – in England certainly from well before the Norman Conquest. Without wishing to romanticise pre-conquest England, the land and it bounty were a “common treasury” for all.

When The Norman French arrived in and after 1066, England was divvied up between the King and his secular and religious followers. The French feudal system was imposed with a vengeance. The long process of denying people their “rights” (to use an anachronistic term) to make use of the Commons had begun. The Norman French Kings created private “forests” for their own hunting while the French religious and lay barons and lords went about reducing most of the population to de facto or de jure serfdom. But while there was  hardly any part of the country that was not owned (or held in feudal fee) by the Kings or the great magnates and lords, there were still enormous amounts of wastes, woods and moors surrounding the hundreds of nucleated, and usually cultivated, villages. The local people continued to use these commons but now their right to do so had become “customary” rather than what we might call natural.

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

These customary rights were just part of a whole elaborate web of mutual feudal rights and obligations between lords and their vassals. To take the example of Cumbrian tenant farmers, they had the right to live on and work their tenements because their ancestors had before them. They had to pay rents, they owed labour services on the lords’ home farms – including various boon-days when the harvest needed gathering. They had to pay a fine or “relief” when the tenant died and his successor took over and when the manor itself passed from one generation to the next. But they also had rights in the common. By the seventeenth century all these rights and obligations were seen as deriving from custom. Sometimes they were written down but sometimes the customs were just that: customary, and were claimed to have existed from time immemorial.

An important part of the history of the English people in the nine hundred years following the Conquest is the history of how the majority of English people was inexorably deprived of its common rights and slowly but surely forced off the land. This was the process of English enclosures. It took a long time, starting I would suggest in the thirteenth century, gaining momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reaching its brutal climax with the Parliamentary Enclosures of the nineteenth century; by which time England had been effectively fully privatised.

George Orwell once put it thus:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

In the previous century Karl Marx had already summed up what the Enclosures were all about:

We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth […] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property […] a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called ‘capital farms’ or ‘merchant farms’, and ‘to set the country folk at liberty’ as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

The small victory of the Matterdale farmers in 1690 was important to them, but in the longer term their victory was almost pyrrhic. The Huddlestons wanted more land and they wanted exclusive use of that land. They wanted “private property” in its modern sense. They, like so many other “noble” English families, finally got what they wanted. The bulk of the rural population could no longer support itself. If people couldn’t have access to the commons they were drawn into the new industrial cities and towns there to become a new class of urban proletariat, or perhaps they went to fights the Kings’ wars or had to emigrate to Canada or America or perhaps they were convicted of petty crimes undertaken to feed themselves and their families and were transported to Australia. The descendants of the Matterdale farmers did all of these.

Sources

The details of the hearing of the case William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston are held in the archives of the House of Lords. Huddleston’s petition: HL/PO/JO/10/1/422/250 and Mounsey et al’s reply: HL/PO/JO/3/184/1. The House of Lords Journal Volume pages 447, 465, 486, 488, 545, 548, 577 and 578 provide further information.

There are also documents relating to the original Carlisle assize trial  held in the Cumbria record office, including D HUD 1/20  and D HGB/1/115.

When John Augustus Pollock Grisdale was baptized in 1878 in St John the Baptist Church in Halton Gill, Arncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales, his father, the Reverend John Grisdale, who was the incumbent of the church, obviously had great plans for his third child and first son. He named his son John after himself and Pollock after his own mother’s maiden name. Augustus seems simply to signify his great expectations, although it might have come from another family member. Little would the Rev. Grisdale have imagined what his son would accomplish. He didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps into the church or go into any of the supposedly respectable professions in England. No, at the age of just 16 or 17 John Augustus Pollock Grisdale took ship alone for America, there to carve out a successful and very American career. When John died in 1948 in Canton in Lincoln County, South Dakota he was simply called ‘Gus’ Grisdale. This is his story and that of his brother Reg.

Halton Gill Church, Arncliffe

Halton Gill Church, Arncliffe

The Rev. John Grisdale was born in 1830 in Dacre, Cumberland. His father was a relatively well-to-do yeoman farmer called Joseph Grisdale. His mother Esther Pollock was the daughter of a similar family. As we might expect this Grisdale family also originated in the next door parish of Matterdale. John had three sisters but he was the only son. He grew up on the family’s farm but obviously he was a bright boy because even when he was 21 and still living in Dacre with his parents he was listed as a ‘scholar’. Where he was studying I do not know. It seems he didn’t go to university but nonetheless was eventually able to take holy orders. By 1863 he was probably already a ‘clerk’ when he married Annie Hardcastle in  Knaresborough in Yorkshire. He was curate of Saint Wilfrid’s Church in Burnsall where his two daughters Catherine Josepha and Henrietta Elizabeth were born in 1864 and 1866. He then became the curate of Saint John the Baptist Halton Gill in Arncliffe in September 1866. This is where John Augustus was born in 1868, to be followed by brother Reginald Dacre in 1870 and another sister Esther Sarah Annette in 1873.

Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, York

Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, York

The Rev. John Grisdale clearly hoped for great things from his first son because he sent him to be a pupil at the prestigious Archbishop Holgate Grammar School in the City of York.

Archbishop Holgate’s School was founded by one of the leading statesmen of the reign of King Henry VIII.  Robert Holgate held absolute political power in the North, running the King’s Council in the North from the King’s Manor, raising armies to subdue the Scots, and operating with the authority of the King himself.  In 1545, Henry VIII made him Archbishop of York, thereby complementing Holgate’s political authority with the authority of one of the two leading roles in the Church of England, and cementing his position of absolute supremacy (second only to the King himself) in matters spiritual and temporal north of the Trent.  Very soon after he was enthroned as Archbishop of York, Holgate founded a number of schools.  Holgate took a close personal interest in the organisation of each school; his own signature lies at the bottom of each of the twenty-four pages of each of the three surviving copies of our school’s Foundation Deed.  Holgate fell from grace politically, but remained Archbishop of York, a role he fulfilled vigorously until 1554.

At what age John Augustus entered the school is unknown, but in 1881, aged 12, he was a student there under the 73 year-old headmaster Robert Daniel, who as might be expected was also a clergyman. Unfortunately only a few weeks before the census was taken in 1881 the Rev. John Grisdale died in Penrith in Cumberland, probably while visiting his Cumbrian relatives.  I don’t know what John Grisdale died of or the circumstances, but his death was probably unexpected as he was just 51 and left no will. It seems that his wife Annie and the other children had moved to Bedford either immediately before or after his death. But for now I won’t follow them, although two of them will reappear later on in our story.

Suddenly John Augustus Pollock Grisdale had lost his father. This might have meant that he couldn’t continue at his prestigious York school. Later when he was in the United States John would say that he had completed four years of ‘high school’, which in an English context probably means he left school at around 15, but it might have been earlier. Whatever the case, John decided not to stay with his family in England and in either 1884 or 1885 he emigrated to America. He would have been only 16 or 17! I can’t find any record of his passage and thus it is possible that he stowed away on a ship bound for North America. Given his age at the time this guess doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

Railway Depot in McIntire. Iowa in 1892

Railway Depot in McIntire. Iowa in 1892

The next time we catch sight of John is in 1895 when he was living in McIntire, Iowa. He must have arrived in McIntire pretty soon after his landfall in America because in an early history of the town we read that among the ‘men influential in the early days of McIntire was … J A Grisdale’. What the young man had done to justify this accolade would be fascinating to know. John stayed in McIntire for some years because in 1899, when he was 31 and had been in the United States for about 14 years, he married a local girl called Lillian.

La Crosse, Iowa in 1910

La Crosse, Iowa in 1910

But whatever John had so far achieved in McIntire, he and his new wife Lillian soon set off for pastures new. They moved to La Crosse in Wisconsin. Here it seems he started to work for the company of W. W. Cargill:

Cargill was founded in 1865 by William W. Cargill when he bought a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa.  A year later William was joined by his brother, Sam, forming W.W. Cargill and Brother. Together, they built grain flat houses and opened a lumberyard. In 1875, Cargill moved to La Crosse. Wisconsin, and brother, James, joined the family business. The city of La Crosse was strategically located at the junction of the Milwaukee Road railroad and the Southern Minnesota Division.

Sam Cargill left La Crosse in 1887 and moved to Minneapolis to manage the office there, which was identified as an important emerging grain center. Three years later, the Minneapolis operation incorporated under Cargill Elevator Co., years after that the La Crosse operation was incorporated under W.W. Cargill Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

W W Cargill

W W Cargill

And:

Starting at the close of the American Civil War in 1865 with one grain storage warehouse in Conover, Iowa, Will Cargill followed the expansion of the railroad system throughout the newly settled prairie to gather and process grain. Soon, his two brothers, Sam and James, joined his business venture and established the company’s headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

As grain and the railroads moved west, Cargill followed with new country elevators, as well as major terminals in the Minnesota towns of Minneapolis, Buffalo and Duluth. Besides the growing number of elevators, the Cargills were involved in insurance, flour milling, coal, farming, real estate, lumber, and a railroad. The success of the business required reliable financing, innovation in moving and storing grain, and a solid business reputation.

In 1900 John Grisdale was working for the Cargill company in La Crosse as a ‘travelling salesman’. In 1901 he was a ‘travelling auditor’. In 1905 he was ‘travelling’. An ‘auditor’ probably meant checking and accounting for the grain collected by Cargill’s grain elevators throughout the Prairie states.

John was clearly a coming man in the small but growing Wisconsin town of La Crosse. Other businesses were also being established. One such was the La Crosse Wool and Fur Company established in 1903:

La Crosse Wool and Fur Company – M. Rosestein, Manager, 100 – 102 S. Front St.

Mention could not be made of the growth and prominence of La Crosse, without giving particular mention to the above mentioned firm, which was organised one year ago, and deals extensively in wool and raw furs. The officers of the firm are R. S. Hype, President, C. G. Bennett, Vice President and Fred Goddard, Secretary, but the management of the concern devolves upon Mr. M. Rosestein, who has twenty years experience in this kind of work and is thoroughly able to handle its affairs. Eight employees and two travelling buyers are necessary and two million pounds of wool and $100,000 to $200,000 worth of fur is handled by this enormous concern in one year.  They export fur and ship wool to all the eastern markets. Mr. Rosestein is one of the stockholders of this company, and the pronounced success of the enterprise is largely due to his remarkable energy and ability in managing its affairs.

La Crosse Wisconsin, the Gateway City (Spicer & Buschman 1904)

Actually the company’s President and main shareholder was W W Cargill himself. Gus Grisdale in some way either came to the notice of Mr. Rosestein or was assigned by W W Cargill to become company’s Secretary (1906), no doubt taking over from Fred Goddard.

By 1909 he was back in the grain industry, being appointed Vice President of the La Crosse Grain Company.

Farming in Spring Valley today

Farming in Spring Valley today

By 1910 John, or Gus as I will now usually refer to him, had been in the United States 25 years. Having arrived in Iowa as a teenager he was now at the age of 42 a successful business manager. Gus and his wife Lillian had had a daughter in 1902, they called her Grace. But in 1910 the family moved again, this time to Spring Valley in Fillmore County Minnesota. Gus became the ‘manager’ of a grain company there. The History of Fillmore County, Minnesota, by Franklin Curtiss-Wedge and H. C. Cooper (Chicago 1912) gives us an idea of the town at that time:

Spring Valley, a city of nearly 2,000 inhabitants, is located in the western part of Fillmore county, on the southern Minnesota division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, and also on the Chicago & Great Western Road. Since the city was founded its growth has been slow, but substantial, and with unfaltering progress along the line of permanent development, until today it has a commercial, social and artistic standing excelled by none of its neighbors, and equalled by few of them. And the important factors of this development are the unexcelled advantages of location, natural resources, pure water, good health and the productiveness of the farms tributary to Spring Valley. With its two lines of transportation and easy accessibility to market, this city has long held the record as the banner stock shipping point in southern Minnesota, it being no unusual sight to see a solid train load of hogs shipped from this city to the Chicago market at one time, while eggs and poultry are shipped East by the carload. The Spring Valley Creamery, one of the largest and best co-operative creameries in this famous dairy section, has long held its supremacy, while the Spring Valley Flour Mills are known far and wide from the excellence of their product. A line of elevators operated by independent buyers and also by the large grain companies, keeps the grain and cereal market at the top notch, while the Farmers’ Co-operative Buyers and Shippers’ Association, a strong organization of farmers, is a potent factor in giving the farmer the largest possible returns for the products of the soil, the dairy, the flocks and herds. Two substantial banking houses, with deposits aggregating nearly a million dollars and each with a surplus which equals their capital stock, makes this city a financial center for a large territory. Three fine school houses, with all the modern and up to date methods, including an agricultural school, affords the best of instruction for the youth of city and country. A fine public library, with thousands of volumes, adds its potent influence to the intellectual uplift of the community, while seven churches minister to the moral welfare of large congregations…. The business men of Spring Valley who have their hands on the pulse of commercial life are a wide awake, progressive and liberal body. Yet with their progression and liberality is blended a conservatism which insures success.

Sometime over the course of the next few years Lillian and daughter Grace moved back to Lillian’s home town of McIntire, Iowa. She was working as a bookkeeper, but during 1914 had been unemployed for 10 months. Lillian is still listed as married but whether she was still living with Gus we don’t know. There is evidence he might have stayed in Minnesota. What we do know is that around this time Gus started to buy plots of land in Ward County, North Dakota. He kept buying land from 1913 until 1924, always under his full name of John A P Grisdale and always giving his address as McIntire, Iowa. Yet at some time Gus and Lillian divorced. By 1930 at the latest Lillian and her now married daughter Grace (who had married John Eugene Shannon) were living together in Detroit.

What had happened to Gus? Mentions of him owning farm land in North Dakota continue until 1933 but it seems that he certainly tried other things as well as managing grain companies or farming because in 1920 he was an independent ‘oil operator’ in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was working on his own account and was being helped by his younger brother Reginald Dacre Grisdale.

Melville in 1909

Melville in 1909

After the death of the Rev. John Grisdale in 1881, the rest of Gus’s family had moved together back to Yorkshire. Widow Annie had enough money to live on her own means. Reginald Dacre, or Reg as he was known, was two years younger than Gus, but he too seems to have had a good education because until 1907, when he was 47 and still unmarried, he had worked in Yorkshire for years both as a surveyor and civil engineer. But in 1907 Reg too decided to emigrate. He boarded the steamer S. S. Empress of Ireland in Liverpool and arrived in the port of Quebec on the 7th of June. He gave his occupation as ‘surveyor’ and his destination as Quebec. In seems however that he soon headed west to Melville in Saskatchewan, a town only founded in 1907. In a booklet published by the town in 1910 titled Melville, the West’s wonder town we read:

Where today stands a prosperous and progressive town of 2,000 people there was in October 1907 not even a settler’s shack or a turned furrow. It was a in that month that J. W. Redgwick built the pioneer store… A year after the first nail had been driven Melville had a population of 1,500.

Perhaps Reg was able to make use of his surveying and engineering skills in this booming agricultural town? He took a trip back to England in 1911 to visit his family and returned in April on the S.S. Mauretania. Arriving in New York he gave his occupation as ‘engineer’ and both his last residence and final destination as Melville.

Athabasca Landing 1912

Athabasca Landing 1912

Reg moved on, this time to even remoter Athabasca Landing in northern Alberta. It seems he married because in 1914 his unmarried eldest sister Catherine Josepha Grisdale came to Canada to be his housekeeper. When she arrived in Quebec she said she was going to be the housekeeper of her ‘married brother’, having previously been a church worker.

If Aladdin came to Athabasca, he would throw his lamp away as unnecessary and get to work for himself and thus increase his self respect. There is no town which offers so many opportunities to the man who is willing to work as this good old town of Athabasca…In the lobbies of Athabasca hotels you will see trappers and hunters fresh from the wilderness, oil men from California and Pennsylvania, merchants from the north, west, east and south here to purchase stock from the wholesale houses…freighters, chauffers…and to add color to this, the uniforms of the fine looking officers and men of the famous North West Mounted Police.

And so while the First World War raged in Europe, Reg and his wife were living in Athabasca, looked after by Reg’s sister Catherine. It seems that now Reg was working as a farmer. What happened to Reg’s wife I don’t know but his sister died in 1919 aged just 54.

Texas Oil Donkey

Texas Oil Donkey

Having probably been in contact with his brother Gus, Reg now decided to join him in the United States. In September 1920 he crossed the US border giving his occupation as a farmer and his last residence as Athabasca, Alberta. He said his destination was Rochester, Minnesota. This is very near to Spring Valley and thus it might be that he was joining his brother there. It’s possible that John (Gus) might have already started business as an independent oil operator in Wichita Falls, Texas because in the 1920 Wichita Falls town directory he is listed there and his recently arrived brother Reginald D. Grisdale is working with him as a ‘clerk’. The brothers clearly felt they could make some real money in the rough and tumble of the Texas oil business. Whether they did or not I don’t know – I guess not. But sometime before 1925 the brothers had moved again, for a final time. They settled in Canton, Lincoln County in South Dakota. Reg returned to England once more, leaving from Montreal in November 1925, a ‘US Citizen’ and ‘Merchant’, and returning in May 1927 via Quebec bound for Canton, South Dakota, his last US residence. Actually Reg was never naturalised as a US Citizen, unlike his brother.

The next year, 1928, Reg was undoubtedly at the wedding of his 60 year-old divorced brother Gus. Gus married 28 year-old divorcee Ruby Adams on the 26th of October in Parker, Turner County, South Dakota, but both bride and groom gave their residence as Canton. Although by now 60, Gus lopped ten years off his age saying he was 50.

Canton South Dakota in the 1940s

Canton South Dakota in the 1940s

In 1930 we find that John (Gus) was an independent farmer in Canton, South Dakota living with his young wife Ruby and his stepdaughter Nila. His brother Reg was living with them working as a ‘laborer’ on John’s farm. John still owned various plots of land in North Dakota which brought in some extra money. By now not only was Gus still knocking ten years off his age but so was his brother Reg.

Unfortunately young Ruby died in 1933, aged just 33. She was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Canton.

The brothers were still in Canton in 1940 living in adjacent houses and both owning farms. No longer lying about their ages, Gus was now a ‘car dealer’ and he brother Reg a farmer.

Grisdale family grave in Canton SD

Grisdale family grave in Canton SD

And this is the last we hear of these two Yorkshire brothers until their deaths. Reg died in May 1941 and Gus in 1948, aged 80. They were both buried alongside Gus’s wife Ruby in Forest Hill Cemetery. Under a large headstone that simply reads ‘Grisdale’ there are three separate stones which say only: ‘Ruby 1933’, ‘Reg 1941’ and ‘Gus 1948’. It’s a far cry from John Augustus Pollock Grisdale and Reginald Dacre Grisdale, but very American indeed.

The farm at Dowthwaite Head is the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdales. When did the first person who would bear the Grisdale name arrive there? I’m afraid no definitive answer is possible. The family weren’t nobility and thus the early records of their lives are scant. So some of what follows is conjecture, some isn’t.

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

In an article titled Were the Grisdales Vikings? I discussed the Scandinavian/Norse-Irish name Grisdale. It just means Valley of the Pigs. There are several places called Grisdale or Grisedale in Cumberland. As I mentioned, the ancestors of people called Grisdale had at some point obviously moved from one of these Grisdales to elsewhere. At first they would have been called, just for example, John or Robert of (or ‘de’) Grisdale, to differentiate them other Johns or Roberts – like John (the) Forrester or Robert (the) Smith.

It’s my belief that the Grisdales of Matterdale most likely came from next door Grisedale Valley. Grisedale Beck runs down through the valley from Grisedale Pike, under Grisedale Bridge, to finally empty into Lake Ullswater near Patterdale. It’s a rather deserted place today but hundreds of years ago the records show it was a thriving small community. Most likely one or more person/s moved the few miles from Grisedale to Matterdale and it was from him or them that the family took its name. (See new view here.)

One shouldn’t be too concerned by more modern variant spellings: Grisdale, Grisedale or even Grizedale. It’s all the same name. In all the earliest records there were in fact no Es and certainly no Zs. When early Grisdales signed their names, or they are mentioned elsewhere, we find Grisdale, Grysdale, Grysdall, Grysdal, Grysdell. Grysdel and even Grysdaille. The variant E was usually added later by priests at the time of baptisms, marriages or deaths. Gris after all is the Old Norse word for a pig.

When did the move from ‘Grisedale’ to Matterdale happen? And where exactly did the earliest members of the family settle?

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

The earliest historically attested Grisdale in Matterdale was farmer John Grisdale. In 1524, in a survey of the barony of Greystoke he is listed as a ‘yeoman’ and as a ‘free tenant’. His farm was given as being at Dowthwaite Head. John is not only the only Grisdale mentioned but he was also the only ‘free tenant’ of any name living at Dowthwaite Head. He was clearly an adult man and might have been born sometime, say, between 1475 and 1500. I guess he was living with a wife, and possibly already had children, and raising sheep there. Dowthwaite Head was without any doubt the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Some of the family remained there for at least three hundred years – while others moved to other areas in Matterdale and from there further afield.

Vikings come to Cumbria

Vikings come to Cumbria

Before I go further, maybe we should pause a little and consider a couple of linguistic matters. First, regarding the thousands of Norse place names in Cumbria; names that gave many families their name. As elsewhere, Matterdale is full of them: Dowthwaite, Crookwath, Thornythwaite, Lowthwaite and even Matterdale itself, to name but a few. The Norse-Irish Vikings first settled in Cumbria in the tenth century. The whole area had been peopled by Cumbric speaking Britons for centuries. Around the fringes of the mountains there were also English villages, founded by Northumbrian immigrants/conquerors. The Norse-Irish carved out space for themselves and gave them Norse names. Matterdale itself contains the Norse dalr, meaning valley. While ‘Matter’ could derive from a Norse person’s name, although there are more poetic explanations. Grisdale also. Thwaite is Old Norse for a clearing made in the forest, and so Dowthwaite was a clearing either made by a person (dubh?) or near a place like the River Dove in Yorkshire – from whence the present-day Douthtwaite we find there. One could go on.

The question is often: When were these places first established? When were the thwaites cut out of the forest or from the thorns? One should beware implying that all these names go back to the tenth or even the eleventh century. These Norse settlers continued to speak a form of their Scandinavian language well into the twelfth century. And even as the language slowly morphed in Cumbrian English they still kept many Norse words. For example, a thwaite remained the word for a clearing for centuries and is still used as such today.

With this let’s return to Dowthwaite Head, the cradle of the Matterdale Grisdales. Dowthwaite valley runs southwest from the tiny Matterdale village of Dockray, up to its ‘Head’ under the bleak hill of Great Dodd. The question of who (or what) was the original Dow or Dubh can’t be answered. The answer is lost forever in the mists of time. But when was the forest cleared? When was the thwaite cut? It could have been at any time between the tenth and the fifteenth century, by which time the name was firmly established.

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

I understand that the present farmer living at Dowthwaitehead Farm believes the place was named after a ‘mine manager’ who once lived there. I would certainly like to discuss this with him, but it must be openly said that there is absolutely no written evidence for this view. None. There was a little mining in and around Dowthwaite, but there are no written records of it. If this putative ‘manager’, Mr Dowthwaite, existed at all, which I doubt for now, he would have had to have been there prior to about 1500. He would also have probably had to have lived there for a fair old time for the valley, the farm, and for the surrounding Dowthwaite Crag and Dowthwaite Moss, in fact for the whole area, to have been named after him. It’s interesting to note that during the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and beyond, there is not a single person called Dowthwaite anywhere in Matterdale, which is interesting given the proliferation of the family name Dowthwaite/Douthwaite in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Places can of course be named after people and not just the other way round. We see it all the time: From old Bir-ming-ham (the settlement of ‘Bir’s’ people), to the more modern Thompson’s Farm. But if a pre-1500 Mr Dowthwaite gave the valley his name (whether he was a mine manager or not), this just begs the question of where the Dowthwaite was he came from. There is only one other Douthwaite (with a U) that I know of: Douthwaite Dale near Whitby in Yorkshire. I don’t find the idea of a very early Mr Douthwaite/Dowthwaite trekking from near the coast of northeast England, across the barren Pennines, all the way to Matterdale, very convincing at all. I prefer to believe that Dowthwaite was so called because it was a forest clearing, a thwaite, cut from the wood or thorns of Matterdale. Whenever that occurred and whoever did the cutting.

Dacre Coat of Arms

Dacre Coat of Arms

There is another fact that we can throw into the pot. It may or may not be relevant. In 1418, an Inquisition Post-Mortem was taken of the barony of Greystoke on the death of Baron Ranulph de Dacre. His lands were surveyed and the rents payable by each one listed. Nearby Watermillock is listed as providing £4, 6s 9d per annum from its ‘tenants’. But Matterdale has no tenants mentioned and is termed a ‘forest’ yielding £10 per annum. A forest here does not mean it was wooded, though some of it still may have been. Rather it means it was a private hunting ground belonging to the barony, which yielded £10 in forest dues. Such hunting ‘forests’ were tightly regulated. Any encroachments, whether by poachers or by farmers, were severely punished in the Forest Court. So Matterdale was in all likelihood either not settled at all in the early fifteenth century, or not settled very much. It certainly didn’t have ‘customary’ free tenants paying rents. My guess is that the thwaite of Dowthwaite had been cut from the forest at an earlier date but that there probably was no one living there by 1418, but this cannot be proved.

As one or two of the ‘natives’ in New York used to say when I was a student there thirty years ago: ‘Enough already!’

Does this all mean that yeoman farmer John Grisdale was the first Grisdale to settle at Dowthwaite Head? And was he the first sheep farmer there? We don’t know and we probably never will. He may have been. What is known is that for the next two or three hundred years the Grisdale family were often the only family living at Dowthwaite Head, although marriages did later bring in other names, such as the Atkinsons. To me this all smacks of a ‘founder event’ as they say in human population genetics.

Let me finish by considering numbers for a minute. As I have mentioned, John Grisdale was the only ‘yeoman’ free tenant living at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. He was also the earliest person bearing the Grisdale name I can find anywhere in Matterdale. He was probably married with children, and it’s not out of the question that there might have been one or two of his other relatives living with him – though if you look at the size of the place I wouldn’t imagine too many. If John was the first Matterdale Grisdale (for which there is no proof at all), then does this gel with the way the family multiplied in the decades to come?

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church records didn’t start until 1634, even though the church itself had been founded in 1580. There is a yawning gap in our knowledge between these two dates. Prior to the foundation of the church, the people of the valley had had to trudge in all weathers to Greystoke Church for baptisms, marriages and burials. They wrote at the time to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow often prevented them getting to Greystoke – so they asked for a church to be authorized in Matterdale itself. I’ll tell the interesting story of Matterdale Church another time. Here we’re concerned with the sixteenth-century Grisdales. Despite the fact that the earliest ‘clerks’ of Matterdale Church failed to keep records of baptisms, marriages and deaths taking place there until the 1630s, there are in fact still a number of other sources and records from the sixteenth century.

The first of these is Greystoke Church’s Parish register. Between 1560 and 1597, we find sixteen Matterdale Grisdales mentioned, mostly their burials. All of them from Dowthwaite Head or simply from Matterdale. To this record we can add three others. First there are some sixteenth-century Grisdale wills. I have nine between 1565 and 1600. They are difficult to read but most of them say that they are the wills of people living at Dowthwaite Head. Next there are a couple of mentions in 1569 and 1571 of two Grisdales working as peat carriers: John Grysdel and Edward Gristal . They were bringing peat from the peat bogs at Flasco, near Penrith, to the German-run copper smelters at Keswick. Finally, in 1581, the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat from Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

I won’t attempt here to describe or differentiate all these families nor relate them to their seventeenth-century descendants. What I’d like to highlight is this: By the latter part of the sixteenth century there were at the most a single handful of separate, though related, Grisdale families living at Dowthwaite Head and, by now, elsewhere in Matterdale. The situation wasn’t much different immediately after the records of Matterdale Church began. This was all about two or three generations after John Grisdale was found in 1524 at Dowthwaite Head. This would have been plenty of time to see such a growth in numbers.

So maybe John Grisdale, who was probably born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, was the first to bear the name in Matterdale? Or maybe he wasn’t! It’s just a thought.