Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool’

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

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

The King's Liverpool Regiment Memorial

The King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial

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

Boer Fighters

Boer Fighters

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White 16,000 British soldiers set out from Ladysmith and elsewhere to confront the Boers, but British tactics were out-of-date and they suffered heavy losses in the first major engagements.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

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

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

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

The Boer's 'Long Tom'

The Boer’s ‘Long Tom’

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

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

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

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

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

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

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

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

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

William Heaton VC - A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

William Heaton VC – A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas's grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

Thomas’s grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

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

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

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

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

 

I often write about people who have done interesting things or perhaps emigrated or fought in various wars. Some of these people might even have left numerous descendants and be the ancestors of some of us today. I have to say that it is these stories that understandably provoke the most interest and comment. But in any family the vast majority of people led simple and very often unrecorded lives. Some also left no descendants to carry their name or even their memory. Yet they are nonetheless part of ‘our’ extended family and their lives are perhaps more representative than those who were perhaps more heroic. This is the sad story of the tragic but heroic end of a young Manchester warehouseman called William Grisdale.

Bobbins

Bobbins

William was born in 1816 in Over Staveley in Westmorland, the fourth of nine children of bobbin turner John Grisdale and his wife Jennet Stainton. At this time Over Staveley was pretty much totally dedicated to making bobbins to supply the mills in Lancashire and elsewhere. Staveley had first had cotton mills but’ it was the growth of the bobbin mills that caused the most rapid period of change in the village in the years 1820-1850’, by 1851 ‘there were 187 bobbin workers in the Staveley area and well over 100 in the village itself where there were bobbin mills in what had been Rawes Mill, in the old fulling mill at Newgate (Gatefoot today) and in part of the Barley Bridge Mill and at Chadwicks… ‘

Bobbin Mill

Bobbin Mill

William grew up in Over Staveley with his siblings while his father went off to turn bobbins in one of these Staveley bobbin mills. Perhaps William couldn’t find work in the bobbin mills or didn’t like the work; in any case he moved to Liverpool and became a ‘labourer’ living in Crosshall Street, where in 1842 he married a girl from the same  street called Ann Thexton. After their marriage couple moved to Lower Grafton Street in Toxteth, where the next year a son John was born. Sometime over the course of the next few years the family moved from Liverpool to Salford where William found work as a ‘warehouse porter’. In 1851 the family were living in Yearsley Street in Salford, but the next year, sadly, eight year-old John died. Perhaps the family’s grief was assuaged a little when a daughter was born in the spring of 1853, named Jennet after William’s mother.

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

Street next to Crosshall Street in Liverpool in mid 1800s

William was obviously a good worker because by 1853 he had become the chief warehoseman at the Manchester Bonded Warehouses in Salford. Bonded warehouses were regulated by the government customs and excise and allowed merchants to delay payment of tax on imported goods until they were sold and delivered to customers from the warehouse. One of the main things stored in these warehouses was spirits.

On Tuesday 21st June, just weeks after the birth of daughter Jennet, William went to his job in the warehouse as usual, it was not however to be a usual day. A few days later several newspapers told what happened:

Reginald’s Newspaper 26 June 1853.

Narrow Escape of the Manchester Bonded Warehouses –

On Tuesday, a man named William Grisdale, was trimming some spirit casks from an open vat containing 1,700 gallons of brandy, in Manchester Bonded Warehouses, when the light in his lamp by some accident set on fire the spirits in one of the casks he was filling, at the bunghole. The flames spread over the outside of the cask, wherever the brandy had run, burning with great ferocity and there was a danger of that in the open vat taking fire.

Grisdale with great presence of mind and intrepidly, rolled the barrel out of doors, and this probably saved the buildings and property from destruction. As it was, a track of flame was left along the floor from the brandy which escaped through the bunghole as he rolled out the cask, and the door through which the cask was rolled also took fire; but, with the assistance of the other warehousemen, the danger was speedily overcome by extinguishing the flames on the floor and door. Grisdale was much burnt about the face, hands, and other parts of the body, and had to be removed for surgical aid, but is likely to recover.

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

A former Manchester Bonded Warehouse

The previous day the Manchester Courier had reported similarly but with other details under ‘Fires in Manchester’:

… About one o’clock on Monday, as William Grisdale, a person in the employ of the Bonded Warehouse Company, was engaged under Mr Vivian, the landing waiter, in what is termed ‘vatting’, whilst pouring some brandy into a cask, a drop splashed up from the bunghole to the top of the lamp, and caused a blaze. The flame was augmented by some drops of spirit on the cask, and in another instant the brandy in the cask caught fire, sending forth a large flame from the bung-hole. With great presence of mind, and although enveloped in flames, Grisdale succeeded in rolling the cask to the door. At the time of the accident Mr. Vivian stood a few yards from Grisdale; and seeing him on fire, while he courageously rolled the cask out of the door he pulled of his coat and dashed it against the flame, with which Grisdale’s clothes were enveloped.

Assistance being speedily got, while some of the men succeeded in extinguishing the fire upon Grisdale’s clothes, others put out the flame, which still blazed along the ten yards over which the cask had been rolled. Grisdale, who was badly burned, especially about the legs, was taken at once to the Infirmary surgeon and his own medical man. We are glad to say that he is in a fair way of recovery, and it is to his courage and self-possession that the preservation of the warehouses and their contents are to be attributed.

But the Manchester Courier had just got news that William Grisdale had died at his home two days previously, and on a later page to the above story reported that ‘Grisdale died at his own home on Thursday, leaving a wife and child’. Other reports said he had spent three days in excruciating agony before he died.

Spirit barrels afire

Spirit barrels afire

William’s courage had saved a lot of people a lot of money and a fund was established to help his wife and infant children. In September the Manchester Courier was asking for subscriptions to ‘aid the widow and infant daughter of the late William Grisdale who was burned to death in extinguishing a fire… which he accomplished at the cost of his own life’. Many companies (mostly insurance) and local merchants had already given and their individual contributions were all listed, totalling so far nearly £300.

At least the money would help William’s widow Ann to feed and clothe baby Jennet Grisdale. But it was not to be, because just four months after William had died of his burns one-year old Jennet died too. Widow Ann would soon remarry and have two more daughters but as I said at the beginning who was there to remember William and his two children? His courage and heroism was at least as great as others I have written about on this blog and at least I commemorate him here.

West Ham United is perhaps the most London of London’s football clubs. So how was it that the chairman of the club at the time of its move to Upton Park in 1904 was a Liverpudlian called Joseph Grisdale? And what did Joseph have in common with the club’s nickname of ‘The Hammers’?

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

Success in families ebbs and flows. Some improve their educational and financial position. Some, through ill luck or indolence, slip down the ladder. This is the story of one man who was on the up: Joseph Grisdale. Through hard work, and quite probably with a bit of luck as well, Joseph rose from his comparatively simple origins in Liverpool’s docklands to become Chairman of West Ham Football Club in London’s East End, before being able to retire in comfort to bucolic Hampshire.

Joseph was born in Liverpool’s docklands in 1857. He was the son of mariner Matthew Grisdale and his wife Sarah Tickle. Matthew was the grandson of another Matthew, a Lake District man who had made a fortune as a corn merchant in the late eighteenth century in the then thriving Cumberland port of Whitehaven. Matthew Senior’s son Thomas became a pawnbroker, first in Dublin and later in Liverpool. He died in Liverpool 1856.

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

Because of the family’s many maritime connections in both Whitehaven and Liverpool, Matthew Junior (i.e. Thomas’s son and Joseph’s father) became a mariner (Thomas’s first Dublin-born son Joseph became a China Tea Clipper Captain and died in Shanghai in 1859). When Matthew married Sarah in 1856, he is listed as a ‘mariner’ and when Joseph was born the next year he gave his occupation as a ‘ship’s steward’. By 1861 Matthew had, at least temporarily, left the sea and was working on land as a ‘labourer’ and living in Plumb Street Court. Ten years later, in 1871, he was an ‘engine driver’. Matthew probably alternated periods at sea with periods on land, because at the time of the births of some of his later children his occupation was once again given as ‘mariner’. It would be nice to know a little more about Matthew’s life, as when his son Joseph married in early 1878 Matthew was said to be a ‘Gentleman’, and when he died later in the same year he left the tidy sum of ‘under’ £3,000 in his will.

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Let us return to the subject of this article, namely Matthew’s son Joseph. Somehow and somewhere both Joseph and (later) his younger brother Lowther were apprenticed as coppersmiths in the shipbuilding industry – probably in Liverpool. Joseph married mariner’s daughter Annie McKenzie in Everton in January 1871 when he was already a coppersmith. His younger brother Lowther would marry Annie’s sister Mary Elizabeth McKenzie in 1888 in London. Sometime after his father’s death, Joseph moved from Liverpool to West Ham in London’s East End. Somehow he had got work as a coppersmith in the massive Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Maybe someone from the yard had come to Liverpool looking for skilled men or perhaps Joseph had heard of the opportunities another way.

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Whatever the case, by 1881 Joseph was living with his wife Annie, daughter Frances and his mother-in-law Catherine McKenzie and her daughter Mary (Lowther’s future wife) at 14 Lennox Street in London’s grim but vibrant East End. Joseph and Annie were to have seven more children in London before Annie died in 1901; Joseph married again the next year. The family had moved to nearby Newman Street by 1891, then by 1901 to Barking Road – all places near Joseph’s workplace. By 1891 Joseph’s brother Lowther and his new family had joined Joseph in London and the two brothers and two sisters lived and worked together.

The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company had been founded in 1837 and by the later 1800s ‘it was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics Magazine in 1861 as “Leviathan Workshops”’

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

During its existence, from its start in 1837 until competition from northern English shipyards forced its eventual closure in 1912, the yard built 144 warships and numerous other vessels. We can perhaps envisage the type of work Joseph had to do as a coppersmith if we think about all the copper pieces, boilers and pipes used in ships and ships’ engines at that time. Among the many ships Joseph undoubtedly helped to build was the HMS Sans Pareil, a 10,470 ton battleship launched in 1887.

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

From the later 1800s the yard’s ‘workforce was very much under the control of the managing director, Arnold Hills. His approach to industrial relations was that of the enlightened patriarch. He did not always agree with his employees, however, and his support for the firm’s right to employ non-union men was deeply unpopular’. There were strikes and Hills was ‘hissed’ by his own workmen as he entered the yard. He decided that better labour relations were needed and ‘in 1892 he put forward a ‘Good Fellowship scheme’ of bonuses on top of standard wage rates. Two years later a working day of eight hours rather than nine was introduced.’ This was at a time when 10 or even 12 hour days were the norm.

As well as promoting shorter working hours and profit-sharing, Hills encouraged his workers to become involved in the company sports and social activities. He spent a lot of time and money on the formation of works clubs of every kind. These included a temperance league, cycling club, cricket club and brass band.

And so we come to football. In 1895, at the instigation of Hills and foreman and referee Dave Taylor, a works’ football team was formed. The Thames Ironworks Gazette announced: ‘Mr. Taylor, who is working in the shipbuilding department, has undertaken to get up a football club for next winter and I learn that quoits and bowls will also be added to the attractions.’

Syd King, one of the first players and later a long-serving manager of West Ham, wrote about the formation of the club:

In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of “hammers” was heard on the banks of Father Thames and the great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Iron Works Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the north country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goal wards. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines and their first principal was to choose their team from men in the works.

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

‘The team played on a strictly amateur basis for 1895 at least, with a team featuring a number of works employees including Thomas Freeman (ships fireman), Walter Parks (clerk), Tom Mundy, Walter Tranter and James Lindsay (all boilermakers), William Chapman, George Sage, and William Chamberlain and apprentice riveter Charlie Dove.’

The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University “Blue”, but changed the following season by adopting the sky blue shirts and white shorts combination worn through 1897 to 1899. In 1899 they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time.

In 1900 Thames Ironworks F.C. was disbanded and was re-launched as West Ham United F.C.

Because of the original “works team” roots and links (still represented upon the club badge), they are still known to this day as ‘the Irons’ or ‘the Hammers’ amongst fans and the media.

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

Joseph Grisdale was probably too old to have played in the works’ team, even if he might have been one of those who Syd King said ‘had chased the big ball in the north country’. But he was no doubt involved in some way because in 1901, when the team was still playing matches at the Memorial Ground in Plaistow, Joseph was made a Director of the club. When West Ham United moved to Upton Park in 1904, Joseph became Chairman of the club, a position he would hold until 1909.

As mentioned, West Ham United F.C. got its name The Hammers due to its origins in shipbuilding. Many of the early players were ‘metal-bashers’, as was Joseph the coppersmith.

Perhaps Joseph was better rewarded for his chairmanship of West Ham than he was for his work in the shipbuilding yard? Whatever the case, he obviously did make a little money as by 1911 he was able to move the family to the slightly leafier London suburb of Woodford Green where he became a self employed ship repairer and an ‘employer’. Perhaps he had been laid off before the demise of the Thames Ironworks yard?

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

It could be that Joseph continued to work as a coppersmith and a ship repairer during the First World War (there was certainly a demand for his skills), but what we know for certain is that sometime before 1921 he had been able to retire with his family to the pretty rural location of Holly Nook in Sarisbury in bucolic Hampshire. Certainly and literally a breath of fresh air! He died there in June 1921 leaving £7,490 in his will.

On 10 June 1814, Arthur Wellesley, the Marquis of Wellington, had only just arrived in Bordeaux from St. Jean de Luz in the southwest of France. It seemed that the long war against Napoleon was over. In April an allied army had entered Paris and the strutting French emperor had abdicated. The French army had surrendered to the British after the Battle of Toulouse. Napoleon had been sent into exile on the Isle of Elba. Wellington was keen to get home and quit his army life; he had other things he wanted to do. But the evacuation of the British army in France was not yet complete. Wellington was busying himself with ordering his remaining forces to come to Bordeaux; from there to take ship to England. He was just waiting for sufficient transport ships to arrive.

Back in England ships were getting ready to sail to Bordeaux to pick up the troops. On 10 June an announcement appeared in the Liverpool newspapers which read as follows:

June 10 1814 for Bordeaux to sail in all this week the brig ‘NELSON’ Edward GRISDALE Master.

Captain Edward Grisdale was just one of the dozens of merchant masters and ship owners who had agreed (for a price) to go to Bordeaux to bring back the army. But of course he wanted to take some paying cargo onboard for the outward voyage to make the trip more profitable.

Quite a number of the ‘Matterdale’ Grisdales had served in the British army and navy throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the most famous being Levi Grisdale (see here). Levi had fought at the Battle of Toulouse in April, but, being a member of an elite cavalry regiment, the 10th Hussars, he, together with the rest of the cavalry, was to embark for home from the channel ports rather than from more distant Bordeaux.

In 1814 Captain Grisdale was forty-nine years old. He had been a mariner operating out of the Cumberland ports, as well as from Liverpool, since he was a young man. Edward was born in the bustling port of Workington in 1765. His father John, like his grandfather Edward too, had also been a Workington mariner. But sadly in 1777, when Edward was just twelve, his father drowned. On 27 December 1777 a Whitehaven newspaper reported:

Whitehaven, this morning: Workington mariner John Grisdale was found drowned in the harbour; he has left a wife, and several children.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

Edward was one of at least four children. He had three sisters: Bella, Mary and Ann. As the only son Edward would have needed to start work as soon as possible to help support his widowed mother and sisters. Following his father and grandfather to sea was the logical course. Workington was quite a thriving town; its growth having been spurred by the discovery and mining of coal. Jollie’s Guide said the following about Workington in 1811:

WORKINGTON stands near the mouth of the Derwent, and is a considerable market-town and sea-port, containing about 6000 inhabitants. Many of the streets are narrow and irregular; but some are elegant and neat; and, upon the whole, this town is more agreeable than most ports of equal size in the kingdom. Though it seems to have been anciently the chief haven in Cumberland, yet it appears, that in 1566, only one vessel belonging thereto was of so great a burden as ten tons: and, on a survey taken of the maritime strength of the county about 20 years after that period, when England commanded the seas, all the vessels which Cumberland could put to sea amounted only to 10 in number, and their mariners to 198.

Workington has increased rapidly of late years, and many handsome buildings have been erected. The coal trade to Ireland is its chief support: a few vessels are, however, employed in the Baltic trade. The imports are timber, bar-iron, and flax. The river is navigable for ships of 400 tons burden; and the harbour is commodious, and extremely safe from all winds. There are now about 160 vessels belonging to this port; upon an average, of about 130 tons each. – The principal manufactories are of sail-cloth and cordage. The public buildings are modern; the church is a handsome structure, with a tower, or steeple, in the Gothic style. Here is a small but neat assembly-room, and a playhouse. – A new square, consisting of about 20 neat houses, was a few years ago built in the upper town, where the corn-market is held. – The butchers’ shambles are commodious. – The quays have been much widened and lengthened within the last 30 years. Not far from the town, a spacious workhouse, for the reception and support of the poor, was erected a few years ago, which cost the inhabitants £1600, and is calculated to contain 150 persons. – A considerable salmon fishery on this river belongs to Lord Lonsdale.

The collieries in the vicinity of Workington, which are numerous and valuable, belong to Mr. Curwen, who ships from thence about 150 waggons per day (Sundays excepted), each waggon containing three English tons of coals. Several steam-engines are employed in these coal-works, and between 500 and 600 men.

Messrs. Fenton and Murray, of Leeds, are erecting a steam-engine at Isabella pit, Chapel Bank, of 160 horse power, which exceeds in power any engine ever erected. The depth of the shaft is 150 fathoms, which is deeper than any of the shafts at Newcastle.

The manor house of the family of Curwen stands upon a fine eminence on the banks of the Derwent. It is an elegant quadrangular building, surrounded with excellent lands, in a fine state of cultivation. The house commands a prospect of the town, the river, and its northern banks, and the western ocean for a considerable tract. Mary, Queen of Scots, took refuge at this house, when she landed at Workington after her flight from Dundrannon, in Galloway, – and was hospitably entertained by Sir Henry Curwen, till the pleasure of Elizabeth was known; when she was removed, first to Cockermouth and then to Carlisle castle. The chamber in which she slept at Workington Hall is still called the Queen’s chamber.

Edward would certainly have been involved in the ‘Irish coal trade’, but he was obviously a man of some ambition and talent because not only did he eventually become a captain but he also was to own at least one ship himself, called the Mary after his wife Mary Robinson.

Workington St Michaels church

Workington St Michaels church

Edward married Mary Robinson in St. Michael’s Church in Workington on 26 October 1791. He was said to be a mariner. In 1811 we find Captain Edward Grisdale living in Town Head in Workington and it was said he was the Captain and owner of the 150 ton schooner Mary. Edward and Mary had several children: Sarah 1792, John 1796-1796 Mary Ann 1798, Edward 1802, Dorothy 1805-1811, Grace 1807 and Jane 1815. John died in infancy; Dorothy when she was just six. Edward, his only surviving son, was also later to become a Workington mariner, married a convict in Australia, and later became a ship’s captain himself, before disappearing from the records (see here).

Our Captain Grisdale had command of several ships during his long sea-faring career, such as the Mary (his own ship), the Nelson and the Frances Watson. There were probably others. After he’d brought back the soldiers from Bordeaux in 1814 we find him making trips to Canada and the United states, carrying both cargo and emigrants.

In 1825 Edward took command of the Maryport brig Francis Watson for its first voyage to New Orleans. The Cumberland Pacquet, Tuesday, 8th February 1825:

On Saturday was launched from the building yard of Messrs. K. Wood and Son, Maryport, a very fine copper-bottomed brig called the Francis Watson, burthen per register, 333 tons, and built for Messrs. Wood and Watson, of Liverpool.

‘At 333 tons, the Francis Watson was very large for a brig, but the newspaper report is consistent with the shipping registers, at least until 1830, when she was listed as a ship. The first voyage of the Francis Watson was from Maryport, departed Monday, 28th February 1825 for New Orleans.’ With, we know, Captain Grisdale in command.

Grisdale probably stayed with the Frances Watson for several transatlantic journeys, but later he was succeeded by another Cumberland captain called Sampson Bragg. Just to give a feel for what life could be like on board such ships, I quote the following report from 1829:

On the 30th June 1829 the master of the Francis Watson, Sampson Bragge, was arrested at London, accused of the murder of his steward, Lewis Sinclair. Evidence was taken from the crew, describing the ill-treatment of the steward on the voyage, which had started at Liverpool, then proceeded to Batavia, then Singapore and finally London. The steward had become drunk at Batavia and had been removed from his post to do the duties of a seaman. He was not up to the task, and the ill-treatment started subsequently. It included starvation, denial of water, beatings from the captain, mate and the “black fellows”, being hauled over the ship’s side, being forced to eat a lump of chalk and being smoked out of a hiding hole. The ill-treatment lasted two months until the victim became deranged, then eventually died, off the Scilly Isles on the 13th June. Bragge and the mate were committed to Newgate to await trial at the High Court. At that trial the evidence was repeated, but the jury found that the death of Lewis could not be ascribed to any particular act of violence, and the prisoners were acquitted. A similar sorry tale of ill-treatment can be found in the story of the Valiant two years earlier, the perpetrator being Captain Joseph Bragg, of Whitehaven.

Not long after the Francis Watson, with Bragg still as captain, ‘was driven on shore and wrecked, after landing her cargo, in Algoa Bay, during a gale, on the 13th January 1830’.

Death of John Franklin

Death of John Franklin

In the summer of 1826, we find Captain Grisdale in Quebec in command of the brig Nelson. He arrived in July from Liverpool and departed to Liverpool in September. While he was in Quebec the local newspapers were reporting the latest news of arctic explorer Captain John Franklin:

Arctic Land Expedition.— Despatches have been received from Captain Franklin, of the Arctic land expedition, dated Winter-quarters, Fort Franklin, on the great Bear Lake, September 6. During the summer, three expeditions, under Captain Franklin, Lieutenant Bach, and Dr. Richardson, were made, preparatory to the great objects to be undertaken next year. The expedition under Captain Franklin went to the mouth of the Mackenzie river, which he found to discharge itself into an open sea; there is one island near its mouth, called by Captain Franklin Garry’s Island.— From the summit of this island the Captain saw the sea to the northward all clear of ice or islands; to the westward he saw the coast to a great distance, his view terminating at very lofty mountains, which he calculates were in longitude 188 deg. west. The expedition would proceed early in the spring on its ulterior objects. The officers and men were all well and in spirits at the favourable circumstances which had hitherto attended their proceedings.

King's Wharf Quebec 1827

King’s Wharf Quebec 1827

The next year Grisdale was back in America, once again in New Orleans, this time as captain of the James Grant. He arrived from Liverpool on 10 December 1827. On arrival he made the following declaration:

DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI – PORT OF NEW ORLEANS

I, E. Grisdale, Master or Commander of the ship James Grant, do solemnly, sincerely and truly swear, that the within list, signed by me and now delivered to the Collector of this District, contains the names of all the Passengers, taken on board the said James Grant at the Port of Liverpool or at any time since, and that all matters therein set forth are, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, just and true. I do further swear that none of the said Passengers have died on the voyage. Sworn before me, this 10 day of Decr. 1827. (signed) B. Chew, Collector, E. Grisdale.

List of all passengers taken on board the James Grant whereof Ed Grisdale is Master, at the Port of Liverpool and bound for New-Orleans.

Columns represent: name, age, sex, occupation, country to which they belong, country of which they intend to become inhabitants.

1 R. Ferriday      25  male    merchant   England   Alabama
2  Edw. Flynn       40  male    farmer     Ireland   Alabama
3  Pat. O’Bryan     35  male    farmer     Ireland   N. Orleans
4  Jno. McRea       28  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
5 Ml. Eagan        30  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
6  O. Flynn         10  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
7  Dan. Flynn        8  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
8  Mary Flynn       30  female             Ireland   Tennessee

(Signed)  E. Grisdale

New Orleans Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras

This wasn’t, as we have seen, Grisdale’s first visit to New Orleans, but it is perhaps interesting to note that New Orleans had only recently became part of the United States after the American government had ‘purchased’ Louisiana from the defeated French. The people of New Orleans were now free to dance and play music again. Only a few months before Edward Grisdale arrived on the Frances Watson, the first Mardi Gras had taken place:

February 27, 1827: The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans.

The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans. Inspired by similar celebrations in Paris, group of masked students paraded through the street on this day, marking the first Mardi Gras celebrations. Early French settlers had had similar celebrations, but they had been banned throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Once Louisiana became part of the US, the ban was lifted and Mardi Gras celebrations began to take place annually.

We find a few others mentions of Captain Grisdale in the records, but soon after his 1827 New Orleans voyage Edward Grisdale probably either took his retirement, or perhaps died. Perhaps he saw off his son Edward on the convict ship Numa in 1834. Son Edward was, I believe, a mate on the Numa (he was certainly part of the ship’s crew).

Captain Grisdale left no descendants with the Grisdale name as far as I can see. His daughter Grace (1807) went on to marry Workington registrar Henry Hayton and had a number of children. She lived with her unmarried older sister Sarah, who was a schoolmistress.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

And that is about all I know about Captain Edward Grisdale. When had his family first come to Workington? As I mentioned both his father John (born in 1741 in Workington) and his grandfather Edward had been Workington mariners. But where had grandfather Edward come from? I don’t yet know for sure. He certainly had not been born in Workington nor in the other Cumberland ports of Whitehaven or Maryport. I tend to think he was related to seventeenth century Edward Grisdale Senior and Edward Grisdale Junior, both of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. This is based on some circumstantial evidence regarding family naming patterns, dates and by a process of exclusion, but I can’t yet definitively prove the link.

Sometime in the spring of 1855 Betsey Grisdale decided that she must declare her husband John ‘missing’ in Australia. As she wrote her letter at her home in Lonsdale Terrace in Liverpool she was probably in despair. What had happened to her husband? What was to become of her and her children? Two years before, in February 1853, John, a Liverpool mariner, had boarded the new American-built sailing ship Eagle, bound for Melbourne, where he had arrived in May after an 88 day voyage. Betsey had received news that John had headed to the new ‘gold rush’ diggings in Bendigo, Victoria, and then – nothing.

Sailmaker

Sailmaker

Betsey had already written several letters to John. Perhaps telling him of the birth of their child Joseph in late 1853? Perhaps asking him to come home? She had had no reply. She arranged for an announcement to be placed in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper, which appeared on the 29th of November 1854:

John Grisdale lately sail maker in ship Reliance of Liverpool, lately of Bendigo – letters from wife. Apply to Joseph Pacey, Cambridge Street, opposite Cambridge Place, Collingwood.

The next year John’s brother and sister had also tried to make contact. An announcement in the Argus of the 27th April 1855 read:

If this should meet the eye of John Grisdale, that came out in the ship Eagle, from Liverpool in February 1853, he will hear of his brother and sister by writing to Portland Post Office and he will hear news from home.

Once John had been declared ‘missing’, one final announcement was to appear in the official Victoria Government Gazette on November 27, 1855:

Missing Person. John Grisdale, Victoria Australia. 20 Dec 1855. Sail and ropemaker by trade. Sailed from Liverpool 2.1/2 years ago on the Eagle.

the worshipfull company of coachmakers

the worshipful company of coachmakers

John Grisdale was born in 1815/16 in Cumberland, the son of the later ‘coachmaker’ William Grisdale and his unknown first wife – he was to marry three times. Shortly after John’s birth his mother obviously died. William remarried, his new wife being Emma ‘Amey’ Bell. They married on the 23rd March 1818 in the Cumberland village of Hesket in the Forest. The family lived in Penrith where William and Emma had their first child, called Thomas, in May 1821. Shortly thereafter the family moved to London, no doubt with John in tow. Three London-born children followed: Mark 1822 and twins Ann Bell and Eleanor Greenhow in 1824. Mark was baptized in St. Botolph without Bishopsgate in the City of London, while the twins were christened in   the church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark. William was in all cases said to be a ‘Coach Maker’. Throughout their time in London the family lived in William Street in Kent Road, and it was there that young daughter Eleanor Greenhow died in early 1826.

Sometime thereafter it seems that William’s wife Amey also died, and William moved from London back up north. This time he managed to find work in his field of coach making in Salford in Lancashire. In Salford William married a third and final time. In October 1833 he married 37 year-old Sarah Payne in Salford.

But let us return to the subject of this story. John had no doubt moved with his father from Penrith to London and returned with him to Salford. It was most likely around the time of William’s third marriage in 1833, when he would have been 16 or 17, when John first went to sea – almost certainly becoming an apprentice seaman in Liverpool. There is no record of John in the 1841 census, implying I think that he was at sea somewhere in the world at the time. His father was at the time still coach making in Salford, living with his wife Sarah. But certainly in 1843, when he was about 26, John was back in Liverpool because on April the 4th of that year he married Betsey (Elizabeth) Bateman in the church of St. John the Baptist in Walton on the Hill in Liverpool. They both gave their address as New Mann Street in Toxteth Park.

Betsey was certainly already pregnant when she married John, because on 25th December 1843 she was delivered of twins Mary and William in Salford, where no doubt she had been living with John’s father William while John was again away at sea. The twins would be baptized back in Liverpool almost a year later, possibly when John was home. Two more children followed: Mark in 1850 and Joseph in 1853, both in Liverpool. John is continually listed as a ‘mariner’.

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

Which ships John served aboard during his first years at sea we don’t know. But we do know that by the early 1850s he was a ‘sail and rope maker’ on the 805 ton sailing ship Reliance, commanded at this time by Captain Henry B. Fell. This was a ship that was continually plying the ‘Australian Trade’, taking cargo and, more importantly, emigrants to Australia.

The story of one such trip in 1851, on which it is highly likely that John Grisdale was part of the crew, is worth retelling. Captains were always trying to make the fastest passage and often had bets with each other. In 1851 Captain Fell tried ‘the system of great circle sailing on the passage out to this colony’.

The Reliance tried the great circle sailing, and found it advantageous, having been, on July 30th, in lat. 27° 55′ S, and long. 32° 31′ W, and made Kangaroo Island on the 11th September ; doubling the Cape on 14th August, in lat 51°, and the highest latitude being 64° south. She never had to close-reef the topsails, and the thermometer was never lower than 31° at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

But although the Reliance made a quick voyage by taking the Great Circle route, it wasn’t otherwise a very successful trip, at least not for the emigrants. In the South Australian Register in Adelaide on the 15th September 1851 the following report appeared:

THE EMIGRANT SHIP ‘RELIANCE’

The very unusual number of deaths (15) in proportion to the arrivals (313) on board the above-named ship, which arrived on Saturday from Liverpool and Plymouth, calls for some special explanation and comment, the particulars obtained by our reporter present the following sorrowful details:

July 17.  Mary Ann Bull, 24, disease of the heart. July 22. George Hunt, threw himself overboard whilst in a state of insanity.  Aug. 1 Janet Watson, 23, typhoid fever.  Elizabeth Clyne, 23, ditto. Aug. 7 Rosina Mott, 3, ditto. Aug. 10. Edwin Pople, 26, ditto. Aug. 15. Edward Thrower, 35, diarrhoea. Aug. 20. James Clyne, 21, consumption. Aug. 30. Rachael Grossman, infant, mesenteric disease. Elizabeth Reynolds, Montefiore Warren, William Lock, children of tender age, died from inflammation of the lungs. Sept. 2. Martha Reynolds, 18, typhoid fever. Sept.7. Mary Simpson, 30, consumption.    Sept. 10. T. Chapman, infant, inflammation of the lungs.

The cases of typhoid fever, of which it will be seen  that several terminated fatally, are attributed by the survivors to the offensive evaporations or rather the gases emitted by the quantity of patent fuel (350tons) forming so large a portion of the cargo. The unpleasant smell is much complained of, even by those who are in health, and we are told the com-plaint is by no means a new one, similar effects, though not followed by consequences so fatal, having been experienced on board previous arrivals partly laden with patent fuel.  We hope the Government will make the most careful enquiry into this serious matter with a view to put the Commissioners in England on their guard in the chartering of vessels in future, if these sad consequences are attributable to the large quantity of patent fuel on board. Judging from the names of the emigrants, as well as from the circumstance of the final departure from Plymouth, we conclude that emigrants were embarked at both places. This is a very objectionable arrangement, as involving tedious delay for the emigrants first embarked, and very possibly producing serious inconveniences which were felt throughout the subsequent voyage. The births during the passage out of six in number, viz.: – Four girls – Reynolds, Sutton, Pierce, and Pryce and two boys – Mott and Kirran.

But Captain Fell had other concerns. By 1851 the Victoria gold rush was just starting in earnest. In every Australian port ships were at anchor but couldn’t leave because the crews had deserted en masse, to try their luck digging for gold.  Such was the case for Captain Fell and the Reliance. Fell wrote to the Adelaide Times on the 27th November 1851:

THE ‘TIMES’ NEWSPAPER, AND THE SHIP ‘RELIANCE’.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ADELAIDE TIMES.

Sir— I am sorry to notice in your paper of this day that great complaints are made of the detention of the Overland Mail by the Reliance, more particularly as it appears all sorts of rumours are in town as to the cause of the delay, which do no credit to the Captain. I will ask you, with all due deference, if any of the reports are relative to my not having a crew on board? Or whether my having brought out emigrants affords greater facility for keeping a crew ?The Reliance is not the only vessel in Port that has been most fearfully detained by the desertion of seamen. The Satellite now at the North Arm is an instance, and the Constitution, that sailed the other day, was upwards of three months here with few hands on board. I picked up one of my men at Gumeracka last week, and have him now in gaol; and so long as encouragement is given to deserters by secreting them, I see very little chance of vessels visiting this colony getting anything like quick dispatch. I posted two letters for my own mail some three weeks ago, thinking I would have been able to pick up a crew long ere this, but it is much easier said than done. Perhaps some kind friend who makes rumours that do no credit to the Captain will lend a helping hand to get a crew for me.

I am Sir, etc, Henry B. Fell. Reliance. North Arm, 27th Nov., 1851.

If John Grisdale was part of the Reliance’s crew in 1851 then he, it seems, didn’t do a bunk. Eventually Captain Fell did manage to scrape a crew together by paying enormous wages, and the Reliance returned to England. But the next August the Reliance was back in Adelaide. There were the same problems with the crew deserting and with crew wages. We know that John Grisdale was a sail maker on the Reliance and thus he was certainly a member of the crew in 1852.

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

John was back in Liverpool in 1853. We know this because it was then that his last child Joseph was conceived and, of course, it was in February 1853 that John boarded the emigrant ship Eagle for Australia, commanded by the famous Captain Boyce. As I have said, the evidence seems to suggest that during one or more trips to Australia on the ship Reliance John conceived the idea of returning to try his luck digging for gold. Hence rather than jumping ship we find him as an ‘unassisted immigrant’ aged 37 among the passenger list of the Eagle, which docked in Melbourne in May 1853. Perhaps he wanted to get rich quick and return home? A few did just this. Or possibly he thought that if things went well he could later bring out his Liverpool family to join him? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that one way or another he managed to tell his family that he had gone to the diggings in Bendigo, Victoria.

It is believed the first major discovery of gold in Victoria was in early August 1851 at Buninyong, near Ballarat. Two months later it was discovered at Bendigo. By mid-1853 around 60,000 diggers and their families were on the Victorian goldfields – nearly 23,000 of these were at Bendigo.

diggers on way to bendigo

diggers on way to bendigo

What was John’s journey like?

Men could generally be noticed trudging along beside the drays. Most of them wore moleskin trousers and gay-coloured shirts. They had heavy boots on their feet. They would pass bullock wagons which were loaded with produce such as flour, sugar and tea, destined for enterprising merchants who expected to make money, not from searching for gold, but by selling supplies to the diggers and their families.

One woman who arrived at the Bendigo diggings at around the same time as John wrote the following:

What a scene presented itself for my wondering gaze. I cannot describe it. … Heaps and heaps of newly upturned earth; deep holes out of which sickly looking men were drawing buckets more of it; while others, up to their waists in water, were washing pans of the sun-dried clay, and so close were the holes to each other, that there was hardly any room for one cart to pass between them, obliging us to make a constantly zig-zag track. How plainly it all seemed to speak of the grovelling nature of men. What, I thought to myself, can man stoop so low as to burrow in the earth in this way to risk health, and stand in the depth of winter, up to the waist in water, and such fleeting gains.

Life was hard in Bendigo. Not only did many of the miners die in accidents and through disease, but violence was also rife, particularly because of tensions between European and Chinese miners.

An angry group of European and American miners met in Bendigo in 1854 and declared that a “general and unanimous rising should take place… for the purpose of driving the Chinese off the goldfield”. Local constables acted quickly to prevent the uprising, by asserting their presence and warning the miners against any further vigilante action. The event was only the beginning of greater anti-Chinese tensions

Bendigo Diggers

Bendigo Diggers

At the exact time that John Grisdale would have arrived at Bendigo, in mid-1853, a petition was signed by over 5000 diggers on the Victorian goldfields who were angry about the mining licence fees imposed by the government and the system by which they were collected. The petition outlined the diggers’ grievances and called for a reduced licence fee, improved law and order, the right to vote and the right to buy land.

The petition was brought to Melbourne and presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe on the 1 August 1853. Most of its demands, including the reduction in the licence fee, were rejected. Eventually the diggers’ dissatisfaction erupted, culminating in the Eureka uprising at Ballarat on 3 December 1854.

So this was the life mariner John Grisdale had found. But what became of him? Had he died at Bendigo? Had he just decided to abandon his family back in Liverpool? We don’t know. Certainly there seems no future mention of him in Australia. I tend to think he died by an accident, disease or violence.

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

So poor Betsey back in Liverpool and John’s brother and sister never heard from John again. In 1861 and 1871, now said to be a widow, Betsey was still in Liverpool living with her children and older sister and working as a ‘Plain Sawer’, whatever that is.

I won’t follow the lives of John and Betsey’s children here, or that of some of his siblings. Regarding John’s Grisdale ancestors, it took me a long time to pin him down. But now things are clear, or clearish. John’s father William, the coachmaker, was born in 1786 in Watermillock, the son of Mark Grisdale (1760) and his wife Eleanor Greenhow. Mark had two Grisdale parents. His father was John Grisdale, born in 1708 in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale, who was the son of Edward Grisdale the brother of the famous Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale School. Mark’s mother was Jane Grisdale (born 1730 in Dowthwaite Head), the daughter of Jonathan Grisdale and Mary Jackson. Jane was also the aunt of Sergeant Major Levi Grisdale of Peninsular War and Waterloo fame. We can of course go back further.

And that, as far as I can reconstruct it, was the life of Liverpool mariner John Grisdale.

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

West Ham United is perhaps the most London of London’s football clubs. So how was it that the chairman of the club at the time of its move to Upton Park in 1904 was a Liverpudlian called Joseph Grisdale? And what did Joseph have in common with the club’s nickname of ‘The Hammers’?

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

Success in families ebbs and flows. Some improve their educational and financial position. Some, through ill luck or indolence, slip down the ladder. This is the story of one man who was on the up: Joseph Grisdale. Through hard work, and quite probably with a bit of luck as well, Joseph rose from his comparatively simple origins in Liverpool’s docklands to become Chairman of West Ham Football Club in London’s East End, before being able to retire in comfort to bucolic Hampshire.

Joseph was born in Liverpool’s docklands in 1857. He was the son of mariner Matthew Grisdale and his wife Sarah Tickle. Matthew was the grandson of another Matthew, a Lake District man who had made a fortune as a corn merchant in the late eighteenth century in the then thriving Cumberland port of Whitehaven. Matthew Senior’s son Thomas became a pawnbroker, first in Dublin and later in Liverpool. He died in Liverpool 1856.

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

Because of the family’s many maritime connections in both Whitehaven and Liverpool, Matthew Junior (i.e. Thomas’s son and Joseph’s father) became a mariner (Thomas’s first Dublin-born son Joseph became a China Tea Clipper Captain and died in Shanghai in 1859). When Matthew married Sarah in 1856, he is listed as a ‘mariner’ and when Joseph was born the next year he gave his occupation as a ‘ship’s steward’. By 1861 Matthew had, at least temporarily, left the sea and was working on land as a ‘labourer’ and living in Plumb Street Court. Ten years later, in 1871, he was an ‘engine driver’. Matthew probably alternated periods at sea with periods on land, because at the time of the births of some of his later children his occupation was once again given as ‘mariner’. It would be nice to know a little more about Matthew’s life, as when his son Joseph married in early 1878 Matthew was said to be a ‘Gentleman’, and when he died later in the same year he left the tidy sum of ‘under’ £3,000 in his will.

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Let us return to the subject of this article, namely Matthew’s son Joseph. Somehow and somewhere both Joseph and (later) his younger brother Lowther were apprenticed as coppersmiths in the shipbuilding industry – probably in Liverpool. Joseph married mariner’s daughter Annie McKenzie in Everton in January 1871 when he was already a coppersmith. His younger brother Lowther would marry Annie’s sister Mary Elizabeth McKenzie in 1888 in London. Sometime after his father’s death, Joseph moved from Liverpool to West Ham in London’s East End. Somehow he had got work as a coppersmith in the massive Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Maybe someone from the yard had come to Liverpool looking for skilled men or perhaps Joseph had heard of the opportunities another way.

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Whatever the case, by 1881 Joseph was living with his wife Annie, daughter Frances and his mother-in-law Catherine McKenzie and her daughter Mary (Lowther’s future wife) at 14 Lennox Street in London’s grim but vibrant East End. Joseph and Annie were to have seven more children in London before Annie died in 1901; Joseph married again the next year. The family had moved to nearby Newman Street by 1891, then by 1901 to Barking Road – all places near Joseph’s workplace. By 1891 Joseph’s brother Lowther and his new family had joined Joseph in London and the two brothers and two sisters lived and worked together.

The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company had been founded in 1837 and by the later 1800s ‘it was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics Magazine in 1861 as “Leviathan Workshops”’

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

During its existence, from its start in 1837 until competition from northern English shipyards forced its eventual closure in 1912, the yard built 144 warships and numerous other vessels. We can perhaps envisage the type of work Joseph had to do as a coppersmith if we think about all the copper pieces, boilers and pipes used in ships and ships’ engines at that time. Among the many ships Joseph undoubtedly helped to build was the HMS Sans Pareil, a 10,470 ton battleship launched in 1887.

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

From the later 1800s the yard’s ‘workforce was very much under the control of the managing director, Arnold Hills. His approach to industrial relations was that of the enlightened patriarch. He did not always agree with his employees, however, and his support for the firm’s right to employ non-union men was deeply unpopular’. There were strikes and Hills was ‘hissed’ by his own workmen as he entered the yard. He decided that better labour relations were needed and ‘in 1892 he put forward a ‘Good Fellowship scheme’ of bonuses on top of standard wage rates. Two years later a working day of eight hours rather than nine was introduced.’ This was at a time when 10 or even 12 hour days were the norm.

As well as promoting shorter working hours and profit-sharing, Hills encouraged his workers to become involved in the company sports and social activities. He spent a lot of time and money on the formation of works clubs of every kind. These included a temperance league, cycling club, cricket club and brass band.

And so we come to football. In 1895, at the instigation of Hills and foreman and referee Dave Taylor, a works’ football team was formed. The Thames Ironworks Gazette announced: ‘Mr. Taylor, who is working in the shipbuilding department, has undertaken to get up a football club for next winter and I learn that quoits and bowls will also be added to the attractions.’

Syd King, one of the first players and later a long-serving manager of West Ham, wrote about the formation of the club:

In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of “hammers” was heard on the banks of Father Thames and the great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Iron Works Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the north country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goal wards. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines and their first principal was to choose their team from men in the works.

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

‘The team played on a strictly amateur basis for 1895 at least, with a team featuring a number of works employees including Thomas Freeman (ships fireman), Walter Parks (clerk), Tom Mundy, Walter Tranter and James Lindsay (all boilermakers), William Chapman, George Sage, and William Chamberlain and apprentice riveter Charlie Dove.’

The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University “Blue”, but changed the following season by adopting the sky blue shirts and white shorts combination worn through 1897 to 1899. In 1899 they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time.

In 1900 Thames Ironworks F.C. was disbanded and was re-launched as West Ham United F.C.

Because of the original “works team” roots and links (still represented upon the club badge), they are still known to this day as ‘the Irons’ or ‘the Hammers’ amongst fans and the media.

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

Joseph Grisdale was probably too old to have played in the works’ team, even if he might have been one of those who Syd King said ‘had chased the big ball in the north country’. But he was no doubt involved in some way because in 1901, when the team was still playing matches at the Memorial Ground in Plaistow, Joseph was made a Director of the club. When West Ham United moved to Upton Park in 1904, Joseph became Chairman of the club, a position he would hold until 1909.

As mentioned, West Ham United F.C. got its name The Hammers due to its origins in shipbuilding. Many of the early players were ‘metal-bashers’, as was Joseph the coppersmith.

Perhaps Joseph was better rewarded for his chairmanship of West Ham than he was for his work in the shipbuilding yard? Whatever the case, he obviously did make a little money as by 1911 he was able to move the family to the slightly leafier London suburb of Woodford Green where he became a self employed ship repairer and an ‘employer’. Perhaps he had been laid off before the demise of the Thames Ironworks yard?

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

It could be that Joseph continued to work as a coppersmith and a ship repairer during the First World War (there was certainly a demand for his skills), but what we know for certain is that sometime before 1921 he had been able to retire with his family to the pretty rural location of Holly Nook in Sarisbury in bucolic Hampshire. Certainly and literally a breath of fresh air! He died there in June 1921 leaving £7,490 in his will.

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

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

The King's Liverpool Regiment Memorial

The King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial

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

Boer Fighters

Boer Fighters

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

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

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

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

The Boer's 'Long Tom'

The Boer’s ‘Long Tom’

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

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

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

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

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

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

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

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

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

William Heaton VC - A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

William Heaton VC – A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas's grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

Thomas’s grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

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

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

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

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.