Posts Tagged ‘Dowthwaite Head’

The Grisdale diaspora from Matterdale went on for centuries. We know of lots of cases in the seventeenth century and the pace hotted up in the following two hundred years. Yet it is also clear that quite a few family members left the valley in the 1500s. The only problem is that it’s almost impossible to precisely follow most of them. But there is one interesting exception; it concerns two (and possibly three) Grisdale brothers who left Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the later 1500s to become farmers in faraway Essex. This is what I know of them.

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

In late 1604 a legal memorandum was written concerning the recent death and wishes of a husbandsman called Edward Grisdale who lived in the small Essex village of Horndon on the Hill. Shortly thereafter in the same place a John Grisdale made his will, which was written in Latin. Horndon is about twenty miles northeast of London and a very long way from Matterdale in Cumberland, yet it seems pretty clear that Edward and John were brothers and did indeed come from Matterdale and in particular from Dowthwaite Head, the ‘cradle’ of the family.

The 1604 memorandum is dated 11 November ‘in the second year of the reign of Kinge James’, that is in the reign of King James 1 of England (and sixth of Scotland), the successor of Queen Elizabeth. Edward said he was ‘in his bed’ but ‘of good and perfect memory’. He revokes all previous wills and makes his wife Elizabeth his executor. He was then asked if he didn’t want his brother Christopher to also be an executor 9note I’ve changed the spelling of Christopher to the modern one):

And being demanded if he wanted not his brother Christopher to be joynte executor with her, he said not in the presence of the saide Christopher. And then being moved by the said Elizabeth to have the saide Christopher to be joint executor with her, he answered he would not, but willed her to choose some other if she would. And being demanded what he would give his brother Christopher, he said in the presence of the saide Christopher, that he hath had his portion, I will give him no more. And said that he did owe him four score pounds and (?) forty shillings which the saide Christopher should have paid him for this last Michaelmas…

There was obviously a bit of tension between the two brothers: Edward and Christopher. The memorandum says more about the debt owed by Christopher to Edward and when it should have been paid. Edward was asked if he would forgive the debt of his brother ‘considering that he was greatly in his debt otherwise’, but Edward refused saying that Christopher must pay it all.  Then he was asked what he would give Christopher’s children. Edward said that they should get twenty pounds each which they should receive when they reached the age of fifteen. But he didn’t quite trust Christopher because although his bequest to Christopher’s children was to be held by their father until they reached fifteen he added that if Christopher didn’t handle it properly it should rather be held by his wife for ‘the best advantage of the saide children’. The rest of his estate Edward gave to his wife Elizabeth who had the duty to pay various debts of Edward himself.

Now as well as the fact that Edward’s name is explicitly and clearly spelt as Grisdale, we also know that he had a brother called Christopher who was present in Essex when Edward made his wishes known.

Shortly after Edward’s death John Grisdale also made his Latin will in Horndon. He first mentions the names of two knights: Sir John Bennett and Sir John Gibson, both of whom were lawyers and later judges of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. That John’s will (and Edward’s) was presented in this court tells of a certain level of wealth and standing.

John Grisdale's Will, 1605

John Grisdale’s Will, 1605

John appoints two people as his executors: his wife Elizabeth Grisdale and his brother Christopher Grisdale. So it is clear that John and Edward were brothers; they both lived in Horndon in Essex and they both had a brother called Christopher. So here we have three brothers, two of whom definitely lived in Essex as most likely the third did too.

In John’s 1605 will we also find the added information that he was born in the reign of Queen Mary. Now Queen Mary was of course the only daughter of Henry the Eighth and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Known rightly to history as Bloody Mary, she was the queen of England from 1553 to 1558, before being replaced by her half-sister Elizabeth.

There is probably a lot more in John’s will that as yet I am unable to decipher, but here the interest is from where these Grisdale brothers came, and when.

The name Grisdale itself clearly points to a Cumberland origin. But we can say more. The brothers’ names certainly indicate that they came from Matterdale and indeed from Dowthwaite Head Farm.

In the 1500s we find repeated mentions in the records of at least one Christopher Grisdale as well as Edwards and Johns.

In 1560 Thomas son of Christopher Grisdale of ‘Matterdale’ was baptized in Greystoke Church (Matterdale Church had yet to be founded). In 1564 the wife of a Christopher Grisdale ‘of the Head of Dowthwaite of Matterdale’ was buried. In 1565 Janet ‘wife of Xopher Grisdale of Dowthwaite’ wrote her will mentioning sons John and Thomas. In 1568 this Janet Grisdale ‘wife of Xopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head;’ was buried.  In 1571 a Christopher Grisdale and Agnes Greenhow ‘both of Matterdale’ were married in Greystoke. In 1575 Elizabeth ‘daughter of Xopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head’ was buried. Finally in 1597 Christopher Grisdale a son of Edward Grisdale of Dowthwaite Head died and left a will.

Bloody Queen Mary

Bloody Queen Mary

Now we could be dealing with one Christopher here or two. I tend to think that all these mentions concern one person. If so then he was probably born in the 1520s or early 1530s (to have had a son Thomas in 1560 and probably others earlier). This might mean that Christopher ‘senior’ was the father of the three Essex brothers Edward, John and Christopher. John’s mother would no doubt have been Christopher senior’s first unnamed wife who died in Dowthwaite Head in 1564; remember John said he was born in Queen Mary’s reign, i.e. between 1553 and 1558. Janet, Christopher’s supposed second wife, died the next year in 1565, and the ‘sons’ John and Thomas she mentions in her will must, I think, have been her stepsons: the John we have mentioned and the Thomas born in 1560. I would guess that Edward who died in Essex in 1604 was also the son of Christopher and his first wife and was therefore born sometime in the 1550s or 1560s.

There is more suggestive name evidence. In 1561 the wife of ‘Edward Grisdale junior of Matterdale’ was buried in Greystoke as were two of his children in 1563 and 1569. Edward was said to be of Dowthwaite Head. If there was an Edward junior there must have been an Edward senior, possibly still alive at the time (i.e. in 1561). Now we know that the Christopher senior who died in 1597 was the son of an Edward Grisdale, and this Christopher was probably born in the 1520s or early 1530s  Thus it is quite possible that Edward junior was the brother of Christopher Grisdale senior (the putative father all the three Essex brothers: Christopher, Edward and John.

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

If we place Edward junior’s birth in Dowthwaite Head in about the 1520 or early 1530s; and if his father was also called Edward (as seems reasonable) then he (Edward senior) would have been born in the late 1400s or very early 1500s, which would likely make him either the brother or even the son of the John Grisdale I sometimes refer to as ‘the first Matterdale Grisdale’ (see here).

I could go on about other possible relationships between the early Grisdales of Dowthwaite Head, including more on John, Richard and Robert Grisdales (Grysdells). But let’s return to the name Christopher. It’s a name that not only appears in the sixteenth century but also in the seventeenth. There is a ‘deed of administration’ dated 1616 for the death of a Christopher Grisdale in Matterdale, although I have yet to obtain a copy. I think this is most likely the ‘Essex’ brother so mistrusted by his brother Edward. Later, after the Matterdale parish records start in 1634, we find one or two other Christopher Grisdales, but I will leave them for another time.

Given the gaps in the records it is not possible to determine all the exact relationships, nevertheless it is more than likely that these later Matterdale Christopher Grisdales were either directly descended from, or at least very closely related to, the Christopher Grisdale who was having children in Dowthwaite in the 1560s and to the Essex Christopher whom I believe returned from Essex to Matterdale, had he in fact ever left.

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church was founded in 1581 after the request of the people of the valley to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow and other bad weather often prevented them getting to Greystoke.

In fact they had had to trek miles to Greystoke Church, which is where we find nearly all the early mentions of the Grisdales of Matterdale. After Matterdale Church was built the people of the valley would usually go there for the baptisms of their children or to be buried. The problem is that the early clerks of Matterdale (who included at least one Grisdale) either didn’t record these events or the records have been lost. The earliest extant Matterdale parish records only start in 1634, so we are left with a huge lacuna. This is a shame as if we had these records we could join up so many dots.

The earliest mention of a Grisdale of Matterdale in the Greystoke parish register is for the burial of the ‘wife of Edward Grysdell junior of Matterdale’ in 1561 which I mentioned previously. Before that either baptisms were not recorded or the Dowthwaite Head Grisdales (and others) had been deterred by the distance and the weather from making the trip. (Remember too it was only around this time that the churches and clergymen of the recently ‘protestant’ Church of England were compelled to keep records.) It was during this period (in the 1550s to 1560s) that the three Essex Grisdale brothers, Edward, John and Christopher, were most likely born, and hence the lack of records for their births.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

It is interesting to conjecture why and how the three brothers (or at least two) had moved from Matterdale to Essex. I don’t think they just ventured there ‘on spec’. More likely there was a connection between the Barony of Greystoke (in which the Grisdale were free tenants) and Horndon in Essex. Maybe one day I’ll discover this link.

When might the brothers have moved? If they were born in the 1550s it is most likely that they already established adults when they did so. So perhaps the move took place in the late 1570s or 1580s, if not later.

In 1581 the Cumberland militia was again called out to guard against the repeated incursions of the Scots. They mustered at Penrith. Here we find nine Matterdale Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

Notice an Edward, a John and a Christopher. This Christopher might have been the older Christopher (the putative father of the Essex brothers), but I think he would have been too old to have been much use against the Scots. Much more likely this Christopher (and possibly the Edward and John too) was the one we find in Essex about twenty years later.

Returning to Essex, if seems that Edward and John didn’t have children but their brother Christopher did. I think we see the descendants of some of these children in the seventeenth century Matterdale records. But besides the genealogical interest it is also interesting to find at least one example of where some of the very early Grisdales of Matterdale went.

 

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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.